A world without Achebe Lessons from the graveyard | Independent Newspapers Limited
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A world without Achebe Lessons from the graveyard

Posted: Apr 5, 2015 at 12:37 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Yemi Adebisi Acting Head, Literary/Arts

Two years after his exit, the evergreen messages of the Eagle on Iroko, Professor Chinua Achebe remains a reference point to the nobles of this world.



Most of the legacies he left behind through his literature would forever serve as solution to the political arithmetic of most nations of the world.

He fought injustice and bad governance till death through his pen. He was also celebrated as a literary apostle of liberty and cultural hegemony.

He died inside the cold room of short stories, immortalising the great world of children literature and fiction.

Though the acclaimed father of African literature, Achebe started his educational career with the intention of becoming a world renowned medical doctor, as fate would have it, he captured his world with his rare skill as a famous writer par excelllence.

He was one of the few African writers that was adamant to his philosophies to death, without fear or favour, reminding the rulers about consequences of double standard and selfishness.

The incidence he narrated as a consequence of the publication of one of his novels, A Man of the People, stands as a reference to the doggedness of this great writer during the Nigeria’s first military coup.

“One Sunday morning I was telephoned from Broadcasting House and informed that armed soldiers who appeared drunk had come looking for me to test which was stronger, my pen or their gun. The offence of my pen was that it had written a novel called A Man of the People, a bitter satire on political corruption in an African country that resembled Nigeria.

“I wanted the novel to be a denunciation of the kind of independence that people were experiencing in post-colonial Nigeria and many other countries in the 1960s, and I intended it to scare my countrymen into good behaviour with a frightening cautionary tale. The best monster I could come up with was a military coup de’tat, which every sane Nigerian at the time knew was rather far-fetched. But life and art had got so entangled that season that the publication of the novel and Nigeria’s first military coup happened within two days of each other,” he recalled in an interview.

Claiming the reason behind his choice of ‘war’, he said Nigeria has not offered the best to justify her freedom from the colonial master going by the dividend of democracy.

“Our 1960 National Anthem, given to us as a parting gift by a British housewife in England, had called Nigeria ‘our sovereign motherland.’ The current anthem, put together by a committee of Nigerian intellectuals and actually worse than the first one, invokes the father image. But it has occurred to me that Nigeria is neither my mother nor my father. Nigeria is a child. Gifted, enormously talented, prodigiously endowed and incredibly wayward.”

What was Achebe’s continuous worry about Nigeria?

He answered this question few weeks before he passed away.

“Being a Nigerian is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting. I have said somewhere that in my next reincarnation I want to be a Nigerian again, but I have also, in a rather angry book called The Trouble with Nigeria, dismissed Nigerian travel advertisements with the suggestion that only a tourist with a kinky addiction to self-flagellation would pick Nigeria for a holiday. And I mean both.”

Since he could not finish the project of ‘rebranding Africa through literature,’ he handed over the baton to his literary disciples.

It is amazing that the only daughter that took after Achebe in the art of writing is Chinelo Achebe-Ejueyitche. She teaches and writes in New York, U.S., where she lives with her family. Her first book, The Last Laugh and Other Stories, was published by Heinemann in 1992. However, other children have proved to be the best in their various careers.

Chinua Achebe’s dream to become a medical doctor was never a waste after all. His second child, Chidi filled the gap with the latest world record he broke in the United States of America (USA).

He said, “In our family, several members have both science and art degrees or intersecting interests. Dad, as you know, started off in medicine and we can all be grateful that he ended up as a writer. My elder brother, Ike, holds a masters and a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge in the UK and another masters in Computer Sciences. My maternal uncle, the late Dr. Samuel Okoli (one of my mentors), was a UK trained physician, Obstetrician/Gynecologist, and apart from running a hospital in Lagos, also was deeply interested in the arts, music and literature.”

Died on Thursday March 21, 2013, at the age of 82 years, in Boston, Massachusetts, Achebe wrote many books including his first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart. Published in 1958 by William Heinemann Ltd in the United Kingdom (UK), the book, which has sold over 10 million copies and translated into more than 50 languages, was described as the most widely read book in modern African literature.

The legendary story teller, who was described by President Barrack Obama of the United States of America (USA) as a revolutionary author, educator and cultural ambassador, engraved his world with unquantifiable standard in the writing expedition.

“Achebe shattered the conventions of literature and shaped the collective identity of Nigerians throughout the world. With a dream of taking on misperceptions of his homeland, he gave voice to perspectives that cultivated understanding and drew our world closer together. His legacy will endure in the hearts of all whose lives he touched with the everlasting power of his art,” said Obama at his burial.

Growing up as a boy in Ogidi, following his birth on November 16, 1930, Achebe displayed a huge interest in traditional village events like the frequent masquerade ceremonies but had to move away from his family to Nekede, close to Owerri and there, he gained an appreciation for Mbari traditional art form which seeks to invoke protection of gods through symbolic sacrifices in the form of sculpture and collage.

In May, 1967, with the announcement of the Republic of Biafra, it was time of stress and disaster for Achebe and his young family. His partner, Christopher Okigbo, who volunteered to join the secessionist army while simultaneously working at the press, was later killed in the front line. Achebe’s house was bombed one afternoon while his wife had taken the children out on a visit to her sick mother. Shaken by the loss of his friend, fear from his family and sanity in the land, Achebe produced poems chronicling the time, most captured in the 1971 book, ‘Beware, Soul Brother’.

Personal secretary of the late Obafemi Awolowo and renowned Nigerian poet, Odia Ofeimun, described the late sage as a great loss to the world.

“Unlike Wole Soyinka, who we often argue with over various issues, we never argued with Achebe. It was when the world was ready to argue with him that he passed away. I mean Achebe was such a patriarch we wanted to take up in an argument but never waited. He gave us a very fine opportunity for fine argument. Seriously, he had done such a great work. We are glad we had an Achebe that could give us stories,” he said.