Great poets are found in every generation and can emerge from any culture. They speak to the hearts and minds of people. And they inspire our feelings, evoke emotions, and sometimes radicalize our thoughts and ideas.  The most famous Nigerian poets are well-renowned around the world, and they usually have English-written works. Their legendary works can be found in their published poetry books, some are translated into many different languages. 

Because of their diligent collections, most of the famous poets in Nigeria are recipients of global writing awards worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

The works of famous Nigerian poets are often influenced by myths and magic. They delve into the realm of spirits in their written works. Stories about spirits are always intriguing, ancient, and shrouded in mystery.  Myths are rooted in African storytelling, and you cannot ignore it when reading poems or other works by Nigerian authors. If you look at Wole Soyinka’s poems, you will see that he capitalises on this trend. 

Another major topic in the musings of famous Nigerian writers are the Diaspora and Nigerian Civil War poems. The civil was fought some 50 years ago between the Igbo and the government of the time, led by General Yakubu Gowon. 

Most of the poets lived during the times of the Nigerian civil war, and they let their feelings be known through poetry. One of them actually fought and died in the conflict. 

We will be looking at some of the best poets of all time in Nigeria. You can also pursue your dreams of poetry writing, as a hobby or a serious writing profession, all you need is the right poetry tutor. 

List Of Famous Nigerian Poets

Our list includes the classic writers of poetry in Nigeria and the new contemporary poets of our modern age. They have contributed immensely to African writing and are considered national treasures. 

The first poet on our list is Ben Okri. 

Ben Okri

I'm conscious of a series of circles working its way through my life. And at this particular moment I have come round to the beginning of my writing cycle. It begins with poetry. There's hardly a day that goes past on which I don't write poetry - Ben Okri. 

He is a famous novelist. He also happens to be an essayist, playwright, and film scripts writer. Ben Okri was born in Minna Niger state on 15 March 1959. He received his early education in the UK, later on, he returned to Nigeria.  When he finished his early education, he was too young to apply to a university. So instead, what does he do? He went through his father’s library, reading every book he could find. 

One rainy day, young Ben Okri felt bored and decided he was going to write something. What he came up with that day was a poem, his first poem. It was at that moment that he decided right there and then, that writing was his calling in life. 

Ben Okri’s literary works have received much acclaim, especially his first novel ‘Flowers and Shadows’ which was published in 1980.  For his brilliant literary works, he has received awards such as the Booker Prize in English Literature, and the 1991 Booker Prize for his work The Famished Road. These are all highly prestigious prizes with the first one worth 50,000 Euros. He is also an Honorary fellow in Mansfield College, Oxford. 

Best poets in Nigeria mostly schooled abroad.
Mansfield College, Oxford, UK. Source: Unsplash.

He has a collection of poems known as An African Elegy. Like most of the other Nigerian poets, he likes to write about the world of spirits.  He would later return to the UK to study comparative literature at Essex University and go on to win the Crystal Award by World Economic Forum and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa. 

Chinua Achebe

This writer hardly needs any introduction when it comes to African literature. He is the most well-known and most famous poet and writer in Nigeria and in most of West-Africa.  He was born in Anambra, a state in the Eastern part of the country, and went to Government College Umuahia. At that time, it was one of the best colleges in the country. 

When he was only 8 years old, he learned the English language, which was such a great feat during his time as many do not even have access to western education. 

Chinua Achebe is a renowned poet and novelist and is considered a giant of Africa because his literary works have no comparison. His poems usually focus on the topic of the Biafran War, a painful yet necessary topic to talk about.  In his poems, he exposed the corruption of leaders, poverty, the idleness of governments, and the wrong rationale that led to the war. 

He used to write poems here and there, until the breakout of the Biafran Wars where he focused all his energy on poetry writing. Almost all of which were activism against the war. 

Chinua Achebe loves writing about things related to the Igbo, his tribe. His first novel Things Fall Apart is centred around the Igbo culture. 

He was awarded the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1972 for his first poetry collection book Beware, Soul-Brother and Other Poems. He also won several awards during his lifetime including the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction.  Chinua Achebe, the Giant of Africa and the most famous author in Nigeria passed away in Boston, United States in 2013. 

Wole Soyinka

Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka or better known as Wole Soyinka is a famous Nigerian poet and writer. Although, he is most known as a playwright. His literary acclaim gained him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. 

He was the first Sub-Saharan African to ever receive the award. Wole Soyinka is Yoruba and his works are deep-rooted in Yoruba symbolism and myths.  Some of his literary works even have Yoruba phrases mangled with the English language. 

Famous Nigerian poets love writing about spirits and magic.
Writing about myths is a central part of African poetry writing. Source: Pixabay.

His poetry collection Samarkand and Other Markets I Have known is read worldwide and has been translated into many languages. He wrote it while he was in exile from this country. He was wanted by Sani Abacha. A known dictator of his era. So understandably, most of the verses in the collection are about journeys and exile. 

Wole Soyinka’s other collections include Poems from Prison, and some of his famous poems include Lost Poem and A Shuttle in the Crypt. 

Niyi Osundare

Niyi Osundare is a famous Nigerian writer of children's books. He was a top poet and one of the greatest writers in Nigeria. 

Mr Osundare was born in 1947 in Ekiti State. He was the head of English at the University of Ibadan, a fitting job description for a poet won’t you say, and he was also a prolific writer. He managed to author 18 poetry books. 

The poems are often about afro-centric activism which he was very much involved in, and they speak about the treatment of the African man during post-colonial times. He has a unique take on culturalism in the continent of Africa and often writes about poverty and injustice, his poems are usually in a sing-song manner. 

Besides Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, he is probably the most famous poet in Nigeria. His poems are very popular in Nigerian poetry circles, especially of the spoken word variety. 

People often search for his individual poems on Google, like they are searching for Shakespeare’s Sonnets or Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise, that’s how famous he is. 

Christopher Okigbo

Of the top Nigerian poets on this list, this poet is a rare-breed. Christopher ‘Ifekandu’ Okigbo was born on 16 August 1932. He was one of the greatest African poets that ever lived. He had a strong background in education, starting with his father, who was a school teacher. Himself, he grew up to become a librarian and teacher. 

Nigerian Civil war affected many lives.
Poetry about the Biafran wars was popular among poets. Source: Unsplash.

He was the assistant librarian at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Like many of his peers, he went to the University of Ibadan to study. 

Christopher Okigbo has won several awards due to his poetry skills. His collections include Heavensgate, Labyrinth with Path of Thunder, and Collected Poems. In 1966 he was awarded the Langston Hughes Award for African Poetry at a festival of Black African Arts. But he refused, citing that awarding someone shouldn’t be based on race. 

Christopher Akigbo was very active in associations. He is a member of many writing associations and even helped to create some of them. He was sharing groups with the likes of Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, and he helped found the famous Citadel Press with Chinua Achebe. 

He was a restless machine when it comes to colonial activism, and his poetry reflects those ideals. It is also part of the reason he was a member of so many groups. Poems by Christopher Akigbo are often post-colonial and modernist.  A true believer in his cause, Christopher Akigbo died fighting for the independence of Biafra in 1967. A conflict that took its toll on many of the greatest literary minds in Nigeria. 

His legacy will continue to live on in libraries across universities in Africa, and in the hearts and minds of many generations of Nigerians to come. 

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Hafiz is a freelance writer who has an appetite for creativity and smart tech. He also dabbles in poetry.