[Documents menu] Documents menu

The Poet-Revolutionary At 51

By Olusanya Ayikeke, The News, 16 April 2001

Two things have always humbled me. These are: God's vastness, His incomprehensibility, and the achievement of others. It is, however, the latter that is the focus of this write-up. For what every sober mind would readily acknowledge is that cutting a figure, being somebody, standing out of the nameless entity popularly known as the masses is no mean task. We are all engaged in, engrossed with the search for identity, the quest for human existence and its worth. In this, some are luckier than the others.

The reasons for this varying degrees of luck are many. There is personal limitation. There is fate. There is the society. There are other visible and not so visible forces. It is not everybody who can vanquish or overcome these forces. It is not everyone who can emerge from life's real battles as heroes. Why this is so may not be in the interest of man to probe. Even where he chooses to probe, it may prove a futile exercise, after all.

This rationalises why an individual, any personality whatsoever who succeeds in carving a niche for himself deserves some reasonable celebration. Humility should move us to acknowledge the achievements of others even, while we are striving to enrich our own lives and bring meaning to our living. It is against this background that you, dear readers, are invited today to join yours sincerely in celebrating a personality, a creative poet as distinct from a versifier, a committed artist as different from literary jesters, a remarkable writer whom Chief Bola Ige has aptly eulogized as the warrior poet.

Do you know him, he who has been Nigeria's plenipotentiary-at-large for Arts and Culture? Do you know the chronically and clinically committed poet-writer who did not give thought to marriage even at fifty? Do you know him who holds poetic sway at the Independent Communications Network Limited, Lagos? Do you know him, who held fort for Chief Bola Ige by feeding the Uncle Bola Column in the Sunday Tribune while the original columnist was entrapped in the comatose ministry of Power and Steel? Have you heard the name-Odia Ofeimun? May be. May be not.

That is neither here nor there. Ours is largely somewhat agonisingly, an illiterate society. Don't picture illiteracy in terms of inability cum incapacitation to read and write alone. We are referring to circumstantial illiteracy, brought about by economic ruin and socio-political blunder foisted on the literate Nigerian community by the military plunderers, the deliberate pauperisation of an otherwise vibrant group. Graduates who have been deprived of meaningful survival and robbed of creativity. An otherwise agile people who have been injected with the hormones of senility by power-drunk political acrobats in Khaki. Such has been the lot of Nigeria. Which explains your ignorance, pardon me please, about the literary contributions of our own Ofeimun, one of the most creative literary minds in Nigeria today.

In a better clime, Odia Ofeimun ought to be the toast of Nigeria on March 15. In a stable society, the author of The Poet Lied would be the proud owner of the ides of March. In a community where culture assumes its rightful pride of place, the one whose birthday comes up on March 15 would have been the cynosure of all eyes, lecturing young, budding writers on how to get published, mobilise the society, revolutionise an antiquated system, stir a stagnant collectivity etc, etc. Yes. That is what ought to be which is as different from what it is, as day is different from night.

Regardless, March 15 must not pass by without a mention of Odia Ofeimun. He occupies a conspicuous place amidst the crop of current generation of writers. He, it is, who authors The Poet Lied - an ambitious attempt at painting the ideal. He, it is, who once served as Awo's private secretary but was unceremoniously unseated by the maradonic manipulator's stooges. He, it is, who has demonstrated that a humble beginning is no impediment to prominence. He, it is, who is at present the chairman, Editorial Board of Independent Communications Network Limited publications.

Ofeimun's prominence could only be really appreciated when the sequence of literary activism or output in Nigeria is taken cognizance of. There is the quadruplet of Soyinka-Achebe-Clark-Okigbo. Unpleasantly, Okigbo kicked the bucket rather prematurely as he mistook the intoxicating, heady, power of gun for the elevating, balmy power of pen.

There is the Osofisan-Osundare generation, closely followed by the Ofeimun generation? Do we now say in logical terms, because there is Soyinka, therefore, there is Osundare? And that because there is Osundare, there is Ofeimun? But because there is Ofeimun, therefore, there is what or which generation of writers precisely? What factors are responsible for the acute dearth of fresh literary works in the nation today? Why are manuscripts not getting published? Who is stifling would-be-writers? Who is frightened by the written word? Which group is fearful or uncomfortable that Nigeria deserves more Nobel Laureates, Commonwealth, etc., literary prizes? Who are those belly-aching over possible upsurge of literary productions? Whose existence is continually threatened by awareness and creativity? Who is being bazookaed by the probable emergence of revolution and change? These questions, literary posers, one humbly recommends for our March 15 celebrant's reflections. As eulogies flow in Lagos and Ibadan, Ofeimun must not forget to give thought to others. As praises are afloat, he should bear in mind that a poet, indeed, a literary artist's life should be one life which should benefit many.

On a personal note, 'Egbon' Odia, has literary productivity, successfully cured the rather prolonged bachelorhood? The arts must not constitute any hostage to matrimonial obligations. Creativity should be all embracing. Remember that he who forcibly sobered Stockholm, in far away Sweden in the eighties, is generous with the fairer sex. Of course, Odia Ofeimun is Odia Ofeimun and obviously not Kongi, The strong Breed. On March 15, 51 cheers should go to Odia. Come 15th March, 51 toasts ought to go to Ofeimun. So, to our restive, ever productive, incessantly creative poet-writer, Odia Ofeimun, it's 51 times 51 happy returns of the millennium. Happy birthday, sir. When are we heading for Iruekpe.