Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Not My Business

Hailing from Nigeria, Niyi Osundare finds an outlet in his poem 'Not my Business' to express his views of the actions taken by repressive regimes such as the one that exists in his own country.


The first three stanzas of this four-stanza poem are identical in structure. The first four lines of each describe how acquaintances of the narrator disappeared in either brutal or mysterious circumstances. In the first stanza, Akanni is beaten and pushed inside a jeep; Osundare uses personification to create this image, describing how the victim was 'stuffed ... down the belly' of the jeep. The final three lines of this stanza, which are completely identical to those of the following two stanzas, convey the reaction of the narrator to this sudden, shocking event. Using the metaphor 'So long they don't take the yam / From my savouring mouth?' he considers that it is none of his business. As long as it doesn't affect him directly, why should he care?


The second stanza recounts how 'they' took Danladi away 'to a lengthy absence'. He was taken during the night: not just taken, but dragged out in an episode that woke everyone in the house. Osundare uses the word 'booted' to convey the aggression here. Stanza three is somewhat less violent but equally chilling, showing that women were not spared from similar treatment. Chinwe was sacked from her job without any explanation or warning. The second and third stanzas are concluded in the same way as the first: the narrator is still adamant that he doesn't have to bother about such events, as long as 'they' leave him alone.


The fourth and final stanza, however, is in stark contrast to the first three. The narrator is sitting down to eat his yam when a knock comes on the door. He describes his reaction in no uncertain terms: 'A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.' The jeep is waiting for him this time, and he again uses personification to project his feelings onto his lawn, describing it as 'bewildered'. The ominous tone of the final line describing the jeep 'Waiting, waiting in its usual silence' is perhaps even more chilling than the contrasting account of the brutality of the events of the first two stanzas.


The fact the Osundare uses first names to recount what happened to Akanni, Danladi and Chinwe shows that these were either members of his family, housemates or close friends. It is striking that the events took place at different times of day: morning in the first stanza, night in the second, no specified time but presumably morning in the third, and evening in the fourth. This makes us feel that these people would always have to be on the alert and could be arrested or lose their job at any moment. Yet, seeing what happened to those close to him and knowing that it could happen at any time, the narrator did not initially seem to think that he was in any danger. The irony of course is in the title, 'Not my Business', since the jeep eventually came for the narrator himself.


Osundare here conveys the idea that people can disappear or lose their jobs for no apparent reason in places such as Nigeria. He expresses his concern that people may not care that this is happening, as long as they can carry on with their own lives as normal. Yet it can happen to anyone. Observers of such a situation need to care about such injustice and take action to prevent oppression.

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