BLAME him for anything, from suicidal fervour to ethnic revelry to tendency for lexical obscurantism and romantic line but one thing you cannot fail to note is his fantastic creative writing skills. There is hardly any poem written by Christopher Okigbo that is not a delight to poetry enthusiasts.
Similarly, things about him draw the attention of lovers of the art. Hence since yesterday, writers, artists, art afficionadoes and enthusiasts of beauty and nature a rallying in Ojoto, in Idemmili South local council of Anambra State to commemorate his posthumous birthday and anniversary of his death which shocked the world over half a century ago.
Christopher Ifeakandu Okigbo was an outstanding poet whose literary output, though slim still stands out as some of the best arrangements of lines and verses in Africa’s modern literature even 51 years after his death. He was a grand bard even as he was only 34 when he died in one of Biafra’s battle fronts during the Nigeria vs Biafra civil war of 1967 through 1970.
Born on August 16, 1932, to parents who hail from Ojoto, in Idemmili South local council of Anambra State, Nigeria, Okigbo died in August 1967 while fighting in a battle around Opi Junction, Nsukka during the war. He had only 72 published poems as at the time of his death yet he is one of the most translated and widely anthologised African poets to date.
Okigbo’s contemporary, the great writer Chinua Achebe, described him thusly in 1970: “He was not only the finest Nigerian poet of his generation but I believe that as his work becomes better and more widely known in the world he will also be recognised as one of the most remarkable anywhere in our time”
Author of three published volumes of poetry: Heavensgate (1962), Limits (1964), and Silences (1965), Okigbo’s collection of poems appeared posthumously in 1971 under the title Labyrinths, and Path of Thunder. His lines are heavily steeped in imageries that are similiar to ancient Greek and Latin literary vista which he adapts to Igbo corpus.
Images of the waters, jungles, animals and perculiar Igbo landscapes sometimes turn his lines obscure, highly personal and cast him to select audience which the late East African scholar, Ali Mazrui once lampooned as verses that make comprehension difficult but his dexterity in use of metres, rhymes and phonological effects make his verses engaging and intensely evocative. Even at his very early death, Okigbo became the most widely translated Nigerian poet.
After studying for his bachelor’s degree in Western Classics in University of Ibadan in 1956, Okigbo served as teacher and librarian at the University of Nigeria. He was private secretary to a federal Minister of Research and Information, and at one time, West African Editor of Transition, an African literary magazine.
In the 1966 Festival of the Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal, he won the first prize for poetry with the Carribean writter, Dereck Wallcot coming second. But he declined the prize saying, he felt that writing must be judged as good or bad not as a product of a specific ethnic group or race. In 1967 he made a very short-lived venture into book publishing in patnership with the novelist Chinua Achebe. His death cut that enterprise to an abrupt end.
He was decorated posthumously, with the National Order of Merit of Biafra.
Melodic and rhythmic repetition of words, much like chants, laced with embedded meanings every time they occur mark his poetry which eulogises deities, waters, and locales of his ancestral roots such as the stream and feminine deity of his native Ojoto people, Idoto which he fetes thusly:
Before you, mother Idoto,/ Naked I stand;/Before your watery presence,/A prodigal/Lost in your legend…
Today, art people are walking the ramparts of Idoto, as they have done yearly on same date, to remember, Christopher Okigbo (1932 – 1967) the son of a Catholic school and church teacher who saw himself as nothing else but a poet despite having done several interesting things in his short life.