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Nnimmo Bassey, A Poet On The Run

Wale Okediran from Oyo State in the south-western part of the country is a trained medical doctor, now a novelist and author of, Tenants of the House (2009). And Eghosa Imaseun was born in Warri metropolis in Delta State, but his parents are from Edo State. He is also a medical doctor, who is now a midcareer novelist. He wrote Fine Boys (2012)

Wale Okediran from Oyo State in the south-western part of the country is a trained medical doctor, now a novelist and author of, Tenants of the House (2009). And Eghosa Imaseun was born in Warri metropolis in Delta State, but his parents are from Edo State. He is also a medical doctor, who is now a midcareer novelist. He wrote Fine Boys (2012)

BY PATRICK B. NAAGBANTON MAY 31, 2018

Nnimmo Bassey, was born in a remote farm village located on the northern frontier of Akwa Ibom State in the south-south region of Nigeria. But he lives in Benin City, the capital of Edo State after his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). He is a practicing architect, clergy, writer, poet, newspaper columnist, environmental campaigner and activist.

Bassey's venture into literature, especially the poetry genre, is similar to the case of other great Nigerian novelists like Cyprian Ekwensi, Elechi Amadi, Wale Okediran, Eghosa Imaseun and a horde of others. He (Bassey) received his formal tertiary academic training at the University of Nigeria (UNN), Enugu State in architecture, and graduated in 1981.

The late Cyprian Ekwensi was born in the present-day Niger State in north-central Nigeria to his Igbo parents from Anambra State, south-eastern region. He was a rare novelist, and he was undisputedly, the father of the Nigeria “city literature”, because of his work in the area of city literature. He received his early university education in Forestry and Pharmacy before he became a writer of fiction. The late Elechi Amadi from the Aluu community in the Ikwerre ethnic nationality in Rivers State, also took a bachelor's degree in Physics and Mathematics, and taught for years before becoming a prolific novelist and playwright.

Wale Okediran from Oyo State in the south-western part of the country is a trained medical doctor, now a novelist and author of, Tenants of the House (2009). And Eghosa  Imaseun was born in Warri metropolis in Delta State, but his parents are from Edo State. He is also a medical doctor, who is now a midcareer novelist. He wrote Fine Boys (2012).

They all prove that writing is a limitless art. Jerry Cleaver, the well-known American author, literary critic and teacher, in one of his inspiring book, Immediate Fiction –a Complete Writing Course (2002, page 218), wrote, “There's no special talent needed to write publishable stories – all you need is your own emotions and your own life experience. In other arts – music or painting, for example – you may need a special, inborn talent. But writing is different..... Most successful writers don't get these big awards. The only talent you need to be successful is a talent for work”.

Bassey lists Ken Saro-Wiwa, the great Niger Delta playwright, poet, novelist, newspaper columnist, short story writer, activist and environmentalist as part of his influence. Writing a foreword to the book, Silence Would Be Treason – Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa (2013) edited by Ide Corley, Helen Fallen and Laurence Cox, Nnimmo  Bassey wrote; “Ken Saro-Wiwa and Sister McCarren (the Irish revered sister of the Catholic Church) both influenced my life and growth as an environmental justice advocate. In addition, Saro-Wiwa challenged me as a fledging writer who thought I would find a niche as a poet and short story writer. His pioneering work in building a virile environmental justice movement as well as the rights of minorities in Nigeria remains outstanding and continues to inspire campaigners around the world. I recall his visit to my humble home in Benin City when he came to lead a conference of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in 1994. It was a memorable occasion and I heartily drank from his spring of wisdom on a variety of topics”.

Bassey has written or co-authored both his architectural and other books. Some of them are Beyond Simple Lines; the Architecture of Chief G.Y Aduku and Archcon co-authored with Okechukwu Nwaeze (1993); The Management of Construction (1993); Oilwatching in South America (1997); Living Houses (2005); To Cook a Continent- Africa; Destructive Extraction and Climate Change (2012) which has been translated into Portuguese and Finnish languages. He has also received several important local and international human rights and environmental awards.

For the sake of this article, I will concentrate on Nnimmo Bassey's poems. So far, five of his collections of poems have been published, all by the popular Kraft Books Limited, Ibadan, Oyo State. They are Patriots and Cockroaches (1992), Poems on the Run (1995), Intercepted (1998), We Thought it was Oil but it was Blood (2002) and I Will not Dance to your Beat (2011).

Patriots and Cockroaches (a collection of 66 poems) appeared before the poet (Bassey) was enmeshed in the radical pro-democracy, anti-military activism and campaigns for the protection of the dying environment of Nigeria. From 1993, he headed the Edo State branch of the Association of the Nigerian Authors (ANA), and later became ANA national General Secretary after Saro-Wiwa was hanged by the bloodthirsty  General Abacha alongside his eight other comrades. Abacha did that with support from Shell and their local allies in the Niger Delta region. Shell was worried about the widespread of Saro-Wiwa's campaigns throughout the region rather anything else. Bassey was also the headed of the Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (FOEN) as well as a member, Board of Governors, Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Lagos, representing the south-south region.

The tone of the poems in the Patriots and Cockroaches collection was mild; written in simple style with good diction to convey his message. For example, the first poem in that collection, “The Road to Life”,  has 14 lines and two irregular stanzas. It subtly talks about the crisis of the General Ibrahim Babangida era, “The boom has been the burst/our hearts too light to hold the glow/like children before a heap of pie/ |we gnawed and wrecked the pile” (Line 1-4).

In August 1993, Babangida had left the country after annulling the 12 June, Presidential election in deep disorder. He formed his helpless and scandalous Interim National Government(ING) and gave it to one of his loyalists, Ernest Shonekan to head. Three month after, Shonekan's over-ambitious and brutal Defence Minister, General Sani Abacha, removed him (Shonekan) and took over as head of the new junta. Abacha unleased his horror on the country and its people, especially those who complained quietly or loudly about his tyranny and corruption for four years and few months.