Nigerian literature

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Nigerian literature may be roughly defined as the literary writing by citizens of the nation of Nigeria for Nigerian readers, addressing Nigerian issues. This encompasses writers in a number of languages, including not only English but Igbo, Urhobo, Yoruba, and in the northern part of the county Hausa and Nupe.[1] More broadly, it includes British Nigerians, Nigerian Americans and other members of the African diaspora.

Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe is one of the milestones in African literature. Other post-colonial authors have won numerous accolades, including the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded to Wole Soyinka in 1986, and the Booker Prize, awarded to Ben Okri in 1991 for The Famished Road. Nigerians are also well represented among recipients of the Caine Prize and Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa.

Northern Nigerian Written Literature[edit]

Northern Nigerian written literature can be divided into 4 main periods. The first is the 14 Kingdoms Period (10th-19th century), the second is the Sokoto period (19th-20th century), the 3rd is the Colonial Period (20th century), and the 4th is the Post Independence period (20th century to present).

The Fourteen Kingdoms[edit]

This period had many authors who produced books that dealt with theology, history, biography, mathematics, language, writing, documentaries, geography, astronomy, diplomacy and poetry.

Some of the known authors and some of their works[edit]

  • Ibn Furtu was the Chronicler of Mai Idris Alooma.[2] He produced two historical works: The Book of the Bornu Wars, and The Book of the Kanem Wars which detail the wars that transformed Bornu from an independent Sultanate into an Empire. These works were produced in 1576 and 1578 respectively.
  • Muhammad abd al-Razzaq al-Fallati was a 16th-century Fulbe scholar in Hausaland who wrote'l-tawhid
  • Uthman Ibn Idris of Borno sent a letter to the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt in 1391-1392. The letter was one of a diplomatic nature, it also contained poetry and an erudite understanding of Islamic law. This letter contains the earliest extant indigenous written poem produced in Nigeria.[3]
  • Muhammad al-Maghili wrote On The Obligations of Princes in Kano for Muhammad Rumfa in the 15th century[citation needed]. Al-Maghili was a berber from North Africa who was born in an area that is now Algeria.
  • Muhammad ibn al-Sabbagh was a 17th-century scholar and author from Katsina, Northern Nigeria. He was celebrated during and well after his time he wrote praise poetry for the Sultan of Borno's conquest against the Jukun people. He also wrote a poem praising the Sultan of Katsina Muhammad Uban Yari.
  • Muhammad ibn Masani was the student of Muhammad ibn al Sabbagh and also a celebrated scholar from Katsina. He also produced works in the Hausa language during the 17th century. He wrote many works, one of them was a documentary on the Yoruba people, this work was mentioned by Muhammad Bello who lived some 200 years later in his Infaq'l-Maysuur Azhar al-ruba fi akhbar Yuruba was one of the earliest written accounts on the transatlantic slave trade by an indigenous African, which he also noted that free Muslim people were taken from all parts of Hausaland and sold to European Christians. He also wrote to a Jurist in Yorubaland explaining how to determine the time for the sunset prayer. His work in Hausa was a poem he had heard from a woman in Katsina, called Wakar Yakin Badara. So far it is known that he has Authored ten books.
  • Abdullahi Suka was a 17th-century Kano scholar of Fulbe ancestry who is said to have written the oldest extant literature in Hausa with his work Riwayar Annabi Musa. He also authored Al-Atiya li'l muti(translated: The Gift Of The Donor) and many others.
  • Salih ibn Isaq wrote an account of Birnin Garzargamu in 1658, describing the capital city of Borno during the reign of Mai Ali ibn Al Hajj Umar
  • Sheikh Jibril ibn Umar was an 18th-century scholar and author, in his work Shifa al-Ghalil he attacked Muslims who mixed indigenous beliefs with Islam. Admixture of Animists practices and Islam was one of the main reasons given for the Jihad of Uthman dan Fodio during the 19th Century.[4]

Post colonial writers[edit]

Chinua Achebe achieved fame with his first book, Things Fall Apart (1958), and was awarded the Man Booker International prize in recognition of his entire career as a novelist and author in 2007. Other finalists for the prize included Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie.[5] In awarding the prize, Nadine Gordimer referred to Achebe as "the father of modern African literature".[5] Nigeria has produced a number of important writers, who have won accolades for their work, including Daniel O. Fagunwa, Femi Osofisan, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Cyprian Ekwensi, Buchi Emecheta, Elechi Amadi, Tanure Ojaide. Wole Soyinka, a Yoruba native speaker writing mainly in English, received the 1986 Nobel Prize in literature, becoming the first black African to win the Nobel Prize for literature.[a] [6][7] Soyinka was awarded the prize for writing " a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence".[7] Ben Okri won the 1991 Booker Prize for The Famished Road. Other important writers include Daniel O. Fagunwa, Femi Osofisan, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Cyprian Ekwensi, Buchi Emecheta, Elechi Amadi, Tanure Ojaide. Among writers of a younger generation are Chris Abani, Ayobami Adebayo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nuzo Onoh, Yemisi Aribisala, Sefi Atta, A. Igoni Barrett, Helon Habila, B.M. Dzukogi, Chigozie Obioma, Helen Oyeyemi, Nnedi Okorafor, Uju Obuekwe, Chinelo Okparanta, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Chika Unigwe, Ogaga Ifowodo, Gift Foraine Amukoyo, Teju Cole, Niyi Osundare and Oyinkan Braithwaite.

Some, including Ifowodo, Cole and Adichie, are based in the West.[1] This is in part because of an established publishing industry, and in part from political repression at home: Soyinka was once sentenced to death in absentia, and Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged in 1995 for his environmental activism.

A list of "100 Most Influential Nigerian Writers Under 40 (Year 2016)" was published on 28 December 2016 on the Nigerian Writers Awards website.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Previously, winners were Claude Simon and Albert Camus, born in French Madagascar and French-held Algeria.


  1. ^ a b Shercliff, Emma (9 December 2015). "The changing face of Nigerian literature". British Council. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  2. ^ "Idris Alooma: Warrior king of the Bornu Empire". AfroLegends. February 2, 2016. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  3. ^ "Letter From Uthman Bin Idris, The Sultan Of Borno To Barquq, The Mamluk Sultan Of Egypt". March 8, 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2019.
  4. ^ "Usman dan Fodio: Founder of the Sokoto caliphate". Deutsche Welle.
  5. ^ a b "Nigeria author wins Booker honour". BBC. 13 June 2007. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  6. ^ "Wole Soyinka: A Chronology". African Postcolonial Literature in English. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  7. ^ a b "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1986". Nobel Prize. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  8. ^ "100 Most Influential Nigerian Writers Under 40" Archived 2017-01-18 at the Wayback Machine, Nigerian Writers Awards, 28 December 2016.

External links[edit]