Elusive love, good leadership, oneness
Book: Voice of Africa
Author: Paul Ugah
Publisher: Chapuga Publishers, Makurdi
Reviewer: Adjekpagbon Blessed Mudiaga
Voice of Africa is Paul Ugah’s debut poetry book after his first ever published prose work (short story) titled What Goes Round.
In the 39 poems that made up the volume, the budding poet expresses his feelings about love and politics coupled with lamentations concerning issues happening in Nigeria and the world at large.
The volume is divided into three parts. Part One contains nine poems such as Love, Wind of Christmas, Mambilla Plateau, Fire, Aishetu, In Praise of a Damsel, Angel Winifred, Bountiful Lady, and Apa. It talks about love between human beings and wonders why it is elusive despite its confession and celebration especially during festive seasons like Christmas. The poet persona is of the opinion that love should transcend festive seasons of sharing gifts. It should be exhibited every day.
In the poem, Aishetu, a lady is being praised for her decent dressing, while others who dress skimpily are chastised. Hear the poet in the following lines: “You walk in beauty / Like African queen / In her Queendom / At home you’re Aishetu / Unlike others you refused to /Adopt campus names such as / Paula, Sandra, Juliet, Frances / unlike others you refuse to expose erogenous zones / You shunned skimpy skirts / Because there is no mileage in it / You’re original…”
This underlines the poet’s call for good dressing among undergraduates in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions where many female students engage in indecent exposures to entice both male lecturers and students. For ages, many Nigerian university campuses have become brothels where majority of females dress whorishly to attract the opposite sex in order to drain their pockets. Politicians are not left out in the practice of ‘Aristorism” (advanced men of sixty years and above going to campuses to pick cheap female students in exchange for sex and money).
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Part Two contains 15 poems bordering on the poet’s reflections about contemporary national and international issues. Poems in this section are titled Reflection, A Walk on Christmas Eve, Reminiscence of 9/11, The Millennium Story, Echoes of June 12, Paragon of Virtue, Sunrise, Books, Poverty, A Call for Peace, A Plea to Politicians, Success Boost, Fourth Estate of the Realm, Prophetic Utterance, and Voice of Africa.
In Paragon of Virtue, the poet highlights the need to be different from the crowd in a positive way, in a country where evil and corrupt people seems to be the only center of attraction, worship, and emulation by many folks. Listen to Ugah in these lines from the poem: “You live among them / You behave not like them / This makes you / A paragon of virtue / In the eyes of Africans / This is a celebration of your purity / In this ephemeral world / Where eyes / Are blurred / With filth and nothingness / Of the earth in chasing shadows / You see how heroes / Are made with ease / In our land / Yet you glue to the honest path / Toiling and toiling to achieve / The crown of success / Oh! Paragon of virtue / We hail you / For your sheer boldness / And honesty / To face life.”
I like the simplicity of the verses as they tend to convey meaningful messages, even though the entire lines of the volume are devoid of the basic characteristics of conventional poetry, such as rhymes and rhythms. The poem I cherish in the collection is the piece entitled Books, which underscores the importance of knowledge in human development. The language of the entire poems in the collection is simple and well woven with figurative expressions that clearly defines their messages.
The poem, Books says: “Books are like virgin lands / Many loathe the forests and / Thorns that / Cover the fertile hand beneath / But the wise ones / Toil hard and subdue it / And get the hidden treasure – / Knowledge /… Knowledge is like a butterfly / It must be pursued gently / With all seriousness / And caution / Read a book today / My brother / And keep ignorance / At bay / Read Nigerians / To make your nation great.”
It reminded me about my poem titled Book in my award winning nursery rhymes poetry volume titled “Rhymes from the Nile.” They both carry similar messages encouraging folks to read to acquire knowledge. This shows how poets think alike to some certain degree with similar or different layers of meanings. It
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also brings to mind the rejuvenation of ‘Reading Culture’ among Nigerians, by former President (Dr) Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 2011.
Nonetheless, another poem worthy of note in Part Two is A Plea to Politicians. It avers that: “As democracy is gaining / Grounds / In our land / After decades / Of democratic rule / This is my plea / To you / Politicians / Let your meetings / Be devoid of voodoo / Let your electioneering / Campaigns / Be devoid of violence / This is my plea / To you/ Politicians / That as you struggle / For power / Kill not / For Nigerians are watching / The world is watching / The Almight God too is watching / Our democracy has come / Of age / Let no one make a mess / Of the game of number / Bequeathed to us / By our heroes.”
My question is: how many politicians will listen to this plea? Nearly all Nigerian politicians seem to be struggling to dethrone Satan to take its crown of evil to wear. The media have been rife with stories of politicians involved in voodooism and satanic oaths to gain political power and share the commonwealth among themselves. They care less about the needs of the citizenry while fighting each other over sitting allowances, national grazing bill, and water resources bill, etc.
The poem I find most controversial in the collection is the one used for the book cover title, Voice of Africa which eulogizes Mr. Barack Obama the former President of the United States of America. It posits that: “I saw you puddling / With resilient struggle / Meandering with bewilderment / In the sea of racism / From Kenya to White House / From Africa to America / And I sighed, hmmm – / Obama, my son / You are fighting / To actualize / Martin Luther King Jnr dream /For decades after / Barrack Obama / Your victory is emancipation / From racial inequality / Your victory is laurels / For the racism that plunged / American democracy / For four decades / Look! Look! Look! / At Martin Luther King Jnr / Laughing at racism / Like the ghost of Banquo / Laughing at Macbeth / Look! Look! Look! / At human rights leader / Jesse Jackson shedding / Tears of joy in Chicago / Obama, my son / You are the emblem / Of Africa / In the eye of the world / This is the voice of Africa.”
The poet personifies Africa as the speaker in the poem. Though Obama actually brought African blood presence into the White House as the first African that became the President of the USA, there is a particular unAfrican decision he
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made or was forced to make during his tenure. Such unAfrican decision is homosexuality which negates the culture and values of Africans. It reminded me about a poem I also wrote concerning the issue titled Obama’s Bone to Bone in my poetry collection entitled Nightmares In Paradise, published in 2013, chastising Obama for that singular ungodly and unAfrican act.
The most noticeable poetic features in Ugah’s collection are stanzas, palilogy, and some figures of speech such as simile, hyperbole and personification. Other literary concepts common in the volume are biblical and classical allusions. All the poems are devoid of rhymes which makes the work a blank verse.
Part Three is however replete with poems of lamentations, bemoaning the state of things in Nigeria, Africa, and the global community. Poems in this section includes Lamentation of a Centenarian, Messiahs, Fetters of Life, Prisoners of Birth, Mother, Mirage, Elegy for Twin Sisters, A Lamentation for Ukandi, Mndiba’s Shoes, Selfishness, The Prayer, Paradox of a Nation, Ode to AIDS, The Roaring Nemesis, and Tide of Time.
The poem, Selfishness, could be used to summarize the unpalatable events happening in Nigeria today. It says: “Many moons gone by / We were once together / With one voice: laughing, dancing, caring…/ Together in the time past / But now selfishness / Has destroyed the bond / That bind us together / And we can no longer speak / With one voice / Today we can no longer / think together / Like the days of Sardauna, Zik and Awo / Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Tiv and Idoma…/ Bury your differences / Let us come together as one / Every man, woman, son and daughter / To play in the field of politics / Set aside your religion / For we are all part of each other / Therefore, we must not / Kill one another.”
Unfortunately, the issues raised in the poem have become the national policies and practices of many Nigerian politicians inciting their supporters against their opponents, by igniting the embers of ethnic discrimination and religious bigotry. The Fulani terrorist herdsmen rampant killing of indigenous folks in Benue, Taraba, etc and other pockets of killings nationwide without any of the culprits being arrested and prosecuted in a court of law, is a pointer to ethnic cleansing in the Middle Belt, which Gen. TY Danjuma (retd), accused the present administration of. Can this poem actually make legendary selfish politicians and
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individuals in the Nigerian society change to humanitarian beings? Your guess is as good as mine. There are many other things Ugah lamented about not only concerning Nigeria, but Africa and the entire world. Nigeria’s case is more pathetic as folks keep waking from one nightmare to another, from recession to depression endlessly.
In conclusion, the volume contains a shortcoming that needs to be corrected before reprint. This has to do with the omission of question marks in some rhetorical questions replete in the verses. However, this does not reduce the quality of the messages in the volume. There is no mechanical noise in the entire book, which makes it a good read for the reader.
Paul Ugah is a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Benue chapter. He studied Mass Communication at Benue State University.