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Poetry for Social Consciousness, Criticism and Change: A Study of Selected Poems of Ezenwa-Ohaeto

E E Ifejirika


For Ezenwa-Ohaeto, a poet and a critic of international repute, the idea of writing and reading literature (poetry) for its own sake, is, in the words of Chunualumogu Achebe, “a deodorized shit.” In consonance with Achebe’s views on the utility of literature, Ezenwa-Ohaeto, in most of his anthologies of poems, reveals himself as a man who is deeply and socially committed and sensitive, a poet who is profoundly perturbed by social ills and challenges in Nigeria. Of utmost concern to him is the blatant abuse of power by leaders at various levels of governance, poor leadership, unpredictable and faithless followership, poverty, insensitivity and falsehood in high and low places. As a kind of manifesto to his collection of poems entitled; I Wan Bi President, Ezenwa in a poem entitled; “My Credentials,” presents his roles as a poet and writer with social sensibility and commitment aimed at awaking the consciousness of complacent Nigerians in the face of injustice and oppression. In these lines, he tells the reader: I have taken the old gong, I have learnt the old song, If I fail to rouse the dogs, Their barks will not rouse the guards, The guards will not subdue the rogues. In accomplishing these onerous tasks, he employs satire through the medium of poems in pidgin and formal English to truly arouse the readers to the ever mounting challenges of injustice, greed, exploitation and dehumanization that are the bane of the Nigerian society, in the spheres of the economy, polity, education, religion and family relationships. The poems presented in this study, depict Ezenwa Ohaeto as a writer who uses his old gong and song via poetry to rouse the dogs whose barks are needed to rouse the guards timely, to enable the guards to really subdue the rogues in diverse aspects of the Nigerian society. The ability of the guards to subdue the rogues would engender a society where peace, law, order and justice reign supreme. At this level, poetry becomes an effective instrument for awareness and reformation.