Ogbowei@62… I sing of tales of betrayal, savagery and love
Notable Niger Delta poet and teacher, GILBERT ‘EBINYO OGBOWEI, turned 62 last Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Ogbowei attended University of Lagos for his Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and University of Port Harcourt for his post-graduate studies. He teaches at the Department of English and Literary Studies, Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa State. He was also Chairman of Bayelsa State chapter of Association of Nigeria Authors (ANA). He is one of the most significant Nigerian poets to emerge in the 1990s with five published poetry collections: let the honey run (2005), the heedless ballot box (2006), the town crier’s song (2009), song of a dying river (2009), and marsh boy & other poems (2014) to his credit. One remarkable poetic ‘thing’ about Ogbowei’s titles is that all are in lower case. Unto this day, this gifted poet is still writing the nation in verse, and his new collection of poems, matilda, will be out under his publishing house, Rose Light Nigeria Ltd. In this interview with AJIRI-OGHENE OREH, Ogbowei talks about elite conspiracy and perfidy as Nigeria’s bane and issues prophetic warnings of dire consequences as a result
Why did you choose to write the nation, and the Niger Delta region in verse?
Not write only about Nigeria. As an activist concerned about the violation of the rights of our people, I write about the deplorable human condition in our country and beyond. Nigeria and the Niger Delta remain in the foreground, but the poetic canvas is enriched by a long history of hate and treachery that goes far back in time to ancient Egypt, Babylon, the Roman Empire, Greece before Alexander the Great, the Mayan civilization, Czarist Russia, Lenin, and the sad tales unfolding in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine.
It also draws upon our common traumatic colonial experiences in Africa and the New World, a carry over from the rapacious, plundering Roman Empire.When I interrogate pollution in the Niger Delta, I look at it in the light of such disasters as the Exxon Valdez disaster in the William fjord in Alaska, the Minimata Bay chemical disaster in Japan, the Alpha Piper fire disaster in the North Sea or the recent Gulf oil spill off the Gulf Coast in the U. S. Critics fail to see this wide scope sweep and the rich tapestry woven into my tales of betrayal and savagery.
Go over all my works, especially the last three – the heedless ballot box, song of a dying river and marsh boy & other poems – to discover this for yourself.I also sing about love, a theme, which runs through all my collections – love for nation, love for community, love for family, and erotic love. Check every collection and see if this isn’t true.No, my work isn’t narrow in its perception, as some mischievous, parochial critics would want readers to believe.
Sir, you clocked 62 recently. Having been born in 1955, Nigeria’s story is your generation’s story as well. How do you feel, considering how the country’s abundant resources have been squandered with noting to show for it?
My disillusionment is there in my poetry. Most of those who’ve caused this nation much harm are the very ones who’ve benefitted most from her. It’s worst in Bayelsa State, where those rescued from the boiling bogs, rescued from frustrating poverty and obscurity; fed on the superabundance of the creeks and rivers and sent to good schools at home and abroad, have banded together to sabotage and destroy the very land that gave them opportunities they never ever dreamt of. The culprits include the political class, traditional rulers, civil servants, who are anything but civil, youth groups who side with the very criminals who’ve sworn to shut them out of the good life, women who’ve sold their souls and bodies to the devil, and, most horrifyingly, the clergy and the intellectual class in a dance of shame with the thieving, murderous political class.
This is why the call for restructuring is being resisted by certain elements from the North, provided ideological props by intellectual class and priests from the two dominant religions to support their untenable position. It pains me to see this country fast straying to Kabul and Mogadishu, provoking interlocking civil wars. You’ll see this in my new collection, matilda.
From the town crier’s song to marsh boy & other poems, I’ve not stopped warning my nation of the dangers, the booby traps ahead, which her favoured sons have laid in its path. I’ve put my poetry at the service of the nation. Soon, those who call us names will discover how wrong they’ve been, electing to ignore the dark truth that the Father reveals. Our rebellion fulfills John 1:4, 5, “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not”.
Ours is predominantly a pagan nation. It prefers darkness to light, falsehood to liberating truth. It would kill the light-bearer and extinguish the light, that all may abide and grope in the dark. Are you, therefore, surprised that despite the billions sunken in the power sector, the nation continues to celebrate darkness?
It’s a murderous nation that loves to shed blood to satisfy the thirsty, demons of greed. Hence, ritual murders, armed robbery, insurgency in the North East and the Niger Delta, kidnapping, sea piracy, the FG-sanctioned activities of Fulani herdsmen in every corner of the bleeding nation, sectarian violence flaring up here and there?
Yes, despite our vast resources, the people wallow in poverty as suffering and violence spread like an incurable, rampaging disease. Why? Because the people have chosen darkness over light.
The end, a violent cataclysm, one violent eruption, and the land goes up in fire and smoke, the smouldering ruins, ash and running lava and ash that would bury all, ending a leprous union that shouldn’t have been.
How then can my generation stop this unending struggle?
Forgive my pessimism. Just that wherever you look, nothing seems to inspire hope – not the rhetoric of treachery and violence or its combustible ideology of cronyism, nepotism and bestial greed. Nearly everyone is entangled in their web. God help your generation, schooled in deceit, conspiracy and mobocracy.
•Oreh is a former Director of Information, Creative Writers’ Workshop, Abraka
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