Last week, I started the review of the work: “Sòròsókè: An #EndSARS Anthology,” a collection of poems written by Nigerians both at home and in the diaspora, published in 2022 by Noirledge. The editors of the anthology, Jumoke Verissimo and James Yékú, indicated that the work is primarily a collection of poetic protests against the Nigerian state’s treatment of protesters at Lekki Tollgate in October 2020. The anthology, noted the editors, is “to preserve the memory of those who stood, fell, and died as they sought a better country … so that we will never forget it (p9).” This week, I bring you the concluding part of my review.
In the collection: “Sòròsókè: An #EndSARS Anthology,” Yékú, one of the editors, sings a song of lamentation.
For him, unknown gunmen forced a dirge upon the lips of those who gathered at Lekki, killing the harmony in a nation where the leader only knows how to gaslight the people. Indeed, Yusuf Balogun Gemini refuses to succumb to gaslighting tendencies of the cabal in power. He raises his hand to celebrate the women folk who stood despite the attempts by the state to cover up its atrocities of extinguishing the memory of the Lekki tragedy. Addressing the ruling class through one of them, this poet singles out for castigation and curse, a certain “double-faced” Segun (p37) who “refused to live up to his name” but became a member of the ruling class whose self-preservation is at the expense of “the lives of a thousand Nigerians.”
Indeed this anthology is a collection of fiery darts shot at the negligent leaders of a country that eats its young ones. These shots are shot by bards whose pens are whet and angry. Yes, anger is the manifesto in this work, and it is directed at the state which looks the other way as its security apparatchik deal fatal blows on its future generations. This is the sense portrayed in this poem, “The Scent of Revolution” (p43) by Prince Ohwavworhua. Prince laments the splashing of the blood of innocent unharmed protesters on the nation’s “once revered green and white camouflage by those who should protect our rights”, but warns that this will be ended soon. In a surge of hope and resolve, Prince concludes that the people of this nation will rise soon in one accord to “protect our land and secure our future.”
In a burst of sarcasm, Ademola Adesola’s “Hurray to Impunity” (pp44-45) draws up for us a catalogue of the supposed acclaim of the strumpets of power over the poor, oppressed, deprived and vulnerable people upon whom they rule and ride roughshod. In essence, Ademola’s anger at the system deployed the ruling class to castrate justice and keep the nation crippled is the pain of the people who are indeed inundated.
The poets in this anthology are largely angered by the tactics of the ruling class and their cohorts in oppression and how they systematically, overtly and covertly chisel away the good of the land. The collection parades a rich array of activist poets whose passion for a safe home-nation is matchless, yet mocked by their leaders. The poets protest profusely against the state’s relegation of freedom of expression of the youths who are displeased and subjugated by the state. The poets are particularly incensed by the fact that the state continues to live in denial of what actually transpired at Lekki on 20th October, 2020. For instance Mary Ann Olaoye writes about “faceless corpses” that were cut off (p52) and not allowed to “make it home”, signifying that the security forces deployed to Lekki that night took away the bodies to conceal the very act. Ibiene Bidiaque (p53) argues that bloodthirsty soldiers came at night and cocked their guns against civilians but “in the morning said none was dead and none taken,” and this, according to Samuel Ogunkoya (p56), is somewhat of a “sordid betrayal” by a country that cannot allow its young to live in peace and unity.
This narrative is sufficiently extended by Tope-Eniobanke Adegoke (p70), who is disgusted by the denial of the Lekki Toll Gate shooting by the government even when both local and international media reported the massacre. He decries the connivance of evil men with the night on that fateful night to make his country the “[gallows] where a dream was murdered/By uniformed men in a Champions League night.” Soji Cole’s “An Elegy for EndSARS” (p76) also echoes the betrayal of the actors of the protest by fellow protesters who only used the opportunity for their own agenda. Servio Gbadamosi indeed shares this thought in his deftly crafted lines (p84): “Nigeria surrounds/me with lies, deceit./I am that which the/Rabid dog vomited—/mangled, torn in this/wild country where/Dignity is ordure on/a dumpsite for stray/dogs and the hog.”
In the anthology Sòròsókè: An #EndSARS Anthology, we confront a nation that assumes helplessness when its law enforcement agents transform to forceful agents of oppression. And this is exactly the sense portrayed in the poem “They Hauled Him Away” (p93) by Stephen Kekeghe. The poet persona reporting as an observer, mourns the death of an innocent fellow citizen in the hands of “those in Khaki of blood”. In their characteristic mode of operation, they quickly conclude that you are a criminal once they see a good looking young person. Indeed for the poet, this is a situation in which you are lucky to see the next day in a nation where “SARS steals” your humanity. And that’s precisely what the poet sees here in the poem:
“His crime was his elegance
and the sanguine stare
that stood in his eyes
He was hauled to the POS
at the end of the road,
and in the blistering sun,
his blood glistened on the tars.”
Ultimately, this work Sòròsókè: An #EndSARS Anthology is a potent and eloquent protest against police brutality that took place across many locations in Nigeria, culminating in the 20th October 2020 shooting of peacefully protesting youths at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. It is a collection that emphatically resists the tyrannical instincts of government and its security agents against citizens, especially the youth. The editors have done an extremely excellent job of selecting 57 poems written by a diverse mix of 46 potent voices. It is a collection to have.