Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Novellist with Ofo in His Hand

Obododimma Oha

Not many Nigerian creative writers are traditional rulers or are willing to accept the invitation to become traditional rulers. Perhaps this is because of what seems to be the poor image that traditional rulership in Nigeria has acquired, beginning from the colonial era to the present. Although many traditional rulers in Nigeria resisted the colonization of their domains and were either exiled or jailed, the traditional rulers that succeeded them -- especially the warrant chiefs -- turned out to be tyrants who principally served the interests of the British colonial government that installed them. In recent times too, traditional rulership seems to have slid into infamy as many traditional rulers are known to have colluded with military dictators and corrupt politicians to abort justice in Nigerian political life and to victimize social critics, including radical literary artists.

Moreover, the selection process and installation of the traditional ruler in Nigeria seem to be characterized by some unhealthy forms of politicking and corruption which generally tend to undermine the integrity of the traditional institution. The very fact the roles of the traditional ruler are not clearly defined in the contemporary democratic system in Nigeria also makes the traditional ruler somewhat redundant and lead to traditional rulers being merely seen as instruments used by the political elite and nouveau riche in the society.

Thus Nigerian literati seem to have become highly suspicious of traditional rulership and try to keep distance from it. But not all Nigerian literary artists believe that the traditional institution is obsolete, criminal, and/or unsuitable for the image of the creative writer. While some writers turn down chieftaincy nominations and prefer to remain just writers, some believe that there is something in traditional rulership that must not be allowed to perish in the changing Nigerian society, particularly in the present matrimony of political systems in Nigeria.

Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike, author of many highly recommended novels and textbooks, is one of those who are convinced that the image of traditional leadership in Africa can be cleaned up and invested with meaning once more if the enlightened individual like the creative artist accepts the challenge of mounting the throne. Chukwuemeka Ike accepted the invitation from his community to become their traditional ruler. He is currently the Eze Ikelionwu of Ndikelionwu in Anambra State of Nigeria.

His Majesty, Eze Chukwuemeka Ike, speaking at the Authors' Forum

The Ezeship of Chukwuemeka Ike was one source of lively and friendly exchange of jokes yesterday at the Kakanfo Inn, Ibadan, as Ike met with other elderly Nigerian creative writers, scholars, and publishers at the Authors’ Forum convened by University Press Plc, Ibadan, as part of its 60th Anniversary celebrations. J.P. Clark-Bekederemo, who chaired the occasion, teased His Majesty, Chukwuemeka Ike, on the discomforts he (Clark-Bekederemo) felt in addressing him in his new status, also pointing out the superfluity in referring to the traditional ruler as “His Royal Majesty” instead of simply “His Majesty”. Ike, noble-spirited as ever, received these jokes about his chieftaincy warmly, without jeopardizing the dignity normally associated with his position as a traditional ruler.

Poet J.P. Clark-Bekederemo, speaking as Chair at the Authors' Forum

With highly respected writers like Professor Chukwuemeka Ike now involved in traditional governance, one could hope for the recovery of the indigenous political system and a creative approach to African values. Ike’s emergence as a traditional ruler has introduced a change into the posture of the contemporary African writer on African politics, shifting attention from the usual cynical orientation to direct involvement and practical commitment. As a traditional ruler and novelist, Ike is now not just a teller of stories about his society, but also the story itself.

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