This collection titled “Soro Soke: When Poetry Speaks Up” is an on-going collaborative project led by Nigerian poet Jumoke Verissimo and academic James Yeku. It is a documentary of writings responding to the fight against police brutality currently taking place in Nigeria.
Introduction by James Yeku and Jumoke Verissimo
“All these walls oppression builds / Will have to go!”
The #EndSARS movement progresses both online and in various cities in Nigeria and around the world, despite the senseless killings of unarmed protesters. It rips our hearts in many places as we follow our brothers and sister on ground as they document the protest. Yet, we know that many of us are feeling helpless right now. We are unsure of what to do with the conflated emotions inside of us. We are angry, numb, and traumatized. Glued to the screens, we are afraid of what gory image would next scroll down our timelines or the next morbid tale that might welcome our eyes as swirling fingers encounter smartphones. We no longer have words adequate enough to share our grief in tweets, messages, phone calls, sighs, and prayers. We cannot underestimate the resourcefulness of the feminist coalition, and their power to galvanize our collective frustration into hope. We saw this hope when the protest began, as Nigerians home and abroad, felt as if we were indeed heading for a change. How could we not have known that this revolution would begin with our own blood?
This time, we have evidence. We can tell those who like to silence us we have proof and it is out there on the internet. The dead have names. We mourn them. We know them. We miss them. Before now, we would have heard numbers of the dead. No photos. No names. Today, social media tells us how close it could be one of us blood on the floor, images scattered around social media mentions, as bodies becoming grief traveling across borders. The poems we write are a mode of speaking the truth to emphasize again that Nigerian lives matter. That the young Nigerian should be allowed to dream.
For the protest, some of us took to the streets—mostly those born in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of us in the diaspora, already hurting and feeling like we betrayed our countrymen by our absence curse into the air. Home and abroad, we are all holding our pain and looking for words to express how we feel. The thing that ties us together as poets is that we have a gift to share our truth by finding the words for unearthed emotions. As others question how then can we collectively and continuously share our grievances? What can we do with this agonizing trauma before us?
We do not have answers to these questions, but we know that poetry is a potent form of protest. So we are calling on Nigerian poets to join this call to write out your anger and challenge the institution of oppression called the Nigerian government. We ask that you stand up with your words to call for a stop to oppression and bad governance in the Nigerian state. We call on you, poets at home and abroad, to join this protest against the oppression of our collective humanity. We call on you to stand up with your words against the ongoing dehumanization that attempts to take away our human rights as Nigerian. We call on you to stand with “freedom fighters” and departed souls whose rights are violated when they ask for what belongs to us–a life that matters. We invite you to join us in this chain poem. We want you to join us and find words even when our numbness defies us to speak the horrors that face us and we tell our fellow citizens that we will overcome! The poems we write are a mode of speaking the truth to emphasize again that Nigerian lives matter. That the young Nigerian should be allowed to dream.
The poems we are curating in real-time speak to the urgency of the present lived experiences, and the everyday moments of the real. These poems will speak in their intensities, reinventing inchoate metaphors, they are here to convey the tensed expressions of the struggles of oppression, injustice, and social maladjustment in Nigeria. They, like Audre Lorde, are “the farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives”.
Faced with the continuing protest against police brutality in Nigeria, the federal government’s oppression, the impunity of our political leaders: we speak truth to power. We mourn our death; we hold on to our dreams that a better Nigeria is possible. Our cries animate the radical voices speaking out against police injustices in Nigeria: to see upturned the violent walls that stand against the Nigerian people, to see the house of oppression built by a state apparatus like the police and individuals who have become institutions, crumble into ungathered pieces. This is the cause we are asking you to take up. At this time of crisis in Nigeria, we recognize that #EndSARS is a significant moment to cultivate artistic sensibilities that make real the scars of ordinary people. These poems written in real time unleash is our way to respond to the precariousness of policing in Nigeria. These poems also document the traumatic narratives and images many around the world have to, painfully, confront since the protest started.
For the Nigerian poet, silence is violence, and it is time to speak up against injustice, against oppression. It is time to #endpolicebrutality #endpoorgovernanceinnigeria #stopthenigeriangovernment.
If you’d like to be a part of this on-going project which will continue with the protest, please send your poems to [email protected].
“Nigeria Will Not End Me”
(Final words tweeted by Okechukwu Obi-Enadhuze before his death.)
How could we not have known that our land drinks only young blood
We ask for bread; it gives us stone; we ask to live it takes our breath
We stand up tall; it cuts our legs; we sit wearily; it shoots us down
Don’t we know it already, don’t we? To age in this land, is to arrive in a grave?
Lambs of the Republic
by Olajide Salawu
When the gods’ jars were empty of mercy
we sought other tips of divinity like grace
to live: to tell our mothers we would return home
when the sun sets and their tongues thirst for our names.
In this country, innocence is a myth taught to school children
before they become boys and their hands are cuffed
on the street as they scream like large animals bleating for life.
And as they jerk for breath under the heavy jackboots,
bloodshot-eye men ask them how much ransom can they
pay to keep the unkempt heart of my country clean.
Before the Devil Speaks
by Wale Olaogun
& whenever our bodies speak of wealth
there is already an outstanding grave
in a uniform, by the road.
A Generation in Motion
by Jumoke Verissimo
First, we learned from them we were nothing, so our lives picked up dust, as we understood how we could irritate the noses of those who sneer at us. We flitted across the borders, sitting, walking, chanting our rage into the places where we were being consumed. We searched for souls floating across the waters where they mutilated our bodies and hung us dry until we felt we had no dreams in us.
We became the power they seek. For we are a voice shape-shifting each time they invent fresh ways to kill us. We write our memoirs unafraid because we know what our truth is like. We are the ones who they dare called lazy, eagles who know how to glide across waters. We will not die even when they kill us. We are the power they lack.
We know fear. We are not afraid. Our concern is that this power we carry is nothing before those who do not know what it means to be strong. We have arrived confronting the abyss of a generation that buries only young people. We do not want to die, but these people know only how to kill the young.
& They Killed Poor Jimoh Isaiq
by Idowu Odeyemi
For how long will these gruesome poli-trick-cians
of our motherland continue to feed our bodies
bullet for using the power in our voices?
a stray bullet will plug itself
in our heart
& police will claim accidental discharge
while our mothers cry
as they toss our bodies inside the mud
deep into the god-swollen foot
if we do not emancipate from fears
of dying for change.
By Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún
In the Ezu River of bones and blood
The bodies sing with the reddened mud
Dirges of a lost country that never was,
Words that never came when they called
In the dead of the night, faced with gloom.
In the white of a flag, the bleeding soul
Of the moment wept blood near the gaping toll —
Ghosts of the nation’s past haunting the cries
Their bodies made in that horrid night
Singing the words written to mock their hope.
In Oke’s twenty-year neck is a hole. A stab,
Says the hasty report not yet run through the lab
Of truth or the fog of the moment’s misdirections.
His blood seeps across the curfewed streets
Into the veins of a future weeping regrets.
On the streets, the marauders mark the ground
With the casings of their killing rounds
Picked up hurriedly to mask the proof
That the promises are vain that the leaders make;
That the land is still a butcher’s slab.
A Tree That Falls
By James Yékú
The Nigerian human, like a tree that falls
in an uninhabitable forest, is never heard.
Not by pot-bellied prebends whose noses
perceive only the smelly melodies of their own ramblings.
Not by monsters whose belch is a tirade
Hurling loud boastings after a conquest
of the communion table.
Not by the gunshots of generals tongue-tied
by the horrors of consciences seared
by the ugliness of indifference.
Like a tree that falls, unheard and unsung,
the Nigerian human is an echo of silences
misperceived into oblivion by the absence of those
For whom it sings.
Like a tree that falls, the Nigerian human
is a forest that crumbles and nothing makes a sound.
Until now, as the cry against tsars
ricochets in gestures to #endSARS.
By James Yékú
The streets are heaving with anxieties,
as screens and smartphones pour tales of griefs
into your chest; you wonder what gestures
to end czars will unloose the tongue of Bubu.
But alas, Bubu speaks, but of clouds without rain,
Dreaming hurricanes as he gaslights a nation
without fuel, in a paradise drained of life and lustre;
those who die are as the cattle of Daura, invisible.
By Obehi Aigiomawu
I have seen
And, in turn
I have seen Violence
This Country Still Cracks Us
by Yusuf Balogun Gemini
Even if this nation refuses to honor our women
with glorifying titles, as they do their cabals,
I’ll raise my hand so high
and scream into the air,
I’ll tell of Feyikemi Abudu,
Laila Johnson Salami,
Obiageli Ofili Alintah,
I’ll tell of the entire clan of women folks
like tattoo, they cannot be scrapped off our skin surfaces,
our skin thickened with sweat and blood.
Even if the nation refuses to place our brothers and sisters
in royal coffins,
even if the nation refuses to give a month long holiday
in celebration of our brothers and sisters
lost to the cause,
even if the nation refuses to
light candles at the mention of these names,
we shall speak of their names
with so much valor and pride —
we shall speak of Jimoh Isiaka,
we shall speak of Ayomide Taiwo,
we shall speak of Peter Ofurum,
we shall speak of Ifeoma Abugu,
we shall speak of Victor Maduamagu,
we shall speak, we shall speak of Daniel Adewuyi,
we shall speak,
we shall speak
of that anonymous boy whose only possessions of his mother
was him, N90, sugar and garri.
We shall speak of Derin’s lover,
we shall speak,
we shall speak.
this blood will haunt you.
To Segun who refused to live up to his name
but rather became a double faced sword,
this blood will haunt you.
To those whose political seats are worth the lives of a thousand Nigerians,
this blood, this blood will haunt you,
this water will choke you.
This fight must continue —
Nigeria will not end me.
by Abimbola Alaba
sepsis kills as surely as sharing a hug with fire if a body is left
in its flames for long enough. once, my father left the left
of two limbs – he sawed away the right leg of a woman –
to leave her body whole was to allow a fellowship of
clumps of blood to coalesce into tiny crimson bombs
detonating like the opening of a rose in the dark,
shocking the heart, shutting the eyes, stopping the breath.
i see her sometimes, wearing her prosthesis, that stumbling
woman, whose great loss left her life in its will
it is the cruelty of kindness that my country needs, but
what part of this body carries our disease? anaerobes
threaten to make martyrs of us, but what are their names?
where are they? what surgeon, what small gods or big God,
what cuts out a rot as deep as hell without being burnt alive?
The Accidental Martyr
by Erica Olanike George
Amaka’s belongs were found in the palms of an official,
The uniform painted black and red or was in green and red?
The AK47 branded on his shoulder,
Gleaming with pride, hungry with greed.
Starvation stirring his stomach,
Fear glazing over her eyes.
You see, the rivers and lagoons overflowed that day,
But the cries of the nation threatened to sink the islands.
that’s what he bellowed,
as he scavenged through her bag
and violated the buttons of her phone.
Phone calls and messages overwhelmed the system,
Pleading for a sign, a call, a relief,
Is it too late to pray for a miracle?
They don’t say her name in the house anymore,
But there’s a quiet ritual that controls that house.
They gather by her room door every night at eight,
waiting to hear her laugh and say ‘come in’.
by Oladimeji Ogunoye
*Of inheriting a legacy of state-sponsored deaths buried in the open
These fevered children
Hot from nightmares and sick from sleeplessness,
what sources so great a stench,
that paints and makes
their already emptied bowels wretch…
You can only bury so much…
six feet is for one body or at the most two.
But when you bury millions,
the grave meant to hide them
becomes a foundation for the mountain their heap makes…
A mountain of bodies so high
No matter how far we run into the future,
we will always see its tower behind us…
Blowing the fevered stench of the carcasses to us…
And as we run, we are felled
Joining the towering carcasses of our dear Nation’s exploits
This historical Nation…
that feeds on her inhabitants.
Until we come back to shovel these bodies…
Until we question the lead that fell each rotting (esh…
No matter how far we run…
our children will always wake up fevered by this nightmare
In fear of boots, clubs and guns
Of a future de+ned by a gory past
A future not so far away…
Of leaders prided in hiding bodies;
òkú tęę sin ęsę rę wà níta…
From the General turned Pastor,
to the reincarnated agbádá-wearing one,
the dead you buried,
the legs are still outside…
Please know those legs carry other bodies
whose legs carry other bodies…
As we all put life to sand
Writing the history of a nation
that feeds on its inhabitants
The Scent of Revolution
by Prince Ohwavworhua
Indeed there was a country
once bound in freedom, peace and unity;
anarchy now patrols its streets.
The labour of our heroes past, once protected,
now transformed to vanity.
My heart bleeds for a country
where the blood of innocent and unarmed protesters
is being spilled and splashed
on our once revered green and white camouflage
by those who should protect our rights.
For those who have been compromised
in the struggle for a better living,
for those who have been employed
to sabotage the revolution,
and for those who have shut their eyes
For the blood that has been forced
into the bowels of the earth:
we will stand as a people
to become heroes and restore our dignity.
Hearts are only broken, but the spirit stands firm.
Bullets can pierce flesh
but unity is an armoured fortress.
In one accord we will rise
to protect our land, and secure our future.
We will arise unrelenting.
We will not sacrifice our future a second time.
The scent of revolution will linger in the air
until we restore our nation.
Red, white and green
by Ehae Longe
What a toll this country takes
On those it calls its own.
What a lie to say we’re free,
When our words always bear a fine.
We won’t forget the fight,
Of our people who sat down,
Or the strength as they sang,
Although they feared the dark.
We won’t forget their faith,
That there was better to be had,
Or that their lives weighed more,
Than their little flags.
We won’t forget the people,
Who sent the evil out,
The ones who sit in silence,
Or spew lies from their mouths.
We won’t forget the army,
That was meant to keep us safe,
And how they killed our heroes,
Who could only run and pray.
Red, white and green,
A dictator’s dark design,
A stain on Nigeria’s dream.
We won’t forget
What it looks like
To want, to ask, for more.
And most of all, to fight.
We won’t forget that night.
Hold it there!
If you run, I will shoot
Knee down, frog jump, hang on the air
You bloody civilians
Alien thunder thundered
The strong man on the run
Courageous before the unarmed
Feeble and panicky, stricken before the armed
You called a fellow, bloody civilian
Were you born putting on khaki?
Displays bravado before the unarmed
Displays cowardice before the armed
What a paradox!
Were you trained to bully the unarmed
But to flee from the armed?
khaki culture, a khakicature!
And sang the nation’s song,
Their voices laced with fear.
How they held the little flags,
Their hope hoisted in the air.
Green, red, white.
Paradox of Existence
By Benedicta Oyebanji
Time flies, man rise
Words said, truth heard
Husbands…. Less fathers
Wives….. Less mother’s
Students….. Less scholars
Caveats abound, violence compound
High tables reserved, no honor observed
And I, caught in a web of contrasts….
Conundrum’s my new name.
Hurray for Impunity
By Ademola Adesola
I will wolf down the wealth of the commonwealth
Paean and perquisite in return will I get
Hurray to impunity!
I will pray and prey on the toiling poor
Accolades and garlands for my oppressive shoulders will I receive
Hurray to impunity!
I will charge the people for services not rendered
Approbation and complicit silence will I obtain as reward
Hurray to impunity!
I will maim, rape, and kill
Feeble outrage and stage-managed court sessions will I provoke
Hurray to impunity!
I will subvert and sabotage workable efforts for progress
Empty threats, preferential treatment, and praise will I inspire
Hurray to impunity!
I will deplore knowledge and sniff at creativity
Leadership lectern and hefty rewards due thinkers will I attract
Hurray to impunity!
I will stage protests, wreck havocs, and violate people’s space
Hero and model of decent behaviour will I become
Hurray to impunity!
Hurray to impunity!
On its cosy wings will I be ferried to spray the confetti of misconducts
In its buxom bosom will I be inordinately protected.
Hurray to my Land of Birth
The paragon of impunity
The generous forgiver of genocidal acts!
Hurray to impunity!
The people bear its wages like a crocodile its snout!
In the eye of impunity I see why the land is so juicily blessed!
By Tolu Agbelusi
Is it because we refused to bow to the age-old gag
of “respect”? Because we mounted your insults as mirrors?
Who is naïve? If not men that believe empty promises
will satiate a people who have nothing more to lose?
If not men that think they can intimidate 150,000
people out of believing the deaths we witnessed in real time?
When the difference between us and the others,
dead in the underbelly of SARS cells is how much more money
law enforcement can extort, is that living? We followed
the playbook, took beatings we did not deserve, begged
for food from our own storehouses, we’ve watched mothers
surrender their bodies for a chance
their children, husbands can breathe. And did you not laugh?
Did you not take more and still send them away?
Only the ‘lucky’ have corpses.
you preach: “we are only concerned with law and order”
but you arrested Miracle on his way home. Like a carcass
you strung him at Akwuzu SARS, scored skin with machetes,
sticks, shot him for refusing to confess, deprived
him of food and water, killed his cell mates slowly, defied
the court order to bail him. Oga whose law, what order?
Within 3 days, Lagos charged 229 people for destroying
property. What about murder? Abba Kyari and James Nwafor
are free? Which law? whose justice?
If we must negotiate for the right to breathe
We may have been silent but we paid attention
enough to know how you crush uprisings.
Isn’t this how your playbook unfolds: threaten,
bribe, send thugs, kill, kidnap, discredit. And you blame
us for not sending leaders to negotiate. Is that shame?
Causing you to work against the truth? Because we dared
to ask for a country that works for all? Shame
because the world we built in two weeks shows your fraud?
Proves that even if the snake swallowed the money
there should still have been plenty to feed the people,
remove the need for you to dash us a pittance
crown yourself saviour. Is it because we defied
presumptions that we are only ever exploitable or expendable?
The audacity of wickedness crushing what it can’t control
valuing everything but life. Are you so scared
of the people who know where the bodies are buried?
Is this why you gathered all your might
stared down the barrel of a gun and pulled the trigger?
By Niran Okewole
This is a trench chant for the other strong breed
The faceless throng who rolled a boulder uphill
Who gave up youth, blood and guts
Sometimes it is necessary to speak with stones,
To roar with tongues that won’t readily
That the fear of fear is stronger
Than the daily humiliation of stolen voices
Peace and Terror
By Damilola Oyeleke
We took to the streets with nothing but our placards and our voices ringing loudly
Our leaders watched for days, snickering at our naivety and waiting for our tiredness
They failed to recognise they were the naive ones
Thinking we still held the meekness they forced upon us and those before us
We came in hundreds, in different parts of the country, with different important roles
The world heard our chants for days,
Bore witness to our peace and unity
They fired shots, hired hooligans, threw teargas and more
Hoping to incite violence and discredit our demands
Yet we returned, honouring the lives lost and swearing their justice
They might say they won
With blood on the streets and buildings burning
They would think they won
Because they deployed terror to the streets and the slaughter forced us indoors
But they did not win, for we are not tired
And If we grew tired, it was of the tears we cried
The anger we refuse to let go of
We will not get tired of demanding for better
When we march again, you will hear our voices ring even louder
Even before then, you will watch us plan your exit.
Here’s a Dirge to List Dreams
By Adaeze C Nwankwo
To pains unfelt, to hope never found
Here’s to shattered dreams, to wishes unknown, prayers unanswered.
We look to the sky for help, to the one whose wishes we live by, who strings the earth to submission and make the will of mortals his, he couldn’t save us.
We look to the earth for breath, to the one whose cover hides our fear, cladding our pains and shames, who teaches us our final moments are not done until we succumb to our weary souls, she was no where to be found
We look to our idols for guidance, asking that they remind us whose children we were, begging that their truth stay the same, their spirit in corrupt and demanding of justice. This gods we made, have become the messengers of the ones we harbor.
While we say goodbye to a dream un-birthed, leaving behind the history of our fallen heroes, rewriting our past so the future never see the loss we bore, we shall sing of the lights that came for a moment and disappeared in our most desperate times, we shall hum the loss of a time our Union fused into a single purpose of desire, when our unity painted the blood of our peers as the only sign of our covenant, the it broke off at the declaration of the harbinger.
We shall say to the future, we fell and lost our ways, we broke and became unglued, we became bent and no more connected in purpose, dreams and courage. But we shall remember, we came, we tried, and we shall be back.
Here’s a dirge to lost dreams
By Obehi Aigiomawu
We didn’t think much of it,
When our fatherland grew fangs.
We took turns, admiring each canine
Felt pity for his enemies.
We woke up
We woke up to
Writhing in pain and betrayal,
We found no apology or comfort.
It never happened.
The Beads to This Prayer
By Mary Ann Olaoye
In a tweet, i see that there are too many candles to count,
there are also too many bodies that will miss a number.
When the wick goes off, it serves as a reminder for these deaths covered by the hands of
It is day 7 and I am counting backwards through time, filling each second with a name that will
never again be answered to.
I am still filling because in a river, there are bodies, faceless corpses, cut off dialoguing, for
life. A father digs through the heap to find the one who didn’t make it home.
I am telling you that when we march, every step has a bullet and a soul in it. When we scream
with this new found mouth of justice, it is held by a grief somewhere, a funeral where our pain
is the only thing that fills the coffin.
These days run like ellipses, each for the ones who we do not know their names, the ones
whose lovers wait for a return, whose absence cuts through like a question mark.
They are still waiting for their last message to be marked seen, waiting for a hug or a return to
We try to hold them in our hearts, try to pronounce their names as they would have loved it,
remembering to untie our tongues and say them over and over again. They are the beads to
By Ibiene Bidiaque
call the massacre
by its name
into a crowd
in the morning
said none dead
said none taken
said it must
have been aliens
no, not us
while the elites
and their children
hid behind tall gates
in aso rock
and the poor
and their children
By Ojo Adeshina
Our kings ploy their wolves to pluck the moons
drum the drum of dirge
their rods of death.
Our kings’ wolves murder laggard lambs.
Our kings pluck the moons
and silence many laggard lambs;
lambs made laggard by palace creed.
The rods of death hunt sounds
Lekki wolves sink hopes into Lekki crimson river
Our kings wear the wrath of wounded wombs.
I hear dawn will speak in the syllable of wrath, soon.
By Ogunkoya Samuel
The night of the Lekki massacre
I documented my prayers on Twitter
My screams were a chorus to the guns’ ricochet
The bodies of strangers sang amen
Punctuated by the sordid betrayal of their country
This redemption is getting drowned by the storm.
I was four when I first learned what the word home meant
It could be getting what you wanted or the remembrance of freedom or to be seen, to be heard.
Sometimes, when the house is silent
Home could be a history of laughter,
this is where you might find me
In the history of visitors gathering their belongings
What home should never be
Is surrendering your pronouns to feel alive.
What home should never be is your body
Lodging bullets when your only protest songs are
To be young and alive in peace and unity.
Home should not end you.
Looters on High
By Tayo Aluko
They sat on the tarmac
In their demand for
Their voices rang out,
Chanting in unison
“The labour of our
Shall never be in vain.”
Then the bullets flew,
The singing stopped and
Young hearts were stilled
In a repeat of heinous
From a century before
When the shooters were
And the spoils, the very
Into which fresh new
blood now seeped.
Petitions went overseas
where new enslavers and
that white lives matter
With looters on high
Arming hoodlums below
Wherever we look on the
and peaceful voices
silenced once more
what hope for
The certainty that the
Will last only a moment,
that the movement, the
Of the youthful heroes
Will rise again,
That their compatriots’
Was not shed
“Arise, O Compatriots, Nigeria’s Call, Obey”
By Chinonyelum Anyichie
While we sang and held the flag, singing a song that never served us,
While we sat down, holding hands,
Brothers with one voice, brothers with one fate;
Death came in torrents of hot steel.
One gasp here, another one there,
Will mine be the third?
While we begged and cried and begged and cried for bread we baked,
They opened fire on us in the cover of the night;
Men green with envy at our guts,
Cowardly men, zombies without minds.
They opened fire on us,
For asking to have a seat at the table we built,
For having without training what they train many years for –
“The labor of our heros past shall never be in vain”. (singing)
A liquid, warm, hits my face,
The fingers grow still and cold, that once grasped mine,
So I must say this with urgency:
When we are all dead and gone,
Let it be known we obeyed the call,
And served with our blood at Lekki toll-gate.
“To serve with heart and might”…
(singing until voice falters and stops).