Gabriel Okara, a Nigerian poet and novelist, has often been described as the first Modernist Poet of Anglophone Africa.
Okara, who incorporated African thought, religion, folklore and imagery into both his verse and prose, had had his works translated into several languages.
The literati and those who appreciate literature, especially poetry, believe that “Call of the River Nun’’ was Gabriel Okara’s, most memorable poem.
“……My river’s calling too!
Its ceaseless flow impels
my found’ring canoe down
its inevitable course.
And each dying year
brings near the sea-bird call,
the final call that stills the crested waves
and breaks in two the curtain
of silence of my upturned canoe.
O incomprehensible God!
Shall my pilot be
my inborn stars to that
final call to Thee.
O my river’s complex course?”
(Culled from “Call of the River Nun’’)
So, were nostalgic memories and sadness that followed the news of his demise in the early hours of Sunday, March 24, 2019, at his home in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
He was confirmed dead at the Federal Medical Centre in Yenagoa; Okara had breathed his last exactly four weeks to his 98th birthday.
Okara, whose remains would be laid to rest on June 22, 2019 was born Gabriel Imomotimi Okara on April 24, 1921 in Bumoundi, Bayelsa.
The poet and novelist had his secondary school education at the renowned Government College, Umuahia; the same school that groomed other renowned Nigerian literary icons, including Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Elechi Amadi, Chike Momah, Obi Nwakanma, Chukwuemeka Ike and Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Okara, who had also worked as a civil servant, authored “The Call of the River Nun,” as his first poem and it won an award at the Nigerian Festival of Arts in 1953.
His other works included The Fisherman’s Invocation (1978), published two collections of children’s poetry, Little Snake and Little Frog (1992) and An Adventure to Juju Island (1992) and, several other poems featured in the Nigerian literary journal Black Orpheus.
In his poetry, Okara draws from Nigerian folklore and religion while exploring extremes within daily life through secular patterns.
The Britannica, commends his first novel, The Voice (1964), as “a remarkable linguistic experiment in which Okara translated directly from the `Ijo’ (Ijaw) language, imposing Ijo syntax onto English in order to give literal expression to African ideas and imagery.’’
Dr Eugene Ibe, representing Government College Umuahia Old Boys Association, spoke to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and also wrote as his tribute on Okara’s life at the Government College and how the experience shaped his later life.
“Every time I met Okara, he never got tired of telling me stories of his life at Umuahia, a school where all students were treated equally no matter whether your father was a fisherman, or a farmer or a politician like Zik.
“Okara took the entrance exams into Govt. College in the year 1934 from Kaiama and went to Umuahia for interviews.
“ In 1934, there were no speed boats but dugout canoes; roads rarely existed but the Port Harcourt to Umuahia to Enugu rail line was operating mainly for carrying coal from Enugu to Port Harcourt.
“The poor boy had to travel in a paddled dugout canoe to Onitsha and then go by road from Onitsha to Umuahia, a three-day journey.’’
According to Ibe, Okara said he was interviewed by Rev. Robert Fisher, the Founder and Principal of Government College, Umuahia in 1934.
“He must have done extremely well to be awarded a full scholarship (for the best five entrants) to study at the college which he entered in January 1935.
“As a `fresher’, he was immediately pounced upon by the Class II boys who tried to `show him pepper’.
“When he ran to a teacher from Nembe, Mr W. E. Alagoa, he refused to protect him, especially as he spoke in Ijaw vernacular, a punishable offence in Umuahia.
He was so miserable that he felt like returning to his parents, Samson and Martha Okara, but when he remembered the three-day journey he opted to endure and eventually adjusted.
However, he was liked by his juniors like late Dr Melford Douglas, late Dr J.O.J. Okezie, a one-time Federal Minister of Agriculture, late Justice Charles Daddy Onyeama of the International Court at The Hague.
“Okara was good in sports being lanky and tall; he specialised in long distances.’’
On Okara’s experiences in class, he said: “He was taught mainly by Europeans, including Fisher, A.J. Carpenter, the author of West African Nature Study and a few Nigerians like Mr W.E. Alagoa and Mr Jumbo.
“His classmates at Umuahia included late Dr Ernest Green, late Barrister Young Harry, late Police Commissioner Franklyn Okujagu and late Dr G.C. Mbanugo, ex-parliamentary secretary to Nnamdi Azikiwe.
“His interest in Arts and Humanities was encouraged by the English teachers.
On the private life of this great literary icon, his nephew, Emmanuel Okara told NAN that the poet was jovial in his own way, an “English gentleman’’ and a lover of tradition as well as Christian Science.
According to him, he also played the piano very well.
“Uncle Gabriel was such a delight to be with and he would usually regale you with anecdotes and rib cracking jokes, some of which I am chuckling at as I am writing this tribute.
“ Uncle loved his tea; not just any tea; quality tea like `Earl Grey’ or `PG Tips’, I remember how once when he was a guest in my house in Lagos en route the United States of America, he asked for tea and I brought a mug alongside the stuffs for him to have his tea.
“Uncle pointedly told me that tea was usually taken in a proper tea cup and a saucer which, because of the size, retained the same temperature to the end, unlike the mug where the tea got cold before you are through with it.
“And the next time he asked for tea; I duly complied with the full paraphernalia that goes with tea drinking.’’
So notable was Okara that President Muhammadu Buhari, in his condolence message ,extolled the “great story-teller whose powerful use of imagery and symbolism in his literary writings helped the world to appreciate and understand the richness, complexities and uniqueness of the African heritage and culture.’’
The president believed that Okara, who was deservedly known as the “founder of Modern African literature’’ would be fondly remembered for his immense contributions to the development of African literature, drawing on experience from his native Ijaw language.
Similarly, the Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, described Okara’s demise as a great loss to the state and Nigeria; he commended the late Okara’s contribution to the educational policies of Bayelsa, especially his administration.
He said that the late Okara would be greatly missed by all lovers of literature and intellectualism, especially the young and up and coming writers.
A former Governor of Bayelsa, Chief Timipre Sylva, said that as a keen fan, admirer and friend of Gabriel Okara, he studied the poems of the Nigerian Negritudist (As termed by literary scholars) in his undergraduate years and beyond.
“Okara’s passing is not one to mourn, it is for celebration and for pride and for the marking of a platinum point in cultural mileage,’’ he said.
Jumoke Verrissimo, a poet and author of “I am Memory’’, said Okara’s works greatly influenced many writers, especially those who were interested in evoking the folklores, music and religion in their poetry.
The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Bayelsa State Chapter, through its Chairman, Mrs Bina Ilagha, said the association was saddened by the news of his passing on.
“The Association is ruffled by the news because it came at a time when preparations are in top gear to celebrate his masterpiece, `The Voice’ at 55.
“We are saddened by the news but are consoled that he left behind lofty legacies; Pa Okara, through his literary exploits put Bayelsa in the map of literary excellence.’’
The Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Prof. Nelson Brambaifa, described late Dr Gabriel Okara as a deity of African literature whose voice could not be stilled.
According to Brambaifa, Okara’s accomplishments have ensured that his name will never be forgotten.
For James Tar Tsaaior, a professor of Media and Cultural Communications, and Alexander von Humboldt, experienced research fellow at the University of Potsdam, Germany, Okara is a patriarch of Nigerian/African literature.
“I met Pa Gabriel Okara only once, in Port Harcourt, in 2004, during the birthday celebration of another writer.
“During our Port Harcourt meeting, I found him a decent, personable and collected man whose presence was contagious and reassuring.
“Indeed, he infected me with his artful smiles and noble carriage.
“One thing peaked significantly for me; this accomplished and celebrated writer was truly easy-going and constructed a horizontal relationship, not a vertical one, with others around him.
“It was for that reason that I took a picture with him. That picture has today survived him and a memorabilia which I will continue to cherish.’’
On his works, Tsaaior said: “Later on, I was to read his powerfully encoded novel, The Voice; I found it a supremely resonant literary offering, rich in vernacular traditions.
“The peculiarity of the idiom Okara mobilised in moulding the integral universe of the novel foregrounded his rearing and rootedness in Ijaw cultural traditions and cosmologies.
“He remains a gadfly, a beacon and touch-bearer whose towering achievements will continue to announce him to the whole world.
“ He will continue to live in our hearts as the noble and illustrious citizen of the republic of letters.
“When the mother mushroom yields to the elements and dies, an heir in a new mushroom germinates in its place to continue its progeny.
“ Okara still lives on. His voice is still alive and accented and will travel and reverberate beyond the Delta creeks, mangroves and estuaries to the boulevards of the world,’’ Tsaaior concluded.
Ihechu writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.
Still On Security Votes
When Mr Ibrahim Magu, the Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), spoke at the induction programme for returning and newly-elected governors, he did not mince words in accusing governors of misusing security votes.
He alleged that some governors deliberately fuelled insecurity in their states just to collect more money as security votes.
He noted that some of the governors “now covertly promote insecurity as justification to inflate their security votes.”
Magu also alleged that there was a link between corruption, banditry and terrorism.
His allegations were contained in a paper, titled, “Imperative of Fighting Corruption/Terrorism Financing in Nigeria.’’
Magu told the session that a debate on the legality of security votes enjoyed by the governors was ongoing.
“We have also seen evidence of theft of public resources by some state governors, cashing in on the insecurity in their states.
“Insecurity has also offered the required oxygen for corruption to thrive as evident in the $2.1bn arms procurement scandal involving top military commanders both serving and retired.”
A study carried out by the University of Nigeria, agreed with Magu on the abuse of security votes.
The study is titled “Legitimising Corruption in Government: Security Votes in Nigeria.’’
It was authored by Obiamaka Egbo, Ifeoma Nwakoby, Josaphat Onwumere and Chibuike Uche, of the Department of Banking and Finance, University of Nigeria.
“The tendency among Nigerian politicians, particularly the executive arm at the various levels of government, to manipulate security issues for political and economic gains is widespread.
“This has been fuelled by the abuse of security votes, an ‘opaque fund’ reserved for the executive which is not appropriated, accounted for or audited through the legislature.
“ Sometimes, a state governor could (mis)appropriate as much as N100 million monthly as security vote.
“Such slush funds are channelled into the secret funding of militias and gangs of government enforcers.’’
The appropriateness or otherwise of security votes was at the centre of discourse at the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) second Quarterly Anti-Corruption Policy Dialogue Series.
The dialogue focused on Accountability for Security Votes.
ICPC Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, who spoke, agreed with Magu that security vote is an easy and attractive route for stealing public funds.
According to him, it is also a veritable avenue for abuse of public trust, escalation of poverty and underdevelopment and ironically the escalation of insecurity.
“It has pushed up insecurity somehow, that is not to say we do not need security vote.
“In the 2019 budget as appropriated, for example, 162 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) had money appropriated for them as security votes.
“These MDAs span boards, centres, committees, ministries, commissions, councils, hospitals, schools, law enforcement agencies, obviously the armed forces and intelligence offices.”
Owasanoye said that the number and categories of MDAs given security votes, suggest that something was wrong with the parameters for determining those who are entitled to security votes.
“This then provokes some question as which MDAs are entitled to security votes and how should security votes be accounted for?
“It is clear from our present approach, that we do not have any rational principle being followed at the moment.
“If there is one, I will be happy that my ignorance will be diminished and removed,” he said.
The chairman explained that it was clear from the current approach to budgeting for security votes, that no principle was being followed.
He said that this is clear from the quantum and range of sums appropriated in the 2019 budget for MDAs, where the lowest amount for security vote was N3,600, while the highest amount was N4.20 billion.
“What on earth can anyone do with N3, 600, and I am not talking of an individual.
“If the N3, 600 is the security vote of an individual, most likely it will take him from somewhere to his house. That is the safest place to be.
“But what on earth can an agency do with N3, 600 as security vote, as appropriated?”
With this disparity, what then should security votes be used for?
Owasanoye opined that it was pertinent because MDAs with budgets for security votes also have separate budgets for other security related matters, such as the production or procurement for security or defence equipment.
“In the case of defence and core security and law enforcement agencies, some of these items and the votes are undoubtedly justified. But the quantum and use is open to scrutiny,” he said.
He, however, explained that it was apparent that security vote was not for any of those other security items mentioned, because they were often separately covered in the budget.
“There is the erroneous impression that security votes are not being accounted for with our recent experience as a country, that almost lost a geo-political zone to insurgency.
“Whereas billions of dollars were appropriated for security, but diverted by corruption to matters like engaging prayer warriors demands that we reflect very closely and ask ourselves whether we can afford to continue on the same trajectory of lack of accountability for security votes.
“We need security votes; we should give the votes to those who deserve to have security votes and we should demand some framework for accountability,” he said.
On his part, Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, said that security vote was subject to audit and “if it is not done, it is wrong”.
He said that the votes were not votes for defence and were also not meant for the armed forces.
“Strictly speaking, if you look at security votes in the true context, it is not meant to tackle insecurity.
“We have funding for Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces. If you have budget lines for these services and organisations, then why security votes?
“However, it can be used for security; but it is not meant to solve insecurity,
“There are other votes which are constitutional which include the contingency fund,” he said.
Buratai explained that even though there was security vote that was generally applied, it must follow the Public Procurement Act 2007.
The chief of army staff said that if security vote was made constitutional and proper guidelines set out on utilisation, the issue will be laid to rest
Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, described security vote as the budgetary or extra budgetary allocation ostensibly for security, received by the President, Governors and Local Government Chairmen.
This allocation he said, is spent without legal obligation to account for how it is spent.
Fayemi said that security votes have not been widely accepted by citizens, because of the assumption that such funds are being abused by state governments.
He said that the problem really is not about the security vote but about its usages and the character of the people administering it.
“Security votes attract more attention because of the seemingly non accountable nature of the expenditure under the budgetary provision.
“There is widespread belief that the appropriation of security votes in Nigeria is unconstitutional and thus illegal.
“This is not correct because in the Nigerian constitution, the executive is entrusted with the responsibility of preparing a budget which is then sent to the legislature for ratification.
“The fact that huge amount of monies are routinely being budgeted and expended in the name of security vote does not make it an illegal practice
“The act of approving any sum allocated to such a heading, covert or overt, legalises the concept. The insinuation that such money is not budgeted for is not true,” Fayemi said.
Like Magu said, the legality or otherwise of security vote is ongoing, and must continue until it properly defined. The earlier the better to avoid misuse and diversion of public funds in the guise of security vote.
Sharang writes for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Grudges Not Healthy For Our Music Industry –PMAN President
Voombalistic Uncle P, National President, Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), says grudges among Nigerian musicians is not healthy for the music industry.
Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) is an umbrella organisation that guides, protect and promotes the interests of musicians in Nigeria.
Dr Obi Okwudili Casmir, popularly known as Voombalistic Uncle P, who spoke with our source in Lagos, advised musicians to shun grudges to avoid resentment in their relationships.
“Grudges amongst musicians is not healthy for our industry and will only create further resentment in their relationships as musicians and may affect what we represent or present to the public.
“Being emotionally immature when composing or writing your songs means you can not control your emotions or reactions towards your colleagues.
“Having quarrel is a fact of life amongst best of friends but you don’t take it too hard on yourselves because it might graduate to what happened in the case of 2pac and Biggie.
“I advise we settle our differences internally if we have any, rather than taking them to the studio and then streets/homes. That doesn’t project us in good light,” he said.
It was gathered that Nigerian rappers Jude Abaga popularly known as M.I and Olanrewaju Ogunmefun (Vector) are currently expressing grudges against each other in songs which had been trending on social media platforms.
The grudge, which reportedly began over supremacy in the rap category of the music industry, has being described as publicity stunts, while some saw it as real disagreement between the two rappers which had been brewing over the years.
Rescind N5,000 Fee For National ID, PDP Tells Buhari
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yesterday, charged President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to recind the N5,000 fee for national identity cards immediately.
The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the new fee is repressive and an attempt by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government to further impose hardship on the citizens.
The opposition party noted that the idea of an ID card fee is offensive to the sensibilities of Nigerians, as it amounts to stripping Nigerians of their constitutional rights in their own country..
“Our party holds that issuance of national identity card to citizens, as an obligation of the state to its citizenry, must remain free as established by the PDP. The N5000 levy must be immediately rescinded before it triggers restiveness in the nation.
“Already, the fee is generating tension in the country as Nigerians have continued to register their rejection in the public space.
“The PDP notes the increasing penchant of the APC administration to impose all sorts of taxes on suffering Nigerians.”
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has signed five bills passed by the 8th National Assembly into law, Mr Umar Yakubu, his Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives) has said.
Yakubu who made the announcement at a news conference last Wednesday in Abuja, said that the Acts were to ensure good governance in the country.
The bills include the Obafemi Awolowo University Transitional Amendment Act, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi Amendment Act, the University of Maiduguri Amendment Act, the National Fertiliser Quality Control Act and the Nigerian Council of Food Science and Technology Establishment Act.
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