Remembering Obi Egbuna: The Emperor of The Sea -Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
It is astonishing to me that the Nigerian media cannot bear testimony to the passage of one of Nigeria’s greatest ever writers more than six years after his death. Back in the 1970s Obi B. Egbuna ranked amongst the most popularly read Nigerian authors.
It’s therefore quite astounding that when he died in Washington DC, United States on January 18, 2014, no Nigerian newspaper paid any attention whatsoever to the news. There was even louder silence in the international media.
It was as though nobody knew the name – Obi Egbuna, the erstwhile enfant terrible of African literature. A prolific novelist, playwright and Black Power activist, Obi Egbuna published many well-received books in his lifetime such as Wind versus Polygamy, Elina, The Anthill, Destroy this Temple, Daughters of the Sun, Emperor of the Sea, The Minister’s Daughter, The Rape of Lysistrata, Diary of a Homeless Prodigal, The Madness of Didi etc.
Born on July 18, 1938 in Ozubulu, Anambra State, Obi Egbuna lost his father at the age of 14 and suffered wounding poverty as a child. He needed to come first in class to win the scholarship to Britain to study law. He dumped law and chose writing as his fulltime vocation, believing that he could pick and choose his preferred teachers by going to the libraries to read books. He was a leader of the United Coloured People’s Association (UCPA) in Britain. Between 1968 and 1972 he was a top-ranking member of the British Black Panther Movement.
According to Obi Egbuna in his Black Power exposition: “Nobody in his right mind disputes the fact that the White worker is a prey to capitalist exploitation, as well as the Black Worker. But equally indisputable is the fact that the White worker is exploited only because he is a worker, not because he is white, while in contrast, the Black Worker is oppressed, not only because he is a worker, but also because he is Black.”
Egbuna ran into controversial waters when he became incarcerated in 1968 for threatening to kill the police and certain politicians in Britain. After a 15-year sojourn abroad he returned to Nigeria in October 1972 on the invitation of the then Administrator of East Central State, Ukpabi Asika to set up the Writer’s Workshop in Enugu, which he ran as the Director.
He wrote a weekly column, “Author’s Diary”, for the Renaissance newspaper in Enugu, and produced his plays for the television station. Obi Egbuna saw himself as being different from the Chinua Achebe school of African writing. He told Professor Bernth Lindfors in an interview recorded in his then Enugu home on February 16, 1973: “I like to see myself merely as a writer, and a writer doesn’t write African plays or English plays. He just writes plays. The world is a writer’s workshop.” He obviously shares the view of the late poet Christopher Okigbo who had no use for the differentiation of African poetry when what ought to exist is poetry devoid of regional biases.
Egbuna was educated at Howard University, Washington DC and attended the famous Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Egbuna’s original views on Black Power can be gleaned from his 1973 book The ABC of Black Power Thought. His Wind versus Polygamy was chosen to represent Britain in the First World Negro Arts Festival in Dakar, Senegal.
Egbuna is the wittiest of writers as the following words evince: “A little white girl once asked me why I do not write poetry. I told her that the wind does not write poetry, because the wind is poetry.”
He could be quite impish, as witness these words of his: “…if you’ve never had a black woman under a tropical palm tree, boy! you are still a virgin.”
Egbuna literally disappeared from the writing hemisphere after the publication of his novel The Madness of Didi in 1980. Hardly anything was heard of him until his death on January 18, 2014. A Facebook Memorial Page was opened on his behalf by his son, Obi Egbuna Jr. On Saturday, March 1, 2014, from 11am, a “Tribute to the Life & Work of Obi Egbuna”, Sr. was organized at Rankin Memorial Chapel, Howard University (Sixth Street & Howard Place, N.W.) Washington, DC 20059.
Writers never die. As long as the written word forever counts, Obi B. Egbuna will never die.