If i were to have written any play, it would have been on corruption, says Okara
Is My hope That Things Will Change For The Better
Pa (Dr.) Gabriel Imomotimi Gbaingbnain Okara is a renowned poet from the Niger Delta. In fact, he is the oldest African poet alive. He will be 96 tomorrow, Monday, April 24, 2017. The next day, May 25, Institute of Arts and Culture, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, will hold a four-day literary feast in his name and honour, Gabriel Okara Literary Festival, April 25-28, 2017. The festival has as theme, ‘Nigerian Literature Since Gabriel Okara: Continuities and Departures’ and would have Mr. Odia Ofeimun as keynote speaker. In 1979, his poetry collection, The Fisherman’s Invocation won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, and in 2005, his second collection, The Dreamer: His Vision won The Nigerian Prize for Literature. He published his novel, The Voice in 1964. He has two books for children: Little Snake and Little Frog and An Adventure to Juju Island. In this interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU during the burial of his soul mate, Captain Elechi Amadi, last year, Okara, who wears his great age with dignity, eulogised his friend, Amadi, and spoke on the change agenda writing fosters on society; and his regret not to have written plays that would have focused on corruption themes, saying uprightness should be the defining character of any man worth his name
Your colleague, your son in a way, too, I mean, Elechi Amadi, has passed on. What do you make of it?
Well, a writer, every writer, never dies. We will not be seeing him, I mean, Elechi Amadi but his works will never die. He is present here with us. I am here to honour him, not only as a writer but also as a friend, as a colleague, who shared the same views about the society, what is going wrong in society and what to do to steer the ship of state in the right direction through our writings. I know him as upright, honest; these are what attracted me to him.
Sir, now there is that notion that writers and their works or the works of writers should be things that mold character, change behaviour and influence society positively, but when you look at a society like Nigeria today, do you think what writers write have actually been done so, to influence the society?
You know, every good thing takes time to grow, to flourish. Even though it appears that for the moment our writing, which should point the society in the right direction, seems to appear not to have succeeded, but as you saw it in the crowd here, many young people are here. Those who have read his books, many of his books, and also heard of his name, they are all here. If they are not interested in his works, not only interested in his works, but try to live his teachings, if they are not influenced by his writing and the direction which Elechi Amadi wants the society to go, they won’t be here. So, I believe that it is wrong to say or for anybody, who is judging the society by Nigerian adults, is being a bit too hasty. Let’s just wait about two or three generations down the line, and things would change.
That is quite a lifetime! So we have to wait that long?
Oh, yes! It takes time. Change takes a long time to flourish. It is a gradual process before things come into fruition.
Now, let us look at this your work, ‘The Call of the River Nun,’ which is a work that resonates with a lot of readers and lovers of poetry and, even non-lovers of poetry, because it is easy to understand and relate with. When you look back and think about it, what occurs to you after these long years since you wrote it?
Well, it still gives me the impression that good intentions, good motives, good ideas do not die. I feel the same thing as when time I was writing; the same emotion, the same persuasion about the society, about life itself. Some people think that there is no end to life, physically. Ideas don’t die if they are good.
So, what I have written down and what Amadi has written, we just planted a seed. It would grow up and flourish. I am sure of that; so, I am happy and I really appreciate knowing how my writings have come along. I know we have a lot of corruption. I wrote about corruption some years ago. Now we are in an open fight against corruption. We have been fighting in and out against corruption, but now it is the government policies. So that is one of the results of our writings.
If you look at your works, which one would you most likely be caught reading? Which one would you love to go back to and read once in a while?
To be honest, it is not only one. But ‘The Call of the River Nun’ will be the first!
Why is this so?
Well, it tells about deep feeling about life itself, the impermanence of Life. Whatever you are doing, whatever you are thinking, know that life will end someday, sometime. So, you should have that idea at the back of your head all the time. Even in the case of adversities, you see us not mourning, just take life as it comes.
Sir, is there something you would have loved to do as a writer that you possibly couldn’t do?
Well, probably I should have written more on the fight against corruption. I wished I had written some plays. If I were to have written any play, it would have been on corruption.
The subject of corruption seems very close to your heart?
Oh, sure! I was brought up in a family known to be straightforward people. My father, for example, was a chief, who was known to be straightforward, and so that is why I believe in straightforwardness and honesty. Then you saw the country going from bad to worse, which must be very painful to you, from how you envisioned it, as a young man.
That was why I wrote the book, The Voice, the voice against corruption, but hope never dies, the hope that one day, things will change for the better in the end. One of the things that have guided me in life is truth. It is my hope that things will change for the better in the country.