ONE of Nigeria’s most committed and celebrated literary icons, Elechi Amadi, has passed on. The renowned novelist, poet and playwright, died last week in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, at the age of 82.
With his death, Nigeria lost one of its pioneer novelists, patriots and cultural ambassadors. Many Nigerians have eulogised the contributions of the prolific author to national and cultural development of the country. In a tribute, the Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, acknowledged his legendary contributions to the development of the nation. He described the late writer as a consummate patriot, a literary icon, a soldier’s soldier and a development enthusiast whose literary works promoted Rivers State, the Niger Delta and the country. Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, in his tribute described Amadi as “a soldier and poet, captive of conscience, human solidarity and justice.”
According to the renowned dramatist, Prof. Femi Osofisan: “His prose was crisp, his narrative style brisk, compelling; he knew the art of total seduction through the manipulation of suggestion and suspense; he was thoroughly familiar with traditional lore and the world of mystery, magic and fabulation.” Osofisan added that his departure marks the “loss of a writer from that fine generation of pioneers whose writing established and defined our contemporary literature, and gave our culture a refining ethical direction that, for better or for worse, the young ones have since jettisoned.”
The Director of Rainbow Book Club, Mrs. Koko Kalango, said Amadi was “an intriguing storyteller, whose colourful and detailed descriptions of the village life of his Ikwerre people reflected the beliefs, customs and religions of Africans prior to Western influence.
Elechi Amadi was an educator, soldier, public servant and writer whose renowned trilogy, The Concubine, The Great Ponds and The Slave are loved by readers the world over.” Prof. Chidi T. Maduka of the University of Port Harcourt lamented that “Amadi has now joined our ancestors leaving us with his prodigious achievements as a memorable lyrical prose writer radiating in his texts as a novelist, playwright and essayist. The rhythmic cadences of his diction vibrate with poise, clarity and simplicity. Of significance is his felicitous domestication of the 19th century European quasi-scientific, crisp, realistic mode of the rendition of the novel. He innovatively Africanised it by giving it an enchanting touch characteristic of the mythic undercurrent of the inter-related art forms of drama, poetry, narrative, dance, music and painting embedded in African oral literary performance.”
Born in Aluu community in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State on May 12, 1933, Amadi attended the famous Government College, Umuahia (1948-1952); Survey School, Oyo (1953-1954). He was at the University College, Ibadan from 1955-1959 and obtained a degree in Physics and Mathematics. Even though he was in the sciences, Amadi’s literary inclination was not hidden as he contributed articles to the student magazine, The Horn. Other students who later became renowned writers from University College, Ibadan, include Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, Chukwuemeka Ike and John Pepper Clark. After he worked briefly as a land surveyor and a teacher, he was commissioned in the Nigerian Army and attached to the Military School, Zaria. He left the Federal Army in 1965 to teach in Port Harcourt.
The late novelist also served the Nigerian Army from 1963-1965. He rejoined the army in 1968 and served with the Third Marine Commandos during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970, and retired as a Captain. After the war, Amadi left military service and joined Rivers State government. He was Permanent Secretary (1973-1983); Commissioner for Education (1987-1988) and Commissioner for Lands and Housing (1989-1990). His civil war experiences are recounted in his war memoir, Sunset in Biafra. Some of his literary works include: The Concubine (1966); The Great Ponds (1969); The Slave (1978), Isiburu (1973); Pepper Soup; The Road to Ibadan; The Estrangement; Dance of Johannesburg; and Woman of Calabar.
He was appointed writer-in-residence and lecturer at Rivers State College of Education where he became the Dean of Arts, Head of Literature Department and Director of General Studies. Outside writing, Amadi featured prominently in the Port Harcourt Book Festival for the eight years it held alongside his older colleague and compatriot, Gabriel Okara. Besides grooming young writers, Amadi attended major seminars and symposia organised to promote Nigerian literature.
We join the arts community in mourning this profound writer and commiserate with his family on his departure. We wish him eternal repose.