The formative years of Ikeogu Oke as a celebrated writer were as interesting as his later days as a writer. During his undergraduate days in the Department of English and Literary Studies at the University of Calabar, Ikeogu was regarded as the most prolific poet of his generation on campus.
Betty Abah, a fellow student at Unical (1995-1998) when Ikeogu was an undergraduate, admitted that the Ohafia-born poet “was a senior many of us held in awe”. She added, “A restless and unforgettable soul, he was the one who saw and created poetry from everything—a casual conversation, a fleeting encounter, a classmate of mine with whom he fell in love—just about everything—and never forgetting his trademark musical rhyming at each verse’s end.”
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Ikeogu was also actively engaged in campus journalism. From the literary press boards to the departmental magazine, The Quill, he was penning enchanting verses, as well as nurturing other talents to ascend the literary totem pole.
Oke was to become one of Nigeria’s most colourful poets after his Unical forays. At public performances, more recently, he was always dressed in his trademark Ohafia warrior attire with animal skin, traditional cap celebrating his Igboness and customised suede shoes announcing himself as a poet. He also wrote children’s literature, though he wasn’t as successful as in the genre as he was in the former.
His oeuvre include the epic poetry, The Heresiad (2017), Wings of Waiting (2012), Salutes without Guns (2009), Where I was Born (2002), The Lion and the Monkey (2014) and The Tortoise and the Princess (2015).
In his reaction to Ikeogu’s death, ANA President, Mallam Denja Abdullahi, described him as a “a consummate artist” who “lived and breathed poetry. He was one of the few writers who lived on their writings. The Nigeria Prize for Literature, which he won in 2017, was a deserved reward for his lifelong commitment poet.”
A grieving Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement, signed by his media aide, Femi Adesina, condoled with Oke’s family, the literary and creative community on the painful demise of the award-winning poet.
As an author, journalist and poet, Buhari said, “Oke exuded vibrancy, intelligence and innovation in his works as a social commentator, constantly in search of plausible answers and solutions to contemporary issues bedeviling his society.” He, therefore, encouraged Nigerians, the literary community and lovers of art to honour Ikeogu Oke’s memory by imbibing the didactic message of his works.
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Likewise, the Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, while condoling with the family of the late poet laureate, said, in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Enyinnaya Appolos, said the death of the renowned poet, journalist, and public affairs commentator came to him as a shock.
He described the deceased as one of the best brains from Abia State, and regretted that his death came at a time Abia and Nigeria needed him most, especially for always putting the state first in his poetic and consummate renditions
Ikeogu Oke anthology of poetry: Call for submissions
In a move to immortalise him, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) has called for submissions of tribute poems in honour of Ikeogu Oke. The editors of this forthcoming volume are looking for 51 poems (in tandem with Oke’s age at the time of death) for inclusion in a book that will be released in the first quarter of 2019. It will be essentially a collection of poems strictly on him and his art or related to poetry and mortality or immortality.
The poems should be structurally concise, thematically-relevant and strategically poetic. Interested contributors should send not more than two poems, of which one may be selected on or before the deadline of 31 December, 2018. All submissions with not more than one hundred word biodata should be forwarded to [email protected].