Nigeria, Where Caged Birds Sing

“A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind   

and floats downstream   

till the current ends

and dips his wing

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and   

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   

with a fearful trill   

of things unknown   

but longed for still   

and his tune is heard   

on the distant hill   

for the caged bird   

sings of freedom.”

This poem, “Caged Bird”, was published in Maya Angelou’s 1983 poetry collection titled “Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?”

Asking a Nigerian why he doesn’t sing is a question that has answers strewn all over it. A country filled with so many musicians, singers of all manners of voices in different genres should be singing everytime. Nigerians sing everytime, as there are a tonne of songs to select from, but like caged birds, they only sing of freedom, and dance steps only better than macabre dance steps to those songs.

Ironically, in January at the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, the pigeons called “Unity Birds” refused to fly out of their cages even when prompted.

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Of course they are in Nigeria and feel the need to be free too but will only sing all they want, of the need for freedom from those cages. 

Freedom from mental slavery; freedom from the shackles of inadequacies and lack; from the growing tendency to never be than be anything; freedom from the fiefdom and a firm grip on the joy that should be abound. 

“The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn

and he names the sky his own

“But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   

so he opens his throat to sing.

“The caged bird sings   

with a fearful trill   

of things unknown   

but longed for still   

and his tune is heard   

on the distant hill   

for the caged bird   

sings of freedom.”

Nigeria’s caged birds – its boisterous, brilliant and bright population are standing on the grave of dreams, wondering what might have been, what should have been and seeing what can be at a reachable yet difficult distance away.

We sing with a fearful trill, with a lot already here and the promise of more to come, and the difficulty of pointing to any of it as a positive expectation, rife. Every form of right is being denied, to even the texture and complexion of our voices.

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Threats fly faster and higher than good policies in Nigeria. The graves have millions of innocence, and the living lands have guilt walking their surfaces with a swagger and dangerous confidence. 

When the one free bird whose voice Nigerians feed from, feel, and fare like humans was taken away, the cages knew they needed to accommodate more. Caged in distress, voiceless and screaming quietly, it was a hit below the belt. 

It’s like a freefall now, and the slopes are slippery. There’s anger in the land; rage has taken up rent-free accommodation on faces, the songs of freedom don’t seem enough for these caged birds again, they are shaking the cage, stronger than ever, relentlessly too. 

Nigerians don’t know where to turn, whom to turn to, they look high and above and it doesn’t feel like superior answers are coming anytime soon. The one time the caged birds trooped to the streets to sing the songs of freedom, they were gagged with bullet shells. Nigerians are sitting on the graves of dreams, afraid they will soon be sat on like they currently do, and nothing will happen. 

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The caged birds are still singing, with fear strewing their tone and blocks of tears shed in their breaking voices, wings clipped, feet tied, hands held and more hopes dashed than lived. 

There is hope however, as Nigerian-American rap star Tobe Nwigwe sang in his song “Caged Birds”; 

“We come from where most don’t break free

We had to learn why caged birds sing

But we fly even though they poisoned the sky

We don’t cry, we gon’ take our piece of the pie.”

Hopefully, Nigerians will take a piece of the pie one bite at a time. A piece of the pie of peace, tranquility, freedom and honour. Hopefully!

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