Not My Business” is a potent piece of literature that delves into political apathy and the consequences of indifference in the face of tyranny. Through its narrative, the poem weaves a cautionary tale that resonates with many societies experiencing oppression and injustice. To reflect upon the current state of Nigeria under Bola Tinubu’s administration, controversial policies and the handling of public figures often stir national discourse but do not always result in collective action or public outcry.iyi Osundare’s poem “
When we draw parallels between Osundare’s poignant verses and the treatment of Abdulrasheed Bawa, the embattled ex-boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the resonance is unmistakable:
"They picked Akanni up one morning Beat him soft like clay And stuffed him down the belly Of a waiting jeep."
These lines, though symbolic, can be seen as a reflection of the alarming situation faced by Bawa, who was arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) on June 14, 2023. Without clear reasons disclosed to the public, Bawa was detained for 134 days. The imagery conjured by Osundare’s words can be likened to the abruptness and opacity surrounding Bawa’s arrest. In this scenario, the might of the state seems to descend without warning, obscuring the lines of due process.
In the context of Bawa’s detention, the refrain of the poem becomes bitterly ironic:
"What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?"
This reflects a societal detachment that can permeate even when fundamental human rights, such as the right to a fair trial and due process, are undermined. Bawa’s right to be charged promptly or released, as stipulated by law, was seemingly ignored, which should have been a rallying point for public action, echoing the need for accountability that Osundare’s poem underscores.
The situation took a turn when, after 134 days, Bawa was finally released from the DSS’s custody. The delay in charging him in court speaks volumes about disregarding his fundamental human rights. This issue resonated across the societal spectrum but failed to elicit the widespread challenge expected in a democratic society.
This refrain encapsulates the essence of bystander apathy. It is a stark reminder of the dangers of remaining silent when others face injustice. In today’s Nigeria, there is widespread economic hardship and policies that affect the livelihoods of the citizens. Yet, there’s a noticeable lack of significant protest or opposition, reflecting the same sentiments of the poem’s refrain. The economic hardships referenced in the poem are starkly visible in the current situation. With inflation surging to 26.72%, the difficulties are tangible, affecting daily life and the ability to afford necessities.
For instance, economic policies like the removal of petroleum subsidies have resulted in a steep hike in petrol prices, directly impacting daily life. Yet, the response is muted, and the knock of hardship grows louder and more persistent. Ironically, President Tinubu and other officials’ calls for patience and sacrifice from Nigerians come at a time when their actions starkly contrast the spirit of those pleas. The administration’s spending, in light of the economic struggles of its citizens, could be seen as a manifestation of the poem’s thematic disconnect between the leaders and the leaders. While the National Assembly (NASS) has allocated N75 billion for 465 SUVs and bulletproof cars, President Tinubu is proposing over N6.9 billion on vehicles, including those for the Office of the First Lady, in a period where the majority of Nigerians face an economic crunch.
This also brings to mind the disquieting observation by Rotimi Amaechi, the former Minister of Transportation, about the seeming apathy of Nigerians towards socio-political issues, which can be chillingly linked to the thematic essence of Niyi Osundare’s “Not My Business”. Amaechi, while speaking recently at the 2023 TheNiche Annual Lecture themed “Why We Stride and Slip: Leadership, Nationalism, and the Nigerian Condition,” said in his remark, “What is new to say, Nigerians don’t react to anything.” This re-echoes the salient point raised by Osundare.
This poem further criticises this nonchalant attitude of staying aloof and warns of its eventual repercussions:
"And then one evening as I sat down to eat my yam A knock on the door froze my hungry hand."
The complacency of the narrator is shattered in these final lines. The inevitability of injustice knocking at every door eventually, including that of those who previously ignored it, is a powerful conclusion to the poem. It serves as a warning that the failure to act against oppressive policies may result in those very policies encroaching upon the lives of the previously indifferent.
In relating this to the present day under President Bola Tinubu, if the populace allows policies that are not “friendly to the people” to go unchallenged, the poem suggests that it is only a matter of time before the consequences of such policies become impossible to ignore for all. Osundare’s poem serves as both a reflection and a warning. It encourages individuals to be aware of their liberties and recognise society’s interconnectedness. The engagement of its citizens often measures the health of a democracy. Therefore, it’s crucial that, in any administration, citizens remain vigilant and proactive in holding their leaders accountable, lest the final knock comes to their doors, freezing their “hungry hand” with regret for their silence.
Bawa’s prolonged detention without charges could have also been met with a louder chorus of demand for justice not only for him but as a stand against the potential for any citizen to encounter a similar fate. By reflecting on Osundare’s “Not My Business” within the context of Tinubu’s Nigeria and the situation of Abdulrasheed Bawa, we are reminded of the poet’s call to collective vigilance. It is a reminder that inaction in the face of injustice, especially concerning violations of fundamental human rights, can lead to a society where the rule of law is eroded and the door to arbitrary power is left wide open. The release of Bawa may have closed one chapter, but the narrative of a society’s response to such events continues to be written by its people’s actions—or inactions.
Again, Amaechi’s lament and the poem’s narrator speak to the same phenomenon: a societal inclination to isolate oneself from collective problems until they bang on one’s door. Osundare’s “Not My Business” is a call to collective consciousness and responsibility. It encourages individuals to look beyond immediate self-interest and consider the broader implications of governmental actions and their complicity through silence.
Niyi Osundare’s “Not My Business” interrogates the moral fabric of Nigerian society: Will the bystanders’ refrain continue to be a dominant response, or will there be a collective movement towards accountability and equitable governance? The poem is a stark reminder that all often share the repercussions of indifference and inaction and that, in the end, the ‘yam’ taken from one’s mouth is a loss to all.