Cyprian Ekwensi, Foremost Writer, Dies At 86

Chief Cyprian Odiatu Duakwa Ekwensi, author of several popular novels and short stories, is dead. He died at the age of 86.

Ekwensi was born in Minna in Northern Nigeria on September 26, 1921 and later lived in Onitsha in his ancestral east.

He was educated at Government College, Ibadan, and Achimota College, Ghana. He later studied pharmacy at the Yaba Technical Institute, Lagos, and graduated from the Chelsea School of Pharmacy, United Kingdom, in 1956. He read Forestry at the School of Forestry, Ibadan.

The late Ekwensi worked for two years as a forestry officer and taught Pharmacy for a couple of years at Igbobi College, Lagos. He was employed as a pharmacist by the Nigerian Medical Corporation.

Ekwensi was regarded as father of the modern African novel on city life.

He went into creative writing as a vocation, publishing his first novel, When Love Whispers, in 1948. He went on to produce other novels, including An African Night’s Entertainment (1948), The Boa Suitor (1949), People of the City (1954), Passport of Mallam Iliya (written in 1948 but published in 1960), The Drummer Boy (1960), Jagua Nana (1961), Burning Grass (1962), Beautiful Feathers (1963), Iska (1966), as well as hundreds of short stories and essays. He was for many years a columnist with Drum magazine and later Monthly Life magazine.

He also published a number books for children. Under the name C.O.D. Ekwensi, he released Ikolo the Wrestler and Other Ibo Tales (1947) and The Leopard’s Claw (1950). In the 1960s, he wrote An African Night’s Entertainment (1962), The Great Elephant-Bird (1965), and Trouble in Form Six (1966). His later works for children include Coal Camp Boy (1971), Samankwe in the Strange Forest (1973), Samankwe and the Highway Robbers (1975), Masquerade Time! (1992), and King Forever! (1992). In recognition of his skills as a writer, he was awarded the Dag Hammarskjold International Prize for Literary Merit in 1968.

Ekwensi joined the Nigerian Ministry for Information and rose to be Nigeria’s first indigenous Director of Information at independence. With first military coup in 1966, culminating in the disturbances in the Western and Northern regions that year, Ekwensi gave up his position and relocated to Enugu where he joined the secessionist government of Biafra. He became chairman of the Bureau for External Publicity in Biafra and an adviser to the head of state, Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu.

After the war he moved to Lagos where he spent the rest of his life in relative obscurity.

In 1999 he was honoured with the chieftaincy title of Osi Baarohin of Ibadanland and was inducted Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters in 2006. He was also a recipient of the Nigerian national honour of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR).

He is survived by a wife, nine children and many grandchildren.

A statement signed yesterday by his son Georges Chiedu Ekwensi on behalf of the bereaved family said that the late sage’s funeral arrangements would be announced by the family in due course.

This story was published in today’s issue of LEADERSHIP

Some of Ekwensi’s books

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