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Mr. Osundare, sir, that there are myriads of noble-minded people – old and young,

men and women – who thoroughly empathize and sympathize with you and your family.

Know, too, that when there is a will, there may not necessarily be a way . . .



Books by Niyi Osundare

Songs of the Marketplace  (2006)  / The Word is an Egg  (2005) /  Pages from the Book of the Sun  (2002)  / Two Plays (2006)

Thread in the Loom: Essays (2002) /  The State Visit  (2002)  /  Midlife (2005)  / Moonsongs  (1988)  /  The Eyes of the Earth  (2007)

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Osundare's Universe of Burdens

By Niyi Juliad


He made a noted exit. He made a noted speech too - valedictory speech. Niyi Osundare, the literary colossus, would rather not want to take his leave of this beloved academic habitation now, but then, he had to go. It was painful. Yes, it was the least desirable option. Also, it was "premature" to repeat his original word. Compelled by a superior reason to leave, Osundare did not choose to stay. It was a marked moment that signified a decisive delineation of boundaries between sentiments and valid reason. And then, he left.

Now, he had to leave for good. But before then, he felt an unmistakably strong urge to make a speech – long, total, exhaustive and point blank – designed to rouse his audience to intellectual soberness. He did not forget, too, to take his eager audience through a laconic historical excursion into the origin and meaning of “university” and other associated terms and derivatives. The very substance of his speech, UNIVERSE IN THE UNIVERSITY, was very clear and outstanding. Now we know what it means to behold the macrocosm of the world in the microcosm of the university.

Poor man! Here, too, he spoke with elevated fondness about his frustrated expectations and aspirations, and his damaged emotions, which had for long been encased in the cask of time. Nay, neither did he spare any mention of the pernicious inroads made into the rank and file of the intellectual sheep by the ravenous political wolves who had made their marked malevolent contribution to the destruction of academic values and intellectual traditions. At least, he was given the “uncommon privilege” of making a valedictory speech, as a professor, without the benefit of an inaugural speech, which was due to him during the early days of his professorial anointment. Little wonder then that his was a “valedictory speech of an unusual sort”.

Osundare, a mere mortal, powerless, desperately wished he could change a million things in his immediate academic world. But wishes, it is said, are not horses. They are immobile, lifeless products of imaginative leaps. Underlying his speech, as could be discernibly gleaned, was a subtle acknowledgment of a desperate need for a supernatural phenomenon to effect a turning back of the hand of time. This was evident from his nostalgic reminiscences and fond memories of the good old academic days and times dotted by the impact and influential presence of the past intellectual soldiers whose life, style and doings now form an important part of the historical contents of the nation’s premier university.

But alas! Little did he know that his echoes of truth were waiting for him elsewhere to resonate and resound in the outside world. Little did he know that he can run, but that he can’t hide from universal truth. Much like the Biblical prophet Jonah – Osundare being literary prophet himself – he defected concerning the Nineveh of the premier university, concerning enduring in proclaiming his God-given intellectual ameliorist message, and headed to the Tar-shish  of the United States of America.

Like the windstorm that impeded and upset the free-flowing course of the ship that harbored Jonah, hurricane Katrina rudely hit New Orleans, where Osundare was sojourning. While he lost part of his professorial dignity in the smaller universe of the university of Ibadan, he lost all of the paper evidences of his intellectual license, set afloat on the ceaselessly drifting surface of flood waters brewed by hurricane Katrina in the center of a larger universe.

Like the Osmosis of a bio-chemical process, the resonance of the verity of his valedictory words journeyed from the region of a lower concentration to the region of a higher concentration. From a smaller universe to a larger universe. But what verity? That unscrupulous human elements have always been responsible for the blighting of whatever that was originally perfectly founded for the general good, be it academic values, intellectual traditions, human dignity or earth’s climate system.

So whether it be cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons, premonsoon heat waves, or bushfires, human selfish activity has played a dismally saddening, added role in affecting the frequency and the degree of natural disasters, apart from underlying natural phenomena.

Now, again, Osundare has been another mortal victim of man’s thoughtless negligence and destruction of the only habitat that was designed for him by a Superior Intelligence. Nature has been stripped naked and elements therein denatured. Who would rescue man from this impending collective suicide?

Osundare must have imagined here too, in his inventive mind, that he could do something to salvage the larger universe in this regard. For while he was here in the smaller universe of the university of Ibadan, he evidently supposed so. But in his critical moment of wishful frenzy and undying quest for the impossible return of the exact old seasons of distinctive intellectual pursuit and academic excellence, he seemed to temporarily banish to an oblivious corner of his literary mind the fact that yesterday is gone. That today is in its half-disked placement and tomorrow, though not yet beheld, is curiously fast in coming. That, according to the Good Book, wicked men and impostors, will proceed from bad to worse. That the trend, the ceaseless trend, gropes in the chariot of time. That the scene of this world is irredeemably changing without recourse to a reversal of succession of days and times.

But, how does time move in such a mysterious manner that both its origin and destination are not known? Why is it never returning? Osundare may need a vivid reminding on this. Let it be made clear that time moves in one direction only, much like traffic on a one-way street. Whatever the speed of its forward movement, time can never be thrown into reverse. Therefore we live in a momentary present and, being in motion, it flows ceaselessly into the past. There is no stopping it.

The past, in its own case, is gone. Could it be called back? No. To attempt that feat is the same as trying to make a waterfall tumble uphill or an arrow fly back to the bow that shot it. The past has been won or lost. No longer is there any control over it. But the future is different. It is always flowing towards us but not from us as is the case with the past and the transient stay of the present. With each tick of the clock, man journeys a step farther down the corridor of time. I believe Osundare is somewhat, though likely reluctantly, aware of and flowing with this reality of the stream of time.

However, given the power and the creative space to bestow a material form upon the utopian ideas welling up in his inventive mind, Osundare would, no doubt, invent another universe for us. An earth planet where the intelligent beings therein will never again be gifted or dignified with the power of choice that could be misused to destroy values. An “academic universe” wherein when we walk in the sun, we can see our shadows and when we walk in the sand we can see our footprints.

But, unfortunately, by no means has any mortal been granted a power of such an immense proportion. Otherwise, Osundare and the likes of him would have been able to do something of note in this regard. But, in truth, hope for this situates elsewhere. No, it does not lie even with the few rightly-disposed mortal men.

So, know this, Mr. Osundare, sir, that there are myriads of noble-minded people – old and young, men and women – who thoroughly empathize and sympathize with you and your family. Know, too, that when there is a will, there may not necessarily be a way, when overwhelmingly besieged by and submerged in an ocean of depraved men. That the most potent will may succumb, in a collaborative despondency, to a mass of vitiating, unrepentant pressures of fateful suppression. That each day slips by with its own worries and dissatisfactions not capable of being resolved by the apparent messianic potentials of the succeeding days. That only the Supreme Being who made the universe itself can and will set matters straight in his time (REVELATION. 11:18)

Last line: May I be permitted to further console you with some borrowed words from your own radiantly arranged poetic lines? So, then, as the house runs away and forgets its roof and the stone gathers its moss and smiles for all its pains, may you continue to sew the rags of a broken sky. And when the day runs away and leaves its sun, simply pick it up and ask for a song.

Niyi Osundare, who was born in Nigeria in 1947 and is currently a professor of English literature at the university of New Orleans, is considered the greatest living Nigerian poet. Most of his books are published in Nigeria; The Word is an Egg, his latest collection, appeared earlier this year. Just recently, two books of his, Pages from the Book of the Sun: New & Selected Poems and Thread in the Loom: Essays on African Literature and Culture, were published in the United States by African World Press. His work has been translated in Dutch, German, Korean and French, and has won many literary awards, such as the Noma.

posted 30 January 2006

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Home  Transitional Writings on Africa   The African World

Related files: Niyi Osundare At 60   The Remains of the Day   I am Alive  Osundare's Universe of Burdens  PraiseSong for Niyi Osundare  (Mona Lisa Saloy)  Niyi Niyi Osundare (poem  by Lee Meitzen Grue) 

The Poet's Pen & Other Poems