Gabriel Okara, Son Of Ijaw Chief Lives On In Bayelsa!

Gabriel Okara

Gabriel Imomotimi Gbaingbain Okara, son of an Ijaw chief, is still living on!

A foundation that is keeping his memory alive, Gabriel Okara Foundation, has donated new teaching aids, including white markerboards with some of his books to the Community Secondary School, Bumoundi, in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State to complement the state government’s educational development efforts.

Okara, a poet, novelist and playwright, died at 97 years, four weeks before his 98th birthday. He died in his sleep at his residence at Okaka Estate in Yenagoa, the state capital, after a brief illness. He was born in Bomoundi in 1921.

Okara was educated at Government College, Umuahia, the capital of Abia State, and later at Yaba Higher College in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria. During World War II, he attempted to enlist in the British Royal Air Force but did not complete pilot training instead he worked for a time for the British Overseas Airway Corporation (later British Airways).

In 1945 he found work as a printer and bookbinder for colonial Nigeria’s government-owned publishing company. He remained in that post for nine years, during which he began to write. At first, he translated poetry from Ijaw into English and wrote scripts for government radio.

This son of an Ijaw chief studied journalism at Northwestern University in 1949, and before the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War (1967–70) worked as Information Officer for the Eastern Nigerian Government Service.

Together with Chinua Achebe, Okara was a roving ambassador for Biafra’s cause during part of 1969. From 1972 to 1980 he was director of the Rivers State Publishing House in Port Harcourt. He first Modernist poet of Anglophone Africa, and best known for his early experimental novel, The Voice (1964), and his award-winning poetry, published in The Fisherman’s Invocation (1978) and The Dreamer, His Vision (2005).

In both his poems and his prose, Okara draws on African thought, religion, folklore and imagery, and he has been called “the Nigerian Negritudist”. According to Brenda Marie Osbey, editor of his Collected Poems, “It is with the publication of Okara’s first poem that Nigerian literature in English and modern African poetry in this language can be said truly to have begun.”

However, speaking during the handover ceremony of the items, including face masks, sanitisers and water dispensers at the school premises, Mrs. Timinipre Okara-Schiller, recalls how during one of her visits, she met the deplorable state of infrastructure in the school where the teachers were using old blackboards, informing that her late father had wanted to donate modern facilities to replace the old ones in the school before he passed on.

She says her late father had made financial provisions for the procurement of the items before his demise, explaining that though the items were procured, the handover process delayed as the state government was carrying out renovation work at the school premises, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic.

She reiterated that the objective of her late father’s foundation is to protect, preserve and promote his legacies and other works of arts in general, as well as facilitate support for indigent children and youths in dire need of the right motivation to excel beyond their immediate environment, adding that such support includes organising literary workshops and competitions among schools in the state and beyond.

While noting that her late father contributed immensely to the development of the Ijaw nation through his literary works which promoted their culture globally, just as he served Nigeria meritoriously in various capacities in both state and in the federal civil service, in addition to serving on different government committees in Bayelsa, Okara-Schiller appreciated former Governor Henry Seriake Dickson for being a pillar of support and for immortalising the late literary icon.

The first daughter of the late literary legend also advised students of the secondary school to keep to the COVID=19 hygiene protocols by always washing their hands with soap and safe water frequently, saying that if they find themselves in a situation where soap and water were not readily available, they should endeavour to use alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content with face masks for prevention of the pandemic.

Describing the late Dr. Okara as a humble and disciplined man, whose literary works have served as a source of inspiration to people over the years, Chairman of the State Library Board and former Special Adviser to the governor on Strategy, Documentation and Community Relations, Chief Seiyefa Koroye, urged the younger generation to imbibe the reading culture of the late literary icon for their personal development.

Receiving the donated items, Principal of the school, Eze Romeo, thanked the foundation for the kind gesture and promised to make good use of the items even as he expressed deep appreciation to the foundation for finding time to come to sensitise the students on COVID-19 hygiene protocols.

Other members of the foundation on the event included a lecturer at the Niger Delta University,  Amassoma, Dr  Stephen Olali, Head of Programmes of the Niger Delta Television, Gbarantoru, Mrs Bina Joseph Ilagha,  former Works and Transport Commissoner, Chief Emmanuel Opigo.

Members of the foundation include, Prof. John Pepper Clark, a great poet, renowned historian, Prof. Ebiegberi Joe- Alagoa, Prof. Ernest Emenyonu of the Afrikana Studies, University of Michigan, Flint, USA, Odia Ofeimu and Chief Seiyifa Koroye.



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