Writer, broadcaster, author, playwright and sportswoman, Mabel Segun is a national treasure.
Nigeria has always had an enviable lists of accomplished writers – Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Cyprian Ekwensi, Elechi Amadi and a whole lot of others.
Female writers on the other hand have accomplished just as much, yet we have not celebrated them not nearly as much.
It took a Google doodle for many young people to know about Flora Nwapa – it was her 87th posthumous birthday a fortnight ago.
But still living and a year older than the aforementioned Flora Nwapa is Mabel Segun – author, writer, poet, playwright and broadcaster.
Mrs. Mabel Segun was born in Ondo town in 1930. Her education started in Akure circa 1942 and would take her first to CMS Grammar School, Lagos then to the University College Ibadan.
She studied for and was awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English, Latin and History. As a student, Mabel Segun was the deputy editor to the first students’ magazine in Nigeria, the University Herald. Chinua Achebe, who was her classmate, was the editor of the publication.
After her graduation from the university in 1953, she published her first short story The Surrender which won the first Nigerian Festival of the Arts Literature Prize in 1954.
She also was an avid sportsperson – she played table tennis at school and national levels, winning gold medal at the double’s category in 1954 and everything available in the following years.
Mabel Segun played badminton at the Nigerian Regional Championship and won bronze. She played table tennis seriously until she retired from organized competition at the age of 58 – after she came second at the 1988 event.
Her career was as mixed as they come – she was a teacher and a broadcaster at different times but her writing was constant.
My Father’s Daughter was published in 1965 and was used as literature text in schools all over the world. Her anthology Conflict and Other Poems and her other books have been translated into German, Danish, Norwegian and Greek. She also has published 11 children’s books.
She retired from public service in 1989 and has devoted her time to the Children’s Literature Documentation and Research Centre at the University of Ibadan.
In 2007, she was awarded the LNG Nigeria Prize for Literature and two years later was given the Nigerian National Order of Merit from then president Goodluck Jonathan for her academic contributions to the humanities.
Sadly, her first child Femi Segun (who was married to Fela‘s daughter Yeni at a time) died from injuries sustained in a motorbike accident in 2014.
Named the Matriarch of Literature by the late Bola Ige, she has outlived many of her contemporaries and laid the path for succeeding generations to tread on.
She lives in Lagos, a mentally alert octogenarian (even if her hands that once held a ping pong bat are no longer as strong as they were in the days of yore).
For a nation in short supply of heroes, Mabel Segun remains a beacon of inspiration to all young people, especially those who write.
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