ON Thursday, January 9, one of Nigeria’s finest and most iconic literary voices, Professor Chukwuemeka Ike, passed on at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State. To say the least, the loss to the country is unquantifiable, as the departed writer made such a huge contribution to African literature and the Nigerian nation that many writers can only dream of. A cultural enthusiast, the late Ike was a renowned author, distinguished scholar, university administrator and traditional ruler. Ike, traditional ruler of Ndikelionwu kingdom in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, passed on after a brief illness, aged 89.
Born to a royal household, the renowned man of letters had his primary education in his native town and, from 1945 to 1950, attended Government College Umuahia, where his literary talent was nurtured. For his tertiary education, Ike attended at the University of Ibadan where, alongside the literary giant Chinua Achebe, he was a member of the magazine club. After his degree in English and Religious Studies, he proceeded to Stanford university, United Kingdom, for his master’s degree. He was at various times a lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Registrar at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), visiting professor at the University of Jos, Plateau State, and Registrar of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC).
Ike achieved renown with novels such as Toads for Supper (1965), The Naked Gods, The Potter’s Wheel (1973), Sunset at Dawn (1976), Expo ‘77 (1980), The Chicken Chasers (1980) and The Bottled Leopard (1985), works which dissected various aspects of the Nigerian dilemma and addressed issues such as corruption in the academia, examination malpractices, tradition and modernity, office politics and the value of education and industry, and have engaged the attention of different generation of students, scholars and critics of African literature and post-colonial discourses. He was reputed for being a prolific writer with a great aptitude for presenting socio-cultural and political themes with amazing flexibility and linguistic dexterity and, in all of his works, he canvasses the moral imperative and frowns on corruption and oppression in all, particularly institutionalised, forms.
It is no wonder then that in his tribute to his memory, President Muhammadu Buhari described the legendary author as a great administrator, cerebral scholar and prolific writer who would always be remembered for his exceptional creativity in communicating wisdom in simple ways through books, and one whose loyalty to the nation would continue to resonate in the way he mobilised his community for civic duties and sensitised youths on the value of good education.
On his part, the Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano, said that the state had lost one of its greatest assets and totems of excellence. According to him, the late Ike was always a regal presence bringing his wealth of experience to bear on the deliberations of the Traditional Rulers Council. In a related development, a former governor of the state, Mr. Peter Obi, described the death of the literary icon as a call for the celebration of a man who was good, kind and concerned about the progress of humanity, adding that he was exceptional and worthy of celebration for his liberating influence on the society through his personal conduct and the pervasive influence of his works of arts in the form of literature. Obi, recalling the foundation of a writers’ club by the author of Our Children Are Coming (1990) and Conspiracy of silence (2001) and his support for the noble project, called for its sustenance as well as the immortalisation of his legacies through the naming of monuments in his honour.
Another window into Ike’s rich world was also provided by Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, who noted that after the publication of his first novel, Toads for Supper in 1965, and seven other successive works, namely The Naked Gods, The Potter’s Wheel, Sunset at Dawn, Expo ‘77 , The Chicken Chasers, The Bottled Leopard and Our Children Are Coming, Ike unquestionably entered into the African pantheon of literary fame. He noted that as a distinguished traditional ruler, the Ikelionwu XI of Ndikelionwu was, until his death, unflinchingly devoted to the sustenance of Igbo culture and history, adding that the resuscitation of society through the vehicle of history and culture was one task that he never shied away from, and one to which he uncompromisingly deployed his literary creativity to serve.
We mourn the passing of Professor Chukwuemeka Ike and wish his family, friends, Anambra State and the country in general the fortitude to bear the loss. We urge the government to ensure that the values to which he devoted his existence are never eroded.