Niyi Osundare: Not My Business
This poem is about shared responsibility and the way that tyranny grows if no one opposes it. It is composed, simply, of three stories about victims of the oppressors, followed by the experience of the speaker in the poem. The poet is Nigerian but the situation in the poem could be from many countries. It echoes, in its four parts, a statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller, who opposed the Nazis. Speaking later to many audiences he would conclude with these words, more or less: “First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” The oppressors are not specified, only identified by the pronoun “they” - but we suppose them to be the agents of the state, perhaps soldiers or police officers. The first story is Akanni's - he is seized in the morning, beaten then taken away in a jeep. We do not know if he ever returned. The second victim is Danladi - whose family is awoken at night. Danladi is away for a long time (though there is a hint that this person eventually comes back). Last comes Chinwe, who has been an exemplary worker (she has a “stainless record”) but finds that she has been given the sack without any warning or reason.
After each of these three accounts, the speaker in the poem asks what business it is of his (or hers) - with the implication that these people's experiences are not connected to him. The speaker's only concern is for the next meal (“the yam” in “my savouring mouth”). The poem ends with a knock on the door, and the oppressors' jeep parked outside. There seems some justice in the timing of the appearance of the jeep: “As I sat down to eat my yam”. The poet makes it clear that the oppressors thrive when their victims act only...
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