Early Nigerian poetry in English was an anti colonial, mobilisational poetry. It was one of the weapons used by nationalists to fight the British colonial administration in Nigeria and sensitised the people to the injustices of colonialism. This anti colonial poetry movement was West Africa wide. R. E. E. Armattoe, Michael Dei-Anang and Benibengor Blay, all of Ghana; Crispin George of Sierra Leone; and, Roland Tombekai of Liberia, are the prominent names. In Nigeria, the important names are Dennis Osadebay and Nnamdi Azikiwe.
By its very nature, this poetry had a public tone. It was confrontational and defamatory, and was meant to be huried at the white opponent as a counter to his own negative assumptions about Africa culture. It was also a highly affirmative poet ry, often taking Africa as a monolithic entity and singing her praise to the high heavens. This pos ture must have been justifiable at the time, given the sustained denigration of Africa by whites who were either ignorant of the real situation in Africa or were simply malicious.
Dennis Osadebay was the leading Nigerian poet of the mobilisation era. In 1952, he published a book of poems entitled Africa Sings which, in many ways, is typical of the mobilizational mode. In the poem "Who Buys My Thoughts", for example, the emphasis is on the throbbing soul of Africa, an Africa that is still hungry, naked and sick, but whose youth are already awake, restless and questioning and who by this very fact are going to make signifi cant achievements in the future. But Osadebay was also a poet with an ambivalent disposition towards the West; for, while he may condemn the West for some of the cruder features of colonialism, he nevertheless sang the white man's praise unabashedly for what he called the benefits of west ern civilisation, namely schools, hospitals and the like.
Perhaps the poem that is most typical of him is "Young Africa's Plea" in which he seeks a syn thethesis of black and white values especially in the following lines:
Let me play with the Whiteman's ways
Let me work with the blackman's brains
Let my affairs themselves sort out
Then in sweet rebirth
I'll rise a better man
Not ashamed to face the world.
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