Not My Business – Niyi Osundare

Posted: June 9, 2011 in NIGERIAN POETRY
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Today, I review my favourite Nigerian poet, Niyi Osundare, whose works strike the same cords with me as Kwesi Brew of Ghana.

He was born in 1947 in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria. He is a prolific poet, dramatist and literary critic with degrees from the University of Ibadan (BA), the University of Leeds (MA) and York University, Canada (PhD, 1979). Previously professor (from 1989) and Head of English (1993–1997) at the University of Ibadan, he became professor of English at the University of New Orleans in 1997. He has a lovely wife Kimi and 3 children, two girls, one deaf, and a son who still lives in Nigeria. His deaf daughter is the real reason Osundare is settled in the United States. She could not go to school in Nigeria so they found a school in the U.S. for her and so Osundare could be closer to her they moved with her.

Osundare believes that there is no choice for the African poet but to be political. He has accused and protested against generations of corrupt Nigerian leaders and this poem following is a testament to his bluntness. He doesn’t hide his statement behind humour or wit. He conjures the intended feeling with the straightest words. Not My Business was written in accusation of the murderous dictatorship of Gen. Sanni Abacha from 1993 to 1998.


They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe –
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.

The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.

This poem ends poignantly. From the beginning, Osundare is a commentator. A passive viewer who cares little or in fact, has little power to change what he sees. And what he sees is not pleasant.
A man is taken early morning, beaten and then driven away in a jeep.

Osundare is not bothered, supposedly. Once his yam still reaches his mouth, there is no need.

The next time, it happens at night! A man’s house is terrorised awake and he is dragged away, not to be heard from anymore for a long time. Osundare sings his chorus once again: what business of his is it if nobody has asked him.

Slowly, line by line, we see the decadence that characterised the brutal Abacha regime. Rather than tell us global and general stories of how people suffered during the period, Osundare marches with his pen into homes and draws out stories of individuals he names as Akanni and Danladi. By this deed, he puts a human, everyday face on the people so that we can identify with the terrors of people who bear our names and do our everyday tasks. Every time it happens around him and he reports it, Osundare is telling us that it is marching towards him and it won’t be long before we don’t hear from him again; not long before his poem will cease!

So imagine that Chinwe has also lost her job with no explanation. This is representative enough and tells of what could have been happening all across God’s own Nigeria! It is so common and widespread that it happens to your neighbours. Some serious mischief was afoot in Nigeria and in a time that writing poetry was censored, it was guts that made Osundare an icon. He said later that no dictator could be his friend!

In the last two stanzas, see someone come knocking on his door as he sits to eat his yam! His time has come and the jeep waits for him on “my bewildered lawn”, to a future uncertain. Why is the lawn bewildered though? Osundare should have expected this long ago. Maybe, that’s why he wrote us this piece. Beautiful poem by all standards.

  1. Joshua Allahnanan says:

    Hmmm! Autocracy n dictatorship is pure madness to me. Good work@Niyi Osundare


  2. LegendaryCJN says:

    What the analysis have not really touched or given insight into is the issue of ‘I don’t care attitude’.
    The idea of literature as a

    Liked by 1 person

  3. LegendaryCJN says:

    What this analysis have not really touched or given insight into is the issue of ‘I don’t care attitude’.
    The idea of literature as an agent of change in the society has been overly debated. And inasmuch as I do not support it, I can agree that this poem really touched that attitude in people where love for neighbour has been thrown to the dustbins.
    But what we usually forget is that what goes round, comes around. If it’s your neighbour’s turn today and you did nothing to help, there’s every tendency that it’ll reach you turn, at which no one would come to your rescue.
    Nice poem.


  4. Chris says:

    We actually don’t need the analysis…we CAN work it out for ourselves you know!


  5. serena bunce says:

    I dont belive it is the ‘I dont care attitude’ as such, I believe the authoritative figure will do as they wish. What could a single handed person do himself! If he had got involved when these people became victims, he would of got what was coming to him sooner rather than later. It was just a matter of time.


  6. bravo osundare for that work it has been long our African leaders purport to be good to us but in reality the are actually eating at our backs this at some point will act as satire for their regimes they scapegoat to be against corruption but in reality they are the ones being involved in that sort of dubious and hinius act


  7. jommyab says:

    Good job, folk! I just stumbled on this site today. I am not much of a critic, just a commentator. So, for the benefit of those who are not, as expected, familiar with the ethnic relevance of names in Nigeria, the three personal names Osundare mentioned in the poem have sociocultural significance: Akanni (a Yoruba name), Danladi (Hausa name) and Chinwe (an Igbo name) are referents to the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. This is probably intended by the poet to mirror the widespread nature of the threat to civil liberty in Nigeria at the time. It also goes to depict the bestial nature of the leader who, despite his affiliation to one of the major ethnic groups (Hausa in this case, judging by his name: Abacha), unleashed terror on all regardless of their ethnic affiliations to him. This perspective lend intensity to the theme of blind brutality typifying dictatorship.


  8. this is nice my role model Niyi Osundare the erudite scholar


  9. Pius Romans says:

    Nice reviews of a great artistic and aesthetic work.
    To Niyi, injury to one should be injury to all.
    Other’s tears shouldn’t joy you. Their joy shouldn’t brew tears in you.


  10. Leederrty97 says:

    I so love Niyi Osundare, he is one of my mentors. Pls, kindly give us more of his poems. Thanks.


  11. teepoet says:

    Nice poem am working on.


  12. In which book of Mr Osundare did this poem appear?


  13. Jordan says:

    Poems are hard to make and descride man!!


  14. S Hindowa says:

    can you please comment on the Diction in not my business.


  15. Mr Osundare is great.. He is one of the best I know


  16. […] are the last two stanzas of Niyi Osundare’s excellent poem, Not My Business. The poem mirrored the murderous dictatorship of General Sani Abacha in the 80s and even more […]


  17. […] are the last two stanzas of Niyi Osundare’s excellent poem, Not My Business. The poem mirrored the murderous dictatorship of General Sani Abacha in the 80s and even more […]


  18. […] changes brought about by the regeneration of Brixton have been aptly epitomised in the poem Not my business by the African poet Nidi Osundare, which speaks on the two adversaries: comfort and […]


  19. wow, I really love this poem from a mentor of mine.
    the poem exposed what Is going on in our society not only during the regime of the heartless Abacha’s but still rampart among our society. we could see how Niyi Osundare kept quiet till the ball roll into his bedroom but if he has rose up and collaborate with other victims and join them in voicing out for the voiceless, maybe the ball won’t roll into his room before it stop.
    so, my fellow Africans let us learn how to join hand together and fight against both external and internal grasshoppers as we step on them like a termite (as said in “Christopher Adebiyi’s poem” @ black I am {FB page; #poet Christopher Adebiyi).
    As “Benjamin Franklin” as said; Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are”


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