Achebe: A mighty Iroko fell, by Ikedi Ohakim, former governor of Imo State
By IKEDI OHAKIM, Former governor of Imo State
I was suffused with sorrow when I learnt of the passing of an icon and legend of our time, Prof. Chinua Achebe (16 November 1930- 21 March 2013) at a Boston hospital on 21 March 2013, at the grand age of 82. Chinua Achebe, deservedly called the grandfather of modern African literature, was indeed, a master story teller of incomparable pedigree, poet, essayist, critic, editor, broadcaster, publisher, historian, anthropologist, teacher, leftist political activist, humanist and seer.
Over 50 years ago, Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart, which made the Igbo story a universal story, such that Things Fall Apart has been translated, as at the last count, into 50 different languages and has sold over 10 million copies! Chinua Achebe went on to edit Okike, African Writers Series and UwaNdigbo. As editor of Okike, he influenced a formidable literary circle at the University of Nigerian Nsukka and as editor of African Writers Series he nurtured the growth of modern African literature. He published African Commentary, a scholarly international magazine. He was the founder of Achebe Foundation and the dialogues series that gave important African leaders a platform to speak on topical issues. His latest contribution to the African discourse was the annual Achebe Roundtable Conference.
Achebe received every honour and award that was worth his while from around the world. In 1979 he received the first ever Nigerian National Merit Award. Twice he rejected the National Honour bestowed on him by the Federal Government as a political protest. When another Africa's global icon, Nelson Mandela described Achebe as the writer "in whose company the prison walls fell down" he knew what he was saying. Xeroxed copies of Achebe's Things Fall Apart were companions of the African freedom fighters during the anti-apartheid struggle as the story of resistance it painted gave black South Africans fillip and hope of victory.
I came very close to Chinua Achebe and his family when as Governor of Imo State, I invited him to deliver the 2008 lecture of the re-branded Ahiajoku Lecture series in Owerri. It will be recalled that Achebe had a motor accident in 1990 which confined him to a wheelchair. His experience during his first trip to Nigerian after he relocated to the United States left him very bitter. So when I said that he was coming to deliver the Ahiajoku Lecture, many people had reasons to be sceptical about it. Indeed, it was a daunting logistics to bring the Eagle on the Iroko to Owerri. But in Owerri then, we were never afraid of the seemingly impossible. So we were not daunted. We simply shifted the date from the November 2008 to 23 January 2009! After sleepless nights and anxious days during which we had to monitor every step of his journey to Nigeria, with Ike, his eldest son, threatening at every juncture to abort the trip, Achebe and his family were in Owerri with the global media beaming the re-branded Ahiajoku Lecture live to the global audience!
From that encounter, we struck a very lasting relationship. When his latest book, which is still ruling the waves, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra came out, I was one of the first people he sent autographed copies.
Like every human, Achebe may have had his faults and may not have pleased everybody, but the consolation is that this fearless and honest patriot left us a rich harvest of his creativity, artistry and passion for a great Nigeria. We will certainly miss his respected voice which from time to time spoke truth to power and his wisdom which was strident even in its silence.
It is significant that Achebe left us at the heat of the controversy which his last book, THERE WAS A COUNTRY..., generated. Going by the dimension of the debate, it means that Achebe left for us a food for thought.
That Nigerians took so much interest in the work means that the late literary icon raised issues which we cannot, as a nation, ignore at least in the rear future.
Unfortunately, Nigerians left the real intent of that literary master piece to quarrel over their own interpretation of the work. In the midst of the controversy, Achebe came out to say that since he had lived all his life in the hope of a better Nigeria, his dream had been to release the book to confront the injustice that resulted in the war and which still persists, thus militating against the progress of the Nigerian nation. In short, the whole essence of "THERE WAS A COUNTRY..." was, according to Achebe, for a better and unified and healed Nigeria. What better legacy can any one leave behind for his country?
I would like to re-echo the sentiments expressed by some well meaning Nigerians to effect that Chinua Achebe is not really dead. Achebe is immortal and, according to one of his closest associates, Professor Udodinma Nwala, we "cannot grieve over an outstanding man who lived fully and left so much mark in history", because such a fellow can never die.
Of further significance is that today we are celebrating the exit of, not a former president, a former governor or former party chairman but the departure of a fellow who made a mark in the scholarship and academic pursuit. This should be a remainder, especially to the younger ones, that contrary to the current trend in our country, politics and political office are not the only avenues through which Nigerians can actualise themselves. Today, scholarship has taken flight in our country. Today, we have a situation where our scholars, perhaps for reasons that are not entirely their making, have one leg in the classroom and the other in political party offices. In people like Achebe we have consolation that scholarship has not, after all, become something only for those who cannot "struggle" to make it in the Nigerian sense.
As we mourn Achebe, we celebrate scholarship and academic excellence and above all a life of dogged determination to uplift one's country without seeking for political patronage.
Goodbye, great teacher!
* Dr Ikedi Ohakim, Former Governor of Imo State
So, which of the Achebes just died?
I know the question sounds confusing. But that is just how confused I have being all week, after reading the avalanche of tributes that have been paid to the memory of Prof. Chinua Achebe who died last week. The tributes have been so flowery that I have begun to wonder if people are talking of a different Achebe - not the one who wrote the celebrated trilogy.
It is hard to believe that the Achebe of whom we now speak so glowingly was the same man on whom, just a few weeks ago, we unleashed a lynch mob of pseudo intellectuals and ethnic jingoists who did everything they could to destroy everything that he stood for. But for the fact that the man had already acquired a larger-than-life image globally (his Things Fall Apart, remember, had, by as early as 1970, been translated and reprinted in no fewer than 50 international languages), he would have effectively been rubbished. Pulled down, in our characteristic Pull him Down (PhD syndrome). And what was Achebe's offence, by the way?
He expressed his personal opinion of the Nigerian civil war. Incidentally, his was simply a re-tell of stories we have all heard over and over again. Even those of us who were still sucklings at the end of the war in 1970 grew up to hear all those stories. We even learnt a song that went like this: Awolowo... Yakubu Gowon, you cannot break the spirit of Biafra because Biafra will win the war... we'll find our way to Gabon.
We will buy garri (the local name for the corn meal that came in the form of aid from Gabon and other such countries sympathetic to the Biafran cause) and give to those of our people afflicted with kwashiorkor It was rendered in melodious Igbo. So, simply put, Achebe told the story of every Igbo person who lived through the war on the Biafran side. It sounded like fiction to the rest of the country. But that was how unbelievable the atrocities of those 30 gory months were.
If you ask the likes of Emma Okocha to add the Asaba experience to all of that, nobody who has blood flowing in his veins would ever believe such beastly things ever happened. But they did. So, even though Achebe's story was the 'fiction' that the rest of Nigeria wanted to run away from, it did not remove the fact that that story was the Igbo reality.
The whole truth! It does not matter that time has healed some of the wounds, or that many of us post-1970 Igbo who were too young to know anything that transpired then, now see the whole thing as folklore and fairytale, like the rest of Nigeria, those who lived through it all still remember. They may have forgiven, but they would be idiotic to forget. And it would even be more idiotic for the rest of Nigeria to expect them to forget.
Even if they have today understood the justification for the atrocities visited on then, it still does not remove the fact that the atrocities were indeed visited on them. It is history that we can't run away from. But like they say; who feels it knows it. Achebe felt it. Incidentally, now that Achebe is dead, we have returned to our ritual of national deceit. Under the guise of not speaking ill of the dead, all the Achebe haters are paying glowing tribute, as a way of dancing on his grave. I am reading all of them and even reading between the lines.
Even those people whom we know all they ever read, and still read, were currency notes have suddenly begun to recollect how Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, No longer at Ease, A Man of the People and Anthills in Savannah turned their lives around. But it's all lies. For, deep inside me, I know these same people are 'the trouble with Nigeria'. Even the government whose National Honours award Achebe turned down twice is celebrating (sorry; mourning).
They are talking of befitting burial. But if I know anything of Achebe, rather than state burial, he would be happy to have his Ogidi kinsmen take over his remains and inter it the simple way tradition prescribes. But none of us has the capacity to stop government.
Yes, the same government which, in life, drove Achebe away from us - into some sort of exile in America, is, in death, also plotting to hijack his remains from us, in the name of state burial. But our only consolation is that Achebe is a citizen of the world and only the whole world can give him the burial he earned. That is the irony of life - and death. However, the lesson one is taking away from Achebe's death is that increasingly, it is becoming clearer that anybody desirous of meeting any Nigerian whom most of us would agree is patriotic and good, would have to look to the graves.
Yes, the best Nigerians are the dead ones. Awo, Zik, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Aminu Kano, Michael Okpara, Akintola, Isa Kaita, Akanu Ibiam, Mbakwe, Rimi, Idiagbon, Ajasin, Olabisi Onabanjo, Ojukwu, Murtala Mohammed etc. It does not matter that we branded many of them thieves and even jailed them. Until you die, irrespective of your contributions to national development, we keep chipping something away from your profile - determined to reduce you to nothing (whether you are an Obasanjo, Ekwueme, Tanko Yakassai, Adamu Ciroma or just anybody). However, the moment you drop dead, you instantly become a saint.
And they begin to praise you to high heavens. But that is because you are no longer able to interfere in the running of government and in the anointing of those who run the government. We would then accord you state burial, not because we genuinely feel you deserve it, but because it would help us score political points for the next general election. Indeed, there was a country.
Chinua Achebe: There was a country
By G. G. Darah
THE passing away of Chinua Achebe at 82 years on Friday, March 22 reminds us of the African saying that it is advanced age we all pray to attain; no one can escape the final submission to the authority of death. Achebe burst into literary fame with the publication of his first novel, Things Fall Apart, in 1958. The title became an undying image and symbol of confrontation with and resistance against European nations that invaded the African continent to colonise and exploit. This was in the immediate aftermath of the Berlin conference of 1884-85 at which African territories were divided amongst the powerful European nations of the world. What is now Nigeria was allocated to Britain and, in the early 20th century, the British began to take effective control of the colonial territory. Guns and the forked tongues of Christian missionaries combined to subdue all resistance to British rule.
The imaginary Umuofia community of Things Fall Apart is caught in this whirlwind of forceful dispossession. They rally to regain their sovereignty but they are overwhelmed by the armed power and ideological weapon of Christianity, both of which put a knife into the unity of the village democracies and things truly fall apart. Okonkwo, the hero of the story, exemplifies this resistance but he is humiliated and destroyed in the process. This tragic experience of Africa has been narrated by eminent historians such as Kenneth Dike, from the same Anambra State of Nigeria as Achebe, Jacob Ade Ajayi, Obaro Ikime, Adu Boahen of Ghana, and Basil Davidson of Britain. Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is a political-economic version of the story.
Achebe creatively recycles the epic story of Okonkwo in subsequent narratives as the Africa-Europe tragic encounter is replayed in Arrow of God where the chief priest, Ezeulu is dethroned and dispossessed of sovereign authority in Umuaro. The third novel, No Longer at Ease, is a sequel to the first; Obi, the lead character, is the grandson of Okonkwo of Things Fall Apart. He is sent to England to obtain the golden fleece of education and returns to face pressures of communal life too heavy for him. In about 70 years of plunder and repression, the British have managed to clone together over 500 languages into a single country called Nigeria. By the time the British are to leave in 1960, political and social turmoil has matured enough to herald instability which deteriorates as the native bourgeoisie engage in deadly scrambles for power and spoils of office. This is the egregious drama of the fourth novel, A Man of the People (1966). Chief Honourable Nanga, Member of Parliament, and M.A. degree "minus opportunity" is neo-colonial inheritor of the awesome power bequeathed by the imperialists. His party rigs elections and the victors brandish their stolen wealth ostentatiously. As the new power holders brook no opposition, election-related violence sets the country ablaze literarily. A military coup intervenes to halt the common ruin of all. The Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967-70 is a morbid extension of the inter-ethnic and intra-class squabbles.
Achebe's stories have charmed and counselled millions of people across the world. The stories and the academic researches they generated have canonised Achebe as one the best storytellers of all ages. He is adoringly regarded as the father of African fiction. Things Fall Apart has entered the lexicon of world classics of literature and it is included in the 3,032-page The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces.
In his essay, "The Empire Fights Back" Achebe explains the political and ideological conditioning of the emergent African literature in European languages. He argues that the "new literature that erupted so dramatically and abundantly in the 1950s and the 1960s had one common thread running through it all: the thread of a shared humanity linking the author to the world of his creation; a sense that even in the most tempting moments of grave disappointment with this world, the author remains painfully aware that he is of the same flesh and blood, the same humanity as its human inhabitants". This outlook of bold optimism has positively influenced the perception of Africans forever just as it has reinforced the process of decolonisation from the 1960s.
In 1983, Achebe reflected again on the debacle of Nigeria's inability to achieve socio-economic and technological transformation nearly 25 years after the attainment of independence from Britain. He traced the disease to the mental handicap of the elite to connect the technical graph of development to the science of inventive and creative thinking. The mind or intellect or story, Achebe reasons, is the fount of the ideas and technologies that engender progress. As he put it poetically, people create stories create people.
Development does not come from miracles and prayers but from intense investment in human capital as the example of Japan shows. When Japan decided to modernise after the Meiji revolution in the 19th century, the ruling elite collected, transcribed and interrogated the country's oral heritage of stories, myths, legends, religious beliefs, superstitions, proverbs, and other sites of its antiquity. The knowledge derived from these oral archives were converted and reformulated to create the basis of the sciences and technologies that have defined Japanese prosperity for over a century.
Professor Achebe identified the trouble with Nigeria as the indolence of the leadership caused by the providential riches of oil; such that the country always believes in throwing chunks of money at problems. He was infuriated by the ill-conceived policy of imposing a 60:40 science-arts ratio on admissions into tertiary institutions. As he quipped, "what kind of science can a child learn in the absence of, for example, basic language competence and an attendant inability to handle concepts". These thoughts are from his 1983 Nigerian National Merit Award lecture, "What Has Literature Got To Do With It?"
As a theoretician of development and change, Achebe fervently believed in the power of literature and the creative arts to heal and regenerate people and society. He viewed the tradition of written African literature as constituting landmark progress for African civilization and repossession of the patrimony looted and appropriated by European imperialist interests. The manuscript of his Things Fall Apart novel found a European publisher by sheer accident. Achebe was to convert this chance to a formidable literary arsenal when he became the founding editor of the African Writers Series under the aegis of Heinemann of London. That series recorded about 400 titles in about 30 years. By the time Achebe died at 82, there was no publishing house in Nigeria or Africa that could play a role similar to Heinemann's in the 1960s.
Achebe regarded the corpus of African literature as aesthetic and moral glue that bonded African people on the continent and the African Diaspora. "The new literature in Africa", says he, "like the old, is aware of the possibilities available to it for celebrating humanity in our continent...Whether the rendezvous of separate histories will take place in a grand, harmonious concourse or be fought with bitterness and acrimony will all depend on whether we have learned to recognize one another's presence and are ready to accord human respect to everybody".
Achebe: There was a software icon
By Chris Uwaje
The human brain is a computer, and software is a knowledge logic system. The Nigerian knowledge profession and industry is grossly underestimated - due to technophobia mindset - generated by external influences! Indeed, it is the factory and wealth ecosystem in our heads. The Nigeria knowledge industry is worth perhaps ten times (1000%) more than the oil and gas sector. All these can be classified as "Knowledge Software."
Nigeria has abundant knowledge in almost all significant areas of human endeavour. Professor Chinua Achebe is software; so is J.P. Clark and Wole Soyinka. Christopher Okigbo was a great poetic software; so also was Ken Saro Wiwa. Nnamdi Azikiwe was Software-Nigeria/Africa, so was Aminu Kano and, Obafemi Awolowo and many millions of African knowledge giants such as Nelson Mandela, Haile Selassie and Kwame Nkrumah. Software is innovation and creativity.
Indeed, there is software brain and architecture in this country populated by innovative men and women with creative knowledge. After all, Fela Anikulapo Kuti was software art in his own right - so is Mallam Maitama Sule.
However, one aspect is to recognize indigenous knowledge and the other is a conscious patronage of the products and services of our national software knowledge resources. Imagine if Professor Chinua Achebe after writing 'Things Fall Apart' in 1958, was never patronized or read by Nigerians, Africans and the world at large? Imagine if this innovative knowledge-ware was never given the attention it deserved by government and business policy makers?
Currently, we know that the Achebe's master piece, 'Things Fall Apart' was translated into fifty (50) international languages and sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. The above provides us with the technical and vivid alibi of the potency of Software-Nigeria and justifies the decade-long advocacy of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) for national recognition, promotion and mandatory patronage of Software-Nigeria by government and related stakeholders.
With the demise of Professor Achebe, I am sure it is high time government seriously engages her 'Technophobia Syndrome" and timely understand the critical importance of indigenous knowledge-ware and Information Technology Software in particular - as the engine of her transformation and development Agenda.
The argument is that 'no foreigner' could have written "Things Fall Apart" the way and manner it was culturally and traditionally structured and expressed by Achebe. The same logic applies to software in the ICT domain, which centrally focuses on the e-needs of the people and designing solutions peculiar to those needs to fulfill her development aspirations and sustainable goals. Those marketers of foreign software may be forgiven their pathetic, blind ignorance.
Recognizing software development as a new productive frontier and potential instrument for economic empowerment and wealth creation, ISPON advised government in 2005 to launch a nation-wide awareness campaign based on the technical report of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on National Software Development Initiative (NSDI).
The above observation was based on a factual study recognising the acute danger in allowing deployment of foreign software in key Federal Government functions/operations domains. The advocacy aims to foster and promote the establishment of a National Software Development Policy and encourage the inclusion of the patronage and protection of indigenous software in the IT Bill.
This will serve to improve the level of the nation's computer knowledge and content competitiveness, as well as promote and spread development and use of indigenous software applications and services in governance, education, health, business, industry, agriculture, transportation, public administration, law and justice, entertainment and national security.
Currently, our knowledge base and technology environment of the "new economy" is greatly influenced, undermined and controlled by foreign information systems and database - where Software plays a fundamental role and viewed as the backbone of modern wealth creation and national security. Setting a national software development policy and awareness agenda therefore, is also against the backdrop that building software capacities presents immense economic opportunities for nation building. Suffice to state that Nigeria can earn $10billion USD in foreign exchange annually from the software industry.
Every software-exporting country has evolved a unique industry, shaped by its own resources and situation and by the particular global opportunities presented at the time. For example, Japan exports mostly software games, India exports primarily software services to large software development shops, Ireland exports software products (created by MNCs located in-country as well as by a growing number of indigenous companies), and Israel mostly exports software technology which is subsequently productized by firms in the US and Europe.
The global software industry continues to evolve, and countries now looking to develop their national software potentials for security, exports and survivability face a different global situation, and are likely to evolve fundamentally different software industries. The current dynamics of the global software industry should, therefore, inform ICT planning and policy, no matter the country's stage of economic development. For countries with deficient infrastructure and tight resources (such as Ireland in the 1970's), selective government initiatives have been critical to successful software industry development.
Professor Chinua Achebe has lightened up the literary knowledge-ware domain and indigenous software advocates can do even much more for the creation of wealth and survivability of our future. Goodnight, our Professor Knowledge Emeritus and software literature enigma. Sleep well and rest in perfect peace, because Software-Nigeria is alive. We pledge to carry on the fight with assurances of success in the human knowledge Olympiad.
Achebe: The politics, and persuasions of a prolific writer
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Prof. Chinua Achebe was a literary giant who used the power of erudition to project persuasive and powerful political points.
Little is known today of the sharp disagreement between the late Prof. Albert Chinualumogu Achebe and the late Senator Barkin Zuwo in the days after the controversial 1983 elections.
What is, however, known, and shocking to many, was that Prof. Chinua Achebe almost engaged in a physical combat with the late Zuwo over an unknown issue at a caucus of the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP in 1983 before the two were separated. It was the combat of brain and brawn!
That indeed was the last that was heard of Prof. Achebe's involvement in partisan politics. He had emerged as the national vice-president of the PRP after the party was registered in 1978 and became a close associate of the party leader, Mallam Aminu Kano, himself one of the most persuasive political ideologues of the colonial era.
With Kano, Achebe seemed to have formed a partnership that moulded the socialist bent of the PRP.
Alhaji Balarabe Musa who was one of the two governors elected on the platform of the PRP in 1979, told Vanguard that he was not close to Achebe at that time, but that Achebe's relationship with Mallam Kano was of robust intellectual benefit to the party.
"Achebe and Mallam were very, very close and he (Achebe) was very influential as an intellectual backbone in the party," Musa said last week.
But Achebe's politics did not just start with the beginning of second republic politicking.
His involvement before then was essentially in the literary sense, as he used his power of erudition to lash the political class. His first overtly political entry was A Man of the People published at the onset of the 1966 crisis. The book was a parody of the Nigerian political class of the first republic. Nigeria was, however, not mentioned as the setting of the book.
The book has two main characters, Odili and his former school teacher Chief Nanga, who becomes the minister of culture in an unnamed African country which had recently gained independence.
The book sees Odili at opposite ends with Nanga who uses his position in government to amass wealth and portray everything that is negative in truth and transparency.
The book ends with a coup that was itself a tell-tale of the 1966 military coup in Nigeria that overthrew the then civilian government. It was indeed not surprising that some without any other proof suggested that Achebe had an insight into the coup.
Remarkably, on coup day
on January 15, 1966, Achebe was gathered with fellow writers somewhere in the Ikoyi area of Lagos on a literary outing!
At the onset of the second republic, Achebe now an academician, joined the PRP and served in the party's highest decision making body, National Executive Committee, NEC and was seen as its intellectual backbone.
He, however, disagreed over yet unknown issues with Senator Zuwo shortly after the later emerged as governor of Kano State on the party's ticket in 1983. Whatever was the source of their problem has remarkably been taken to the world beyond by the two men as neither Zuwo nor Achebe ever made public reference of it subsequently.
Remarkably, not long after that disagreement and with the death of his long time friend, Aminu Kano, Achebe, fully disengaged from partisan politics. His parting shot came in the form of his classical essay, The Trouble with Nigeria.
The book was a narration of the symptoms of bad leadership that turned the country into a laggard among the nations despite the abundance of natural and human resources. "The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership," Achebe surmised in the 68 page narrative.
Achebe was to further make another parody of the Nigerian (military) political class in his fifth novel, Anthills of the Savannah published in 1987. The book revolves around three characters, a military officer Sam who leads a successful coup, the military regime's commissioner for information known as Chris Oriko and the highflying newspaper editor and critic of military government, Ikem Osodi.
The intrigues in the Anthills of the Savannah culminate in the assassination of the newspaper editor, Osodi! When he did not write, his silence was profoundly provoking. His missives indeed troubled the authorities.
Twice he rejected the national honours from the Nigeria administration. The first time was when he threw back the national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic, CFR at the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. In rejecting his CFR nomination in the 2004 honour list in a letter dated October 15, 2004, to the president, he said:
I write this letter with very heavy heart. For some time now, I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay. I have watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the presidency....
Nigeria's condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honour awarded me in the 2004 Honours list.
Of course, Achebe referred to the situation in his native Anambra State where Chief Chris Uba, brother to Mr. Andy Uba who was then Special Assistant to the president on domestic affairs, was known to have taken over the political control of the state.
It was Achebe's rejection of the dominance of the Uba brothers believed to have been achieved through the collaboration of President Obasanjo that undoubtedly led to his rejection of the award.
Remarkably, President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 pencilled him down for the same national honour, and Achebe again, rejected the award saying the reason for his first rejection had not changed.
The reasons for rejecting the offer when it was first made have not been addressed let alone solved. It is inappropriate to offer it again to me. I must therefore regretfully decline the offer again."
Achebe's last political narrative on Nigeria, There was a Country, his historical rendition of the civil war years from his own perspective was undoubtedly his most controversial work.
The book published just before his death at 82, was if anything, the confirmation that Achebe even despite his rejection of politics and the way it is played out in Nigeria, remained a political animal till death!
Chinualumogu Achebe: A tribute to Ugonabo
By Sen Ike Ekweremadu
Paying tribute to a great man like Professor Chinualumogu Achebe is certainly not the kind of race a man runs carrying snuff in his palm. It is a serious task, not for want of great deeds worth mentioning and reflecting on, but for too many exploits begging for mention.
How do you describe a man so honoured, even among his kinsmen, that he was conferred with the chieftaincy title of Ugonabo (double eagle) of Ogidi? Renown for its strength and glory, Ugo (the eagle) is such a very rare and highly esteemed bird among Ndigbo. As a title, Ugo is reserved only for their extremely distinguished sons. To be honoured as a "double eagle" goes to show the extraordinariness of the man, Achebe.
How else do you describe a colossus other than also as an Iroko? About this special tree, Achebe writes: "You cannot plant greatness as you plant yams or maize. Whoever planted an iroko tree – the greatest in the forest? You may collect all the iroko seeds in the world, open the soil and put them there. It will be in vain. The great tree chooses where to grow and we find it there…so it is with greatness in men."
A writer and teacher of uncommon character and pedigree, he was not only A Man of the People, he was also the mouth piece of the weak and oppressed, and invested his entire life seeking solutions for The Trouble with Nigeria. When the centre cannot hold as Things Fall Apart and the falcon can no longer hears the falconer, Achebe stood out as a live force to rally his country men and women back to their roots and indeed back to those socio-cultural values by which our fathers lived.
As one of a quartet that includes Christopher Okigbo and Professor Wole Soyinka,which started and gave the Nigerian literature character, he equally gave a resonant voice, first to Nigerians, and to the entire black race. Like most great men, Achebe was a half-human and haIf-spirit (okara mmadu na okara mmuo), a philosopher, and a prophet. Though through his contributions, especially the imports of Things Fall Apart, blacks could understand what colonialism was all about, he saw far beyond the challenges of colonialism.
Through A Man of the People, for instance, he warns of the dangers of reducing independence to merely replacing White imperialists with a new set of indigenous colonialists who lord it over the masses and live in vexatious luxury and opulence at the expense of the people. Through No Longer at Ease, we could also see the damning aftermaths of colonialism. When it became obvious that things were No Longer at Ease, Achebe opened our eyes through to see The Trouble with Nigeria and the Anthills of the Savanna.
Achebe saw The Trouble with Nigeria as clearly that of a failed political class. More importantly, he proffered the way forward, not just by written works, but also by an exemplary life that serves as An Arrow of God that will forever pierce the consciences of the leaders. Importantly, on the need for peaceful co-existence and tolerance, Professor Achebe says: "Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too- if one says no to the other, let his wing break".
For fomenters of trouble, he warns that, "A man that makes trouble for others also makes trouble for himself". But even more philosophical are the words that "He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down".
Achebe's parting shot, There was a Country, is to me more than just a book or a personal account of his pain and those of his Eastern Nigerian kinsmen over the unfortunate Nigeria-Biafra Civil war. Traditionally, when a father is about to join his ancestors, he assembles his children for the final blessings and parting words. To Achebe, it is only a stupid man that has his toenail pulled out by the same tree stump twice.
Achebe is obviously pained that those things that led to the unfortunate war among brothers are growing wings and muscles amongst us. From nepotism to political arrogance and intolerance, corruption, religious fanaticism, and now an unprecedented wave of senseless killing across the land, Achebe is simply telling his countrymen to stand together and say "Never again". Yes, never again so that whatever consumed the mound of fufu would not be allowed to empty the soup pot.
I therefore believe that the best way we can all mourn and immortalise Achebe is to live his ideals and build such Nigeria he dreamed of- a Nigeria where peace and justice reigns.
Goodbye the Iroko and may the Almighty God give us all, especially your immediate family, Ogidi people and indeed the entire Igboland and Nigerians the fortitude to bear your passage. Goodnight, Ugonabo Ogidi, the immortal name.
Achebe's body finally kisses his country's soil
The renowned author, regarded as the liberator of African literature, had lived in the US since 1990, when he relocated from Nigeria following a car crash that eventually confined him to the wheelchair.
While the author of classical Things Fall Apart had thereafter continued to make waves both in literature and scholarship, he passed away on March 22, 2013, at age 82, throwing the whole world into mourning.
Like a prologue to his internment, which will take place in his hometown, Ogidi, Anambra State on Thursday, Achebe's body arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja by 6am on Tuesday.
It was received by dignitaries that included Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim; and a former Governor of Anambra State, Chief Ogbonaya Onu.
While his first major professional sojourn abroad - as a lecturer - came by choice in 1972, when he accepted a visiting professorship at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, teaching African Literature, he had returned to Nigeria in 1976, as a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was, however, in 1990 that the 'last' journey abroad began.
Writing in guardian.uk, Lyn Innes recalls that after having been paralysed by the accident, Bard College, New York, had offered him and Christie the possibility of teaching there and provided the facilities he needed.
She adds, "Now using a wheelchair, he continued to travel and lecture in the US and occasionally abroad. His talks at Harvard in 1998 were published under the title Home and Exile. His more recent lectures and autobiographical essays were published in The Education of a British-Protected Child (2009). He moved to Providence, Rhode Island, in 2009 after being appointed professor of Africana Studies at Brown University."
For millions, if not billions of Achebe's fans, however, it is time to fully embrace the reality that he has returned home, and has reunited with Nigeria - a country he loved, which he had had to fight when he felt he needed to do so, and about which he had envisioned greatness that, has, however, continued to elude it.
Many people who paid tributes to him at the reception at the airport, and earlier on Monday in the same nation's capital, had acknowledged these and other virtues.
Particularly at a Night of Tributes held at the International Conference Centre, the likes of the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, and former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, had observed that Achebe was a great nationalist and patriot who wanted nothing but the best for his country.