Wednesday, 04 January 2023 05:52

Dying in the petrol queue - Niyi Osundare

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Niyi Osundare Niyi Osundare

I spent this year’s Christmas
     At a petro station
Some two miles from my
NEPA-less* home
     And immeasurable distance from sanity

The manger was dark
     When the Wise Men arrived
Pious Joseph had no fuel
     To power the idle generator

Hood-to-boot ahead of my own
     Were over a hundred cars in motionless  misery
Behind, in a grotesque sprawl round a bend
     Was a multitude of metal I dared not count

The “Subsidy” Saga was in the air again
     As it did last season and the seasons before
“Appropriate Pricing”, “Landing Costs”,
     “Loading Fees”, and allied jargon

Usurped front pages of the national tabloid
     Government megaphones blared
In the first two days, then went satanically silent
     The people were left to argue it out

With absent Station Managers whose harvest
     Increased with every  hike in the hitch
Christmas came and went, but not the snaky line
     Which bit every nerve of the hungry, angry folks
And the nation’s government was blissfully AWOL

Boxing day arrived
     The line grew longer, the tempers shorter
boxing did occur, with broken noses
     And dented hoods in the ringless arena

The Station Manager spied the fight
     From behind the curtain, picked up his bulging bag
And vanished through the back door.
     He would never touch the treasure in his underground tank

Until the selling price had hit the sky
     Let moralists preach till they lose their lungs
“Eat or be eaten”: our nation has a noble motto;
     The hottest part of Hell is the logical terminus


Of the straight and narrow way……..
     Dusk darkened into night
Noon’s harmattan heat dived into dusty cold
     Stubborn odor hanged heavy from unwashed bodies

Petrol lines loomed longer than the longest lanes
     Bread prices soared in the marketplace
The sick screamed a desperate prayer 
     To the god of early grave

Blindly led, corruption-corroded,
     Nigeria sits on top of a sea of oil
With hardly a drop to power its engine
     A giant crawling like a wingless ant
And the nation’s government was blissfully AWOL

*  Without electric power.  NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) is the old name of the current  Power  Holding Company of Nigeria. And it does ‘hold’ the power while the country flounders in darkness..

** Osundare is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of English, University of New Orleans.