One Leg Forward, Two Leg Backward; Eriata Oribhabor; Something For Everybody Ventures (SFEV), Surulere, Lagos, 2020; 85pages
Eriata Oribhabor’s collection One Leg Forward, Two Leg Backward published in Nigerian Pidgin spans across multifaceted genres, namely: poetry, short prose, conversational prose and lots more. The collection is experimental and revolutionary, so to speak, in form and in content as it criss-crosses the borders of separate genres. One Leg Forward emerged after a critique on the Naija Languaj as far-fetched for the lay pidgin reader. Oribhabor, hence, took cue to translating some of the works previously published in Naija Languaj to Nigerian Pidgin, in order to enhance better comprehension of the works. The book contains over thirty-five works categorized in three sections.
Notably, One Leg Forward congregates a plethora of ‘truths’ as it concerns the Nigerian government, culture, people, language, military and even environment. Each of the works in the collection embody the voice of a truth-teller, unabashedly examining the Nigerian society for what it should be, can be and must be. This is why the speaker in “Wetin be Confusion” asserts that “Person na Naija when person see Naija from many place” (13). The idea of “seeing” goes beyond mere vision but towards the examination of the Nigerian society thereof, the introspective looking upon the country and seeing it for what it is—flawed and wanting of salvation. This collection, thus, beats the expectations of conventionality and strolls towards a newness in the language, establishing Nigerian Pidgin as a language through which literature in “high formality” (Derrida) may be produced.
Firstly, the title of the collection alone already brings to one’s mind the oxymoronic placement of words, wherein “one leg forward” equals “two leg backward”. The irony therefore is the intertwinement of progress and backwardness. Where in each case, a movement forward motivates twice the movement backwards. Indeed, this metaphorical disguise of progress as backwardness and success as defeat is rapidly captured all through the text.
Through Oribhabor’s collection, there is indeed the reawakening of language, albeit the pidgin language. This language functions in the text as literary and is equally evocative.
“Make We Tell Our Sef di Truth: Na Who Neva Die De Tok”
The idea of truth-telling or frankness which runs through the book may be encapsulated in the line above, taken from the poem “If Tomorrow Go Stand Gidigba” (53). The tone underlying the works we find in Oribhabor’s One Leg Forward is not one of fear, timidity or uncertainty, rather it is one of boldness and audacity—what we may call the authentic truth-telling act.
In several of the works are found the true dialectics of the soldier-civilian relationship in Nigeria, especially in a supposed metropolitan city as Lagos or as the poet calls it, the “no-man’s-land”. Popularly, the saying goes that “the police is your friend”. However, the poet counters this popular ideology with the truth which is a reality in the society, wherein the acclaimed soldiers or “uniform men” are in fact no different from the street touts and hoodlums. In his “Wetin be Confusion”, Oribhabor narrates the hassle of driving the rowdy Lagos routes while maintaining double consciousness to be sure that one is not being trailed down by the “uniform pipul”. He writes thus:
As person dey drive dey go, person dey look mirror for left, mirror for right and centre. Any motor wey put double trafigator na fear na im e dey put for person body. Di fear sey dem dey follow person from Costain don bring heavy tension for person. (11)
By default then, the average person has to skirt through Lagos traffic as well as the uniform men in order to get to one’s destination in good time. The uniform men who wield their guns as threats to the civilians, since they can “do and undo” (14). The writer concludes that the “authority wey deh for gun pass di one wey deh for ordinary person hand” (14).
Considering that Lagos is one of Nigeria’s foremost cities, the writer bases lots of the works therein. Several works in the collection spotlight the Lagos life with its hastiness and complications since the Lagos experience is often considered to be the nucleus of Nigerianness. In the words of Oribhabor, “Naija no be Lagos, but e de boil for inside Lagos – good, bad or yama yama” (13). Hence the works describe the Lagos traffic experience, classifying the “daily traffic” and “weekend traffic” as well as the “road traffic” and “venue traffic” (38). All these serve to emphasize the horrid though truthful experience of living in Nigeria and striving to wade through its vices. The same experience may be further seen in the work “Okitipupa to Lagos – Seven Hours” in which the narrator explains the heinous journey with the naija roads wey “get k-leg”, the “police and wayo police for everywhere”, “Federal Road Safety pipul”, the “Custom pipul” and even “Agbero pipul” (32) who all team up to make a short trip tiring and distressing.
Despite the immense hardship which riddles the society, the writer notes the extreme classist behaviour which still thrives amongst members of the society. One of the popular sayings persons often go by is that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. However, in “Wetin be Confusion”, Oribhabor reverses the narrative as he examines the complexities between the pen and the gun. He writes thus: “Plenty times, person don hear sey, Pen dey mighty pass gun. Person no fit understand how. How? How small pen wey person tek dey write kom big pass gun?” (14). This questioning or revolting against common knowledge opens up the passageway to truth-seeking and, in fact, truth-telling. Indeed the narrator counters theoretical knowledge with reality, wherein “gun small, gun big, gun be difren-difren but gun carry fire wey dey born and finish person one-time” (19)—and this feature which the gun possesses, the pen does not. Ironically, Oribhabor setting these two items side by side are metaphorical for the soldier (who wields the gun) and the civilian (who has but just a pen). The effect, then, is that the former exudes power while the latter is consumed in it and by it.
Amongst other things, Oribhabor’s collection interrogates the consumerism affliction which befuddles the Nigerian state. The narrator identifies the vast lawlessness in Nigeria, wherein the country is left unattended to. In the short prose “Wetin Civilian Sabi Sef”, the narrator points out thus:
Kontri just be like human being. Kontri na plant wey dem dey water to grow. Kontri get blood. Kontri get life. Na how kontri dey change oil from time to time like machine, na im go make am dey move well-well. (19)
This statement presents the truth of what country living should be unlike what the Nigerian state has been reduced to. This is especially the case wherein “man get meat for house kom dey look for fish for outside” (22). Wherein the Nigerian peoples fail to utilize their basic natural gifts but lean on other countries for finance and well-being. The writer describes the Nigerian situation to be not likened to “Oyibo blindness” which is considered just peripheral but the black man blindness, which is thick, totaling and looming, enshrouding the country in immense backwardness. We see: “Wen you look am well-well, and see how life dey for oyibo land and black man land, you go see why oyibo say black man na ‘animal’” (22). The writer thus, presents the bitter truth that Nigerians themselves are the orchestrators of their problems, wherein “instead of pipul to work and pray, dem de pray and pray” (22).
Summarily, the collection celebrates the Nigerian diversity while at once frankly unearthing the unsaid truths about the society. In the poem “We All Get Our Own” for instance, the poet eulogizes the diverse cultural trademarks of Nigerians, ranging from the Hausa man who pronounces “Picture as Piksho” (27) and the Igbo man who pronounces “Thousand as Taaasand” (27). The poet thus surmises in the words “we all get our own” that we all bear our peculiar cultures and identities which we need not erode with the systemic infiltrations of Western modernity. Also presented in the work “Pretoria and Plenty Language for South Africa”, the narrator strolls down memory lane to lamenting the erosion of Nigerian cultures as he witnesses the South African conscious attempt at preserving their culture and art. The poet laments thus:
Dem dey always say, things go better – things don dey chenge. Oil city of those days no deh again. Grass dey do competition with flower for space and for many place, grass na flower for where dem reserve for flower. Today, Warri no fit boast of any quiet place wey person go proud of. (34)
With this, the poet mourns the loss of relevant tourist sites and flora in the Nigerian environment.
–Uzomba is the Editor of The Muse Journal No 50 (A Journal of Creative and Critical Writing). She is a winner of the Lagos-London Poetry Prize and a Longlistee of the Poetically-Written Prose Contest.