Literary Icon, Gabriel Okara, dies at 97

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One of Nigeria’s foremost writers, poets and novelists, Dr Gabriel Okara, has passed away.

Okara, who is from Boumadi, Bayelsa State, died at the Federal Medical Centre in Yenagoa, in the evening of Sunday, March 25, 2019.

The deceased, who died at the age of 98, was the life patron of the Association of Nigerian Authors.

A family member, who pleaded anonymity, said Pa Okara was relaxing at his Yenagoa residence when he slumped at about 4pm on Sunday and was rushed to the FMC, Yenagoa where he was pronounced dead by doctors.

He said the head of the Okara family had sent a text message to members of the family for an emergency meeting, adding that it was after the meeting that a formal statement announcing his death would be issued.

However, the Bayelsa State chapter of the ANA, in a statement by its chairman, Mrs Bina Ilagha, confirmed Okara’s death.

Ilagha said, “The association is ruffled by the news of his death because it came at a time when preparations are in top gear to celebrate his masterpiece, ‘The Voice at 55.’

“We are saddened by the news but are consoled that he left behind lofty legacies. Pa Okara, through his literary exploits, put Bayelsa on the map of literary excellence.”

Also, the speech writer to the Bayelsa State governor and one-time chairman of the ANA, Mr Michael Afenfia, in a statement in Yenagoa, said, “It is with great sadness that I received the news of the passing away of the renowned poet and novelist, Gabriel Okara.

“Even in passing, I am sure your poem, “Piano and Drums,” will ‘minister’ to me in many ways. Your words are an inspiration! Your concerns about the African culture in the face of western ‘threat’ as expressed in “Once Upon a Time” are ever before me.

“Thank you for leaving us with so much to remember of your time here with us. Thank you for setting the pace for several generations of writers.”

Also the Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, described Okara’s death as a great loss to the state and Nigeria.

The governor subsequently declared a three-day mourning for the late Okara begining from Monday to Wednesday with all flags flown at half mast in the state.

A statement by the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, quoted the governor to have made the remark on Monday.

“Okara was held in high esteem as a pride to the Niger Delta and indeed the African Continent. It is in appreciation of his exploits that the government decided to name the State Cultural Centre in Yenagoa after him. The late Okara will be greatly missed by all lovers of literature and intellectualism especially the young and upcoming writers,” the statement read in part.

The governor assured that his government will support the deceased family to give the writer, who hails from the state, a befitting burial.

Punch

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