| Chibueze Agwagom |
IT WAS really sad when news filtered in in the early morning of Friday, 22nd March, 2013 to the effect that our revered literary icon, Prof. Chinualumogu Albert Achebe, had passed-on in the late hours of Thursday, 21st March 2013. It was as if there was a writer born into a richly endowed country and continent being ruined by despotic anthills, hence, he used his pen (the arsenal at his disposal) to fight the liberation war of his life, yet things continued to be no longer at ease to the extent that the arrow of God lost patience as things fall apart and the man of the man of the people departed. It was a night-fall in the afternoon (chi weere efifie jie). It is well with this noble man that told our story like no other. Stories that washed off the brutish stigma they stamped on us without facts.
Great tributes have been falling over themselves since the demise of our own Chinualumogu hit the airwaves and news stands. He deserves all the tributes even from those that speak from the two sides of their mouths; those who are ignorant of the fact that Achebe has attained the status of an oracle and those who speak ill of this noble, humane, patriotic and prolific writer do so at their own risks. Those who praise him and work against the ideals that would uplift his spirit. Before Achebe transfigured, he gave a parting gift to mankind especially, his country namely “there was a country”. This seminal work generated controversy that was uncalled for but you cannot blame the pervading intellectual laxity and apathy which make many talk before they think. I laughed at the sight of walking ignorance. Many did not open the book yet they acquired expertise on their ill perceived contents of the book. Some wept more than the bereaved and exposed their little-mindedness by referring to Achebe as a frustrated writer. How can a writer widely acknowledged as the best in Africa and amongst the world’s best be frustrated simply because the Nobel prize awardees, rightly or wrongly, have not deemed it fit to honour Achebe with the prize. Achebe whom our versatile Nobel laureate, Prof. Soyinka described as a writer who wrote with unrelieved competence is fulfilled and accomplished, hence, he himself said that he never lost sleep because of the Nobel Prize as he never wrote with the Nobel Prize in mind.
Indeed, Achebe did no miss the Noble prize, rather, the Nobel prize missed Achebe. I recall that in 2010, Deborah Solomon of New York Times, had asked Achebe in an interview how he felt knowing that his magnum opus, “Things Fall Apart” is the staple of American high school English classes and has supposedly sold more than eight million copies. Achebe responded: “that would be possible. I’m not grumbling. I have done well”. It is interesting seeing some of those who tried to scandalise Achebe doing their shameless somersaults with ignominy. More unfortunate are the praises of chameleonic and skeptic kingdom intellectuals.
The state of things in Nigeria had been of immense concern to Achebe and he used his pen, the weapon at his disposal, to cry out in his fictional piece, “A man of the People” (1966). He veered into politics in the 80s by joining the Mallam Aminu-Kano led People’s Redemption Party ( PRP) as a possible means of leading the way in practicalising what he preached but he saw in its nakedness, the damage leadership immaturity and corruption has done to the psyche of the Nigerian state. This political adventure led to his 1983 non-fictional work: “The trouble with Nigeria”. Achebe’s resolute love for attitudinal change in the governance of his country remained unshakable. He once stated what Nigeria meant to him in these lines: “Nigeria is a child. Gifted, enormously talented, prodigiously endowed and incredibly wayward. Nigeria needs help. Nigeria has its work cut out for it to coax this unruly child along the path of useful creative development — we are parents of Nigeria not vice-versa — A generation will come, if we do our work patiently and well and given luck — a generation that will call Nigeria father or mother but not yet”
Achebe is not a man of selfish orientation or a man to be deceived with sentimentalism and whited sepulchered governance. When Achebe saw a spade he called it a spade knowing fully well that injustice can never generate peace. Achebe knew fully well that the degeneration of things in his homeland is man-made hence; he mourned the antihills of the sarannah in his 1987 award-wining book. Chinualumogu had, on several for a, expressed his burdens, frustrations and praises for our Nigeria. He once stated: “Being in Nigeria is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting”. At another time he said; “I found it difficult to forgive Nigeria and my countrymen and women for the political nonchalance and cruelty unleashed upon us these terrible events, which set us back, a whole generation.” It was not strange for those who follow this great mind when in 2004, the then Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo-led government offered the national honour of Commander of the FederalRepublic, CFR, to Achebe and he bluntly rejected it. The thoughts of Elie Wiesel made sense to Achebe namely: “There may be time when we are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”.
In his own very words, Achebe stated: “I had very little at my disposal to protest with, so the strongest statement I could make was to turn down the honour of CFR, I was awarded”. Achebe went further to state that he turned down the offer, not to seek notice and popularity, but to protest the injustice in his country. Achebe’s letter of protest which may be banal to some ears read as follows: “I write this letter with a very heavy heart. For some time now, 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.” Achebe’s snub rattled and embarrassed the seat of governance hence, in self adulation, the then presidential attack dog and spokesman in the person of Fani Kayode, demeaned himself and the presidency by accusing Achebe of being out of touch with current developments at home as well as being undeserving of his Nigerian citizenship. This is the extent sycophants go in the abuse of public service. Also in 2011, the Goodluck Jonathan-led Presidency rolled out its annual ritual of national honors and Achebe was again in the list and he duly turned down the honour again on the grounds that the reasons why he turned-down the offer when it was first made in 2004 have not been addressed let alone solving them. Achebe had, in 2010, described Goodluck Jonathan during his acting presidency days, as weak and not seeming to bring goodluck (New York Times of March 26, 2010) On Achebe’s rejection of the 2011 CFR National honour, the presidency through its spokesman in the person of Reuben Abati castigated Achebe for being out of touch with events in his country. It is the gullible that celebrate sophistry. The travails of our Nigeria is open knowledge. It litters the entire landscape. It is often boring cataloguing them. It is ironical and hypocritical for the Jonathan presidency to extol the virtues of Achebe when it mocked the truth he spoke with respect to the continuing leadership failures in our land. A presidency that said Achebe had lost touch with realites on ground now said: “The presidency believes that Prof. Achebe’s frank, truthful and fearless interventions in national affairs will be greatly missed at home in Nigeria, because while others may have disagreed with his views, most Nigerians never doubted his immense patriotism and sincere commitment to the building of a greater, more united and prosperous nation that all Africans could be proud of.”
Our Nigeria deserves pity because truth is scarce. How can an Achebe (Iconic Nelson Mandela described Achebe’s magnum opus as a work that brought Africa to the rest of the world as well as the writer in whose company the prison walls fell down) be out of touch in a world that has long narrowed down into a global village? A country where double-speak flows from the seat of governance is a nation in trouble. No wonder, Achebe was passionate in talking about the trouble with Nigeria. Virtue is admired from a distance. It was not surprising that our Senate, House of Representatives and some Houses of Assembly honoured Achebe via their motions of urgent national importance, yet majority of these senators and honorable members worked against Achebe’s ideals by conniving and colluding to murder our Nigeria.
It is well with you Ugo N’abo (Double Eagle). Your ingenuity earned you the singular honour of being the first living author included in Everyman’s library, the hallowed volume of the world’s best classics of all time. You spoke your pristine and unadulterated truth to adulterated, polluted and autocratic governments. Your noble spirit lives on Ugo beere n’ oji (Eagle on the Iroko) for you have attained “immortality,” hence, Time magazine declared: “This giant of modern letters has left the authentic imprint of African cultures across the globe.”
For laureate Nadime Gordimer, Achebe is a writer with a brilliant mind and bold spirit. Margaret Atwood is of the opinion that Achebe is a magical writer, one of the greatest of the twentieth century. To this quintessential story teller, great scholar, outstanding commentator and insightful critic and poet, it is morning yet on creation day! In the blessed company of the likes of Milton, Shakespeare, Keats, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. you are well pleased.
— Apr. 22, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT