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Elechi Amadi: The death of a literary icon

It was Thursday June 23 in Port Harcourt and Uzo Nwamara, a writer and the chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) was resting…

It was Thursday June 23 in Port Harcourt and Uzo Nwamara, a writer and the chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) was resting at home. He had been feeling a bit down and thought some rest would do him good.
Then a phone call came. Elechi Amadi, one of Nigeria’s famous writers was unwell and in hospital. He was 82.
Before then, Nwamara, who had grown to be a close friend of the Amadi family, had been thinking of doing an event to celebrate 50 years since the publication of Amadi’s most famous novel, ‘The Concubine’ (1966). They could do a reading, or perhaps have a more elaborate programme. What he was sure of was not letting the event go uncelebrated.
‘The Concubine’ was one of the books that helped establish Amadi as one of the preeminent writers in Africa and the world. It made him a household name so much so that when he was kidnapped from his home on January 5 2009 by gunmen, it threw people across the world in a state of shock. He was released a day later.
“After the abduction, he started having some health challenges,” Nwamara said. “Even though he was an old man, he had had relatively good health but after he was kidnapped it was as if something snapped.”
The intervention of the Rivers State governor at the time, Rotimi Ameachi, ensured Amadi was flown abroad for medical treatment. He recovered, but the chink had already appeared in the armour of the man who continued to write well into the twilight of his life.
In 2013, he launched a new book. A science fiction novel set in Africa of the future. It was a departure from the precedence he had set with his works famed for their depictions of Africa before the colonials arrived to disrupt the social and cultural life of its people.
The book was badly produced; nothing compared to the standards of the Heinemann African Writers Series that Amadi was part of. Since that franchise collapsed, Amadi had resorted to self-publishing his works including plays and essays. Many of them suffered the fate of self-published books – they never circulated enough.
To mark his 80th birthday, Amadi released a play. He celebrated that occasion with pomp. Having lived a life like his, one would expect nothing less.
 Dr. Wale Okediran, erstwhile President of the Association of Nigerian Authors was a man in awe of Amadi, not only as a writer but also as a multitalented gentleman.
“Elechi Amadi’s versatility was indisputable. He was a Mathematician, Physicist, Surveyor, Soldier, Novelist, Poet as well as an accomplished Play Wright. His evergreen play, The Woman of Calabar, a whimsical allegory to the ‘romantic prowess’ of a Calabar woman has continued to draw rave reviews years after its original appearance,” Okediran wrote in his tribute to the legend.
Amadi was known as a writer but to his dying days, he was also called Captain Elechi Amadi, the rank he held as a soldier, a marine commando, during the Nigerian Civil War. He lived a life worth celebrating. Uzo Nwamara knew this and that was why he teamed up with a colleague to write a biography of Amadi.
“We wanted to present it during his 80th Birthday but we couldn’t finish it then,” said Nwamara who was with Amadi hours before his death.
He had visited Amadi several times since he got news of his hospitalization. On Wednesday, June 29, the day Amadi died, Nwamara saw him.
“He tried to smile,” he said. “You know how he is, always smiling. He was in a bad state but he tried to smile.”
He couldn’t say much, but he left Nwamara with a smile and having left the hospital, Nwamara was called an hour later with the news of Amadi’s death.
“He was surrounded by his children and wife,” Nwamara said. “If this was something that money could have solved, he would still be here but it was just his time to go.”
Despite his advanced years, Amadi often made public appearances. He was always active in the Association of Nigerian Authors (he was at some point the chairman of the Rivers State chapter) where his experience and fatherly disposition was often showcased.
Okediran has witnessed many of these instances and writes, “Apart from his writing, Elechi Amadi soon became a regular face at ANA Conventions where his wealth of experience and literary acumen were found very useful in a body of writers known for its sometimes restive membership. I could recollect that as far back as the 90s, Amadi had advised the ANA to consider the Private Public Partnership (PPP) option in developing her landed property in Abuja in view of the Association’s inadequate financial and professional expertise to handle the project on its own. Regrettably, his words of wisdom as an experienced Land Surveyor went unheeded for many years leading to massive loss of some of the property. It was only in 2014 under the leadership of Remi Raji that ANA finally freed itself from the grips of those who had been holding it back, heeded Amadi’s golden advice and finally commenced the development of the long forgotten but now decimated ANA land through the PPP option.”
Book lovers around the world have been thrown into mourning for this gentle man of letters. ANA in its official statement announcing his death described him as a “colossus and father of our vocation.” That was apt.
“Chief Elechi Amadi leaves behind a rich tapestry in the construction and reformulation of African culture within a global rendering and contextualisation. The dynamics of his Ikwerre traditions and knowledge systems have been successfully mainstreamed into his writing with the candour of a thorough bred raconteur leaving indelible imprint in the sands of our literary history. The richness of his artistry and the grammatical reticence of his prose and essay are both a testimonies to his avowed love of language generally and the English language in particular,” the statement jointly signed by the President Denja Abdullahi and its General Secretary Ofonime Inyang said.
His family is distraught by the loss and are yet to make any formal statement. But while funeral arrangements are being made, ANA is assuring that the writer will be properly celebrated. And he should be. Amadi deserves no less.

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