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The Theme of Degradation in Niger Delta Poetry a Study of Sophia Obi Tears In A Basket and Tanure Ojaide Delta Blues And Home Songs

The Theme of Degradation in Niger Delta Poetry a Study of Sophia Obi Tears In A Basket and Tanure Ojaide Delta Blues And Home Songs


The aim of this study was to examine the theme of the Degradation of the Niger Delta in Sophia Obi’s Tears in a Basket and Tanure Ojaide’s Delta Blues and Home Songs. In examining the two poetry texts, qualitative research was adopted in analyzing the selected poems from the two poets. The study reveals that the Niger Delta region has not had its better days since 1958 when oil exploration started. The region has no viable, visible gleam of development. The study further reveals some elements of degradation that have characterized the region such as: suffering, poverty, exploitation, shooting, killing, weeping, and wailing caused by the Nigerian government on the Niger Deltans.

The youths in the region have turned to weapons to fight against the excessive arrogance of the heartless federal government of Nigeria and her collaborators – multinational oil companies carrying out oil prospection and exploitation in the region. The study, therefore, recommends that Obi’s and Ojaide’s poetic works should be given special attention because the two poetic works aim at addressing the issue affecting the people of Niger Delta and bringing peace and harmony in the country. Their works also encourage the readers to think positively about locality and geopolitics as possible as a panacea to the social problems confronting the region.



1.1 Background to the Study

As a medium of expressing views about man and his social existence, Literature in general, and Modern Nigerian Poetry in particular, is concerned with the survival of mankind and the planet. (Inyang, 67) In this context, Literature focuses on discourses about the ecology and the fate of man in a modern, integrated world in which natural resources are central to existence. Postulations on ecological matters and literary discourses have emphasised that nature is endangered and the exploitation of natural resources for the free market globally contributes to the destruction of the natural world, especially of periphery nations (Bhagwati 42; Mittleman, 847).

This generates anxiety over increased inequality, exploitation, under-development, ecological degradation such as, loss of biodiversity, erosion, global warming, desertification, flooding, waste, oil pollution, and loss of marine life.

Poetry in general and Nigerian poetry in particular encapsulates the consequences of the interface between nature and man’s activities in an epoch of environmental crises. In recent times, natural disasters have not only compelled human societies to reappraise the significance of nature for human survival but also led to the realisation that any harmful human action against nature will yield destructive consequences for humanity (Glolfelty, 27).

The growing concern with the dysfunction of the ecology in Nigerian Poetry necessitates the deployment of literary works to evaluate environmental concern, thus giving literature a new area of focus. This is to raise awareness on the need for a sustainable relationship between man and his environment. It is in this regard, that this study utilises a contemporary literary theory called Ecocriticism which links literary criticism with ecological issues to evaluate the selected Nigerian poetry. Ojakorotu, affirms that:

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This activism can be attributed to frustration (on the part of the region) arising from both state and oil companies’ negligence and destruction of the Niger delta’s ecology, which is the basic structure that supports life in the region, as elsewhere. It may be said that the struggle by the people of the region has been predicated on certain fundamental issues, namely: their exclusion or marginalisation in terms of access to oil revenue; their struggle Poetics of Resistance (93)

However, according to Nigerian written poetry spans about six decades, from its inception, and has been a medium of engagement, decrying colonialism, cultural imperialism, socio-economic oppression and political tyranny. Tanure Ojaide’s poetic enterprise follows in the footsteps of this mould of interdiction, which can be called resistance poetics. Particularly, his collections of poetry, Delta Blues & Home Songs and Daydream of Ants and Other Poems, are illustrations of ecocritical literature.

The Theme of Degradation in Niger Delta Poetry a Study of Sophia Obi Tears In A Basket and Tanure Ojaide Delta Blues And Home Songs

Ecocriticism in literature is a form of aesthetics that concerns itself with the nature of the relationship between literature and the natural environment. Ojaide considers the ecocritical art of poetry as a kind of public duty, which he owes to the Nigerian people, to expose, reconstruct, and negate the actualities of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The author argues that since Ojaide’s poetry intersects with the realities of ecological imperialism, it is thus a dependable barometer to gauge the Nigerian environmental/ ecological experience.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Over the years, ecological, political, and literary discourses have emphasised that nature is endangered and the exploitation of natural resources for the free market globally contributes to the destruction of the natural world of periphery nations. This study is premised on the argument that as a medium of expressing views about man and his social existence, Literature in general and Modern Nigerian Poetry, in particular, are concerned with the survival of mankind and the planet.

The cry by poets such as Tanure Ojaide and Sophia Obi’s demonstrate that Nigeria is entangled in the peril of exploitation, destruction and mismanagement of its natural resources by the combined action of its ruling class and multinational companies these activities has lead to several natural disasters such as the oil spillages that kills millions of aquatic animals which would have serves as a source of food and income to the common men.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this research work is to investigate the theme of degradation in Niger Delta Poetry in Sophia Obi’s “Tears in a Basket” and Tanure Ojaide’s “Delta Blues and Home Songs

1.4 Significance of Study

The significance of this study shall be in the following ways:

  1. it will serve as a source of literature
  2. it will also help to portray the beauty of African writings
  3. it will also help to promote Africa to the world
  4. the poem will help in bringing to lime light the effect of deforestation
  5. it will also help the government in making policies that will help to safe our forest from the damage caused by human activities which can lead to natural disaster
  6. the study shall also help students of literature to appreciate the beauty of nature through poetry
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1.5 Objectives of the Study

The study aims at:

(i) Portraying the theme of degradation in Sophia Obi’s “Tears in a Basket” and Tanure Ojaide’s “Delta Blues of Home Songs”

(ii) Investigating the effects of degradation in the lives of the fictional characters in poetic novels under study with reference to the poor people of Niger Delta and how they go through exploitation and suffering.

(iii) Examining the minds of the authors writing and providing solutions to the above challenges in the Niger Delta.

1.6 Research Methodology

This research is based on library research; the primary source of information will be Sophia Obi’s Tears in a Basket and Tanure Ojaide’s Delta Blues and Home Songs. The research shall also investigate secondary sources in the form of existing literature in several fields, books, magazines, e-journals, articles, newspapers, presentations, lectures, and unpublished works which provide valuable information about current environmental issues in Nigeria and the world at large. The Library and the Internet will also consult for relevant data for this study.

1.7 Scope and Delimitation of the Study

The scope of the study shall be limited to critical and textual analysis of the selected poems in Sophia Obi’s tears in a basket and Ojaide in Delta Blues and Home Songs. The scope will not extend to other areas; as a result, the limitations will by no means affect the result of the study.

1.8 Limitations of the Study

This research was limited to the theme of Degradation in Niger Delta Poetry: A Study of Sophia Obi’s Tears in a Basket and Tanure Ojaide’s Delta Blues and Home Songs

1.9 Bio-Data of the Authors

1.9.1 Bio-Data of Sophia Obi

Sophia Obi hails from Oloibiri the forgotten oil haven of Bayelsa State (where oil was first discovered in commercial quantity and exported in 1956). She is currently press secretary to the SSG, Bayelsa State. She has presented and published most of her works on stage, print, and electronic media. She is currently working on a handful of poems and short stories. She is one of the products of the Creative Arts Department, at the University of Port Harcourt. She also holds a Diploma in Journalism and a PGD in Advertising and Public Relations. ‘Tears in a Basket’ is Sophia Obi’s first collection of poems clearly marks her out as a sensitive young poet with a great deal of promise and ardour.

1.9.2 Bio-Data of Tanure Ojaide

Tanure Ojaide was born in 1948 to Urhobo parents from Okpara Inland in Agbon Kingdom of Delta State. He credits his grandmother with having inspired his writing. He attended secondary school at Obinomba and Federal Government College, Warri, before proceeding to the University of Ibadan for his degree program in English. He attended Syracuse University, where he earned an M.A. in Creative Writing and a PhD in English. He later taught at the University of Maiduguri, before being appointed as a Professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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He has been a visiting scholar and has taught at several universities across the world, including at Delta State University, Abraka and Kwara State University, Malete. His poetry is widely read and he is known for the infusion of Urhobo folklore and Udje aesthetics in his poetry.

Ojaide has won major national and international poetry awards, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Africa region (1987), the BBC Arts and Africa Poetry Award (1988), the All-Africa Okigbo Prize for Poetry (1988 and 1997), the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Poetry Prize (1988, 1994, 2003 and 2011) and the Fonlon-Nichols Award. In 2016, Ojaide won the Nigerian National Order of Merit award, the apex and the most important award for scholastic excellence in Nigeria. In 2017, his poetry collection, Songs of Myself: A Quartet, was the second runner-up in the NLNG Prize for Literature.

Three conferences have also been convened in his honour. The most recent one was held from 2 to 5 May 2018 at the University of Port Harcourt. Songs of Myself was shortlisted for the biennial Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, alongside collections by Harriet Anena and Servio Gbadamosi, and on 9 December 2018, at an award ceremony held in Lagos, Ojaide and Anena were announced as joint winners, chosen by judges Toyin Falola, Olu Obafemi and Margaret Busby, the presentation being made by Professor Wole Soyinka.

 His poems includes Poem, The Questioner (Ibadan: Kraft Books, 2018), Songs of Myself: A Quartet (Ibadan: Kraft Books, 2015), Love Gifts (Lagos: African Heritage Press, 2013), The Beauty I Have Seen (Lagos: Malthouse, 2010), Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2008), The Tale of the Harmattan (Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2007), In the House of Words (Lagos: Malthouse Press Ltd, 2005), I Want to Dance and Other Poems (San Francisco: African Heritage Press, 2003),

In the Kingdom of Songs (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2002),  Invoking the Warrior Spirit: New and Selected Poems (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000), When It No Longer Matters Where You Live (Calabar, Nig.: University of Calabar Press, 1999), Invoking the Warrior Spirit (Ibadan: Heinemann, 1999), Delta Blues and Home Songs (Ibadan: Kraft Books, 1998), Daydream of Ants (Lagos: Malthouse, 1997), The Blood of Peace (Oxford, UK: Heinemann, 1991), The Fate of Vultures (Lagos: Malthouse, 1990), Poems (Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Poetry International, 1988), The Endless Song (Lagos: Malthouse, 1988), The Eagle’s Vision (Detroit: Lotus, 1987), Labyrinths of the Delta (New York: Greenfield Review Press, 1986) and Children of Iroko & Other Poems (New York: Greenfield Review Press, 1973).

1.10 Definition of Terms

Degradation: This is the deterioration of the environment through the depletion of resources such as quality of air, water, and soil; the destruction of ecosystems; habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife; and pollution.

Deforestation: This is the clearing or thinning of forests by humans. Deforestation represents one of the largest issues in global land use. Estimates of deforestation traditionally are based on the area of forest cleared for human use, including the removal of trees for wood products and for croplands and grazing lands.

Natural Disaster: This is a major adverse event resulting from natural processes of the Earth; examples include firestorms, duststorms, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, and other geologic processes.

Mr. Harrison

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