There is no better way of introduc-
ing Odia Ofeimun than pointedly
stressing that “Odia Ofeimun is
Odia Ofeimun!” Enough said.
Poet, publisher, editor, activist, po-
lemicist, mentor, politician, columnist,
factory worker, writer, dance-drama
exponent, public intellectual, critic etc,
Odia ofeimun has packed uncountable
lifetimes into one tumultuous lifespan.
Born on March 16, 1950, in Iruekpen,
an Esan-speaking town in Ekpoma, in
present-day Edo State, Odia missed an
entire year at the start of his primary
schooling because, as was the practice
then, his right hand could not cross his
head and touch his left ear! He eventu-
ally benefitted from the Free Education
policy which started in the old Western
Region in 1955, under the auspices of
the Action Group led by Chief Obafemi
Awolowo whom Odia would later in life
serve as a Private Secretary.
Odia had to drop out of secondary
school in Class Three due to the business
failure of his father. He had discovered
the joys of reading, and thus made the
library of his uncle Odigie his true home.
The uncle happened to be studying in
Germany then, and the daring Odia
had the audacity to inform him that he
planned to become a writer even without
formal university education, not unlike
Nigeria’s Amos Tutuola, South Africa’s
Peter Abrahams, Ireland’s Bernard Shaw,
England’s Charles Dickens and Ameri-
ca’s Ernest Hemingway.
He sent some of his early poems to the
newspaper, Midwest Echo, a sister title of
the Ibadan-based Nigerian Tribune, and
fortuitously got employed as a cub re-
porter. He wrote poems that would later
be published in the Chinua Achebe-edit-
ed Okike, and Nigeria Magazine edited
by Frank Aig-Imoukhuede.
Leaving the newspaper which salary
was in arrears, Odia made to travel to
Ghana to function as a writer but only
ended up in Lagos where he found work
as a petrol station attendant and then as
a factory labourer. He made the rounds
of the public libraries in Lagos and occu-
pied his nights writing poetry.
Odia had the singular distinction of
doing his A Levels in December and
the O Levels in January. Curiously,
Odia failed literature at O Levels, only
to get a B in the subject A Levels the
very next year.
According to Odia, “Thankfully, I
did not need any GCE or any formal
qualifications to write… I sent some of
the poems to Chinua Achebe’s Okike
and some to Nigeria magazine edited
by Frank Aig-Imoukhuede. They were
published while I was waiting for my
A Level results. It got a personal boon
when Wole Soyinka was released from
three years of detention. I took a trip
to Ibadan to meet him. He was driving
out of his compound at the University
of Ibadan in an open mini-mock when
I flagged him down. He took one look
at the poems, summed up my factory
labourer’s dressing, my bathroom slip-
pers, whitish nylon shirt tied up below
my navel, and asked: ‘Are you sure you
wrote them?’ From that moment, I
knew I could call myself a poet.”
The poems were eventually published
in the celebrated anthology, Poems of
Black Africa edited by Wole Soyinka
and published by the esteemed London
publishing house Secker and Warburg.
It is indeed striking that the poems
Odia wrote at 18 is still being studied
by 18-year-olds doing the Joint Admis-
sions and Matriculation Board (JAMB)
Odia’s first collection, The Poet Lied,
was published by Longman in 1980 but
had to be withdrawn from the market
because JP Clark claimed he was the
subject of the title poem.
The indomitable Odia is still hard at
work on the biography of Awolowo
whom he served as Private Secretary.
Odia has over the years served as the
Publicity Secretary, General Secretary
and President of the Association of Ni-
gerian Authors (ANA). For the ANA
presidency post, I was one of the two
candidates defeated by Odia at the Ilor-
in convention after I was nominated for
the esteemed post “against my personal
will and desire,” to quote Obasanjo.
I got the loudest ovation after my
nomination such that I felt that with
such popular support I did not need to
vote for myself to win! I lost woefully
but you need to understand that our
mourned, recently deceased Prof Har-
ry Garuba, whom Odia had served as
the best-man at his wedding, was the
Please do not read any seriousness
to my election apologia because I may
have had popular support but I clearly
lacked electoral value!
Odia was the chairman of our edi-
torial board when we were practising
Guerrilla Journalism in the hard days
of General Sani Abacha. Odia won the
internationally coveted Fonlon Nichols
award for excellence in writing and hu-
man rights activism in 2010.
Odia Ofeimun will mark his 70th
birthday on Monday, March 16, 2020.
The Odia Ofeimun at 70 Committee of
which I am a member will in collabora-
tion with the Faculty of Arts, Universi-
ty Of Lagos, organize an International
Conference with the theme “Taking
Nigeria Seriously: A Conference In
Honour Of Odia Ofeimun” from Sun-
day, March 15 to Wednesday March,18,
2020, at Julius Berger Hall, Universi-
ty Of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos.
Let’s toast to the health of the mas-
ter poet and indefatigable public
intellectual-cum-activist, Odia Ofei-
mun, at 70!