Yorùbá poet Lanrewaju Adepọju performed and recorded Ìlú le! (‘Hard Times!’) in 1980. At the time Nigeria was transitioning from the miltary junta of Olúṣẹ́gun Ọbásanjọ́ to the elected government of Shehu Shagari. This new civilian government, known as the Second Nigerian Republic, was plagued by allegations of corruption and accusations of administrative incompetence. This, coupled with a decline in world oil prices, and a deterioration in the national finances, led to the regime becoming deeply unpopular with citizens.
A self-taught poet, playwright, author and social crusader based in Ibadan, Lanrewaju Adepọju was sought out by local politicians and prominent figures who hoped to use his influence to sell their policies and achievements to the public. However, his most famous political interventions were his interrogations of successive administrations in Nigeria on policies and programs he considered unjust. The medium he used for these often scathing denunciations was the poetry genre that he modernised and popularised called ewì.
While ewì poetry draws upon the older traditions of Yorùbá oral poetry such as ìjálá, rárà, ese ifá, oríkì, èfè, and others, it is a modern invention, delivered through written word as well as live and recorded performances, reflecting a more contemporary, individualised form of self-expression.
Like the traditional Yorùbá oral poets, the akéwì (ewì poets) act as the voice of their society, calling out wrong-doing and corruption amongst authority figures on the part of the community that they serve.
For more on ewì poetry and Lanrewaju Adepọju see Ewì, Yorùbá Modernity, and the Public Space and Lanrewaju Adepọju and The Making of Modern Yorùbá Poetry, both by professor Oyèníyì Okùnoyè of Obafemi Awolowo University.
As if by a deluge of evil
Everyone is in trouble
And everyone now cherishes common ninepence!
Humanity groans under financial crisis!
The yam flour measure once sold for one Naira (1)
Now sells for six!
This is real crisis!
The problem intended for the ram now affects the goat
Life has indeed turned sour
The whole land is in discomfort!
We are confused. See which way the world has turned
So this is the trick being hatched sometime ago
Which the people never took notice of.
The deceivers locked up money
And the populace is cash-strapped
We shall at last discover their intent;
Evil men who embezzled our money
And made life unbearable
Are preparing the ground for their shame
And would end up disgracefully.
The rogues conspired
And shared money
Doing incalculable harm to the Naira
And cast everyone into a pit
Those monsters, parasites all
Upturned state coffers (2)
Before leaving! (3)
They are not bothered that you and I are starving;
They do not care
Even as the masses groan in want;
The gluttonous, evil creatures in power
Emptied the treasury
And the whole land is in trouble!
Everyone is complaining
The people are starved of money
Those who have yam flour lack meat (4)
Only the rich can afford to buy fish
Only VIPs can have access to tomatoes!
Terrible things are happening!
Many traders have gone out of petty business
Those with two dresses are selling one for food!
And life has become so difficult that
It is hard to describe
Prices of all goods have skyrocketed
And there is even no money to buy whatever is available.
The ripe bananas have been eaten
Only unripe ones are left for the people!
Having embezzled all the money
They then passed unbearable legislation
So as to make life very hard!
Those who should have been struck dead by Ṣàngó’s lightning (5)
Still live with us in cities!
Those who should be auctioned to purchase a lamp
Are still being admired in the thick of night; (6)
Have you ever seen such insult
Those who having consumed the real meat
Left only the bones for us to eat!
We once complained about European exploiters
Walai-talai! Theirs is worse! (7)
Those who heartlessly extort the poor
Shameless and mean people
Their embezzlement has left the land in agony!
Poverty like a sickness afflicts the people!
How do we manage this crisis?
All the people everywhere are grumbling
That all is not well
At Eid-el-Kabir there were no rams to slaughter! (8)
Christmas in lack
And the New Year dawned with no remarkable change!
All imports that once flowed in en masse
have since been banned
So that life would be much harder
And so life became very tough!
They rarely care
Placing hurdles in people’s economic paths
Even the rich could find no goods to buy.
All the banned imported goods
Find their way in illegally
Their wives go about flaunting
the very clothes that are banned from importation
Turning the masses into desperate smugglers
They were taught robbery!
They warned all banks
Not to grant loans anymore
To make life much tougher
Life indeed became tougher!
We can only plead with the king above (9)
To help us ease the situation.
Have not been paid for jobs done for government
Money is really scarce
Have turned many who were rich into paupers.
They frustrated traders in general
And hindered all from sustaining themselves!
The monkey has landed and immediately sped off (10)
Let’s all pray in earnest!
Indeed people have embezzled in this country!
We made a rogue our treasurer
And assumed he would not squander money; (11)
What exactly are we saying?
Why won’t there be hardship in the land?
The cooking pot never dreamt of tasting pepper
Little wonder it emits hot sweats when on fire!
What many do not earn in a year
Is what they take on a single day
They live in palatial mansions
Whatever they decree is law
They eat good food
But offer the masses meals of agony (12)
Asking us to be content with our destiny.
The best they could think of the other time
Was to construct bad roads
And as they paid contractors their legitimate due
They would still share the money in equal proportions
And when the contractors are not paid in full
They make substandard roads.
They often in their wickedness
Construct houses that are unfit for habitation
So as to ease embezzlement
They had squandered Petrodollars
Before we woke up from slumber
They are indeed not different from highway robbers!
We least expected they would cheat us (13)
So all the poor offered their heads as anvils
Upon which they then smashed coconuts (14)
They were busy stealing our money
And people were thanking them for it!
Not knowing that in the end
Children of the poor would suffer for it.
Things had started to get unbearable
Before we realized khaki’s difference from leather
The inferno had already got out of hand
Before we started searching for water
And the sheep had eaten the maize flour
Before we started scaring the sheep! (15)
What with my past poem, depicting the situation?
Do you now see what has happened?
Are we not all affected?
They betrayed the confidence of both male and female
We are now helpless!
The black ant having died,
left behind a pungent odour
Prayer remains the only antidote!
But we do know of some among them
Who hate fraudulent practices
They were in charge of the Naira
But refused to steal
It was risky for them to raise any alarm
They dared not speak at meetings
They were the minority in the council.
“Whatever my friend is eating I will eat with him”
Does not apply in the case of debts
Our best bet is to silently watch events
Those responsible for this state of affairs
Will be in trouble (16)
They have committed many crimes!
Nemesis will at last catch up with them
They’re all due for a dance of vengeance (17)
So people can deal with them as with their likes
Whenever a bushfire does occur
The grass-soot quite readily betrays it
Let’s just be patient.
They’ll all live to regret it
And suffer unmanageable disgrace
As they have messed up before their in-law! (18)
They’ve smeared their heads with dog faeces!
They’ve asked for insult from the masses
Soiling their feet with devil’s dung!
We hear they airlifted money abroad
And the secret burst open
They thought the people were ignorant of events
You may continue to destabilize the land
The Almighty would restore it at last
The rain of vengeance is threatening.
Don’t you know that the secret of a pregnant school girl
Who conceals her state beneath the belt
Will soon be revealed:
The stomach must protrude
A matter not that urgent demands patience.
You gluttons who siphoned our money
You did this much
Thinking you would not be caught?
When you wake up in the morning
You may have a ritual bath
Perhaps it’s possible to wash clothes with beetle’s foam
Or perhaps you know of one that pounds yam in woodpecker’s mortar
And uses crab-oil to cook his soup.
We do hear
And hear properly
Every issue has its cause
The issue on hand is not one to be silent about
People have been financially stressed, and the country is not at peace
They are crying out, they feel concerned
You elders and wise ones, deliberate over this issue.
We call on the government
Not to forget the citizenry at large;
So that diligent workers don’t live like idlers;
Or what about those workers now being retrenched?
Should they live in hunger?
Federal Government, release money! (19)
People are crying, do not allow things to get out of hand
Further delay may mean a worse situation
It portends grave danger.
The ban on imports may adversely affect Nigeria.
Repeal inconsiderate decrees
That imports may flow into the country
People earn their living by buying and selling
Only the callous debar people from making wealth
So unban the importation of goods.
We identify a king by the character of his reign;
Be it peace or anguish
Only their respective histories would differ;
Whatever one makes of one’s country
Cannot escape the attention of history.
Where exactly are we now? Let us know
You had better make very urgent arrangements
And allow the Naira to flow freely
Life at present is unbearable
All the people are touchy
Whoever finds his way to the top
Should remember the poor.
The very day the poor decide to revolt
The rich will cease to enjoy;
We can’t be aloof
Meet their needs so that life will be pleasant
Make haste to
Work out a plan to make life bearable for the masses.
This is the poem in the original Yorùbá language.
Ó wáá dàbí oró dídá
Gbogbo aráyé wọ gudẹ
Ẹ̀dá mọ náín!
Ogun owó máráyé, ayé figbe ta!
Èlùbọ́ Náírà kan ìjóṣí wá di Náírà méf̣à!
Nǹkan mà dé o!
Ọ̀rọ̀ tá a ṣebí yóò bágbò ló béwúrẹ́
Ayé kan gógó
Gbogbo ’lu gbẹ̀kan!
Ó rú wa lójú, ẹ wobi táyé dorí kọ
Àṣọ́gbọ́n tí wọ́n ń da nígbà kan re e
Tí gbogbo ará ìlú ò tètè mọ̀
Èké é wọn, wọ́n tìlẹ̀kùn májé
Ará ìlú ò rówó ná
Ibii wọ́n fẹ́ẹ́ gbé e gbà,
Yoo ṣojú u wa;
Àwọn ẹni-ibi tó kówóo wa jẹ
Tí wọ́n múlé ayé le
Awọn ẹni àbùkù ń kọ̀wée sí,
Ti wọn o si rábùkù.
Awọn jaguda ọ̀gá ni wọn gbìmọ̀ pọ̀
Wọ́n pínwó mọ́wọ́
Wọ́n ṣe Naira lófò dé góngó
Wọn kó kálukú dà sínú isà
Àwọn ẹbọra, jẹgúdú jẹrá gbogbo
À ní wọ́n dorí àpò kọ̀dí tán
Kí wọn o to kúrò níbẹ̀!
Bámú-bámú ni wọ́n yó
Àwọn kò bìkítà pébi ń pèmi-ìrẹ;
Àgunlá ni gbogbo wọ́n ń dá,
Báráyé ti ń lọọgun;
Àwọn wọ̀nbílíkí, oníbàjẹ́ ẹ̀dá
Wóṇ kówó jẹ tán
Gbogbo èèyàn ló ń ṣàròyé
Ará ìlú kò lówó lọ́wọ́
Ẹní lélùbọ́ kò lè rẹran
Olówó ní ń jẹja
Èèyàn pàtàkì ló ń jẹ tìmọ́ọ̀tì!
Nǹkan mà ń kán o!
Ọ̀pòḷọpọ̀ ì ṣòwò ló ti kógbá àróbọ̀ sílé
Ẹní láṣọ méjì ń tàkan jẹun!
Ayé wá nira tó jẹ́ pé
Ká máa dáále ni
Gbogbo oj̣à ló gbówó lérí
Owó ò pilẹ̀ sí lọ́wọ́ bí ẹ tilẹ̀ rọ́jà ọ̀pọ̀
Wọ́n ti sa èyí tó pọ́n jẹ láàrin ọ̀gẹ̀dẹ̀
Pàpàndúdú ni wọ́n ṣẹ́kù sílẹ̀ fáráyé!
Wọ́n kówó jẹ tán
Wọ́n ṣofin ìnira
Káyé ó le máa le!
Àwọn èèyàn tó yẹ kó ríjàa Ṣàngó
Tí a jọ tún ń gbénú ìlú pọ̀!
Àwọn èèyàn tó yẹ ká tà ká ràtùpà
Tí wọn tún ń tanná wò lọ́gànjọ́;
Ọmọ aráyé ẹ ò rẹ́gbin tó nípọn
Àwọn tí wọ́n jẹran gidi tán
Tí wọ́n fún wa léegun ẹran!
Tarẹ́nijẹ Òyìnbó la rí là ń wí
Ti wọ́n tún ga ‘Walai-talai!’
Wòbìà tó gbóná
Wọ́n kówó jẹ tán
Ìlú kò fara rọ ayé kẹ́ran!
Àrùn àìlówó ń ṣayé bí àárẹ̀!
À á tí i ṣerú èyíi sí o o o?
Gbogbo èèyàn ló ń kígbe
Pé ǹkan kò dán móṛán
Iléyá dé, ẹnu ọ̀bẹ sélẹ̀ lọ sú u!
Ìgbàgbọ́ ṣe Kérésì láìrówó ná
A dọ́dún tuntun kò sí ’yàtọ̀!
Gbogbo ọjà tó ti ń wọ̀lú
Wọ́n ní ki wọn ó má wọ̀lú mọ́
Káyé ó lè báa túbọ̀ le
Ayé wáa le!
Wọn kò bèṣù-bẹ̀gbà
Wọ́n gbégi dínà ọlà fáráyé
Olówó kò rọ́jà rà.
Gbogbo ọjà tí wọ́n sọ pé wọ́n fòfin dè wọ̀nyíi
Dájúdájú gbogbo wọn ló ti bẹ́bùrú wọ̀lú
Aṣọ tí wọ́n fòfin dè layaa wọn ń ró kiri
Gbogbo ìlú ló doní-fàyàwọ́
Wọ́n kọ́ wọn lólè jíjà!
Wọ́n ti kìlọ̀ fún gbogbo ‘bánkì’
Wí pé kí wọn o ma yánìyàn lówó mọ́
Káyé ó lè báa túbọ̀ le
Ayé tún le!
Ọba Òkè ló yẹ ká tẹ́wọ́ àdúà sí
Kó bá wa sọ̀lú dẹ̀rọ̀.
Ọ̀pọ̀ nínú alágbàsẹ ìgbàlódé ló ṣiṣẹ́
Tí kò rówó iṣẹ́ gbà lọ́wọ́ ìọja
Owó wọ́n gan-an ni
Èké araa wọn
Wọ́n sọ̀pọ̀lọpọ̀ èèyàn tó lówó di mẹ̀kúnnù.
Wọ́n bọ̀nà jẹ́ fún gbogbo onítítà-rírà pátá
Wọ́n gbégi dínà eṇu oṃọ aráyé poo!
Àáyá ti bẹ́ sí’lẹ̀ ó ti bẹ́ áré
Ẹ jẹ́ ká gbàdúà!
Wọ́n kówó jẹ lórílẹ̀ èdè yí o!
A fi jàgùdà sílé owó
A ní kò ní í kówó ná;
A há ń wí ni?
Ìlú kò ti ṣe ní i le?
Àwo kò mọ̀ póó jata
Àwo dórí iná àwo ń saró sìn!
Owó tọ́mọ ẹlòmíì ò lè rí lọ́dún
Unniwóṇ ńgbà lóòjọ́
Wọ́n ń gbénulé tó dàbí ààfin
Ohun tí wọ́n bá pe kó ṣe ló ń ṣe
Àwọ́n jẹun ire
Wọ́n pòkọ ìyà fáráyé
Wọ́n ní ká má bá kádàrá jà.
Wọ́n wò sùn-ùn sùn-ùn níjọ́sí
Wọ́n la títì kò níi pẹ́ ẹ hú
Bí wọ́n sanwó fálágbàṣe
Wọn a sì pínwó lọ́gbọọgba
Ìgbà tówó alágbàṣe ò bá tó
Wọn a la títì lájàmbàkù.
Bíi ká wò sùn-ùn sùn-ùn
Bíi ká kọ́lé téṇìkan ò níi gbé
Kówó kíkójẹ ó lè baà rọgbọ
Wọ́n ti náwó epo gbẹ
Kó tó o di pé a fura
Àsé wọn ò yàtọ̀ sólè tí ń fi mọ́tò dánà !
Àwa kò tètè mọ̀ pé wọn o yàn wá jẹ ni
Gbogbo mẹ̀kúnnù wáá gbórí kalẹ̀
Wọ́n ń pàgbọn lóríi wa
Wọ́n ń kówóo wa jẹ
Wọ́n ń kíwọn pé: ‘Ẹ seun’!
Àsé bó bá di nígbẹ̀yin-gbẹ́yin
Ọmọ tálákà ní ó jìyà ọ̀rọ̀.
Ìlú ti wáá bẹ̀rẹ̀ sí í le
Ká tóo mọ ’yàtọ̀ nínú-un kíjìpá ati awọ ẹran
Gbẹg̣ẹdẹ ti gbiná tán
Ká tó máa wómi kiri
Àgùtàn sì ti jògì tán
Ká tóo máa ké káì mágùtaǹ!
Ìgbà tí mo fi kéwì bí ìkìlọ̀ níjọ́sí ńkọ́?
Ẹ ráyé àbẹ́ ò ráyé?
Ṣóhun tó délẹ̀ yii kò kan gbogboo wa?
Wọ́n já takọ-tabo sọ́lọ́pọ́n
Ojú dá poo!
Ìkamùdù kú sínú ilé òórùn
Ó wá diṣẹ́ àdúà!
Sùgbọ́n a mọ̀nìyàn díẹ̀ nínú-un wọn
Tí kò ní màdàrú lọ́wọ́
Wọ́n dúró ti naira
Wọn kò kó o jẹ
Bí wọ́n pariwo ó léwu fún wọn
Ẹnu-un wọn kò gbọ̀rọ̀
Wọ́n kéré níye púpò nínú ìgbìmọ̀.
Ohun ọ̀rẹ́ẹ̀ mi bá kúkú ń jẹ
Màá bá a jẹ ẹ́
Ọ̀rọ̀ọ gbèsè kọ́
Ká fojú sílẹ̀ ká wòran ló dára
Àwọn èèyàn tó sạyé báyìí
Wọ́n rugi oyin
Wọ́n dáràn mọ́ràn!
Ilẹ̀ ó kúkú ga jù wọ́n lọ nígbà tó bá yá
Ó tọ́ kí wọn ó jó bàtá ẹ̀san
Káyé ó fi wọ́n sọhun táyé bá ń firúu wọn ṣe
Bíná jó lóko,
Ẹ jẹ́ ká mú sùúrù.
Ojúu wọn o ja a
Àbùkù tó nípọn ní ó kàn wọ́n
Wọ́n ti tọ̀ sílé àna poo!
Wọ́n ti forí kómí ajá lebe-lebe!
Wọ́n ti tọrọ àbùkù lọ́wọ́ ará ìlú
Wọ́n feṣẹ̀ kómí Èṣù!
A gbọ́ pé wọ́n fi bàlúù kówó lọ sẹ́yìn-odi
Àṣírí wáá tú
Wọ́n ṣe bárá ìlú kò mọhun tí ń lọ ni
Ẹ máa dà á rú
Ọba lókè ó fààtò tò ó
Òjò kúkú ń bọ̀ lọ́nà.
Ẹ kò mọ̀ pọ́mọ ilé ìwé tó lóyún
Tó ń gba bẹ́lítìì mọ́nú
Bó pẹ́ bó yá:
Ikùn gbọ́dọ̀ taari asọ
Ọ̀rọ̀ tí ò gbàkánjú á gba sùúrù.
Ẹ̀yin wọ̀bìà tó kówó ná
Ẹ má ṣàfira!
Ẹ sẹ̀yíi tán
Ẹ ṣe bọ́wọ́ kò ní i tẹ̀ yín?
Bí ẹbá jí
Ẹ le wẹ̀ nínú àgbo
Bóyá ọsẹẹ yímíyímí ṣe é fọṣọ
Bóyá ẹ mọnìyàn tó fodó àkókó gúnyán
Tó tún tapo alákàn sọ́bẹ̀.
A gbọ́ ná
A gbọ́ ná
Ọ̀rọ̀ ni kókó o
Ọ̀rọ̀ tí ń bẹ nílẹ̀ yíi kò ṣe é dákẹ́ sí
Ará gbẹ ìlú kò rọgbọ
Aráyé ń pariwo, ó ká wọn lára
Ọ̀tọ̀ọ̀ḳùlú ẹ gbọ́rọ̀ yíi yẹ̀wò.
Ìjọba ìwòyí ni ká ké gbàjarè sí létí
Kí wọn ó má gbàgbé ìlú
Kí ṣìṣẹ́-ṣìṣẹ́ ó yé e rí bí ọ̀lẹ;
Àbí gbogbo òṣìṣẹ́ tí wọn ń dà sílẹ̀ yíi ńkọ́?
Sé ’rúu wọn kò ní i bòkèlè?
Ìjọba Àpapọ̀, ó yá, ẹ kówó síta!
Ìlú ń ké, ẹ má jọ́rọ̀ ó yíwọ́
Bó bá fi ń pẹ́ jù bẹ́ẹ̀ lọ
Ohun tó léwu ni
Ọjà tí ẹ kúkú fòfin dè wọ̀nyí le kóbá Naijiria.
Àní e fagi lérí òfin ìkà
Kí ẹ jẹ́ kọ́jà ó wọ̀lú
Níbii títà rírà layé ti í jẹun
Òṣìkà ní í gbégi dánà ọlà fáráyé
Ẹ ṣínà fọ́jà.
Ọba tó jẹ, tílùú rójú ọbani;
Bọ́mọ èèyàn kan tún jọba, tílùú kòró jú, ọba náà ni
Ìtàn-an wọn ní í yapa;
Gbogbo àrà tí kálukú bá fìlú ẹ̀ dá
Dandan ni pé kó wọ̀wé ìtàn.
Níbo la dé dúró, ẹ wí fún wa?
Ẹ tètè ṣètò
Kí ẹ jẹ́ kí naira ó wọ̀lú
Báyé ti wà yíi ò lọ
Gbogbo ọmọ aráyé lará kan
Èèyàn tó bá gòkè,
Kó rántí mẹ̀kúnnù.
Níjọ́ọ mẹ̀kúnnù báfárígá
Olówó ò gbádùn mọ́;
Ẹ má jẹ́ á dákà wọn kọ
Ẹ tọ́júu wọn káyé ó lè dára
Ẹ tètè ṣètò
Káyé ó máa dán fún mẹ̀kúnnù.
by Lanrewaju Adepọju,
performed and recorded in 1980,
transcribed and translated by the poet and Professor Oyèníyì Okùnoyè,
from Lanrewaju Adepọju and The Making of Modern Yorùbá Poetry,
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 April 2011
- The Naira is the Nigerian currency.
- This is a euphemism for looting, the emptying of the public treasury.
- Vacating office.
- Yam flour is used to make àmàlà, a thick paste that is the staple of the Yorùbá, especially in the Oyo area. Eating àmàlà without stew suggests an extreme state of desperation. Eating a normal meal without meat in this context suggests poverty.
- Ṣàngó, originally a king in the Old Ọyọ Empire, is the Yorùbá god of thunder. He is believed to have the power to afflict the unjust with thunder in executing vengeance. See In Praise of Shango.
- This Yorùbá expression refers to worthless people who overestimate their significance. Its use here indicates indignation at the quality of Nigerian leaders.
- Walai-talai!: This is an exclamation derived from Arabic affirming that what is about to be said is true.
- The feast at which Muslims re-enact the sacrifice of a ram by Abraham. In the world of the poem, it represents a major Islamic obligation that the state of the nation did not allow Muslims to discharge.
- Yorùbá traditional rulers are called Ọba. Ọba òkè, that is, ‘the king that is above’, is a reference to God who is spatially located above earthly kings and dominions and is also superior to them. He can overrule on any matter on which earthly rulers have given their judgement. The appeal to God in this case is a way of ridiculing the erring Nigerian leaders.
- This is a Yorùbá saying that indicates that something was done in haste.
- The military did not need the consent of the people to come to power and retained power by force.
- This is at best a rough rendering of the original — ẹ̀kọ ìya. Ẹ̀kọ is a staple meal made from maize. Ẹ̀kọ ìyà (literally, meal of agony) simply suggests cruel punishment. The basis for the expression is probably the fact that the verb that goes with consuming a meal (jẹ, eat) is also what goes with taking a punishment in Yorùbá (jẹ ìyà — ‘eat’ punishment). The poet seems to suggest that the military regime at this rime was deliberately dispensing hardship to the people.
- The poet does not separate his voice from the collective voice of the violated masses. This is one reason why his work is popular.
- This is often taken as an expression of folly and lack of discernment.
- This metaphorical rendering of the experience is apt and is a form of collective self-indictment.
- This does not carry the graphic value of the Yorùbá rendering which suggests carrying a tree covered by bees on the head.
- This is not a voluntary act but a way of paying for their wrongs.
- The Yorùbá believe that this is one of the worst experiences one can have because people naturally tend to want to impress their in-laws.
- The poet adopts the language of the common people who constitute his audience. The insinuation here is that government can cause money to circulate to ease problems.