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Reflecting on Nigeria’s oil: A critique of Niyi Osundare’s ‘Oily Blues’

  • What will Nigeria do when oil has passed

    out of favour? What shall we hold as lasting

    gains from many decades of oil wealth?

    …very soon, the world will tell Nigeria to

    drink its crude oil

    Oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta after half a century exploration. The discovery was made by Shell-BP, at the time the soil concessionaire. Nigeria joined the ranks of oil producers in 1958 when its first oil field came on stream producing 5,100 Pd. The discovery, in due course, revolutionised the Nigerian economy. Today, Nigeria has risen to become Africa’s biggest oil producer. However, what the Nigerian government has done with the gains accrued from many decades of oil wealth is a question on the lips of the Nigerian masses. The oil boom, thanks to the insensitivity of the government, has become a curse, rather than a blessing, to the masses. The oil wealth is only concentrated in the hands of few cabals. Rather than enjoying the natural gift, the Nigerian masses have only been victims of oil spillage, gas flaring, and so on.

    The irresponsibility of the leadership of the nation to positively utilise this natural endowment for the benefits of all is what Niyi Osundare captures in ‘Oily Blues’.

    ‘Oily Blues’ is a satiric poem lampooning the Nigerian government’s handling of the oil sector. The poem commences on a note of prophecy. The persona prophesies the invention of ‘the green car’ that consumes no oil—a ‘super-dry engine that gulps no gas’ and ‘drinks no diesel’. Moreover, the poet-persona hints on the death of the epoch of oil and the coming of another epoch, the oil-free epoch where oil becomes completely useless. Finally, the poem folds up with a rhetorical question demanding to know what Nigeria would boast of achieving with the oil wealth when the oil-free epoch finally comes.

    Structurally, ‘Oily Blues’ is a thirty-line poem garnished with apt imagery and repetition. A stimulating instance is the vivid tactile imagery that pictures the coming of the ‘green car’. The image is so vivid and gripping that one could feel the cruising of the ‘coming-soon’ car. Good use of repetition also helps emphasise the importance of the theme of the poem—it particularly emphasises the coming of an era when oil would become useless; ‘Another epoch is ending/ another world a-burning/say, another world is a-borning’.

    With this poem, one cannot but refer to Niyi Osundare as a prophetic poet. The current fall in oil price is nothing but an indication of the fact that the oil era is fastly fading. What some have comforted themselves with over the years is that the oil cannot dry off. Well, assuming it doesn’t, what if it becomes useless, as it is vastly becoming? The poet has spoken, the prophet has spoken: ‘…very soon, the world will tell Nigeria to/drink its crude oil’.

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