By Chiedu Uche Okoye
DO millions of Nigerians with religious bent of mind pause to ponder on their mortality? Here, the issue of thanatology is considered to be taboo among us. We dread death. That’s why many Nigerians are wont to refuse to write their names in manifest when they’re about to embark on journeys on buses. These people will characteristically snap their fingers and shout that death is not their lot. But the inevitability of death cannot be disproved.
The fact is this: we are born to die. A British historian said this about death: “Death is a consequence of birth.” Our shroud is being woven by God with the passage of time. Death is sneaking up on us without our knowing it, daily. And the grim reaper will ultimately enfold us in its deathly embrace. But have you come to terms with that looming reality that shall be our lot someday?
Nowadays, death is commonplace; it is a quotidian occurrence. Here, Boko Haram insurgents dispatch other people to their early graves in the North-East of Nigeria, daily. Cancer is one of the major causes of death in today’s world. And people die in bus and air crashes. But will your heart be seized with grief when you hear about the deaths of people in a far away country through acts of God? Do you vicariously feel the pains which relative of victims of bus accidents feel?
However, the news of death of public figures that are in our consciousness will shock and fill us with numbness when we hear about it. When we first hear about the death of a public figure, we’ll disbelieve it because most public figures loom larger than life. However, with the passage of time, the reality of their irreversible demise will dawn on us. That’s the reason I doubted the news about the tragic death of Prof. Pius Adesanmi in an aircraft crash in Ethiopia on March 10, 2019. His death sent shockwaves across the length and breadth of the world.
That the people(s) of Nigeria and millions of citizens of other countries are united in grief to mourn him is a measure of his greatness. He achieved much during his brief sojourn on earth. His 47 years on earth were filled with landmark achievements. Pius Adesanmi, a public intellectual par excellence, spoke truth to power via his satirical newspaper articles and essays. They were condemnatory of bad political leadership in Nigeria. He would deploy his deep intellect and writing skills to fight for the cause of the poor people in Nigeria, although he was a well-heeled and well-educated Nigerian- born writer and scholar, who was based in Canada.
Pius Adesanmi came from a family who cherished learning and scholarship, his father being a school principal and historian. The family upbringing he received inculcated the love of books into him and moulded his personality. Not surprisingly, he got a first class degree in French from University of Ilorin. A talented poet, he won ANA poetry prize among other laurels for his pedagogic and writing accomplishments.
A bilingual scholar, Pius Adesanmi was a professor in the African Studies Department of Carleton University, Canada. He was an erudite and brilliant scholar, who was sought by international organisations for presentation of academic papers at global conferences and summits. But, like Claude Ake, a cerebral political scientist, Adesanmi died prematurely in a tragic air crash in Ethiopia when he was most needed in Nigeria to help interrogate our multi-faceted and hydra-headed national problems and shape discourse for our country’s reclamation and revamping. But we are consoled because Adesanmi contributed immensely to the growth of knowledge in his chosen field of specialisation. The body of works he left behind will immortalise him.
Tears have not dried on our cheeks when the news about the death of another great Nigerian, Gabriel Imomotimi Okara, broke. Unlike Adesanmi, Okara died of old age while in his sleep, having lived for 98 years. Born in Nembe, he was one of Nigeria’s early and pioneer poets. Being deeply immersed in the oral traditions of his people, he drew from the oral traditions of his people to write his works. He left an oeuvre of works covering the genres of literature. And they’re globally acclaimed literary classics. Pa Okara’s first collection of poetry is called The Fisherman’s Invocation. And he wrote a novel called The Voice.
Okara, one of Nigeria’s pioneer poets, won important literary prizes for his writings. In 2005, he shared the NLNG Prize for poetry with Ohaeto Ezenwa for his entry, The Dreamer: His Vision. His co-winner, Ohaeto Ezenwa, did his Doctoral thesis on Gabriel Okara’s poetic work. Sadly, like the departed Adesanmi, Ezenwa died young. He was in his forties at his death. But Okara lived a long rewarding eventful literary life.
In addition to being a writer, Okara was a civil servant. He was in the class of Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi, writers who worked as civil servants while honing their writing craft and producing literary master-pieces. Okara was appointed the first General Manager of the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation, the producer of The Tide newspaper. And he was a one-time Commissioner for Information in Rivers State. During the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, he was on the Biafran side as an emissary alongside Chinua Achebe and others.
Okara and Adesanmi, two great Nigerian writers, have gone to the other side in March 2019. Their deaths have depleted the ranks of writers in Nigeria. Their works will continue to point the right way for us. The duo will be sorely missed by Nigerians and non-Nigerians. They’ve joined the pantheon of Nigeria’s literary greats in the beyond. Now, they are in the great company of departed great Nigerian writers like Amos Tutola, Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Esiaba Irobi, Buchi Emecheta, Captain Elechi Amadi, Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Ola Rotimi, Ikeogu Oke, and others.
May the perpetual light of God continue to shine on Gabriel Okara and Prof. Pius Adesanmi, who transited to the great beyond recently.
Okoye, a literary critic, wrote from Uruowulu-Obosi, Anambra State