14 August 2010

Nigeria: The Parliament of Idiots - Tryst of Sinators

Tayo Olafioye's Parliament of Idiots: Tryst of the Sinators is a poetry collection for all seasons. From its rare striking title, dazzling in all its semantic and stylistic possibilities, to its content and form, the collection rings in the reader's mind like a great cathedral bell. Long after the reader has finished reading it, s/he seems not to have finished reading it; in other words, something keeps stretching the mind, keeps reminding the reader about the collection. The recent debacle in the House of 'Legislathieves', where the supposedly honourable citizens turned themselves to dishonourable beasts, using their deft filthy talons to tear one another's shirts, no doubt, ricochets the mind back to this collection.

Right from the "Disclaimer", the vision of the collection comes to the fore. Without prevarication, the poet cautions: "By The Parliament of Idiots, I mean its constituency of offenders and those who by tacit or explicit commission participate in this particular scandal under review and/or any other lapses not yet exposed. Any parliament of angels proves impossible to constitute but so long its moral pollutions are limited". The above quoted are words of rage stoked with the fire of pity; the poet's pity for the continuous plundering of his motherland. The poet writes: "This primal land gave birth to us (...) To see her through this deathly elder-abuse at the hands of a few prodigal sons and daughters, gave me the creeps, the scars of the heart and a thorned, smashed soul".

In "Conclave of hyenas", the poet's rage continues. But the outburst here seems more intense. The poem opens on a remorseful note and gradually gathers a fiery temper. Stench of dishonour; of betrayal; of undemocratic daemoncrats; of sheer greed oozes out of this poem. With a touch of metaphor, the poet recounts: "They sheared the elephant:/Arms, legs, and limbs/Flesh, carcass, and tusks. /Its heart gulped in a flash/The foxes provided for themselves". In the same first stanza, the poet informs the reader of how the chambermaids (legislators) of horror pollute the land with their contract scam. In the second stanza of the poem, history is recreated on the slaughter slab of memory. The poet talks of the white aliens who once "devastated our shores/(whose) bones lay in our soil", then he talks of the internal antagonists who constitute a legion of locusts ruining the crops. Here, he directs his poetic excoriation to the enemies within who make the task of nationhood exceptionally herculean. Thus, with a subtle but volatile invective, he prays: "They too will die from the heat of the earth". And to finally delineate them, they who make lies as laws, the poet recounts: "These idiots really tested the stone/To see if it bled water./Now they know/Niger stones shed tears and blood". The imagery of "tears" and "blood" which is also reminiscent of Fela's radical revolutionary music stirs the reader's emotions. And little wonder that the poet quickly adds in the last two lines of the poem: "For as long as we have memories/Yesterday shall remain unforgotten".

"Minimum wage: maximum wahala" stretches the vision of the earlier poem. In this poem, Olafioye unmasks the antics of the patriotic enemies; enemies who love their compatriots that they "make truths face backwards". The poem configures a template of capital sins. It reflects the injustice meted out to the labourers, whom the poet says, "will never climb/Out of the crypt of misery/Dank all life long". The capitalist exploitation and orientation of the Nigerian leaders is exposed like the rump of a chicken. The poet sadly notes that the labourers "... are cursed:/Reined in by those they chose/To lift them./No greater enemy/Than the one, in one's household". This poem also animates perfectly the spirit of the recent protest by the Nigerian labour force for increment in salaries. Olafioye christens the proletariats with multiple names: "mekunnus", "talakawas", "slave machines of penury". He also observes keenly that the workers are not even assigned a "noble austerity" as "they ate unhappiness for dinner".

In the pun title, "A tail of discomforts", Olafioye interrogates the futility of Nigerian democracy. He sees wasteful and reckless spending; he sees "12 cars, police escorts/10 vans, burly guards/12 riders, with status horns/20 cars, for area boys, cooks and laundry men/(...) 6 doctors for emergencies/In case he caught a cold or dreamed". The above lines cast aspersions on the senselessness of endless convoys and hoodlums that the nation's leaders fortify themselves with. But the poet does not stop at that, he hits the head of another cankerworm ravaging the lungs of our state -- the first lady lassitude. The poet remarks: "The madam too, her cortege of ghostly fops/The wife of a captain, a captain too". Those two lines, as innocuous as they appear, are paraphrasable as follows: like husband, like wife; behind every successful "patriotic marauder" is a more patriotic termagant. The poet does not reserve any apology for the feminists.

The spirit of reckless spending without the least thought of the "Songhai worker" or "Songhai tax payers" (30) is the spirit recreated in "Christmas bonus: in the Songhai Sinate". The poet decries the sheer looting of the nation's treasury in the name of Christmas bonus. He does not understand why a sympathiser is crying blood while the bereaved is shedding slow or no tears at all. He quizzes: "How much will Jesus collect/From Songhai tax payers/For his own birthday?" This is a great question that every countryman and woman must answer. This is a question that the 'legislathieves' who defame the name of Jesus Christ with Christmas bonus must answer. While the poet rues "our dance with death", he submits: "Those without tears/Have no heart".

In "Ogidan - the mountain lion", the reader comes across a document of vices. The rise and fall of Ogidan, "brilliant like a fox", is laid bare. But who is Ogidan? The poet only gives the reader a clue; he describes Ogidan as "Imperially slim and nobly endowed,/He glittered when he walked/... humourously human when he testified/The old Mamba had two birth certificates/Each a different date and name/Three grammar schools/None which he attended". With this revelation, the reader, armed with unforgettable pages of history, can direct his binoculars at the "Parliament of Idiots" of Nigeria's Fourth Republic where the "Sinate" President fell apart with impeachment. The picture of Ogidan becomes the more pellucid in "The impeachment". In the poem, Ogidan, described as an elephant, falls, "ditched in the abyss". To properly place him (Ogidan), the poet says that Ogidan: "Once giddy with power and illusion/commandeered the national mace/His staff of office/But the property of the nation/Hid it in his village". Mr Ogidan defecated on the eyes of the river where he fetches his drinking water; he smuggled the national mace that made him to his village. Treason. Filth. Lunacy. Political malfeasance, a fine one at that. But Ogidan was doing all that in order not to be impeached. And the poet asks proverbially: "When will the goat not be sacrificed?" Then he goes further to intimate the reader with the historical register of Ogidan's fatal fall. "To dam up the flood", the poet intones, "Hence the impeachment/Of Ogidan and fellow prostitutes/81 to 11 vote/73 per cent: two thirds of 109/Nobody says:/The lynchers are stainless/Like calico of linen". Each senator takes each missile from the poet's pen.

However, Tayo Olafioye's The Parliamnent of Idiots is not solely a poetry collection about the sins of the sinators, as the title makes us to believe, a handful of the poems in this collection paint the parliament of the poet's mind. Out of the three sections of the collection, only the first section justifies the title of the poetry volume. The other two sections would have made more sense if they existed elsewhere, not within the ambit of a serious title as the one under review. It is understandable, nevertheless, since the other sections provide a sort of palliative for the disillusionment and sadness picked up from the first section. And as Virginia Woolf brilliantly admits: "The success of the masterpieces seems to lie not so much in the freedom from faults- indeed we tolerate the grossest of errors in them all - but in the immense persuasiveness of a mind which has completely mastered its perspective".

Tayo Olafioye has mastered his perspective. In The Parliament Of Idiots, he writes about timeless issues and the realities which daily haunt our national psyche. Senators still stage their wrestling matches in the National Chambers; impeachment remains at best impeachable; workers still fight for increment; contract scams until date ventilate the ambience of the House; honourables still act dishonourably, trying tooth and nail to abscond with the mace. Simply put, in **The Parliament Of Idiots**, all Nigerians have their faces glued to the pages of recollections; in a collection so immortal. And what with the incessant show of shame and particularly the recent brawl of June 22, 2010, in the House of Representatives, the **status quo** of Tayo Olafioye's The Parliament Of Idiots** still remains the same, if not worse. It is, indeed, a parliament of senseless pugilists!

Title: The Parliament of Idiots: Tryst of Sinators

Author: Tayo Olafioye

Reviewer: Tosin Gbogi

Publisher: Kraft Books Ltd.

No of pages: 92

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