Monday, July 3, 2017 2:40 pm
Professor Francis Abiola Irele, a foremost Nigerian literary critic, is dead. He passed on yesterday at a United States hospital.
Born in 1936, Irele taught at University of Ibadan, the Ohio State University, Harvard and Kwara State University. He was 81.
Pained by his death, Professor Tejumola Olaniyan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison said that Irele “was an accomplished scholar. For me in particular, his biggest accomplishment was a careful cultivation of junior scholars, he respected them, he would reach out to them. He challenged them because he took them seriously. He was welcoming, very open to juniors in the field. As an institutional builder in the field, he edited journals and anthologies.”
Irele graduated from Ibadan University in 1960 after which he went to Paris to learn French. In fact, he completed a Ph.D in French at the University of Paris, Sorbonne in 1966. He held teaching positions at the University of Ghana, University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), and University of Ibadan. In 1989, he moved to Ohio State University in the U.S. as Professor of African, French and Comparative Literature.
Irele helped to expound upon Négritude, first theorized by Léopold Sédar Senghor. This is contained in his article “What is Negritude?” featured in Tejumola Olaniyan and Ato Quayson’s African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory. In his article, Irele defines Négritude as “the literary and ideological movement of French-speaking black intellectuals, which took form as a distinctive and significant aspect of the comprehensive reaction of the black man to the colonial situation…”
Kanayo Esinulo, a veteran journalist said: “A great scholar. We got familiar with Professor Irele’s robust and cerebral Editorial contributions and intervention through the magazine, Afriscope, published by Uche Chukwumerije. We couldn’t subscribe directly from Abidjan. But somehow, it reached us from Accra, Ghana. The General (Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who was in exile in Côte d’Ivoire) must read Prof. Irele. It was a must and I (Ojukwu’s PA in the exile days) must fetch him a copy. Nigeria, indeed Africa, has lost one of our very best. May the good Lord accept his soul.”