Isidore Okpewho: The vanishing of a meteor
Tanure Ojaide speaks for us in his ‘‘Dirge’’ on death when he asserts that ‘‘No one foresees the Iroko tree ever/falling even in a hurricane.’’ The end of Prof. Isidore Okpewho’s pilgrimage on earth resonates with the full significance of the thoughtful assertion. In fact, a meteor has vanished from the firmament. Okpewho dazzlingly shone through the universe with his attributes of endearing personality, precocious literary scholarship and inspiring creativity in fiction.
My numerous interactions with him in the U.S. and Nigeria, especially during conferences and conversations in his office at the University of Ibadan, revealed that he was a character distinctive in interpersonal relations. Witty, affable, patient, persevering and level-headed, he radiated a personality embodying a humanism necessary for combating the ills of racial, ethnic and religious bigotry that is virtually wrecking the foundation of harmonious peaceful co-existence among the various peoples of the globe.
His oracular authority in the scholarship on oral literature gracefully dramatizes the necessity for diligence, tolerance, rigour of analysis and perspicacity of mind in handling issues in scholarship. Of significance is his firm grasp of the comparative methodology of scholarship, which enables him to effectively interpret facts cutting across various national literatures by subtly bringing out the similarities and differences characterizing the archetypal patterns of relationships inherent in many of the features of the literatures. Memorable is his gallant defence of the integrity of African civilization often misunderstood or even denigrated by some European scholars.
Okpewho’s outstanding intellectual versatility is fully displayed in his accomplishments as a novelist and a teacher of creative writing. Prof. Chidi T. Maduka, Comparative Literature, University of Port Harcourt
It is rare for scholars to become writers and writers to become critics. But his celebrated novels and mentorship in creative writing have successfully elevated him to the status of an author-critic.
His legacy in Nigerian/African literary scholarship and literature in English may be said to lie in his penchant for intellectual probity and passion for the integrity of knowledge – two attributes promoting values which enable individuals to live peacefully together as members of a human family in a country, region and the world. May his soul rest in perfect peace.
* Prof. Chidi T. Maduka, Comparative Literature, University of Port Harcourt