Several Niger Delta leaders, including former President Goodluck Jonathan, Bayelsa Governor, Seriake Dickson, writers and other professionals yesterday attended the Ceremony of Poems, Songs and Tributes in honour of late Dr. Gabriel Okara whose interment takes place today.
Many of the guests spoke glowingly of the late 98-year-old poet, novelist and administrator whose literary works spanned over six decades, describing his death as the loss of a rare treasure which would be hard to replace.
Leading the eulogies, former President Jonathan, described Okara as a humble man and expressed joy that the literary icon was honoured during his lifetime, with the naming of the Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre and the State-owned Library after him.
While thanking the Bayelsa government for agreeing to host the funeral rites as state burial, Jonathan noted that Okara was a voice of justice and equality everywhere his works were read all over the world and urged Nigerians to emulate the kind of life he lived.
“This theatre (Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre) was named after him and the state library when he was still alive and that’s the best way to do it when he was still alive. He was a treasure nobody would want to lose. His death is painful though he lived a reasonable time.
“He was a good administrator, journalist, poet, novelist etc. Nobody ever spoke ill of him in any gathering. I remember in secondary school when we read his West African Verse in our literature class.
“Pa Okara was a voice, a voice of reason, truth, equality, justice and we should all emulate him. I remember how he served in Rivers State. He established the Tide Newspaper and the state television.
“Even in Bayelsa, he did the classification of traditional rulers as head of the committee in the formative years of this state. Okara was good to us and humble and contributed to the Ijaw race and the world. Today, we are all here as a part of his last journey,” he said.
In his remarks, Governor Dickson said that a mausoleum would be built in honour of the late poet, while working with his Alma mater, Government College, Umuahia, a project to be named after Okara would soon commence.
He added that Bayelsa would have preferred to bury the late writer at the Ijaw Heroes Park, but said he understood the family which chose to bury the man in his village in Bomoundi, Yenagoa Local Government Area.
“Our state and the world at large have lost a great man. Many people our age started reading this man over 40 years ago. It speaks to our profound sense of loss. Our government believes in honouring our leaders whose works have brought glory to Bayelsa, Nigeria and Africa. We brought back the remains of Boro (Adaka) from where it was buried in a shallow grave in Lagos.
“You don’t have to be always a political figure. For us in Bayelsa, once you live a life of service, of honour and bring acclaim to our people, we showcase and honour you as a beacon of hope of what is possible in the Niger Delta.
“That was why in 2013 we remodelled this building and named it after Gabriel Okara. We are happy we honoured him while he was alive. Today, as our contribution to honouring our leaders, dead or alive, he will have a mausoleum at the Ijaw Heroes’ Park.
“We had requested that his remains be buried in the place of honour reserved for our leaders but they have reached out and explained the other dimensions to it. But he will have a final place of honour at the memorial park where Isaac Boro, Owoeye Azazi, our first four-star general and others whose lives continue to be an inspiration to us were buried.
“For the Government College Umuahia, I have listened to you and working together, we will undertake a project that will be named after Pa Gabriel Okara.
“Beyond these confines, he had several children, he will always insist on praying for me each time he came to my office. I thank him for telling the Ijaw story so well. I acknowledge the prayers and support. For exposing the Ijaw culture to the world,” he noted.
Dickson added: “When you read the “Fisherman’s Invocation”, when you read “Piano and Drums” and he compares the rustic mystical drums in Bomoundi and the concerto ending in its crescendo, the “Call of the River Nun” and “The Voice”, it was an entire life of service, showing the right values, a great Nigerian and a great citizen of the world.
“He has answered the inevitable call of the River Nun. Now he’s listening to the mystical drums on the other side. We bid him farewell on that journey. From this glorious proud land will rise many Gabriel Okaras.”
Earlier, during the launching of the Gabriel Okara Foundation, daughter of the literary icon, Mrs. Timinipre Okara-Schiller, said a major objective of the Foundation was to protect, preserve and promote Dr. Okara’s legacies.
She disclosed that the foundation would also give hope and succour to indigent children and youths in the society in dire need of the right motivation to excel beyond their immediate environment, as her father cherished and blessed the idea of the foundation.
Mrs. Okara-Schiller said her father contributed immensely to the development of the Ijaw Nation and served the country meritoriously in various capacities.