The making of Osundare

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Book Title: Niyi Osundare: A Literary
Author: Sule Emmanuel Egya
Genre: Non-Fiction
Year: 2017
Publisher: Sevhage Publishers
Pages: 344

Sule Emmanuel Egya, popularly referred to as E.E. Sule in the literary circle, added a fresh perspective to his oeuvre with the publication of Niyi Osundare: A Literary Biography.

Having become renowned for his prose-fiction, poetic and scholar-critic prowess, Egya through this publication strongly demonstrates the plausibility and possibility of multi-dimensional creativity.

Published in 2017, Niyi Osundare: A Literary Biography traces and accounts (up till 2014, its time line) for the life of an ace poet, dramatist and scholar-critic of Nigerian literature, Oluwaniyi Osundare.
Typical of all other biographies, literary or non-literary, Egya recounts for the familial background of Niyi Osundare as well as his antecedent into the literary scene through poetic scholarship.

Most importantly, he recounts for the countless consequential sources, which basically include the culture, traditions and artistry of his culturally stupendous and agrarian hometown of Ikere, Ekiti, from which Osundare, as early as a toddler, largely draws the inspirations for his poems. No doubt, Osundare’s artistry, poetry and drama (the later just a handful), benefits greatly from his traditional agrarian background, cultural practices and family profession.

Indeed, all of the arguments about the personality of Niyi Osundare in the book all points back to his agrarian background as a son of farmer from a bucolic town of Ikere-Ekiti.
Aesthetically, the pictorial presentation of Niyi Osundare in the book speaks volumes of Egya’s creative prowess and Osundare’s literary achievements. The pictures aptly capture the familial background of the ace poet, his literary expedition within and beyond the shores of Africa and his numerous literary achievements.
Aside that each of the chapters and subchapters in the ten-chaptered book follows events in the life of the poet as they unfold, they aptly explain Osundare’s growth and development from a village boy to a citified scholar, and from a local champion of Amoye Grammar School to a world-renowned poet, scholar and critic of literature.

Typical to other scholars and critics of Nigerian literature, Osundare has deliberately and consciously shelved the idea of thought tagging. However, his oeuvre overtly describes him as a Marxist scholar who believes largely in the idea.

This ideal which he has pursued all through his literary career (as even his latest poem ‘My Lord, Tell Me Where Do I Keep Your Bribe?’) demonstrates this has earned him the label people’s poet. He ‘demonstrates a keen knowledge of the goings-on in Nigeria and gives a sense of poetic intervention in the daily affairs of the society’ (88). Much later, his embrace of the print media (particularly Newswatch and The Guardian) as a platform to air his views on the anti-human and anti-societal policies of the brutal, despotic and myopic military regimes reinforces this. ‘Osundare would begin a career as a magazine columnist that would not spare the bourgeoisie institutions, including his profession, which have, in his view, conspired to keep Nigeria impoverished.’ (109).

Practically, Osundare through the column would ‘attack the social infamies in his society not minding whose ox is gored, not minding the trouble his writing would bring him (114).

His deliberate decision to stay on the side of the masses despite putting his life and career on the line justifies his tagging as the people’s poet. This column Egya says ‘gave Osundare the opportunity to route his responses to political goings-on in Nigeria through journalism, a medium that is more immediate and urgent, more easily accessible to the Nigerian public’ (240).

Treading this path in his literary career wouldn’t be without its own challenges. Egya accounts for some of these, what I called the most harrowing experiences in Osundare’s literary career and his providential survival, in the subchapter, ‘The Poet Who Refused To Die’. It became clear that Osundare who now has become a thorn in the flesh of many especially the military junta was a high target of assassination. Unknown to him, ‘While he was basking in the glory of these prizes and the media attention they engendered someone or group of persons, whose identities he is yet to known to date, were seeking the end of his life’ (125).
Aside this, other events that affected the great poet dearly are his early exit from the Nigerian literary and academic scene, his relocation to New Orleans in 1997 and the Hurricane Katrina that almost ruined his career as a poet in 2005.

Just like it did in Ibadan through the University security guards, providence sends him help from the Hurricane Katrina again through his neighbour, Placido Sabalo.

Egya recounts that ‘This made his belief in humanity to deepen. For him, human beings would remain the most vital forces that can change the world […] The charity from diverse quarters, therefore, reiterated for him the wisdom he had long come to know: human beings are the best clothes anyone can have’ (232). As such, it is this realization that he owes his providential survival to the kind gesture of humanity that reinforces his beliefs and resolution to ‘at every point work towards a better world for humanity’ (232).

This he captures in the poem Enia Lasoo Mi (People are my Clothes).
However, all of these harrowing situations, as unpleasant as they appear didn’t deter his belief. The belief of using literature as ‘his outcry against the undue exploitation of nature [and] also against the denial of the humans who have, from the beginning of things, relied on nature for subsistence’ (124).
This is what he has practiced all through his literary career that has spanned well over three decades beginning in 1983 with the publication of Songs of the Market Place originally intended to be published as I Sing of Change. This is in tandem with his idea that ‘it [is] through his articles and poems that he believed he could best […] speak louder on behalf of the down trodden’ (135). This becomes his tradition and he demonstrates it ‘as people’s poet, indeed a Nigerian poet who very much understands the struggles and aspirations of Nigerians’ (146).

This no doubt has guided ‘his conduct, his easy-going nature as well as his outstanding achievement’ (147). Niyi Osundare as such has lived and is still living out the vision of his agrarian father Aguntasoolo Ariyoosu Osundare who although had no form of Western education knew that ‘the future belongs to those who are able to scribble black things on white surface’ (1).

In all, Sule Emmanuel Egya on the one hand in Niyi Osundare: A Literary Biography, has succeeded in chronicling the life of the ace poet through the different stages of his growth and development to his contemporary fame. The result is an applaudable, apt and a comprehensive biographical account which of course goes beyond the literary to give the trajectory of the poet’s sojourn so far on planet earth.

Egya creates and takes his readers through a different world, the real world of Niyi Osundare in which the reader encounters his artistry influence (his background as an innocent young chap growing up in Ikere-Ekiti), his tradition, his belief and his practice as a literary artist. These are the attributes that have made Osundare outstanding in the literary space both at home and abroad. Considering his agrarian rural and low-class background, Niyi Osundare on the other hand no doubt sees his artistic craft as a duty and a calling which having been bestowed by providence must be performed with the deepest and utmost sense of commitment to the liberation of human race and protection of the environment from all degrading tendencies. Through his literary creations, he has maintained an astute and a remarkably high sense of commitment to this calling. Indeed, he has justified his tagging as the people’s poet who adequately understands the struggles and aspirations of the different peoples of the world and especially the Nigerian populace.

Maryam Yakubu Hassan writes from IBB University, Lapai

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