Literary World, N’Delta Mourn Gabriel Okara

Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, described Okara’s death as a great loss to the state and Nigeria.The governor subsequently declared a three-day mourning for the late Okara begining from Monday to Wednesday with flags flown at half mast in the state.

A statement by the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, quoted the governor to have made the remark on Monday.

“Okara was held in high esteem as a pride to the Niger Delta and indeed the African Continent. It is in appreciation of his exploits that the government decided to name the State Cultural Centre in Yenagoa after him. The late Okara will be greatly missed by all lovers of literature and intellectualism especially the young and upcoming writers,” the statement read in part.

 Dr Gabriel Okara, One of Nigeria’s foremost writers, poets and novelists from Boumadi, Bayelsa State, died at the Federal Medical Centre in Yenagoa, in the evening of Sunday, March 25, 2019.

The deceased, who died at the age of 98, was the life patron of the Association of Nigerian Authors.

A family member, who pleaded anonymity, said Pa Okara was relaxing at his Yenagoa residence when he slumped at about 4pm on Sunday and was rushed to the FMC, Yenagoa where he was pronounced dead by doctors.

He said the head of the Okara family had sent a text message to members of the family for an emergency meeting, adding that it was after the meeting that a formal statement announcing his death would be issued.

  Bayelsa State chapter of the ANA, in a statement by its chairman, Mrs Bina Ilagha said, “The association is ruffled by the news of his death because it came at a time when preparations are in top gear to celebrate his masterpiece, ‘The Voice at 55.’

 ”We are saddened by the news but are consoled that he left behind lofty legacies. Pa Okara, through his literary exploits, put Bayelsa on the map of literary excellence.”

Also, the speech writer to the Bayelsa State governor and one-time chairman of the ANA, Mr Michael Afenfia, in a statement in Yenagoa, said, “It is with great sadness that I received the news of the passing away of the renowned poet and novelist, Gabriel Okara.

“Even in passing, I am sure your poem, “Piano and Drums,” will ‘minister’ to me in many ways. Your words are an inspiration! Your concerns about the African culture in the face of western ‘threat’ as expressed in “Once Upon a Time” are ever before me.Thank you for leaving us with so much to remember of your time here with us. Thank you for setting the pace for several generations of writers,” she added.

Dean of Students Affairs, Rivers State University and a Niger Delta scholar, Prof Isaac Zeb-Obipi said an intellectual giant has left the shores.

“The mortality of man is a sour point of life. No matter the age everyone passes on, the living feels the pain of loss, so that is how all those who know or have heard of Okara feel heartache over his death. We’ve lost an intellectual giant, an international award winning scholar. May his soul rest in peace, Prof Zeb-Obipi said.

Also speaking, a literary critic and Fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations, Barr Karibi George said Okara was a quintessential literary scholar and pioneer of several genres.

He said “Okara’s, The Voice placed Ijaw language and culture in the global map as the novel was a great experiment in the transliteration of Ijaw language adding that the late poet lived a very modest life inspite of the many top public offices he occupied.

George particularly lauded the poet who won many global awards for his poem adding that for his work on Children literature particularly his Adventures to Juju Island bears him out as a creative genius and literary giant.Also, PAN Niger Delta Forum, (PANDEF), expressed shock at the exit of literary giant, Pa Gabriel Okara . Gabriel Okara National Secretary of the South-South regional group, Dr Alfred Mulade, in a statement, said: “The Executive Committee of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, received with great trepidation, the demise of the great literary icon, Pa Gabriel Imomotimi Okara on Monday 25, March, 2019. “ “Until his death, he served as the beacon of hope and a representation of the ideals that have held us together in Niger Delta. “Pa Okara did not only represent the link between the transitional and modernist phases of African literature, but interpreted the artistic worldview of the people of the Niger Delta. “He was an award winning poet. He was the winner of the Best All-Round Entry in Poetry at the Nigerian Festival of Arts, for his poem, “The Call of the River Nun” in 1979, He won the NLNG Prize for his “The Dreamer, His Vision” in 2009. “His poem “The Fisherman’s Invocation” 2005 won him the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. “Pa Okara also won the Pan African Writers’ Association Honorary Membership Award 2007. “Until his demise, he was an Emeritus Professor of the University of Port-Harcourt. “The people of the Niger Delta, Nigeria and indeed the World shall surely miss this literary Czar of African poetry,” PANDEF said.

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