Poetry is not a luxury: Soro Soke captures the poetics of the #ENDSARS protest in Nigeria

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End Sars Protesters gather to barricade the Lagos - Ibadan expressway, the oldest highway and major link to all parts of the country, on October 16, 2020.  The protesters are calling for the scrapping of police unit, known as Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) over the squads incessant harassment, brutality and killing of innocent Nigerians. (Photo by Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
End Sars Protesters gather to barricade the Lagos - Ibadan expressway, the oldest highway and major link to all parts of the country, on October 16, 2020. The protesters are calling for the scrapping of police unit, known as Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) over the squads incessant harassment, brutality and killing of innocent Nigerians. (Photo by Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • The Sòrò sókè project is an ongoing poetry+reflection on the #endSARS protest which has recently upset the Nigerian polity. 
  • Initiated by poet and novelist, Jumoke Verissimo and James Yeku, assistant professor of african digital humanities at the University of Kansas, the project is an online collaboration with African literary magazine, Brittle Paper.
  • Historically, poetry has been a potent protest tool. In light of a government cover-up and misinformation campaign, this work serves as a historical document of truth.


James Yeku, an Assistant Professor of African digital humanities at the University of Kansas and Jumoke Verissimo, a poet and novelist recently announced the Sòrò sókè project, an ongoing poetry+reflection on the #endSARS protest which has recently upset the Nigerian polity. This work is an online collaboration with Ainehi Edoro’s Brittle Paper, a leading literary magazine building literary community across African literati.

Historically, poetry has been a potent protest tool. For many, writing a poem or any form of response in the thick of an emotionally upsetting traumatic event is difficult. Yet, poetry is not a luxury. It is a tool that can respond to any form of inhumanity and social injustice. The project therefore attempts to sustain the memory of the event, the intensities of emotions, and the memory of those who died in this project. It is a way to speak up against oppression, continuing a tradition of how poetry works in tandem with activism in the African space.  

“The poems in this work are a mode of speaking the truth to emphasize again that Nigerian lives matter, that the young Nigerian should be allowed to dream and attain their potentials,” said Jumoke Verissimo. Adding to this, Professor James Yeku explained that unlike the wrongly attributed quote to a critical theorist of the Frankfurt School tradition, Theodor Adorno, on the impossibility of writing poetry after the horrible events of Auschwitz, it is definitely proper and possible to employ the poetic as a way of responding to the horrors of large-scale suffering and oppression.

“While we can not reasonably compare the events in Nigeria to the Holocaust or even to Biafra or Rwanda, there is a sense in which the barbarity of human indignity remains a troubling refrain in the Nigerian context, even if to a lesser extent than the granularity in these actual genocidal cases.” But, as #EndSARS has shown, faced with the dark moments of police deviance, and government oppression, poetic reflection is a critical monument of resistance, and that's precisely what we find at the core of the Sòrò sókè work.

Protesters jubilate as military men dispatched to
Protesters jubilate as military men dispatched to disperse them in Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria exchange knuckles and take selfie with the protesters on October 20, 2020. Lagos State Government, on Tuesday announced curfew in the state to curtail the ongoing #EndSARS protest. Protesters are calling for the scrapping of police unit, known as Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) over the squads incessant harassment, brutality and killing of innocent Nigerians. Photo by Adekunle Ajayi (Photo by Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The value of Sòrò sókè project is that it runs in real time. This explains why we hosted it online rather than calling for an anthology that would mean intense reflections that escape the urgency of the time. Brittle Paper is also the right platform to host this, as it represents the purpose of that urgency in its commitment to the circulation of pan-African literary voices. It is a literary magazine that also captures the moment where the literary intersects with the socio-political. 

Sòrò sókè not only captures the later iterations or manifestations of an event but also attempts to speak into the ongoing happenings that continue to animate agitations, especially from the eyes of Nigerians in and outside the country. The emotions are different for many—between the old generation and the younger generation, there is a conflation of fear, hope, and anger, especially as not everyone can make it to the street. Using social media, with the increase in fake news, also brings its own dimension to what it means to protest. Therefore, this project, as written in the call for submissions, captures the anxiety of these times.  It is a way to find words to describe the unearthed emotions that collectively and continuously share our grievances. It attempts to make sense of the agonizing pain and suffering before us, especially for those who again see a reoccurrence of history happening before our eyes.

For us, “launching this project was pertinent as it was informed by what we believe is the power of a collective curation to leverage radical voices pushing back against the impositions of a state apparatus notorious for extrajudiciality,” said James Yeku.

Jumoke added: 

"The idea is not to focus on any single person. Rather, our hope is that this collaborative gesture is encountered as a document of creativity that links back to the rich protest tradition that inspires the current wave of activist cultural productions on police brutality in Nigeria.”

The Sòrò sókè project levels up and invites poetry from every Nigerian at home and abroad who wants to speak about the event to speak to do so. There is also a recognition that innocent blood was spilled because they dare ask for their rights. We invite poets eager to write out the emotions, the ongoing resistance, online and on the street, to write their protest and sustain the momentum despite the government’s attempt to suppress the truth.

To join the ongoing #endSARS, poets are welcome to send their poems or short reflections to awapointe@yahoo.com.

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