Nigeria is the country which has the greatest literary output in Africa. There are over fifty notable literary artists currently active and the sheer volume of the literature far exceeds that of any other black African country. Political independence in 1960 brought in its wake a great awareness of the problems of building a nation out of the diverse ethnic entities which make up the huge conglomerate called Nigeria. This fact has dominated a sizeable portion of the literature espe cially in the early years of independence.
The literature in question is written literature in contradistinction from oral literature or orature, and it is in English and some Nigerian languages. At present, Nigerian literature in English is the one which attracts greater attention and has the greater influence nationally and internationally. This prominence is because the literature has been produced by the new westernised elite who often have greater literary competence in English than in their indigenous languages. Although some highly literate Nigerians (for example Professor Akin Isola) have chosen to write in their indigenous languages rather than English, the number of writers who have made such a choice is very small indeed.
Nigerian literature in English has raised more issues relevant to our contemporary situation than the literature in indigenous Nigerian languages. Whereas the latter has largely been anchored to the past, invoking images and symbols of our rich heritage, literature in English has aligned itself more forcefully and with greater artistic profit to the wide and more diverse literature of the world. Thus, it is the Nigerian literature in English, far more than its indigenous language counterpart, that has raised issues of culture-contact and culture-conflict, the place of tradition in the modern ethos, the problems of the administration of a modern polity, as well as notions of sexism and the place of the womenfolk in our new reality. It has also been concerned with the way forward if the Nigerian nation is to recover from its present problems, realise its full potentials and become a member of the comity of prosperous nations.
Nigerians have cultivated virtually every known genre of literature including fiction, poetry, drama, the travelogue, biography and autobiography. Nevertheless, the emphasis here will be on prose fiction, poetry and drama in which they have made very significant literary achievements.
Written by O. Ogunba