Professor OSUNDARE, Niyi, NNOM


Name : Professor OSUNDARE, Niyi, NNOM
Award Year : 2014
Conferred by : Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR


Your Excellency the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Governing Board, Nigerian National Merit Award is honored to present before you and the Nation, the winner of the 2014 Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM), Professor Oluwaniyi Osundare, who prefers to be called simply, Niyi Osundare. We acknowledge and celebrate today in these hallowed chambers not only Niyi Osundare’s excellent contribution to scholarship but also his matchless role as a committed public intellectual who has been aptly described as The Peoples Poet, for holding before us the mirror image of what Nigeria should be but is yet to be, and for his untiring patriotic concern that “[his country] lives up to the responsibilities of its national destiny not only for the sake of its citizens, but also for the sake of the black race.”
Born in 1947 in Ikere-Ekiti, in what is now part of Ekiti State, Niyi Osundare attended the St. Luke’s Primary School and Amoye Secondary School, both in Ikere-Ekiti, before moving on to the Christ School, Ado-Ekiti, which has produced many of the country’s finest intellectuals. Graduating from the University of Ibadan, with a Bachelor’s Degree in English in 1972, Niyi Osundare went on to earn a Master’s Degree in English in 1974 from the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, with his thesis, Yoruba Proverbs: A Study in the Problems of Translation. After a two-year stint, beginning in 1972, as Assistant Lecturer at the Department of English, University of Ibadan, Niyi Osundare went to York University, Toronto, Canada in 1976 to undertake the doctoral programme in English, which he completed in 1979, earning the Ph.D. degree, with his dissertation on Bilingual and Bicultural Aspects of Nigerian Prose Fiction.
From modest but cultured beginnings in Ikere-Ekiti, through his cosmopolitan academic and professional engagements with the humanities at Ibadan, Leeds, and York, and several other universities across the world, Niyi Osundare has bestrode the world of scholarship in Literature like a colossus. It is not surprising, therefore, that knowledgeable critics have acknowledged “the fecundity” of Niyi Osundare’s scholarship, the “unique blend of intellectual acuity and moral rigor” and “the capacity to agitate that dialectical space between accommodation and resistance in a given social order”—all of which typically anchor his scholarship.
The high water-mark of Niyi Osudare’s academic and teaching career, which began with his appointment in 1974, as Assistant Lecturer at the University of Ibadan, where he became Professor in 1989, and which continued with his appointment as Professor of English at the University of New Orleans, USA in 1997, was his appointment to a Distinguished Professorship at the University of New Orleans. This is the highest professorship appointment in the University, to which only the rarest scholars, who have “established a truly distinguished national and international record in scholarship and creative work,” are appointed. The Chairperson of the Department of English Department described the appointment as “ a fitting tribute to [Niyi Osundare’s] achievements and stature as poet, scholar- critic and teacher.”
Other recognitions, which Niyi Osundare has received, and which attest to his nurture of academic and professional networks across the world, include notably the following: (a) The 2008 Tchicaya U ‘Tamsi Award for African Poetry, generally regarded as Africa’s highest poetry prize; (b) The 2004 Spectrum Books’ Award; (c) The 1998 Fonlon/Nichols Prize; (d) The 1991 Noma Award; (d) Joint-Winner, 1986 Overall Commonwealth Poetry Prize; and (e) The 1986 Association of Nigerian Authors Poetry Prize.
Niyi Osunsade has more than twenty books of poems to his credit, all of which are of uniformly high quality and relevance to the human condition in Africa, though situated within the broader challenges which the global political economy poses for the continent. A trail-blazer, Niyi Osundare led the way as Nigeria’s first noted nature poet of English language expression, evoking Nigeria’s landscape in an impressive manner.
More importantly, Niyi Osundare is not a poet who mystifies the reader. Though profound, he is a readily accessible serious poet, who sets out to engage the reader, and who has made a most significant contribution to the Nigerian poetic English diction. He does this by showing that he has a bilingual Muse. He fuses the African, particularly the Yoruba world-view into his poetry, drawing on proverbs and aphorisms, deploying code shifting and language mixing uniquely and effectively. As a result, his metaphors are characteristically arresting, while underscoring his greatness as a master of metaphors.
To this must be added the lyricism of his poetry. His poems are typically written to be performed to captivate the audience and are infused with graphological innovations to provide additional clues to meaning. What more, Niyi Osundare has demonstrated great passion for the continued growth of the genre by encouraging Nigerian schoolchildren, through his set of three poetry books for Junior Secondary Schools, to try their hands at writing poems. In the series, Niyi Osundare demonstrates an uncommon sense of appropriateness and relevance by drawing heavily on the local culture for subject-matter and imagery. He is indeed the only poet of his stature to try and stimulate the love of poetry and an appreciation of its relevance to national development, among children at such an early and impressionable age.
It is the fusion of all these features of his poetry that gives Niyi Osundare his uniquely distinctive and highly deserved meritorious voice in poetry.

Song of the market place
Waiting laughters