Since November, 1949
Friday 9th Nov. 2007

Cyprian Ekwensi in the eyes of Ndigbo

The late Cyprian Ekwensi

The late Cyprian Ekwensi, a foremost writer and literary giant, will be remembered as one of those who shaped the destiny of Nigeria through his books and contributions to nation-building, writes Jude Ossai.

DEATH, so says Julius Caesar, is a necessary end that will come when it will come. When the death of renowned writer, Cyprian Ekwensi, filtered into the ears of Nigerians last Sunday, it came to them by surprise because the news of his illness had been concealed by members of his immediate family.

Many residents of Enugu and its environs doubted the demise of the elder statesman. But by the following Monday, a national newspaper confirmed the story of his death.

If the news of the death of the literary giant had not been broken at Owerri, Imo State, where Nigerian authors were gathered for an annual convention, perhaps the public would have only heard of the death on Monday when family members formally announced it.

To the literary world, darkness fell again as Ekwensi breathed his last at the Niger Foundation, Enugu, where he had undergone an operation for an undisclosed ailment.

As if Ekwensi had a premonition of his death, earlier this year, he published Cash on Delivery, a collection of short stories, which turned out to be his last book. The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in conjunction with Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA) had treated him to a dinner when he launched the book.

When the Nigerian Tribune visited the residence of the late Ekwensi, the compound was filled with sympathisers who had come to console his widow.

Ekwensi death brought the two warring factions of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation together, as members of the factions were on hand to console his family both at Enugu, Enugu State and Nkwere Izukalla in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State.

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo faction of Dr. Dozie Ikedife while reacting to Ekwensi’s death, said that the death was a shock to the Igbo nation and the world at large.

Dr. Ikedife, who spoke on behalf of the group, told newsmen in Enugu that the death was a great loss to Nigeria and the literary world.

“It is a pity. He is one of the greatest authors of our time. He excelled in writing, journalism, arts and politics. He has been around for sometime and has written enough. Ndigbo, Nigerians and the literary world will miss him. We hope that his soul will rest in peace,” he said.

He prayed God to give the family the fortitude to bear the loss. Former Governor of old Anambra State, Chief Christian Onoh, described Ekwensi’s exit as a big blow to the literary world.

Chief Onoh, who was among the first set of people to visit the Enugu residence of the late writer, said the news came to him with shock. He expressed dismay that Ekwensi could die at a time when “we needed him around to reform our education sector”.

He said that the late novelist did not waste his time on earth and that his contributions to the literary world would live forever.

“It is sad, but we give glory to God. He lived to a great age and I feel very proud of him. Naturally I would not wish that a person of his intellectual abundance could just die, but God had the final say. It is sad but the world cannot forget him in a hurry,” he added.

Chief Onoh said that Ekwensi, who wrote many books, lived and died for writing and extended his sympathy to the Nigerian literary world as well as the people of the South East.

At about 1.00 pm on Monday, many people had signed the condolence register placed at the entrance to the sitting room.

It was learnt that members of Ekwensi’s family met at Nkwelle Ezukalla where they had consulted with Governor Peter Obi.

But what will Ekwensi be remembered for in Igboland? To Onuzulike Orji, an Enugu-based journalist, the death was a personal loss as he was his role model.

He said “here was somebody who did not study writing or journalism, coming from the blues and beating even the best that there was. He was trained in pharmacy; he came into writing and wrote world class novels.

“In the primary and secondary schools, I was exposed to some of his books including the Drummer Boy, Jaguar Nana, and The African Night Entertainment, among other.

“I found every one of them informative and entertaining. I never knew I was going to meet him in real life until sometime in 1998 when one of his sons was killed by soldiers around Onitsha, Anambra State. Working on the story, I interviewed him. His comportment, humility and mastery of sorrow in the face of provocation stunned me. I fell in love with him instantly.

“In fact, I had been planning to interview him on contemporary issues when illness and now death made that proposal a pipe dream.”

If there is anything the family of the deceased would cherish, it is a befitting burial for him.

Nigerian Tribune learnt that arrangements are going on simultaneously in Awka and Enugu with to give the late writer a befitting burial. It was also gathered that committees had been set up by both the family and the Anambra State Government to that effect.

Ekwensi, 86, married to Eunice Anyiwo and blessed with five children, began his writing career as a pamphleteer.

He was born in Minna, the present capital of Niger State. He attended Achimota College in the then Gold Coast (now Ghana). He studied at the Chelsea School of Pharmacy of London University and later lectured in Pharmacy in Lagos.

During the early upheaval in the Western and Northern parts of the country, Ekwensi relocated to Enugu after resigning his position as a director in the Ministry for Information. He joined Biafra and became the chairman of the Bureau for External Publicity and Adviser to Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who led the agitation for creation of Biafra Republic.

The residence of the late novelist in Enugu has become a Mecca of sort as people of different walks of life have trooped there to console the family.

His widow told newsmen that she was still too shocked to comment on her husband’s death.

However, Nwankwo, a family member, said he was yet to fathom how his brother died, saying that his brother was not sick prior to the day he passed on.

According to Nwankwo, the admission of Ekwensi in the Niger Foundation was a routine medical check up. It was when he got to the hospital that doctors discovered that his health was failing.

“I can tell you he had not been sick. We were all togerther last Christmas and I visited him in the village on the 26th of December. We discussed issues partaining to death. We did not know he was going to die,” he added.

Although, it is “un-African” to speak ill of the dead, nobody would have spoken bad of the late writer as people interviewed expressed shock and paid glowing tributes to Ekwensi, the father of Nigerian literature.

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