The first interval of the four-hour soiree brought the Igbo culture to the fore. As traditional drumbeats by the Oma Dance Troupe rent the air, the mellifluous voices of traditionally dressed Igbo maidens singing “Uri mma” throbbed. A dance drama trailed the song. Everybody watched and every ear listened.
In a little while, a young man with wrapper hanging over his shoulder, typical of traditional Igbo men of days of yore, joined the fray, ebullient and full of swagger. The performance of Igbo folk songs was in full flight with accompanying drama skit.
One of the maiden had come of age, but choosing the right partner wasn’t something she would fall headlong into. At last, a Prince Charming made a proposal, “Will you marry me?” At last, the Cinderella was charmed to say yes. Amid infectious euphoria, the lucky suitor lifted her onto his shoulder, and, as they left the scene, a bout of laughter and claps erupted. That performance underscored one thing: the Igbo shouldn’t forget their culture.
Venue was Best Western Meloch Hotel, Ifitte Awka, Anambra State. It was the presentation of Forlorn Fate, a novel by Professor Ngozi Chuma-Udeh, and an evening of drama, poetry, music and dance, put together by Professor Chuma-Udeh, in collaboration with Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Anambra State chapter, and the Literati Philosophia, chaired by Barrister Gabriel Okafor.
The Obi of Onitsha, Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, was an early bird to the occasion. So was Professor Fidelis Okafor, former Vice Chancellor, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam, to mention a few of the dignitaries who thronged the venue.
From Barrister Orji to Prof. Okafor, it was veneration galore for the prolific author who is also gunning for the position of vice president of the Association of Nigerian Author at the forthcoming ANA Convention holding in Enugu, October 31-November 3, 2019.
Barrister Orji, who also chairs the Literary Philosophia Nigeria, did not only extol the merits of the author as a scholar-writer; he backgrounded his remarks with the socio-political dysfunction in the country.
“This is a time when our brothers are crossing the desert on foot and are begging to be taken into slavery in places like Italy. This is a time when are daughters are entering ships, cars and airplanes to go abroad in order to find job as prostitutes. Anybody who says it is good for them or they favourably chose that as a profession, I don’t think I would agree with the person.
“This is a time when people are finding it difficult to eat in this country. This is a time of serious ethnic strife, partly christened herdsmen menace. It is not just the herdsmen but there is a total disconnect in leadership in Nigeria and those that are being led to the extent that Iwaji in Germany became a very big issue. Nigeria is in a big problem, and all of us feel totally alienated just as Karl Marx said.”
The lawyer said the title of this book “makes us reflect on this word ‘alienation’.” He hinted that the fiction was set in somewhere in Bayelsa State, with a plot predicated on the Sortone family with a diasporic connection. “This book is so powerful that it juxtaposes the forefathers of this Sortone family and then brings to bear on their new generation,” which, he said, culminated in the story of an American agent a rescue mission.
He echoed, “The story is that of courage to confront social evils and cultural devaluation. The message is, therefore, clear, especially in today’s Nigeria where everything seems to have stopped working and, fellow Africans, owing to political or economic influences, are lording it over one another.”
The highflying writer, Prof. Ngozi Chuma-Udeh, made a brief remark to welcome her guests. Writers, like her, write to address certain ills in our contemporary society, she said, adding, “Being a writer means being a camera, a spokesman, a prophet, and, as Chris Okigbo would add, a ‘madman’.”
The Obi of Onitsha was surprised to see that Forlorn Fate was dedicated to him by the author. He enthused, “I came here for a book launch and to support a longstanding intellectual friend. I never knew the book was actually dedicated to me. It is a singular honour. I think it is the second time in my life that a book has been dedicated to me.” He appreciated the setting, challenges and complexities worked into the fiction by the author.
Comrade N. Egwuonwu, who stood in for the Commissioner for Basic Education, Anambra State, Prof. Kate Azuka, who was meant to represent the state governor, Sir Willie Obiano, but was away on another assignment, said Governor Obiano was noted for his passion for education and had creating an enabling environment for education to move the state forward.
His Excellency, he said, was very excited about the event, asserting “that Professor Ngozi Chuma-Udeh has presented herself as another homegrown model for the children of Anambra State. We have some time ago presented Professor Chukwuemeka Ike as a real role model to the children of Anambra State. These are the types of people His Excellency wants us to be presenting as role models. His Excellency is very excited to identify with her and today’s event.”
Lending his voice, the Commissioner for Information, Don Adinuba, said, “The ministry and I are committed to this event”, and picked some copies with undisclosed amount.
Prof. Fidelis Okafor, who was the vice chancellor of the state university, eulogised the author for being an international scholar. He noted that his conclusion was based on the authority of three eminent professors from outside this country who assessed her publications before the university conferred her a professorship.
“Everybody was mesmerised when they read the report of each assessor. The word I used ‘international professor’ was the word used by these professors. After reading her publications, they came to that conclusion,” he said.
Continuing, he noted, “Prof Chuma-Udeh has been an ambassador of COOU because I know how many times she has been invited to different parts of the world and universities, either to present a lecture or attend a conference or for assessment. She is always on the flight. So I feel very happy that this young professor is still soaring higher by the presentation of this book.”
The Obosi monarch, Eze Chidubem Iweka III, who entered the event midway, said he was conversant with the author’s previous works, “I have known her since her junior secondary school years. This talent of hers started showing when she was at a very tender age. In fact, when she was in junior secondary school, she was already writing short stories.
“When I was already a grownup and out of school, she would write these short stories and come and show me, and I would say, ‘This little girl will go places,’ because I was amazed at her level of erudition, even at that age. So it is not surprising that she has reached the height she has today.”
Godwin Umeh, Deputy Managing Director, Coscharis Farms, represented his boss, Chief Cosmos Maduka, because of another commitment elsewhere. He said his boss was enthusiastic about education and congratulated the author on her latest offeering.
Hon Timi Tonye of the Delta State House of Assembly, admitted he had benefitted immensely from the novelist. “I think the world has not seen the last of you,” he said; while Mrs Ify Onwubuariri, a colleague of the writer at COOU, Igbariam, said Prof Chuma-Udeh’s book qualifies as a work of eco-critical study, promising that her students would read it.
She added, “It is never easy to write. The literary artist often addresses different forms of the human condition in their different perspectives and colours. It is, therefore, for us as literary critics to critique their works. I promise to do this for her.”
The novel was reviewed by Professor Ogaga Okuyade of Niger Delta University, Amassama, Bayelsa State. A Lagos based business man, Chief Walter Chigbo, was one of those who made generous donations in support of the publication. The second part of the occasion climaxed with dramatic, poetic and musical performances.