Chuka Nnabuife: Eclectic Man of Arts and Letters

HRM Ozulumba & the author Nnabuife
HRM Ozulumba & the author Nnabuife.

BEVERLY HILLS, May 03, (THEWILL) – It is rare to have anyone write a book and do the cover illustration all by himself unless that person is a writer and also an artist. Chuka Nnabuife is both. It is even rarer for anyone, in the last 33 years of his career, to have been an art critic, cartoonist, curator, exhibitionist, journalist, poet, special features and story illustrator, studio artist, writer and managing director of a company.

Nnabuife has been all of that, starting from when he began as an intern in the graphics section of NTA Enugu in 1987 to now as MD of Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation (ANPC.)

In between, he contributed to the BBC African Journal as an art critic, published two poetry collections, participated in more than two dozen group and solo exhibitions, curated about half a dozen (famously national historical photography exhibition of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo from his younger years through his military career up until his last days as president in 2007.)

Nnabuife had a spell in quite a number of newspapers and magazines, ranging from Osun Voice in Osogbo to Diet, The Guardian and The Nigerian Compass in Lagos, Eminent People, Grapevine and Starwatch magazines also in Lagos. He has been MD of ANPC since 2014, never mind the acronym sounds like the name of a political party.

If any Nigerian journalist has a claim to having made the rounds in newsrooms – print and eletronic, tabloid and mainstream media – across towns and cities in Nigeria, the artist cum writer is one. It possibly explains why last weekend, April 24, the commodious premises of ANPC was filled with guests honouring Nnabuife’s invitation to be part of the public presentation of his recent books Homeland Catalysts: More Than Just Anambra Narratives, The Nigerian Civil War: Holes in our Bubbles and Mbize: Rage of the Red Earth.

Monarch of the author’s constituency, HRM Igwe John Ozulumba, Eze Dum Dum 11 of Ubuluisiuzo in Ihiala local government area, was in attendance. Naturally, he was the royal father of the day. Chief Cletus Mbaji, CEO of Lake Petroleum, was represented by Chief Ray Udeagbala as chairman of the book presentation.

There were also commissioners and SSAs on hand, namely Chief C Don Adinuba, Commissioner for Information and Strategy and Mr. Uzo Maxim Uzoatu, SSA to Governor Willie Obiano; Chief Mrs. Ibeneme, former Commissioner for Works and Housing stood in for APGA gubernatorial aspirant, Nze Akachukwu Nwankpo. SSA on Secondary Education, Dr. Paul Ifeanyi, was also chairman of the book presentation committee.

The list of guests at the event could read as the Who is Who in Anambra state, from the judiciary to the clergy, corporate top dogs and the academia. For instance, one time Chief Judge of the state, Professor Peter Umeadi, gave the event a magisterial presence. Reverend Fathers Peter-Andrew Ibeazor and Blaise Ejikeme sat all through the event from start to finish.

So did Dr. Uche Nworah, MD/CEO of Anambra Broadcasting Service, his counterpart from Anambra State Signages and Advertising Agency Sir Jude Emecheta, Dr. Simeon Onyemaechi, Executive Secretary Anambra State Health Insurance Agency and many more.

There was also the out of state guests. Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, Nnabuife’s former editor at The Guardian flew in from Lagos. A number of Arts editors, Ozolua Uhakeme of The Nation and journalists from Lagos and elsewhere turned up for one their own. If anything, their presence in Awka that Saturday demonstrated the camaraderie between the host and his guests from out of town.

And so, for close to six hours beginning from midday on that day at the ANPC Garden in Awka, the event centre witnessed a different kind of crowd. Of course, there were more than two dozen red cap chiefs, commissioners and sundry government officials. There were also a handful of professors and doctors.

For instance, Professor Chuma-Udeh Ngozi of Odumegwu Chukwuemeka Ojukwu University reviewed one of the three publications, Homeland Catalysts. It is a collection of Nnabuife’s columns written between 2014 and 2019 called Catalysis in National Light newspaper. From his assessment, the professor was clearly wowed by the book, describing it as “compelling, concise, clear, consistent, committed Homeland Catalysts is a bridge between the highly reported metropolitan news and the miserly and most often unreported rural items.”

Indeed, early in his review, Prof. Ngozi recalled what many of those listening to him at the event would have felt about the author, declaring that the cover of the book under review “exposes the author for who he actually is! Chuka’s first and main calling is visual arts. He is an artist extraordinary. The drawing on the book cover depicts the average Anambra character in pursuit of the Anambra dream. The silhouette of men walking towards an obvious goal like people on a collective adventure speak volumes. It represents homebound sojourners.”

It is often said that people sometimes have an inkling of the contents of books they never read just by browsing reviews. It is so with the don’s evaluation of Homelands Catalysts. In any case, close followers and watchers of the political situation in the state with the motto “Light of the Nation” have not forgotten so soon what transpired since inception of democracy in 1999. For as the reviewer reminds us in his assessment, “the state has been a theatre of big battles…big, bold, brazen things have happened in the state. From the drumming of war and raw fisticuffs that has marked partisan politics to the fury and rage of labour unionism, Anambra state has recorded fights including epic ones such as the abduction of a sitting governor and the torching of the State House.”

His co-academic, Professor J Eze of the University of Nigeria Nsukka took on the second publication, Nigeria Civil War while Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene, Deputy President-General of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo had a go at Mbize: Rage of the Red Earth.

In his address, Nnabuife demonstrated to all the stuff he is made, a man who cannot quite detach himself from his first love, his first calling (Arts) and the creative process he endured in the course of writing the books, likening himself to a potter at his wheel.

“Not all clays make a potter’s wheel,” he began by addressing the guests. “Some clays engage his wheel but fail to yield the desired pot. Some lumps of earth land on the creator’s wheel and immediately show him the masterpiece in them. As he plies and pedals, the hidden treasure emerges from the imagination of the potter, through the piece of earth in his hand to the wonderful creation the beholder savours.”

No one can deny that even while engaged as the number one man of ANPC, Nnabuife was quietly beavering away, shaping and rearranging his thoughts and ideas that have now morphed into three publications that will engage readers and critics for some time to come.