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Renowned writer, Gabriel Okara, dies at 98

A Nigerian renowned writer,  poet and novelist, Dr Gabriel Okara, is dead. Okara, a native of Boumadi, Bayelsa State, died Sunday evening at the Federal Medical Centre, Yenagoa, at 98.

A family source, who pleaded anonymity, told journalists yesterday that Okara was relaxing at his Yenagoa residence when he slumped at about 4pm on Sunday.

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He said the head of the Okara family had already convened an emergency meeting would issue a formal statement about the writer’s demise.

Okara was educated at Government College, Umuahia and later at Yaba Higher College. During the World War II, he attempted to enlist in the British Royal Air Force, but did not complete the training. In its stead, he worked for the British Overseas Airway Corporation.

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Okara was known as the first modernist poet of Anglophone Africa. His works include “The Voice”, published in 1964; ‘The Fisherman’s Invocation’ published in 1978; ‘The Dreamer, His Vision’, 2005; ‘The Call of The River Nun’; ‘Piano and Drums’; ‘You Laughed and Laughed and Laughed’; ‘The Black Orpheus’, among others

Okara had in 1945 worked as a printer and bookbinder for colonial-Nigeria government-owned publishing company where he worked for about nine years during which he translated poetry from Ijaw to English and wrote scripts for government radio.

In 1949, before the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, Okara had worked as Information Officer for the Eastern Nigerian Government Service alongside another foremost Nigerian poet, Chinua Achebe.

Before his death, the Bayelsa State Government had named the state library and the cultural centre in Yenagoa after him.

The legendary poet and novelist was a life patron of the Association of Nigerian Authors in Bayelsa State.

Meanwhile, Already, the Bayelsa State government yesterday declared a three-day mourning  with all flags to fly at half mast to honour Okara. Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, while reacting to his death, described him as a famous poet and novelist, saying his passage was a great loss to the state and Nigeria.

The Bayelsa State chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in a statement by its chairman, Mrs. Bina Ilagha, said: “The association is ruffled by the news because it came at a time when preparations were in top gear to celebrate his masterpiece, ‘’The Voice’’ at 55.

She said: “We are saddened by the news but are consoled that he left behind lofty legacies. Pa Okara, through his literary exploits put Bayelsa in the map of literary excellence.”

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