The politics of plundering: Reviewing Niyi Osundare’s ‘The Emperor and the Dollar (T) Rain’

  • Introduction

    Niyi Osundare is a distinguished professor of English, a prolific poet in whose hands poetry fires more than Avtomat Kalashnikova- AK-47.

    ‘The Emperor and the Dollar (T)Rain’ is one of the most recent of his poetic vituperations. The poem is divided in to two parts, each part containing five (5) six-line stanzas making 60 lines in all.

    This poem, at the risk of restraining arts, is a satirical expose of the last minute desperate effort of Nigeria’s ex-president, Goodluck Jonathan, with his ‘train’, to induce the traditional rulers to support his re-election in the March 28 Presidential election.


    The first part of the poem deals with the desperate effort of an emperor who doles out dollar to the oba’s and obi’s (kings) seeking in return from them something worthwhile. The poet persona leaves out not the emperor’s wife, the empress. While the emperor is on the dollar raining mission, his empress is taking care of the womenfolk with ‘her cache of gold’.

    In the second part, the persona comes out of his poetic shell and makes it explicit that Nigeria is the target of his poetic outburst. He affirms that, ‘In the house called Nigeria, Corruption has a room’. The emperor, his ministers, the pastors, etc. are all involved in all sorts of political misdeeds capable of steering the ship of a country aground.

    With this masterpiece, Osundare rhythmically captures the Nigerian political atmosphere. Some of the poetic instruments deployed are; metaphor, alliteration, repetition, sarcasm, simile, etc. These shall be critically explored to bring out the beauty and expatiate exegetically the content of the poem.

    Emperor Goodluck Jonathan, DSM: The dollar spraying machine

    With a fitting visual imagery couched with effective repetition, the poet presents the picture of the desperate Nigeria’s ex-president who ‘hits the streets’ spraying dollars on the traditional rulers to gain their loyalty in the presidential poll. Using cacophonic series of alliterative phrases, one could, without blur, picture the president and his train running from the Obi’s to the Oba’s with a ‘cargo of cash,’ ‘lustful loot,’ and ‘sparkling sterling’. For Emperor Jonathan, the poet asserts, what democratic governance means is to:

    Bribe the Pastors, bribe the Thugs

    Pound and plunder the national treasury…

    And to successfully return for the second term:

    Press the flesh, pull the polls

    Rake in the gains of your hard-bought treachery

    Empress Patience Jonathan: The Nigerian “Mrs Malaprop”

    The poet persona spares not the emperor’s wife, popularly addressed by the Nigerian media as ‘Madam Peace’. Apart from being exposed as an accomplice in his husband’s plundering of the national treasury, the persona, with a dexterous blend of sarcasm and alliteration, makes reference to the embarrassing use of the English language by Nigeria’s ex-first lady—who ironically refers to the great Wole Soyinka as an embarrassment. Envision the poetic portrait of Madam Patience Jonathan in the following lines:

    With her cache of gold for the womenfolk

    Every word is a Malaprop Moment.

    Does anyone remember the hilarious Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals, a comedy of manners play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan? Madam Peace seems to be her Nigerian doppelganger!

    ‘The royal grovelling that Greeks the gift’, forget not the actions of your ancestors

    While the rain of dollar is falling, it’s disastrous that some of the traditional rulers, without asking necessary questions, hurriedly bring out their basins to have their shares. Very unfortunate! This only brings to memory the collaborative role of their forefathers in one of the most dehumanizing trades in the world history; slave trade.  Their ancestors sold out their subjects to slavery in exchange for material things like gins, mirrors, gun powder etc. and now, they are also bent on repeating the sad history, selling their people to the vote-buying emperor in exchange for dollar. Obviously, ‘there is nothing beyond purchase/in the land of venal crawlers’.

    Sadly though, out of the deep respect the persona has for tradition, he declares that:

    The royal grovelling that greeks the gift

    Is way beyond my plebeian telling

    But, before the ‘royal grovelling’ brings back the oppressive acts of their forefathers, is it not the high time they got disrobed of the toga of traditional reverence?

    Corruption: A ‘drug-defying malaria’ afflicting Nigeria

    Using a fitting simile of the pandemic disease, malaria, the poet persona captures the distressing rate of corruption in Nigeria. Sitting atop the heaps of this corruption is none other than the emperor himself who in his characteristic ‘litany of lies’ redefines corruption as ‘mere instances of stealing’. Every institution in Nigeria—government, media, religion, etc. — is fully garbed in corruption toga. While ‘The Minister looted the Treasury….His/her Pastor praised the Lord…’

    From the emperor and his empress to the ministers, pastors, and the brainwashed thugs, Niyi Osundare in ‘The Emperor and the Dollar (T)Rain’, captures, satirically, the wretched condition of ‘A sick, sad country…’ called Nigeria.

    Note: ‘The Emperor and the Dollar (T) Rain’ was published by Sahara Reporters. You can read it here.

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