Connect with us


When women speak of different behinds: A review of Joy Nwiyi’s ‘Burning Bottom’



By Bizuum Yadok

The ability of a woman to weaponize her sexual organs or to use it strategically to squeeze out hard-to-get favours from men was often referred to in Nigerian parlance,  as “bottom power”. I wouldn’t know what they call it now even though I strongly believe that that practice has been used by women since the creation of Eve and I doubt if it will ever stop. So when my eyes fell on Dr. Joy Nwiyi’s ‘Burning Bottom’, I instantly thought that the woman’s “botTOM” was involved. A quick dive into the text would prove me wrong.

Nwiyi didn’t just use “bottom” in a different sense from the one I mentioned earlier, but she also brought to the fore almost everything else that is deserving of national discourse. The eponymous poem, ‘Burning Bottom’ appears second among the fifty-two poems contained in the text. Here, the poet refers to a burning bottom as a foundational history of a nation – I suppose in this case, Nigeria – which had been faulty from its very beginning and has thus been sustaining various internal conflicts since it was forcefully coupled up by the British colonialists as one people. The short poem reads:

Segmented in bits of history from

years of a burning bottom flamed by

unflinching heat and watching smoulders

of a past meeting with present

Synchronizing well like water on

bridge sides streaming unhindered

yesterdays flowing into today

firing cracks of an already parched bottom.

In its brevity, one has to admire the creativity involved in composing the poem. At face value, one could glaringly see how the first three lines are tailed by an isolated line and how the sequence is repeated in a way that enjambment is well pronounced. The metaphor of “water… flowing” and later “firing” existing “cracks of an already parched bottom” evokes an unfamiliar yet interesting imagery. This goes to say that if the base of bottom of a building is faulty then the entire building will be faulty and it corresponds with the parabolic “house on the sand” in the Bible. I suppose the poet is not advocating for split of the country but to quench the fire of the present, one would need to first dig down to the burning bottom and put out the fire or renegotiate the terms of the country’s purported unity.

The next few poems that follow bear witness to the poet’s disenchantment with the country’s socio-political situation. Some of them include: ‘Going Away Gently’, ‘Growing a Wilderness in the Place We Love’, ‘Harmattan Tells Our Story’s, ‘Solution Seeker’, ‘ ‘Tones of Derangement’, ‘Does God Forbid’, ‘With Pleasure’, and ‘Camping’. The poem ‘Camping’ particularly speaks of the absence of underlying ideologies in political parties in Nigeria which enables party stalwarts to freely migrate from one political party to another. This ugly trend of mass decamping or mass defection is being manifested again in the face of the coming general elections in 2023, which is bad for a country’s democracy. The poet captures this thought succinctly in the first two stanzas of ‘(De)camping’:

They are:

brothers in ambitious despair

here or there only

when a place of acceptance

and unflinching reception flowers

forget the symbol and the hues

deep the anthem says the same

na the same people

a mixture of shady things

The succeeding lines of the poem express the convenience of decamping since the motive is always greed and survival. The injection of Pidgin English on line 7 of the poem adds colour to the poem while also situating it properly in the Nigerian society.

Religious hypocrisy and extremism, ethnic bigotry, discrimination, gender-based violence, heartbreaks, mental trauma, promiscuity, transience of fame, and the nature of marital relationships, are but some of the myriad topical concerns expressed through some of the poems in the collection, ‘Burning Bottom’. Such poems include: ‘The Colour of Devotion, ‘On the Wings of Devotion’, ‘Kith or Kin?’ ‘Cash or Kind’, ‘Runs’, ‘Flawed’,  ‘Trauma’, ‘Somewhere in Memory’, ‘Inside Fame’, ‘Just Swagger’, ‘About us’, ‘Talking About Together’, among other poems.

Some of the poems appear private yet still manage to express intense sexual experience or perhaps it is just my perception. Those two poems stand side-by-side on pages 52 and 53 of the text under the titles, ‘For Waiting Long’ and ‘A Welcome for First Rain’.

Rarely do Nigerian writers focus on the environment although we must admit that writers like Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide and Helon Habila portray levels of environmental degradation found in Nigerian societies. However, Nwiyi’s poem, ‘Nowadays’ brings out attention to the cause and effect of environmental destruction and the imperative of protecting it. Consider the first two and the last two lines of the poem:

Nowadays the wind is vexed

refusing to cool only, its wings run wild

. . .

flapped leftovers of shaved forests

all paled from overuse, wind’s portrait is left behind.

The poet’s choice of concise words is deliberate as she obviously wants her readers to interact with the poems without resorting to dictionaries or footnotes. Her de-emphasis of punctuation marks, especially the use of capital letters is also worthy of note and that does not impede the grasping of the poems. Somehow, the poet leaves her reader yearning for more. Dr. Nwiyi’s ‘Burning Bottom’ is Nigeria’s story, with all of its nuances, at a glance.

Yadok, a teacher, lives and writes in Pankshin, Plateau State.


#BookChaser: Nigeria’s present darkness and the beauty of Shehu’s ‘The River Never Returns’  



There’s a lot to cry about, and so much to scream out in frustration in Nigeria, and across the world. But there’s a bucket list of good things to be thankful for, as our reviewer found out looking through a collection of poems by Emman Usman Shehu.

By Nathaniel Bivan

The moment I saw the title ‘The River Never Returns’ I unconsciously added ‘dry’ as my mind went to Ameerah Sufyan and sixteen others kidnapped right in the heart of Nigeria’s capital city Abuja, days ago. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but there’s something about the metaphor of a river and the fact that it never returns that pricks my skin until I almost literally experience pain. Maybe I’m relating it to little things humans do that later haunt them, or the manner in which it seems like the government of my country is unaffected by the sorrow that’s swallowing up its people and yet feel it will never have a resounding counter-effect. Or maybe it’s just me being affected by this title so much.  

And of course, it’s not just Ameerah on my mind – it’s the train passengers kidnapped on March 28 on the Abuja-Kaduna line, and the incessant incidents of terrorism that plague Nigeria as a whole. But let’s forget about my musings and ‘return’ to this ‘river’ that flows into multiple possibilities. It could be a traveller with adventures neatly folded in his luggage, a hiker backpacking somewhere where there are mountains and ships set to sail. Emman Usman Shehu’s titular poem is most likely not talking about a return to the past, but a future filled with possibilities, whether good or bad, smooth or rough.

The collection of poems, ‘The River Never Returns’ is made up of 75 poems not divided in parts or limited by themes. In the opening piece, ‘Rising,’ the author pays tribute to poetry, dwelling on its power to transport us to places known or unknown, on page 12:

a poem takes us

without a ticket

without a visa

without a passport

without biometrics

a poem

takes us


near here

far out there

or some latitude


It’s probably no secret that poetry is the first port of call for many writers, where they express themselves and learn how to string words and language together. Some remain faithful to the art, but others cheat on it by exploring other genres, while others remain eternal monogamists. Whether Shehu is in the latter category is left for readers to judge. However, his work so far in the genre continues to remind us that he’s not a tourist poet. Not when you recall the experience with ‘Questions for Big Brother,’ his debut collection, ‘Open Sesame,’ ‘Icarus Rising,’ and several more, including those featured in other publications.

It’s said that one needs to know the rules in any art before he or she can venture out to break it. Shehu has most likely earned that right, and is probably breaking it in more than a million pieces, yet remains consistent to a great level in the manner his lines and verses are arranged. 

For one, as an African and then a Nigerian, it’s impossible to write an entire collection without pouring out your hurt as regards the present undiluted terror in the land – from Borno to Yobe, from Yobe to Adamawa and from there to the north-western region where terrorism eats into Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina and Sokoto. Then there’s the separatist type of terror in Eastern Nigeria and the corruption that seats in places of power like cow dung bent on smearing the buttocks of every politician and public servant privileged to hold a high position.

But the poem ‘Break the Spell,’ is dedicated to Bello Buba Jangebe, and points an accusing finger at the hypocrisy in the land. On March 20, 2000, one of Jangebe’s hands was amputated for stealing a cow in Zamfara. This, in a country where corrupt politicians loot billions and are ignored or granted pardon, where hypocrisy dipped in a bucket of religion is like an intoxicating incense that blurs the essence of life itself. On page 70, it reads in part:

trammelled by manipulators,

impoverished after cyclical

ballot-box ritual,

maimed by hypocrites

wearing masks of piety,

mocking adornments

of moral rectitude.

O Zamfara,

When will the push-back

Break the cistern of lack

And be your lifeline?

Still, Shehu has many reasons to smile, and it’s the beauty of Nigeria even in this present darkness – this is evident amid the chaos in cities like Lagos despite its gory history of jungle justice, the splendour in Abuja’s topography, the “mishmash of civilisations” in Abeokuta, the “ghosts of pyramids” and lush history carved into Kano. Benin, Lokoja, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Awka, Yenagoa, Gusau, Jos, Makurdi…

In nine pages, Shehu serves us the beauty that is Nigeria in the midst of a dark, dark time characterised by general insecurity, and it’s a reminder of a people’s much hoped-for unity (and beauty) in a sweeping current of armed violence and ethnoreligious division. Maybe we are not ugly or wicked. Maybe we’re simply dry, thirsty for a kind of love we’re yet to know.

Continue Reading


Review: ‘Magic Pen’ is an example of the difference a film school can make



When a pen can make you get high grades at school, why study?

By Nathaniel Bivan

In March 2022, Uzoma Ihejirika, a writer, concluded a three-month training at EbonyLife Creative Academy (ELCA), where he studied screenwriting. Then he wrote on Facebook: “the decision to take the course came at a perfect time: I’d just quit an underwhelming job and needed the thrill of learning a new skill; it was also a welcome distraction from confronting the uncertainties that stared me in the face.”

One of the results of Ihejirika’s latest adventure was being a part of the team that brought ‘Magic Pen’ to life – one of their four student films at EbonyLife Creative Academy available on YouTube. And so, I decided to take a peek and realized this is absolutely stuff to talk about, for if students can accomplish this in only three months (note, it’s one out of four such projects), then Nollywood has no reason not to be making fantastic stuff. Anyway, here goes.

When the first scene opens in a classroom where the major character, Charles, thoroughly anxious in an exam hall, vomits on his coursemate, I knew I wanted to continue watching. Then, as expected, going by the title and synopsis, another coursemate offers him the key to scoring high grades – a magic pen.

Now, the Nigerian film industry is still warming up as it tries to dive into the sci-fi world with movies like ‘Kajola,’ ‘Ratnik,’ and several more. Then came the Critics Company, a group of teens at the time, who made news for shooting sci-fi shorts with a smashed phone. So, yes, I was expecting magic, lights, and thunder, and… magic on Charles’ exam answer sheet. An addition to the growing effort. But I was disappointed, and I mean this in a really good way. The twist concerning the pen and everything it stands for totally ruined my expectations and yet earned the team responsible for this short film a standing ovation.

The actors didn’t annoy me, interestingly. Who are they? Are they new? Is this their first outing or what? These are all questions I need answers to because sometimes it’s frustrating to watch a Nigerian movie and wonder what the criteria were for selecting some actors. But then, I’ve heard that sometimes producers or anyone in charge tends to impose and even get a son, relative or friend on board no matter the consequences. This is sad. To the detriment of excellent work?

Bottom line: The acting is really good. If it isn’t, I’m sure I’d have gotten irritated and simply stopped watching and wouldn’t have wasted my precious time doing this review. I’m like that most of the time.

One take-away from this film is that not everything is the way it seems, and sometimes success is more than just what we do – it’s a mindset.

So, thumbs up to EbonyLife Creative Academy, to Ihejirika, and the entire squad, particularly the actors. And lest I forget, the videography is really good too. I particularly enjoyed the images in Charles’ mind that, for me, made watching ‘Magic Pen’ electrifying and, yes, sci-fi!

Watch the entire film below:

Continue Reading


#BookChaser: EB makes poetry ‘medicine’ that heals



In a collection that transcends poetry, our writer discovers it is music, interrupted by rhymes and rhythm.

By Nathaniel Bivan

I met EB through his words on a blog – laden with stories and poetry – that made me reach out long before Covid-19 became infamous. I realized EB was famous before the pandemic and then, writing for and editing the arts section of a major national newspaper then, I reached out to him.

When I dug deeper, I found that EB also did Spoken Word. In fact, it probably is his core art. This was when his words stood out on a song, a cover if my memory serves me correctly. Then in 2022, his album ‘Incarnation’ drops.

‘Guns don’t kill, bullets do. My poems are guns and bullets. People should read me and let me be their bulletin,’ he says in ‘What Will Humans Do.’”

Then, “Today I am not the poet. Today I am the poem. Recite me when you are down, recite me when you are bound.”

So I chose to read EB, and this is what I found. When everything fails, what will humans do? Will we make more sophisticated aircraft? Try to make the sun shine after sunset? Maybe through a lamp against the sky when the moon refuses to brighten the night?

So I chose to read EB, and this is what I found. When everything fails, what will humans do? Will we make more sophisticated aircraft? Try to make the sun shine after sunset? Maybe through a lamp against the sky when the moon refuses to brighten the night?

These are the questions I find in EB’s work, just as I also find Nigeria’s dilemma, embedded in his poems. For instance, so-called banditry and terrorism in the north, where people are unable to go to their farms for fear of being killed, or worse.  

I’m writing this review a few hours after an acquaintance tells me about how his father evaded death in Southern Kaduna, a part of the north whose inhabitants prefer to call the middle belt. So, when I listen to EB again, his story of a mother and son’s encounter with terror is heart-wrenching. I picture Kagoro, the place where terrorists visited not too long ago, killing many. But it’s not only Kaduna, there’s Zamfara, Katsina, and most recently Plateau State where terrorists, commonly called ‘bandits’ have plied their deadly trade.

These are the images EB’s poetry paints in my mind, and without even trying.

Then there’s the soulful music, the play with tongues that’s in reality the Hausa language. Is this a musical album or poetry? I don’t care. I’m enjoying it, I tell myself. Stories drenched in music and rhymes.

No wonder he started streaming ‘Incarnation’ early. In just a few weeks it had almost sold out.

I have listened to and read a lot of poetry in my lifetime, but nothing like what Elisha Bala brings to the fore in ‘Incarnation’. But I am tempted to ask: are the songs original? Because if they are – and I suspect this is the case – then this is not just poetry, but art that deserves to travel around the world.

Continue Reading