I have problems with literary scholars, critics who think very little of my works — Eze Chukwuemeka Ike

Posted: May 18, 2011 in arts/culture

From iconic works like Toads for Supper (1965), The Naked Gods (1970), The Potter’s Wheel (1973), to others equally interesting like the Sunset at Dawn (1976), Expo ‘77 (1980), The Chicken Chasers (1980), The Bottled Leopard (1985), Our Children Are Coming (1990), in addition to nearly a dozen other works, Eze (Prof) Chukwuemeka Ike OFR, NNOM  had never failed to light up the passion for scholarship in the hearts of the teeming immediate post colonial Nigerian youth and literary enthusiasts alike.

His resume is as intimidating as his impact on the Nigerian literary genre remains impressive.

Born Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike, on April 28, 1931, Orumba North, Anambra State, Prof Ike is known for a mixture of lampoon, humour and satire in his works. He owes a little bit of his style to his Igbo cultural upbringing. He studied history, English and Religious Studies at the University of Ibadan and earned a Masters degree at the Stanford university.

Among many youths, he is popular as the author of Expo ‘77, a critical look at academic examination abuses in West Africa. He had written the book then in portrayal and reflection of his experiences as Registrar and Chief executive of the then Ghana-based regional examination council from 1971 to 1979.

The then Eze-in-waiting was raised in a strict home. His father was a farmer, civic leader and disciplinarian who instilled in his son the necessity of civic duties and education.

Chukwuemeka started early education at an Aro school in his native town. He left his town for further education at Ife-Mbaise and Umuahia. Eminent Nigerians who attended the same school include Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, and Ken Saro Wiwa.

From his primary education days at both the Aro Settlement School, Ndikelionwu (1937-1939  and the CMS Central School, Nnewi (1944) and secondary education at the Government College Umuahia (1945-1950); at the University College, Ibadan for his BA and the Stanford University, United States for his Master’s, Eze Ike equipped himself early for the tasks ahead his chosen path.

And thus began a life of public administration, academic service, diplomatic career and the list goes on.

Now at 80 years of age and with nearly three years on the throne as the Ikelionwu XI in his hometown of Ndikelionwu in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, Prof Chukwuemeka Ike is of a highly and regrettably depleted specie of Nigeria’s  literary torchbearers. Prof Ike was coroneted  the 11th Ikelionwu of Ndikelionwu on October 18, 2008.

Sadly, his revered literary clan in Nigerian literature is heavily depleted. The literary icon is among a rare breed of writers who directly inherited the baton from the Amos Tutuolas, Cyprian Ekwensis, and the Chinua Achebes of Nigerian literature, specifically in the art of novel writing; simply telling a story and allowing the reader decide on an appropriate reaction.

As the novelist turned 80,  this month, art advocacy group, the Committee for Relevant Art *CORA) and the Nigerian Book Foundation which parent body, the Nigerian Book Trust Fund, Prof Ike himself, helped set up, on Friday, May 13 chose celebrate the literary icon with the Nigerian International Book Fair (NIBF) Special Award, in addition to an even extra special two-part discussion solely on his works.

The platform of the just-concluded Nigerian International Book Fair (NIBF) at the University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos ideally provided that auspicious occasion as the Eze turned special guest of the Nigerian book community and the star attraction at the annual fair.

To demonstrate the popularity of Ike’s works and the level of awareness of the literary icon’s book, the organizers chose students from the Alakoto Senior Secondary School in Ajegunle, to discuss the Eze book, as according to Toyin Akinosho, CORA’s chief, the choice was deliberate as they could easily have picked students from any of the highbrow schools in the state to engage in the discussion.

The second part of the discussion which was moderated by Professor Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo of the Department of English, University of Lagos featured Odili Ujubonu, author of the award winning novel, Pregnancy of the Gods, as well as newly published Hero of the Spider Clan,  and  the poet, Tade Ipadeola, president of PEN Nigeria and author of The Rain Fardel: A Collection of Poems.

When it was time for the Eze to speak, it was explanatory. He needed to clear the air on assumptions, presumptions and comparisons and made in his direction by critics and reviewers alike. And it was very revealing.

For a writer who had far removed himself from the heat of the limelight just  like Cyprian Ekwensi before he died in 2009, Ike sought the solitude of retirement and traditional life as monarch  as rationale for detaching himself from the plethora of discussions and roundtables that had before now dominated topics at numerous meetings in the literary circles over his works.

Accompanied to the event by wife, Ugoeze (Prof) Adebimpe Ike, the Eze addressed the audience as he stood to deliver his lines, as if from one his bestselling novels.

“When I began writing,” he reminisced, “the idea was culture conflict, which was in vogue; but I know that a novel is also a mirror for society. So, I moved away from the issue of culture conflict over the years; that there was a need for a critical evaluation of society. I went on to use the novel to critically analyze the problems of society with a view to finding solutions. Writing is not an easy thing.

“I have problems with literary scholars and critics, who think very little of my works. What gives me joy is that some young generation persons send me essays about the way their teachers have ignored my novels.”

“I laugh when people say I’m writing my own biography,” he said. “It doesn’t work out like that. A writer uses direct and indirect experiences, which he learns from. I have friends, who are ready to tell me their own exploits. Toads for Supper was dedicated to my wife Bimpe; so, people thought Aduke is the one. My wife has never been to a mental hospital except to visit. Toads for Ever came (a sequel to Toads for Supper after 25 years) because of pressure from my readers from all over the world for me to do a sequel.

“There was a man who kept asking me all the time, What about Aduke? I didn’t know what to do. I had to go back to read Toads for Supper to get the hang of it. However, writing Toads for Ever was a tasking exercise. But it gave me a chance to resolve certain things that were unresolved, particularly issues about tradition and modernity and how best to tackle them. It gave me a chance for young people to talk back at elders, how to move forward in a world constantly changing, and how to change accordingly.” Professor Ike is acknowledged nationally and internationally as a major and inimitable Creative Wrier. A Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management (FNIM) since 19887, Professor Ike has received national and international honours in recognition of his achievements.

The major awards/honours include the following: Hon. FCGI (Honorary Fellow, City & Guilds of London Institute)( 1978); Honorary Fellow in Writing, University of Lowa, Lowa, USA 1987); Distinguished Friend of the Council (WAEC) Award, the West African Examinations Council (1994);Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) honoris causa, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1998); Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) honoris causa, University of Lagos (2000);        Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Ibadan Alumni Association (2000); Honours Award, National Council for Arts and Culture (2001); National Honours in the rank of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR)( 2001).

Others include: The Recognition Award, Nigeria International Book Fair (2003); Outstanding Achievement Award, Nigerian Booksellers Association (2006); Award of Honour, Anambra State University (2007); Award for Excellence, Nigerian Book Fair Trust, Eastern Zone (2007); Fonlon-Nicholas Award, conferred by the African Literature Association at its 34th Annual Conference held at Eastern Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois, USA,  April 5, 2008 (2008); Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM) – Nigeria’s highest national prize for intellectual and academic achievement (2008); ThisDay Newspapers  2009 Lifetime Achievement Award (2009); PAWA Honorary Membership Award, by the Pan African Writers’ Association in Accra, Ghana, to mark its 20th Anniversary (2009); the Eze Aro-in-Council and Nzuko Arochukwu Worldwide bestowed on Ike the Ugwuaro traditional  title (2009); Garden City Literary Festival Outstanding Contribution Award, Port Harcourt (2010 ).

Eze married Adebimpe Olurinsola (later professor) Ike (nee Abimbolu)  December 13, 1959 at the Chapel of resurrection, University College, Ibadan. They have a son, Prince Ositadinma Adeolu Nnanyelugo Olusanya, a grandson, Chukwuemeka Ike II, and two granddaughters, Adaeze Adebimpe and Chidi Obeke II.


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