The exceptional writer, Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, passed on two days ago. He was 88 years old. Many have written to commiserate with his family and the people of Ndikelionwu, to whom he was also a traditional ruler. To me, in many ways, he was a trailblazer and role model.
I took interest in his works sometime in late 2012, when I was in SS3 and few months away from writing that decisive exam, UTME. “The Potter’s Wheel”, his 1973 novel about an only son who had been spoilt by his mother but later sent to live with a teacher in a city, was a recommended English text for all UTME candidates around that time. I read it then, and it created a longing in me for novels that were relatable, entertaining, didactic, and rich in culture.
Mid-2013, I registered at Ekiti State Library in Ado-Ekiti. The reason, as I explained to my father, was to prepare for Post-UTME — a valid but ostensible excuse to get the transport allowance I needed in pursuing an ulterior motive. I would go to the library every day, not so much to read my core subjects (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) as it was to experience new worlds in the pages of novels, both local and foreign. Here, I happened upon other books by Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, and somehow I got to read all his books that the library had.
Many are conversant with “Toads for Supper”, “The Naked Gods”, “The Potter’s Wheel”, “Sunset at Dawn”, “Expo ’77”, and “The Bottled Leopard”, among others. However, my most memorable and perhaps most impactful isn’t any of these popular books. It is, in fact, a non-fiction titled “How to Become a Published Writer”. I was barely 17 years old when I read it, quite oblivious of intricacies of writing or the responsibilities of a writer. Thus, this 1991 instructional book had a lot of formative influence on me.
Shortly after my obsession with the works of Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, in the December of 2013, I would write my first short story about life in a public boarding school. Chronicling my experiences as well as others, I would title it “Reminiscences of an FSTC Boy”, and I would read it at an alumni reunion of my alma mater that held in what used to be the school’s dining hall. Now that I think of it, although it wasn’t obvious to me at that point, I suppose the style and language of that short story would pass as a subconscious attempt at imitating his work.
While this tribute is testament to the far-reaching influence of Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike’s works, it is also an acknowledgement of his creative genius. Reading his work is a delight, a potpourri of wisdom and insight. Nigeria has lost another of its finest, and one’s heart is heavy with grief. Nevertheless, one takes consolation in the extraordinary legacies he has left behind, books that are sure to stay relevant in centuries to come.
May his soul rest in peace.
~~~ Omoya Simult