It is becoming a norm for individuals to court one of the genres of literature as a conduit for the appraisal of their profession(s). Dami Ajayi’s Clinical Blues (2014) is one of such literary outputs inspired by the author’s profession. Hence, it is not a surprise to have a poetry collection from a legal practitioner, who also holds degrees in literature.
Eclipse of Justice, Ogechi Ezeji’s debut poetry collection, is a handy down dressing of judicial excesses. It is a collection of 113 poems of related thematic preoccupation, culminating in 195 pages.Ezeji’s judicial standpoint may have informed her coherent and organic ordering of the poems, given her division of the poems into six sections of related subject matters.
The first section contains 60 poems. It is a demythologisation of the legal mystic and a deconstruction of the ‘isms’ and schisms of the bar.Like the blind goddess, wielding cudgels and swinging on the pendulum of justice, Ezeji dons the garb of a sanitizer. Armed with poetic whips, she runs into the courtroom to sack the pigs, which desecrate the revered place. Her potent weapon is words versed in haunting poetic lines.
Disenchanted with most courts around, the poet-speaker in the first poem sets out In Search of a Court of Justice, branding herself a ‘searcher’. Hear her:
I go from the roaring Niger River to the sandy sands of the Sahara
From the mangroves of Oloibiri to the confluence city of Lokoja
From the rocky rocks of Abeokuta to the calling chad basin.
She finds none. Hence, she laments:
I see a court of frontloading and back loading
A court of substantive and procedural abracadabna
A court of appellate and cross-appellate lack of jurisdiction.
Further, section one could be best described as Ezeji’s chronicling of the ills and rots in the Nigerian judicial system. She bewails, sometimes, with biting sarcasm, the ruthless rubbishing of an establishment every home aspires to lay claim to one of its numerous practitioners, because of its enticing nobility. Section two, titled, On Humanity, Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues, is intricately interwoven with poignant lines and disturbing human welfare questions, tearing consistently at the fabrics of people’s collective consciences.
Through humanistic lenses, Ezeji probes the human consciousness and how often people care about those ‘Fleeing for Life for World Refugees’, ‘Our Siblings in Special Clothing’, the ‘Owners of Tomorrow’, etc. These are, in Frantz Fanon’s words, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’.
Commissioner’s conversation with a Shanty Dweller is a piece that stares hard into people’s faces. On the surface, it speaks of a misunderstanding between a honourable commissioner and a shanty dweller, but on a deeper level, it is a figurative comparison of the alarming wide gap between the haves and the have-nots. It is a dramatic monologue, highly reminiscent of Niyi Osundare’s ‘Olowo debates Talaka’ contained in Songs of the season.
Both poems share, perhaps, coincidental similarities, especially the condescending tones of both bourgeoisies, as well as the defiant tone of the proletariats. Such poems may earn Ezeji a notable seat in Marxists, but she may need another buttock to sit in the feminists’ school, for such poems as Her Housekeeping Machine, and His Good Wife, etc.
The third section highlights the unnerving situation of the declining rate of law education in Nigeria. Here, Ezeji takes her readers to the classroom to educate them that to stop the rapid decay in the justice sector, legal education must be repositioned. She calls for ideological reorganisation because, according to her, the justice sector is “Polluted from Source”.
Section four is labelled, pidgin peppersoup. Here, Ezeji tests her artistic prowess via code switching, as it were, from Queen’s English to Pidgin English – a variety of lower English language, popularised in Nigerian literature by the likes of Ken Saro-Wiwa and Ezenwa-Ohaeto. Ezeji uses abstract images to make allusions to her intended subject matters. The result is even more effective and poetic. The poem, Pepper soup, alludes to the works as possessing purgative power to rid mankind of rot.
Section five is a celebration of Heroes, and perhaps, ‘Sheroes’. Ezeji celebrates, A Pigeon Amongst Peacocks, which she dedicates to ‘The unknown Incorruptible Judge’.The persona moves across the globe to pick worthy heroes, viz Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousfazai, Justice Muktar Alooma, Gani Fawehinmi, Chukwudifu Oputa, etc. However, most striking of these poems is the one devoted to Niyi Osundare’s 70th birthday commemoration.
The poet paints a carnivalesque picture where all the nation’s minstrels gathered to celebrate, arguably, the best poet of the second generation Nigerian literature.The last section, ‘Looking into Tomorrow’s Eyes’, reads true to its title. It signals the climax of Ezeji’s artistic oeuvre. She attains the expected coming of age towards the end of the collection. It is customary for most poets to save their best pieces for the last. It is arguable that “Looking into Tomorrow’s Eyes,” the longest of all her poems, is her most philosophical and artistically mature work.
Every work of art has its flaws. Ezeji’s Eclipse of Justice is not an exception.Eclipse of Justice, especially in most poems in section one, begins rather slowly, only to gain momentum and the needed intensity in later lines. The earlier poems appear rushed and hardly possess the poetic completeness of later poems. Notwithstanding, Ezeji makes great use of various figures of speech.
Some of which are: metaphor, simile, personification, rhetorical question, onomatopoeia, allegory, assonance, alliteration, hyperbole, etc. The poet’s good sense of humour and successful appropriation of Igbo idioms and ethos further endear her to her readers.Beautifully published, engaging, insightful, futuristic and humorous, Ezeji’s Eclipse of Justice is a bold statement made into the arrant face of an existence caught up in the macabre dance of anomaly. We are yet to see the best of this poet.