The Futility of Waiting: A Receptionist Study of Tanure Ojaide’s “Waiting” and Isidore Diala’s “Waiting”

Citation: Abechi, A.A. & Iwuji, U.O.  (2024). The Futility of Waiting: A Receptionist Study of Tanure Ojaide’s “Waiting” and Isidore Diala’s “Waiting”. Tasambo Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture, 3(1), 404-410. www.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2024.v03i01.047.

The Futility of Waiting: A Receptionist Study of Tanure Ojaide’s “Waiting” and Isidore Diala’s “Waiting”


Agada, Adah Abechi
Department of English, Federal College of Education Katsina,
agada.abechi@fcekatsina.edu.ng , bechagada@gmail.com


Ugochukwu Ogechi Iwuji, PhD
Department of General Studies, University of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (UAES) Umuagwo, Imo State, Nigeria
ugoiwuji@gmail.com ugochukwu.iwuji@uaes.edu.ng ,


This paper uses the Reader-response theory to investigate the futility of waiting as explored in “Waiting” by the two poets in their The Lure of Ash and The Beauty I Have Seen, respectively. It is a coincidence for two poets to pointedly dwell on the same title and subject matter. Isidore Diala and Tanure Ojaide are both second-generation Nigerian poets who witnessed the beginning of the fall of the Nigerian dream.  The methodology used is qualitative as excerpts of the key poems and relevant works are cited and analyzed. The work is essentially literary as relevant aspects of literary criticism are deployed to buttress aspects of the paper. The findings of the study are hinged on the fact that the two poets of Ojaide and Diala coincidentally explore the metaphor of “waiting” in their poems of the same title to denounce the political inequalities in their country. The political class is presented as a set of hegemonists who exploit and subjugate the people. The two poems are revolutionary because of the revelation that waiting is futile, and is of the colour of ash. Indeed, waiting is ash, and ash is waiting, a pun stylistically deployed by Diala in his “Waiting.”

Keywords :  Nigerian poets, Reader-response, Waiting, Poems, Hegemonists, Metaphor


It is a coincidence for two authors to write on the same title and subject matter at varying times. The two poets Isidore Diala and Tanure Ojaide in their poetry anthologies, The Lure of Ash (2004) and The Beauty I Have Seen (2008), respectively, have almost exhaustively treated the concept of waiting and the futility of doing so. Waiting becomes a metaphor which progressively gathers meaning in the two poems. This paper adds to the body of knowledge in Nigerian literary criticism as it uses the Reader-response theory to investigate the metaphor of waiting. The study steadily reveals in the process that waiting is futile, and no more than an ideological stratagem deployed by hegemonists to keep the people subjugated. The inspiration for the two poems may have come from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot where the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait all in vain for the arrival of Godot, a mythical character in the play, who keeps sending a messenger to urge the two characters to wait for his arrival, only to postpone it each time. The two wait and keep waiting till the end of the play as Godot never shows up. Each of the poems by Ojaide and Diala has a character who must ask another (or others) to wait for them.  

The Reader-response theory rose to prominence in the early 1970s. But its historical origin is traced to the 1920s and 1930s. The advent of the New Criticism in the 1920s gave autonomy to the text, making it an objective entity that can be analyzed independently of any historical or social context. I. A., Richards one of the earliest practitioners of New Criticism, unconsciously used a Reader-response approach to textual analysis when he distributed to his class at Cambridge copies of short poems with diverse literary value. The response he got from his audience was a “wide variety of seemingly incompatible and contradictory responses,” (Bresller 2003:59). Richards therefore acknowledged that a reader brings to the text a vast array of experiences which he applies to the reading of a text. By this activity, the reader is no longer a passive receiver of knowledge but an active participant in the formation of a text’s meaning.

Louise Rosenblatt further expanded Richard’s assumptions in the 1930s concerning the contextual nature of the reading process. “Rosenblatt asserts that both the reader and the text must work together to produce meaning” (Bresller 2003:60) She views the text and the reader as equal partners in the reading process. Thus, the reading process becomes a journey of both a reader and a text. The experience is transactional because the text acts as a stimulus for provoking thoughts, and past experiences of the reader.

What differentiates Rosenblatt’s views on the Reader-response from others is the emphasis on the significance of both the reader and the text in the creation of meaning. The New Criticism is quite different from this approach because of the overarching significance it accords to the text alone in the creation of meaning. The Reader-response theory like most critical approaches to literary analysis may not provide a unified or single methodology for textual analysis. The Reader-response critics assert that the proper analysis of literature lies in the communion between the reader and the text. The construction of meaning lies in the reading process – the reader and the text must transact to produce meaning.

The German phenomenonologist, Wolfgang Iser, made a good contribution in explaining the interaction between the reader and the text. In his argument, “the reader and the text are co-creators of meaning.” (Dobie 2012: 137). Iser introduced the concept of an implied reader, one who brings a unique set of experiences to the reading process. In this case, a reader unravels the indeterminacy of a text. Dobie (2012:138) lists a set of questions potentially asked by a Reader-response critic using the transactional model as reinforced by Iser:

What kind of reader is implied by this text? For instance, does it address you as if you are intelligent and well-informed, or as if you are inexperienced and innocent? What aspects of the text invite you to respond as the implied reader? What do you know of the author’s intent? List the most vivid images you remember from the text. How have you reconstructed them from your own experiences?

The Implied Reader and the Futility of Waiting

The implied reader in Diala’s “Waiting” and Ojaide’s “Waiting” is one who has been traumatized by the condition of waiting endlessly for the fulfilment of beautiful promises made to him. It is not a mere coincidence that both authors produced poetry with the same title, “waiting”, because they live in the same clime and share the same grim experience. They reside in a clime well known for failed, wilted promises. It follows that their implied readers would be those whose subconscious has been ridden with avalanche of unfulfilled promises by the political actors of their country.

Ojaide’s Waiting is a four-stanza poem written in a rhymed couplet. It is part of a trilogy, The Beauty I Have Seen where the persona assumes the role of a minstrel possessed by the muse who must speak truth to all sections of his society. In the opening verses, the persona tutors potential or budding poets on how they must ply their trade through total adherence to the dictates of the muse. He exhorts them not to be a “masquerade” that claims divinity with “the god that he masks in costume and dance” (p.12).  A young poet is taken through a psychic journey of knowledge and character in the poem. In another verse in the opening pages, a budding poet is cautioned to “maintain the sanctity/of the costume that he swore to keep clean” (p.13). The only way prescribed to keep the sanctity of the costume is by “following the dictates /of the muse, procurer of his pain and joy” (p.14)/. The muse here is presented as both a source of joy and pain because it is through the muse that a writer lives a fulfilled or miserable life. He is shot into stardom by the quality of his craft. The muse should therefore be treasured by a young artist who must stand at the confluence of the muse and the society. In the end elsewhere, the persona asks a rhetorical question: “But what load placed on me by the muse/ isn’t an honour to carry with songs” (p.16).

In “Waiting”, Ojaide progresses in his style of powerful couplets to describe the futility of waiting. He presents three insincere calibres of people in the society who represent the political class. The first stanza presents the elders of the society as complicit in the suffering of the people: “The elders advise us to wait till we grow old;/ wow, wait for their privileges till we are told” (p.50). The elders in the lines above are metaphors for insincere, crafty leaders who dominate the space of Nigeria. They purloin the commonwealth and shower themselves with expensive privileges. These leaders do not want anyone who question their excesses. Thus, the act of asking others to wait till they grow old for their privileges is symbolic of the excessive greed of Nigerian leaders. Those advised to wait in the poem are the youth who are the strength of the nation. Advising them to wait is an indirect way of asking them to steer clear of leadership roles till they grow old or are told to do so. Impliedly, the good life is the preserve of the leaders, the bourgeoisie of the society. They are the ones who are deluded to think that they can dominate others.

The second stanza of the poem indicts the politicians who perform so woefully in their first term in office. While they underperform, they tell the citizenry to wait till they are re-elected for a better government. Hear the persona: “The politicians tell us to wait till their second term/ hurray, wait for prosperity till after “we re-elect them” (p.50). The first tenure in this poem is symbolically a period of non-performance, corruption and acquisition of ill-gotten wealth. It is also a period to enslave the people in poverty. The second line shows that the people led are stagnant in the pool of suffering. The politicians profit from their sweat and ask them to wait. Impliedly the politicians believe that they elected to underperform in the first term and play about with the people’s commonwealth. The beleaguered people are now subjected to another tenure of the corrupt, greedy politicians.

Ojaide’s “Waiting” is a satire on the excesses of greedy politicians who toy with the humanity of the people who voted for them. The second line of the second stanza makes a mockery of these politicians who have lost touch with reality, expecting the people to keep stretching their patience “till after we re-elect them.” This is a touch of sarcasm on political leaders who are unfeeling of the plight of the masses whenever they get into office. Ironically, the same politicians promised a life of Eldorado once voted into office.

There is a binary opposition in the inference of first term and second term. The first is supposedly a period of great tribulation and suffering for the masses. It is a period when they should stretch their patience to the seams because there is nothing to expect from the politicians. The masses must only survive the period by waiting. It is a period they must accept to be traumatized by heartless politicians. Conversely, the second term is a period of illusory prosperity – a period when the wait in the first term would pay off. The image of prosperity indicates a period of boom for the masses. It is, however, uncertain whether this period will truly be that of prosperity going by the negative antecedent of ruthlessness manifested by the leaders.

The imagery of the politicians presented to the reader is that of greedy and desperate power mongers. They become monsters in power who must ruthlessly dictate to the people. They are the renegades of society who find themselves in the seat of power only to abuse it. These politicians are the enemies of the people because they allow the people to be submerged in the pool of misery and want. The politicians are desperadoes for power as they believe they would win a second term despite their poor performance, manifested in their asking the people to wait till they are re-elected.

The futility of waiting resonates in the third stanza where the poet’s persona refers to the dreamers of the society who teach the people to wait till they are awake. These dreamers are a metaphor for insensitive leaders who treat the people with disdain: “The dreamers teach us to watch till they wake;/ yes, wait till they make it to another daybreak” (p.50). The dreamers symbolize insensitive leaders who take the masses for granted. They trample on their rights and privileges. They derive weird joy in punishing innocent people. They do not think twice about asking people to keep waiting for them. They are the same politicians in the second stanza who ask the masses to wait till they are re-elected to nurse any hope of prosperity. These politicians do not feel responsive enough to work for the people or to hit the ground running from their first day in office. The politicians are the dreamers in the third stanza who ask the masses to wait till they are awake.

The tone of the stanza is disdainful. The “dreamers” treat the people with contempt by asking them to wait. The act of waiting till they wake up is open-ended. Their waking may take longer than necessary. Yet they want the masses to keep waiting. The verb “teach” in the opening line of the stanza is symbolic of a coordinated plan by the “dreamers” in all regions of the persona’s country to hold the masses captive with deceitful indoctrination, a clear case of influencing their thought and behaviour to learn to wait to no end. “Impliedly, the dreamers of the land want the people to get used to suffering and pain. The dreamers do not care if the people are in a critical condition or not. They simply want them to be used as punishment while they swim in a life of opulence.

The symbol of daybreak in the second line of the third stanza is that of prosperity and joy as seen in line four of the poem. The irony however is that the joy so envisioned or promised is elusive. The politicians are crafty and mendacious. They have no plan to make the people experience any “daybreak” or “prosperity”. They are single-minded in subjecting the people to a life of waiting.

The futility of waiting is reinforced in the last stanza where the persona emphasizes the lot of the masses to “wait out an entire lifetime” (p.50). The first line of the stanza summarizes the entire lines of the poem: “They always ask us to keep on waiting all the time.” It is thus a practice, an art mastered by politicians to subdue the people and keep them painfully busy with the futile mission of waiting. These leaders are presented as an unfeeling bunch who have no regard for the people’s rights, aspirations and humanity.

These are the same leaders in Ojaide’s “Testimony to the Nation’s Wealth,” who keep the citizenry poor and hopeless:

An unending expanse of rain-flushed savannah

With lost settlements of sorely clad folks

In thatched and rusted tin homes discovered and

Counted in preordained censuses and elections

Lonesome roads of peeled or cracked tarmac

And potholes inviting a cortege of accidents

At every corner and intersection of failing paths (p.120)

The first line glowingly reveals the wealth of the land which is vast. Unfortunately, the land is occupied by people whose leaders have dehumanized. The allusion to “sorely clad folks” reveals that the people cannot clothe properly. Their appearance is scruffy and unpleasant. Again, their shelter is poor and morbid as they live in “thatched and rusted” tin homes. The imagery evoked in the two foregoing adjectives is that of poverty and misery. Then people are hungry and hapless. They are only good for “preordained censuses and elections.” This shows that leaders in the world of the persona are ruthless and corrupt. They predetermine censuses and elections for selfish gains. They want to stay in power perpetually to loot the people’s commonwealth. The people do not matter to them as they are only good to be counted in “preordained elections.” It is heart-rending also that roads are poorly built and maintained because they only invite a “cortege of accidents”, which sadly claimed the lives of the people. Amid the carnage, the persona bemoans their fate in the hands of their elected representatives who should speak up for them: “Representatives carousing in faraway Abuja/the land flaunts a tattered flag of hopeless faces” (p.120). It is an irony that their elected representatives who should defend them are engrossed in lubricous acts.

These politicians or dreamers in their reverie of insensitivity embark on a drinking spree to satisfy fleshly desires. There is irony in people dying and their leaders are carousing. This is the type of atrocity committed by leaders who want the people to keep waiting for them as seen in Ojaide’s “Waiting”. There is symbolism in the allusion to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, described as a land flaunting “a tattered flag of hopeless faces.” If Abuja holds no hope for the country, it is ironical to assume that the subnational entities would flaunt a “flag of hope.” In the course of the people, the poet’s persona calls who pauperize the people, hyenas, a metaphor for beastly people who derive joy in “scavenging” on others. They collect money that “exceeds entire incomes of many robust nations” (p.120) but do not deliver democratic dividends to the people.

Diala’s “Waiting” comes with a more poignant description of the symbolism of waiting itself. The poem pointedly reflects on the propriety of waiting. When the politicians and dreamers in Ojaide’s “Waiting” advise the people to wait, it is not because there is any gain in waiting. When they ask them to wait till their second term to experience prosperity, it is not because of an envisioned hope.

For Diala, “Waiting is of the colour of ash” (p.14). If “waiting” itself symbolizes ash, it implies that the very act of waiting is futile, as expressed in the conceptual framework of this paper. Ash is a metaphor for grief, sorrow, bereavement and anguish. The politicians in Ojaide’s “Waiting” undoubtedly want the people to die while waiting. The second line of Diala’s “Waiting” further describes the act of waiting as heart-rending. Hear the persona: “The heart aches, but I wait” (p.14). The heart is connected with emotional stability. So when the heartaches, the persona’s emotions are in tatters. It is however ironical that the persona chooses to yet wait in the poem, perhaps, for a departed lover who promised to return in due course:

The moments of a lover’s absence

Are not counted by the hands of a clock

They are measured by the rhythm of the heart

And each beat is eternity (p.14)

The futility of waiting is emphasized in the last line above where “each beat is eternity,” symbolizing the period of waiting. The absence of the persona’s beloved fills him with grief. The period of waiting in his absence has been described as an emotional moment where the time is counted by the heart and not the clock. It is ironic again that the persona chooses to wait despite its futility.

The persona may be a hypnotized lover who foresees danger in the act of waiting, yet chooses to do so. He is like the people in Ojaide’s “Waiting” who are literarily “hypnotized” to wait for the politicians till they win a second term or wait till they have woken up from sleep. The act of teaching them to be used to waiting is hypnotizing. The tool of indoctrination is deployed by the bourgeois class to perpetually dominate the people. This is the culture which the ruling class wants to ram on the masses. Hall (1996:33) has maintained that “culture remains a complex one – a site of convergent interests, rather than a logically or conceptually classified idea” Carey (1996:65) sees studies relating to culture as “ideological studies in that it assimilates, in a variety of complex ways, culture to ideology.” Ideology is hegemonic because it seeks to thrust the views of the dominant on the dominated.  During (1999:4) defines hegemony as a term used to “describe the relations of domination … which “involves not coercion but consent on the part of the dominated (or subalterns)”.

The ideological persuasion of the persona in Diala’s “Waiting” is influenced by the warped view of love probably rammed on him by his beloved, whom he must wait for, despite the futility of doing so. In the last stanza, he exclaims: “Ash is the colour of waiting/ I wait, but the heartaches” (p.14). The idea of having to wait for a lover who may never return is hegemonic and repressive. It is a way of conquering the psychological grit of a person. Right from the first stanza of the poem, the persona realizes that waiting is futile because it metaphorically bears the colour of ash.  He reinforces this belief in the last stanza by rearranging the expression; where “Waiting” played the subject of the sentence, he replaces it with “Ash” in the last stanza. This symbolizes the oneness of both terms. The persona is thrown into a state of agony in the act of waiting for his beloved. Metaphors of agony abound in the poem. “Waiting” itself is a metaphor for sorrow and futility. Ash is a metaphor for mourning and agony. The use of a “lover’s absence” is metaphorical of a gap that exists. This is the gap which the poet describes in the introduction of the book as “a yearning because the cycle is not yet complete” (Diala 2004: vi). Absence is a metaphor which reinforces the existence of a hiatus which lies at the heart of the poet’s persona. The repetition of “waiting”, “wait” and “heart-aches” emphasizes the agony in the mind of the persona. By extension, it reinforces the futility of waiting itself.

A Reader-response critic is compelled to analyze what may be responsible for the persona’s decision to still “wait” despite his admission that “waiting is of the colour of ash.” The answer lies in the fact that the persona’s heart has been conquered. He has been made to assimilate the ideology of the hegemonist-lover on the need to wait. This is the same ideology which the hegemonist politicians in Ojaide’s “Waiting” pass to the beleaguered masses. Fiske (1996:121) asserts that in the hegemonic theory, “ideology is constantly up against forces of resistance.” The politicians of Ojaide’s “Waiting” are the hegemonic forces, just as the persona’s lover in Diala’s “Waiting” exerts a hegemonic force on him. These forces want to keep the persona eternally subjugated. They want him to wait in vain for an illusory moment of joy or reprieve.

It is the same forces of hegemony flayed by the persona in “I’m Dying, Nigeria, Dying” where the poem expresses helplessness in the face of insensitive leadership. The poem is a lone cry for help because the persona is overwhelmed:

I’m dying, Nigeria, dying

In the folds of manacles of terror

Wrought of the glowing mass

Belched forth by the Emperor’s furnace (p.31)

Symbols of grief and agony abound in the poem. The repetition of “dying” lends credence to the anguish of the persona. The metaphor in line two suggests that the leadership in Nigeria is ruthless. Indeed, “manacles of terror” evokes the imagery of a people bound against their will. There is the “emperor’s furnace” which unleashes terror on the people. If the harsh policies of the country’s leadership make the persona contemplate “dying”, there is also the “mortal stench/ oozing from corruption forged in the highest places (p.31) in stanza two. The tone in the excerpt is sorrowful. The hyperbole and personification in the “mortal stench” that “oozes from corruption” create an image of corrupt leaders that hold the land to ransom. Every aspect of governance seems to be submerged in corruption. The allusion to “highest places” as the source of corruption makes it more certain that those entrusted with the sacred responsibility of leadership are the perpetrators of corruption.

The persona therefore seeks a regeneration because the land has been “polluted” by the leaders of the country. He describes the land in stanza three as “howling” for cleansing waters” (p.31). It is this regenerative process that may save the persona from dying.

The implied reader of these two central poems used in this discourse does not find it difficult to digest their content. He is already familiar with the grim political condition in the Nigerian nation. He has been ruled by leaders who do not perform in their first tenure, and who plead to be given another chance to perform better in another tenure. He is a reader who has experienced the rudeness and crudity of poverty and frustration occasioned by harsh economic policies. Certainly, he has experienced insincere and insensitive leadership.


Ojaide and Diala have through their anthologies presented their country as a land held captive by hegemonic forces who frustrate the liberation of the people. Variously described in the poems as “politicians”, “dreamers”, “emperors” and even “lovers”, these leaders are determined to compel the citizens to keep waiting for better times ahead while living in abject poverty and denial in the present.  The two central poems of “Waiting” by the poets are indicative of their collective belief in the futility of waiting. Diala has described waiting as bearing the colour of ash, making the heartache. The metaphor of the lover in the poem is that of a politician who has cast a spell – an ideology – on the persona to keep him waiting. The lover knowing full well of the hopelessness of waiting is still determined to do so at his expense. However Ojaide adopts a more sarcastic approach to the dominant class, the leadership of his country, questioning the rationale for waiting. He flays them for asking “us to keep waiting all the time,” having realized that waiting is futile and vain. The findings of the study are hinged on the fact that the two poets of Ojaide and Diala coincidentally explore the metaphor of “waiting” in their poems of the same title to mirror the political inequalities in their country. The political class is presented as a set of hegemonists who exploit and subjugate the people. The two poems are revolutionary because of the revelation that waiting is futile, and is of colour. Waiting is ash, and ash is waiting, a pun stylistically deployed by Diala in his “Waiting.” In this sense, the two poets advocate active resistance against oppressive forces holding down their homeland.


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