Daily Champion (Lagos)
October 4, 2006
Posted to the web October 4, 2006
LAST Tuesday, September 26, one of Nigeria's most profound, versatile, and enduring creative writers marked his 85th birthday.
The birthday was a celebration of a lifetime of excellence not just of literary excellence, but also achievements in areas so crowded that lesser mortal would have found little or no time to think, not to talk of thoughts in writing and book forms.
Between stints as teacher, forester, pharmacist, Board chairmanships, Information, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) (1961-1967) and Director General of defunct Broadcasting Corporation of 'Biafra' (BCB) (1967-1970), Cyprian Ekwensi found time to publish about 40 books beginning with Ikolo and Wrestler and The Leopard's Claw, both in 1947.
Ekwensi's most memorable output were, of course, the handful of The Passport of Mallam Ilia. The Drummer Boy, An African Night's Entertainment, Burning Grass and the then scandalous Jagua Nana (1961) that chronicled the adventures, schemings and prurience of urban living with the courtesan nicknamed Jagua Nana because of her volumptious, open-air swagger.
Until Jagua Nana, (1961) Nigerian authors, except in Onitsha-market formats had never openly explored the underworld of modern Nigeria and the socio-cultural dynamics that were imperatively shaping our 20th century post-independence behaviours, and the effects of urbanisation. Cyprian Ekwensi brought this sociological awareness to consciousness of his reading public.
Though, most of his more unpopular works were done before the civil war (1967-70) Ekwensi bounced back with other underground gems of stories like the Samankwe series 1973 and 1975. Many more books including Jaguar Nana's Daughter (1985). Remarkably, Ekwensi is still writing, publishing, running things in general, at 85 years young. Friends and well-wishers (including this Newspaper) had gathered last week, almost reverentially, to honour this resolute chronicler who has enriched the collective memories of Nigerians through his selfless, non-hankering writing endeavours.
The composition, and make up of those who gathered from all over Nigeria demonstrated Ekwensi's cultural spread and acknolwedgement. This is not surprising considering the writer's 'triple heritage' of these great Nigerian cultures by birth and association.
Ekwensi was born in Minna, present Niger State in 1921. He attended Government Colleges in Jos (1931-1936) and Ibadan (1936-1941) and then went to Achimota College Ghana in 1943.
Ekwensi later read pharmacy at Yaba College (as it was then called) and University of London between 1951-1956.
In between this training and re-training Ekwensi taught school at Igbobi College Yaba, (1947-51), lectured at the School of Pharmacy in Lagos and a superintendent of Nigeria Medical Services until 1957. From then, Ekwensi was Head of Features, NBC/FRCN till 1967, as first Nigerian Director of Information (FRCN) 1961-1967 when the civil war broke out.
Ekwensi's relevance as a man may well have depended on the books and stories that he wrote. Nevertheless, the author did equally well in his day-life as administrator, informatist, publicist and businessman.
Ekwensi has lived the fruitful, frill-less life of all sages of history who let their actions speak in their honour rather than speak up for themselves.
Cyprian has not gone un-noticed by his country and international community that have bestowed on him certain honours which include the order as Member Federal Republic (MFR) in 2001, and induction into the Nigerian Academy of Arts in 2005.
All the same there are grounds to believe that the exact worth and relevance of this pan-Nigerian writer whose arresting depiction of our various cultural realities, have been under-stated.
There are speculations that a university chair may be established in Ekwensi's honour. This is all very welcome as ways towards the immortalisation of this author that captured the spirit of his times as well as other renowned practitioners of literacy realism.
Which ever way the argument goes, Cyprian Ekwensi's place in the pantheon of writers that have reported the 20th century to Nigerians, is well assured.
While writers like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, explored in their works the cultural , political and intellectual realities of the past, and future, Ekwensi showed us ourselves in our natural habitats and how they were shaping our sociology in post-colonial Nigeria.
There in lies the ultimate relevance of Ekwensi to our times. For this, we salute this All-Nigerian writer.
We wish Ekwensi many more years of productive life.
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Photos from http://www.cirddoc.org/images/cyprian.jpg