FBO Akporobaro’s The Lament of the Town Crier: The true calling of the African poet

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Reviews Season Three

Last Updated on November 10, 2018 by Memorila

Ubaji Abubakar Ishaq Eazy writes that FBO Akporobaro’s The Lament of the Town Crier, which is a great collection of poems, discussed the ills of African societies that include dictatorship, military rule, oppression, corruption, bad governance, and cannibalism

FBO Akporobaro’s The Lament of the Town Crier is a great collection of poems. Its greatness lies in the fact that it addresses pertinent issues that have become anathemas to almost all African countries. These issues include dictatorship, military rule, oppression, corruption, bad governance, and cannibalism. FBO Akporobaro has demonstrated that above all, the poet must show commitment to society, he must take side with the oppressed and seek liberation from the oppressors. He is the town crier crying for a revolution, asking that the status quo be changed. To achieve this, Akporobaro employs a simple diction that can be understood by the layman on the street, the poet knows his audience and he is desperate to reach out to them. He goes as far as even employing the pidgin as the medium for committing some of his poems to paper.

Using a fictional name (Ekindu) for his country, Nigeria, the poet goes on to discuss the ills in the society. However, the issues he points out are not peculiar to the Nigerian society alone as Nigeria is a microcosm of the most African societies. The poet would even go as far as leaving the boundaries of Nigeria to examine these same issues in other African countries.

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“Victims”, for instance, captures the plight of a helpless woman widowed by the military president. Via the use of dialogue, we see insensitivity on the side of the soldiers who make of her an object of ridicule:

“Why are you crying
Who are you seeking
Amongst the dead?”
The soldiers asked laughing.

The woman moaned feebly.
“The President has killed my husband
And eaten his heart
Along with the eyes of justice.” (8)

This poem is most likely composed during General Ibrahim Babangida’s reign of terror as a self-styled military president of Nigeria. During this epoch, there was the brutalisation of many citizens and denial of basic human rights, the most painful being the death of Dele Giwa through a letter bomb; the poet addresses this in another poem titled “The African General”. The hardship and struggle for survival in fictional Ekindu, occasioned by satanic leaders, would lead to cannibalism as men begin to sell human parts as meat as seen in “Under Arrest”, it would lead to parents wishing the death of their children as in “I have to Kill you my Child”, and cause professors to become frustrated with the classroom.

The poet believes that African biggest headache are its set of leaders who are corrupt, vain, insensitive and would rather live extravagant and immoral life even though there are confronted with the poverty, hunger, and helplessness of the people they are supposed to lead!

“So we who preside as Afric presidents
We go fucking, giggling,
In our pink gums and black rotund cheeks
Terrorizing, killing, embezzling and fucking about
For these are the easiest
Things for us to do
In this land of primordial drought.” (36)

The poet also warns, using historical allusion of Egyptian pharaohs cum dictators (Ramses and Ozymandias) to prove that all political power and material wealth is vain and would soon lose their essence after mortality takes its toll on us all.

Ramseses! Ramseses, rise out of your mountains
And with Ozymandias and Orok
Answer, reason, and resolve with Time
What it would matter one million years
From now that I built this mansion at Ibadan

This house at Ikoyi
This mansion at Abuja
This house at Emede
This mansion at G. R. A. (18)

For the poet, the ungodly and irresponsible acts of African leaders explain why some have lost faith in the existence of God. This idea is buried in the heart of his poem “Argument with God” and in “The Child and the Ghost of Hunger”.

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Least I forget, the collection also hosts some long narrative poems which include the poem that gave its title to the book: “The Lament of the Town Crier: An Elegy on MKO Abiola” which actually details the life and death of a great Yoruba political leader whose presidential mandate was stolen by a military despot whose wish it is to keep perpetrating himself in power. There is also “The Virgin Priestess and the Anthill” which adopts a Chaucerian style to tell a story, the poem should be considered an epic and it continues with “The Child and the Ghost of Hunger” (1 and 2), the first captures the horrible fate that awaits those who dare to say the truth in a land where truth is suppressed and fear enthroned while the second and third uses a child interaction with the “Ghost of Hunger” to prove that hunger, death, and famine are caused by the recklessness and irresponsibility of African leaders mismanaging the wealth of a great nation that should be enough for all to live well.

Akporobaro has done a great job in the choice of selecting thematic troupes to brood upon but is there strength in his poetry? I find that his style of poetry is bland as his diction is not of the elevated kind associated with poetry and what I mean here has nothing to do with the simplicity of the poem and how open they are to interpretation, I speak of the use of images (there are cases of historical and mythical allusion though) avoiding redundancy, and dislocation of language. While I appreciate the fact that he makes it a duty to communicate with his target audience in a manner that can be easily grasped by them (the laymen on the street), even to the extent of using the pidgin in some instances, he never should have sacrificed simplicity for art; he must strike a balance! He must learn to be simple without being simplistic like Osundare. Still on diction, it is important to note that Akporobaro is a great scholar of the oral tradition and it is evident that his style of writing must have benefitted from the simple style of the oral medium. Yet, I expected that he should not have stopped at just employing the simple rendition approached, he should also have tried his hands on proverbs, folktales, and employed refrain (all which are strong elements of orality) in his poetry.

I am not happy with the last poem, the one he wrote in prose and labelled prose poems, he should let prose be prose and let poetry run as poetry. If the poet is so interested in explaining his atheist stance, it can still be done in verse instead of producing prose and shuffling it down our throats as poetry.

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Also, the idea of polluting the section meant for long narrative poems with short ones is also not agreeable as it spoils the arrangement of poems in the book. Poems such as “The Prostitute”, “The Praying Mantis”, and “Bishop of Urhobo” belong in the first section rather than appearing in the second. Even the poem “The Lament of a Town Crier” has no place in the second section for it is not a “narrative” poem.

Lastly, the epic poem in three different parts (which Udu Yakubu incorrectly describes as “folktale poetry” in the introduction to the collection) have their perfection tainted by the injection of prose into it, especially those letters of Abdullahi’s to God and his ancestors. These are sour parts of an otherwise beautiful poem. This kind of admixture of prose and verse in an epic poem, according to Isidore Okpewho, is the type that makes eurocentric scholars of African orality derogatorily label the African epic as “saga” which of course is laughable! Nonetheless, the risk of having such an admixture might be read as a weakness in creating verse in some quarters, this we cannot allow.

In conclusion, we must applaud Akporobaro for tipping the scale in favour of justice as against oppression, choosing to speak the truth in a society where fear of the political juggernauts have become the order of the day, enlightening the masses on the source of the many ills in the African society (showing where the rain began beating us) and recognizing that the true calling of the African poet is to serve as the vanguard of the people, to be a gadfly in the realm of political predators and scavengers. Despite the formal blemishes, Akporobaro deserves our commendation still.

© Ubaji Abubakar Ishaq Eazy, 2018

Read Eazy’s reviews on Memorila every Saturdays!

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Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy holds a degree in English language and literary studies. He is a short story writer, copy editor, book reviewer, literary critic, poet, and essayist. He teaches English as a Foreign Language in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

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