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Thursday, 29 November 2018

IKEOGU, OH NO !


(A tribute by Louis Odion, FNGE)



There was an echo of frailty in his voice when last we spoke three weeks ago; but nothing had prepared me for the bombshell I received early hours of Saturday from Azu (Ishiekwene). Azu’s text from Houston, the United States whispered the tragedy: Ikeogu Oke passed on moments ago!

He was the laureate of the NLNG Prize for Literature in 2017.
In what turned out our last chat in October, Ikeogu had expressed delight at my column, “Intifada of the old Guard”, summing it a rare rendition in patriotism. 


Responding, I wanted him to view it as a mere re-echo of what other truly committed artists like him say or write in defence of society and not tribe, ideals and not deals. 

With the nation faced yet again with the dilemma of choice ahead of 2019, Ikeogu promised to join more vigorously in the public debate once he got better from “having had something removed from my body that was not supposed to be there.”

He earlier underwent a surgery for pancreatic cancer. 

Before going under the knife, he probably had glimpsed death. This is the epitaph he would pen for himself in September, about one week after the surgery: “My Epitaph: Here lies a man who loved virtue and art, And gave to both his fortunes and his heart.
Ikeogu Oke (1967 – ).”

How prophetic!

Ikeogu was the quintessential artist: truly liberated soul for whom life or talent meant nothing if not devoted to the service of community or the pursuit of truth. 

Leveraging his immersion in Igbo rich oral tradition, he brought a new intensity - pulsating in resonance  - to Nigerian poetry. He lent clarity to the expresssion of human emotions in a way no photography could. 

Living out the creed of true artist as moral exemplar, Ikeogu had fiercely refused to be recruited into a scheme to defraud at the American University of Nigeria Yola owned by Atiku Abubakar. He was supposed to get a handsome cut from the deal in dollars. 
For this, he was persecuted by his superior. Rather than mortgage his conscience, he chose to resign from the job and walked away with the joy of righteousness. 
Adieu, the people’s poet.


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