By HENRY AKUBUIRO
Fifty years have gone since Nigeria’s foremost poet, Christopher Okigbo, breathed his last fighting for Biafra. He lived for only thirty-five years, but, within his brief career as a poet, he was able to establish himself as one of the best bards Africa has ever produced and one of the modernist writers of the last century.
To this end, the Christopher Okigbo Foundation, in collaboration with the Department of English, University of Ibadan, his alma mater, will be holding a two-day conference with the theme “Legacy of Christopher Okigbo” on 20 and 21 September 2017 at the university.
Headlining the conference is a contemporary of his, Professor Wole Soyinka, who will be presenting the keynote speech on Day 1, while the Dikelionwu monarch, Professor Chukwuemeka Ike, will chair the occasion. The Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnameka Achebe, will be the Royal Father of the day, while Ambassador Judith Sefi Attah (Okigbo’s widow), the poet, JP Clark; members of the Okigbo family, friends, international and local writers will discuss the sub-themes.
While Judith Attah will speak on “Okigbo, the Family Man”, Pius Okigbo Jr. will speak on “Okigbo, the Sibling”, just as Chief Alex Ade Ajayi will talk about “Okigbo, the Teacher”. In addition, Professor Remi Raji will speak on “Okigbo the Poet, while J.P Clark will talk about “Okigbo, the Friend”. Hon Chudi Ofodile, a Biafran scholar, will also present a paper on “Okigbo, the Martyr”.
Dr. Wale Okediran, Chief Advisor to the Okigbo Foundation, informed at the news conference, which held recently at The News head office in Lagos, that the sessions would be moderated by journalist and critic, Molara Wood, while Prof. Abel Olayinka, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, would play the role of Chief Host. Oyo State Governor, Isiaka Ajimobi; Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, Profs. Dan Izevbaye, Abdulrasheed Na’Allah are also expected at the event.
Later in the evening of the opening day, a gala soiree will be hosted by Chief Joop Berkhout at Cambridge House, Ibadan, where Okigbo once lived as the representative of Cambridge University Press. Expected are Okigbo’s contemporaries, fellow poets, members of the cultural industry and institutions that have been upholding his memory to date.
Dr. Okediran informed that the property was bought in 1992 by Chief Berkhout, and Okigbo was celebrated at the opening in the presence of his colleagues, Wole Soyinka, JP Clark, and Dr Pius Okigbo, the poet’s brother. “A plaque was, that day, unveiled in front of the house with ‘Here lived Christopher Okigbo’,” said Okediran.
The second day of the conference on Thursday September will feature the presentation of papers by younger scholars at the Faculty of Arts Building.
Speaking at the conference, Kunle Ajibade, described the late poet as charismatic and cosmopolitan, which informed why he preferred to edit The Transition with more global outlook to Black Orpheus that celebrated Negritude. He added: “People just loved to be around him. Okigbo had an electrifying personality. He was a great spirit. Soyinka, Achebe and Clark were ready to defend him. I don’t know what inhabited his lean frame that made him extraordinary.”
Okigbo’s daughter, Obiageli, informed that her father’s sterling qualities made UNESCO to select his manuscript among the “Memory of World Register”, adding, an artist’s retreat was also being planned in Okigbo’s home state of Anambra. In the same vein, Patrick Okigbo, a member of the Okigbo Foundation, noted that new editions of Okigbo’s Labyrinth and his Collected Poems would be presented during the forthcoming fifty-year anniversary at the University of Ibadan.
Other events scheduled for the anniversary include the unveiling of the UNESCO Plaque with Joie Springer, Senior Programme Specialist Knowledge Societies Division, Memory of the World Register, UNESCO; poetry reading of excerpts of Labyrinths by Dr. Abubakar Othman of the University of Maiduguri, and performance poetry and live entertainment by Igbo cultural groups.