Nigerian Poet, Ikeogu Oke, is dead

Ikeogu Oke
Ikeogu Oke, winner 2017 Nigeria Prize for Literature, an annual competition sponsored by NLNG. [Photo credit: Independent Newspapers Nigeria]

A Nigerian poet, Ikeogu Oke, is dead.

Mr Oke last year won the Nigeria Prize for Literature sponsored by the NLNG for his collection of poems, The Heresiad.

The poet and former journalist died at the National Hospital in Abuja on Saturday, his friends told PREMIUM TIMES.

His death was first announced by his friend, fellow poet and journalist, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, on his Facebook page.

Two other close friends of the deceased confirmed the death to PREMIUM TIMES

As a journalist, Mr Oke worked at the now-rested Next Newspapers as well as Daily Times.

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Mourning him Sunday, Gbemiga Ogunleye, his former colleague at NEXT, wrote on his Facebook Page:

“And the poet died!

“Like many Nigerians who knew and had a relationship with Ikeogu Oke, I am still in shock.

“Ikeogu was part of the star-studded team of Journalists assembled by the duo of Dele Olojede and Dapo Olorunyomi to bring into fruition the NEXT newspaper.

“As the Chief Standards Editor, it was my privilege to lead a team that included the talented poet.

“One complaint against Ikeogu then was that he was too meticulous!

“He spent too much time cleaning out copies than our production time would allow.

“Each time I raised my voice to complain, he would disarm me with his smile and a genuine apology.

“For him, any story that passed through him must be completely error-free. He, therefore, took his time fumigating every story passed to him.

“I need not say that he was a good writer.

“His winning the 2017 NLNG prize for poetry was proof-positive of that.

“In spite of his celebrity status, Ikeogu was always happy to introduce me as his boss!

“The poet, perhaps sure he might not overvome the ailment that eventually took his life, had pulled a fast one on us all by writing his epitaph two months ago!

“Or was he afraid of being misrepresented in death?
Ike Ogu had written: HERE LIES A MAN WHO LOVE VIRTUE AND ART. AND GAVE TO BOTH HIS FORTUNES AND HIS HEART – IKEOGU OKE (1967-).

“How did Shakespeare put it? Death is a necessary end, will come when it will come.

“Ikeogu’s turn has come! We await ours!

“May the good Lord be with his family!

“May his gentle soul rest in peace!”

Betty Abah, writer, journalist and activist, who, like Mr. Oke, attended the University of Calabar, wrote the tribute below in honour of the departed poet.

Ikeogu Oke: Tearful Ode to Our Poet Laureate
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Just last year, Ikeogu Oke won the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature, riding on the wings of his poetic endeavor. It was the crowning of his literary career. He was officially the nation’s ‘Poet Laureate of the Year’ since the Prize, worth $100, 000, remains the biggest on the Nigerian literary scene and perhaps one of the biggest on the continent. A poetic genius had been announced to the world.

Yet long before then, some of us had known Ikeogu’s creative genius. At the University of Calabar, where he had his undergraduate education, Ikeogu was beyond doubt the most prolific and most colourful poet of our time at the English and Literary Studies (ELS) around 1995-1998, and definitely, one of the very brightest students. He was a senior many of us held in awe. A restless and unforgettable soul, he was the one who saw and created poetry from everything—a casual conversation, a fleeting encounter, a classmate of mine with whom he fell in love—just about everything—and never forgetting his trademark musical rhyming at each verse’s end. When he contested for the presidency of the English and Literary Students Association (ELSA) around 1997, his campaign slogan of ‘Okey is Okay’ and general campaign candour stood him out even if didn’t eventually win. True, Ikeogu was never one to shy away from controversies yet he never lost his characteristically calm humaneness. Who can forget his warm, handful handshakes and charming smiles?

In recent years Ikeogu’s poetic ingenuity became more visible and more alluring with the additional feathers of performance poetry he brought into his practice and through which he promoted the Igbo culture on local and international platforms while also creatively breathing life into his thoughts on universal themes, his trademark animal skin dress, traditiobal cap and other paraphernalia to boot.

And just when the wider world began to turn to appreciate his unique gifting, he was gone!

I owe Ikeogu an eternal debt of gratitude. He alongside other seniors including Anayochukwu Agbo, Fidelis Okoroegbe (Fidel Castrol), Mekis Chukwuemeka (Teacher Mekes), Abiye Opuamah, Joy Esukuy Esuku and a few others helped nurture my literary talent from when I made a naïve entry into the vibrant ELS, UNICAL aged 21 in late 1995. From encouraging talks to having my poems published on the literary press boards to the departmental magazine, The Quill, they helped fan my literary embers.

Ever so amiable and so down-to-earth, Ikeogu, with my ELS classmate, now eminent Abuja journalist, Emmanuel Ogbeche and ‘ELS junior’, and then UNDP staff, Judith Abraham-Ephraim alongside TELL Magazine colleague, Bob Etemiku were my cheerleaders at my public book reading at the Abuja Writers Society in 2012 courtesy of Emman Shehu and facilitated by my publisher, Richard Mammah. Ikeogu brought me a copy of his poetry collection, The Heresiad (which won the NLNG Prize, with the spectacular musical notes at the end). In August last year, after he read my interview in The Daily Trust, he made a cutting and couriered it to me with an autographed copy of his reprinted award-winning book, complete with a warm, handwritten note, in his beautiful, meticulous fashion. Always so thoughtful.

Just this May, the ELS department in UNICAL duly recognized Ikeogu with a merit award during the silver jubilee anniversary celebration of the famous Calabar International Conference on African Literature and the English Language (ICALEL). I was similarly awarded but missed the conference and a last chance of a warm hug and banters with the charismatic poet laureate.
The sudden demise of Abia State-born Ikeogu at only 51 is one that is so very hard to accept. How, how do we lose such huge talent, such personification of intense, accumulated knowledge, such a profound national asset? Did the Nigerian system, as usual, fail him? Could he still have been here, making more inspiring poetry and attaining more creative milestones were our healthcare in a better state? What actually went wrong? Why Ikeogu and why now?

A gem is gone. Our land, our universe is verily diminished.

Good night, dear Ikeogu. And I am still hoping this is a dream. Alas, a very bad dream.

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