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Tribute to Harry Garuba

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The news of the passage of Harry Garuba I heard from Town Crier, Toyin Falola, is devastating and unsettling. Harry Garuba’s intellectual lantern was lit at the Ibadan Faculty of Arts Foyer in the 1980s where friends and defenders of the Humanities usually gathered like angelic “cabals” to make poetry more potent than the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.

That milieu at Ibadan was like an army of literary Ozidis ready to breach the old Benin Moat (wall) of an earlier generation of verbal and metaphorical engineers of the soul as Russian aestheticians described literary artists decades ago. Harry was one of the ‘infidels’ against poetic orthodoxy and Euro eccentrics who thought nothing good could come out of the Nazareth of iconoclastic imagination.

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Just before Harry sprouted, the brood of poets and critics spurned by Ibadan already included the bearded, “baritoned” Omafume Onoge in Sociology, AbiolaIrele in French, Kole Omotoso in Arabic Studies, Femi Osofisan and Yemi Ogunbiyi in Dramatic Arts, Isidore Okpewho, Molara Ogundipe, Sam Asein, Biodun Jeyifo, and Niyi Osundare in English. Odia Ofeimun was the Akaraogun nearly lost in the forest of the Social Sciences of European theorists but usually rescued whenever he hibernated in the Arts Faculty and “argument joints” around.

Garuba proved right the aesthetic dictum that whoever criticises correctly can also create enduringly. He was in the poetry group that met regularly to prune verses and curb excessive flights of fancy. His works appeared regularly in the OPON IFA chapbooks Osofisan edited. He was to edit a poetry volume for young voices published for a conference of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), I think in Calabar in 1989. Soon after that cockcrow the exodus of writers and thinkers hit Ibadan. The deluge took away nearly everyone on the raft of literature and criticism – Irele, Okpewho, Osundare, Garuba.

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He drifted to South Africa just when the frost of apartheid was thawing and had a memorable career there. Omotoso had made South Africa more charming as a destination with his book, Season of Migration to the South. Those of us held hostage in the homeland for lack of ambition saw Garuba “live” infrequently. But his audacious views echoed through the vast globe in print and conferences. Like in Kofi Awoonor’s “Song of Sorrow” death has done us unfairly in the Ibadan corner of literature and criticism. Gone to the great beyond now are Omafume Onoge, Sam Asein, Abiola Irele, Akinwunmi Isola, Isidore Okpewho; Molara Ogundipe, and now, gangling Harry Garuba.

There is a Midwest silver lining that gets obscured in the narratives of multiple voices in the creative vineyard: a good number of the writers and scholars from 1960s come from the lands of minority tongues of the Delta-Edo cultural geography – Pius Oleghe (Achebe’s contemporary) Frank Aig-Imoukhuede, Mabel Segun (nee Imoukhuede), J. P. Clark, Neville Ukoli, Sunday Izevbaye, Sam Ogude. Fred Agbeyegbe, AbiolaIrele, Joe Ihonde (Hotel de Jordan), Sam Asein, Isidore Okpewho, Eseoghene Barret, Sam Omatseye, Festus Iyayi, Zulu Sofola, Buchi Emecheta, Tess Onwueme, BiodunJeyifo, Sam Ukala, Tanure Ojaide, FunsoAiyejina, Odia Ofeimun, Tony Afejuku, Harry Garuba, OgagaI fowodo, Anote Ajoulorou, Evelyn Osagie. For the bereaved global family of poetry and literary criticism, perhaps it is morning yet on creativity day.
• Professor G. G. Darah, a former Chairman of The Guardian Editorial Board, is of the University of Africa, Toru-Orua, Bayelsa State

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Harry Garuba
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