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Ekwensi was celebrated as the forefather of the city novel. He is believed to be the author of the earliest

 published fiction on social life in the Lagos Metropolis. The accomplished novelist is remarkable

for his down-to-earth style of writing and his prolific output, with over 20 novels to his credit.



Books by Cyprian Ekwensi

Lokotown And Other Stories /   People of the City   / Iska  / Motherless Baby   /  Jagua Nana's Daughter Burning Grass  / Masquerade Time

  King for Ever!  / Gone to Mecca / Survive the Peace  /  Jagua Nana /  Restless City and Christmas Gold  / Drummer Boy

   Samankwe and the Highway Robbers / An African Night's Entertainment   / Divided We Stand  / Beautiful Feathers

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The Passing of Popular Fiction Writer Cyprian Ekwensi

By Arthur  Edgar E Smith


Cyprian Ekwensi (September 26, 1921 – November 4, 2007), one of the grand old men of African fiction—and one of the few who made the transition from Onitsha-market-pamphlet-fiction authors to one with at least something of an international reputation—has passed away. So The Literary Saloon announced the death of this African literary icon who died Sunday 4th November in Enugu at the age of 86.

For Ekwensi’s widow, Chinwe, the death of her husband is a shock she may have to live with the rest of her life. Wearing dark glasses and sitting at a corner in the spacious sitting room, she narrated how she had driven her late husband the previous week to the Niger Foundation Hospital for a check up, but adding however, that he went up being admitted. Although she could not confirm, whether her husband underwent a surgery at the hospital, she stated however that, his health deteriorated by the day, leading to the action.

Mrs. Ekwensi, who is at her late 60's added that she cut short her visit overseas after spending two weeks to fly him from Lagos back to Enugu, adding that in the last one month, they had regularly visited the hospital. "Since we left Lagos, we have not rested. It is from one thing to another and being an old man, one should expect changes in his condition", she said.

Mrs. Ekwensi, who reeled in waist pain as she told her story, disclosed that the pains increased during their long days at the hospital, while attending to her husband. "The hospital bench became my bed,” she grimaced. She added that her husband's condition remained critical till his death Sunday morning. The deceased’s eldest son, George who flew in from the U.S. when he learnt about his father’s ailment last week, has begun consultations with relations and notable indigenes of Anambra State on burial plans.

Speaking with the Daily Sun, the novelist’s son, Ike, confirmed the family meeting, but noted that his father’s burial would not be determined by family members only, considering his outstanding contributions to national development.

It was learnt that Ekwensi was due for an award in Lagos, on November 16. He had left Lagos in good spirit a month ago with the hope of picking the award later. He never knew he would not make it, a relation, said at the Ekwensi’s home on 141, Ojuelegba Road, Lagos on Monday.

Following the death of this renowned novelist and public commentator, the Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, past and present governors, ministers of government, writers and All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) have expressed shock over his demise.

They described Ekwensi's death as a great loss to Nigeria and the entire literary world.

Factional President-General of Ohanaeze, Dozie Ikedife, said a great Igbo son had departed, stressing that he left enviable legacies that would last for generations to come. "It is a pity. He is one of the greatest authors of our time. . . . He has been around for sometime….Nigerians and the entire literary world will definitely miss him. . . ." he said. Ikedife urged the family to bear the loss with fortitude, trusting in God and believing that he had contributed his best to writing and social engineering.

The governor, said Ekwensi's death has created a gap in the state and in the literary world and assured that the state government would fully participate in the burial arrangements. Being a traditional chief and title holder, Ekwensi’s family will first meet before officially communicating the news of his passing to the government.

In his tribute, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) Chief Victor Umeh said Ekwensi's death has robbed Nigeria, of one of the greatest literary minds to have passed through the land. He observed that his works had contributed immensely to the development of literature in Nigeria, adding that he would be greatly missed by all Nigerians.

Former Health Minister, Professor A.B.C Nwosu recalling that the late literary icon who had started life as a pharmacist, played a crucial role in the eradication of the then dreaded guinea worm disease in old Anambra state as chairman of the state Health Management Board at the time when he (Nwosu) was Commissioner for Health said he would find it difficult to refer to Ekwensi in the past tense, having become used to his resourcefulness as both a writer and administrator.

"It is a terrible blow. . . . He gave me the slogan 'Get rid of guinea worm' when he was chairman Anambra State Health Management Board and I was Commissioner for Health under the late Emeka Omeruah. We traversed the whole of Abakaliki area in the quest to kick out guinea worm. He helped me get funds from Japan to finance the project. We both received former American President Jimmy Carter. A fine man with a fine mind. . . ." Nwosu added.

Former Governor of Old Anambra State, Chief Christian Onoh in mourning Ekwensi’s  demise  also described it as a big blow to the literary world. Onoh, among the first set of people that paid a sympathy visit to the Hill view Crescent, Independence layout, Enugu residence of the late prolific writer, said that, the news came to him with rude shock, expressing dismay that Ekwensi could die at a time when according to him, " we need him around to reform our education".

Clad in white lace, the elder statesman, said he was however consoled by the fact that the late Ekwensi never wasted his time on earth, adding that his contributions to the literary world would live forever. He said that, Ekwensi who authored many literary books, lived and died for writing and extended his sympathies to the Nigerian literary world as well as the entire south East.

The Minister of Information, Mr John Odey described the late "Ekwensi as a great contributor to the unity of Nigeria and the development of literary education in the country".

The message reads: "the Federal Government received the news of the sudden death of a prominent citizen of your state and a reputable literary icon of this country, Chief Cyprian Ekwensi, with sadness. "I am particularly touched by his death because of his having served as a staff of my ministry where he rose to become a Director"..

Reacting to the death of the novelist,  National President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Dr. Wale Okediran, said, “his death, though at a ripe age, marked the end of a tradition of story telling. As a writer of popular fiction, COD was a natural storyteller whose works were both accessible and entertaining.”

Okediran, who said the late Ekwensi was his teacher in the popular literature genre, said a structure in the proposed ANA village in Abuja would be named after Ekwensi as part of ANA’s plan to immortalise him, adding that ANA would collaborate with the Nigerian arm of PEN, a global association of writers, to make available, a documentary made on Ekwensi to all Nigerians.

A former ANA  President Professor Obafemi, on his part, said “Ekwensi’s loss is the loss of a key architect of modern Nigerian literature and the first to carve a national character for Nigerian fiction. He was one of those who erected the canon and pillars of popular fiction in Nigeria. His death has taken away an ancestral voice in the Nigerian creative cosmos.”

Professor Olu Obafemi, A renowned scholar, writer and immediate past president of ANA, described the late writer as a key figure in the establishment of what is now known as Nigerian literature.According to Obafemi, Ekwensi would forever be remembered as one of the oldest writers of the English expression who kept and gave national character to Nigerian literature. "Ekwensi’s death” he said “ is a major deprivation to Nigerian literature. He was one of the major architects of modern Nigerian literature, who, as early as in the 1950s and 1960s, began to write about issues and events beyond his ethnic background. He was one of the proponents of popular fiction in Nigeria.
Cyprian Ekwensi who hailed from Nkwerre Izukalla in Oyi local government area of Anambra state is survived by a wife and nine children.

Speaking on the death of the novelist  in Lagos, the assistant General Secretary of ANA, Mr Hyacinth Obunseh, described Ekwensi’s death as unfortunate. Obunseh said that the literary community and indeed the world would miss him especially, his peculiar style of writing. "Ekwensi’s imaginative and descriptive power will be greatly missed," Obunseh said.He, however, regretted that the late literary giant did not live long enough to complete his autobiography.

A writer, Fred Uzo, expressed the hope that Nigeria would “give him the honour that is due to a scholar, a writer and a humanist of his stature.".

Earlier this year, Ekwensi released Cash on Delivery, a collection of short stories, which turned out to be his last book. When he turned 86 last year, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Lagos State chapter and the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), feted him.

Ekwensi was celebrated as the forefather of the city novel. He is believed to be the author of the earliest published fiction on social life in the Lagos Metropolis. The accomplished novelist is remarkable for his down-to-earth style of writing and his prolific output, with over 20 novels to his credit.

One of his books, Divided We Stand, a lampoon on the Nigerian Civil War, is slated for discussion by experts in a conference on 40 years after the civil war.

Told of the passing on of Ekwensi, poet and past president of ANA, Odia Ofeimu, was "shocked beyond words" to comment immediately.To the newly elected Lagos State ANA chairman, Mr. Chike Ofili, it was an unnerving piece of information. He too withheld his comments till later.News of the death broke as Nigerian authors were rounding off their yearly convention held over the weekend in Owerri, Imo State.He was a Nigerian writer who stressed description of the locale and whose episodic style was particularly well suited to the short story.

*   *   *   *   *

Cyprian Odiatu Duaka Ekwensi—Nigerian short-story writer and author of children's books—was born at Minna in Northern Nigeria. He later lived in Onitsha in the Eastern area. He was educated at Achimota College in the Gold Coast, and at the Chelsea School of Pharmacy of London University. He lectured in pharmacy at Lagos and was employed as a pharmacist by the Nigerian Medical Corporation. He married Eunice Anyiwo, and they had five children.

posted 12 November 2007 

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