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Saturday, 20 February 2016

Ambush by Gbemisola Adeoti

Literary Analysis (Summary)

Several years after independence, most African countries still face a myriad of challenges ranging from corruption, insecurity, war, inter-tribal conflict, economic collapse to lack of employment opportunities. Even with political independence from the colonial masters, there have not been consistent socio-economic development and the establishment of meaningful democratic institutions centred on boosting the growth process in Africa.

The leaders have no development agenda for the economic transformation of African nations.  As a result, citizens are ambushed into poverty and frustration by their poor economic policies, outright corruption and rudderless leadership. Much of sub-Sahara Africa is blessed with abundant natural resources, but majority of its citizens are still grappling with the problems of poverty, extreme hunger and unemployment. Lack of sound initiative by the leaders has caused a severe negative impact on the common masses. Basic necessities like food and shelter have become difficult for the people to afford. So, they live with little or no hope of a better life.

These major challenges of contemporary Africa form the subject matter of Gbemisola Adeoti’s poetic discourse. The condition of most African countries, especially Nigeria, Adeoti’s fatherland, tells a tragic story of complete deprivation amidst abundance. As the Giant of Africa, Nigeria exemplifies a typical African state with rich deposit of natural resources, but has been unable to provide majority of its masses with the dividends of good governance. In this regard, the poet paints an atmosphere of gloom and uncertainty in a land that extinguishes the dreams and aspirations of its people.

Adeoti’s Ambush is a metaphorical illustration of a country as a dream predator that annihilates the desires, visions, hopes and ambitions of its populace through ambush tactics. Ambush is a military strategy in which armed soldiers lie in wait in a hidden place to trap and launch a surprise attack on enemies. In his metaphorical analogy, on the other hand, Adeoti likens his country to ambush predators. These sit-and-wait predators are carnivorous animals that capture or trap preys by strategy. In other words, the land has become a machinery of frustration to its own people, subtly dashing their hopes.

The poem begins with an introduction to the setting “the land”. Since this land is unnamed, one cannot associate it with a particular place. However, the diction of the poem suggests that the setting of the poem is post-independence and contemporary Africa. One can also narrow down the anonymous setting in Africa to Nigeria, Gbemisola Adeoti’s native country. The land being compared to “a giant whale” and “a giant hawk” lends credence to Nigeria, famously known as the Giant of Africa, owing to its population size. Nigeria, the biggest economy in Africa, is an oil-rich nation, but it is still branded as one of the least developed countries in the world. Even with its enormous natural resources, there is no improvement in the living condition of the common masses. The common people have become preys to the poor governance of the ruling class.

In the first part of the poem, the land is equated to “a giant whale”, a large marine mammal that traps its preys in its stomach by completely swallowing them. In other words, the land swallows the dreams of its people hook, line and sinker, leaving nothing behind. With a fishing analogy, the poet gives us an imagery of the whale swallowing the “hook, line and bait aborting” the fishers’ “dreams of a good catch”. The reference to abortion here implies that the destruction of the citizens’ dreams is not done in error. The land intentionally and strategically, without reservation, kills the dreams of its people in pursuit predation. Hence, the fishermen go back “home at dusk…on empty ships” with the day’s effort down the drain. The poet illustrates further with a biblical allusion from John 21:3-5 and Luke 5:5, where Peter, a fisherman, had toiled overnight with his ship without catching any fish until he met Jesus.

The fishing imagery exposes the travails of the common masses. After each day’s hard work toiling to earn a living in other to improve their living condition, they return home with little or no pay. Civil servants who strive to improve our democratic institutions are owed a backlog of salaries. They return home empty-handed with unachieved goals. As a result, they live a meager life.

The land is also likened to “a sabre-toothed tiger”, an exclusively carnivorous and wild predator with large sabre-like canines. Tigers ambush their preys, overpowering them from any angle. The ferocious, hungry cry of this nocturnal predator in the forest sends shivers down the spine of the young ones and they “shudder home” with fear of death, while the grizzled old ones swallow their guts and bring to a halt their “venturous walk at dusk” due to insecurity in the land. With trepidation of the lurking tiger that allows its prey to come within ambush distance, the people are always security conscious, avoiding the “bayonets of tribulation”.

Everyone is afraid of death as insecurity pervades the land. The incessant political unrest in the country often leaves thousands dead with virtually no attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice. So, the people restrict their movements. By so doing, business stops. People are unable to go their workplaces and farms for fear of being ambushed. Other day-to-day commercial activities dwindle. The economy suffers and the people live in abject poverty.

The land is also compared to a giant hawk, a bird of prey with highly visual acuity. “As it hovers and hoots in space”, its sharp vision enables it to hunt and pounce on preys with a swift descending force. Armed with sharp claws, the hawk “courts unceasing disaster”. It is a disaster that has no end in sight due the hawk’s ancestral instinct to hunt. The land is plagued with unceasing disasters of poverty, ethnic crisis, terrorism, fatal accidents due to bad roads, kidnapping, extrajudicial killings, and political violence that destroy the lives of its teeming masses. These are people with hopes and aspirations of a better tomorrow, but the land has cut it short.

Lastly, the land seems not to be satisfied in dealing with only the citizens at home. It also envisages a gloomy future for the ones who have sought greener pastures in advanced countries with enormous opportunities. As a result, the poem ends on a point of hopelessness, gloom and pessimism as it announces that the land also “lies patiently ahead awaiting in ambush” for those people who have left the land “where nothing happens” and have travelled overseas to the “shore of possibilities”, well-developed climes with ever-green opportunities for young Africans whose dreams and visions have been truncated in a directionless continent.

Unfortunately, the land is patiently “awaiting in ambush” for these overseas fortune seekers to come back home with fully-loaded progressive plans, grand visions, inspiring dreams and beautiful hopes that they have crafted in foreign countries where “possibilities” is guaranteed. In a spontaneous move, the land executes a surprise attack on the dreams and hopes in complete swallow like a whale, a powerful leap like a tiger and an aerial attack like a hawk.

The metaphorical usage of these three predators hints that the masses could hardly escape the ambush tactics of the predatory land. There seems to be no exit route for the citizen-preys to escape the full-scale onslaught on their dreams by the ravaging land. On water, the land deploys the life-threatening whale. On land, it prowls with the wild and fierce tiger; on air, it lurks with the vicious hawk. The only option is to permanently stay in “the shore of possibilities” where their dreams could be achieved unopposed. Coming back home may be hazardous and pose a threat to their survival.


Hopelessness of the masses
Destruction of lives
Unfulfilled dreams and hopes
Frustration and despair
The abusive use of power
Poverty and economic devastation
Insecurity in the land
Directionless leadership


The poem is written in twenty-one lines which are divided into four unequal stanzas. It is a free verse narrated from the third-person point of view.

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  1. The analysis is great. Africa is the sphinx contemporary Africans have to battle with. Even with the end of colonisation, the lots and fortune of the masses are getting worse.