One of the pioneers of Nigerian creative writing and the founding General Manager of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Chief Onuora Nzekwu, has passed on in his home in Onitsha, Anambra State, at 89. The renowned co-author of the popular short story, Eze Goes to School, started his working career as a teacher but later switched to journalism and creative writing.
Nzekwu, who started creative writing almost at the same time as the renowned novelists, Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi, co-authored the classic school supplementary reader, Eze Goes to School, and its sequel, Eze Goes to College, with the celebrated historian, Michael Crowder.
The death of the literary icon has attracted eulogies from various people across the country. In his tribute, former Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi, described Nzekwu as a literary icon whose book, Eze Goes to school, was a delight to read not just for its literary credentials but also for its didactic tune. In the same vein, former Ohanaeze Ndigbo President, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, said Nzekwu was “a good Nigerian, a great author, thinker, broadcaster and communicator”.
To Prof. Joy Eyisi of Department of English, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nzekwu’s death is a painful loss to Nigerian writers as he was a literary icon and a writer par excellence. Similarly, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo of Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo, Ebonyi State, said that Nzekwu distinguished himself as a children’s author with the publication of the famous children’s classic, Eze Goes to School, and as a novelist, with notable works such as Blade Among the Boys, Wand of Noble Wood, Highlife for Lizards and Troubled Dust, his latest novel based on the events of the Nigeria-Biafra War. Author and publisher, Dilibe Onyeama, described Nzekwu as a gifted story-teller whose first novel, Wand of Noble Wood, delivered a knockout punch and elevated him to the rank of established comrades-of-the pen of that time—Cyprian Ekwensi and Chinua Achebe.
Born on February 19, 1928, in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, the author attended St. Peter Claver’s School, Kafanchan, 1934-38. He was also at St. Thomas’ School, Kano, 1939-41; Holy Trinity School, Onitsha, 1942; St. Anthony’s Elementary Teacher Training College, Onitsha, 1943; and St. Charles’ Higher Elementary Teacher Training College, Onitsha, 1944-46.
Onuora Nzekwu worked as a teacher from 1947-55 and later as Editorial Assistant, Nigeria Magazine, 1956-58; Sub Assistant Editor, Nigeria Magazine, 1958-60; Assistant Editor, Nigeria Magazine, 1960-62; and Editor, Nigeria Magazine, 1962-66. He was appointed Senior Information Officer, Federal Ministry of Information, 1970; Principal Information Officer, 1971; Deputy Director of Information, 1972-78 and General Manager, News Agency of Nigeria, 1978-85.
In 1961, Nzekwu received the Rockefeller Fellowship which enabled him to study American methods of magazine production with Crafts Horizons, New York. In 1964, he was awarded a UNESCO Fellowship to study copyright administration in Geneva, Prague and Paris, among others. His works include Wand of the Noble Wood (1961); Blade Among the Boys (1962); Eze Goes to School (co-authored, 1964); Highlife for Lizards (1965); The Chima Dynasty in Onitsha (non-fiction) (1977); Eze Goes to College (co-authored, 1988); Troubled Dust (2012) and Ahmad Daggash (Story of the True) (2016).
Without doubt, Nzekwu had a distinguished career as a journalist, writer and administrator. As a writer, he was didactic and impactful. He lived well and wrote classic works. For serving his country meritoriously for 39 years, he was conferred, in December 2008, with the Nigerian National Honour, Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).
Nzekwu was a role model to many modern writers in the country. His Eze Goes to School mirrors the importance of education and he deserves to be immortalised by the government for his invaluable contributions to creative writing.
We commiserate with the Nzekwu family, the creative community, Anambra State and the entire nation on the passage of this talented writer. May his creative soul rest in peace.