July 19, 2024

Odili Ujubuonu @60 says: I’m a conscript of the muse

  • June 24, 2024
  • 9 min read
Odili Ujubuonu @60 says: I’m a conscript of the muse

By Anote Ajeluorou (who was in Awka)

IN a well-laid out, leafy ground in Awka with lush lawns, paved paths and well-kept trees, the Anambra Sate capital, sits the Prof. Kenneth Dike Library. You take a flight of steps in two rungs up into the bowel of the library dedicated to one of Africa’s legendary historians and first Nigerian Vice Chancellor of University college, Ibadan, and you enter the library hall where Mazi Odili Ujubuonu was being celebrated. You enter with celebrated lyrical poet Mr. Chijoke Amu-Nnadi in tow and you’re ushered to the high table, with journalist, poet and painter, Mr. Chuka Nnabuife conducting proceedings. The students are seated among other well-wishers of the writer and advertising guru, who wrote the anthem for his state. University and secondary school students read excerpts from some of Ujubuonu’s works to give a foretaste of what the celebration was about. The birthday cake also had the four of Ujubuonu’s book covers wrapped around it.

With the ancient rituals of breaking kola-nut and offering of prayers the Igbo way, skilfully conducted by Nnabuife over, fellow poet and Co-founder of Awka Literary Society (ALS), James Ngwu Eze, takes the floor to open proceedings proper. Eze’s remarks hinge on why a man like Ujubuonu deserves being celebrated. He stressed on the immortality of a writer and his work, and why they should be taken seriously, as those who chart the right path for society, saying every other thing, like wealth, is ephemeral and is soon forgotten.

According to Eze, “Odili is a writer of note, someone who has spent sometime thinking about the problems of mankind, spent a lot of time to look at our society, to look at our past and the riches of our history and trying to weave our cultural heritage into a moving narrative. When such a person clocks 60, we pause and ponder. That’s why we decided to gather you all here today. As our Igbo people say, ‘if you honour a king, you get honoured by royalty!’ Having to stand in the presence of greatness, you may also not miss your mark in life. This man looked into our past and the ways our societies were made. Our men and women have always humbled themselves before higher personages and learnt at their feet.”

Eze commended some students who performed and told them how lucky they were for the opportunity they had of seeing the writers on the high table, an opportunity he said he didn’t have as a young person. He also noted that the generational interface in the hall was heart-warming, as it gives a glimpse of continuity that would surely happen. He urged the students to always imbibe the right values that the writers in the hall stand for and expouse in their works.

“And that was why when I saw these school children entertain us earlier, I was moved by the promise that was so evident. And I said that even if this event does not achieve anything else, it has given us opportunity to realise that when our generation exits this stage, that there will be no void whatsoever. There was one who performed a poem on libraries and it got me awed that she came up with such a staggering presentation. I’m happy. And the essence of gathering the children here is to bring the future to an interface with the present. We make sure that efforts were made to bring the young ones, so that we can meet at somewhere, at some memorable intersection.

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Odili Ujubuonu signing copies of his book for some university students… in Awka

“And I tell you what: if I had the opportunity that you young ones have today, the opportunity of meeting people on this side of the table (the writers), my life would not have been the same. Obi Cubana may not be here and those billionaires, but these people, long, long after they are gone, successive generations will remember them. But nobody will remember Obi Cubana in 10 to 20 years. I’m sure you have never heard of someone like MKO Abiola. Yet there was a time that everybody in Nigeria knew Abiola. He was the wealthiest man in Africa, much, much bigger in stature that Dangote. His philanthropy was legendary. But who remembers him today? He had wives and over 100 children although DNA has reduced the number to a little above 50. But today nobody remembers him. But just two days ago, we gathered in Enugu to discuss Unoka, just one character in Chinua Achebe’s famous book, Things Fall Apart, and not the entire book. So authors live forever! This is after more than 10 years after Achebe’s death.

“That’s why we want you to understand the right path and absorb and internalise the right values. Look at your role models here. They don’t look rich today, but they are richer than your billionaires. Mark my words. The force of an idea is unstoppable; neither time nor tide can stop the march if an idea. From the recent interview Ujubuonu granted TheArthubNg, I shook my head and said, ‘look, this guy is a philosopher; this guy is a thinker; this guy is a seer!’”

Writer, journalist and culture critic, Mr. Uzor Maxim Uzoatu eulogised Ujubuonu in glowing terms in his lecture titled ‘Odili Ujubuonu: 60 Years of Magic and Memorable Aesthetics’, when he said, “Odili Ujubuonu is a Renaissance man; that is, he is among those rare beings who have their hands and grey matter in diverse pies. I guess I am only qualified to talk about his delivery in the field of literature since I am mightily unqualified to talk about those other fields where Ujubuonu excels such as writing the Anambra State anthem, corporate governance, management wizardry, monetary wealth or even sartorial elegance!”

In his lecture, Uzoato also lent credence to Ujubuonu’s many accomplishments as a writer of note with the many prizes he has won over the years with his scintillating works.

“Ujubuonu began his novelistic forays on a prize-winning note with his debut novel, Pregnancy of the Gods, which I was privileged to read in manuscript,” he Uzoato said. “The novel won the coveted ANA/Jacaranda Prize for Prose in 2006. There is this old jinx that it is a tough act to follow a successful first novel with an equally successful second novel. Ujubuonu broke the jinx with his critically acclaimed 2008 second coming entitled Treasure in the Winds that became a nominee for The Nigerian Prize for Literature 2008 and the winner of the 2008 ANA/Chevron Environmental Prize. Ujubuonu’s third novel, Pride of the Spider Clan, continued the winning streak as it was nominated for the 2012 Wole Soyinka Prize for Africa and won the 2012 ANA Prose Prize.”

Uzoato concluded by hailing Ujubuonu as “a modern master gifted with the magical eloquence of ancient lore.”

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A cross section of secondary school students at Odili Ujubuonu@60 celebration

Ujubuonu was later put on the hot seat to respond to questions raised by writers such as Amu-Nnadi, Eze, Barrister Chinwuba Chukwura, Chuka Nnabuife, Chike Ofili, Dr. Asika Ikechukwu of Odumegu Ojukwu University, both secondary school students and those of Nnamdi Azikiwe University in attendance, asked him about his literary craft and personal life. He did not disappoint, as he dispensed with the questions in his usual calm and aplomb manner. On why he writes and why anyone should listen to him asked by Amu-Nnadi after he’d read one of his poetic pieces titled ‘You live’, Ujubuonu said, “I have said it time without number that I’m a conscript of the muse. I write because I’m a medium. My characters form in my mind; all I do is let them be, come into being. I will give you an example. Those of you that read Pregnancy of the Gods, when Ekenma was dying, I stained the manuscript with tears, because I was crying. I didn’t want her to die, but the story wanted her to die. (To which the audience jeered that he killed her – laughter). I did not kill her. If I killed her I wouldn’t be crying. Stories live in us; we birth them in books.

“Why you should listen to me? You don’t have to listen to be. You listen to the voice that emerge out of it.”

On the intersection between literature and politics and why Nigerian writing doesn’t seem to have had any tangible effects on positive political outcomes, Ujubuonu said, “I believe that the universe of the book does not live within a millennium neither does it live at the end of a millennium. A part of a book may happen 400 years later, but as a writer, my job is to deliver my message. The morality of my story has to be credible; my life has to reflect what I have written in that book. And through the work that I do today I’m on the cross, as it must reflect who I am. Those I work with are the ones who can say I live what I preach. My work is me. When my work is finished it has millennia to transform Nigeria or not to transform Nigeria. I can’t speak for my work, but I can speak for myself.”

Ujubuonu spoke about his lifestyle, how he has maintained his youthful looks that bely his 60 years of existence on mother earth. He said he eats the food his ancestors ate, with fufu and good soup being the main one, and certainly not ones he does not know how they are processed; he undertakes occasional fasting, lots of exercises and a calm disposition that does not allow anything unduly worry him, he said.

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