In Ibadan, University Press Plc celebrates traditional ruler and renowned writer, Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, at its Authors’ Forum, which also marked the 50th anniversary of Ike’s first novel, Toads for Supper, AKEEM LASISI writes
In a metaphoric sense, it was a gathering of veteran potters. This is if one likens someone who makes a pot to the one who engages in creative and other kinds of critical writings.
Besides, an event that had in attendance up to four emeritus professors qualifies to be described as a gathering of thoroughbred potters, knowing that, over the years, they have moulded many brains into stardom, with many of the stars now in different sectors across the world.
The foremost scholars are Emeritus Professors Ayo Bamgbose, Ayo Banjo, Akin Mabogunje and Femi Osofisan. They were among the dignitaries that heeded the clarion call of University Press Plc, which used the occasion of its annual Authors’ Forum to celebrate 50 years of Toads for Supper, the first novel of scholar, administrator and traditional ruler, Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, who the guest lecturer, Prof. Kanchana Ugbabe, described as a gentle giant.
With the Chairman, Board of Directors of University Press Plc, Dr. Lekan Are, who arguably feels most comfortable among eggheads, as the chief host, it was a revealing afternoon concerning Ike’s enviable personality and his contributions to literary and academic development of the country.
Ike’s other popular works that came under focus include The Potter’s Wheel and The Bottled Leopard.
Also at the event were poet laureate, Prof Niyi Osundare; award-winning writer, Prof Akachi Ezeigbo; Prof. Ike’s wife, Mrs. Bimpe Ike; Mallam Adamu Sufi, Mr. Obafunso Ogunkeye, Mr. Innocent Okorie (a barrister) and Chief Dipo Gbenro, formerly of the Oyo State College of Education, Oyo.
In his opening remarks, Are, who is also the author of Challenge of the Barons, a novel, recalled that it was the seventh edition of the programme. According to him, the Authors’ Forum affords writers and other stakeholders the opportunity to reflect on nation building.
He said, “It has always been a way to celebrate ourselves, to appreciate our efforts and commitment to University Press in its drive as the nation’s foremost publishers.”
According to the chairman, Ike is an acclaimed writer who has to his credit 11 novels, seven of which were published by the UP Plc. His other works include short stories, a novel written in Igbo (also published by the firm), a fictional travelogue, two non-fiction books and four monographs. Are explained that such were the strides that earned Ike the prestigious Nigerian National Order of Merit in 2013.
“Eze Professor Ike uses his stories and other creative works to mirror, command, reproach and persuade the society, with the intention of having a better society. His stories centre on the transformation of the individual, the transformation of Nigeria as well as transformation of society at large. This is a laudable achievement worthy of emulation. We are indeed proud to have him as one of our valuable esteemed authors,” Are said, while also highlighting Ike’s contribution to the development of UP Plc, especially when he was on its board between 1978 and 2002.
Ugbabe did not disappoint the audience as an Ike scholar. According to her, her experience in the many years she has studied him shows that he is a trail-blazing novelist, foremost historian, a compelling critic and an administrator per excellence. While she dissected several of Ike’s works, looking at them from the perspectives of a reader, scholar and teacher, she connected the monarch’s literary exploits to his character, which she described as amiable. In her estimation, he is a literary icon and gentle giant.
The Potter’s Wheel is Ugbabe’s “favourite book of all time.” She described it as having unforgettable scenes, with childhood mischief, humour and sustained wit pervading it. While she described The Bottled Leopard as an enjoyable novel, she commended Ike for balancing content with form in his works. According to her, there is an unusual use of literary devices in his books, thus making him “a master stylist.”
Right from Toads for Supper, Ugbabe stressed, Ike had established that he would zoom a very sharp lens on the contradictions and prejudices that were more or less banana peels on the path to Nigeria’s greatness.
She said, “It is evident from Ike’s first novel, Toads for Supper, that these prejudices operated at the institutional and personal levels. The mirror that Chukwuemeka Ike held up to nature reflected the good and the desirable, as well as the ugly and evil aspects of human nature. Toads for Supper took on the ‘cankerworm of tribalism’ head-on. The culture conflict resulting from this is seen in the lives of Amadi and Aduke, the central characters. Simultaneously, the novel brings to the fore the conflicts experienced by young people, between tradition and modernity. Chukwuemeka Ike was ahead of his time in addressing these issues in his first novel.
“We celebrate His Majesty, Eze Professor Chukwuemeka Ike, today, as many others have done all over the country. We celebrate the power of the pen. We celebrate the prophetic attributes of the writer who ‘sees’ it before it comes to pass and who ‘speaks’ it without fear or hesitation. We celebrate the writer’s craft, his ability to transform individuals and society through the printed word. We celebrate the gentle giant, his humility, commitment, and humanity.”
The lecture was well applauded, with Ezeigbo saying it was one of the most incisive about any Nigerian writer. On Ugbabe’s call for the reactivation of the reading culture, however, Dr. Lekan Are said the starting point was to make books available, especially for learners. He thus called for the kind of functional libraries that used to be part of the education system in Nigeria.
He said, “If you want children to read, give them well-stocked libraries. If you say you want to form a book club and there are no books, you are only wasting your time.”
Ike thanked University Press Plc for organising the programme. While commending Ugbabe and expressing the hope that more people would read his books, he said, “My association with UP Plc began with Oxford Nigeria. I have enjoyed my years of being a director of the company and University Press Plc is my biggest publisher.”