Legend of the Son of a Reverend Father: Odili Tony Ujubuonu

by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Odili Ujubuonu

When he writes his novels, he bears the name Odili Ujubuonu. When he wants to make money, he tells you his name is Tony, as in Anthony.

The hits of the multiple award-winning novelist, Odili Ujubuoñu, are many not the least of which is that he is the son of a Reverend Father! Sue me!

It is an acknowledged fact that Catholic Reverend Fathers are celibate and are not allowed to marry but the priest who gave birth to Odili fathered many sons, and I happen to be his stepson!

Father Nicholas Tagbo, the legendary Principal of the iconic Christ the King College, (CKC) Onitsha was immortalized via the book Sons of A Priest by Odili Ujubuonu.

I lived in the tutors’ quarters of CKC with my uncle, Job Okwuoma Aginam, who taught in the school, and I can reveal here that Odili started penning his arresting lines quite early while toasting my uncle’s beautiful daughter in lieu of coming to buy buns from her!

The corporate members of the idle rich class here who call our guy Tony may know him as an advertising maestro, founder of the marketing communications firm Brande Aristotle Limited, and CEO of ANSAA, but I only know him as a writer, author of four award-winning novels.

Odili’s first three novels make up a trilogy, and the novels are: Pregnancy of the Gods (2006), winner of the 2006 ANA/Jacaranda Prize for Prose; Treasure in the Winds (2008), a nominee for the 2008 Nigerian Prize for Literature and winner of the 2008 ANA/Chevron Environmental Prize; and Pride of the Spider Clan, nominated for the 2012 Wole Soyinka Prize for Africa and the winner of 2012 ANA Prose.

Odili’s latest novel Crows of the Yellow Stream is a riveting tale set in the pre-colonial time when man was at one with the environment, nature and animals of the forest.   

Let me stress upfront here that Odili has not bought me enough beers as yet for ruining my weekend in Lagos.

It happened way back when I was minding my poetic means while walking on James Robertson Street, Surulere, Lagos only of Odili to take me into his office and hand over to me the manuscript of what later became his first novel entitled Pregnancy of the Gods.

The manuscript so magnetized me that I read and edited it in one fell swoop all through the weekend. When I handed back the stuff to him I made my complaint to his face: “Come, who gave you the power to ruin the weekend of the poet with unstoppable magical prose?”

Odili may look innocent to the ordinary eye but he has mystical powers inside that churns the mind and leaves his readers gasping for breath.

Pregnancy of the Gods is the thrilling story of the good lady Ekemma whose husband Udo dies quite suddenly and the widow must perforce prove to a distrustful and taunting community that her pregnancy actually belongs to her late husband. Amid her immense loneliness, she must answer to the Ezeani council and the suspicions of the wider society. There is the impossible figure of Eze Ochendo. There is Udemba. There is the cliffhanger that the unborn child can unhinge the cosmos. The battle is end-of-the-world-like. Pregnancy of the Gods is a modern classic set in the old world like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Treasure in the Winds, the second novel in the trilogy, lends magical power to the flute with which Obuita kidnaps Adaego as payback to his stingy master, Ikechukwu. The search for the flute becomes a life-defining force as some daring Aro men are drawn into the do-or-die crusade. “Where is the flute?” Who finds the flute keeps the treasure! Treasure in the Winds is an accomplished masterpiece and I daresay Odili’s favourite novel. 

Pride of the Spider Clan, the final leg of the jigsaw puzzle of the trilogy, is the double-edged story of two protagonists, Isikamdi and Odidika. A prodigy of destiny, Isikamdi leads the charge as a descendant of Aro men destined to rule the turf upon finding the sacred magic flute carved from the hallowed ofo wood. The course of Odidika is to be the chief priest of the god of the delta, Isi-Ani. The denouement entails interminable intrigues and struggle. Pride of the Spider Clan is an astonishing rendition of heroism in ornate prose.

Odili Ujubuonu’s fourth novel, Crows of the Yellow Stream, is a saga delving into the African past not unlike Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons and The Healers. A sweeping narrative spanning more than two hundred years, the tale intervolves the heady antagonism between Umuisiani and Nekuhu who are the earliest settlers in Odoro land. In the mystical blend of humanistic and animistic verities the reader is taken through the Crow’s Stream via an invisible door leading to a cave of precious stones, foretelling the coming of the white man in future and the spirit of an albino planted at the head of the stream to await the arrival. The novel teems with mystical characters and divine histories. The dreamscape is hallucinatory beyond what we tag magical realism.  Crows of the Yellow Stream is a tour de force of storytelling, a master craftsman’s offering at the top of his game. Let’s end on this note: Odili Ujubuonu is a modern master gifted with the magical eloquence of ancient lore.

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