Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike, born 28 April 1931, Anambra, Nigeria, was one of the foremost Nigerian writers, has produced more novels than many of his contemporaries. He set out on his literary journey in 1965 with the publication of his novel, Toads for Supper and today he has over a dozen publications to his credit, including a collection of tips on how to become a published writer. At 77, he believes there are still more kernels to be eaten as far as his writing career is concerned. And to prove this, he has just published a sequel to Toads for Supper. Titled Toads Forever, the novel is an attempt to resolve some of the unresolved issues in the earlier work. In this interview with SUMAILA UMAISHA, which was published in the New Nigerian, Sentinel Poetry and The London Magazine, he speaks about the new book, his relationship with Chinua Achebe, how Things Fall Apart inspired him into writing his first novel, and more.
During his lifetime, he served as an academic in various roles including as a registrar at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) and a visiting professor at the University of Jos (UNIJOS). He also served as the registrar of the West African Examination Council (WAEC), the first Nigerian to hold that position. He mirrored the African and Igbo societies in novels such as From Toads for Supper, his first work published in 1965, The Naked Gods (1970), The Potter’s Wheel (1973), Sunset at Dawn (1976), Expo ’77 (1980), The Bottled Leopard (1985), Our Children Are Coming (1990) among others.
Not many knew Ike beyond his profile as a writer and novelist. He was one of the top people in the academia who ascended the throne. Until his death, he was the traditional ruler of Ndikelionwu, a position he held as the 11th Ikelionwu of Ndikelionwu since 2008. During his inauguration, the late author had said he would put all he had acquired to use, including “my national/multinational exposure, my public/private sector experience and my other resources to uplift my town, my people, my state, and my country on a fulltime basis for the rest of my life.” Top on his agenda at the time was the elimination of traditional practices against widows, ensuring access to micro-credit facilities for his people as well as overall economic empowerment.
Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike Biography and Profile
Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike, born 28 April 1931, Anambra, Nigeria, was one of the foremost Nigerian writers, has produced more novels than many of his contemporaries. He set out on his literary journey in 1965 with the publication of his novel, Toads for Supper and today he has over a dozen publications to his credit, including a collection of tips on how to become a published writer.
His novels include Toads for Supper (1965), which is set in a university and deals with love and the inherent problems that married couples from different ethnic backgrounds encounter; The Naked Gods (1970), also set in a university, which highlights the corrupt practices in the appointment of a new vice-chancellor at Songhai University; and Expo ’77 (1980), in which secondary school students trying to gain admission to the university cheat in examinations. More recently, Our Children Are Coming (1990) deals with the problem of youth unrest and student revolt in colleges and universities in Nigeria: reacting to commissions of inquiry that exclude them, the students set up a counter investigation of their own.
The Search (1991) is the story of the feverish patriotism of a detribalized intellectual, Ola, and his search for Nigerian unity. Ike’s prose style encompasses dialogue, wit, and satire, which he employs to castigate corruption and the quest for inordinate power. The novels transcend historical, sociological, and political documentation and achieve comedy, tragedy, irony, and metaphor. He has also written How to Become a Published Writer (1991).
Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike Writing Books
As far back as my secondary school days. It began in 1945 at Government College, Umuahia, in the present Abia State. The school encouraged writing and there was the opportunity for one to publish what he wrote. Every house had a house magazine. The magazines were handwritten, but later the school had a printed college magazine for the entire school. That was when my first story, a short story titled ‘A Dreamland’ was published. Then when I went to the University College, Ibadan, there was also the opportunity to continue with the interest in creative writing. There was a magazine strictly for literary affairs, no student union politicking. You were invited to join the literary club if they felt you had literary interest. The publication of the magazine is funded by the university. I had my stories published in it. So these were the beginnings. After graduation I also had my short stories broadcast on Nigerian Broadcasting Service.
I went to a good school which is Government College Umuahia which encouraged us. We had such caliber of people, like Prof. Biobaku who was my teacher. He got B.A from London and came to teach us. In fact he marked my essay and gave me 27/30. He was somebody that encouraged me and I owe a lot to him. After my graduation, I got in contact with him and he changed my career. The kind of knowledge the teachers impacted on us made Umuahia to be noted for creative writing. It was so much work that the students didn’t know much about social life.
So a social night was organized for us at the Women Training College (WTC) , Umuahia on a Saturday night. Biobaku taught us how to comport ourselves. On the Monday morning when we came to the class we were asked to write a poem on the outing and what one of us wrote surprised us as he used beautiful language to capture all the events of the night. That made me to develop interest in writing. Chinua Achebe was my senior at Umuahia and he too influenced my writing.
In fact, I never thought of writing novels until Chinua Achebe published his Things Fall Apart in 1958.Chinua Achebe and myself were close friends and we thought about writing together. That was how it started. Later I saw I could use fiction to write. I didn’t know I would be lucky with writing. I continued and, glory be to God, I celebrated 50 years of writing in October last year. Umuahia produced a lot of writers- myself, Chinua Achebe, Cyprain Ekwensi, Gabriel Okara, Ken Saro Wiwa etc.
English was one of the subjects I read. That had been my major interest. And the way my teachers marked my essays was an indication that it was my line. When I did the Cambridge Overseas Certificate examination, in 1949, essay writing was an important part of the subject. We were asked to write an essay on ‘Narrow Escape’. And I created an interesting narrow escape. What I wrote was imaginary. It was a chance I took, because if they had not appreciated it I would have failed.
Novel writing came much later. In fact, in those days that we were writing short stories none of us believed we could write novels. The novelists we read were from Britain. Though Cyprian Ekwensi wrote then. What actually made me feel that the time had come for me to attempt writing a novel was when my friend, Chinua Achebe, published his Things Fall Apart in 1958. We were friends during our secondary school days, university days and even after graduation. The fact that he could do it encouraged me to start a novel. Things Fall Apart inspired me. And by 1962, I had completed a novel, which I titled Toads for Supper. But it took some times of rejection before it was eventually published in 1965.
When my first novel was accepted it changed things instantly. We were published overseas and the tradition was that once you got published you signed a contract with your publishers that you must give them the first consideration when you write the next one. And the tendency is that when you write the next one they will take it, you write another one they will take it. So you are made.
There was the general feeling that humour is necessary to succeed in life. Even to convince your partner in an argument, humour can help to liven the situation and make things go well. Some literary scholars don’t like the style. They feel whatever has humour in it is not serious. But I don’t share that view.
Some issues are timeless. But I’ve also written novels that do not follow that pattern, novels that are written for the period in which they are published. Conspiracy of Silence, which came out in 2001, was a study on an Igbo societal phenomenon which I call fatherlessness. There are people who do not know their biological fathers, not because those fathers are dead, but they’ve never really known them. There are some women who marry wives. These wives produce children. These children have biological fathers but they are not accepted. There are also traditional women who do not want to marry but want children. So they would come to a man and say ‘I want you to father a child for me, it will be mine, no responsibilities’. This kind of child grows without knowing who his father is. I decided to write on this because this creates serious psychological problems in the society. I’ve read in the newspaper of a girl who threatened to kill her mother if she didn’t tell her who her father was. It is a cultural problem and unless it is eventually stopped it is still relevant as a theme.
Vicent Chukwuemeka Ike First Book
Toads for Super
My concern is not Biafra, but Biafranism. We should try and re-enact those things that made us great in Biafra. There was an article that appeared in News of the World Report in the USA in 1968 titled, ‘Biafra Possibilities’. That was only one year after the civil war started and they had seen what was emerging and they were concerned about it. This Biafranism was what they destroyed after the war because they did not want to see that anything good came out of Biafra.
And that is the kind of spirit I really want us to re-enact. If we can do it in Anambra State, in Enugu State, in Abia State, Igboland will become great again. If we do that, we will have a stronger force collectively. Biafra taught us that we had brains. Not that it brought something new, but it showed that we had all along, failed to realize what we had. If we evolve the spirit of Biafra again, things will change. I always use petrol to illustrate this.
Before Biafra, Nigeria had been brainwashed by the Western World that crude oil refining is capital intensive and technologically advanced for the developing nations. They gave us the impression that it was beyond us, and were buying off our crude oil. Then when Biafra lost Port Harcourt, and lost the refinery, we were faced with a challenge. You couldn’t fight the war without petrol. So Biafra scientists began to ask, this crude oil refining, what is in it? Is it not boiling the crude oil to a certain temperature and boil that to another higher temperature until petrol emerges? Before long, we had our own refineries and government had to control refining.
All that Biafra needed at the end of the war was additives. I had said it somewhere that the people of Niger Delta have a message which no one wants to listen to. They have made us to know that you don’t have to be a super human to refine crude oil. So they are doing it with what they have and nobody is listening to them. We are talking about spending trillions to produce refined oil, but these chaps are telling us that they can do it and save the country so much money. We have crude oil in Anambra, although I don’t know what they are doing now. But that is one area we can show our capability. That crude oil is one area, but there are many other areas we can excel.
For instance, we can also excel in the manufacture of hardware. I tell you a story of a Professor of Physics, an Igbo chap who is one of the most efficient physicists of his time. We had run from Nsukka to Enugu because of the war. I saw him with a bottle of beer and this is not a kind of man you would associate with drinking beer. I called him and said man what is the matter? He said he had taught all sorts of courses, including nuclear power, but he had never imagined himself being able to launch a rocket. But that day, he launched a four-feet rocket. It was small but something great. Of course Biafra later went into launching rockets and anti aircraft. And of course you know Ogbunigwe was the known war head Biafra produced. There were many other things.
The raffia palm tree is being set ablaze and nobody is doing anything with it, but the war showed us that it was a very precious tree. Parts of it were used for scientific purposes and this tree was virtually everywhere. Our brain showed us a lot of possibilities of what we could do. But as I said the civil war ended. At the end of the war, I talked with Ukpabi Asika who was the Administrator of East Central State. In fact he made me chairman of the committee for the reopening of University of Nigeria, Nuskka and I told him he must do something to encourage our people.
When I was appointed chairman of the committee to reopen University of Nigeria, there was a Lt. Col. Who was asked to take us to Nuskka to tell the Army to vacate the campus because the University was used as an Army Brigade. In those days, we had a borehole serving the University and it was destroyed during the war. They brought Army Engineers from Lagos to repair it and after working on it for two weeks, they proclaimed the borehole dead.
We were using tanker to go several miles away to bring water to serve the University, but with the spirit of Biafra, I called Professor Gordian Ezekwe who was a member of my committee and reminded him that he was head of the Research and Production in Biafra and that he must do something to give the University water. Within two weeks, water flowed in the University. He knew that I couldn’t take no for an answer and he took the challenge and found an answer to it.
Unfortunately, that spirit of Biafra is gone because, as I said, General Obasanjo ensured that people should believe that nothing good came out of Biafra. So we couldn’t talk about manufacturing military hardware.
I believe that if we come together and reenact that spirit of Biafra, we will be self sustaining that we won’t care about what is happening in other parts of Nigeria. That is why I say we should develop the spirit of Biafransim if we must move forward. We need to exploit what God had given to us to solve our problems. When we were young, there were things we used to describe as “Fabrikwe” which were things manufactured in Japan. They were of poor quality at that time, but that was how they started.
Where is Japan today? That is the kind of thing our people have to emulate; that is being innovative and creative. I am happy Governor Willie Obiano has raised an Elder’s council. The first day he called us for a meeting, I raised that issue, that it is necessary that our people should be encouraged to start using our brains.
I believe we can do it successfully by bringing our people in the Diaspora. If we do it in all the Igbo -speaking states and succeed, nobody will care whether the president is a Falani or Hausa because we will be self sustaining. In fact, other Nigerian will then become afraid to get into our way. Some of the people who served in Biafra are still around and can be useful.
Agitating for Biafra
By doing that kind of thing, you are creating enemies for yourself. People are attacking what they should not be attacking. Biafra was defeated; even though I hear some people say that the UN had agreed that the people can come together to decide what they want to be. But I think that is a diversion for me from what I call the spirit of Biafranism. This spirit is much more important than MASSOB, the IPOB and the new one that came up recently. If their concern is who will become what, that is not my concern. My concern is to get that spirit that made Biafra thick. Besides, if Biafra survives, there will be more problems.
What kind of government will the agitators even form? Will it be modeled after the Ahiara Declaration? There were people like Chinua Achebe who were formulating ideas as we were fighting Nigeria and deciding the kind of government that would be in place after the war. But with the way things were going, some people dismissed it even before the declaration came out. Such people believed that the situation was not ideal for formulating such a policy in time of war. However, there were things that gingered the people’s spirit during the war, like the war songs and the Radio Biafra propaganda championed by Okokon Ndem.
In fact every field had a contribution to make during the war, including musicians. Nobody or group was superior to the other. What we need now is to encourage our people to select a leader that can give them what they want. If we can do that, we can transform Igbo land and I assure you, other people will want to come and join us to see what they can get from us. That is why I say that I don’t want to be caught up with IPOB or MASSOB. Come to even think of it, who are the people in MASSOB? Do they even have any ideology? They tell themselves lets’ go on and by so doing, they give publicity to themselves. Maybe they are happy they are keeping the name Biafra alive after Nigeria abolished the Bight of Biafra which was even there before Nigeria’s Independence. For that hatred for Biafra, Nigeria decided to abolish the Bight of Biafra.
Vicent Chukwuemeka Ike Advice to Ndigbo
We need to help ourselves. We need to use our God-given brains much more than we are doing. That is the only way to transform our society. This country is blessed and we can make ourselves more progressive than we are today.
Administration at the University of Nigeria
Initially, Nuskka had problems; serious problems. Many people were not happy that Zik brought American education to Nigeria. It started with its own degrees when others were awarding foreign degrees. There were jokes about Nsukka degrees then. We had difficulties getting students and we had to organize secondary school students to talk to them and encourage them to come to UNN. We published newsletters which we also sent to the schools from time to time. I visited Government College Umuahia deliberately to talk to the students.
I was the college prefect during my time there and the idea was to assure them that I would not deceive them if Nsukka was not good. Nsukka was very unpopular and the University was offering courses the students had never heard about. We also organized careers exhibition and brought in employers to address the students in UNN. There was a white man at the Nigeria Tobacco Company who called me by the side and said, if you were in my shoes, will you be employing these students?
They believed the degrees were useless. So I decided to employ Nduka Eya and B.I.C Ijeoma, who were graduates of the university. When I went to WAEC as Registrar, I wanted to take Nduka Eya but his wife did not like their moving to Ghana with me. Eya was among the first set of graduates. But look at Nsukka today.
Vicent Chukwuemeka Ike Opinion on Wealth
I said I would rather have 20 novels against my name, than have 20m pounds in my account. I like money, but money cannot be my target in life. Money is helpful, but for me, there are things that are more enduring than money. In August this year, I got a call from the Federal University in Yola that I would be honoured with a Doctorate Degree. I don’t know anybody there and if it were something to be bought with money, there is no way I could get it.
Last Words For the Young Aspiring Nigerian Writers
They should continue writing and do the best they can, because what may not seem to get them something today may get them something in future. And what we ought to do, the Association of Nigerian Authors and everybody concerned, is to promote these young people, so that people will get to know what they have done. There are few book reviews nowadays.
In our time, whatever you wrote, there were reviews on them so that people could know about them. But this doesn’t exist any more. They should nonetheless continue writing. Even if you can’t get what you have written published, just continue, maybe some day that thing that was not published a long time ago may emerge. Even Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was rejected when he wrote it. My Toads for Supper was rejected too. But I went back to work and it was eventually accepted. After publishing three novels, even those who rejected it began to ask me to have my works published.
Until his death on Thursday 9 January 2020, Vicent Chukwuemeka Ike was the traditional ruler of Ndikelionwu community in Orumba, Anambra, a position he held since 2008.
Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike died at the age of 88.