Today, Chinualumogu Albert Achebe will be buried in his hometown, Ogidi in Anambra State. Achebe was, no doubt, a great patriot, an intellectual asset who will be remembered for his legacy of humility, integrity, dignity and honour which he bequeathed to Nigeria, the African continent and to the international human community through his literary skills, as he struggled to enthrone true federalism, rule of law, equity, justice and fair play while alive.
Achebe, a father of modern African writing, was an activist who spoke against injustice and corruption, a role model to generations of writers, whose works inspired many and paved way for the emergence of a vibrant literary life. We will surely miss this monumental scholar, prolific writer and ambassador, whose adorable footprints would forever be appreciated.
Achebe was an embodiment of greatness, an iconic figure, a nation’s pride, a rare human-being, a man of moral consciousness, a strong thinker, and Africa’s genius. His world-acclaimed 1958 novel Things Fall Apart is said to have sold over 12 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 languages. The book, a critique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, is today recognised as one of the most generative interventions that opened the social study of literary texts, particularly the impact of power relations on 20th century literary imagination. Though initially turned down by several publishers, the book was finally accepted by Heinemann and its initial review in The New York Times ran less than 500 words, but the novel soon became among the most important books of the last century.
But Achebe’s other literary works are also outstanding. For instance, No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), Anthills of the Savannah (1987), and his numerous short stories, poems and critical essays are truly inspiring in the continent’s literary firmament.
Achebe was also outstanding for his substantial and monumental investments in the building of literary arts institutions. As the founding editor of the Heinemann African Writers Series, he contributed to the editing of over one 100 titles in it, as well as the University of Nigeria, Nsukka journal, Nsukkascope. He equally founded Okike: A Nigerian Journal of New Writing.
Achebe’s recent book, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra – aptly described by The New York Times as “classic” – not only recounts his experiences of the ethnic genocide against the Igbo, but the deliberate effort to exclude his ethnic people from the running of the affairs of the nation of which they constitute about one-third of its populace. In the book – which incurred the wrath of Awoists and other apologists who believe that Achebe was not being sincere but unnecessarily harsh on the Southwest, and particularly Obafemi Awolowo, at the expense of dishing out ‘balanced story’ – he unrepentantly narrated to the world his personal experience in the civil war and how to make amends if we are to remain as one nation.
Achebe’s global significance lies in his talent and recognition as a writer, a critical thinker, philosopher and essayist who had written extensively on the questions bordering on the role of culture in Africa, the social and political significance of aesthetics and analysis of the post-colonial states for future developments. Today, the reality of Achebe’s struggle is clearly a manifestation of how the wealth of the nation is being fleeced by a rotten leadership and political class that cares not for the common good. And what do we have now? Brutish, lawless and disorderly African nations – with repugnant cultures of callousness, irresponsibility, of ethnic jingoism and tribal hatred; where truth is portrayed as falsehood and falsehood as truth depending on who is saying it or where the discordant tune is sounding from.
The poet, prophet and sage always spoke truth to power till the end, no matter whose feelings were hurt. He unrepentantly believed that the power and greatness of Nigeria, and indeed Africa, can only become a reality when the nations bury their tumultuous past, make a sincere decision to live in peace again and embrace genuine efforts at re-integrating all peoples.
Achebe was a man of excellence who had a touch of excellence in all he did. He was our cultural ambassador, an advocate for good governance and social justice. He gave us hope. He was phenomenal. He lent his voice to the voiceless and his words to inspiring stories that restored dignity to our continent. His indomitable spirit championed his quest for justice in a nation that is blessed but has chosen to squander its greatness and glory on the altar of tribalism, political acrimony, religious intolerance, ethnic hatred and bad leadership.
Achebe, as an African intellectual, was perfectly placed to ask the important questions about why so few of the newly independent nations became successful. Nigeria, he argues, has people of great quality but its chaotic, shambolic, corrupt society is unfortunately ‘a great disappointment’. In The Trouble with Nigeria, he professes that the only trouble with Nigeria is the failure of leadership, because with good leaders, Nigeria could resolve its inherent problems such as socio-economic stagnation, backwardness, nepotism, lack of patriotism, social injustice and the cult of mediocrity, indolence, indiscipline and corruption.
And now, the powers that be shed crocodile tears over Achebe’s demise, but they were the same forces who failed to provide good roads, which led to the car accident that physically incapacitated Achebe thereby necessitating his self-exile to the USA. There, he sought and received the best of healthcare that sustained him several years after the fatal car crash.
Achebe’s patriotism was unquestionable. At every stage of his adult life he deployed his skills and knowledge fully to national integration at a time when such qualities were rare among many of his contemporaries.
Though the patriotic call by all and sundry for the Federal Government to appreciate Achebe – by naming a national monument after him, giving him a state burial and placing his image on Nigerian stamps and currency, among others – are a welcome development, we should realise that with his works, Achebe has already written his name in gold. What we could only do more is to live his worthy ideology and philosophy. In doing this, we should also create a more conducive environment for literary excellence, provide support to our emerging icons, encourage reading culture and, most importantly, nurture good leadership. That is how to truly immortalise Chinua Achebe and make him rest in perfect peace
Kupoluyi writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta
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