One of Nigeria’s pioneer novelists, university administrator, teacher and promoter of reading culture, Professor Chukwuemeka Ike, died on January 8 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State, at the age of 88. Until his death, the literary icon was the Traditional Ruler of Ndikelionwu, in Orumba South Local Government Area of Anambra State. Without doubt, his death has robbed Nigeria, Africa and the literary world of a prolific writer, especially one whose writing is a mixture of lampoon, humour and satire. Like Chinua Achebe, Ike’s literary works are generously spiced with Igbo proverbs and speech patterns.
Born on April 28, 1931, at Ndikelionwu, Ike attended Government College Umuahia from 1945-1950. He was in the school at the same time as Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo and Ken Saro-Wiwa. He started writing at Umuahia for the school magazine known as ‘The Umuahian.’
At Umuahia, the deceased was influenced by teachers such as Saburi Biobaku and others. His first story, ‘A dreamland’, was published in ‘The Umuahian’ and it marked his entry into the literary world. He owed his motivation for writing to Chinua Achebe. He later studied History, English and Religion at the University College Ibadan, now University of Ibadan (UI) from 1951-1955. He also got his master’s degree at Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA, 1966.
At UI, Ike was invited by Chinua Achebe to join the magazine club. He published his first novel, Toads for Supper, in 1965. His other literary works include, The Naked Gods (1970), The Potter’s Wheel (1973), Sunset at Dawn (1976), Expo ’77 (1980), The Chicken Chasers (1980), The Bottled Leopard (1985), Our Children Are Coming (1990), Conspiracy of Silence (2001), The Search (1991), To My Husband from Iowa (1966), and The Accra Riviera (2001). Some of Ike’s nonfiction works include, University Development in Africa: The Nigerian Experience (1976), An Experiment in Higher Education (1986) and How to Become a Published Writer (1991).
Ike was a gifted writer and a great storyteller. As a patriot, he believed in Nigerian unity as well as inter-ethnic marriages. His works portray the post-colonial tensions in Nigeria. He used his works to denounce evil and corruption in the society. His Biafran war novel, Sunset at Dawn, which was one of the most significant fictional works on the war, chronicles the major events of the war from 1967 to 1970. His home town, Ndikelionwu, featured prominently in his writings.
The prolific writer was awarded the Fonlon-Nichols Award at the African Literature Association meeting held in Illinois, United States, in 2008. The late writer would be remembered by his numerous memorable novels. He would also be remembered for coordinating for many years the Nigerian Book Foundation, which is in the forefront of promoting reading culture in the country.
Ike worked as an Administrative Assistance in University College, Ibadan from 1957-58; Assistant Registrar, 1958-60; and Deputy Registrar University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1960-1963, Registrar University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1963-1971. He was the Registrar and Chief Executive of the West African Examination Council (WAEC), Accra, from 1971-1979. He was Director, The Daily Times of Nigeria Limited, 1971-1987.
He was appointed Director, University Press Ltd, 1978 and Executive Chairman, Emekike and Co, 1979. Ike was also the chairman, Planning and Management Committee, University of Nigeria, January-November 1970. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Jos. Ike also played a significant role in ensuring the reopening of the university at the end of the Nigerian civil war. The late writer is survived by his wife, Professor Adebimpe Ike.
We join the people of Anambra State, Nigerians and the literary community to mourn the exit of the iconic writer, mentor and role model. We commiserate with the family on the great loss. He will be sorely missed by his numerous fans across the world. Although his works have immortalised him, we still urge the Federal Government to honour and immortalise him for his invaluable contributions to Nigerian Literature and educational development of the country.
May Almighty God grant him eternal repose and give his family and loved ones the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.