Yeibo’s The Fourth Masquerade: When allegiance swings between homeland, nation
Born in Ayakoroma, Delta State in 1969, Ebi Yeibo has emerged as one of the finest voices in contemporary Nigerian poetry. Currently with the Department of English, Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa State, Yeibo studied English at Delta State University, Abraka and later in Ibadan.
With five poetry collections to his credit— A Song for Tomorrow (2003), Maiden Lines (2004), The Forbidden Tongue (2007), Shadows of the Setting Sun (2012) and of course, The Fourth Masquerade (2014) which won the 2014 ANA Prize for Poetry, Yeibo has traversed the literary landscape with a laudable ideological commitment. As P B Shelly avows that the poet is “the unacknowledged legislator of the world”, Yeibo’s socialist vision measures with that of Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Odia Ofeimun and other globally acclaimed Nigerian poets who are engaged in social criticism of the Nigerian state.
Unlike his previous collections that bear the Niger Delta eco-social problem as a major thematic throb, in The Fourth Masquerade, Yeibo broadens his poetic canvas by weaving images of the Niger Delta wounded landscape with the battered Nigerian democratic process. In all the 48 poems in this collection, Yeibo borrows metaphors from the rich archive of his social milieu to make a striking comment on the nation-state. In the struggle to resuscitate a drifting nation as Yeibo poeticizes, it is imperative to employ all arsenals within our reach. In effect, Yeibo’s dual consciousness is manifest in his allegiance to his ancestry and the love for his nation. While he quests to salvage the vanishing festival drama of his people and their sickening ecology, Yeibo expresses a peculiar avant-gardism to neutralize every instrument of oppression deployed by the desperate Nigerian elite to plunge the vulnerable masses into perpetual misery.
In the title poem, “The Fourth Masquerade”, Yeibo employs the fourth masquerade, an active character in the annual Olorogun masquerade festival of Ayakoromo, Delta State, Nigeria, as a trope through which he boldly unleashes his verbal missiles on corrupt institutions and individuals. Like Ezenwa Ohaeto in Voice of the Night Masquerade, in Yeibo’s The Fourth Masquerade, he exploits the mask motif— the masked persona, like the masquerade, has the freedom to express himself freely without intimidation of any form. He cautions: “These lines are the owl/Hooting ominous messages/In choking pain”.
Here, Yeibo employs the image of the hooting owl, an indigenous metaphor for doom, to caution man against what he perceives as an impending gloom in the Nigerian society. Yeibo’s attachment to his homeland is also patent in his deployment of maritime images such as “frothy salt waters” and “mangrove swamps” which are emblematic of the Niger Delta landscape. Interestingly, the poet employs these indigenous experiences to comment on the Nigerian condition. Yeibo illustrates that the masquerade in primordial era, maintained an appealing calmness: “Every step a torrent of bliss/Beyond bugs and roaches”.
Conversely, owing to the current shades of evil manifestations in our present day society, it is imperative for the masquerade to replicate the violent spirit of the age, “To chase and strike/Running, gasping, yelling mortals/…/In their weakest moments or glitches”. By chasing the fans in plaything, Yeibo, like the masquerade, is rejuvenating the masses to engage in active participation in the political processes. The lines are suggestive of the fact that unlike in Yeibo’s previous collections where he appears less engaged in national issues, in The Fourth Masquerade he has worn the mask to speak in a guttural voice.
In poems like “The Burden of Blood”, “They Need New Names”, “For Hamza Al-Mustapha”, “Rhythm of the Forsaken”, “Rage in the Desert” and others, Yeibo unfolds his patriotism to his nation, questing to rescue Nigeria from her current decrepit position. In “The Burden of Blood”, for instance, he reprimands the irresponsive politicians whom he regards as “importunate beings” that “swoop on the public pouch” and “like hawks”, they have “a free reign” on “the wayward chicks” (ignorant masses). Here again, the poet weaves images of homeland—“hawk” and the “chicks” to comment on the relationship between the rulers and the ruled, the haves and the have-nots.
As patriot, Yeibo in “They Need New Names”, parodies the excesses of Nigerian politicians and their party affiliations. He sarcastically regards the All Progressive Congress (APC) as a new PDP that “wrap up ancient maelstroms/in fresh cocoyam leaves”; adding that they “Feign defection/from the plundering party” forgetting yesterday when they, themselves “pocketed the communal pouch”. Consequently, in “Give Us Life”, Yeibo tasks the egocentric leaders to solve the myriads of problems confronting the Nigerian society. The poet’s demands include the establishment of industries to absorb idle youths, construction of good roads and infrastructure, which are of immense benefit to ordinary Nigerian: “Give us bakeries, not daily bread/…/Give us tarred roads/…/To fecund farms far away”. This submission undoubtedly discloses Yeibo’s allegiance to his nation.