Why Nigerian literature is dying

Daily Sun, Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Literary icon, Professor Femi Osofisan has raised an alarm that
artistic and literary activities have nosedived in recent times. The
playwright noted that poor state of the nation's economy is
responsible for the ugly trend.

Speaking with Daily Sun after he delivered a lecture at the
University of Ibadan entitled: Anti-thesis: Ibadan in the season of
locust, Osofisan expressed his regret, stressing, that the poor state
of Nigeria's economy has driven many Nigerian intellectuals abroad.
He also lamented the loss of focus by Nigerian youths which makes
them mimick foreign culture.

The lecture

Well, it is the tradition of the University of Ibadan to organise
this kind of lecture. The university calls on different faculties to
base the lecture on something that is important to them; something
they are exploring, something that will contribute to knowledge.

The topic

Well, I was just exploring the birth and growth of Nigerian
literature to see how much has taken place in Ibadan, particularly,
at the premier university. In addition to that, the title is meant to
determine how much the growth of literature has been assisted by
graduates of U.I.

You would recall that modern African literature was born here in
Ibadan; however, it went down for a while, and when it had a rebirth,
it also started on this campus. That is very unique in Nigeria's
literary history for a group to have been responsible for literature
to flourish in a country.

I can recall that the first harvest; that first flourishing season of
literature that produced the likes of Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark,
Christopher Okigbo, Chinua Achebe and others; was with the major
contribution of the alumni of University of Ibadan. But there was
going to be a second rebirth of literature by our mates, although it
wasn't here alone anymore. Quite a lot of it has taken place at other
centers like Nsukka and others. But Ibadan has played a special role
in the growth of literature in this country, and I am bound to
explore the implications.

Direction of arts and literature

Well, arts, like every other thing, follows a linear movement. There
are moments of regression and progression. There are peak moments,
and there are low moments. There are moments of great achievements
and moments of low achievements.

But for a while, there has been a downward trend. However, they are
signs that literature particularly will be on the rise again.

Why the trend

Well, you know the nature of the society we live-in vis-a-vis the
economic problems, the type of government, all these factors affect
literature. You would also understand many of our brains have
migrated abroad. So, all these tell on our literature.

Brain drain

You would probably know the whole generation of poets that we used to
call the up-beat poets had left. That was the generation that seemed
to be creating a new resurgence in Nigerian literary writings, has
gone abroad now. In every sphere of our intellectual life, it has
been the same, not just in the arts.

The way out

It is a complex web. But that should be approached through conscious
effort to raise the standard in the universities and improve on the
facilities. For instance, you can't imagine that in this series of
lectures, I have not had any kind of benefit of research assistance.
I mean a Professor of my own standing. No such offer has come my way.
Besides, look at other problems I have been having. I have been
passing through difficult problems writing this lecture because there
has been no power supply. I don't have direct access to the internet
and things like that. These are the kind of things that will not make
our colleagues abroad want to come back. We have to get rid of it.

But then, you know we are living a life of luxury, many of our people
cannot even afford their regular meals or send their children to
school. So, it is a long effort that we have to make to get our
country back to where our colleagues overseas will have the
confidence to come back and brains here will not be struggling to
collect exit visas.

Authors' rewards

Well, I won't look at it in the materialistic sense only. We are
talking also about spiritual satisfaction; living in an environment
where your work is appreciated, and you are encouraged to improve on
it. That is totally absent here. If we want that kind of thing, we
have to go abroad; we have to rely on grants from foreign

The national endowment fund had not been established up till now to
help in funding specific projects. Things like that. Even the
encouragement is not here. It is a pity. It is a great pity.

How literature impacts on society

Unless you read, you can't say what impacts it has, because the
influence is not direct. The influence is more subtle because it
deals with the mind as a way of preserving our culture.

For instance, our children are imitating American hip-hop and what
they see on the CNN. It is a great pity because, by so doing, we lose
our identity; we lose all the sense we have; we lose our solidity as
a people; we lose our sense of direction about the future.