Nigeria’s Age of Enlightenment

Nigeria’s Age of Enlightenment

Friday, August 20, 2021 12:56 pm


Temitope Ajayi


By Temitope Ajayi

In a recent Facebook post, an accomplished journalist now a Public Relations practitioner, Mr. Bamidele Temitope Johnson agonised over the death of Arts and Literary Review pages in our newspapers. He re-ignited the memory of what I will call Nigeria’s age of enlightenment.

The 1970s and 80s witnessed a high intensity of post-colonial literary and cultural productions, most especially with the first and second generation writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Festus Iyayi, Zainab Alkali, Buchi Emecheta, Ben Okri, T.M Aluko, JP Clark, Elechi Amadi, Gabriel Okara, Cyprian Nkwensi, Flora Nwapa, among many others.

Clark, Achebe and Soyinka

The golden age of enlightenment and literary criticism came in the 1980s up to early 90s with the Guardian Newspapers’ Literary Series when the Newspaper attracted academics and literary scholars from different ideological backgrounds to enrich public debate with weekly intellectual tango. Those men and women tore themselves apart with their opposing ideological idiosyncrasies. It was a period that underscored the importance of the intellectuals in building a progressive society.

Regrettably, the economy of running a profitable newspaper business where newspaper managers had to contend with dwindling copy sales and the business imperatives of balancing advertising revenue, have robbed us of the quality public intellection that era offered. Today, our society is poorer for it. We now live in a digital age that is largely anti-intellectual and shallow, with a burgeoning young population that can hardly read anything beyond the headline.

Clockwise from top left: Odia Ofeimum, Biodun Jeyifo, Stanley Macebuh and Yemi Ogunbiyi

Unarguably, many of Nigeria’s public intellectuals and academics that have acquired celebrity status till date used the platform of the Guardian Literary Series to build their public profiles. They ventilated and espoused ideas and ideals that had aspiring literati, students and activists lining up to pick their ‘idols’ among them. It was a period marked by fierce competition between two world-views of the Marxists and those pejoratively tagged as ‘philistinic’. Prominent among the literary scholars who dazzled with hot contestation of ideas then were Abiola Irele, Biodun Jeyifo, Odia Ofeimun, Dapo Adelugba, Wole Soyinka, Niyi Osundare, Stanley Macebuh, Tanure Ojaide, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Adebayo Williams, Bala Usman, Edwin Madunagu, G.G. Darah, Chinweizu, among many others.


Professor Abiola Irele

Professor Niyi Osundare. Photo by The Sun

They were and still the Oracles of Literary Criticism. As undergraduates at OAU, Ife, our Literature lecturers made us read some editions of the Guardian Newspapers Quarterly Series. It was the time Guardian actually earned and really lived up to its ‘Flagship’ sobriquet.

The period also had journalists like Mr. Kunle Ajibade, Ben Tomoloju, Kolawole Ilori, Dele Omotunde, Tunji Lardner, Sina Odugbemi, Chucks Iluegbunam, Toyin Akinosho etc who elevated the fine art of Arts and Literary journalism with generous and lavish coverage, spiced with elegant prose.

We should not have a souless society. Profit maximisation alone should not be the only essence of business. A society without strong foundations in matters of literature and philosophy will asphyxiate. There is one quote that says the best assessment of a society is in its literature and not its law. It is my wish that the Guardian Newspapers resurrect the ‘Literary Series’ and I believe very strongly there is a large enough market of enthusiasts to generate good copy sales.

*Temitope Ajayi, journalist, PR consultant and public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos.

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