Osundare, The Literary Guru, Turns 60

2 Comments » March 25th, 2007 posted by // Categories: General Articles




The Literary Guru Is 60

Niyi Osundare, renowned professor of poetry, honoured by friends and colleagues to mark his 60th birthday

By Anthony Akaeze

Monday, March 19, 2007 

It was like the homecoming of a prince who had been away for long. Both his family members and friends were eager to behold him to know whether he has changed much from the person they used to know. But many who saw and listened to Niyi Osundare, a professor and former lecturer in the Department of English, University of Ibadan, March 14, agreed that there is no difference to the man they know.

It was an event to mark Osundare’s 60th birthday anniversary organised by his friends and admirers. The four-day event, which started in Lagos on Saturday, March 10, 2007, ended on Wednesday, March 14, in Ibadan, Oyo State, with a lecture.

It was at the University Ibadan that Osundare’s literary skills were sharpened having obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree there. This was why Aduke Adebayo, a professor, and dean of Faulty of Arts, University of Ibadan, described Osundare as “our own literary icon, bred and nurtured in the Ibadan tradition of committed literature.” It is a tradition and attitude, she said, that does not simply pander to self-indulgence.” This is in line with using literature to respond to the ills of the society. Adebayo expressed joy at the accomplishments of Osundare who is well-known internationally and is today a worthy role model.

Lekan Oyeleye, the head of the department of English, also believes that Ibadan played a great role in the literary evolution of the poet fondly described by admirers as “eye of the earth,” after one of his famous works. He said: “We recall Osundare’s role as a member of the prestigious University of Ibadan Poetry Club, and what metamorphosed into “Thursday People,” the name by which members of the group came to be known by virtue of their usual assemblage on that day. What started as a coterie, has today nourished some of the best of the post-Osundare generation. This is, indeed, a worthwhile investment.” Such an investment, said Oyeleye, points in the direction of an assured place for Osundare in the canon of world literature. But “beyond his talent and knowledge of poetic craft is his deep sense of community,” he said.

To Ayo Ogunkunle, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor who represented Olubisi Bamiro, the vice-chancellor, the occasion was, indeed, a celebration of the contributions of a man of arts. According to him, “the event of the day is proof that Osundare has impacted lives positively.” Life, he said, is full of opportunities and some people make use of the opportunity to contribute to the development of their society. “God has made us to live with each other so that we may touch lives. Some do so negatively, others positively. For Osundare, we want to thank God for using him to bless others.”

K.K. Olosho of the department of Islamic Studies, University of Ibadan, also has high regards for Osundare, whom he acknowledged as an erudite scholar and internationally acclaimed poet. To him, the “best of men among all men is that man through whose work the whole of mankind has been impacted;” and Osundare is one of such men.

The accolades were not just an Ibadan affair. Wale Adegbite, an associate professor in the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife, also eulogised Osundare’s intellectual strides. Describing him as a great scholar and educationist, stylistician and linguist, Adegbite noted that Osundare has for long provided the tools for which many people – teachers and students alike – looked at literary works from a stylistic point of view, a fact that has ensured that his influence was not restricted to just Ibadan.

Stewart Brown, also paid his tribute. Brown, an English poet and university lecturer at the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham, delivered a lecture at the occasion titled. The Imaginary Continent: Images of Africa in Modern British Poetry, which partly dwells on how Africa is viewed and portrayed by many European scholars, as depicted in their works. But such works do not really portray the true Africa, as the continent is largely viewed by them as the “heart of darkness,” which is not true. But there were other works that capture the essence of living in some Nigerian towns like Kano where Brown once lived and worked as a lecturer at Bayero University. However, Brown was pleased to have the opportunity to deliver the lecture in honour of Osundare. He said: “I’ve long been a great admirer of Niyi as a poet, friend and colleague. How does one honour a poet of such distinction and accomplishment? He described his friend as one whose curiosity, interest and love for poetry transcend Nigerian shores and which has duly impacted on his own craft, leading to the success he has become today.

The man of the moment, Osundare, could not contain his joy. He thanked the organisers of the event for the wonderful effort that was put into honouring him. According to him, even though he was aware of plans by some of his friends to organise the event in his honour, he was surprised by its scope. “Everywhere I have been in the past five days, it’s been like that. I’ve never seen this done for a writer … It’s a terrible thing for a poet to confess to a short of words but that is what is happening now.” This threw the audience into laughter. But as would be noted, it merely prepared ground for Osundare to lament the decay in the system. He described Nigeria as “a rotten country where rulers with no sense of shame preside.” These rulers who are without any conviction and principle have largely succeeded in running the country aground because the people are no different, he said. “This is because, when they need support to perpetrate absurdities, they find people to use.” Under such a situation, Osundare said, it will be difficult not to feel anger. He urged Nigerians to dare to live a virtuous life. “We must stand up for something otherwise we stand for anything.” He appealed to the young generation to choose to be different, so that change may come to Nigeria soon, rather than later. He told them: “Don’t cheat, be respectful and disciplined, as these are virtues that will lead to change.”

Recalling his early days, Osundare said: “If I’m anybody today, it is because of the discipline my parents instilled in me. My parents focused on character and made it the number one priority. Next to my parents are my teachers. The influence of both my parents and teachers in my life cannot be overlooked. They prepared me for the challenges of life. That is why, one question I’ve constantly asked myself is, how can I make this country better? You too can begin to ask the same question,” he charged them.

Born in 1949 in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Osundare is one of Africa’s best-known poets. He is a holder of numerous awards for poetry, such as the Commonwealth Prize, the Noma award as well as the Fonlon/Nichols award for excellence in literary creativity combined with significant contributions to human rights in Africa.

After retiring from the University of Ibadan in 2005, he proceeded to New Orleans University in the United States, where he is now a teacher. But what was supposed to be another exciting phase in his life became a source of unhappiness to him. Osundare was one of those affected by the Hurricane Katrina that swept through some American cities including New Orleans in 2005. That resulted in his losing his library stocked with books acquired over a lifetime. But today, there are plans to replace some of the books, through an initiative called The Niyi Osundare Society (NOS).

Nurddin Temitayo Busari, the immediate past president of the Association of Students of English and Literary Studies, University of Ibadan appealed to Nigerians to donate books, archival materials, photographs, motion materials, journals and rare articles, newspaper and magazine stories, and Internet materials to the NOS so they could be preserved as a compendium, and which would be used for research purposes.

To cap the event, an entertainment group from Lagos called Crown Troupe staged a performance that could best be described as a critique of the Nigerian society. It highlighted the numerous ills in the Nigerian system as seen in the lifestyle of some members of the society. The message was clear: a nation’s rising or declining fortune is a consequence of the actions of those who inhabit it.



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2 Responses to “Osundare, The Literary Guru, Turns 60”

  1. NigerianMuse says:

    Monday, March 26, 2007

    Osundare: 60 candles for the peasant bred poet
    By Uduma Kalu
    THE premonitions were complete. There was near collapse of things at the University of Ibadan. Its electricity situation is near comatose. Reputable lecturers such as Niyi Osundare, Dan Izevbaye, Ayo Banjo, Biodun Jeyifo, etc have left or are retired. The bulk of the dramas staged at its theatre are mainly old fables about deities that appear to men. The mores of the new age are scarcely staged here. At Amoye Grammar School, where the poet, Niyi Osundare, spent his formative years, is in near ruins. And the halls are dirty and dusty. The wooden tables and chairs crowded the spaces. And the students wrote their poor sentences on the walls.

    Still, like the celebrant, there was hope, even in the midst of this collapse, that things will get better. A student at the Amoye Grammar School won two of last year edition of Osundare Prizes in Science and Yoruba. At the University of Ibadan, the efforts of the new librarian seems to be bearing fruits going by the words of the Osundare @60 committee, organisers of the birthday event.

    Actually, what Sola Olorunyomi was talking about was the readings held at the Kenneth Dike Library which Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) president, Dr. Wale Okediran, Biodun Jeyifo, Anthony Ebika, Heads of English and his Classic counterpart, Joe Ushie, Remi Oriaku, lecturers from the Theatre Department, including Femi Osofisan, etc. graced.

    And Ebika read from Osundare’s Moonsongs, while others read other people’s works but all related to Osundare’s works. Some of the works read include Kofi Anyidoho’s House of Our Dreams as well as excerpts from Violence, award winning novel by Festus Iyayi. There was also reading from Ademola Dasylvia’s book and tributes from ex-students who are now lecturers, as well as friends who are fellow lecturers. Even Jeyifo hijacked a poem from the author, Femi Osofisan, and read it to the public.

    Osofisan’s poem was basically a celebration of Osundare. The poem even refuses to mention that Osundare is 60 but that the day is just like another day. But when his phones begin to ring and texts sent to him, the celebrant will know that it was his birthday. And at night, his joints will pain him and his white hairs will remind him of weakness of age.

    Osofisan bemoaned the fact that problems still persist in the land, even though their generation began early to fight against those injustices.

    The reading was one of humility as no tribute paid to Osundare went unanswered by him. He would respond and pay his own tribute to those that honoured him. One of them was Jeyifo whom Osundare met as a fresher when the inimitable critic was a unionist in the third year of his studies at the Ibadan. BJ, as he is fondly called, was the Public Relations Officer in the students’ union and was addressing students at the Trenchard Hall, which was also, venue for the birthday bash. According to him, Jeyifo was articulate in his address to the crowd. His English was perfect.

    Osundare spoke about Jeyifo’s radicality, which culminated in the founding in of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) with him as first president. Then Jeyifo, he said, fought for the funding of the universities, teachers’ welfare and protection of the universities.

    Osundare remembered Wole Soyinka’s 70th birthday and how Jeyifo spoke on Soyinka’s mastery of the English language. For the poet, however, Jeyifo is actually a perfect description of that he ascribed to Soyinka.

    He also remembered the days of the late General Sani Abacha and how three English Department lecturers died when the universities embarked on a six- month national strike. Some of the lecturers left too. This was during Osundare’s time as head of English. He, however, went to Adeyemi Teachers’ College, Ondo State, and brought Dasylvia. At that time Osundare’s salary was N3,000, he said. But Dasylvia came, and went on to bring others from the college.

    Osundare also remembered the days of Abacha and how the operatives of the late dictator besieged an ANA event. At this juncture, ANA president, Wale Okediran, presented an award to the poet on behalf of ANA, and another, a portrait of the artiste as a scholar. He therefore presented him with a piece of local woven cloth in a parcel. Okediran and his wife were active during Osundare’s 50th birthday. She was the master of ceremony.

    Osundare spoke on his friendship with Osofisan and how they visited each other. Osundare said he used to show his poems to Osofisan, just as Osofisan showed him his plays. He described Osofisan as a good critic.

    He also narrated an encounter with an old man. At end of the interview, he thanked the old man but the man told him that Osundare’s presence had ‘youngified’ him. For Osundare, the birthday party had ‘youngified’ him, he said. He then cut the cake saying it was the first birthday day he had ever cut.

    But the cake scene was a bit dramatic. Osundare described the cake as a beautiful piece of art. "Do we have to pull this apart because we have to munch?" He asked.

    Well, he did pull down the monument and ate from it as well.

    At Amoye Grammar School, Ikere Ekiti, one noticeable thing there was a towering rock at the back of the school. Indeed, in Ikere rocks are like ridges. Inside the fairly large school compound is a football field, and newly palm trees adorned its edges. The buildings were painted green and yellow. They had old zinc roofs with patches of new ones as well. Dongoyaro and mango trees are main trees there. There were old buildings that had fallen down out of disrepair.

    It was an honour for Osundare as even his mother was there, and fed him with cake. And tributes poured from teachers and former students who went to Ikere with him. They included Joe Ushie, and Dr. Taiwo Oloruntoba who remembered Osundare’s solidarity with the sacked lectures in University of Ilorin. He urged the young students there to look up to the poet as a model, adding that scholars all over worked on his collections. He displayed a book on the works of Osundare.

    Osundare, he said, is a humanist, acclaimed literary icon, who took a position on the sacked University of Ilorin lecturers, in defence of truth.

    He also spoke on Ikere as source of Osundare’s cultural creativity. He said Osundare is a great man but in Nigeria only those that have money are celebrated.

    "Ikere has a worthy son to celebrate. He is your son but he is not yours. He is son of the world. He has put Ikere in world map," he said.

    Noting what the principal asked for: need to come to the aid of the school, the lecturer said the community spirit that sustained the schools in those days is gone, as everybody is looking for what to eat. Government itself is no more responsible as well as the community.

    "Yet, this school can still produce many more Osundares. You should work hard, obey the rules and regulations of the school and take Osundare as your role model," he told them.

    For Ushie, who came from the University of Calabar, Osundare, who supervised him at Ibadan, is an iroko, that giant tropical tree regarded among people of Nigeria reagarded as king of trees. The poet, he told the students is an honour to them to the people adding that how he rose to that position is not easy.. the young ones can use him as a challenge and therefore be like the star he is.

    As Ushie spoke, a banner danced him him. It was the National association of Ikere students (NAIS) banner.

    The third day event was at the Trenchard hall. And the vice chancellor was represented by the deputy vice chancellor, administration. There was the dean of arts and head of English as well. Ayo Banjo, Obododinma Oha, Jegede.

    There was dramatic performance by kid broadcasters on acted a out a live coverage of the event. They noted the old men with white years and people sitting down. They noted the poor support by government, before wishing Osundare happy birthday.

    For the DVC, the event was a celebration of a man of arts. Congratulating him on his 60tyh birthday, he said that the poet is on new stage, a senior citizen. Osundare, he went on, has impacted in lives. Indeed, the DVC spoke like a an evangelist. He was persuasive, not as a scholar.

    Actually, the dean of the arts brought the scholarly bent of the conference. But she too did not even mention any book by the poet. Neither did she quote a line from his works. But she noted that Osundare is a literary icon, bred and nurtured in Ibadan literary tradition.. this tradition, she boated has traversed the world. The hallmark of that tradition, she went on, is humanise, goodness.

    We are proud of our tradition that shaped Nigerian tradition, she said, noting Achebe, Okigbo, Soyinka and now Osundare.

    She also remembered the Katrina experience saying "Today, is a day of joy and nothing would disturb the day." The poet, she said, is a role model.

    For Oyeleye, who echoed some works of Osundare in his works, the poet is international. He has contributed, through his verses to scholarship. Then he read a brief biography of the poet. Osundare was part of the Thursday club who met mostly on Thursday saying that that group is dominated by the post Osundare generation.

    The keynote address was given by Stewart Brown, an English poet and lecturer and scholar of African Caribbean literature at the Centre of west African Studies university of Birmingham Brown had taught at the Ado Bayero University, Kano and at the University of West Indies in Barbados and in Jamaica. He spoke on Imaginary Continent. Image of Africa in Modern British Poetry.

    Brown actually noted the different segments of English poet writing on and about Africa. While he dismissed most of the earlier generations as being exotic and imaginary, his time, the era f settlers who spent more than 30 years or so in Africa are more positive views of the continent. But he did not deal with Osundare’s work as people though he would.

    Later a Niyi Osundare society (NOS) was formed for the preservation of the poets works. The group for electronic preservation therefore solicits Works on and by the poet. Osundare lost the bulk of his books in the Hurricane Katrina.

  2. NigerianMuse says:


    An Evening With Angry Osundare At 60

    19th March, 2007

    With invitations sent all across the world, the literary world abuzz with frenzied expectations, the atmosphere conspiratorial, embellished with the rough caress of Lagos Island breeze, the stage was set for a fiesta of words, all in honour of Prof. Niyi Osundare who clocked 60 years recently. Surrounded and submerged in an island of books and books, the precincts of Jazz Hole Ikoyi, Lagos further gave an inkling into what the evening would be: an evening for the lettered mind as well as a celebration of Prof. Osundare

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