Governor Dickson, V-C, Others Celebrate Okara At Maiden Literary Festival

Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, was among dignitaries that poured encomiums on nonagenarian and elder statesman, Dr. Gabriel Okara, who was honoured by the Institute of Arts and Culture of the University of Port Harcourt at the maiden edition of Gabriel Okara Literary Festival held at the Ebitimi Banigo Auditorium, University Park, last Tuesday.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the two-day Festival which had: Nigerian Literature since Gabriel Okara: Continuities and Departures as its theme, Governor Dickson, whose address was read by the Secretary to the State Government, Chief David Serena Dokubo-Spiff, commended the University of Port Harcourt for celebrating the foremost literary icon in his lifetime.
“First, let me thank the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt and members of the organising Committee of the 2017 Gabriel Okara Literary Festival for the invitation extended to me to be part of this historic gathering of intellectuals, literary icons, scholars and some of the most creative minds in Nigeria and beyond. When I received the letter requesting our participation in honour of the Poet Laureate of Bayelsa State, who is without any question the oldest African Poet Laureate and one of Nigeria’s foremost literary lights, I knew immediately that our involvement was not negotiable” the Governor observed. He noted that by honouring the nonagenarian who had played significant roles in the developing of the arts, the University of Port Harcourt had proved that it placed high premium on promoting scholarship.
“For far too long, our region has been identified, most unfortunately, with crime and acts of criminality. Militancy and violent agitations have spotted the tapestry of our history in the last two decades or so, but men like Gabriel Okara continue to change the narrative. From the moment he came into our national consciousness as a talented writer in the early 1950s, when he was first published in the influential journal, Black Orpheus, until the University of Nebraska Press published his latest book, entitled: Gabriel Okara: Collected Poems (2016), Okara has continued to astound us with his brilliance and genius,” Governor Dickson said, pledging the commitment of his administration to strengthen education in his state.
In his welcome address, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ndowa Lale, recalled that the University had hosted a number of literary giants in and outside the country at different literary festivals. “I recall that few years ago, our own Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, led other literary giants and arbiters of cultural taste to our University to mark the 1st in the series of the Garden City Literary Festival. Celebrated Ghanaian Novelist, late Kofi Awoonor, late Dr. Elechi Amadi and Odia Ofeimun, were some of the literary giants that participated in the event in this University,” the Vice-Chancellor stated.
Professor Lale, who was represented by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Hakeem Fawehinmi, stated that the theme of the Festival aptly reflected the works of Okara in promoting the arts in and outside Nigeria, adding that: “The artist will, in my humble opinion, continue to remain relevant in society, as long as he is able to transform his deepest feelings in such a way that the audience is able to connect with him on his creative canvas. Apart from crude oil, the arts have long been acknowledged as Nigeria’s best export to the rest of the world. Famous Nigerian writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, Femi Osofisan, Chimamanda Adichie and many others have brought immense pride and global recognition to their fatherland through the arts.”
The Vice-Chancellor commended the Director of the Institute of Arts and Culture, Professor Julie Okoh, 7th Vice-Chancellor, Professor Joseph Ajienka, who endowed the Celi and Joe Ajienka Professorial Chair for Arts and Culture and the American Corner for putting together the maiden edition of the Festival.
In the address entitled: Nigerian Literature since Gabriel Okara: Continuities and Departures, Ofeimun noted that at 96 years, Okara had remained the oldest Nigerian writer, oldest member of the Association of Nigerian Authors and the oldest Poet in Africa, as well as the foundational producer of the literary arts.
“His first published poem:The Call of the River Nun in 1950, not only was winner of the silver prize, at the Nigerian Festival Arts in 1953, it was generally regarded as the opener to the virtual open sesame of Nigeria’s modernist poetry. He was virtual pathfinder if not path-breaker whose performance set the stage, if not the tone of poetry in English Language,” Ofeimun observed.
In her welcome address, Director of the Institute of Arts and Culture and Convener of the Festival, Professor Julie Okoh said: “Contrary to the convention of celebrating the dead, it is our strong conviction that we should learn to celebrate our heroes while they are still living. Gabriel Okara is one of the pioneers of modern African literature, the first renowned English Language Black African poet, the first African modernist writer and the first Nigerian writer to publish in influential literary journals,” the Convener said. 
Others who spoke at the opening ceremony included Chairman of the occasion, Emeritus Professor Nimi Briggs, Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, King Alfred Diette-Spiff, the Ibenanaowei Ekpetiama Kingdom, King Bubaraye Dakolo, Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke, Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma and Dean, Faculty of Humanities, Professor Femi Shaka, all of who extolled the literary prowess of Okara.     
A visibly enthused daughter of the literary giant, Mrs. Timi Okara-Schiller, expressed gratitude to the University for honouring her father, hoping that the Festival would be perpetuated. Highlight of the two-day Festival which featured paper presentations, readings and workshops, was the cutting of the birthday cake by the celebrant who was supported by other dignitaries.
You are here: Home News & Events Featured News Governor Dickson, V-C, Others Celebrate Okara At Maiden Literary Festival