Book Review│ Soro Soke: When Poetry Speaks Up by Jumoke Verrisimo and James Yeku

The collection, Soro Soke: When Poetry Speaks Up, is an ongoing collaborative anthology of poetry curated by Nigerian poet, Jumoke Verissimo and academic, James Yeku which is centred on the #EndSars protest. Published on Brittle Paper, the collection engages the famous phrase from the demonstrations “Soro Soke” (speak up). It amplifies the street and online movement which started on 7th October 2020 against the police brutality associated with the now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Although the street protests have been disrupted as at 20th October 2020, following the Lekki incident and ensuing street violence, the second wave capitalises on digital activism and advocacy to end bad governance in Nigeria. The introduction of the collection goes thus:

The thing that ties us together as poets is that we have a gift to share our truth by finding the words for unearthed emotions. As others question how then can we collectively and continuously share our grievances? What can we do with this agonising trauma before us?  We do not have answers to these questions, but we know that poetry is a potent form of protest. So we are calling on Nigerian poets to join this call to write out your anger and challenge the institution of oppression called the Nigerian government… For the Nigerian poet, silence is violence, and it is time to speak up against injustice, against oppression. It is time to #endpolicebrutality #endpoorgovernanceinnigeria #stopthenigeriangovernment.

In Nigeria Will Not End Me, Verrisimo’s voice is haunted by the memory of Okechukwu Obi-Enadhuze, a young man killed by looting hoodlums during the aftermath of the protests. Oke’s last tweet had read, “Nigeria will not end me”.

How could we not have known that our land drinks only young blood / We ask for bread; it gives us stone; we ask to live it takes our breath / We stand up tall; it cuts our legs; we sit wearily; it shoots us down / Don’t we know it already, don’t we? To age in this land, is to arrive in a grave?

Wale Olaogun expresses the paradoxes of wealth and death in the Nigerian lived experience in Before the Devil Speaks. His lines evoke the social profiling and harassment of young middle-class Nigerians that the SARS officials were infamous for:

& whenever our bodies speak of wealth / there is already an outstanding grave / in a uniform, by the road.

In Bubu, Yeku makes a reference to President Muhammadu Buhari’s long-awaited speech after the shootings at protesters sitting-in at Lekki Toll Gate. In a speech that has been regarded as tone-deaf and void of empathy by Quartz Africa, the President failed to mention the Lekki incident but asked young Nigerians to call off protests, while reiterating his government’s establishment of youth empowerment initiatives like TraderMoni and N-Power. In reference to the twelve minutes speech and the nation’s ensuing befuddlement, Senator Shehu Sani expressed: “You ask for speech, you got a speech and now you are speechless”:

The streets are heaving with anxieties, as screens and smartphones pour tales of griefs / into your chest; you wonder what gestures / to end czars will unloose the tongue of Bubu.

But alas, Bubu speaks, but of clouds without rain, Dreaming hurricanes as he gaslights a nation / without fuel, in a paradise drained of life and lustre; those who die are as the cattle of Daura, invisible.

Violence by Aigiomawu explores the weaponisation of thugs which disrupted the protests across the country. The poem evokes the nature of class divide, poverty and ignorance, which marks the lives of many lower-class youths. With the existence of lack and underprivilege, violence is often a go-to expression of anger and distress in their lives:

I have seen Men / Choose Violence / Time, After time / And, in turn / I have seen Violence / Choose them

This collection of protest poetry can be read here. Poets who are also interested in contributing to the ongoing project, which will continue even after the protests, can send their submissions to awapointe@yahoo.com

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