Tributes as Nigerians mourn celebrated poet, Ikeogu Oke

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

Friends and colleagues of the late Nigerian poet, Ikeogu Oke, who died on Saturday at the National Hospital, Abuja, have continued to pay him glowing tributes.

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

He was widely known for his poetry which was often an introspective reflection on political and social issues.

He remained in active practice as a poet for more than three decades, until he passed on at 51.

As though he could see into the future, he wrote his epitaph on September 16 barely two months before he died.

It read, “‘MY EPITAPH’

“My Epitaph. Here lies a man who loved virtue and art, And gave to both his fortunes and his heart. Ikeogu Oke (1967 –).” Yes, even now my bellows puff out fire:

The flames of life and not for the pyre.”

He would later inform his Facebook friends that the epitaph was written some years back.

Defending the reason why he wrote an epitaph, he said, “People don’t write epitaphs to prevent the living from expressing their opinions of them posthumously. As you may know, such opinions would be subjective and some harsh ones may even be inspired by spite or the cowardly wish to settle scores with someone silenced by the grave and so unable to defend themselves.”

Some of the tributes are captured below:

Nicholas Ibekwe-

The last time I spoke to Mr Ikeogu was about three months ago. He was writing a poem and wanted to use some Yoruba words.

He didn’t speak Yoruba.

He called so I could tell him the Yoruba word of Palm frond and some other terms I can’t remember now.

I remembered how happy I was when he won the NLNG Literature prize for his poetry. I was screaming so loud that I lost my voice. When I called him, he was joyous, of course. But he still spoke in his characteristic style – carefully choosing every word like he was reciting a poem.

I call him Poet Laureate, he simply called me Nikor (he is perhaps the only person outside my family and childhood friends that consistently called me that). There were memories. I am shocked beyond words.

And I don’t know how to handle grief. It is not something one learns. It is not something to be learned.

Dear Poet Laureate, I learned you wrote your epitaph a couple of months ago. I am glad you looked death in the eye and scolded it with your best weapon – poetry.

Rest well, my Poet Laureate. You will be greatly missed.

Onyi Franklin Nwagbara

You called me about a week ago we spoke about a lot of things not knowing that we will be speaking for the last time. Our friendship started when we crossed paths at the American University of Nigeria, Yola. Nigeria has lost a literary Icon, and I don’t use this word “Icon” loosely. Your works epitomized the struggle for the emancipation of the African minds. My friend and brother may your soul rest in the bosom of God “Chukwu Abiama” our creator. You will be greatly missed.

Rudolf Okonkwo

We met for the first time a year ago, at The Nigerian Satire Festival in Abuja. We were placed on the same table with Charlie Boy and other towering characters on the Nigerian literary and entertainment scenes. When we started talking, it was as if we had known each other for years.

At the festival, he read from his award-winning book of poetry. He had only two extra copies of the book with him. He signed one to me and the other one to Charlie Boy, while the rest of the people on our table angling for a copy were left disappointed.

Since I came back, I have had his book on my nightstand. Every now and then, I open it and chew on a verse or two. One day, I was raving about it to a visitor. Like other visitors before him, he asked to see it. I have not seen the book ever since.

I am still dreaming of how Irokopost Books will help bring Ikeogu Oke’s works to readers across the world when I heard this morning that the poet has dropped his pen.

I am devastated.

Saintlevinus Nwabughiogu

Oh, not again! Where is Ikeogu Oke? Can’t believe my ears? Nelly, tell me it is not. Ikeogu and I met during the obsequies of Prof. Chinualumogu Achebe at Hilton, Abuja; at the gathering of literary gods. We have been friends since then. I have closely followed his strides in arts and humanities, the awards…And now this? My God! Rest in Peace, bro. We cant ask the ‘why’ question. You left some imprints. You lived well.

Ijeoma Ndure

Ikeogu Oke DEAD??? Where do I even start? At the department of English/Literary Studies, University of Calabar we struck a deep friendship. Apart from playing chess regularly with him in the hostel, Ikeogu was deeply intellectual and prolific. He would always say to me, Prof, please read these poems and share your thoughts. It was in 1995 that he gave me the manuscript of his “The Heresiad” to read and make an input. And this year The Heresiad won The NLNG Prize for Literature. He invited me, and I was there. How he could just die like this is still a puzzle to me. Did he know???? Because on September 16, he wrote and published his Epitaph “Here lies a man who loved virtue and art, And gave to both his fortunes and his heart.” – Ikeogu Oke (1967 – 2018)

Betty Abah

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) department, around 1995-1998, and definitely, one of the very brightest of students. He was a senior many of us beheld in awe. A restless and unforgettable soul, he was the one who saw and created poetry from everything—a casual conversation, a fleeting encounter, the physical attributes of 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 our department’s English and Literary Students Association (ELSA) around 1997, his campaign slogan of ‘Okey is Okay’ and general campaign candour stood him out even if he 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 to the outside world with the additional feathers of performance poetry that he brought into his practice and through which he promoted the Igbo culture (Ohafia in particular) on local and international platforms while also creatively breathing life into his thoughts on universal themes, his trademark animal skin accessory, wrapper, traditional 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 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 on the department’s noisy corridors to having my handwritten poems published on the literary press boards to being published in 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 former 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 was to later win 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.

Felix Abrahams Obi

Ikeogu Oke goes home…with the bards!

This evening I heard about the death of one of Nigeria’s most accomplished contemporary poets, and Winner of NLNG Prize for Poetry.

He usually tagged me in his Facebook posts which often are his poetic engagements of key issues in Nigeria. For a while I observed he’s not been tagging me on posts and I never quite called to check on him overtime.

I never knew he was ill…until now that he’s gone.

I pause to ask, what will it take check on a family member, friend, colleague or acquaintance?

Rest on Ikeogu. May the bards and troubadours of yore welcome with heavenly verses hooked on ancient words that are ever true!

Mba Okereke

Salutes

Maybe The Angels also love poems

Her essay

I know The Almighty God is Creative

Laurels

Promotion comes with sweet sweat

Goals

To run and finish the race fastest

Ikeogu, we planned on a motivational exhibition!… Poetry, Dance ,Drama, Painting, all Prof Kalu Uka, Ticha Akuma, Emenike Ogwo, Chief Paulson Kalu, Nnanna Uma, Chidi Okereke, Samset, The Young Artists, DJ, Nollywood….all ! The Civic Center, biggest in Ohafia will be venue!! Ready December!!!

Do the gods read poetry.

Do they not see the sacacity of your pen

Do they not see the smiles and ecstasy

Do they not see your pen daily speaking on the many ills of society

And the young wife and kids, siblings

The gods, oh the gods

Maybe we will understand

But not yet.

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