Book: October Blues
Author: Obiageli A. Iloakasia
Publisher: Libretto Publishers
Reviewer: Taiwo Adeniyi
It will soon be two years since the Lekki ‘massacre’ occurred. The incident, in October 2020 at the peak of the EndSARS protest, was greeted with several controversies including whose order the ‘unknown soldiers’ obeyed, the use of live ammunitions and if the flag was actually stained with the blood of the innocent youths.
Contrary to my thoughts on receiving the book in the mail, ‘October Blues’ is an anthology that looks beyond the Lekki incident. Though the incident was a pedestal, it stands to reveal how ‘bulging pockets and bloated stomachs’ made some Nigerians renege their pledge to the country.
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While another anniversary of the EndSARS protest looms, ‘People of Doom’ have not desisted from taking this country on a gloomy path through their perceived booms.
While the people pray:
‘O’ messengers of doom
Destroy not his place we call home.’
The ‘hoodlums’ did not keep quiet in their warm appeal to GOD through the last words of the Nigeria’s pledge:
So help me God
Please when I loot,
Make sure no one loots my loots.
It’s a rough city out here;
People’s loots are being re-looted,
And looted loots are treated as new loots.
This loot is my possession.
Looting in an act of redemption.
But this 153-page book is not one of lamentations though it espouses the anguish of the aggrieved. It is not a collection of poems that dwells on the nation’s miseries but Iloakasia did not mince words in her musings on how there are several ‘unanswered questions’ when ‘fifty naira took your life,’ in ‘a land of many tribes.’
With these 128 poems in this collection, you read pains, plights and pleasure. The pains of the present victims and of our heroes past, plights of the victors denied a victory song and parade when their lives were cut short as well as the pleasure of the vicious from the vices-cycle.
Segmented into four sections, ‘October Blues’ is one of those books you would want to read and reread to coming generations to ignite the passion of patriotism. This Iloakasia did by starting with the present situation before taking us back into the past and then the future.
The first section of 31 poems, one poem for each day in October, revisit the events before and after the EndSARS protest. This section buttresses the power of poetry. The poet, as Iloakasia, shows in this section, wields a strong storytelling power that speaks the ‘denied and debated truth’ in a compelling manner due to the imagery of her choice of words. On ‘21st October 2020’ she wrote: In the second section – intimations, she documented in three stages her knowledge before, after Nigeria’s independence and the National Pledge. She was inspired by the wordings of the first Nigerian National Anthem in 19 poems while capturing her understanding of the events before Nigeria’s independence.
In the second stage while using the wordings from the National Anthem she warned compatriots to stand with caution. One of my favourites in the collection is from this section in ‘Compatriots Call’
arise oh compatriots
before you arise,
make sure they have no guns
a true compatriot should serve;
but how can you serve a nation
where service is a death sentence?
fight for our nation’s cause;
but before the fight begins,
make sure your hands
are loaded with real weapons
This poem should be engrained in the mind of the youths, especially those championing a worthy cause in the country. While it is not a call to violence, the first stanza shows the need for peace, especially in relating with law enforcement agencies, hoodlums and other forces that could ‘hijack’ such effort. The last line showed the need to stick with with the truth regardless of oppression. The real weapon is our voices in unison as we oppose all opposition to fairness and justice. The real weapons could be the ideal of patriotism and courage which no gun or oppression can silence.
I dare not hide my joy when reading section two, stage three of the collection. With seven poems, Iloakasia spoke the truth few are brave to say to the fewer people that are willing to hear. The ‘Hoodlum’s Prayer’ which is also from this section inspired by Nigerian National Pledge, satirically underscore the banes of corruption, killing in the country. For instance, in ‘Definition of Terms,’ she explained some of the Nigeria’s virtues to mean:
to be faithful, loyal and honest?
faithfulness of stealing
from my master and
setting up my own shop.
loyalty is killing my brother
and taking over his possessions.
honesty is looting 36 million
from a public office
and blaming it on a snake.
this is how terms
are defined in my country.
you either accept it or walk away.
The collection is remarkable with its remembrance of the dead. The tributes in the third section with 20 poems show the fluidity of life, especially one lost in disturbing circumstances. In the last section, ‘A Never-Ending Journey with Death’ is quite revealing and demonstrates how the poet’s desperation to live against all odds changes ‘humanity.’ It captures humane and inhumane reflection of human acts and more disturbing is the fact that when it comes to death, tomorrow is not sure. I have to join Iloakasia in commending Goodness, who she described a patient graphic designer for the ‘perfect book cover.’
This book fits several purposes. Aside from being among body of works that documented happenings that surround the EndSARS protest, it also shows historical relevance of Nigerians’ virtue of love, fairness and justice. It tells the dangers in the continued corruption of these virtues and the significance of hope and faith for a better future.