50 YEARS GONE, CHRISTOPHER OKIGBO’S LEGACY LIVES

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Yinka Olatunbosun

For many literature scholars in Nigeria, Christopher Okigbo’s name evokes lots of literary landmarks. His name is associated closely with post-colonial literature; a movement in African literature that was ethically-blind as well as with the heroes of the Biafran war.

Imagine Okigbo’s name in today’s world of hashtags. It would be dumbfounding to see a conglomerate of associations, which puts this legendary poet at the centre of conversations ranging from national to global.

To remember this literary colossus, a three-day conference has been scheduled to hold from September 20 till 22 at his alma mater, University of Ibadan to celebrate the life and times of this great influencer in African literature. The conference is the brainchild of Christopher Okigbo Foundation in collaboration with the University of Ibadan. With the theme, “Legacy of Christopher Okigbo: 50 Years on”, discourses and paper presentations will run simultaneously with other activities in honour of the great poet.

The Chief Adviser, Christopher Okigbo Foundation, Dr. Wale Okediran revealed that the keynote address at the conference will be delivered by the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, a contemporary of the late Okigbo. Although not all the sub-themes were not disclosed, it is inevitable that the issues of national unity and a writer’s commitment to his society will be broached. Other topics to be discussed are: “Okigbo As a Father”, “Okigbo As a Writer”, amongst others.

It is of interest to note that Okigbo died during the Biafran war at 35. He was a writer cut down in his prime but his works have outlived him. They have remained subjects of critical discourses and scholarly journals. Sadly, most of his works had gone out of print in the 80s and many students of literary arts relied on public libraries and other sources to read his pieces. The good news is that his collections of poetry will be available at the conference venue while some poetry will be read at the conference that will have as moderator, Ms. Molara Wood.

The President, Christopher Okigbo Foundation, Obiageli Okigbo, expressed optimism that Okigbo’s name will be immortalised by a series of literary activities one of which is the all Africa Prize for Literature. The award, which was instituted in honour of Okigbo and managed by the Association of Nigerian Authors, went comatose after two editions due to lack of sponsorship.

She also revealed that the gala night will be held at Cambridge House, Ibadan which will be hosted by Chief Joop Berkhout. There will also be an unveiling of a UNESCO plaque in honour of late Okigbo at the event, which will be chaired by the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemek Achebe (Agbogidi).

For the veteran journalist, Kunle Ajibade, “Christopher Okigbo was charismatic, cosmopolitan; larger than life.”
He voiced his concern that the camaraderie, which existed among the first and second generation of writers, is lacking among the writers of the present literary landscape. Okigbo studied classics at the University of Ibadan, joined Mbari Club and was a friend to the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and the late Chinua Achebe. He joined Soyinka in performing some nationalistic songs. Okigbo was the West African representative for Cambridge University Press and relocated from Ibadan to Nsukka to fight for the independence of Biafra. His works include Limits (1964), Silences (1962-65), Path of Thunder (1965-67), Labyrinths (1971).