By Izunna Okafor
The old-century dictum that ‘a great man’s feat echoes louder behind his rear’ recently attained some justification, following the rueful demise of the great Nigerian poet and literary champion, late Chief Ikeogu Oke, the winner of the 2017 Nigeria Prize for Literature.
The wave of this hideous news which started blowing on Saturday has not only quaked the literary community in its entirety but has also continued to elicit the reactions of other great literary enthusiasts in the country and beyond, who were all shocked to the marrow of their pens.
In a release by Mr Denja Abdullahi, the National President of the Association of Nigerian Author (ANA), who ratified the death, he noted that the literary connoisseur, until his death, had been ill for more than four months as a result of a protracted illness. He further described him as a gentleman and a writer whose commitment to literature was second to none, owing to his great strides and stripes in the literary field of life.
Earlier in a statement announcing the shocking departure, on behalf of the association, Mr Abdullahi noted thus:
“With deep shock and a heavy heart, the Association of Nigerian Authors ( ANA) announces the passing of the poet laureate , Ikeogu Oke , the 2017 NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature winner, last night, Saturday, Nov. 24 2018 at the National Hospital, Abuja ,after a brief illness. Ikeogu Oke was a committed member of ANA and together we have crisis-crossed Nigeria on several literary ventures , ranging from Arrow of God @ 50 in 2014 to the recent Return To Idoto 2 which held in Ojoto-Awka in August, 2018.Ikeogu , a friend and compatriot, was an affable , gentle and enigmatic fellow. He lived and breathed poetry. May God give his family and the literary community the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss. May his poetic soul rest in peace (Amen)”
In their separate mournful reactions, fellow literary crackerjacks have also ruefully bared their hearts on ugly development. Below are some of these bereaved literati and their reactions:
Henry Akubuiro, journalist, novelist, juvenilia author, poet and Arts Editor, Sun Newspaper:
“Ikeogu was a guest performer at the World Poetry Day 2018 celebration in Abuja. Ikoegu was one of the few Nigerian writers who lives on in his literary works.”
Diyego Okenyedo for The Splendors of Dawn Poetry Foundation and the World Poetry Movement:
“Ikeogu was a dedicated poet and a supporter of the Splendors of Dawn and WPM activities. This year, despite his busy schedule, Ikeogu was a guest performer at the World Poetry Day 2018 celebration organised in Abuja. Ikoegu was one of the few Nigerian writers who lives on in his literary works.”
Onyeka Nwelue, cultural entrepreneur, filmmaker, professor and author of The Abyssinian Boy:
“Goodbye, Ikeogu Oke.
I’m happy we reconciled before you departed. I fell out with him when I said publicly that I thought otherwise about Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – from what everyone thinks. He called me names and insulted me and me, resorted to insulting him as well because I don’t spend much time thinking about age. Or who should be my elder? As long as you don’t start with me.
However, NLNG paid me to interview him. I had gone to Ibadan to see Wole Soyinka and drove speedily back to Lagos, to Bogobiri in Ikoyi, where he was waiting for me.
When we met, we hugged and he said: “This man, you are mature.”
We laughed. I interviewed him.
Goodnight, Mr Oke. You left a legacy”.
Sir Chuka Nnabuife, author, poet, MD National Light Newspaper:
“Mazi Ikeogu Oke is dead. I learnt he died of a cancer of the prosthesis. May God accept the soul of the fecund and prolific Bard”
Eriata Oribhabor, poet, author and President, Poets In Nigeria:
“Poets in Nigeria (PIN) mourns the passing of Ikeogu Oke, winner of the 2017 NLNG Prize for Literature (Poetry).
Ikeogu was a poet who loved and honed his art whilst serving humanity with it.
May his soul rest in absolute peace”
Maxim Uzoatu, author, poet and journalist:
“My brother Ikeogu, I am as good as dead as I write this. On the night of the book party following your being on the NLNG Prize shortlist you insisted on buying me a very expensive beer in the posh hotel you were lodged. When the NLNG officers asked for a copy of your book before the announcement of the Prize-winner you asked me from Abuja to deliver the copy you had autographed for me to the NLNG Lagos office. When I saw you at Ojoto for the Christopher Okigbo soiree you looked ill & I was really worried. Now, this! My tears…”
John Chizoba Vincent, author, poet, cinematographer:
“He is one of those poets I think of meeting someday
Ohafia Gini meziri?
O ga di ma e mesịa, Ikeogu Oke
Jee nke ọma. Rest on great poet.
This world is worthless”.
Ikeogu Oke hailed from Ohafia, Abia State and was married with children. He had a Bachelor of Art in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar and an MA in Literature from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His works include: “When I was Born” (2002),
“Salute Without Guns” (2009),
“In the Wings of Waiting” (2012),
“The Lion and the Monkey” (2014),
“The Tortoise and the Princess” (2015), “The Heresiad” (2017).
In 2010, Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer selected “Salutes Without Guns” as Book of the Year for The Times Literary Supplement, while, in 2017, “The Heresiad” won the Nigeria Prize for Literature, Africa’s biggest literary prize at $100,000 (N37m) sponsored by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas.