By UDUMA KALU & BENJAMIN NJOKU
Contrary to the notion that T.M Aluko has not been accorded his rightful place in the Nigerian literary tradition, what happened last Monday at his Apapa, GRA residence remained a clear testimony of how much the octogenarian writer is held in high esteemed within the nationâ€™s arts and literary circle.
ALUKO, a trained engineer, has persevered as a writer. Last Monday, drums were rolled out by the Nigerian art and literary community to celebrate the old man and his work, when he launched, at his Apapa, GRA home, another partying novel, Our Born Again President, from the stables of HBN.
He also used the opportunity to mark his 50 years as a writer. Aluko is known, along with the late novelist, Nkem Nwankwo, author of Danda and My Mercedes is Bigger than Yours, for introducing the comic angle, into the Nigerian novel, which since Chinua Achebe and Cyprain Ekwensi had tended to be serious in terms of mood, tone and at the end tragic.
Perhaps, it was in recognition of all the above that a constellation of stars gathered for Aluko as he marked 50 as a published writer with another book, Our Born Again President (2009). The new novel is coming 50 years after his first: One Man, One Wife.
Aluko is a trustee of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). He would ever be remembered not only for his contributions to the development of literary cannon in Nigeria, but importantly, for his undeterred spirit to continue to be heard despite all odds. Frail at 91, razor sharp in mind, Aluko was rolled in a wheel chair to the seat at the event, having suffered stroke since 1987 that took his writing right hand and his right leg.
The old man took his seatÂ among his much younger friends, including Justice Kayode Esho who chaired the occasion,Â Mr. Omolayole, Mr. and Mrs. Phebean Ogundipe, among others at the table.
Next to Aluko, were two other tables that had writers and artists, Prof. J. P. Clark, Ambassador Segun Olusola, Mr. Frank Aig-Imoukhuede, a playwright and former director of culture, Chief Onuorah Nzekwu, author of Eze Goes to School, Mrs. Mobolaji Adenubi, author of Splendid and Dr. Jerry Agada, the new president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and former state minister of education who came in from Abuja. Poet Odia Ofeimun who had looked-in and promised to be back was also there to pay tribute to the old man of letters. Also present were the former chairman of the Lagos ANA, Chike Ofili and the present chairman, Dagga Tolar.
Managed by the Chike Ofili-led Reputations Consulting with the family, the event showed a brilliant conception,Â interpretation and execution of what the organisers wanted to achieve. A stand was mounted, laced with African designs and props while the chairs and tables took a dinner setting with an exhibition mounted at entrance corner into the house. Around the exhibition, curated by Mufu Onifade was a stand which bore the picture of T. M. Aluko in his midlife writing with his right hand, and beneath that was him at 91, writing with his left hand after the stroke paralysed his right hand.
There were big dummies of some of his books: One Man, One wife; One man, One matchet; Kinsmen and Foreman; My years of service and of course the unveiled new book, Our Born again President; all supported by other exhibits of pictures of him and his family and growth through life.
There were also newspaper cuttings of media writings on him, his publisher HEBN stand selling his books by the door to his study and office where his manuscripts and academic works done on him as a writer, correspondence of the exchanges that went on between him and his publishers, and the books he had acquired over time were displayed.
Setting the ball rolling was Ambassador Segun Olusola, who paid his tribute to the old man in songs.
His partying song â€œAlele le awo mi loâ€(It is nite, the old man is going) was touchy as it was memorable. Esho, who chaired the occasion spoke glowingly of Aluko, going back in time to remember how he had been a guiding light to them whilst growing up, so did Omolayole, Chief Olusola who all paid him tributes.
Dr. Jerry Agada, expressing his gratitude to be at the occasion, happilyÂ announced that the occasion marked his first public appearance as the new president of ANA. He saluted the dogged spirit of Aluko that would not succumb to the adversity precipitated by the stroke and wished for more years and more books to come. He also remembered a joke his class used to sdhare on Ogundierâ€™sÂ to which everybody laughed.
Revisiting the fact that the nation has not shown much appreciation concerning Alukoâ€™s creative dexterity, Mobolaji Adenubi in her tribute described the elder writer as â€˜a man of letters who has continued to be productivity even at the ripe age of 91.â€™
She wondered why the nation has not deemed it necessary to recognize Alukoâ€™s contribution as one of the foremost writers Nigeria ever have produced over the decades. â€œNigerians have not appreciated Aluko as much as we should have done. He has written a lot of books to warrant the nationâ€™s acknowledging his creative dexterity. The old man has commented brilliantly and sufficiently about the situation in the country. I donâ€™t know what we are waiting for, before we can honour him.â€ fumed Adenubi.
Reviewing the book, Dr. ReubenÂ Abati, chairman, of the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspapers noted that,Â though, Alukoâ€™s works have been less celebrated when compared with the works of the likes of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, his, has remained a significant contribution towards the development of African literature.
â€œAlukoâ€™s continued productivity at the age of 91 indeed has demonstrated the fact that a manâ€™s pen would hardly dry up until heâ€™s no more. Aluko published the Story of My Life in 1988, when he was 80 years, and now, Our Born Again President which he has published in 91st year.â€ Abati echoed.
Shortly after unveiling and presenting the new book: Our Born again President, the Whajo Dance Company took the floor to electrify the audience with impassioned performance of Okot Pitek song of Lawino. Following their performance was a Christian appreciation of the book by a pastor from The Redeemed Church.
Alukoâ€™s grandchildren equally presenting a rendition of their family story, declared their love for their grandpa. Aluko, as the oldest surviving Nigerian writer, belongs to that generation of African writers who witnessed and tried to capture for posterity the â€œclashâ€ of civilizations that became the aftermath of the colonization of the continent.
He may have been neglected and abandonment by the same society that he has done so much to promote through his numerous works, he still remains a focal point to the discourse of African literature. The general feeling was that of joint-joy with the celebrant, T. M. Aluko and his writerly triumph over paralysis.