Nigeria: Award-winning poet imprisoned over defamation charges

1 February 2016


The Nigerian poet, journalist and culture activist Nengi Josef Owei Ilagha was arrested on 14 December 2015 in Okirika, Rivers state, in Nigeria. He is held in detention over charges for contempt of court and defamation of character.

A High Court sitting in Yenagoa, the state capital of Rivers state, committed Nengi Ilagha to prison over a libel case between the Amayanabo of Nembe Kingdom and former Petroleum Minister, Dr Edmund Maduabebe Daukoru, and Nengi Ilagha.

Nengi Josef Ilagha is generally being referred to as a prominent Nigeria writer, an award winning poet and pioneer chairman of ANA Bayelsa.

Allegedly King Daukoru felt offended by Illagha’s satirical novel ‘Epistle to Maduabebe’ which accuses the king of cutting off voices of dissent and locking up fellow contenders. So the king took the author to court. Ilagha – termed in Nigerian media as “the poet from the Niger Delta swamp” – was without legal representation in court.

“We proceeded to Okaka prison, Yenagua, where we were joined by Chief Lambert Ototo, a former ANA Bayelsa Chairman. We met Nengi about 3pm on Sunday 24 January 2016. He looked unkempt, pale and emaciated. His left leg was quite swollen and he limped into the office where we were waiting with difficulty. One does not need to see the efforts he seemed to be making to fight a broken spirit.”
Camillus Ukah, Vice-President, Association of Nigerian Authors

The Association of Nigerian Authors has called on the human rights community and international organisations to help free its incarcerated member.

“Told through the perceptive lenses of a poet with a knack for refreshing imagery, the book is an incisive and harrowing testament on the state of the most populous African country, fifty years into its life as a nation, laying bare its shameful inadequacies, and underscoring its hopeful impact on world affairs. (…) In twelve gutsy, friendly, sober and soul-searching epistles, the author takes the Queen on a revealing ride into the corrupt character and unwholesome habits of a nation on the verge of rebirth. The book promptly finds its place beside Chinua Achebe’s popular 1983-commentary, ‘The Trouble With Nigeria’.”
Agibecky, 6 September 2010, reviewing ‘Epistle to Maduabebe’

» Read an excerpt of the book on


» Association of Nigerian Authors – 28 January 2016:
The Nenghi Ilagha Saga: A Report

» The Nation – 22 January 2016:
How Bayelsa author wrote his way to Rivers prison

» Scan News – 17 January 2016:
ANA kicks as court jails author

» The Nation – 17 January 2016:
ANA kicks as court jails author

» Punch – 12 January 2016:
Wife of detained writer pleads for mercy

» Flashpoint News – 23 December 2015:
Hard words for Satan: A Review of Nengi Josef Owei (Ilagha’s) ‘Epistle to Maduabebe’

THE NENGHI ILAGHA SAGA: A REPORT.Dear ANA members,Nigerian writers and concerned citizens.ANA has had cause since…

Posted by Denja Abdullahi ANA President-2015-2019 on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

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