Odia Ofeimun is a man of many facets: poet, publisher, editor, activist, polemicist, mentor, politician, columnist, factory worker, writer, dance-drama exponent, public intellectual, and critic. Born on March 16, 1950, in Iruekpen, an Esan-speaking town in Ekpoma, in present-day Edo State, Odia faced early obstacles in his education due to physical limitations, missing an entire year of primary school. However, he later benefited from the free education policy initiated in the old Western Region in 1955, under Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s leadership, whom Odia would later serve as a private secretary.
Despite having to drop out of secondary school in Class Three due to his father’s business failure, Odia’s passion for reading led him to his uncle Odigie’s library in Lagos. It was here that he declared his ambition to become a writer, even without a formal university education, much like other renowned writers worldwide.
Odia’s journey took him to work as a cub reporter for the Midwest Echo, a sister title of the Nigerian Tribune. His early poems found their way into publications such as Okike, edited by Chinua Achebe, and Nigeria Magazine, edited by Frank Aig-Imoukhuede. Leaving the newspaper due to salary issues, Odia initially intended to travel to Ghana as a writer but ended up in Lagos, working as a petrol station attendant and then a factory labourer. During his nights, he immersed himself in writing poetry.
A remarkable achievement was Odia completing his A Levels in December and O Levels in January, even though he initially failed literature at O Levels and later earned a B in the subject at A Levels. His poems gained recognition when he met Wole Soyinka, who published them in the celebrated anthology, “Poems of Black Africa,” furthering his poetic journey.
Remarkably, the poems Odia wrote at 18 are still studied by 18-year-olds in the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations. Despite financial challenges, Odia earned an Upper Second in Political Science from the University of Ibadan.
Odia Ofeimun’s literary career includes over 40 books, encompassing poetry collections, anthologies, dance dramas, essays, and polemics. His publishing venture, the Hornbill House of Culture, is a pioneering force in the cultural landscape, with Lagos being a city he cherishes.
In the anthology “Lagos of the Poets,” edited by Odia, he skillfully captures Lagos’ essence from historical figures like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to modern poets like Niyi Osundare and Harry Garuba.
At 70, Odia Ofeimun stands as a witness to Nigeria’s post-independence history, and he remains a prominent voice in chronicling and critiquing this experience. Despite dedicating his life to “taking Nigeria seriously,” he is a testament to the challenges faced by committed individuals in a nation that often rewards those who lack a clear understanding of this commitment.
To celebrate his 70th birthday, friends of Odia will host a colloquium titled “Odia Ofeimun: In Search of a Common Morality” on Thursday, September 28, 2023, at Right House, Ikeja, Lagos, starting at 11 a.m. The event will feature essays, tributes, and conversations.