Nigeria: Teju Olaniyan... He Had No Room for Smallness

6 December 2019
opinion

'First Class in many ways': that was part of my oriki for him, a tribute which he acknowledged with characteristic humility and gratitude. And now, it is we who should be grateful to him for the numerous ways his life has enriched our own. He came at the right time. But he left too soon.

'Bountiful Baritone' was my humorous moniker for him, an appellation which frequently provoked guttural laughter from both ends of the banter. But if his voice was large, his heart was even larger, his mind more capacious. For his was the kind of heart that had no place for smallness; his was a mind endowed with infinite plenitude. When William Wordsworth, England's great Romantic poet said the following about Milton, another Titan of English letters:

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart,

Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea

You could have thought that Teju was the subject of that majestic eulogy.

For Teju blessed us all with his boundless generosity, his kindness, his purposive, boundary-bursting scholarship, the quenchless light of his imagination that propelled us to heights once thought impossible, his almost monastic work ethic, his drive for diligence, for merit . . . . his capacity for laughter, yes, convivial, regenerative laughter.

'First Class in many ways': that was part of my oriki for him, a tribute which he acknowledged with characteristic humility and gratitude. And now, it is we who should be grateful to him for the numerous ways his life has enriched our own. He came at the right time. But he left too soon.

Sunun re o, Omoluabi. We know you are somewhere now where no one can arrest your music.

Niyi Osundare is one of Africa's foremost poets and a Distinguished Professor of the University of New Orleans (UNO), where he teaches in the English Department.

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