In his heart-racing novel, The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown wrote and maintained that: “the secret is how to die”. And now, I must tell you myself that; ‘the first to be, is to be a mad man before a sane man’. I guess you’d want to know why, wouldn’t you?
Years into his first tenure, Godswill Akpabio – the governor of Akwa-Ibom State of Nigeria (who was reported by the media as performing excellently), was asked what spurred him on to achieve the things he did. The man looked the journalist in the eyes and sternly responded: “anger!” “Anger”, they say, “is a small madness”. Alternatively, Akpabio was summarily saying: “madness does it”. Echezonachukwu Nduka, a political protest poet and a professional art musician, has just handed us one of the best chronicles of Nigeria’s woeful existence in the form of poetry. He didn’t set out to lament and recount like many are wont to; he rather bounced in with – what he himself may not know – prescribing outright madness for us, if we must get started. All he says is: “please, get mad first!” Some years back, at a very heated argument on the ‘maddening capacity’ of religion on its fanatics and zealots, my interlocutor, Chike Awuzie asked: “since the madman calls the ‘sane man’ mad, who then is mad?” I couldn’t answer that question sufficiently without being idealistic, yet, philosophically and realistically, my answers were still laced with loopholes, and I felt them. And so, I ask: who is mad and who is sane? Of course, this is the exact question Nduka raised here in the beginning of his quadruplet of political ‘protest’ poems. Yes, they are protest poems as they are nothing short of a clarion call to radical measures, an exposé, emotion-laden historical recount, and a sort of appeal to right-thinking consciences.
The Igbo people of the South-Eastern Nigeria have a saying that: “onye ara na uche ya wi”, “the madman though mad, never loses his mind”. In the Igbo customs and legends, there are and have been several instances and even live accounts of madmen/women making prophecies or predictions that have come to fulfillment. Thus, the elderly Igbo people do not take certain things said by the madman or madwoman with a pinch of salt. As evidence to this, an elderly person is ready to rebuke and hush a younger Igbo who hears a certain prediction or prophecy from a madman and waves it off. In fact, there is every chance that that younger Igbo person’s life might be at risk if what the madman warned was directed at him and he chose to neglect. At such moments – despite being neglected initially – the madman becomes the leader, the speaker, the diviner, the feared and the revered. When one quietly sits to reflect such strange circumstances, one is found doubting if he is any better than the madman. One can even be found asking such rhetorical questions like: “how come the madman knows the hidden things more than me, the ‘sane man’?” For extremely curious minds, the question will be: “if madness can offer me foresight, insights and hindsight, why not choose it?” And with such questions, the conclusion is that people are beginning to think differently from the ‘normal’. Interestingly, this is what Echezona Nduka has undertaken to do with the four-stringed protest poems he wrote, and which I sought his permission to collectively name as: “MADNESS BEGINS FREEDOM”, considering more of the role of the first of the poems which is tied to the rest. The poems are in their order:
· THE MUSINGS OF A MADMAN
· THIS LAND OF WOE
· A WORD OR TWO
With a very strong grasp of the ‘real’ Nigeria and like one who has extensively crisscrossed the nation, Nduka created a very strong image of the impoverished Nigerians and the ever-discontentedly greedy self-enriched leaders via “The Musings of a Madman”. From the very beginning of the piece, I could see and hear the madman raving at ‘sane men’: “look at them! Look at them hungry, jobless, beaten by the sun, yet with nothing to show”. And thus Nduka painted:
“Countrymen dwelling in abject poverty
Hungry men on coats and ties on daily parade
With suitcases containing white papers alone
Chattering and murmuring under the hot sun”
Woven beautifully in free verses, “The Musings of a Madman” as well as the rest of the poems came with many of the poetic devices scattered here and there such as personification, simile, metonymy, euphemism, metaphor, alliteration, etc. I was particularly thrilled with what I can call the ‘alliterative musicality’ of the madman at such places where Nduka used alliterations like: “…Singing sweeter songs….Bringing beautiful bastards”. Honestly, I felt like stretching my ears further to hear what the singing voice of the madman would be like even as I felt the rhythm. Those lines were not just alliterative but musical too. I nearly fell from my seat laughing on meeting such humorous lines – which I believe the madman would never find funny if he ever found me laughing. Hear the madman respectively at the 8th and 10th/last stanzas of “The Musings of a Madman”:
“Take to your heels in defiance!
Refuse to be sane men anymore
Welcome to my world of madness!
For here, my freedom knows no bounds”.
“Hear my thoughts you sane men!
My world is as good as yours
If there be any doubt in your minds
Fly to the moon and never return.”
You can imagine such bluntness! (Smiles…) But then, did you take note where the madman bearing Nduka’s mind declared: “…for here, my freedom knows no bound”? Does that square up with the name I gave the collection as “MADNESS BEGINS FREEDOM”? You tell better!
Going further, Echezona Nduka softens the building-up anger in the reader by recounting the ‘good old days’ with that emotionalizing second piece; “This Land of Woe”. And these he tearfully penned:
“Before now, the rain showered us with
Our land showed forth green smiles from
a thousand miles
But now, this same rain wallows in confusion
stored in files
Wondering if it has calmed us earlier or been
The once green smiles have totally been
In the above lines, one equally finds such personifications as: “…the rain showered us with abundant love…But now this same rain wallows in confusion”. Repeating these very lines to myself, I almost allowed the percolated tears in my eyes to drip!
Even when the reader is buried in the tears-drawing remembrance of the good old days and while relishing the paradisiacal world he should have been in, Echezona (still retaining the madman as the leader and via the madman) isn’t going to be swayed by the irreversible emotions of the past, thus he knocks your head back to ‘reality’. He does that by letting you know how the whole mess came about and how the greedy leaders promised to clean it up, but ended up making it messier and even championing the mess themselves. And that showed forth in the third piece; “Strange”. Nduka via the madman came more realistic even as he berated and spited the greedy rulers:
“peace, a spilt blood which blurs our visions
a breadth of fresh air, an empty promise from bigots
has disappeared with sounds of bomb blasts
now, we’ve sold our sleep to the unknown
our mats, a decoration in hopeless homes.”
And then chronicling all he had in mind, Nduka proffered solutions/measures recommending consistency as an ingredient to their success while advising that they can be non-violently done. More strikingly now, I personally felt Echezonachukwu confirming to the world that the Igbo saying (“onye ara na uche ya wi”) I quoted above isn’t false: “the madman though mad, never loses his mind”. And that came in the fourth/final piece; “A Word or Two”. And this he soberly admonished via the madman:
“we are a people of passion
though teardrops decorates our countenance,
we wipe them with our voice
our voice, a force on the face of troubled waters
this strengthens our strength
and battles our hopelessness”.
Just like a good father, Echezona raised our hopes high again after the ‘bash’ while reviving our drooping spirits with such noble words as: “…our voice, a force on the face of troubled waters”. And with those words, even the dumb would want to raise his ‘voice’. Why not thanks to Echezonachukwu Nduka?!
May I recall that Nduka sent me these poems randomly even as he called them ‘A Call for Action Poems’. But then, there is a chance that he might not have known the powerful destiny he was bearing in his hands, such as: ‘how the madman’s presence is tied to the three other poems’. When I personally read and digested the poems, I saw the madman’s presence fully hovering over the whole lines till the end of the entire collection. With my own understanding and assessment, I deemed it pertinent to string the poems in their order of – what I’d like to call – ‘chain-like inter- connectedness and destined inter-penetratedness’. And thus you had them like I listed above, and thus did I review too. I wish Nduka would pay more attention to that ‘mysterious inter-connectedness’ between one art work and another in his future outings, not minding his tender youth – which still avails him more time to consolidate into a most formidable ‘old-head’ like the Ngugi Wa Thiongos, Achebes, Soyinkas, Clarkes, Femi Osofisans, Chukwuemeka Ikes, Okey Ndibes, Chinweizus etc.
Just like Nduka dignified the madman for his memorable role in the work, so did the late Chinua Achebe in his most recent work, THERE WAS A COUNTRY. Achebe confessed about the ‘village madman’ on page 15: “looking back, it was a so-called madman whose ‘clarity of perspective’ first identified the incongruity of our situation…” I share same sentiments having read Nduka’s work!
I feel it is not dignifying enough to say that Echezona Nduka did well in this work. If you’ve ever taken keen note of geniuses that have lived on this earth, you’d get to discover that they’re hardly aware of the depth of their magnanimity. Despite all they know, it is only the people who know less than they know, are able to know the depth of who they are and what they did. Michelangelo, Einstein, Mozart, our own Chinua Achebe, Soyinka, even the young Chimamanda Adichie and many others holed up somewhere in this globe, can’t certainly describe their greatness than the rest of us could do; they only live it out. Echezonachukwu Nduka has innocently exhibited this same trait that I daresay – without sounding exaggerative – he’s on the same road taken by these souls mentioned above.
I’m impressed by the golden words you gave us in poetic mold and fold, Echezonachukwu Nduka, and I feel honored you asked me to review this great work of yours. Indeed, good and great you are!
By: CHIJIOKE NGOBILI
Thanks to you, Chimezie.
Incisive and revealing.