By Osa Mbonu-Amadi, Arts Editor  

The past one year, especially the first three months of 2019, has been a dark period for the arts community in Nigeria. Between February 2018 and March 2019, the country lost up to eight prominent artists and operators in the industry.   

The deceased include Professor Akinwunmi Isola (1939–2018), Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike (1959-2018); Olabisi Silva (1962-2019); Pius Adebola Adesanmi (1972-2019); Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019); and Paul Emema (1965-2019).

Professor Akinwunmi Isola (1939–2018). Saturday 17 February 2018 will remain a day of gloom for family, friends and the Yoruba theatre. It was the day the popular Yoruba playwright and scholar, Professor Akinwunmi Isola, passed on to the great beyond.

The renowned playwright, actor, culture activist and scholar had spent his life time producing works that promoted the Yoruba language. Akinwumi Isola was a propagator of Yoruba language, culture, and progenitor of Yoruba literature who made Yoruba history popular beyond the shores of Africa. He died at the age of 79 in his Akobo home in Ibadan, Oyo State. Ishola was a visiting Professor at the University of Georgia.

Prof. Isola was born in Ibadan in 1939 and attended Labode Methodist School and Wesley College, before proceeding to the University of Ibadan where he earned a B. A. in French. He later bagged an M.A. in Yoruba literature from the University of Lagos in 1978. After his obtaining his Master’s in Yoruba Literature, he commenced academic work as a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, where he was appointed professor in 1991. Isola wrote his first play, Efunsetan Aniwura between 1961 and 1962 while still a student at the University of Ibadan. This was followed by the novel, O Leku, which was later turned into a movie. He also wrote a play entitled Olu Omo published in 1983. In 1986, he wrote and composed the college anthem for Wesley College, Ibadan. Prior to his demise, he delved into broadcasting and created a production company that turned a number of his plays into television dramas and films.

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Prof. Akinwunmi made history when he surprisingly delivered a university convocation lecture in Yoruba language at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State.

His other works include; Efunsetan Aniwura, Oleku Iyálóde Ìbàdàn, and Tinúubú, Ìyálóde ¸gbá (1970); Madam Tinubu (1998); Ogún ÍmÍdé (1990); Belly Bellows (2009); and Herbert Macaulay and the Spirit of Lagos (2009).

Ikeogu Oke Ikeogu (1967- 2018) was an author, journalist and award-winning poet. In 2017, he won the Nigeria Prize for Literature for his first collection of poetry, Heresiad.

The Heresiad was nominated for the Nigeria Prize for Literature, along with work by Ogaga Ifowodo and Tanure Ojaide. The Heresiad won. In his acceptance speech, Ikeogu described poetry as “healthy narcotics”. “I am happy to be addicted to it as shown by my refusal to be swayed by such concerns. I have invoked the poem here hopefully to arouse the contemplation of how one’s resolve to pursue one’s dreams in spite of such concerns is the best decision that can lead to a fulfilled life,” he wrote in his acceptance speech.

The book, which the judges described as “a bold and wonderful experiment whose great strength also could have been its great weakness” was also said to be “a work that speaks to an intense commitment to innovation, tenacity, joyful experimentation and social commentary in a way that provokes delight and engagement.”

Before he died on November 24, 2018, at the age of 51, Ikeogu wrote his own epitaph thus: “Here lies a man who loved virtue and art, and gave to both his fortunes and his heart”. He also left for the living, one of the most useful pieces of advice in the world: “Time is too precious to waste doing something you do not love, even if it brings you fortune.”

He had an MA in Literature from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and a BA degree in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar.

Professor Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike (1959-2018) received his Bachelor of Arts from Croydon College, London, in 1980 and a Master’s degree in film and telecommunications from the University of Oregon in 1982 before moving on to New York University to earned a Master’s degree in cinema studies in 1986 and a PhD in 1989. He was on the faculty of the University of Michigan before he joined the Tulane faculty in 1998. Professor Ukadike was a scholar of cinema and film history with special interest on African cinema, film and media of the African Diaspora.

Olabisi Silva (1962-2019). She was Founder and Artistic Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (CCA, Lagos) which opened in December 2007, to promote research, documentation and exhibitions related to contemporary art in Africa and abroad, Bisi collected artworks from numerous exhibitions and was also the founder of the Asiko Art School which was part art workshop, part residency, and part art academy. She was on the editorial board of n.paradoxa, an international feminist art journal and was the guest editor for the Africa and African diaspora issue of n.paradoxa (January 2013).

Professor Pius Adebola Adesanmi (1972-2019) was born in Isanlu, in Yagba East Local Government area of Kogi State, Nigeria. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in French language from the University of Ilorin in 1992, a Masters degree in French from the University of Ibadan in 1998, and a PhD in French Studies from the University of British Columbia, Canada, in 2002. His writings were often satiric, focusing on the absurd in the Nigerian social and political system.

Nigerians woke up on Sunday March 10, 2019 to the horrible news of the crash of Ethiopian Airliners Boeing 737 MAX 8 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia of which Professor Adesanmi was among the passengers. No single soul, out of the 157 passengers, survived the crash.

Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019). Okwuchukwu Emmanuel Enwezor was the youngest son of an affluent Igbo family in Awkuzu in Anambra state. In 1982, Okwui moved to the Bronx area of the USA at the age of 18 after a semester at the University of Nigeria. In 1987, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political sciences at the New Jersey City University. After graduation, he embraced poetry, and performed at the Knitting Factory and the Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village.

His study of poetry led him through language-based art forms like Conceptual Art to art criticism. After putting on a couple of small museum shows, he had his breakthrough in 1996 as a curator of In/sight, an exhibit of 30 African photographers at the Guggenheim Museum. He served on numerous juries, advisory bodies, and curatorial teams.

Okwui died  on  15 March 2019, in Munich, Germany.

Paul Emema (1965-2019). Paul Okeoghene Emema was a native of Oleh in Isoko town of Delta State. Before he studied Mass Communication at the University of Uyo, he had created and written all the episodes of the popular TV series, Behind the Clouds and later Supple Blues produced by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). His work, Barbers Wisdom was selected as part of the South African ‘New Directions Initiative’, and directed by Amaka Igwe on 35mm; produced by Tajudeen Adepetu. He was co-writer, co-producer and co-director of over 100 episodes of I Need to Know, a commissioned series on girl-child HIV education.

He was confirmed dead on March 12, 2019, at the age of 52.

Professor Gabriel Okara (1921-2019). Gabriel Imomotimi Okara is generally considered to be one of the founders of modern African literature. Okara and his contemporaries were faced with the challenge of overcoming the problem involved in expressing African idioms and thoughts in English language. What later became perfected as African Writing by writers like Chinua Achebe was an experiment began by writers like Gabriel Okara.

Okara tried to enlist into the British Royal Air Force during World War II. When he failed to complete his training in the air force, he settled for the British Overseas Airway Corporation which later became British Airways.

From 1945, he worked in a publishing company owned by colonial government of Nigeria as a printer and bookbinder. Between 1964 and 1970 he went into the Eastern Nigerian Government Service as information officer, and from 1971 to 1975 he served the Rivers State Newspaper and Television Corps as general manager.

A native of Bumoundi in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, Okara attended Government College, Umuahia, from 1935 to 1941. He later studied at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, at where he was awarded a degree in comparative journalism in 1960.

Some of Gabriel Okara’s works include The Voice (a novel, 1964); The Fisherman’s Invocation (poems, 1978); Little Snake and Little Frog (children’s literature, 1981); An Adventure to Juju Island (children’s literature, 1992); The Dreamer, His Vision (poems, 2005); and As I See It (poems, 2006); Collected Poems (edited, 2016).

Apart Professor Gabriel Okara (1921-2019) and Professor Akinwunmi Isola (1939–2018), the rest are young men and women in their early 50s. As we mourn these loses, we pray to God and say, please father, do not allow these types of calamities to befall us again.

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