-By Azua ALONU:
Do you think we are enveloped by what professor Wole Soynika called a cloud of sadness by the death of our loving Icon. No. Certainly not at the ripe age of ninety seven when he has emptied himself into our minds. Todd Henry, the author of Die Empity would have added Gabriel Okara to the list of those who died empty.
Gabriel Okara died emptying all that God gave to him on us before he took a triumphant bow
Okara did not live a modern life in which we fill our days with activities that do not bloom, prattling on our electronic devices all days without any definite deadline being met.
He utilized his life leaving with us a huge body of work. Our tomorrow will always be aglow with the flame of his work and the light that they emit.
“ Tell the truth and stand by it” That was what Gabriel Okara’s Father told him in the town of Bomadi on the bank of the River nun- the famed river that became one of his sources of his writings. It was this truth that became his guiding philosophy. He pursued truth, stood by truth and was ready to die for truth as his father told him to do.
But there are many words that will make us unleash our best every day in our lives, that the renowned poet, novelist and play write have for us the living. He said “if you want anything good in life trust God to guide you. Work as God directs you. If evil tries to make an entrance just kick it out like a football” He told Kim Shippey, a senior Writer of Christian Science Sentinel in 2011 “There is only one way to go – upward” His optimism about life was in infectious even at his ripe age. He was about ninety when he said there is still up to go. A class taught Christian scientist, his devotion to God was unbending, he does not belong to the class of writers who worship their intellects. He said “I depend on God to direct my thinking and outcome God is around me always at the back of my consciousness. Before I write a line I pause to remind myself that God is the source of all good, all wisdom, all excellence, so whatever I am doing I know that the inspiration comes direct from him.
The bible for Okara has been an invaluable source of inspiration. For him the bible gives one the discipline and breath that makes your crush the stubborn illusion that we are impregnable in our robust intellect. That is not to say that he has no other influence. Naturally he has a big library which he said he lost during the Nigerian civil war (1967 – 70). He said “I felt the loss, yes but spiritually not at all.
For him spirituality is a key to life. It does not mean that a spiritual premise discount what is real in life but it promotes discernment that makes you have a better perception and sense of clarity.
Okara wrote and published many books of friction, including his volume of poetry. He was a man committed to literature and intense interest made him to mentor so many people. He said of literature “its just bubbling every where- among boys and girls, they can’t wait to be poets and novelist. Take a sample of one of his poems “once upon a time”
“I have learned to laugh with only my teeth
And shake hands without my heart
I have also learned to say “Goodbye”
When I mean Good riddance
To say Glad to meet you
Without being glad and to say “ it’s been nice talking to you after being bored’
In his poems, novels, plays and other form of his writings, all sort of wise nuggets bristled, enriching our minds and making the most tremendous impact. We have courageous word of defiance that makes the timorous to pick up the gaunt let for battle. He has lines that comfort the grief and verse that the cripple will read and his muscles will come alive.
Felix Houphouet- Boigny, former president of Code’voir (former Ivory Coast) may have said “ Man has gone to the moon, but he does not yet know how to make a flower, a tree, or a bird song’ But he should know that writers may have not created tree but they write words, song, poetry, stories that give life.
Gabriels Okara did with his writing. He has written in all the genere of literature but most remember him for his novels the voice which has remain a classic and would continue to commend and elicit commendation and critical praise.
Some have argued that it is his poetry that has made the most impact. You are free to pick and choose.
Event at ninety-six, last year, he took time off to come to Yenagoe to join Prof Wole Soyinka and J P Clerk-Bekedereme when the Beyelsa Government hosted Wole Soyinka- in spite of his abridge mobility and fragile health he climbed the platform, helped by Wole Soyinka and other guest who were anxious to see him.
When your work goes beyond you in great acclaim, you will carry the burden in spite of your age to come and meet audiences when they itch to see you flesh and blood – if nothing to see the being that crafted what they enjoy in the privacy of their rooms. The readers do not care about their dying heroes for they will prefer to witness his death is one celebratory convocation.
Gabriel Okara is for me one of the greatest writers the world has ever produced because of his literature that has morality as eternal plank. We celebrate his passage. He has fought a good fight in the battle field of the world with his literary work. Our memory and history, he has enriched ,our literature he has made alive and has equipped us to fight on as he departs
*Azua Alonu is Vice Chairman,
Delta Literary Forum Asaba