By Chukwuma Ajakah
Prolific poet, social commentator and professor of English Language at the Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU) Ile-Ife, Nigeria, Gbemisola Adeoti, paints a picture of a country besieged by a rampaging Grim Reaper in his poem, “Ambush”.
The iconic poet, who is also the Director of the Institute of Cultural Studies at the University, satirizes Nigeria as the Giant of Africa, using the imagery of destructive giants akin to that which the spies used in describing their supposed land of promise, as a land that devours its inhabitants.
The poet uses frightening and gloomy images to portray the nation as a place where terror reigns and aspirations are short-lived. Agreeing with the belief that Nigeria is a “giant”, creates images of “a giant whale”, “a giant hawk” and “a sabre-toothed tiger” as apt metaphors for the country. He also portrays the citizenry as victims of bad leadership who live in perpetual apprehension with “aborted dreams” and “unrealised potentials”. In the first stanza of the poem, the land is likened to a ferocious beast that leaves fishermen with sad tales of abysmal failure: “The land is a giant whale/that swallows the sinker/ with hook, line and bait/ aborting dreams of a good catch/ fishers turn home at dusk/ blue Peter on empty ships/ all Peters with petered out desires.”
Using the imagery of fishing, Adeoti metaphorically presents the land as “a giant whale that swallows” its human and natural resources, leaving nothing other than suffering behind. The poet also alludes to the biblical account of Peter’s woeful fishing expedition prior to his encounter with Jesus, saying: “blue Peter on empty ships/ all Peters with petered out desires…” However, unlike Peter whose fortune positively turned around after that ecclesiastical encounter, the fate of Nigerians irredeemably hangs in the balance.
In the next stanza, the poet compares the country to a wild ravenous beast that spares neither infants nor adults. According to the author, “The land is a sabre-toothed tiger/ that cries deep in the glade/ While infants shudder home/ the grizzled ones snatch their gut/ from bayonets of tribulation/ halting venturous walk at dusk…” Each line of this stanza invokes fear and trepidation. As the poet explores themes relating to the socio-political and economic problems facing Nigeria, these revealing lines mirror the hardship, poverty, insecurity, kidnapping, communal rivalry and lots of other challenges that buffet Nigerians.
Moreover, Gbemisola Adeoti portrays the land as a predator bird that hovers over a hapless community, seeking whom to devour. In doing this, the author presents the familiar picture of a hawk that stalks the mother hen and her chicks waiting for the right time to pluck any stray chick: “The land is a giant hawk/ that courts unceasing disaster/as it hovers and hoots in space/ The land lies patiently ahead/ awaiting in ambush/ those who point away from a direction/ where nothing happens toward the shore of possibilities.”
As a result of the many years of failed leadership, the country experiences all kinds of social problems-violence, robbery, insurgence, kidnapping, etc that make it /a sabre-toothed tiger/…a giant hawk/. The youth and elder statesmen refrain from agitation for fear of being persecuted by agents of government: “While infants shudder home/the grizzled ones snatch their gut/from bayonets of tribulation/halting venturous walk at dusk.”
Although the language is simple, the poem is overtly laden with metaphorical expressions that some readers may have difficulty interpreting. The poem is replete with lots of symbolic expressions that enhance the poet’s message: “giant whale”, “giant hawk”, “petered out desires”, “sabre-toothed tiger” and “grizzled ones”. Dominant figures of speech that characterise the poem include metaphor, personification and hyperbole. The beauty of the poem, however, basically lies in the poet’s masterful deployment of imagery in conveying the embedded themes.
The poem is crafted into a four-stanza sequence without a consistent rhyming scheme. It has an overriding tone of lamentation as the persona catalogues the misfortunes that buffet the citizenry. The mood is predominantly gloomy with a corresponding tone of fear. However, there appears to be a shift in tone in the last stanza where the persona expresses a glimmer of hope as he briefly focuses on a generation that could take the nation out of the woods “towards the shore of possibilities”. Another twist occurs as the expectation is threatened by the ravenous ruling class who are favoured by the status quo: “The land lies patiently ahead/ awaiting in ambush” ready to pounce on the change agents.
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