From Kemi Yesufu, Abuja The decision to retain health maintenance organisations (HMOs) as part of the country’s health insurance programme caused a major disagreement between the House of Representatives Committee on Health Services and the executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Yusuf Usman. Usman, at the just concluded two-day investigative hearing…
Title: Scented Offal
Author: Sam Omatseye,
Publisher: Topseal Communications,
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
No matter how scented an offal is, its permeating, fetid odour offers no respite. Cupped palms are bound to rise across the nose to prevent the disgusting stench from wafting into the nostril. Though edible to some, it isn’t something many would like to stay close to. A demerara doesn’t need to be scented, in contract. Everybody needs a demerara, but the reality is that there isn’t any brown sugar cane around for everybody to savour here.
Take it or leave it, Nigeria is akin to the scented offal. Sam Omatseye’s latest collection of poems, Scented Offal, makes the truth stark even to the blind. Scented Offal takes us to the formation of Nigeria where different ethnic groups were lumped together. A historical poetry, it chronicles the ups and downs of Nigeria from pre-independence to independence and the civil war.
Omatseye does not assign dates to the sequence of developments in the poetry. But, reading through the poems, you can easily situate their historical contexts. Without making attempt to cloy or inveigle, the speaker adopts a rigid posture in the expositions, leaving us in perpetual cogitation where we got it wrong as a nation.
Using limited number of poems, Omatseye captures, in minute shafts, what could have been written in copious prose pages. That is the beauty of poetry: that ability to condense words without losing the meat of the message. Scented Offal approaches our national matrix from the nineteenth century, a period where cudgels and bayonets reigned among brothers, and it ends on a warring note with the civil war.
The title poem “Scented Offal” situates the inherent dissonance among Nigerians from the word go: “We could swear that our loins never joined/ From old times/ In the rhythms of dances/ Or in accents/ Or songs/ Or the patterns of the village square…” (p.7). The warring tribes were busy killing one another. Thus: “In this blood, we saw the cousin/ Who is us but who is not” (p.8). The tragedy of the birth of Nigeria is that it was western contraption, which the natives had no hand in. Hence: “Its fruits were/ Nourished in foreign ether/ White hosts hoisting guns with a god” (p.12).
The poem “The Big Three” traces Nigeria’s problem to the ethnicisation of politics whereby the three major ethnic groups –Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba –began positioning themselves as tripod of power. But that wasn’t the original idea of the pioneer nationalists like Herbert Macualay, “a nationalist seeking a nation” … an “ancestor seeking a new breed of warriors”, and Zik, a “World wise, word wry and, at first, above tribe” …. “Because he was bold/The black man stood/ The white man understood/ The grounds of freedom…” (p.16).
When Awolowo joined the fray, “He was in a cot coy over/Azikiwe’s mighty name/ Glorified as Zik of Africa” (p.17). The ensuing power game led to Zik, an Igbo, losing the claims to the premier of Western Region and his relocation to the Eastern Region to edge out Eyo Ita. Likewise, NPC swaddled the north with its credo, and “the three-chambered politics/ Cemented the official loss of innocence….” (p.20). Maladaptation is in full swing.
While the trajectory of political independence from Britain reverberates in the poem “Independence”, the next “The West Burns” relives the political crisis in the Western Region, which threatened the political homogeneity of the Yoruba. Eventually, “Awo prevailed for the west/ And became envy of the rest” (p.29), though he has Akintola’s countergambit to contend with.
The poems “Military Coup” and “Civil War” chronicle Nigeria on the brink of dismemberment, with blood flowing as a brotherly feud took precedence. Though the war stopped, not the howling itself. Therefore: “A new vanguard was born/ Of fear and suspicion…” (p.46). Omatseye’s Scented Offal, a historical intervention in poetic form by a finicky bard, leaves Nigerians with endless whimpers. The question then is: who will bell the cat?