Research Capacity-Building in Africa
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Libraries could play key role in managing research data - Data - Research Information

Libraries could play key role in managing research data - Data - Research Information | Research Capacity-Building in Africa |

Sharing and long-term preservation of research data are increasingly important to the research process, strengthening the process of science and maximising a funder’s return on research investment. While some fields have embraced the sharing of data more fully than others, the sharing of research data is of growing interest across all scientific disciplines.

Via Elizabeth E Charles, Mark E. Deschaine, PhD
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Literature, Languages and Diversities: How has Nigeria fared since 1914?

Literature, Languages and Diversities: How has Nigeria fared since 1914? | Research Capacity-Building in Africa |
The year 1914 marks the founding of a potentially great country. A hundred years after, the adverb ‘potentially’ which modifies the adjective ‘great’ has refused to delete itself because of the long years of both poor leadership and bad follow­ership. In spite of her occasional gestures of distinction combined with her size, population, affable climate, soil fertility and all kinds of re­source within, including trained hands and bril­liant minds, Nigeria has not been able to con­vert her endowments into lasting monuments of grandeur. Instead we continue to be feckless and unpatriotic, leaving ourselves each time at the mercy of clay-footed potentates who think ethnically; who turn an endowed nation into a bastion of poverty, where corruption is king; and nepotism its fraternal twin. Yet this is a na­tion of writers1, the home of laureates at vary­ing levels, including one Nobel Prize in the kit­ty. A nation of ‘pen-pushers’ is a nation where the intellect prevails; it should be a nation of creativity, attainments and enlightenment.

Before 1914 there had flourished literatures in the various languages spoken in what is now Nigeria. In the North, Arabic literary scholar­ship was the vogue. Much poetry blossomed, whether in Arabic or Ajami (the Hausa version of the Arabic language) which is perhaps why poetry in the modern tongue of English has re­cently erupted there2. Before we proceed fur­ther, it is pertinent to cite Oseni who remarks that “over eighty per cent of the literary works in Arabic by Nigerian writers are in verse, and many of them have been studied in detail in Nigeria, Egypt, Greece, Britain, United States, Germany etc” (3). This is not to say that the North did not have its own indigenous litera­ture different from the Arabic or Ajami variet­ies. These literatures existed side by side, Ara­bic/Ajami being the exclusive pursuit of the lo­cal educated elite who were scant and limited in number. According to E.N. Obiechina,

…proficiency in the use of Arabic writing has remained at all times the prerogative of a small section of the population, the scribes and the learned men; it was never diffused among the entire population. The production of literature in the Arabic script as well as its use of communication purposes has remained largely the pre­serve of a tiny intelligentsia of religious and administrative dignitaries. (6)

This was perhaps those I.Y. Yahaya referred to as malamai (scholars, teachers) “who devel­oped a unique system of learning, mainly in two phases: the first phase is the search for the mastery of Koran… and the second phase is the search for specialization in such branches of knowledge as jurisprudence, theology, syntax, logic, law prosody and the sciences of astrol­ogy and mathematics” (10-11).

In the South, before 1914, traditional lit­erature held sway. Described in many ways as oral literature, orature, folk literature, oral tradition etc. indigenous literature is a survival­ist art. By which is meant that this literature has always in Africa since immemorial times and surprisingly not waning; its impact is still felt, even as this piece is being written up. Oral transmission of the Nigerian experience is still popular in spite of the many decades of the introduction of literacy. Notwithstanding the mutual habitation of the ancient and the modern in recent folktale formulation, a shar­ing of abode popularized by Amos Tutuola in his ‘tall, devilish story’ – to use the haunting words of Dylan Thomas – new folklore is still being produced3. Apart from the proverb, the formulation of folktales and fables, riddles, epigrams, myths and legends is a continuous loric activity.4

There is no doubt that folktale telling, rid­dling games etc. are on the decline, their use in modern Nigerian literature is a cherished recipe for an eventful aesthetic experience. It is difficult to say when this cooperation be­tween folklore and the modern literary art in Nigeria will end as this collaboration seems to serve the two well. This artistic collusion is not only noticeable in written literature, it is easily observed in proverbs, riddles, anecdotes and new songs, particularly when such songs relate to the activities of the modern politician (see Ezikeojiaku, “Poetry” 272-288).

A writer whose deployment of folklore is so obvious is Amos Tutuola. A few critics had tried to depict him and his foray into folklore as no more different from what a stamp collec­tor does with old postal stamps. Some of them deny him merit and originality and give the im­pression that he has simply brought folktales known to many people together and put them into semi-literate English.5 Some West Afri­cans were even unhappy with Tutuola’s pub­lishers who they accuse of having shown that this was all the English the newly emancipated Africans would be writing. However, more recent local critics have shown more under­standing. While they do not think that a work like The Palm-wine Drinkard (1952) will be Africa’s best use of English, they consider Tu­tuola’s censurers as hasty and self-restrictive.6

As it is today, to write a piece of African literature without the injection of African traditional materials is like preparing a soup without thinking of salt. African oral materi­als found even in snippets confer authenticity on the modern African literary heritage. Thus Achebe, Soyinka, Okigbo, Okara, Aluko, Clark, Ike, Amadi etc. are today remembered among other reasons for what they have made of orature which they inherited from their dif­ferent cultures. The inculcation of traditional literature did not stop with the older artists, recent writers are even more aggressively ad­ept at appropriating folk materials. Osofisan, Okri, Osundare, Fatoba, Sowande, Ofeimun, Enekwe, Nwabueze, Ezenwa-Ohaeto have in various proportions incorporated folk elements in their writings such that their rootedness is not in doubt.

Literature in Local Languages

Literature in indigenous languages is a lit­erary afflatus that is hardly given attention. Yet this is the mainstay of our claims to hav­ing a buoyant literary tradition. At best edu­cated members of the different Nigerian eth­nic groups knew indigenous writers of their expression, and at worst those even within the ethnic territory who have readily encoun­tered these writers in their works are few and far between.7 Often writings in English were encouraged while those in the local languages were not given the same impetus. However, the curriculum change of the 1980s has made it imperative for secondary school students to offer at least one Nigerian language in their School Certificate examinations, thus compel­ling them to be more familiar with their indig­enous literature and language. Thus is com­mendable but it could be better.

Literature in Hausa

It has been pointed out that literature in Northern Nigeria is traceable to the Ajami writers who were essentially elitist and reli­gious. Moreover, they largely wrote poems while showing no real interest in the novel and drama traditions. The reason was that poetry was used to convey their religious bent while prose and drama are by their nature – given to secularism and entertainment. Christian missionary societies played a role in instigat­ing Hausa literature. However, their outputs were focused on proselytising literature writ­ten in both Ajani and Boko scripts. Similarly a newspaper like Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, first printed in 1939, published in Hausa has played a strident role in advancing literature in North­ern Nigeria.

No mention of poetry writing in the North is complete without reference to Shehu Usman Dan Fodio who lived in the 19th century. He is said to have composed 480 poems, some of them short, ranging from 11 lines to 450 stan­zas. He also wrote books in Arabic. While his poems were written in Arabic, Fulfulde and Hausa, “some 25 poems (out of the lot) are composed in Hausa by him in either Arabic or Fulfulde and later translated in similar poetic form into Hausa” (Yahaya 12). Dan Fodio did not write alone, members of his family wrote poems as well. His daughter, brother and his son wrote varying number of poems. There were also the scholars who wrote poems in Hausa, in addition to their outputs in Arabic and Fulfulde. As there was virtually no print media in the Hausaland of the 19th century, the scholars had their poems written on plain sheets of paper in local ink and published by being re-copied by their disciples and students. According to Yahaya, “koranic, blind beggars recited them after congregational prayers in mosques, in market places where they found keen listeners” (12).

The establishment of the Translation Bu­reau (and later Literature Bureau) in the 1930s, first headed by R.M. East, saw to the produc­tion of the first set of Hausa novels. Writers like Abubakar Iman, Abubakar Tafawa Bale­wa, Bello Kagara, Mohammadu Gwarzo etc. published novels. The writings freely made use of the oral traditions in their narrative tech­nique. Similarly, Dr. East was to edit and pub­lish in 1930 Six Hausa Plays in which five of the plays were folktales made into drama and the sixth one, the dramatization of the Bayijida legend. In 1953, the North Regional Literature Agency (NORLA) was established meant to augment the exertions of the Literature Bu­reau. NORLA saw to the compilation of the anthology of the poems of some important 20th century Hausa poets such as Sa’adu Zungur, Mu’azu Hadeja, Mudi Sipikin Alhaji Aliyu Namangi etc. After a seven-year period in 1959, NORLA was disbanded and its role later taken up by Gaskiya Corporation, and much later by Northern Nigerian Publishing Com­pany Limited (NNPC) which was responsible for the flourishing of Northern writings be­tween 1960 and 1967. Not only did NNPC re-publish NORLA titles, it published new Hausa novels like those by Umaru Dembo, A. Katsi­na, Garba Funtua, Abdulkadir Dangambo etc. In 1980, NNPC ran a creative writing contest which saw to the publication of the three of the submissions, adjudged as the best. In 1980 too, the Triumph Publishing Company was estab­lished by the Kano State Government which not only published two Hausa newspapers but brought out assorted books of various interests.

Literature in Igbo

Literature in the Igbo language was first encouraged by the Christian missionaries who needed a handle to spread Christianity. The church in 1840 directed Rev. J.F. Schon (German) and the Yoruba ex-slave-turned mis­sionary, Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther to study certain African languages which could assist their evangelistic missions on the Niger. They selected Hausa and Igbo. Igbo was found by Rev. Schon to be difficult while preferring Hausa although he hid under the claim that Hausa was more widely spoken, for his rec­ommendation. Schon managed to publish A Grammar of the Ibo Language in 1890 but a greater work on the Igbo language was done by Rev. Crowther and his fellow missioners. The cooperative efforts of a Baptist missionary named Clark and an African American called Merrick saw to the second collection of Igbo vocabulary in 1848. S.W. Koelle’s Polyglotta was published in 1854. In it there were 300 Igbo words “given in five different dialects” (E.N. Emenyonu 22). Dr. William Baikie pub­lished his self-account of his expedition into Igbo land, named the Niger Expedition in the year Koelle’s book was published. Crowther’s Isoama-Ibo Primer, first published in 1857, later republished in 1927, and known to us today as Azundu could be said to be the foun­dation of Igbo literary origins in the modern sphere.

In 1933, Pita Nwana from Ndizogu in Imo State published the first Igbo novel entitled, Omenuko. According to E.N. Emenyonu, Omenuko soon superceded Azundu in its educational function. “Generations of school children (as well as learners at Adult Educa­tion Centres) read it for its wit, volatile humour and its insistent moral over-tones. The say­ings of Omenuko became something like the John Ploughman’s talks” (“The Rise and De­velopment” 33). The next Igbo novel was to emerge thirty years later, precisely in 1963, Ije Odumodu Jere (The Trip made by Odumodu) written by Leopold Bell-Gam. In the same year D.N. Achara published Ala Bingo (Bingo Land). However, none of these two matched Omenuko in terms of its popularity, suavity and extent of acceptability.8 In the last 30 years, many Igbo plays and poems have been issued by well known publishing companies, includ­ing the Igbo plays of A.B. Chukuezi and the Igbo poetry collections edited by R.N. Eke­chukwu and E.N. Emenanjo in the 1970s and 1980s. One writer whose Igbo novels have helped to shape Igbo literature is Tony Ubesie. Written in fluid and enjoyable Igbo, his novels are memorable and touch at the base of human social and environmental psychology. His in­teresting novels in Igbo, largely titled in proverbs include,

Ukwa Ruo Oge Ya O Daa (When a breadfruit ripens it falls), Isi Akwu Dara n’Ala (A palm nut which falls on the ground), Juo Obinna (Ask Obinna), Miri Oku E Ji Egbu Mbe (The hot water with which the tortoise is killed), Ukpaka Miiri Onye Ubiam (The oil bean which has fruited for the poor man). By the time he died in 1994, Ubesie still had several unpublished Igbo titles which reveal how prolific he would have been had death alteresting novels in Igbo, largely titled in proverbs include, lowed him(see Ichie P.A. Ezikeojiaku, “Themes” 47-63). ­

Any narration of the development of Igbo literature without a mention of the singular effort of the late Maazi F.C. Ogbalu is faulty. He devoted over forty years of his life to the promotion of Igbo studies. Incidentally he had no formal training in Igbo, nor was he a linguist before voraciously plunging into Igbo studies. Using his press in Onitsha, he published his own books on the Igbo proverbs, Igbo idioms, riddles, customs and tradi­tions, etiquette, stories, poetry collections, fiction (four novels) and several books in Igbo for primary and secondary school students.

Initially trained as an economist and political scientist, he de­voted much of his teaching career at DMGS, Onitsha (also his alma mater) and St. Augustine’s Nkwerre to the promotion of the Igbo language. He was the first Head of the Department of Igbo Language and Culture at both the Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri and later at the defunct Anambra State Col­lege of Education, Awka. He was a very energetic man who expended his efforts largely on the promotion of Igbo language and culture; he did not just publish his own works on Igbo, he also published many important books by fellow Igbo in the Igbo language, not excluding the re-publication of pioneer books on the Igbo such as those by G.T. Basden, an early white mission­ary who worked in the Onitsha area.

Literature in Yoruba

If Ajayi Crowther, the Yoruba ex-slave, played such a promi­nent role in the founding of Igbo literature, one imagines that by the time he took on Igbo, much development had taken place in his Yoruba language. This was largely due to the influx of the liberated slaves – many of who were literate – into Yoruba land a little before the middle of the 19th century. There was also the influence of the establishment of Christian missions’ primary and secondary schools whose products soon acquired the art of reading and writing. Although the Yoruba renaissance which was stirred by the ex-slaves started in the 1880s, the book on Yoruba history by Rev.Samuel Johnson, completed in 1897 and published in 1921, could be said to be the proper take-off point. The year 1921 is a crucial year for both the Yoruba and Igbo studies, being also the year G.T. Basden’s book on the Igbo was published; the Yoruba ‘crusade’ was effected by a Yoruba while a white man published the first meaningful book on the Igbo.9 According to Toyin Falola, “most people who now claim to be knowledgeable in Yoruba history only narrate Johnson” (31). Basden’s book on the Igbo may not have been historical like Johnson’s on the Yoruba, what is now known about Igbo culture and tradition was first mooted in that book.

One of the critical sources of Yoruba interest in literature is Deniga’s West African Biographies (1914). Adeoye Deniga or­ganised a series of lectures over later years centred on African leaders of West Africa. Each lecture was published as a pam­phlet; he was to bring together these lectures to form a book. His second volume of these series was published in 1934. It was not until 1939 that D.O. Fagunwa’s Ogboju-ode ninu igbo irunmale (The skilful hunter in the forest of spirits), a long prose narrative in the tradition of Yoruba folklore, was published. Those who could not read Yoruba had to wait for Wole Soy­inka’s translation of the story under the title, The Forest of a Thousand Daemons: A Hunter’s Saga (1968). Some thirteen years later, precisely in 1952, Amos Tutuola, writing in ‘quaint English’ published The Palm-wine Drinkard. It was hailed in Europe and America but distrusted in his country. He wrote just as Fagunwa did except that his linguistic medium was not Yo­ruba; his tales which were linked artistically to yield The Palm-wine Drinkard were essentially Yoruba stories. Since Fagunwa, other writers who write like him in the Yoruba language include Ogundele, Omoyajowo, Fatanmi etc. Others who wrote in the realistic tradition were I.O.Delano who published his first Yoru­ba novel in 1955 and his second work of fiction in 1963. Since then there have emerged the novels of J.F. Odunjo, Afolabi Ola­bimtan, Adebayo Faleti, T.A. Ladele, Ola Owolabi, Kola Akin­lade, A. Oyedele, Yamitan, Awoniyi etc. Novels of detection have also made an impact. Thus the works of Oladejo Okediji and Kola Akinlade are well known in this artistic sub-genre.

Notable Trajectories in the Development of Nigerian Literature Since 1914

The Ogunde Tradition
Ebun Clark informs that about March 1945, Hubert Ogunde, a police constable resigned from his job and modelled his Af­rican Music Research Party after the Alarinjo. Alarinjo was a local Yoruba theatre of masked strolling players which existed from the 16th century. This theatre itself took its own roots from the Egungun (masquerade) as “ancestor worship and during the reign of Alaafin Ogbolu who acceded to the throne at Oyo Ighoho about 1590 as a court entertainment” (Adedeji 221). Thus before Ogunde, Alarinjo professional actors, usu­ally masked, performed largely for the nobility, and later for the church. However, when Ogunde took it outside of the royal courts, he stripped it of its Egungun origination meant only for the enjoyment of the monarchy; he allowed it to metamorphose from flattering the court and the nobility for their amusement, to casting satirical butts at both the nobility or any other impor­tant figure for that matter. Unlike the Alarinjo of the nobility, Ogunde’s actors wore no masks. Rather than rely on the pa­tronage of the monarchy, Ogunde’s Alarinjo re-creation relied on the patronage of the public through gate-takings. Ogunde introduced Yoruba commercial drama by “taking indoors what was traditionally an open-air theatre” (Ebun Clark 4).

Members of Ogunde’s cast were largely made up of himself and members of his immediate and extended families. He did so in order not to suffer from the attrition of actors normally associated with such artistic enterprise which saw people leave a little after making their fame. In his dramatic productions, oral tradition was very critical. Although his theatre is often linked to the Ghana concert party – a largely Western variety style – his theatrical performances were unique because they were folk-based. His operas include, “The Garden of Eden and the Throne of God” (1944); “Worse than Crime” (1945), “Tiger’s Empire” (1946); “Strike and Hunger” (1946), “King Solomon” (1948), “Bread and Butter” (1950), “My Darling Fatima” (1951), “Song of Unity” (1960), “Yoruba Ronu” and “Otito Koro” (1964) etc. “Bread and Butter” (1950) attracted the ire of the white colonial overlords for which he was arrested and charged for sedition. He was later released but fined 125 pounds for “Strike and Hunger” and £6 for “Bread and Bullet” (1950). Those who followed after Ogunde were Kola Ogun­mola, Oyin Adejobi, Duro Ladipo, Ade Afolayan, Obotunde Ijimere (who wrote a play in English), Baba Sala etc.

Onitsha Market Literature
Around the time Ogunde’s theatre was being founded, a literary revolution was taking, place in Onitsha. It was the burgeoning period of pamphleteering in the later 1940, which went on to dominate the reading taste on the 1950s and 1960s. It was a revolution of a kind because those who had become newly educated wanted to show off their newly acquired skill of writing by writing short essays, stories and letters centred on ethics, love, biography and politics. The writers themselves were largely the not-so highly educated news reporters, trad­ers, booksellers, printers and secondary school students. Just as Onitsha traders financed the early Nollywood films and turned it into an instant money spinner, Onitsha was the home of this breath of writing. By the nature of the town, Onitsha was (and still is) “a self-confident place where a man would not be deterred even by insufficient learning from aspiring to teach and improve his fellows – and making a little profit as well” (Achebe 92).

Onitsha market literature was a literary epoch which listed some three decades (1940s to 1960s). Of all its writers, only Cyprian Ekwensi went on to be known as a novelist. An estab­lished Nigerian story-teller, “he pioneered this species of writ­ing” (Obiechina 17). A pharmacist by training, his two book­lets – When Love Whispers and Ikolo the Wrestler and Other Igbo Tales – were published by Tabansi Bookshop, Onitsha in 1947. Most narratives of the early development of Nigerian literature point to Ekwensi’s When Love Whispers, a novella which the author used to ‘get back at’, the father of the girl who discouraged his daughter from befriending him (Ekwen­si), who at the time was not materially well-off, and so was an unwanted son-in-law.10 The famous Onitsha market literature writers who could not rise to the stature of Ekwensi in Nigerian literature even though they wrote amply were Chika Okonyia, Ogali A. Ogali, Orlando Iguh, O. Olisa, F.N. Stephen etc.

Independence Euphoria
The independence that was coming yielded its euphoria which extended to Nigerian writing. A little earlier, writers like Cyprian Ekwensi, Amos Tutuola, Chinua Achebe, James Ene Henshaw and even Gabriel Okara (who published his first set of poems in Black Orpheus in 1957), started to emerge. Soy­inka’s earliest play productions were about the independence euphoria period. According to GG Darah, “By 1959 there were three performing groups that treated the Ibadan audience to plays taken from Greek, English and Nigerian repertories. Soyinka’s The Swamp Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel were among these” (8). Just as the UCH Ibadan trained writers were coming of age, the pioneer poets such as Dennis Osade­bay, K. Epelle, Enitan Brown, Adeboye Babalola etc held the forte. Osadebay’s full volume of poetry, his first and the first in Nigeria entitled Africa Sings was published in 1952. The Ibadan University coterie of writers, using The Black Orpheus and The Horn published alluring poetry. Most of the earliest contribu­tors to The Horn were Aig Higo, Okigbo, Pius Oleghe, Abiola Irele, J.P. Clark, and Wole Soyinka. Only Okigbo, Soyinka and Clark flourished as creative writers. Into the 1960s there were Nelson Olawaiye, Dapo Adelugba, Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie, Mabel Segun (then Mabel Imoukhuede) etc. Only the women Mabel Segun and Ogundipe-Leslie made some impact in liter­ary writing. The same euphoria encouraged the founding of the Mbari Club whose founding members included Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark, Amos Tutuola, Daniel Fagunwa, Ulli Beier (a Ger­man) Ezekiel Mphahlele (a South African on exile), Demas Nwoko etc.

Literature Arising from the Nigerian
Civil War

Every war yields its literature; the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970 could not be different. Nwahunanya remarks that “the five hundred and twelve novels produced by the American civil war indicate how fertile wars can be as material for creative literature” (x). Both the Biafran voices and the Federal voices in the Nigerian war novel are quite appreciable, not to include the drama and poetry it generated.11 Novelists on the Biafran side who readily come to mind are S.Okechukwu Mezu (Behind the Rising Sun, 1971); John Munonye (A Wreath for the Maidens, 1973);I.N.C Aniebo (Anonymity of Sacrifice, 1974); Chukwue­meka Ike (Sunset at Dawn, 1976); Ekwensi (Survive the Peace, 1976); Eddie Iroh (Toads of War, 1979); Ekwensi (Divided We Stand, 1980); Chimamanda Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun, 2006); Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (Roses and Bullets, 2011) etc. The Federal novelists on the war would include Isidore Okpewho (The Last Duty, 1976); Buchi Emecheta (Destina­tion Biafra,1982); Ken Saro-Wiwa (Sozaboy, 1985); Elechi Amadi (Estrangement, 1986); Festus Iyayi (Heroes, 1986) etc. We limited our eye-span to the novels only because to include poetry and drama would demand more space than I have been allowed. As it still is, no Nigerian experience has equalled in influence or has elicited the response of the Nigerian writer as much as the Civil War of 1967-1970.

Post-war Era: Poetry of a Different Tenor
In 1962, and at different interviews with Lewis Nkosi, the South African critic and writer, both Christopher Okigbo and Wole Soyinka showed by their utterances that they cared little about their audience. Okigbo is known to have said: “Somehow I believe I am writing for other poets all over the world to read and see whether they can share in my experience…. Nowadays everything is done for the study and on few occasions it steals out, I think it is to please, but not a large public” (135). Hear Soyinka: “… I don’t think I need bother about the audience, whether Nigerian or European” (177). Except the later Okigbo where he began to ‘care’, they not caring for their audience showed in much of their poetic output. Usually obscure and re­condite, their poetry was difficult to follow, at least for the aver­age educated Nigerian. It was a repelling type of verse much as they were respected abroad for writing like Pound, Eliot, Mal­larme or Tagore. At home their poetry could not be ‘touched’ by the local critic, let alone the ordinary lover of literature.

Whereas the leisure of pre-war Nigeria could contend with the draconian poetry of that era, post-war Nigerian versification was earnest and urgent, and called for audience consciousness and communicative impulse. The poets of post-war Nigeria seemed to have agreed with Gabriel Pearson who said in 1962 that “poetry undirected towards its audience must be sick” (61). Poets like Niyi Osundare, Chinweizu, Femi Osofisan, Femi Fatoba, Odia Ofeimun, Tanure Ojaide, Funso Aiyejina, Olu Obafemi, Obiora Udechukwu, Ada Ugah, Ossie Enekwe, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ben Okri etc sprang up. A whole coterie of poets has since come alive as a result of the courage of their precur­sors in the post-war vintage who were largely their university teachers: Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Olu Oguibe, Esiaba Irobi, Usman Shehu, Remi Raji, Toyin Adewale-Gabriel, Promise Okekwe, Lola Shoneyin, Funmi Adewole, Angela Agali, Hannatu Abdul­lahi, Nike Adesuyi, Hope Eghagha, Idris Amali, Uche Umez, Obiwu, Unoma Azua, Lynn Chukura, Hauwa Sambo etc just to mention these few. It is not my intention to want to exhaust the list or classify who belongs where in atomized terms; I am convinced that all post-war Nigerian poets were bitten by the same bug! The meeting point of these poets – whether ‘father’ or ‘son’/’daughter’ – is accessibility. There is in their vintage clarity of feeling rather than an aridity of it, which could lead a poet to be impassive and detached.

Female Writing
Since 1914, Nigeria’s female writers have had to make an impact too. Between that year and 1966 when Flora Nwapa wrote Efuru the females as writers were hardly heard. Before 1966, only men were heard. It was not just that there were no female writers of sufficient significance, women charac­ters were poorly represented in writing by men. In spite of Achebe’s ‘nneka’ (mother is supreme) Igbo creed of female superiority, espoused by Uchendu in Things Fall Apart, female critics, exemplified by Chikwenye Ogunyemi, saw Achebe’s literary effort as rather disrespecting the female. As she put it, “Achebe’s macho spirit with its disdain for women robs him of the symbolic insight into the nurturant possibilities of women’s vital role. Things fall apart also because of the misogyny or contempt for the female” (66).12

The women had complained that male writers generally presented the female in bad light. Male writers, they claim, had regaled their readers with the presentation of the female as witch, the faithless woman, the prostitute, femme fatale, the virago etc. while male writers who had a romantic inclination painted female characters as goddesses or helpless victims. Apart from Flora Nwapa who tried to correct this impression in her works, there were also Adaora Ulasi (novelist), Buchi Emas witch, the faithless woman, the prostitute, echeta (novelist), Zulu Sofola (dramatist), Mabel Segun (poet), Tess Onwueme (dramatist), Zaynab Alkali (novelist), Ifeoma Okoye (novelist), Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie (poet), Catherine Acholonu (poet), Ifi Amadiume (poet), Akachi Adimora-Ezeig­bo (novelist), Chimamanda Adichie (novelist) etc. Working in close cooperation with these female writers are the female critics such as Mrs. C.O.Ogunyemi, Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie, Juliet Okonkwo, Rose and Catherine Acholonu, Ebun Clark, Ebele Eko, Helen Chukwuma, Emelia Oko, Virginia Ola etc. However, one observes that although both the female writers and critics do what feminists do, they do not want to associate themselves with feminism, and rather prefer milder categori­sations such as womanists, accommodationists, motherists and “feminist with a small ‘f’” – whatever this means. ­

Nigerian Pidgin-English
Writing in the 1980s

It is safe to say that Pidgin-English as a medium for literature in Nigeria was to a great extent a characteristic of the 1980s.13 Before the ‘80s, Nigerian writers appeared timid about its use. They deployed Pidgin as if they were afraid of something, probably the fall-out of Tutuola’s castigation for having made use of poorly brewed English. In poetry, Dennis Osadebay and Aig-Imoukhuede respectively wrote lone Pidgin poems. Chi­nua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka, T.M. Aluko etc, all Nigerian novelists, gave Pidgin to some of their characters. In the dramatic genre, Ola Rotimi and Wole Soyinka did the same. Commentators had wondered why Pidgin could not re­place English or at the worst flourish side by side with the Eng­lish language as a medium for the articulation of experience. Okeke-Ezeigbo thinks it is viable to use Pidgin while Femi Osofisan opposes such a suggestion.14Yet there had been a long drawn-out argument as to which language best suited the Afri­can writer and African writer. Obi Wali, Chinua Achebe, Austin Shelton, General Moore, Ezekiel Mphahlele etc. spent a lot of energy on this subject in the 1960s.

Dennis Osadebay wrote the first Pidgin poem, published in his Africa Sings (1952) volume. Frank Aig-Imoukhuede pub­lished ‘One Wife for One Man’ in 1963 in Gerald Moore edited poetry anthology. However, it was not until the 1980s that Ni­gerians returned to the use of Pidgin to write poems, stories and even drama. Aig-Imoukhuede in 1982 published a largely Pid­gin collection of poems in Pidgin Stew and Sufferhead, which includes his ‘One Wife for One Man’. Mamman Vatsa’s Tori for Geti Bow Leg and Other Pidgin Poems came out in 1985. Ezenwa-Ohaeto published a few poems in Pidgin in his first collection of poetry, Songs of a Traveller (1986) and reaped a bumper harvest of Pidgin-English poems in I Wan Bi President (1988). Oyekunle published his Pidgin play, Kataka for Suf­ferhead in 1983. Tunde Fatunde has published some Pidgin poems in journals, all these in the 1980s. In the novel genre, Ken Saro-Wiwa published Sozaboy (1985) which surprisingly has not been emulated by any other Nigerian writer. It seems that Nigerian writers are comfortable with Standard English and would not want the applecart to be upturned. Thus the Nigerian writers who have engaged Pidgin-English have done so as ex­perimentations, and as it is, this may not be repeated with the same fervour in the near future.

Literature and the Niger Delta Impasse
An emerging literature in Nigeria is the writing which fo­cuses squarely on the contemporary happenings in the Niger Delta. By Niger Delta one is referring to those parts of Nigeria (officially nine states) where there has been intense oil explora­tion, starting at Oloibiri in 1958. The people of this area la­boured in pain to eke out a living from their devastated land and environment over many years of the search for oil by oil pros­pecting companies. They had made their grievances known over time but their leaders worked at cross-purposes with them and instead aligned themselves with the interest of the Federal Government and those of the oil conglomerates. The creation of states in 1967 during which Rivers and Cross-Rivers States were carved out of the former Eastern region seemed to have assuaged the people temporarily while oil exploration went on, even more heedlessly. By the time the people, led by Saro Wiwa, returned to talk about the devastation of their environ­ment in the early 1990s, they met a stiff opposition in Sanni Abacha who at the time was not just a maximum leader but tolerated no opposition of any kind.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni environmental activist who could have probably written the first Niger Delta novel or drama was busy physically engaged eyeball-to-eyeball with the Establishment monsters who were responsible for the poor social and psychological conditions of his people. In what looked like an extra-judicial killing, Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists were hastily executed so that they could give way for the exploitation of the material resources of the land to contin­ue unhindered. However, this was not to be as Niger Deltans responded through the intellect (literature and writing) and an abrasive militancy which seemed to have been unexpected at the time. The people with an obvious loud voice woke up to ask why “in spite of the huge revenue accruing from the exploita­tion of the oil under their feet, their region had been overly ig­nored in developmental terms while the resources realized from the sale of their crude oil had been used to develop certain cities in the other parts of the country as well as feathered the nests of certain individuals of a particular class in both the Niger Delta and elsewhere” (Nwachukwu-Agbada, “Oil, Soil and Foil” 1).

In 1993, Isidore Okpewho published his ‘prophetic’ novel15 entitled Tides in which he deployed the Saro-Wiwa figure named Bickerbug to fight the oil companies and the Nigerian govern­ment. Bina Nengi-Ilagha brought out her Condolences in 2002; Kaine Agary (Yellow-Yellow 2006), Tanure Ojaide (The Activist 2006), Vincent Egbuson (Love My Planet 2008) etc. In drama, J.P.Clark as always is a pioneer(All for Oil, 2000); Ahmed Yerima (Hard Ground 2006) etc. In poetry, the collections are quite ample: Tanure Ojaide (Labyrinths of the Delta 1986;Delta Blues and Home Songs 1998); Ibiwari Ikiriko (Oily Tears of the Niger Delta 1999); Nnimmo Bassey (We Thought it was Oil but it was Blood 2002); Nengi Ilagha (Mantids 2007 and Apples and Serpents 2007); Tanure Ojaide (The Tale of the Harmattan 2008; Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel 2008 etc); etc. G’ Ebinyo Ogbowei has over three collections of poetry, each of them centred on an aspect of the Niger Delta eco-activism etc.


Nigerian literature in the last hundred years has been very vibrant, and will – I believe – continue to be so. It is not just that writers based at home wrote as often as they could, Nigerians resident abroad are beginning to create their own genre of Nige­rian writing. Chimamanda Adichie’s recent title, ‘Americana’, succinctly bears the onus of this genre. A number of Nigerians living outside the country have started to put their experiences in fictive formats for the consideration of the Nigerian audience at home. They are using the medium of both poetry and narra­tive to unburden themselves. Before long this could constitute a sub-genre since these writers no matter how long they live in the West cannot be absorbed as European or American poets or novelists.

Asked if Nigerian literature has fared well since 1914, I would say ‘yes’. Which is not to say that all is well with it. In terms of production, the Nigerian writer is fecund, producing more than what comes out from all the other African countries put together. As a consequence of the large output, there has been as well a diversity of themes, language, style and tech­nique. The Nigerian writer continues to visit the oral traditions for strength and healthy/refreshed yield. However, Nigeria has not yet stood up to establishing dependable publishing outfits. Publishing continues to be left for a few daring local publish­ers who receive no encouragement in any way from the gov­ernments. Again as of today, only one or two Nigerian writers could live off their writings. May be Achebe when he was alive, and Soyinka after retiring as a professor. I have my doubts if we could point to any other writer in Nigeria as one whose source of livelihood is his/her writing. That is how pitiable the situa­tion is. Those who could have contributed to the writers’ well-being by buying and reading their literary works, prefer watch­ing Nollywood films which do not require so much intellection to follow. Nollywood attracts governmental attention, but book publishing receives no impetus. Yet book publishing is a carrier of culture as it will in the future tell the story of today.

Another worry about Nigerian writing is the thirst for prizes. There seems to be a new doctrine about how significant prize-chasing is vis-a-vis the worth of a literary work. Rather than ventilate his/her mind by continuous writing, some Nigerian writers write for prizes. As a result when they do not win they get frustrated, which impedes their writing. There have simi­larly sprung up publishing outfits that only promote writings that stand to win accolades. In some cases these outfits orga­nize such ‘prizes’ themselves and bring only a few copies of these ‘award-winning’ stuffs to the prize grounds, show off the copies that day, and close the chapter about such books. Person­ally I have heard about some ‘magnificent’ works which won prizes about ten years ago, and as I speak I have not seen copies, let alone buy them. If people like us cannot obtain copies of these ‘wonderful’ writings, who gets them and where are such people?

Professor Nwachukwu-Agbada is with Abia State Univer­sity, Uturu


1Writing more than 200 years ago, Olauda Equiano (Gusta­vus Vassa, the African) described the Nigeria of those days as “a nation of dancers.” In one century of Nigeria’s existence we can claim to be “a nation of writers.” In the 2012 editioon of the yearly NLNG Prize subscription, about 210 novelists submitted their books to that prize contest. We must not fail to reckon with the fact that there must been an equal number of writers that either did not know about the prize or who did want to subject their work to a contest or who did not think it was worth their while to even do so.

2See Raji-Oyelade, “Season of Desert Flowers” (2004) or Nwachukwu-Agbada, “Poetry and Nigeria’s Sore Points” (2013).

3A little effort I exerted a few years ago meant to understand the current status of the Igbo proverb yielded about 100 recent Igbo proverbs ‘invented’ in the English and Igbo medium or ‘Engligbo’ patois. See J.O.J. Nwachukwu-Agbada, “The Afri­can Proverb and the Living Present” (2012).

4Not too long ago, an Mbaise Highlife maestro by name Livinus Onuoha (aka Africana) recorded a long playing cas­sette on the life of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, the leader of Nigeria’s first military coup d’etat. The account reads like an epic.

5See Wale Olumide, “Amos Tutuola’s Reviewers” (1958).

6See essays by E.N. Obiechina, Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie, A. Afolayan and Chinua Achebe in Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola ed. Bernth Lindfors (1975).

7Many educated Nigerians are not at home with the literature written in their ethnic languages. Nor did the old curriculum actually encourage the speaking and reading in local languages. In fact speaking in vernacular was punishedin those days. Those of us who attended primary school in the 1960s were barely en­couraged to read such Igbo novels as Omenuko (1933) by Pita Nwana, Ala Bingo (1963) by D.N. Achara and Ije Odumodu Jere (1963) by Leopold Bell-Gam. Nobody was punished for not knowing how to read Igbo.

8I am aware that Professor Emenyonu is striving to bring out the English version of Omenuko in the United States.

9G.T. Basden published Among the Ibos of Nigeria in 1921 and Niger Ibos in 1938.

10Ekwensi gave me this plot of When Love Whispers at an interview he granted me in 1986 at the University of Ibadan Bookshop when he came to autograph his then new novel, Jag­ua Nana’s Daughter (1986).

11For a comprehensive consideration of the literature of the Nigerian civil war, consult Chinyere Nwahunanya ed. A Har­vest from Tragedy (2011). pp. xxii +277.

12I didn’t quite agree with Professor (Mrs.) Ogunyemi and I said so in my essay, “Behind the Irony Curtain” (2006).

13See my essay “The Eighties and the Return to Oral Ca­dences in Nigerian Poetry” (1993), especially pp 100-105.

14See the debate of the duo in Okike Vol. 21 (1982).

15I could not avoid using the word ‘prophetic’ because by 1986 (precisely 11th January, 1986) when I interviewed Profes­sor Okpewho in his office at the University of Ibadan he told me he had just finished a novel which he had tentatively given the title, ‘Tidal Waves.’ I believe that manuscript is Tides (1993). See my “Interview with Isidore Okpewho” (2000), especially pp. 79-80.



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Adedeji, J.A. “ ‘Alarinjo’: The Traditional Yoruba Travelling Theatre.” Drama and Theatre in Nigeria: A Critical Source Book. Ed. Yemi Ogunbiyi. Lagos: Nigeria Magazine, 1981. 221-47.

Clark, Ebun. Hubert Ogunde: The Making of Nigerian Theatre. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Darah, G.G. “Literary Development in Nigeria.” Perspectives on Nigerian Literature: 1700 to the Present Vol. 1. Ed. Yemi Ogunbiyi. Lagos: Guardian Books, 1988. 1-9.

Emenyonu, Ernest N. “The Rise and Development of Igbo Literature.” Perspectives on Nigerian Literature Vol. 1. 33-38.

… The Rise of the Igbo Novel. Ibadan: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Ezikeojiaku, P.A. (Ichie). “Poetry as a Vehicle for Communication and Orientation in Contemporary Igbo Poetry.” The Igbo and the Tradition of Politics. Ed. U.D. Anyanwu and J.C.U. Aguwa. Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1993. 272-88.

…“Themes in the Novels of Tony Ubesie.” Tony Ubesie: The Man and the Artist. Ed. E.N. Emenanjo. Owerri and Aba: Afrika Link Books and Ninlan Press and Bookshops, 2001. 47-63.

Falola, Toyin. “Earliest Yoruba Writers.” Perspectives in Nigerian Literature Vol. 1. 22-32.

Lindfors. Bernth. Ed. Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola. London: Heinemann, 1975.

Nkosi, Lewis. “Interview with Christopher Okigbo.” African Writers Talking. Ed. Dennis Duerden and Cosmo Pierterse. London: Heinemann, 1972.

… “Interview with Wole Soyinka.” African Writers Talking. Ed Duerden and Pierterse.

Nwahunanya, Chinyere. “New Introduction.” A Harvest from Tragedy (Revised and Enlarged). Ed. Chinyere Nwahunanya. Owerri: Springfield Publishers, 2011. x-xii.

Nwachukwu-Agbada, J.O.J. “The African Proverb and the Living Present: A Paradigm from Recent Igbo Paremiology.” Proverbium 29(2012). 265-90.

… “Behind the Irony Curtain: Chinua Achebe and Femality Revisited.” The Responsible Critic: Essays on African Literature. Ed. Isidore Diala. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2006. 79-96.

… “The Eighties and the Return to Oral Cadences in Nigerian Poetry.” Matatu 10 (1993).85-105.

… “Interview with Isidore Okpewho.” Okike 45 (June, 2000). 62-81.

… “Oil, Soil and Foil: Isidore Okpewho’s Tidal Victims in His Niger Delta Novel of Environment.” Madonna Journal of English and Literary Studies 1(2009). 1-13.

… “Poetry and Nigeria’s Sore Points: Season of Migration to the North.” Critical Issues in African Literature: Twenty-First Century and Beyond. Ed. Chinyelu F. Ojukwu. Port Harcourt: University of Port Harcourt Press Ltd., 2013. 95-124.

Obiechina, E.N. Language and Theme: Essays on African Literature. Washington: Howard University Press, 1990.

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Olumide, Wale. “Amos Tutuola’s Reviewers and the Educated Africans.” New Nigerian Forum 1(London, Oct. 1958). 5-16.

Oseni, Z.I. “Prose and Drama in Nigerian Literature in Arabic: The Journey So Far.” Inaugural Lecture, University of Ilorin, 2002.

Osofisan, Femi. “Enter the Carthaginian Critic? A Comment on Okeke-Ezeigbo’s ‘The Role of the Writer in a Carthaginian Society’” Okike 21(July) 1982. 38-44.

Pearson, Gabriel. “Romanticism and Contemporary Poetry.” New Left Review 16 (July/August) 1962.

Raji-Oyelade, Aderemi. “Season of Desert Flowers: Contemporary Women’s Poetry from Northern Nigeria.” African Literature Today 24 (2004). 1-20.

Thomas, Dylan. “Blithe Spirits” (review of The Palm-wine Drinkard) The Observer (London) July 6, 1952.7.

Yahaya, I.Y. “The Development of Hausa Literature.” Perspectives on Nigerian Literature Vol. 1. 10-21.

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