Fidoko: The man and his art

A piece on him on the website of Daily Trust dated Sunday, December 5, 2010 is aptly titled “The many talents of Fidelis Okoro”.

Amechi Akwanya, a professor in the Department of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, says in a recommendation on Fidoko’s LinkedIn page, “Mr Fidelis Okoro is a highly talented artist and works in a variety of media with intuitive ease; he is always teeming with creativity and extending his capabilities.”

No one who encountered Fidelis Uchenna Okoro, whether as a student or a colleague, would nurse a jot of doubt about the veracity of the above submissions.

Yet, the man everyone came to know as Fidoko, the name of his theatre company that became a nursery for many a budding actor in UNN’s Department of English and beyond, was much more.

The late Prof Nnadozie Inyama used to call students of the English Department unfortunate lawyers. And true, a chunk of the students in the English Department of UNN in those days were those who actually aimed for the stars but accidentally found themselves on the moon. Some eventually continued their chase for the stars, but a good number of those who chose to make a home in the moon were drawn in by the charisma of a man like Fidoko.

From Introduction to Poetry to Introduction to Drama and Theatre to the other courses he would go on to teach in later years, Fidoko made you want to stay. It was clear that scholarship was not something he stumbled on. He came fully prepared.

A thorough-bred academic who graduated top of his class and was retained in the department after his National Youth Service, Fidoko’s research interests revolved around literary theory, world poetry, comparative literature, African dramatic studies, film studies and African oral poetry.

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Henry Ward Beecher, a nineteenth-century American Congregationalist clergyman and social reformer, once said, “Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.”

Fidelis Okoro was not a painter in the literal sense, but he was a painter all the same, he painted with words, and it was clear from the pictures he painted that the brush reached down his very soul.

If one were looking for a single word to describe Fidoko’s art, it would be versatile, with emphasis on every letter of that word. It is not every day that one comes across a literary artist who comfortably navigates the three genres. A remarkably fertile and restless mind, Fidoko was not just a poet, novelist and playwright, his tentacles extended to music and film-making.

In the Daily Trust article, Fidoko told of the influence of early reading and his grandmother’s tales on his creativity.

“I started reading very early,” he said. “While others were playing I was reading, and I found out that I had a literary tradition when my grandmother will tell me stories about the elephant, the tortoise and the hare. This inspired my interest in the art and later my readings.”

His peers’ positive review of his early writings convinced him he had the gift, so he dived deeper.

In the area of drama, Fidoko wrote and published Wisdom of the Ostrich (1998), Joys of War (2000), Prof Zemzi’s Last Rehearsal (2005), and Quagmire (2010).

In the prose genre, he wrote and published The Rape of Regina in 2002 and Cracking the Shell in 2013.

In poetry, he published When the Bleeding Heart Breaks (2006) and Pimples and Dimples (2012).

When the Bleeding Heart Breaks, his first poetry collection, was shortlisted for the ANA Cadbury Prize for Literature in 2006. In 2009, his novel was shortlisted for ANA Jacaranda Prize, and in 2010 he was shortlisted for ANA NNDC Prize for Drama.

Whereas many believe it is difficult to be both a creative writer and a critic, Fidoko bestrode the two worlds elegantly. His critical writings were published in several academic journals, including “Literature and the Archetype of Azazel” in Africa and World Literature: University of Nigeria Journal of Literary Studies which he co-edited with Amechi Akwanya (2001), “Irony as a Structuring Device in the Poetry of Chinua Achebe” in Harvest Time edited by Ossie Enekwe (2001), “Structuralism and the Dynamics of Biographical Criticism” in Maria Ajima (ed.), Journal of Arts (2013), “The Dramatic Genre: A Historical Exploration” in Sam Onuigbo (ed.), Essays and Literary Concepts in English (2006), among others. He also co-edited Apples of Gold: A Pageant of Modern Nigerian Poetry.

As a musician, Fidoko had three music albums to his credit. His first music album, “Kabaleka”, was launched in 2004, followed by a second, “Call on Me”, four years later. During his first album launch, the head of UNN’s Music Department then had declared, “Fidelis has joined the mad people!”

But music did not get into Fidoko’s head. Indeed, he was critical of musicians who “sing about rotten things, wear bad things to concert, divorce their wives, divorce their husbands, quarrel with everybody”, and he pledged to spend the whole of his “life proving people with this notion wrong”.

“Music is a good gift and should not be allowed only in the hands of those who are misusing it,” he argued.

He would later venture into filmmaking, as producer and director, aiming to “reach a larger audience” than his books and music could. His first Nollywood film, “Saved by Sin”, takes a contrary view to the prevailing ABC slogan – Abstinence, Being faithful, and Condom – being preached globally as preventive measures for HIV/AIDS.

It was sad to hear, in the morning of Wednesday, June 23, that Fidoko has passed on after a battle with leukaemia. Death is a battle no man wins.

Fidoko dedicated one of his works, I think The Rape of Regina, to “the one who, when she comes, will be the apple of my eyes”. Apparently, that “one” never came as Fidoko remained unmarried till death.

The verdict out there among some of his former students is that Fidoko was wedded to his art and that loyalty and fidelity could not be shared with any woman.

Fidelis Uchenna Okoro lived for the arts. He has gone to join the pantheon of the gods of African literature. May the Infinite Intelligence grant him easy passage.

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