TRIBUTE TO T.M. ALUKO: A DEPARTING LITERARY PATRIARCH
At the age of Ninety-one, the same age as my father, Octogenarian Timothy Mofolorunsho Aluko, simply known as T.M.Aluko, was perhaps the oldest living Nigerian writer and his death, while not a total shock, is a major deprivation to the Nigerian, African and world literature. He was, no doubt, one of the few proponents of the Nigerian prose tradition and one of the few first generation Nigerian writers who carved and shaped the tenure, cannon and aesthetics of the Nigerian fiction.
On Thursday, November 19, 2009, I had written, on this page, a tribute to him under the title T.M. Aluko: A Book for a Golden Age. This grand old man of Nigerian literature had then just celebrated his golden anniversary as a published writer, with a new book, titled Our Born Again President. Let me invoke some of the statements I made on that occasion in this fresh tribute to this departing literary patriarch.
Even though I have promised to publish a fragment of the bewildering number of responses to my last two previous columns, I cannot but join the word of letters and its growing army of fans to pay tribute to this great novelist who hardly received adequate accolades for his contribution to our literary culture. No question, as I said then, this ageless fiction patriarch is, perhaps, one of the most uncelebrated, unacknowledged first generation Nigerian writers of English expression. Left on the shores of fame of our creative Hall of heroism, T.M. Aluko remains one of the major suppliers of the bricks that moulded the Nigerian creative house—without walls—if not in profound aesthetics, but in social and political relevance.
I say this without batting an eyelid. When Things Fall Apart clocked fifty, the world rightly roared with hurray and gave both the author and the text limitless welcome and serenade. Even the other elders of that first generation got some celebrative nod. They included the late Cyprian Ekwensi who got posthumously honoured by the FCT in Abuja as they named the culture house in Abuja after him. Gabriel Okara recently won the NNLG Literature prize and got inducted as an honorary Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters.
Wole Soyinka, of course gave a bold global definition to African and black literature. The late Ene Henshaw also got some honour from the government of Nigeria. JP Clark won the National Merit Award. Mabel Segun got decorated by the Federal guild. Even the nation did not decorate him in the nation's colours through the Order of the Niger in 1964 until the British led the way by making him an Officer of the Order of the Niger. Recently, we in the same literary guild with him the Association of Nigerian Authors gave him one of our maiden fellowship in 12004 decades after we named him one of our four Trustees.
Do not misconstrue my meaning. Most of the pioneer writers I mentioned above got recognition, first from outside before the reluctant, belated nods at home. But at least, somehow, they got some notice, albeit mere tokens. In his own case, T.M. Aluko was stubbornly denied any further national honour, after fifty years of painstaking, ceaseless creativity!, one which showed uncommon resilience and heroic creative tenacity. This iconoclastic author of the popular works, One Man, One Wife and One man One Machete, Kinsman and Foreman, His Worshipful Majesty, Chief the Honourable Minister, The Story of my Life, and numerous others, as a creative writer, held on to his writing vocation, even when it was biologically difficult for him, giving the painful toll that a stroke which rendered his critical right hand numb inflicted on him.
DR T.M. Aluko was attacked by stroke, on August 27, 1987 after attending the annual general meeting of Heinemann Educational Books in Ibadan, taking with it, his right writing hand. This almost put paid to the writing and engineering career of this foremost Nigerian satirist-novelist of the colonial-colonised relations and transitions.
But his loving wife, Mrs. Bisi Aluko encouraged him to try his left hand, an encouragement that got him on a difficult but fresh start. This nudge of encouragement by a helpful wife has since given birth to other books including the latest, Our Born Again President (2009) which was launched at his Ladipo Oluwole, Apapa, courtyard, on November 9, 2009, where his defeat of stroke with a stroke of his pen and penmanship was publicly presented
As it has now turned down, this book is his last published output.
Aluko himself gave a moving account of the indomitability of his own spirit, which saw him, triumphantly through, and led him to conquer physical stroke by a stroke of the pen, when he recalled the memories of his crisis moments: and the initial battle; Aluko said then, 'whenever I remember my condition, I usually get depressed. You may probably know that I used to write with my right hand…As you can see, I now write with my left hand. Unfortunately too, I do not know how to dictate my works; I have been forced to use my hand to write.'
When people referred to him as Dr. Aluko, perhaps in a nomenclatural mix up with Professor Aluko the renowned economist, he went back to school and took a doctorate degree in Engineering from the University of Lagos, where he had retired as Associate Professor in 1979. Aluko bore the pains of the painful death of his son, who was already a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, with steeling fortitude. Now Aluko, this ageless, ever- flourishing creative artist and engineer, came out with that new novel, Our Born Again President. What an instruction for those who put a date to retirement that, for the arts and for all those who throw up their hands in frustration as age creeps in, that age is in the mind and physical handicap cannot conquer the will of the spirit.
Hopefully, as we remarked after the book launch, it is not the gathering of the artists at the launch of the latest book alone that will demonstrate a nation's appreciation of a man who has shown that it is possible to cross disciplinary borders; it is possible to break the burdens of age and create for the future; it is even possible to function without hands—if the spirit is willing. T.M. Aluko instructs us of the limitlessness of human possibilities, in a society of bizarre, obverse and absurd values.
So many people have paid tribute to our legendary creator then, as they are doing now at his painful departure. One tribute which I found particularly honest, passionate and moving; one which I identify with a great deal was by someone who simply called himself George.
I end this tribute to our fictional patriarch, our ageless bard with the statement by George:
Men like this are undeniably rare in Nigeria. A country of warped values and get rich quick. He extended the richness of his intellectual gift to bequeath something of lasting value to future generations not just in Nigeria but the world. Yes, think of what you can do for your country and not what your country can do for you. TM Aluko taught us that in practical terms. May this compatriot live very long still. God bless his heart.
A you depart, old star, we will keep the vigil on this nation in its indeterminate slumber; in its stubborn refusal to become—in spite of all the words of hope and admonition which you and your generation of writers and those of us who came after poured out, with hubristic persistence. We also know that you will find companions both at heavensgate and beyond the clouds. Cyprian Ekwensi may have prepared a place for you—just as Ene Henshaw, Zulu Sofola, Wale Ogunyemi, Ola Rotimi, Hubert Ogunde, and many others did for him.
Perhaps, also, this ungrateful land will remember and immortalize your name and the great literary legacy you left for us. Adieu, our own T.M. Aluko.