By Ekanpou Enewardideke
EBI Yeibo, the committed and award-winning poet from Niger-Delta whose biological roots enjoy solid spread both in Bayelsa and Delta states, has through his iron wood-made poetic craft, cumulatively given us his experiences and stance on topical national issues in his third collection of 30 poems titled: The Forbidden Tongue. From whatever angle this collection is looked at, it throws up the fact that Ebi Yeibo inhales and exhales poetry in every dimension. This is a practical validation of Prof. JP Clark’s position that the Ijaws are naturally poetic. Though not completely without questionable twists, The Forbidden Tongue is a portrait of Ebi Yeibo as a poet who masterly pilots his craft to any desired harbour.
In Ebi Yeibo’s The Forbidden Tongue, the poem titled Song, first dances into the playground for surgical evaluation.
The Forbidden Tongue
The functional importance of poets in society is what runs through the poem. Paints a poet as a person who should draw attention to the decay and twists in the society, corrects them and inspires hope among the people – thus drawing the directionally and morally dividing line between a drunkard, puritan and poet. The poet consciously uses his tongue to criticise and direct society. This is appropriately captured in these lines:
Stroke the sagging sun
With the resilience
Of our tongue”
Portrays a society whose future is desecrated and destroyed by selfish politicians and other undesirable elements who publicly parade the image of responsible persons. The new people who have taken over from the colonial masters have made a mess of the sacrifice of the founding fathers. The poet sees objectionable things happening but too incapacitated to do anything. At crossroads, he merely watches the destruction of the land by African leaders. Perhaps, the poet comes face to face with this mess via his work as a special assistant to the speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly on media. The poet sees the decay and how the sacrifices of our founding fathers are mocked by our new leaders. The poet’s helplessness is shown thus when he says poetically:
‘I lie wailing at the crossroads
For the new Lords of the land
Who murder the new moon
Right on our lap’
Politicians are voted into offices on the strength of their promises but they selfishly violate their own promises within a short time. The poet sees this, puzzled. He can neither help nor stop the decay. The poet fails the society by being a mere observer without a blue-print. He merely attacks without any solution. This observer position, purely occasioned by his being in the system on account of his political appointment, is a negation of the thematic direction of his opening poem in this collection titled Song.
Paints a picture of the Niger-Delta being deprived of its entitlement. The Niger-Deltans are daily preyed on by foreigners in different colours who feed fat on their wealth. Images like “malignant bat”, “our embankment sinks”, “stabbing our sun,” “weaning failing children” and many others, point to the degree of deprivation, exploitation and helplessness. It shows the poet’s lack of confidence in development organs like NDDC, DESOPADEC and others. The entire system seems to have conspired against the Niger-Delta. The poet hears songs of deprivation everyday; he calls on the sea to stem the madness. This is unrealistic and impractical. The poet should be the agent for this change but he shirks the responsibility.
The poet, who sounds overtly quixotic, strikes me as instigator and armchair critic, unprepared for action. The action of the sea cannot change the worsening situation in the Niger-Delta.
Portrays the radiance of the sun as the agent of change desired by the poet but it is sadly barricaded by clouds. The clouds do not allow the people to feel the radiance of the sun. The clear message here is that the problems plaguing the country are man-made. Because some bad people still occupy relevant positions in the country, the country cannot grow geometrically in terms of development. Rather than solve the problem, The poet unrealistically relies on KARMA – that karma will befall the negative forces in the country. Merely invoking KARMA will not solve the problem. It is farcical to depend on natural forces and philosophies to solve a biting problem. The poet sounds ridiculous betraying his unpreparedness for war in the following lines:
‘O let those who barricade
The sun’s path with polished clouds
Remember the soar fate
Of ash throwers’
The poet makes another impractical appeal when he says again.
‘Let the eloquent sun
Sing harvest songs
In the rumbling stomachs
Of sulky saints’.
THE LIGHT GOES OUT AGAIN
Portrays a society dark and decadent caused by its own people. The poet is disgusted with unpatriotic attitude. Rather than attack the decay, we applaud the agent of the decay and create avenues for its perpetuation. Politicians, buoyed up by sycophantic praises, perpetuate the rot. The rot has a far-reaching effect – cutting across every age. Majorly, the poet uses the image of cloud to portray the decay consuming the light. The picture created here is that of a blind-alley.
MOON LIGHT MURMURS
This is a portrait of a society that has lost its pair of compass and therefore down the path of damnation. Here dreams of better dawn are killed by forces of darkness. Dreams do not enjoy practical manifestation here. The poet captures this thus:
‘Here, they lack life
Like plants chlorophyll
Like a stomach hosting poison’.
RAGE OF A RIVER
Environmental pollution and destruction of sacred areas in the Niger Delta thematically dominates this poem. The people in Niger Delta are exploited by both the Government and oil companies. The poet justifies the agitation and militancy in the Niger Delta. The poet posits without his uncanny hesitation that the volatility in the Niger Delta stems from the exploitative tendencies of the government and the oil companies. These lines lend credence to this claim:
‘When a hawk swoops on chicks
The mother goes wild.’
The poet here unveils the true picture of society and predicts the future. Armed with knowledge of today and tomorrow, he beams light on his society. This exposes the poet to danger. But with the power of EGBESU, nothing will befall people who demand justice. Egbesu is solidly behind the freedom activities in the Niger Delta and so they need not fear bombardment from any corner. This is an open acknowledgement of the power of Egbesu – the Ijaw god of war – as it is captured thus:
‘Like the eyes of the alligator
Unscathed in muddiest waters
We look the sun in the face’.
The poet is of the conviction that only justice can solve the Niger Delta problem, not guns because freedom activists enjoy the mystical support of Egbesu and cannot be defeated.
Depicts Niger Delta as a region abandoned by Government and Oil Companies. It is full of sorrow and afflictions. Everything, developmentally and otherwise, is in stasis. The poet recommends intellectual militancy to end the rot in the region when he declares.
‘Let lacerations of a loose tongue
Banish garish gnarly barricades
From boundless seas’.
The poet veers into unrealistic region when he recommends intellectual militancy because it has long failed and therefore one would have expected a more radical and Marxist approach to the Niger Delta question. The poet’s cosmetic and impractical recommendations only create avenues for readers to doubt his credentials as a Niger Deltan.
Portrait of hypocritical approach to the Niger Delta question. The poet depicts people who castigate the militancy in the Niger Delta and create solutions. The same people who call agitators in the Niger Delta different derogatory names are the people poaching and exploiting the area. They spoil everything and pretentiously declare friendship without addressing the Niger Delta question.
‘As deaf as an iguana
Hoist a dumb flag
WHAT THE CLAIRVOYANTS SEE
Insincerity and decay produce agitation. Government not being committed and sincere in the Niger Delta question, the clairvoyant foresee the impending doom and fight the system to get a timely breathing space. The monster of militancy is created by the government and only the government can eliminate it through commitment. This is the thesis of the poet when he says:
‘Like angry bees, they sting
Our hallowed dreams to stupor’
‘Siring sedated lions
Wandering in the wilderness.’
TSUNAMI REMINDS US
The poet foresees a change from the struggles of freedom activists in the Niger Delta. To the poet, the militancy in the area stems from oppression and exploitation. Authorities at various levels of government should take it as a warning that anything can happen in the area. To ward off trouble, we should learn now. The potentials of freedom activists are equivalent to the potentials of tsunami. Freedom activists could wipe out the system in anticipation of a better one if adequate measures are not taken. This is a timely interventionist strategy from the poet confirming his pacifist orientation and phobia for military confrontation.
Categorically draws attention to the fact that things have actually gone wrong in the society. The poet uses the images of cloud and sun to validate the fact that things are in disarray. The silence of parrots and bulbuls confirms it more. Despite the dismal and anomalous order of things, the poet shows the virtue of patience in his appeal:
‘O patience, comrades, patience
The fabled weapon of sandbanks’.
To the poet, we need to be chameleonic at times to be able to win the war. The poet is calling on Niger Delta freedom activists to wait patiently for what the Yar Adua-led government can do in the Niger Delta. This is an appeal to reduce the tempo of the agitation in the Niger Delta.
LONG GUN DEMOCRACY
This poem is a portrayal of a country where the rule of law is not respected. Depicts a democracy that is not rule-governed in its duties and obligations.
Paints a clear and wide picture of the decay he sees everywhere despite pretentious attempt to cover it. As a poet, it is his responsibility to showcase it though it will sound forbidden. The poet maintains thus:
‘So impelled by the muse
We dare death
Singing this forbidden song.’
THE SHY SUN
This is a pessimistic depiction of a society where good dreams will never sprout because of man-made darkness. Everybody is groping and there is no direction. The ubiquity of the groping emanates from the conviction that nothing works especially when the sun that is supposed to give light is shy. The emerging picture is that of hopelessness and helplessness originating from the hostility of the environment. This once again throws Ebi Yeibo up as a modernist poet.
Portrays the days of D.S.P Alamieyesigha as Governor of Bayelsa State. As long as he occupies the governorship seat in the states, no one should dare it because Alamieyeseigha has the resources to consume any contender. This poem is a celebration of the so-called “sit- tight” tendencies of African leaders – the political invincibility of Governor Alamieyeseigha in his hey days. This is depicted in the following lines:
‘Can the puny chick
Haggle in the same market
With the rampaging hawk?’
‘O when the sunseeker set sail
Lesser boats wrestle with waves’.
Of what relevance is this portrait to the reader? What is the poet’s position on this matter? Dismissing it as something unimportant does not show the position of the poet. What is the basis for this portrait? This is a striking instance where the poet derives enchantment from trivia. The poem teaches nothing and communicates nothing meaningful to society.
DREAMS AND SHADOWS
The futility of shadow–pursuit is the thematic thrust of this poem. Change and progress can only emerge from targeted criticism. The poet sees criticism as an agent of change in society, not mere sermonisation.
REMEMBERING KADA BRAMU
The poet as the conscience, voice of vision and direction is the thematic preoccupation of this poem. When things take anomalous turn, the poet feels obliged to launch verbal attack using his craft as corrective measures. Without the voice of the poet, society wilts and becomes directionless. The poem showcases this in these lines:
‘The poet prattles
Because the world withers
This poem thematically cautions against false sermons and the need to build self-confidence and self-conviction. It is essentially a call on people to renew belief in themselves. The ubiquity of fake sermons is highlighted. One can live a responsible life by rejecting such frivolous and unappealing sermons. Such sermons, fake, objectionable and retrogressive, are not indispensable and therefore should be rejected. The poet captures this in the lines below:
‘Forests may be dry
And ageri out of season
Yet the bush fowl feeds’
Paints picture of a dark and retrogressive society where the people who sow the seeds are denied the fruit of the harvest. The harvest taken over by thieves, posterity is doomed. Helpless and hamstrung the poet wishes things were in their proper order. The poet prayerfully expresses his wish for a better tomorrow thus:
‘May the sizzling society of scorpions
By the Lightning torch of dawn.’
This poem is a castigation of the lethargic approach to the amelioration of the lot of the people. The new dawn is wasted and orphaned because rather than create refreshing innovative approach to address the daily plagues of the people, only outdated impractical tactics are recycled, causing impoverishment. The Government is not prepared to work for societal progress. The Government only nurtures bad practices such as assassination and other vices. The poet feels fettered in this state of systematic stasis, retardation and thus becomes critical of the Government of the day in the country:
‘The gifted griot
Caged in this cover
Sings in stinging tongues.’
The poet’s position is that of disenchantment with the present democracy because it has not created ways to safeguard today and tomorrow. Only old tactics we have often ridiculed that are recycled. Tomorrow is foredoomed.
NO FIREFLIES HERE
Portrays a bad leader who claims to have repented and is thus given opportunity to serve the people again. Firmly in the throne he bares his enormous fangs, destroying everything. The portrait is that of a politician who reappears under the pretext of repentance and does most ignoble things than ever before. The poet cautions voters against voting for bad politicians who claim to have repented of their disgusting ways. This poem is reminiscent of the objectionable performance of Olusegun Obansanjo and his political cronies despite his public persona as a saint who understands the problems of Nigeria perfectly. Obasanjo is the target of this arrow. This hypocritical claim of repentance and sainthood is beautifully brought out in these lines.
‘The innocuous mamba
Has spit into our eyes
Fireflies willfully fly away’.
WE STAND IN THE MIDDLE OF A WHIRLPOOL
Uncertainty of life among dwellers in the Niger Delta is the focal point here. Niger Deltans toil daily to survive the hostilities in their region whereas those who exploit them are enjoying life typified by marital celebrations using the resources from the area. Life is brutish, hard and uncertain in the area like George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM. The Niger Deltans are willfully abandoned. The image of a whirlpool reinforces the uncertainty and the pervading sense of abandonment. The lines below attest to this claim poetically attired:
‘But we stand in the middle of a whirlpool
In the new moon
Like saints in an evil forest
Wanton waves slap us to stupor’.
A white light meanders its way
To the centre of the river
Only to drift like lettuces in noontide’.
SONG OF THE NEW MOON
The poet exposes the deliberate twists in the new democracy. In the new dawn only undesirable elements and area boys enjoy it because they are beatified for their criminal roles in the democracy. Intellectuals are not accommodated. Promises of politicians are not matched by action. Footsteps of the founding fathers of Nigeria are not even followed, not to talk of those who make sacrifices for democracy to come. Nigeria is yet to gain equilibrium – still floundering and drifting even after years of democratization. The poet succinctly portrays this thus:
‘Like upturned cockroaches
We struggle in vain
To regain ourselves’.
The suffering of Niger Deltans in two areas are showcased here. Niger Deltans are made sleepless by environmental pollution and Federal bullets trying to cage dissenting voices. Blood is spilled everywhere from military encounters. The owner of the black gold deprived and restless by bombardment does not have access to it. Militarily besieged, they can’t even feel the radiance of the sun – the sun often cloud–hidden. The poet cries out again when he says:
‘And the lazy luminescence
Of the asphyxiated sun
Remains in the womb of cloud’.
THE FORBIDDEN TONGUE
The poet Ebi Yeibo sounds contradictory, boring, impractical, confused and directionless in this poem. Takes us through varying scenes of unsightly and condemnable happenings in his own society. Horrendous scenes of decay and death are painted without telling his own society the supposed beneficiary. It is like globe-trotting for pleasure. The poet’s refusal to tell the story is guided by his philosophical avowal of secrecy. He claims that the story of such horrible happenings must not be told for public consumption. The image of crocodile intestine reinforces his avowal in these lines:
‘We do not open
The crocodile intestine in public’.
Surprisingly, towards the end of the poem the poet violates his avowal not to talk and reveal secrets associated with the pervasive rot. Again he supports his new position with another proverbially cast philosophical stand from the poem:
‘O the unspeaking mouth
The hidden scrotum
The poet does not want to talk and when he eventually talks, he reveals nothing. He merely stresses the potency of the poet’s words, but will not use any of them. This verbal ambivalence and elasticity throws up the poet as a confused person who has nothing to say. The poet here is a bundle of self-contradiction and confusion. His position shows that the tongue is both forbidden and not forbidden. This is an impossibility.
NOTHING SURPRISES US ANYMORE
This is a clear portrayal of an African country irredeemably plagued by hopelessness, disillusionment and stasis. It is the picture of an African country that has changed from military government to democracy. Now fully democratic nothing works. Progressive elements that want the country to grow are humiliated and assassinated. Poet’s picture reveals that the military government is better than the civilian one. The poet recommends military take over. Before inviting military intervention, he compares the democracy with others and concludes that it is fast declining. Sun normally gives radiance, vitality and life but in the poet’s tropical country, the sun suffocates, destroys any positive growth. Dews moistens but in the poet’s country, dews dry up things. It is a country where nothing works and anything can happen. A country where happenings are contrary to what is obtainable in any other democracies. The two stanzas below capture this reality:
‘What would surprise anymore
When dripping dews
Now dry up
Not the first cockcrow.
‘When new songs we savour
Are mutilated wantonly
Like a cult victims face
Their music still born?’
THE POET’S HARSH BALM
Thematically portrays poet as the voice of vision, direction, hope and of progressive change in a society. The poet plays investigative role and gives the truth without pretence especially where the truth gives direction. The poet is a dependable historian for societal growth. The poet is an objective and dispassionate personality who confronts society with the reality of his search and paves the way for society to grow. The lines below show the validity of this portrait.
‘But like a diviner, resolute
The poet dives into dark depths
That fertilises the foeths dreams
No elephant hides
In an open grassland’.
Having painted various scenes of disillusionment associated with the country and life in the Niger Delta, the poet imaginatively creates the ideal world of his dream where everything works perfectly. The images ‘Fresh Foliage’ springing and ‘Bouncing borns’ point to the ideal world which cannot just spring up on its own. Somebody has to create it. The poet poses questions as to who will create this world. A number of people opportune to create it only kill the dream for selfish reasons. Imaginatively projecting the ideal world the poet shows awareness of the darkness around him. The poet sees the enormity of the task thus:
‘Who could break impregnable rocks
Into racy pathways?’
Using the image of a cock, the poet posits that one man can create the ideal world and revive hope buoyed by conscious determination. It saddens the poet that some bad elements are wont to kill the hope of change and progress when given the opportunity. He captures thus the crash of his imaginative utopian projection in these lines:
‘For standing on hallowed altars
You mutter ‘talitakum’
Nipping our dark dream
In a moonlit night’.
The poet fails us here again when he refuses to be the agent for creation of his ideal world. He merely sermonises without practical involvement. A poet who desires change but not ready to assume the role of a trail-blazer. The poet likes being watchful without practical involvement. This unpreparedness for practical involvement in the creation of the ideal world that signals hope is a blight on the poet’s vision of hope desired. This is a clear portrait of national decay whose regeneration the poet sounds pessimistic about.
In Ebi Yeibo’s, THE FORBIDDEN TONGUE, he categorically paints a very clear picture of a decadent and hopeless Nigerian society beyond redemption, corrupt leadership, impoverishment of Niger Delta by Government and Oil Companies, environmental pollution, lawlessness, moral decadence in variegated colours and cosmetic approaches to the Niger Delta question are the issues that thematically dominate Ebi Yeibo’s THE FORBIDDEN TONGUE. The emergent picture is that of Nigeria conscious of her decay in many forms but not prepared to create the platform that will end the pervading rot. This dearth of will for self-redemption and self-recreation through a pragmatic alchemical process premised on reconstruction of the inner tune is the propelling justification for Ebi Yeibo’s portrait of Nigeria as a hopeless society beyond redemption captured appropriately in the poem “Hope” in his collection THE FORBIDDEN TONGUE.
Even in THE FORBIDDEN TONGUE, Ebi Yeibo characteristically displays stylistic commitment to his language of communication. His elliptical structures, rankshifted clauses, synaesthetism, verbless clauses intensely difficult to recover, his communicative images from his Ijaw locality appear more predominant in this collection and give the language a complex complexion. However, it appears Ebi Yeibo is fascinated by images drawn from geography, biology and agriculture because his lexemes are predominantly drawn from these fields. This is equally what lexically and imagistically characterizes his MAIDEN LINES and A SONG FOR TOMORROW AND OTHER POEMS.
In all, Ebi Yeibo’s love for use of alliterative sounds that imagistically and musically strike a chord even in THE FORBIDDEN TONGUE is commendable and this is an aspect of his poetic craft that features in all his collections of poems. This quality of selective use of sounds, even imagistically congruent, throws Ebi Yeibo up as a gifted poet that is very poetic in his effortless poetry traditionally emblematic of Ijaw people.