By Rudolf Okonkwo
Sam Omatseye finished Peter Obi in his piece titled “Obi-tuary.” Like a crocodile girl, I wept for Obi-dient disciples. I am sure they will spend the next 40-days and 40-nights gnashing their yellow teeth held together by customised toy braces. But what he did to the Biafrans in the same column made me wonder if nobody has ever hugged Sam Omatseye and told him that his story of Biafra is valid, and as such, he should not lose touch with his scented offal.
I love the poetry of Sam Omatseye. It is his prose that I have a problem with. Any writer can easily lie in prose made of winding paragraphs. But no writer has been able to lie successfully in floating unknown poetry. I don’t know why. But I think it must have something to do with the form. Worrying about meters, mining for rhyme, stopping for stanza, rolling tongues for rhythm, posturing for personification, licking lips in lyric, alleging in allegory, mutating in imagery, altering reality in alliteration, smiling for simile, metamorphosing in the alter metaphor, signing for syntax, fishing for onomatopoeia, high-fiving hyperbole, the poet always forgets to lie.
Sam Omatseye finished Peter Obi kpatakpata. He exposed Obi’s Apapa nyash in the marketplace. What everyone saw wasn’t pleasant – dried poop, expired blood pointing at untreated hemorrhoids. But if he had gone too close and wiped his glass clear of Bola Tinubu’s saliva, he would have seen the ghost popping out of the veins leading to the most sensitive part of the fowl’s anus. But he missed it. And by missing it, he got himself arrested for clapping while the people who did the dancing had gone home.
In poetry, people who hardly talk gossip about Awolowo, Jesus and all other saviors out there in the fast-expanding universe. In prose, people who fail to consult Mandela’s bones before they hit the marketplace to dance, miss their steps, lose their minds and disappear like ogiri in bitter leaf soup. That is the fate that befell our beloved Sam Omatseye when he confused the wailing of the children of the new Biafra with the fall of the wall of Jericho when the Israelites carried the Ark of Covenant and walked around it for seven days. While both are products of our human condition, one emanates from the ‘understanding of our confusion,’ the other comes from the ‘confusion of our understanding.’
Sam Omatseye finished Peter Obi, even before the wrestling match’s whistle was blown. He did it with so much class and gusto that recruits gathered for the off-Broadway fight were dispersed home. Even the pregame wins of Peter Obi were quickly stripped off. Like the medal that proclaimed that despite years of washing our hands in spittle, something wholesome, something new, something fresh is possible. Also taken away was Peter Obi’s medal that stated that despite the loud sounds of the drum of the spirit child, something good could come out of the East. Sam Omatseye swept all those medals into Itsekiri gutters.
In his poetry collection, Scented Offal, Sam Omatseye captures our cognitive dissonance when he sermonises thus:
“We could swear that our loins never joined
From old times
In the rhythms of dances
Or in accents
Or in songs
Or in the patterns of the village square
Or the way the king hollered
In the marketplace…
Even if we foreswore our bonds or embraces
We could never deny the blood they spilled
Out of gourds of war
The blood of our brothers
The saliva of sisters…”
Sam Omatseye finished Peter Obi, and dressed him in a bishop’s rob the day Shettima had his ascension ritual. But Omatseye forgot to remove the price tag. Maybe it was intentional. Maybe he wanted to be caught. Or maybe, just maybe, he wanted to embarrass his warlords in Daura. We think Daura because Omatseye would dare not embarrass the Jagaban of scented offal.
A poet can hear the trumpet but cannot make out the animal from which horn the sound was coming. As for a prose writer, dark matters limit his thought. They weigh him down until his tail rolls on the poto poto left by yesterday’s rain. In the shrine where he worships, the whips hang. The memories of where they have landed on his shoulders are the only muse that he needs. That is Sam Omatseye’s luck. It is also his immunity from intellectual purgatory.
Sam Omatseye finished Peter Obi. Like a man who bathes in the breath of John Donne, by finishing Peter Obi, Sam Omatseye avoided diminishing Sam Omatseye. His excessive kindness and sympathy were irritating to the uninitiated. After all, the smell of burnt offerings has always appeased God. It did the same magic for Sam Omatseye. We just have to now wait for the Jesus of Borgu to come and declare the end of the days of burnt offerings. Until then, we join Sam Omatseye to enjoy the scent of the flesh romancing the fire.
The poet dies who seeks permission to write his sonnets. Asking a barber if you need a haircut is an epic mistake. Sam Omatseye knows this. Every poet does, even those intoxicated by dialectics. Forlorn hope is the only baptism that leads to exogenous laughter. But for poets fighting for spectators’ winks, no white cocks shall follow them home. Groupies will always sing, but it is nothing but a requiem high mass of eerie riddles. Yeah, he cannot wait for him to die before he buries him. He can’t.
Sam Omatseye finished Peter Obi. He said that Peter Obi was a closet anti-Christ who had come to take the children of Nigeria to the Garden of Gethsemane. If so, it meant that the Last Supper had been served. Did Sam Omatseye receive his? Did Sam Omatseye get his feet washed? Was the wash done with the water from Daura or the one from Bourdillon? What could go wrong if this cup passes away or if suddenly, there is excitement on the eastern front?
The poet dies who fears flags waving in the air, anthems gushing out of speakers, and feet stomping on dusty famished apian ways. For calling the fervent prayers on Facebook masturbation of freaks, for displaying smugness at the trembling tweets of the traumatised, for shrugging off as infantile cacophony the Instagram sighs of the stagnated sons and daughters of half of a yellow sun, the poet transforms into a retiring prostitute of the fast-shrinking red light district.
Sam Omatseye finished Peter Obi. But when he bundled Nnamdi Kanu up and lifted him in a show of acrobatic prowess, Kanu’s scrotum blinded him in a farewell to injustice. Even after Chido Onumah lectured him that “we are all Biafrans,” he bellowed in his self-indicting chant, “I am not the Biafran that you are fighting for.” But what Biafran is he? He is stingy with his answer. He is generous with his generalisation of the Igbo and Biafra with grudging ‘perhaps’ acting as a comma. With sweet tooth, he invoked the zoo, hoping to have it impregnate the air. His name is Okoro, quite right. But that is not why he must be mistaken for Igbo.
A poet that went into the dictionary and fished out only “rabble,” “taunts,” and “harangues” has a lifeline of redemption that has petered out. A poet who seduced his readers by ending an essay on tomorrow’s people with an obituary is flying on a broken wing. In a comic allegory, a poet is ashamed during the funeral of his opus. But this case of Sam Omatseye is different only in the way the scented offal finally decomposed.
Sam Omatseye finished Peter Obi. And with that, he delivered the preface of his final testament of the chronicle of a psychosis foretold. With the possible exception of your honorable piper, every politician is a snot, my generalising friend. And so it is that every columnist is a snowflake.
Forget the poetics and the polemics. Sam Omatseye is a great columnist. And so is our village’s neighbourhood palm wine tapper. But unlike Sam Omatseye, our village’s neighborhood palm wine tapper does not reveal everything he saw on top of the palm tree.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef”, “Children of a Retired God,” among others