Wednesday, December 7, 2016 1:05 pm
Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt
The news of the demise of the Literary Icon, Capt. Elechi Amadi (rtd.), who died on June 29 at the age of 82 was received with shock in the literary world. After a six-day burial programme announced by the state burial committee, his remains was laid to rest in his family compound in Mgbodo Aluu in Ikwerre local government area of Rivers State on Saturday December 3.
From the outset, the state Governor, Nyesom Wike, made it clear that burial of the renowned novelist and poet would not be localised but accorded a state burial as mark honour for his giant achievements in both the literary world and public service.
Observers also said that the Governor put his foot down for a state sponsored burial for the late Elechi Amadi because the former Governor and Minister of Transport, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi had announced that he would bankroll the burial along with his friends. If the plan of the former Governor was allowed to pull through, the state Government would have been cut off and the elder statesman would have been denied a state burial.
Wike stated that the late literary icon deserved a befitting burial for his contributions to the development of the state, Nigeria and humanity. The governor emphasised this at the inauguration of the State Burial Committee for Elechi Amadi, even as he urged the family to cooperate with the committee to ensure that Amadi was given a befitting burial.
He warned against politicising the burial, pointing out that the state government would not struggle with any group that should organise the burial.
The governor stated, “If the family does not want Rivers State Government to participate in the burial, it should make its position known. “Nobody should localise the burial of the late Captain Elechi Amadi. In all ramifications, the late Captain Elechi Amadi served the nation in extra-ordinary ways.”
He explained that the committee was established after a wide consultation with different stakeholders in order to carry every group along and added that the committee could co-opt more members as the need arose.
According to him, the committee should ensure that the burial took place in 2016 because the weather of the state should play a part in the set date for the burial.
In his response, the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Frank Ohwor, assured the governor that members of the committee would work towards a befitting burial for the literary icon.
As soon as the committee was inaugurated, wide consultations with the immediate and extended family started in earnest. Some frayed nerves among Elechi Amadi’s immediate family that complained that they were not consulted by the burial committee had their feelings assuaged and were integrated in the planning.
The Chairman of the late Elechi Amadi Burial Committee, Hon. Frank Owhor, who unfolded a week-long programme for the burial said it would start with selected plays of Amadi; Isiburu and The Great Ponds at the Obi Wali Cultural Centre, Port Harcourt while the next day was the launching of his biography, a book fair and arts exhibition.
This followed with a literary day, combined with a service of songs/night of tributes at the Civic Centre on November 30 while a mock executive council meeting was held in his honour on Friday, December 2 at the Cabinet Chambers of Government House, Port Harcourt.
The internment was held at the family compound on Saturday, December 3 after a thanksgiving service at the St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Aluu in Ikwerre local Government area of Rivers State.
Giving an insight into Amadi’s works, Owhor said: “The Concubine was the first of a trilogy, completed by The Great Ponds and The Slave in which he ( Amadi) illustrated a central premise of much African fiction. In portraying the character of an individual, a whole community is revealed.
“His last novel, Estrangement, revisited the Nigerian Civil War, but in later years, he concentrated more on plays. Several of these, Isiburu depict struggles between ordinary people and the supernatural world, but one of them, The Dancer of Johannesburg, faced up squarely to the moral obnoxiousness of apartheid.”
Owhor assured that Governor Wike had provided the committee with all that it required to give the departed a befitting burial “I can unequivocally tell you that everything needed to make the burial of this man who took the literary world by storm in 1966 a success, ranging from logistics to security have been put in place as we have the full support of the Rivers State Government to prosecute this assignment,” he said.
At the Launching of the Biography/Art Exhibition/Book Fair in honour of Amadi at the Alfred Diette Spiff Civic Centre, Moscow Road, Port Harcourt, Governor Wike asserted that he will always stand by any Rivers man or woman who brings honours to the state.
Represented by his Deputy, Dr. (Mrs.) Ipalibo Harry Banigo, Governor Wike explained that the exhibition of qualities that engender development as exemplified by the late literary Icon, Captain Elechi Amadi is the only way to grow the society.
Wike said that as a government, “We will like to identify with persons who imbibe the qualities of integrity, hard work and patriotism and by this we are working towards encouraging our young ones to be able to take back the principles these mentors have delivered in their life time.” He observed that although the late Captain Elechi Amadi died at a time when his wise counsel was most needed, the Government and the people of Rivers State are consoled by the fact that he contributed immensely to the development of the State and Nation at large.
The Governor stressed the need for the re-introduction of History and Civic Education in both the Primary and Secondary School Curriculum, to enable the younger generation to know basic history about their place of origin.
The former Chief Judge of the State, Rtd Justice Iche Ndu who chaired the occasion said the launching of late Captain Elechi Amadi’s Biography is an important event as the book is geared towards showcasing the life and times of the literary Icon.
Rtd Justice Ndu who described late Captain Amadi as a man who was very important in the society, a responsible Ikwerre man and a distinguished Rivers Man and Nigerian, decried lack of reading culture among Nigerians, especially the youths.
Professor Emeritus Otonti Nduka who reviewed said the book is a biographical sketch of the life and times of Amadi described him as a man of many parts who conducted himself as an example of a man of integrity.
In the review entitled “Captain Elechi Amadi (Rtd) – An Unassuming Great Nigerian”, Nduka identified certain elements and characteristics which set late Captain Amadi out as an outstanding individual.
He stressed that from the accounts of his background and circumstances, he was a true son of the soil, who served his community, Ikwerre Ethnic Nationality, Rivers State and Nigeria with dedication, which earned him many awards and recognitions including, the National honour of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR). He recommended the book to the general public as they will find it to be a mine of information presented on the life and times of late Captain Elechi Amadi.
Presenting the book, the Chairman, Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority, Chief Ferdinand Alabraba said the late Amadi left legacies worthy of emulation before his departure as his books are adored in all parts of Nigeria and even beyond and commended the State Burial Committee for packaging a comprehensive burial programme that would highlight the antecedents of the literary Icon.
He decried the situation where the social media has taken over the attention of youths while reading habit, local languages and the people’s culture, are going into extinction, stressing the need to reverse the ugly trend.
At the burial on Saturday December 3, as expected, thousands of people, renowned writers across the country were at Mgbodo Village in Aluu Community to say final good bye.
The top echelon of the Association of Nigerian Authors was represented by its President, Denja Abdullahi; former Presidents Dr Wale Okediran and Odia Ofeimun. Poet, John Pepper Clark was also among the roll call of important writers at the funeral.
As mark of honour to immortalize the departed writer, Governor Wike renamed the newly upgraded Port Harcourt Polytechnic as Capt. Elechi Amadi Polytechnic.
Wike explained it was pertinent for the state to immortalise the late Author who had projected the Ikwerre nation and the state to the world of literary greats. He noted that the Rivers State University of Science and Technology would have been named after the literary icon but was avoided because of politics of the state.
Wike urged the family members of the late Amadi, who is also a retired Military Captain to keep the legacies of their father, stressing that the principle of selflessness which their father preached should be held high.
The state Chief Executive further noted: “Today we are not giving him an Aluu burial, Ikwerre burial because he is from the ethnic nationality, but a national burial because he is a Nigerian and his contributions to the nation, in the army and in the literary world are significant.”
“We are proud that we produced such an illustrious son that the nation and the world at large honour. We want the family to continue from where he stopped. Keep the good works of your father. It is unfortunate that people are not being remembered when they are alive but only when death comes. But it is good that we talk about people when they are alive so that they will know the fruits of their efforts.
In addition to renaming Port Harcourt Polytechnic after him, the Rivers State Government pledged to complete the Faculty of Humanities building started seven years ago in his name at the University of Port Harcourt. Governor Wike said he had called the Dean of that faculty about the decision of the state Government.
The Bishop of Ikwerre Diocese, Rt. Revd. Blessing Enyindah, who conducted the funeral service charged leaders to emulate the late literary icon, adding that selfless service yields eternal life and glory.
Enyindah, while speaking on ‘What will it benefit a man to gain the whole World and lose his soul’, worried that the Christian life of the late icon was not mentioned.
Enyindah said, “I have listened to the mass media make commentaries about the person of Elechi Amadi but nothing about his Christian life has been mentioned. Even in the biography nothing about his Christian life was mentioned.
“But I am happy that Amadi told us something about himself in his novel, Sun Set in Biafra where he disclosed that he was a keyboardist in the church and that makes him a good Christian.
“Our leaders are facing their selfish interest that is while the people are suffering. Anything they enter office they amass wealth for themselves.
“Leaders should display selflessness like the late Elechi Amadi. Today even pastors are competing with millionaires in buying houses and cars. Nigerian leaders only lead with selfish ambition against the dictates of the bible. Some of us acquire wealth without thinking of God and where our souls will be.
The Bishop stated that the late Amadi was an example of contentment and humility. He has served the nation as a teacher and commissioner solder, chairman scholarship board, but he did not exhibit selfishness.
He decided to live a simple life even when he had the opportunity of enriching himself. In him we see a man with a humble disposition.
In his tribute, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka said: “I recall those enraged, agonizing hours when the peace and sanctuary of his home were violated by kidnappers, mulled over the treasured moments I spent with him in the intimacy of his living room.”
“It seemed unconscionable that, having survived a Civil War, he should now be subjected to the sadism, disrespect and greed of a handful – and of course, of the failure of overall society that he took to arms to rectify. Far from his home, I quietly celebrated his triumphal return. Now there are only memories of those sparse but quietly congenial interactions to celebrate.”Soyinka said.
An old Boy of Government College Umuahia, that also produced the likes of Chukwuemeka Ike, author of Toads for Super, the late Chinua Achebe of Things Fall Apart fame, Amadi once told this writer that one of the ways of bringing back reading culture is to make it compulsory to be promoted to the next class, some prescribed number of novels must be read. And the provision of a well equipped library must be one of the major criteria for Government to give approval to private primary and secondary schools.