Demise of a Literary Giant

Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe, a renowned author and professor of literature bows out at 82 in Boston, United States

|  By Olu Ojewale  |  Apr. 1, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

CHINUA Achebe, a professor of literature and one of Nigeria’s literary icons, is dead. Aged, 82, Achebe died in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, Friday, March 22. The cause of his death was not disclosed. Achebe had lived and worked in the US as a university don. Until his death, Achebe was the renowned author of Thins Fall Apart, published in 1958. The book is arguably the most read African literature. It has sold more than 12 million copies and translated into more than 50 languages all over the world.

Many of his other novels, including No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God, Anthills of the Savannah, and A man of the People, have also brought him recognition as a great writer. His latest book: There Was a Country, based on his account of Nigeria’s civil war, has caused a lot of controversy. Critics accused him of not being objective and that he wrote the book as a Biafran, and not as a Nigerian.

The professor was not a stranger to controversy. Twice the Nigerian government offered him national honours, and twice he rejected the offers, citing the deplorable social and political situations in the country as reasons.

Born as Albert Chinualumogu Achebe in Ogidi, Anambra State, on November 16, 1930, the renowned author attended St Philips’ Central School at the age of six. At 12, he attended Central School at Nekede, four kilometres from Owerri, the capital of Imo State. From there, he went to Government College, Umuahia, for his secondary school education. He was one of the pioneer students of the University College, now University of Ibadan, in 1948. He was first admitted to study medicine but later changed to English, history and theology after the first year.

He graduated in 1953 with a second-class degree. Achebe taught for a while after graduation before joining the Nigeria Broadcasting Service in Lagos in 1954. While in Lagos Achebe met Christie Okoli, who he married in 1961. The couple had four children.

During the Nigerian civil war, Achebe joined the Biafran Government as an ambassador. After the war, Achebe was a critic of succeeding military governments. He lived in the US for several years in the 1970s, and returned to the US in 1990 after a car accident left him partially disabled. Until his death, Achebe had been a David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of African Studies at the Brown University.

Chris Ngige, senator and former governor of Anmbra State, said the nation has lost “a literary giant with a special style that captures events in a classic natural way, with an environment being a normal Nigerian rural setting or city.” The former governor said Achebe was no doubt the numero uno among his peers in the literary world, and that his death has marked the depletion of the crop of activist writers and poets. “My senatorial district, Anambra state and Nigeria have lost one of her activists, literary prince, welfarist and a worthy ambassador,” Ngige said.

In his reaction, Nojeed Jimoh, a former editor of The Punch newspaper, said a great writer had died. But he said the nation should take consolation in the fact that he had died an accomplished man from who a lot of people have benefited from his works. “He was one of the greatest writers not only as an African, but known all over the world. He has left a very enduring legacy and we are going to miss him,” Jimoh said.

Fabian Osuji, former minister of education and currently, director-general of Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu Centre, described the death of Achebe as a great loss to the Igbo race in particular, the nation and the world at large. He said that the Centre received the news of his death with a strong sense of loss. “We feel that the nation has lost a very distinguished writer, a very distinguished author, and a novelist who has contributed a whole lot to African Literature and, in fact, he is regarded as the father of African Literature because, before him, there was nothing like real, genuine and authentic African Literature. It was his classical novel – Things Fall Apart that created a new awareness about African writers and African Literature.  To that extent, we feel a terrible sense of loss by his death,” Osuji said.

The former minister described Achebe’s last book as his parting gift to Nigerians and the whole world.  According to him, the late author captured in the book the whole essence of what happened in Nigeria in the crisis and the civil war between 1966 and 1970.  “He presented the history of the war in the most direct and authoritative manner.  Even the criticisms of the book in certain quarters were based on sentiments.  They were not founded on facts,” Osuji said.

He noted that although Achebe never had a doctorate, several PhD theses have been written on his writings. “Indeed, he has given the contemporary Nigerian writers and the world a pool from which they can draw a lot of knowledge. That to me is very satisfying as a scholar,” he said.

Osuji, therefore, urged the Igbo race, the country and the world to celebrate Achebe even in death.

Vincent Obienye, chief press secretary to Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, confirmed that government had been told about Achebe’s death but would soon send its reaction. “Yes, we are aware and shall send in our reaction soon,” he said.

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