Long Live, CHINUA ACHEBE! The Eagle on the iroko
By Chido Nwangwu, moderator of the Achebe Colloquium (Governance, Security, and Peace in Africa) December 7-8, 2012 at Brown University, is the Publisher of USAfrica and first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper published on the internet USAfricaonline.com
Africa’s most acclaimed and fluent writer of the English Language, the most translated writer of Black heritage in the world, broadcaster extraordinaire, social conscience of millions, cultural custodian and elevator, chronicler and essayist, goodwill ambassador and man of progressive rock-ribbed principles, the Eagle on the Iroko, Ugo n’abo Professor Chinua Achebe, joined his ancestors a few hours ago, at the age of 82, in a peaceful and graceful transition in the warm company of his family.
Reasonably, Achebe’s message has been neither dimmed nor dulled by time and clime. He’s our pathfinder, the intellectual godfather of millions of Africans and lovers of the fine art of good writing. Achebe’s cultural contexts are, at once, pan-African, globalist and local; hence, his literary contextualizations soar beyond the confines of Umuofia and any Igbo or Nigerian setting of his creative imagination or historical recall.
His globalist underpinnings and outlook are truly reflective of the true essence of his/our Igbo world-view, his Igbo upbringing and disposition. Igbos and Jews share (with a few other other cultures) this pan-global disposition to issues of art, life, commerce, juridical pursuits, and quest to be republicanist in terms of the vitality of the individual/self. In Achebe’s works, the centrality of Chi (God) attains an additional clarity in the Igbo cosmology… it is a world which prefers a quasi-capitalistic business attitude while taking due cognizance of the usefulness of the whole, the community. I’ve studied, lived and tried to better understand, essentially, the rigor and towering moral certainties which Achebe have employed in most of his works and his world. I know, among other reasons, because I share the same Igbo ancestry with him. Permit me to attempt a brief sentence, with that Achebean simplicty and clarity. Here, folks, what the world has known since 1958: Achebe is good! Eagle on the Iroko, may your Lineage endure! There has never been one like you! Ugo n’abo, chukwu gozie gi oo!
USAfrica, Houston, March 22, 2013: Chinua Achebe, Africa’s most acclaimed and fluent writer of the English Language, our pathfinder, the intellectual godfather of millions of Africans and lovers of the fine art of good
writing, was only 28 years when he wrote the classic, Things Fall Apart, in 1958 — long before I was born. In the year 2013, that magnum opus of a novel by Achebe has been translated into 70 languages, sold almost 20 million copies and listed among the world’s best 100 novels. He has been translated in more languages than any other writer in the developing world.
Let’s go back. On February 18, 2002, a distinguished jury of scholars and critics (from 13 countries of African life and literature) selected Achebe as the writer of the Best book, ‘Things Fall Apart.’
In Achebe’s works, the centrality of Chi (God) attains an additional clarity in the Igbo cosmology… it is a world which prefers a quasi-capitalistic business attitude while taking due cognizance of the usefulness of the whole, the community. I’ve studied, lived and tried to better understand, essentially, the rigor and towering moral certainties which Achebe have employed in most of his works and his world. I know, among other reasons, because I share the same ancestry with him. Permit me to attempt a brief sentence, with that Achebean simplicty and clarity. Here, folks, what the world has known since 1958:
Achebe is good!
Let’s go to October 15, 2004. I was informed that Prof. Achebe,had taken the extraordinary step of “declining to accept the high honor awarded me in the 2004 Honors List” by Nigeria’s president, retired army General Olusegun Obasanjo (born on March 5, 1937).
In Achebe’s October 2004 letter to the presidency of Nigeria, the eminent writer and statesman Achebe informed President Obasanjo, that “Nigeria’s condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest….” Achebe pointed to the issues of Nigeria’s leaders failing to unite the country’s diverse peoples and what he identified as “the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency” in the destabilization of parts of Nigeria and state governments by political and business renegades.
He wrote Obasanjo “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.” Achebe’s concerns and principled position were apparently validated only 3 weeks later when a murderous gang burnt down the (s)elected governors’ office, legislative headquarters, elections organizing offices and other symbols resembling democratic quests in Anambra, the home of the great, late Owelle, Dr. the Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe…..
Let’s go back to Achebe the scholar and educator. I agree with Princeton University’s professor of philosophy, Kwame Anthony Appiah, who said recently that “In every English and non-English speaking country on the planet, if you ask a student to name just one African novel, it is most likely to be Things Fall Apart by Achebe. It is the beginning of the African canon. it is difficult to think of anything else without it.”
I believe and propagate the informed view that Prof. Achebe has been a significant and binding source for an engaging understanding of African pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history and realities.
I believe that the Achebean ease and facility with the English language insight made him a favorite of African-Americans, and other scholars and regular folks in search of a better, realistic understanding of Africa.
In Achebe’s works, the centrality of Chi (God) attains an additional clarity in the Igbo cosmology. Similarly, in my letter to my son, Chido Nwangwu II, on his first birthday on February 12, 2002, such core values and messages are embedded and made whole.
One of our web sites, USAfricaonline.com (first African-owned, U.S-based professional newspaper to be on the Internet), has published a number of essays about Achebe, and one by him concerning his friend, novelist Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike.
Also, very insightful is the USAfricaonline.com exclusive essay by Prof. Douglas Killam, one of the leading and pioneer publishers of African literature and a friend of the Achebes. I met Prof. Killam during Achebe’s 70th birthday event at the Bard College in New York. His piece is titled Since 1958, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart set a standard of artistic excellence, and more. Killam’s contribution is a very insightful and valuable read for all and any serious student and writer on Achebe’s works.
Other than ‘Things Fall Apart’ (1958), some of Achebe’s other major books are ‘No Longer at Ease’ (1960), ‘Arrow of God’ (1964; rev. 1974), ‘Anthills of the Savannah’ (1987) and more recently, the historical blockbuster of his notes and memoir on Biafra titled ‘There Was a Country’ (2012).
See list of selected works of Prof. Achebe at www.Achebebooks.com Also, see commentaries at www.USAfricaonline.com/chidoachebe.html Literary giant Chinua Achebe returns ‘home’ from U.S., to love and adulation of community; Achebe turns 70; celebrates with Mandela, Morrison, world’s leading arts scholars in New York.
Achebe’s October 2004 brief letter to Obasanjo’s presidency reminded even the indifferent and the cynical that some of Nigeria’s very best cannot be attracted to the seductive allurements of State power and its increasingly sham honorifics. Again, the Eagle on the iroko proved why his message and timing are reflective of the ways of a sage. In rejecting the award from the embattled presidency of Obasanjo, Achebe’s symbolic point further drew the line between the toadying apologists of Obasanjo and his critics.
Obasanjo’s loud-hailers and hoary apologists attacked Achebe with such hideous ignorance and crass incivility. Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, their lead attack-dog and privileged rascal who masquerades as “presidential adviser/assistant” to retired Gen. Obasanjo, dramatized his bovine ill-mannerisms to the international community. But presidential spokesperson Ms. Remi Oyo showed class by taking a different, mild approach.
Achebe’s decision to reject the 2004 national honors from Obasanjo is not accidental; it’s rooted in his position that a writer ought to see himself/herself as a part of the wider goal of building a better society. For him, there’s an organic relationship between writing as education and the building of a better society. Recall that the prolific Achebe wrote in 1975 in his work ‘Morning Yet on Creation Day’ that “The writer cannot be excused from the task of re-education and regeneration that must be done…”
Achebe has never shied away from speaking his truths to the face of power, especially writing with such lucidity and accessibility that his essays and books have since become equalizers for the scholarly and the average reader. Essentially, there has never been any one like Achebe.
Achebe’s poignant letter to Obasanjo and the “powers that be” in today’s Nigeria follows in his decades-old commitment to call the leadership to do better for a long-suffering people – especially in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.
I recall flying back to the U.S. (from South Africa directly to New York) to attend Prof. Achebe’s 70th birthday at the historic Bard College (November 3-4, 2000) and its related conference titled, “Home and Exile: Achebe at 70” – where Achebe made a similar point.
In the midst of his friends and some of the best writers in the world, he mentioned how everyone was speaking so nicely of him in honor of his birthday; then he joked that were he a military dictator may be those two days of November would have been declared national holidays. He burst into laughter…. That’s vintage Achebean sarcasm. He has been richly blessed by the iron-clad support and love of his outstanding wife, Prof. Christie Chinwe Achebe.
In 1983, Achebe wrote the often quoted pamphlet, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria.’ In the latter, he cited the litany of failures of the leaders and pointed the way forward. In rejecting Obasanjo’s 2004 award, he’s making a statement about the direction and quality of leadership in Nigeria, today. The sage picked the fitting moment to set his revered, valuable company and name apart from a list which does n
ot separate dealers from leaders. With Chinua Achebe, Eagle on the Iroko, you may never mistake his message.
Permit me to attempt a brief sentence, if you may, with that Achebean simplicty and clarity. Here, folks, what the world has known since 1958: Achebe is good!
•Dr. Chido Nwangwu, moderator of the Achebe Colloquium (Governance, Security, and Peace in Africa) December 7-8, 2012 at Brown University in Rhode Island and former adviser on Africa business/issues to the Mayor of Houston, is the Founder & Publisher of Houston-based USAfrica multimedia networks since 1992, first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper published on the internet USAfricaonline.com; CLASSmagazine, AchebeBooks.com, the USAfrica-powered e-groups of AfricanChristians, Nigeria360, IgboEvents, UNNalumni, and the pictorials site PhotoWorks.TV . He was recently profiled by the CNN International for his pioneering works on multimedia/news/public policy projects for Africans and Americans. http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/international/2010/07/29/mpa.african.media.bk.a.cnn
Nigeria’s Federal Republic of Insecurity. By Chido Nwangwu, Publisher of USAfrica, USAfricaonline.com and the Nigeria360 e-group. http://usafricaonline.com/2011/12/17/nigeria-federal-republic-of-insecurity-by-chido-nwangwu/ : IF any of the Nigerian President’s 100 advisers has the polite courage for the extraordinary task of reminding His Excellency of his foremost, sworn, constitutional obligation to the national interest about security and safety of Nigerians and all who sojourn in Nigeria, please whisper clearly to Mr. President that I said, respectfully: Nigerians, at home and abroad, are still concerned and afraid for living in what I call Nigeria’s Federal Republic of Insecurity. FULL text of commentary at USAfricaonline.com http://usafricaonline.com/2011/12/17/nigeria-federal-republic-of-insecurity-by-chido-nwangwu/
Obama’s Africa agenda, our business and democracy. By Chido Nwangwu, Publisher of USAfricaonline.com and CLASS magazine and The Black Business Journal
USAfrica: As Egypt’s corrupter-in-chief Mubarak slides into history’s dustbin. By Chido Nwangwu. http://usafricaonline.com/2011/01/30/chido-nwangwu-as-egypt-corrupter-in-chief-mubarak-slides-into-historys-dustbin-egyptians-not-waiting-for-obama-and-united-nations/