Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Festus Iyayi And The Violence Of Death: Four Years After

By Dan Amor
Even for the casual observer of the convoluted Nigerian social system, the news of the murder of Professor Festus Iyayi, a University of Benin (UNIBEN) Professor, creative writer and human rights activists, was rudely shocking. The former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was said to have died on Tuesday November 12, 2013 in an accident involving the convoy of the then Kogi Sate Governor Idris Wada. He was just 66. This was one inexplicable death too many. Four years after and given the fact that this was now the second fatal crash involving Wada’s convoy, the Federal Government is yet to punish the driver of his convoy’s vehicle that hit the bus in which the lecturers were traveling.
*Festus Iyayi 
Like Chima Ubani, another fire-brand activist who was killed in a similar circumstance a few years back, Iyayi was yet another victim of the penchant for the Nigerian State to murder its best and brightest stars. But I write of him today not only as a committed intellectual and activist but also as one of the best literary minds to have emerged in the twentieth century anywhere in the world. For Iyayi, one of Africa’s shining titans in the literary firmament, there is no more intrinsic and indivisible quality of art, no better, no other initiation is there into the craft of creative writing but the most discriminating and appreciative practice of the literature of engagement. The Nigerian politicians’ betrayal of national trust and the general apathy of the citizens provoked a fighting (revolutionary) literature from writers through committed satirization of society with prophetic dimensions.

The traumatic effects of the social upheaval in the mid-sixties, the civil war and its attendant horrors, increased writers' political commitment. Writers were caught in ambivalence after the war: torn between anguish over the predatory tendencies in human nature, as displayed in the mutual destruction of lives and property, and the need to reconstruct society after the catastrophe. Iyayi was without doubt, a leading proponent of the socialist realist tradition of the African novel, whose books, to date, have demonstrated the writer’s total commitment to the radical transformation of a society caught in the unholy and rapacious embrace of a neo-imperialist and neo-colonialist social order. An enduring epitome of the writer as crusader, Iyayi was at the commanding height among the flag-bearers of a generation of angry Nigerian writers whose works not only represent and protest, but also uncompromisingly undermine alienation in all ramifications.
These works remorselessly lay bare the laws on which the alienating social order is based and emphasizing their historical artificial character. They also offer a ruthless critique and demystification of the originality of the existing stultifying order, encapsulated in powerful artistic imageries and of a viable alternative hegemony. In Iyayi, there is a direct immersion of the writer and his art as we found his life exemplifying his literature or vice-versa. He was an indomitable social activist, front-line trade unionist and committed leftist. No other Nigerian writer since Professor Wole Soyinka and Saro-Wiwa, has suffered more deprivation, humiliation and personal physical and psychological discomfort from the hands of state apparatus, state superstructure and Nigeria’s eating Generals and their cronies, for his beliefs than Iyayi. We would only explicate the socialist realist option which Iyayi articulates in his last but one novel, Heroes, although his earlier two novels, Violence (1983) and The Contract (1985) beat a similar structural and thematic path.
The central concern and pre-occupation of Iyayi’s Heroes (1985) is with the urgency for mass ideological preparation which he found as inevitable for the attainment of freedom and a national culture. Whereas the dominant structural element in Violence (1983) is the abrupt opposition of the oppressors by the oppressed, in his second novel, The Contract, Iyayi yields the stage to the infinite appropriators so that we can see them clearly in all their grotesque garishness. Iyayi, winner of the 1996 All Africa Christopher Okigbo Prize for Literature, was a distinguished economist and scholar who came to limelight in 1979 as an activist university don. With his first novel, Violence, he instantly became a beacon of hope for the new African writing that is ideologically open to no further investigation. In 1987, Iyayi won both the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) prose prize and the African Regional Commonwealth Writers Award.
In 1988, Iyayi’s Heroes, won the prestigious Commonwealth Distinguished Writers Prize valued at 10,000 British pounds. It was an exciting moment for Nigeria. In an attempt to assemble those irrefutably condensed experiences of the Nigerian Civil War into creative metaphors, Prof. Iyayi enthused that through peripheral, concrete and material manifestation of the cathartic process, the phenomenal axis of rebirth would have emerged from the fundamental understanding of those factors that brought the war about. As we remember this week this polyvalent genius in our soulless and murderous nation, may his gentle soul continue to rebel in the literary firmament!
*Dan Amor, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja (danamor641@gmail.com

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