Substantially, Achebe inspired my younger generation.
By Nkem Ekeopara
Before March 22, 2013, which would be eternally remembered as the day one of the greatest writers and thinkers of all time, Professor Chinualumogu Achebe joined his ancestors to become one with them, two issues dominated my mind. One of the issues was the calls by some of the Northern Nigeria leadership of Islamic persuasion for amnesty to be granted to terrorists operating in their region.
And closely related to that was the bombing on March 18, 2013 in Kano, North Western Nigeria, in which the Igbo were clearly targeted at a luxury bus station located in the nerve centre of their community in Kano, Sabon-gari area, and operated and largely patronised by them.
I was already heavy-hearted and trying to create time for a formal commentary on the latest murderous outing of Boko Haram and Ansaru jihadists in which I would have captured the inhumanity inherent in those who now speak as their godfathers when the distressing news of the passage of Professor Achebe was brought to my attention by one of my younger siblings. On confirming this to be true, I was spontaneously overwhelmed with emotions.
Of course, my heavy-heartedness heightened knowing how weighty the passage of Professor Achebe is to some of us, especially now, and bearing in mind the scale of the Kano bombing, which the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and his surviving contemporary, J.P.Clark in their joint statement on Professor Achebe’s departure, succinctly described as ‘insensate massacre of Chinua’s people’ and barely stopped short of blaming this atrocious crime for his death.
But whatever be the case, we have to celebrate the widely acclaimed originator of African Literature and our Chi-Ukwu’s rarest gift to us and indeed, the global community. After all, his life uniquely fulfilled what our elders say: Oto/ofu onye nwe okuko, mana oha/ora nwe olu ya/An individual owns the cock, but the community owns its voice. We, who are lucky to share the same ancestry with him no doubt, call him our own. But the truth is that he did not live for us alone. He lived for the humankind.
So, our heightened heavy-heartedness must not prevent us from celebrating him. We should be in the forefront of the celebration. We should, not just because of his imperishable bequeathal to mankind, but because only a few mortals at his age have the special blessing of actively remaining on their job until a few days before their exit. That alone calls for celebration.
And it is gladdening to observe that the celebration has begun in earnest. There has been a harvest of tributes from around the world. That is to be expected, because Professor Achebe is like a full moon that our elders say cannot be covered with the palm of the hand. In life, he enriched our existence. In death, our lives will continue to be enriched, because he was here.
However, I make a clear distinction between the tributes from those he truly influenced; I mean those who have become epitome of humility, hard work, courage, integrity and pursuit of excellence; those who believe that positions should be merited and not dispensed through corrupt and other extraneous considerations; and that the life of every individual is sacrosanct: all, values that are the content of his person and he espoused in his critical interventions at perilous times in the life of the Nigerian nay African states.
Certainly, I do not mean the noisy hypocritical tributes issuing from the self-serving Nigerian men of power. I do not mean these people who attracted his censure in his 1983 slim book, “The Trouble With Nigeria”, which bore the characteristic markings of his courageous engagement on issues that would advance the Nigerian state.
I do not mean this group of individuals that he vehemently rejected their effort on two occasions to bestow him with National Honor, CFR (Commander of Federal Republic); one of the higher grades of National Honor the Government of Nigeria gives to its citizens yearly.
Over the years, what should be reserved for the impeccably great has really become a huge joke as many who yearly get bestowed with one grade or the other are people of questionable character and unearned wealth. And they are in the majority in the list of honorees. I do not mean tributes from this sort of people.
Instructively, on each of the two occasions Professor Achebe rejected the National Honor, first under the former Nigerian ruler, Rtd. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004 and then, under the current ruler of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, the Nigerian populace hailed him for refusing to dignify something that is given in contravention of his well-known principles. Also, in the seeds of those rejections breathes a very strong disapproval of the dismal performance of the two regimes, especially in combating corruption head-on.
Let no one question why Professor Achebe previously accepted four Nigerian honors namely: the first Nigerian National Trophy for Literature in 1961 during the first anniversary of Nigeria’s independence; the Nigerian National Order of Merit and the Order of Federal Republic (OFR) in 1979, and the first National Creativity Award in 1999. Please hear the wise one out before you become judgemental on his decision to accept those honors at those important points in Nigerian history.
In rejecting General Obasanjo’s blood-tainted honor in 2004, he explained this when he said that: ‘I accepted all these honors fully aware that Nigeria was not perfect; but I had a strong belief that we would outgrow our shortcomings under leaders committed to uniting our diverse peoples. 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 honor awarded me in the 2004 Honors List.’
And in rejecting the re-presenting of that honor to him by Dr. Jonathan, he simply put out a terse statement: ‘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.’ This was unlike in Obasanjo’s case when he took the pains to point at one of Obasanjo’s most brazen acts during his regime: his barefaced effort to destroy Professor Achebe’s home state, Anambra State.
For many members of my generation, Professor Achebe was in symbol and substance, the other parent we had aside our parents. Through his works, especially his finest and timeless work, Things Fall Apart; he greatly assisted our parents in the herculean task of parenting. He was there helping us to understand our customs and the cherished values that shaped our existence as a people. It was an understanding that imbued us with confidence. It was an understanding that made us very proud of who we are.
No one who encounters Okonkwo, the protagonist in the work, would fail to understand that there is a correlation between hard work and success; and between courage and extraordinary feat. Professor Achebe literally reinforced these traits in us not just through Okonkwo, but through his own life.
It is real hard work; it takes indescribable courage for someone to rise up majestically and continue to tread confidently to fulfil his purpose on earth after having the kind of traumatic encounter Professor Achebe had in 1990. I recall with nostalgia that this happened shortly after we joyfully witnessed his being celebrated that year at his 60th birthday by writers of substance from across the globe. It was a time one saw the Eagle resplendently perched atop the towering Iroko Tree, full of smiles at the various events, marking the elaborate celebration. Not too many people would overcome and adapt themselves to the new reality foisted on them by a life-threatening automobile crash just after that carnival. But he did it. Hence, the classic for me is not really Things Fall Apart. It is the other book, simply titled, Chinua Achebe.
Some of us are not in a hurry to forget why an average Igbo man has a strong attachment to his maternal relations, because we first learned it in Professor Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. And I am very proud to say that the heritage where one’s mother’s root becomes his home in times of great personal misfortune in his father’s root is alive and well to this day. It didn’t just exist in Okonkwo’s time and in Mbanta, his maternal home where he sojourned for seven years after his gun accidentally exploded and killed the 16-year-old son of Ezeudu at the latter’s burial rites. We learned that his maternal uncle, Uchendu, provided him the refuge he needed at such a challenging time in his life. Maternal uncles still play such roles in our various communities.
Some of us had relations named Nneka/Mother is supreme. But we only learned the deeper meaning through Okonkwo’s life. Yes, every odie/nwadiana (nephew) is still very much valued and protected by his mother’s kinsmen in times of personal adversity. And this strong attachment does not stop while one is living. In fact, in my part, which might be applicable to other parts of Igboland, the eldest surviving member of one’s matrilineal ancestry will have to mark out the specific portion of land where one’s remains will be buried at the end of one’s earthly journey. This is the last honor that one’s maternal relations owe him. It took an Achebe to make some us take a deep interest in who we are. Christianity has not affected this practice.
So, the Nigerian authorities; the world must understand us when say we don’t want our people massacred in cold blood in Northern Nigeria or anywhere to be buried in mass graves. We don’t want this to continue to happen; especially now that the one who made us conscious of who we are is no longer with us. Part of what we owe him is to preserve who we are.
Also, we are not in a hurry to forget how Professor Achebe helped in no small way in preparing our sisters for their role as future mothers. Through the relationship that existed between Okonkwo’s wives and his daughters; the bits they did as their mothers prepared his meal; fetching water e.t.c., we saw these girls being groomed. We even saw Okonkwo play a part for instance when he rebuked Ezinma as she looked forward to going to watch the youths of Umuofia do what brought her father fame, wrestling.
In the conversation that went thus: “Okonkwo was sitting on a goatskin already eating his first wife’s meal. Obiageli, who had brought it from her mother’s hut, sat on the floor waiting for him to finish. Ezinma placed her mother’s dish before him and sat with Obiageli. ‘Sit like a woman!’ Okonkwo shouted at her. Ezinma brought her two legs together and stretched them in front of her. ‘Father, will you go to see the wrestling?’ Ezinma asked after a suitable interval. ‘Yes’ he answered. ‘Will you go?’ ‘Yes.’” Such ‘little’ things had its powerful place in our time even when I disapprove of Okonkwo’s style of conveying his message, and applaud Ezinma’s tact in waiting for a ‘suitable interval’ before engaging his father on her first request and another request as the conversation continued. One may disapprove of Okonkwo’s style, but that was Okonkwo. And he did it in a typical Okonkwo’s way, forcefully.
In his characteristic simplicity, Professor Achebe deployed his wisdom and served us such stories that tasted like freshly tapped palm wine. His stories will retain their sweetness at all times and for every generation. Everyone knows and affirms that.
I join millions of my generation and people around the world to celebrate the life of Professor Chinualumogu Achebe whose coming has enriched our lives. And I like to add that, to be faint-hearted in the pursuit of the ideals to which he dedicated his entire life will not be an option for many of us. Although he is no longer here, he will remain the symbol and substance of our existence. Ugonabo, laa n’udo/Double eagle, go in peace! •Ekeopara is a columnist for USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine (Houston); he is based in Nigeria.
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!
FULL text of this tribute-commentary at USAfricaonline.com click link https://usafricaonline.com/2013/03/22/long-live-chinua-achebe-by-chido-nwangwu/
Mandela, others send tributes mourning Achebe
The death of the grand-father of modern African literature Prof. Chinua Achebe is drawing several messages from some of the world’s leaders, Nigeria’s president, his friends, contemporaries and writers.
A statement from the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa has been sent to the family of the late renowned writer Chinua Achebe. It conveyed, on behalf of the Chairperson, Board of Trustees and staff of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, “our condolences to the family of Prof. Chinua Achebe, a great African writer and thinker, who passed away on 21 March 2013 at the age of 82.”
Nelson Mandela, a friend of Achebe’s and an avid reader of his works, notably once referred to Prof. Achebe as a writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down” — a reference to Mandela’s 27 years in apartheid South Africa jail.
Both men are known for their principled positions on issues of justice, opposition to bigotry, discrimination and commitment to fairness to all persons and support for progressive pan Africanism. 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
Eight lessons of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. By Chido Nwangwu, Publisher of USAfrica multimedia networks, Houston. https://usafricaonline.com/2009/11/01/chido-8lessons-rwanda-genocide/