Title – Eclipse of Justice
Author – Ogechi Ezeji
Page – 195
Year of Publication – 2017
Reviewer – Ifesinachi Johnpaul Nwadike
It is gradually picking a trendy blaze for individuals to court one of the genres of literature as a conduit for the appraisal or otherwise of his or her profession, especially when such individual is not “schooled” in the area of literature but creatively delves into the field and scurry home an artistic point. One of such contemporary Nigerian writer/professional is Dami Ajayi, whose publication of Clinical Blues (2014) heralded the arousal of the creative orgasm of medical practitioners, as well as other professionals, in the business of literature and poetry in particular. Hence, one is not taken aback at all to have a poetry collection from a legal practitioner, who, as a matter of fact bagged both B.A. and M.A degrees in the Literature department.
Eclipse of Justice, in its metaphorical sense, is a handy down-dressing of judicial excesses and Ogechi Ezeji’s debut poetic offering to the literary world from the legal corridor of judicial mansion, perhaps, the remnant neat corner. It is a collection of 113 poems of various but almost related thematic preoccupation, culminating as it were, into 195 pages. Ogechi’s judicial standpoint may have informed her coherent and organic ordering of the poems, given the very fact of her copious division of the poems into uniform sections of relative subject matters. The sections total a number of six, the largest being the first section and simply but unfortunately referred to as The Eclipse.
The Eclipse is layered with sixty poems, which is at best, a demythologization of the legal mystic; a deconstruction of the ‘isms’ and schisms of the bar and demystification and tongue – lashing of “judicial masquerades” who glory in the despoliation of the noble profession. Like the blind goddess, wielding cudgels and swinging on the pendulum of justice, Ogechi Ezeji dons the garb of a sanitizer, armed with poetic whips in both hands, runs into the courtroom to sack the pigs who desecrate the revered place. Perhaps, Ogechi is replicating what Christ did in the temple when its keepers and clergy nearly turned it into a market place. It is said that until a man doses himself with alcohol, he may not be able to gather the drunken rage required to speak in protest to a higher and oppressive authority. But Christ is a God and he had whips, Ogechi is no Christ or any God in the immortal sense, so her potent weapon is words versed in haunting poetic lines. Obviously disenchanted with most courts around, the poet speaker in the very first poem sets out “In Search of a Court of Justice”, branding herself a “searcher”. Hear her voice:
I go from the roaring Niger River to the sandy sands of the sahara
From the mangroves of Oloibiri to the confluence city of Lokoja
From the rocky rocks of Abeokuta to the calling chad basin. (3)
And, as expected of the doomed places she was mentioning, she was destined to find none, hence, she lament thus:
I see a court of frontloading and back loading
A court of substantive and procedural abracadabna
A court of appellate and cross-appellate lack of jurisdiction.(4)
In what sounds more like an inconsolable tone, the persona laments further:
I see a court of judicial juggling
A court of learned loggerheads
A court of legal lope-sidedness (4)
But of course, such “judicial juggling” is not novel to those of us in this part of the world. The unnecessary rigmarole and seeming scripted tussle among legal practitioners, is one of the major contributing factors of delay in justice delivery, thereby clogging the passage of the badly needed justice. This is outside the very many external influences and political incursions. But recognizing the fact that all and sundry have a role to play, both the wig-wearers and the justice-seekers, the persona concludes, almost in an admonitory tone:
Perhaps the justice I seek is me.
Perhaps the justice I seek is you.
Perhaps the justice I seek is us. (4)
In, “I Weep for you, Blind Goddess with Scales”, the persona in the poem laments the misapplication of justice on behalf of the “Blind Goddess” by the “priests” of the “temple”, who, after receiving bribe, “put stones on the side of the guilty/And feathers on the side of the innocent/knowing that you strike only at the tilt of your scale”. (13) That’s why the poet persona is “wary of the man who carries portfolio full of books in the day”, but later turns to wear the “wooly garb of dishonor at night”. (8). As if one is not suffering enough in the hands of the “Absentee Judge” (17) who “fiddle with the destinies of the those who worship in” its “temple” by always being absent from court, one also have to contend with the soul-less “Legal Aid” (14) who all but milk a justice seeker dry in fruitless bid to fast-track his case:
But you have to come with a very tiny token
For payment of filling fees
Remember there is a lot to be filed….
All the processes and affidavits,
Joinders and rejoinders
Amendments and further amendments
Will cost but a tiny token….(14)
In situations where a justice – seeker is so poor and cannot afford this exorbitant “tiny token”, he may have to:
… write an application better to
The Honourable Chef Judge
Telling him, you are the commonest among the commons….
Go home and spend some patient months, perhaps, year. (15)
Such disheartening expositions and true occurrences is in sharp contrast with the appellation of the court as “the last hope of the common man”.
Section one could be best described as Ogechi’s chronicling of the ills and rots in the Nigerian judiciary system. She bewails, sometimes with biting sarcasm, the ruthless rubbishing of an establishment every home aspires to lay claim to one of its numerous practitioners because of its enticing nobility. Poems like, “Another market season is Here”, “A Thousand Attack-Dog at my Service”, “Legal Tussle”, “Conflicting Laws: Judgments at War”, “I am Remote Control” etc, are handy correctional verses that x-ray these ills.
Section Two, titled, On Humanity, Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues, heralds the true manifestation of the poet-artist in Ogechi. It is intricately interweaved with poignant lines and disturbing human welfare questions, tearing consistently at the fabrics of our collective consciences; the spoilers of the universe. The subject matters of Refugees; street beggars; Paedophiles and all other forms of child abuse; the issues of Feminism and Motherism; Gay Rights; Colonialism and its devastating sibling – Neo-colonialism; Insurgency; Ghetto living; etc all take centre stage in this heart-rending yet controversial section, worthy of a separate medallion as a result of its humanistic appeal. Through humanistic lenses, Ogechi probes the human consciousness and how often we care about those “Fleeing for Life for World Refugees”, “Our Siblings in Special Clothing”, the “Owner of Tomorrow”, etc. These are, in Frantz Fanon’s terms, “The Wretched of the Earth” who should be catered for in lieu of abusing them or insulting the innocence of the little girl-child among them, as in the poem, “Just a word of Advice”, where the persona cautions a chronic paedophile to refrain from “eating a sour premature Lime”. (93)
“Commissioner’s conversation with a Shanty Dweller” is a piece that stares hard into our faces. Though, on the surface, it speaks of a misunderstanding between an Honourable Commissioner and a Shanty Dweller, but on a deeper level, the poem is a figurative comparison of the alarming wide gap between the haves and the have-nots. The poem is a dramatic monologue, highly reminiscent of Niyi Osundare’s “Olowo debates Talaka” contained in Songs of the season. Both poems share, perhaps, coincidental similarities, especially the condescending tones of both bourgeoisie, as well as the defiant tone of both proletariats. Such poems may earn Ogechi a notable seat in the school of Marxists, but she may need another buttock to sit in the feminists’ school, for such poems as “Her Housekeeping Machine”, “His Good Wife”, “Make Her your Beloved”, etc, quickly recommend her to the feminists. The persona’s tone in “His Good Wife”, says it all:
See her on every street
On her way to work
On her way to the church
On her way to the market
Loaded with experience and burden
The burden of things unsaid
Docility and passivity, her overweighing ornaments.
And one would not think that she is his equal half… (92)
The Third section of the collection, highlights the unnerving situation of the declining rate of law education in Nigeria, and here, Ogechi succeeds in taking us to the classroom to educate us and to whom it may concern that to combat the rapid decline, raising modern faculty bocks for law studies across the country is not just enough. She calls for ideological reorganization because according to her, it “Polluted from Source”:
Our water and wine of justice get polluted from source
Let there be no whining from brothers in
This water – fetching and wine – tapping venture
Has life not always been a garbage-in, garbage-out venture? (12)
Section Four is labeled, pidgin peppersoup, and here, Ogechi tests her artistic prowess with versatility and language variety, code-switching, as it were, from Queen’s English to Pidgin English – a variety of lower English language, popularized in Nigerian literature by the likes of Ken Saro-Wiwa and Ezenwa-Ohaeto. Poems in this section are immersed in the allegorical ocean, perhaps, the medium of pidgin armed the poet with various allegorical experimentation lenses, for, whereas the poet was found talking direct in other sections, especially section one, this section saw Ogechi using abstract images to make allusions to her intended subject matters, and the result is even more effective and poetic. For instance, one finds her using peppersoup, as in the first poem in this section, as a purgative. Only a reader with keen eyes will discover that she was actually referring to the words in her poems as possessing purgative power as the pepper to prune mankind of the rot that burdens him:
I bi pepper soup.
De Uziza way dem take cook me go purge
nyama nyama comot from your body
Sotay your body go dey kampe
I bi peppersoup. (138)
However, some of the words in the pidgin poems appropriate proper English spellings, thereby compelling the reader to make out the intended pidgin syllable themselves. For instance, she uses “they” instead of “de” in second line of poem 91; we see the proper “sit down” instead of “siddon” in the first line of stanza four in poem 89, “walka” instead of “waka” in the last line of the same stanza of the same poem, etc. Now that’s a notable flaw on the poet’s part, may be because she was not pakolized in the Niger Delta sense.
Section Five is a celebration of our Heroes, and, permit me to add, Sheroes, who our slippery memories won’t let us remember, hence, we are thankful to the poet for at least, remembering these worthy national icons and celebrating their contributions to national development. One remarkable quality in this section is that the persona maintains a high spirit and never descends to mourning any of the late heroes, rather a celebration tone swallows up the wailing voices that may have erupted by her creative use of evocative words. Ogechi celebrates “A Pigeon Amongst Peacocks”, which she dedicates to “The unknown Incorruptible Judge”. The persona moves across the globe to pick worthy heroes, viz Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousfazai, Justice Muktar Alooma, Gani Fawehinmi, Chukwudifu Oputa, Flora Nwapa, Oronto Douglas, Dimgba Igwe, Festus Iyayi, Dr. Stella Adadevoh – who died saving Nigerians from Ebola virus etc. However, most striking of these poems is the poem for Niyi Osundare’s seventieth birthday commemoration. The poet painted a carnivalesque picture where all the nation’s minstrels gathered to celebrate, unarguably, the best griot of the second generation Nigerian poets.
The last section, titled “Looking into Tomorrow’s Eyes” reads true to its title. It signals the climax of Ogechi’s artistic oeuvre. She attains the expected coming of age towards the tail end of the collection, as it is custom for most poets to save their best pieces for the last. It is arguable that “Looking into Tomorrow’s Eyes,” the longest of all her poems, is her most philosophical and artistically mature work, encompassing, as it were, all the troubling discourses that trouble Africa and the world at large, to make a serious comment on the existence of mankind. The last poem which she called “Afterlines: Until the Juice of this Life Goes Round”, is at best, a socialist oriented commentary which could elicit a Marxist argument on the need for even distribution of commonwealth. Hear her:
And somebody asks:
Can the juice of this life
Really go round?
And I answer:
Let the sharers share it fairly
Without looking into the juice jar. (195)
Generally speaking, every work of art, like every other human creation has its flaws as well as its landmarks, but am definitely not going to end this piece on its flaws, our existence is not that tragic, so I will do the unconventional and begin with the flaws.
Eclipse of Justice, especially in most poems in section one begin rather slowly, only to gain momentum and the needed intensity in later lines. They appear rushed and hardly possess the poetic completeness of later poems. It was as if the ideas or inspirations for the poems in section one came as an afterthought, making their beginning lines less creative, however, almost all the poems possess a good conclusion, hence, Ogechi is usually at her poetic best at the last lines. The entire work is almost over flogged with unnecessary punctuations, making it difficult for easy digest in the reader’s hungry mind. The very many and irrelevant fullstops and commas come too sudden like a man with ejaculation deficit, thereby, chaining the lines in the corridor of rigidity. Poems should be as free as possible, like a bird, maybe. For instance, the frictions posed by the punctuations nearly soiled the free flow of the dialogue between the Honourable Commissioner and the Shanty Dweller in poem 65. Again, poetry thrives by word economy, but one will easily notice that Ogechi explains too much, rather than let her readers participate in the process of creating with her. That notwithstanding, Ogechi seems to be extremely gifted in the art of titling a work so fantastically, especially from the second section. Her collection makes an almost complete use of figures of speech, notable among which are: metaphor, simile, personification, rhetorical question, onomatopoeia, allegory, assonance, alliteration, hyperbole, etc. Her unrivaled use of onomatopoeia makes some of the poems read like music and create a sharp mental picture in the reader’s mind. She equally possess a strong descriptive power as seen in poem 74 etc, spiced with a good sense of humour that robs an ointment of a jester on her forehead, for instance in poems 70, 33, 29, 27, 73, etc.
The prophet in her, manifests in poems 51, 113, 50, etc. However, of more importance is Ogechi rootedness in her Igbo cultural heritage. Her art is not just hanging loosely and lazily in the creative firmament of Anglicization, but deeply rooted in her magnificent understanding of Igbo culture and life’s philosophies, which see to her appropriation of Igbo idioms and phrases and ethos in her audacious attempt to drive home her point through the creative high way of bilingual complementarity.
Beautifully published, engaging, insightful, futuristic and humorous, Ogechi’s Eclipse of Justice is a bold statement made into the arrant face of an existence caught up in the macabre dance of anomaly. We are yet to see the best of this poet.