Poetry serves diverse functions to man. In societies that decorum is enforced by the rule of law, poetry loses its revolutionary potency and is seen as art, existing for its own sake. However, in Nigeria, a country where abnormalities have been normalized, illegalities legalized, poetry loses its elitist place of domicile and becomes a tool in the arsenal of the subaltern class in class. Thus, the place of angst-filled poetry is still relevant even in the Twenty First century. Idris Amali, a professor of Oral Literature is a contemporary of Niyi Osundare, Okimba Launko, Tanure Ojaide, Ezenwa Ohaeto and other second generation Nigerian poets. The poetry collection, EFEEGA War of Ants, is divided into seven subsections and each has a title: “Desert of Needs”, “Pride in Filth”, “Restless Abodes”, “Struggle”, “Exchanges”, “Dine with the Past” and “War of Ants.” The collection, more so, has sixty five poems.
The cover page of the collection speaks volume of its thematic thrust. A dead elephant lies under a bloody and chaotic moon and ants meander over the gigantic dead beast, lacerating its armored skin with angry mandibles. Professor Bello Bada in his endorsement of the poetry collection says, that, “in this new volume, EFEEGA: War of Ants, the poet exposes the elephant – a behemoth that must be dethroned for the restoration of decency and sanity.” Indubitably, in the mood of jeremiad, the poet laments the devastation of the nation’s treasury and natural resources by the gluttonous and greedy ruling elite. Most of the poems are laced with images of squalor, misery and impoverishment which are orchestrated by the absence of good leadership. In the poem, “From the Pond,” an image of a young herdsman is painted. The fellow “squats” beside a filthy pond where his cows are splashing filthy water in the air and begins drinking. This specimen of nature who is immune from material advancement of humanity will later assume the throne and become leader tomorrow. The poets wails thus, ‘He lives today in a pool with his cows/ And from the cow pond to govern our thoughts/And administer our welfare” (19).
In the poem, “The Hyenas are Here,” the poet uses unrestrained anger in voicing out his disillusionment at the crop of leaders we have. Using the imagery of bestial animals, he laments that, the ruling elites are “hyenas,” “leopards,” “jackals,” “wolves,” “rodents” and “plutocrats.” They have nothing good to offer the country other than raping and stripping it of its resources. However, the poets contend that, “Until these plutocrats are cleared by:/Hunger-stricken snares/And ravenous hunters at arms/Our barns of grains and groundnuts/Stand on steads/Cordoned by ravenous rodents” (41). While in the poem “These People”, the poet wails that our leaders have eyes but cannot see the suffering of the people. They have ears but cannot hear the wailing and abject sighing of the people. They are bestial and inhumane. They are further described as “Agents of national unrest”, “Emissaries of national unrest” in the poems “Our People.” The poet calls them vampires as they sip the ‘spilled blood” of the innocent dying because the commonwealth has been hijacked by a few.
“Watching Gaza” and “Gaza: a Breakfast” are poems that lament the inhuman use of lethal violence by Israel in Gaza. This indicates that, the poet is not just a spokes man of his immediate society but of humanity by and large. The poems are laced with layers of imageries. In “Watching Gaza,” the town Gaza is personified. The lines: “The amputated city of Gaza” and “Gaza must bleed the orphan blood,” give Gaza animate qualities which makes us sympathize with the oppressed city. While in Gaza: a breakfast,” we are shown portraits of death and destruction. Children, innocent women and men are caught in a cataclysmic man orchestrated tragedy.
The poet employs the aesthetics of lachrymation in calling the attention of the world to injustices in human intercourse while in the same vein proffers another paradigm, the poetics of revolution as the panacea to sociopolitical and economic injustices in national and international politics. In the poems constituting the section, “War without Arms” the poet offers the poetics of liberation struggle as needful in combating the menace of dictatorship. Poems like “Ants and Flies,” “EFEEGA: War of Ants,” “Rise!” “When Shall we Rise” are angst-filled but proffer combative solution to class struggle. In “EFEEGA,” the poet urges: “Let us line this route/ To face the monster of a hill we erected/With our pains and sweat/In war without arms/To reclaim our gains of life.
In this poetry collection, Idris Amali has reestablished his dominance as a socialist realist poet who sees struggle as the only means out of the doldrums the subaltern class finds itself in today. The poet advocates for armless struggle against the armed. This kind of proselytization becomes imperative in the light of democratic advancement in the new century. However, this conclusion betrays the tonality of anger that resonates through the tapestry of the poems. Thus, collection’s minor fault is the advocating for a war without arms. Protest have been staged by Nigerians severally but has not changed the balance of power or liberate the subaltern class from chronic exploitation and oppression. In class struggle, arms are decisive. Don’t forget, Moa Zedong said, ‘power grows from the barrel of the gun.’ The oppressors oppressed because bigger guns are on their side. How balanced would it be if the oppressed are also armed so as to face the behemoth with armoured skin?
Amali Idris. EFEEGA: War of Ants. Ibadan: Kraftgriots, 2014. Pp.118
Akwu Sunday Victor holds a degree in English and Literary Studies and is currently pursuing his Masters in Literature. His writings cut across the three genres of literature. He is a foremost critic of contemporary African writing.