DORA NKEM AKUNYILI (July 14, 1954 – June 7, 2014)
By Dame Virgy Etiaba, Former Governor of Anambra State
It is with sadness that I pay this tribute to a great Amazon who has now gone to join the Saints Triumphant.
Dora was a great Nigerian patriot who never shied away from difficult National issues and always exhibited uncommon and unparalleled courage in contributing her voice whenever it mattered most.
She so much wanted a better Nigeria for all of us that only a few weeks ago we were all together as delegates at the on-going National Conference.
She had a hugely successful and unblemished career and made a huge difference wherever she found herself, giving many Nigerian women a strong voice to be proud of.
Dora opened the eyes of our women in fighting gender discrimination and injustice and for this; our women folk in particular will miss her greatly.
It is never about how long one lives but how well and just short of her sixtieth birthday, Dora has unarguable left this world too soon but Chike and the children should know that they are not alone at this moment of grief as millions of Nigerians are grieving with them.
While posterity will be kind to her, I now say to my sister ‘Ezigbo Nwannem Kachifo’.
Maya Angelou: Teacher, Feminist and a Literary Giant
By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje
It was indeed Maya Angelou herself that once said that: One is not necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We cannot be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest. This quote in my view reflects on her life and work. She was indeed a phenomenal woman and a mentor across the global north and south. A teacher whose shared thoughts inspired and challenged our mind set for boundless opportunities in a constantly changing world.
For many people who came of age in the 1960s and 70s, the name Maya Angelou is eminently familiar. Some would remember her as a teacher. Others would remember her as a civil rights activist and, subsequently in Africa for her engagement in independence movement in the 1960s. More recent generations would indeed remember as the quintessential lady of poetry and a motivational speaker. From whichever lens, Maya was indeed a remarkable women who had impacted humanity and we hope that her legacy of authentic and affirmative love would inspire our leaders to write their names with gold when their epithet is written. Only time will tell!
Maya was indeed Pan- Africanist par excellence. She made remarkable contributions in helping with several African independence movements in the 1960,s. She worked as an editor in Egypt, where she edited the Arab Observer in Cairo. She was also instrumental to Malcolm X visit to Ghana in 1964. This remarkable icon had a magic wand in preaching love and courage from her experiences. She also worked for years for the civil rights movement in the 60’s with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Maya most enduring legacy in my view is her uncommon ability to use her personal life failing and experience to inform change in her immediate society and indeed the human race. Her fight for social injustice was through creative means and expressions particularly on the triumph and pain of being black and the struggle to be free. Her expressions were often filled with bittersweet intimacies, ferocious courage and uncommon wisdom that freed so many women from the clutches of abusive relationships and opening themselves to the realities for a better tomorrow of self worth, self esteem and resilience to engage men in power relations conversation.
In short, the last four decade, the name Maya draws to mind the image of plain- spoken woman with one unique message of love and courage in the face of life challenges. Indeed she was one of the most celebrated African-American women of contemporary Arts and History. She became famous with her memoir: I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings, Which chronicled her struggles, demystifying the stereotype of women as sinners, victims and naïve innocents. She broadened our understanding of the roles of women beyond the biblical concept of a helpmate to man. Her imagery, metaphor, rhythms, teachings and stories reinforce exceptional nature women’s heroism in contemporary gender and development issues and her constant affirmation of the goodness of humanity would forever inspire the younger generation.
Furthermore, her creative expression in social engineering was captured in her book: the Phenomenal Woman which celebrates the inner beauty, femininity and the identity of womanhood rather than the falsehood that society places on the externality of outward beauty of the body and skin. She used expressive and emotive imagery in enhancing woman self-confidence, love for self and the immutable and profound gift women bring to bear in human civilisation.
Finally, Angelou will be best remembered in gender and literary discourse for her deep and uncommon reflections of courage, love, social realism and interwoven transformative poems that would propel us and the next generation for positive social change. I salute Maya the gracious lioness of our time and thanking you for your gift of poetry to mankind. Your uncommon wisdom and promise of peace we shall treasure and sustain.
Rest in Peace, dear teacher.
*Orovwuje is Founder, Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos.