By Noel A. Ihebuzor
Title – Today na Today
Author – Biko AGOZINO
Publishers – Omala Media Ltd, Awgu, Enugu
Year of Publication – 2013
I have just been privileged to read a collection of poems most of them in pidgin English by Biko Agozino. Onwubiko Agozino (Biko), is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA
The collection, titled “Today na Today” is made of 36 poems, 31 of which are in pidgin English and the last 5 in standard English. The poems treat a broad range of contemporary social issues in Nigeria from life in our typical urban ghettos characterised by “face me- I face you” type of accommodation to protests over the conditions of host communities in the oil rich Niger delta of Nigeria. The issues covered are indeed broad but a common thread of social relevance unites them all. Take the poem “Fire the devil”. Here Biko slams with very biting wit the rise in a theology that seeks explanations for social failings in the unceasing interference of the devil. Or consider “Black sperm” where the poet describes and takes issues with the social consequences of new developments and possibilities in fertility management and reproductive choices, especially the whole issue of sperm banks and artificial insemination.. “Time na Money” starts off innocently on the title of a song by Okri but ends up with a deep and shattering broadside on an enlarging cult of materialism. Poor people pay more is particularly disturbing and contains lines that etch their words in the minds of the reader
“Them fit prospect for oil self right inside we wife and daughters’ thighs
We only beg make them rub small oil for we cassava leaves make them shine”
These are strong words. These are powerful condemnations of the activities of the oil companies in the Niger Delta (ND) whose failures and negligence along with other failures explain the abject poverty of the ND.
One cannot in a short review of this nature cover all the poems in the collection but a few deserve special mention – Dialectical dialogue, Yabbis, Capital punishment, Slum dwellers, Odyssey, Below sea level, Too Much Generals, Knowledge be privilege, Again born again, You be witch and Brain drain all stand out. Each in its special way takes up an aspect of our social life and our experience of it, be it as voluntary emigres in God’s Own country or as forced prisoners/participants in the gaols of our country where social services are almost comatose, social inequities and cleavages are on the increase, misery and despair so palpable and a tendency to play blame games on the ascendancy and dissects this with a blend of humour, sarcasm, irony, wit and some compassion. But for my concern not to enflame current sensitivities concerning the Igbos and the Nigerian state in the 1967-70 period and even beyond, I would also have mentioned “Forgive” as one of the poems that stand out given its plea to the Igbos to forgive the wrongs done them during the civil war. I will keep clear of that. The topic is too delicate, but the theme of Victory song, a poem which celebrates the victories of the ANC and Mandela among others, is not. Read it and rejoice with the successes of the liberation struggles. Read it but please do not say “Cry, the beloved country” for some of the failed dreams, unfulfilled expectations and matters arising in the present from those brave liberation struggles of the past.
The last five poems in standard English (is there such a thing, by the way) – Abu jah, Say Sorry, Massa day done, Con and Blue – are a delight to read. Abu Jah is troubling as it reveals all the shenanigans and shoddy dealings in our new capital city, a city, where for example, one family gets allocated 8 plots of choice land out of 16,000 plots in a country of 160,000, 000 people and the person who was principally involved in making the allocation is either unable or incompetent to recognise his guilt and to say “Sorry”! “Say Sorry” is a listing of our failings in society, failing we should be sorry for and to turn away from. I could go on but it is best I stop here to allow the reader discover and enjoy this collection of poems where art is used to project social conditions, contradictions and challenges for herself or himself as I have done.
Biko has certainly enriched the literary world with this collection of poems. Some of the poems betray his Igbo origins in their choice of words, cadence and rhythm! “My water pot it done broke” in its form, structure, especially repetitiveness of lines, has all the elements of the akuku ufere – akuku ifo (poem tale usually with a refrain) we used to chant as children during moonlight plays – “Ebele mu akuwala”.
I just have one problem with Biko’s efforts to write in pidgin – Biko him pidgin no trong at all at all – him pidgin na oyibo pidgin. Him pidgin na “ajebo” pidgin. He mixes correct English forms with pidgin forms (he uses “them” instead of dem, for example). This is a weakness and a “corruption” of our “ogbonge” pidgin. But we can pardon this “corruption”once we realise that this professor of sociology and Africana plus poet at Virginia Tech, VA, grew up inside Naija but has lived outside the country for more than 20 years in places like the UK, the Caribbean and the US. (Incidentally, his pidgin orthography is similar in many ways to the style of Chinua Achebe who used ‘them’ instead of dem in many of his novels).
The collection is published by a small publishing house, Omala Medsia, based in his home town, Awgu in Enugu State, Nigeria, and it can be ordered from www.lulu.com but I look forward to when this collection can be re-published by a more renowned publishing house but this is beyond the control of Biko or any of us. Decision for that lies with the publishing houses whose choices on what to publish are driven less by literary worth of a manuscript but by consideration of economics and market realities. But here, I stray and dabble into the difficult waters of the sociology of publishing. Happy reading.
An additional treat is that Biko Agozino recorded nine of the poems, mostly at Harry Mosco Studios, Lagos Nigeria with just one recorded at Paramount Studios in Nashville, TN. To listen to the recorded poems, follow the link here. Enjoy.
Noel A. Ihebuzor
@naitwt on Twitter