Of the ‘pioneer quartet’ of contemporary Nigerian literature, two voices have been silenced – one, of the poet Christopher Okigbo, and now, the novelist Chinua Achebe,” state J.P. Clark and Wole Soyinka, in a joint statement they issued following the death of renowned novelist, Chinua Achebe.
Achebe, Soyinka, Clark and Okigbo were four inseparable friends whom Achebe himself referred to in his controversial book, ‘There Was a Country.’ They were pioneer members of the Association of Nigeria Authors (ANA).
On one of their meetings in Lagos, which Achebe recounted in the book, how Clark told him the storyline in his book “‘A Man of the People’ is accurate except the coup. And like a prophet that the writer is, a coup later took place.”
This kind of visionary writing is what has set Achebe apart. It is for his contribution to the growth and development of modern Nigerian nay African literature that he was well celebrated in a week-long programme in Abuja, Enugu, and his hometown Ogidi, Anambra State, before he was laid to rest on Thursday.
To kick start the burial rite, last Tuesday Igbo socio-political think-tank, Aka Ikenga held a day of tributes for Achebe at Nigeria Institute for International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos.
It was an afternoon spiced with musical and poetry renditions in Igbo and English languages. At the forefront of the musical performance was the post-graduate class of Performing Arts Department, University of Lagos, with their rendition of several Igbo choral songs.
Professor Nnabuife’s rendition of elegiac poem in Igbo was quiet touching. He recited the poem in the classic manner of ancient griots. His performance was punctuated by an accompaniment of the local Igbo flute dextrously weaving in and out among the stanzas. The performance could best be described as a fitting funeral for the great wordsmith it was composed for, as it mourned the man and played up the havoc death wreaks on mankind, both great and small.
And as the performance progressed, the unmistakable ekwe sound favoured by Achebe in the second chapter of his famous novel, ‘Things Fall Apart’ joined the poetic rendition to further heighten the mournful tempo of the performance.
In his tribute, Arthur Mbanefo commended Achebe for his iconic status in letters that transcended Nigeria and Africa to the wider world. He said it was a thing of pride that Achebe, as an Igbo son, was acclaimed world-wide, and added that Nigerians should not lose sight of the values of integrity, humility and excellence that Achebe represented and transmitted in his works.
The burial rites of Achebe started with the arrival of his body at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Tuesday morning. The funeral rite climaxed with his interment. A service of songs was held in his honour at the airport before an Igbo traditional dance group performed outside the venue. After the brief service of song at the airport, the body was conveyed back into the Overland Airline jet and flown to Enugu before it was taken to Awka, the Anambra State capital, on Wednesday, where a reception was held for him at Amansea by a cross-section of Anambra people. This was later followed by a short service at the Alex Ekwueme Square in Awka.
Earlier, a symposium was organised in his honour at the International Convention Centre, Abuja, by the ANA. The event was a gathering of eminent scholars who examined the place of Achebe’s works in the canon of world literature. A memorial symposium lecture was delivered by an Achebe scholar, Umelo Ojinmah, a professor at Nassarawa State University, Keffi, on the topic, ‘Swan Song on Iroko: The Life, Times and Work of Chinua Achebe: The Lessons for Nigeria.’
The professor spoke against arm-chair critics of his latest work, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, saying they largely missed the point of Achebe’s argument for a better Nigeria. Olu Obafemi and Chimajum Nwankwo of Turkish Nile University, Abuja, discussed the paper.
Also, ANA president and professor of literature, Remi Raji-Oyelade, also brought up some facts about Achebe that were easily forgotten. He pointed out that Achebe was named emeritus professor in 1985 at Nsukka and that he was not just a teacher, but a professor of professors, a man that could be regarded as a bulwark of Nigeria.
Also, while many remember Achebe for turning down two national awards, Raji-Oyelade reminded his audience that Achebe did not reject the honour that he truly earned for his hard work, the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM). Raji-Oyelade called on Nigeria government to recover the manuscript of ‘Things Fall Apart’ that is currently domiciled in Cameroon.