Wole Soyinka — ‘The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny’
Did you know that the management of UNILAG placed a ban on students’ protest?
Well, let me explain. Every fresh undergraduate is expected to sign an indemnity form. The signing of this form automatically stops every student from protesting because the penalty for such is expulsion. By this, we are expected to remain silent even when our rights are being infringed upon.
This means that students cannot protest against the excesses of the security unit, Alpha Base. Most times, this unit brutalise students for no reason at all. I remember a time one of them seized my bag because i refused to pay bribes to enter JAJA Hostel. Of course, you need to pay bribes if you are a squatter. These individual connive with the hostel porters to extort students because they know that there is no student union to defend us. These individuals know that the students cannot protest because of the indemnity form we signed.
Also, the hostels are really under equipped. Many a student attends classes without having their bath because of the lack of running water. It becomes more pathetic when you see the deplorable state of the bathroom. While you may counter this by saying students are the architects of this “disgustingness”, it is also important for you to remember that bathrooms cannot be kept clean if there is no water. Let that sink. I wish a senior lecturer or the VC could pay an unannounced visit to these hostels. This is an issue that we need to protest against. Sadly, we have no student union, and we are also being restricted by an indemnity form.
I have met so many wonderful lecturers in the department, some of whom are my friends on Facebook. Likewise, I have also met the ones who may sometimes be inconsiderate. How would you describe a lecturer who misses classes, only to fix them at a date that isn’t feasible? Let me explain a scenario. In 100lv, many students do a lot of borrowed courses. For example, law take electives from English, medical sciences take from pure sciences while English take from linguistics. With this knowledge, it is expected of the lecturers to reschedule their lectures when all the departments that take the course are free. But this is often not the case because these lecturers dictate when they would teach, even at the expense of their students. This explains why a linguistics lecturer held classes before the exam for students in his department. Mind you, other departments were not aware. Perhaps, this should offer an explanation to why two different courses offered by students may run simultaneously. Remember, we can’t protest against this because we are bound by a form. Remember, these same students are going to take up positions in the society someday; hence, truncating their ability to fight oppression is synonymous to promoting injustice in the society.
Martin Luther King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Signing an indemnity form isn’t unreasonable. However, it should probably be modified to suit the challenges faced by students. Students should be allowed to kick against injustice without having the fear of expulsion. Need I mention that UNILAG students living off campus are also victims of SARS harassment? A student union, for sure, would provide a great platform to tackle this.
Just like Wole Soyinka said, ‘The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.’
Restore the student union! Modify the indemnity form! Give us a platform to protest against injustice!
The poem, “May 29”, is a realistic one that graphically depicts the Nigerian political society. The poem is a satiric one which centres on the farcical nature of the Nigerian democratic system. According to the poet, democracy, as practised in Nigeria, is not in line with the tenets of true democracy. Instead of the Nigerian democracy being an affair for every citizen of Nigeria, it is an affair for a select few, that is, the rich, the political godfathers and the electoral candidates which are metaphorically referred to as “sacred cows”. The poet continues to criticise the Nigeria’s version of democracy by mentioning several flaws in it. He shows these flaws by describing the system as one that is infected. Finally, the persona admonishes that Nigerians should practise proper democracy by giving the people the opportunity to select their own leaders.
The title is significant to the subject matter and thematic content of this poem because it is a date that shows our return to the democratic system of government after decades of military rule. Little wonder why the 29th of May is regarded as Democracy Day in Nigeria. This day is one that should represent a new beginning for us Nigerians; however, it is not so because our democratic system is flawed by issues such as violence, preference for the rich, incompetence, godfatherism, anarchy, restriction of the press, amongst others. All these issues, no doubt, show that this poem is one which accurately portrays the Nigerian society.
Obviously, the issue of violence is central to the understanding of the subject matter. Violence, as an act, is one which pervades the Nigerian political system at all levels of government. It is not uncommon for political leaders and candidates to employ thugs that will aid them to suppress or intimidate the opposition. The persona sheds light on this issue by mentioning the disregard with which the rule of law is held in the country. He emphasises the obvious irony by defining democracy as a system of government where the practice of the rule of law is absent, that is, instead of having peace during elections, we have bloodshed. The except below strengthens this argument: “Democracy Without rule of law” Democracy with Deoxygenated blood”
Closely following the theme of violence is the theme of anarchy. Anarchy suggests a state of lawlessness. The Nigerian society is described as lawless by the poet due to several anomalies. To exemplify this state of lawlessness, we use several instances highlighted in the poem such as the decision to allow only the rich to govern; the violence that mars our elections; the absence of press freedom; and of course, the blatant disdain with which our constitution is treated by the political elite. Anarchy is further emphasised in the poem when the poet advises the ruling elite to give the people the power to constitutionally choose their own leaders instead of imposing leaders on the people through unconstitutional means.
“Let authority Emerge from the people Let the have the right To alternate leadership” What makes anarchy stand out as a theme is the sharp contrast between the two systems — democracy and anarchy. One symbolizes orderliness while the other represents chaos. Due to the obvious difference between the two ideologies, it becomes ironic that the Nigerian democratic system is deeply embedded in lawlessness.
Another theme that is central to this analysis is the theme of incompetence. The poet draws an image of a blundering person as he tries to define the Nigerian democratic system. To him, nothing about our democratic process is worth emulating and this is because those in charge did the weigh the advantages and disadvantages before making the decision to return to democracy. This explains why the persona, in the fifth stanza, describes the system as “premature”. He goes on by stating in the subsequent stanzas that our democracy is counterfeit; hence, it will never work unless we go back to the basis by giving the people the power to select those they want as leaders.
One cannot discuss the Nigerian democratic system without mentioning the problem of godfatherism. Political godfathers are powerful individuals who impose electoral candidates on the people. These godfathers can go to any length in order to ensure that their candidates win. This practice, unquestionably, limits our democratic system. The presence of these godfathers make the candidate untouchable, that is, these candidates cannot be rejected by the people irrespective of whether they are qualified or not. To further show that these candidates are untouchable, the poet describes them as “sacred cows”
Another issue that helps to give credence poet’s stance on Nigeria’s democracy is the fact that only the rich can contest elections. Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as a system of government that revolves around the choice of the people; but in the case of Nigeria, it is a government of the rich who rule for the benefits of the rich. This problem vividly support the writer’s claim that our democracy is infected.
The poem is structured in twelve quatrain stanzas. Each stanza, undoubtedly, is used by the poet to reinforce the main idea of this poem. The poet is consistent in his criticism of the Nigerian democratic process by clearly mentioning the different flaws in our democratic system in the stanzas. The stanzas are uniquely structured in such a way that no two stanza mention the same problem. For example, stanza two presents the system as one reserved for only the rich while stanza three exposes the bloodshed that is inherent in the Nigerian democratic process. Aside these differences, one can, without any iota of doubt, conclude that all the stanzas reinforce the fact that Nigeria is not practising the right form of democracy. Also important to note is that the stanzas lack any form of rhyme or regular meter; instead, the poet ensures musicality through the repeated use of the word “democracy”.
The diction — choice of words — employed by the poet is simple and straightforward. The poem is one whose subject matter can be easily deciphered by the reader due to the writer’s use of everyday words. Also, the choice of words is also important because it helps us establish that this poem is set in Nigeria. For example, the use of “May 29” as the title reveals a specific date, and constant repetition of the word “democracy” or its adjectival variant “democratic” help us to establish that the pun centres on democracy in Nigeria. Asides the use of somewhat complex expressions such as “rinderpest, suffused, deoxygenate, and Francis de Sales, to name a few, the poem is to a large extent easy to understand.
The persona’s tone can be described as satiric. This satiric tone is evident in the way the poet mocks the Nigerian version of democracy. It is worthy to note that this mockery is geared towards bringing about a change in the Nigerian society. The poet ridicules contrasts the Nigerian version with that of other developed democratic countries by sarcastically bringing his own variant of Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy. Instead of calling democracy an ideology that is people oriented, the persona calls democracy a system that has been reserved for the rich. He satirises all the lacunas in the Nigerian system, and he concludes by calling for a revamp of the system, that is, one that will ensure people’s participation.
Conclusively, this essay has been able to prove that this poem is realistic by discussing extensively on its form and content. The issues mentioned in this poem will, most certainly, convince any reader that this poem adequately mirrors the Nigerian political society.