Greedy leaders. Looting. Colonialism. Neocolonialism. Fake drug dealers. Power cuts. Money-laundering. Hunger. Cultural diversity. Deceit. Amalgamation. Motion without movement. Ethnocentrism. Scums in power. Bloodletting. Malaria. Cholera. Jaundiced politicians. Strange manifestoes. Comatose health sector. Miserable public schools. Sick health sector.
These words and phrases capture the essence of ‘Lagos Is Killing Me’, a collection of over 60 poems by Michael Taiwo Oloyede and they also give away the poet as telling a brief history of Nigeria in verses.
Aside from his emphasis on the challenges facing Nigeria, the poet also addresses autism, prostitution and its downside, Lagos and its headaches, suicide, violence against women and cheating in relationships.
The lover boy in Oloyede is evident in at least five poems in which he addresses love and its ups and downs.
Oloyede’s disdain for leaders who have misled and are misleading Nigeria comes alive in poems, such as ‘Lagos is killing me’, ‘Moribund restaurant’, ‘Naija Wahala’ and others.
The poem titled ‘Naija Wahala’ seems to suggest that the poet believes the answer to Nigeria’s woes lies in a revolution. He hums at the end of the poem:
Revolution has envisioned our land; soon,
it will infiltrate with a merciless entourage,
to give us a new page in the history of time.
Yes, a cure to the wahala of Nigeria.
In ‘Moribund Restaurant’, the poet compares Nigeria to a business concern that is no longer viable. He sings its dirge:
In this glistering and moribund restaurant called Naija,
hunger dies of lack!
Yesterday’s sour meals of sordid stories are still on today’s menu,
the maggot-ridden appetizers of money-laundering cuisine are strung on the white linen thoughts of national prosperity.
Political pests continually finger and break into the lump of our national pudding with their greed-infested fingers.
The poet lays curses on fake drug peddlers, bad politicians, vagabonds in power but praises men of integrity in ‘Ibirikembiri, Live and Let Us Live’.
His curses are harsh. He wishes them joy infested with strange boils, forehead kissed with Cholera, soul attractive to the gallows and economic fever.
There are other poems, which also chronicle the Nigerian disaster. In ‘Sacrament of bullets’, Oloyede focuses on the #EndSARS protest and its aftermath. He pays homage to everyone killed during the protest. His prayer for the killers is that peace will elude them.
In ‘SARS’, he tears apart this monster in whose evil grip dreams have died and ambitions have been buried. He has no good words for its operatives who he sees as bloodthirsty, brigands, allies of traffickers, retailers of body parts, mercenaries of sorrow and fat ransom receivers.
Victims of insurgents are remembered in ‘BODMAS of Grief’ while insurgents themselves are mocked for their quest for heavenly virgins.
‘To Port Harcourt’ captures the grief of Nigerians who commute from Lagos to Port Harcourt. Oloyede laments the evils on this route: Prowling ritualists, corrupt policemen and the extortion at the bypass of Benin-Ore Road.
In ‘Fela’, the poet sings praises of the late Afrobeat maestro. He hails him for his contributions to humanity: His fight against dictatorship, his campaign against religious mongrels, his battles against corruption, his war against the greedy and his quest for a new world order.
The titular poem brings Lagos alive in its sights, sounds, smells and more. We see the almighty traffic gridlock the government seems not to have an answer to. We see dreams dying. We see aspirations collapsing. We see dirty money in the carnivorous city.
We see the accommodating Lagos, which daily welcomes souls of all hues. We see people living in duplexes built on heaps. We see Shylock landlords. We see people paying for power blackouts. We see men in economic diapers. And we see Lagos’ capacity to steal people’s joy and sanity and give them an illusion in its stead. Yet, we see the mega city ever welcoming and welcoming and welcoming more in-takes from far and near.
The poem titled ‘Sepia’, which talks about a lady who offers her body to men in flashy cars, brings to mind some great literary works such as Toni Kan’s ‘Carnivorous City’, Dami Ajayi’s ‘A Woman’s Body is a Country’, Wole Soyinka’s ‘Brother Jero’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Americanah’, Tolu Akinyemi’s ‘Inferno of Silence’, Chinua Achebe’s ‘Anthills of the Savannah’, ‘Emmanuel Iduma’s ‘Stranger’s Pose’, Buchi Emecheta’s ‘Joy of Motherhood’, Helon Habila’s ‘Waiting for an Angel’, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s ‘ Season of Crimson Blossoms’ and Tomi Adeyemi’s ‘Children of Bone and Blood’. Oloyede plays on the titles of these works to deliver a poem that mourns the downside of sex for cash.
The poet’s sharp lens pricks the conscience of rapists in ‘Ghoul’ and his wish is that their miserable bodies will be cremated. The killing of George Floyd is treated in ‘I can’t breathe’ where he berates Caucasian Minneapolis cop, Derrick Chauvin, for choking life out of Floyd on May 25, 2020.
Oloyede’s attempt at touching every aspect of human experience makes this collection a potpourri. There is almost something for everyone in this collection, which brings to the fore the burdens of the human race in free-flowering, lyrical verses.
He delivers debilitating blows to oppressors while consoling the oppressed.
–Olukorede S Yishau is the author of ‘In the Name of Our Father’ and ‘Vaults of Secrets’.