Erudite scholar and professor of Literary Criticism at the University of Benin, UNIBEN Edo State, Anthony Esijolomi Afejuku, has underscored an urgent need for the diligent study of autobiographies of Nigeria’s founding fathers in order to know where the country got it wrong as a nation. He said failure of the country so far to do so “must be a basic reason why post-colonial Nigeria is not out of the woods yet in every respect”.
Afejuku, of the Department of English Language and Literature, in this vein, recommended to the university to establish an independent ‘Centre for Autobiographical Studies’ which shall be a novel one in the country “in order for autobiography to be freed of its status as ‘a kind of auxiliary literature’ that is no longer legitimised or ‘legitimated by its partner, the novel, or to conflate it and the novel”.
Delivering the university’s 245th inaugural lecture last Thursday, titled “The Autobiography of Nigeria”, the don asserted that the reason the post-colonial Nigeria was not out of the woods yet was the failure to pay attention to the autobiographies of the trio of Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe, and Ahmadu Bello, which he described as the “official records of Nigeria”.
Afejuku noted that the autobiographies – ‘The Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’, Azikwe’s ‘My Odyssey’ and Bello’s ‘My Life’ – “in different degrees, dwell on the need for Nigerians of all religions and political groups to discern and articulate interconnections between ethnic, religious and linguistic diversions to construct (and reconstruct) a sense of shared country-hood or nation-hood”.
Aligning with the position of Professor Adebayo Williams that “Awolowo was a social reformer and crusader for the inalienable right of every citizen to access life more abundant”, Afejuku affirmed that the late Avatar was a key proponent of healthy attitude.
He said “Chief Awolowo, regardless of any failings of human nature he possessed, was a key proponent of healthy attitude and virtuous conduct of political government; and was the nearest instance of the ideal elder and leader of administration and governance conceived of, especially as a future possibility for Nigeria – going by what he did in the Western Region, where he was Premier and was not allowed to do by the terminators of the First Republic”.
The inaugural lecturer therefore advocated that “to know where we got it wrong as a nation or as a people, there is the fundamental need to study the autobiographies diligently. Our failure so far to do so must be a basic reason why post-colonial Nigeria is not out of the woods yet in every respect.
“I am also suggesting that our steadily unprogressive omission to define the true motivations of the autobiographers and their political signs account for an important reason why up to now, we have not had a standardised body of individuals or people who genuinely see themselves as autogenous and impermeable Nigerians”.
Highlight of the lecture was the departure by Afejuku from the norm in official dressing for Inaugural Lectures in suit, as he donned his native Itsekiri attire, complemented with a long coral bead and the academic gown.
Professor Afejuku bagged a doctorate in English and Literature from UNIBEN in 1987. His primary research interests are Prose Studies with emphasis on Autobiography, Creative Writing, Poetry, Literary Theory and Criticism.
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