…And Old Soldiers Never Die!

As we welcome a young author we also salute the 87-year-old Onuora Nzekwu. After 20 years in Surulere, I only recently realised that the famous author of Eze Goes to School, first published in 1966 and beloved by generations of children ever since, also lives locally. Indeed, he is much more local than I can claim to be. He first moved here in 1960 but was forced to flee east at the time of the 1967-70 civil war, returning afterwards to resume his post in the ministry of information, from where he retired in 1985 as Chief Executive of the News Agency of Nigeria.  dust

In a 2012 interview with TheNews magazine, he explained why he wrote his celebrated children’s book: ‘The reason for Eze Goes to School was because a few books had been written for Nigerians by Nigerian writers. But there was nothing about Nigerian children or for them to read. All the books that we had, when I was in school and when I came out, were books about European children. So I thought I should write something about our own children and how they live. And I wrote it based on our surroundings so that the child who is reading it will understand and appreciate that this is something that is familiar.’ He later followed it up with the less well-known Eze Goes to College (1988).

Prior to this, he had published three novels, Wand of Noble Wood (1961), Blade among the Boys (1962) and Highlife for Lizards (1965). The first two received indifferent reviews but last was praised profusely in a book edited by an oyiba professor: ‘Here, as is the case with all successful Igbo novels, village life is seen from the inside. Like Achebe and later Amadi, Nzekwu blends history with the daily life of the individual… But Nzekwu’s most significant innovation is that this is the first West African novel in English to venture on the life of a married woman in a polygamous household…’


Amb. Arthur Mbanefo, Prof. J. P. Clark and Chief Patrick Nwagbogu at the 2012 launch of Troubled Dust.

His latest novel, Troubled Dust, was launched amidst considerable fanfare at the NAN complex at the National Theatre in 2012. It attracted a number of literary luminaries, including Mabel Segun, JP Clark, Femi Osofisan, Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo and Dagga Tolar. According to newspaper reports, Prof Osofisan commended him ‘on his stylistic approach’. At 454 pages, it is his long-awaited statement on that defining event which turned him into a refugee in his own country.13

He has also tried his hand at history, a subject now apparently superfluous in a country which doesn’t want to know where the rain started beating it. China Dynasty (1977) is an account of the reign of its monarchs; Faith of Our Fathers (2003) is a compendium of the beliefs of a traditional Onitsha community.

He was awarded the OON in 2008 for his services to the nation.

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1 Comment

  1. May 16, 11:57 #1 Prue

    It’s not often I take some new information away from reading an inmrafationol article. I’m sure that’s because most writers tend to write the same thing over and over. You have presented new, fresh ideas.

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