Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Man of the People-An Eulogy of A Legend.

One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised
-Sir Chinua Achebe,
Renowned Author and Critic.

Chinualumogu Albert Achebe, born on the 16th day of November, 1930, until 21st March 2013, was one of the greatest writers that ever walked the face of this earth. From the eastern town of Ogidiin Anambra State, Nigeria, he truly was one of the true evidences that Nigeria was the Giant of Africa. Popular author of the infamous novel, Things Fall Apart, a work that in part led to his being called the ‘patriarch of the African novel’, has won him so many laurels among them the Man Booker International Prize (2007) and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2010). He has also received honorary degrees from more than 30 universities around the world.
After he was educated (in English) at the University of Ibadan, Achebe taught briefly before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) as director of external broadcasting (1961–1966).Just prior to joining NBC, Achebe saw his first novel published, 1958’s Things Fall Apart. The groundbreaking novel centers on the cultural clash between native African culture and the traditional white culture of missionaries and the colonial government in place in Nigeria. An unflinching look at the discord, the book was a startling success and has become required reading in many schools across the world.
The 1960s proved to be a creatively fertile period for Achebe, and he wrote the novels No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964) and A Man of the People (1966), all of which address the issue of traditional ways of life coming into conflict with new, often colonial, points of view. (Anthills of the Savannah [1987] took on a similar theme.)The 1960s also marked Achebe’s wedding to Christie Chinwe Okoli in 1961, producing four children.
When he returned to Nigeria from the United States, Achebe became a research fellow and later a professor of English (1976–1981) at the University of Nigeria. During this time he also served as director of two Nigerian publishing houses, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd. and Nwankwo-Ifejika Ltd.
On the writing front, the 1970s proved equally productive, and Achebe published several collections of short stories and a children’s book, How the Leopard Got His Claws (1973). Also coming out at this time were Beware, Soul-Brother (1971) and Christmas in Biafra (1973), both poetry collections, and Achebe’s first book of essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975). While back in the United States in 1975, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Achebe gave a lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness,” in which Achebe asserted that Conrad's famous novel dehumanizes Africans. The work referred to Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist,” and, when published in essay form, it went on to become a seminal postcolonial African work.
It is clear that his love for his culture and his country was unshakeable. He was always just as quick to criticize as to praise his country in good or bad times. Even outside his beloved country, he was known as a proud patriot.
He lived in America since he suffered a terrible car accident in 1990, which left him paralysed from the waist down and in a wheelchair. His medical needs could not be served in Nigeria at present.But he always said "I do miss Nigeria, which is very strange because when I am here, we are constantly quarrelling."
His passion showed when he began writing in the 1950s when much of Africa was preparing for independence from British and French imperial rule. He was inspired to write when he realised that Africa's story was being told by outsiders, writers like Joseph Conrad and Joyce Cary whose descriptions of Africans he found offensive.
His selfless nature was shown when he was determined to tell the story of his own people. But he did not at first write about the struggle for freedom that was going on around him.
Instead, he says he wanted to understand "why it happened in the first place".
"Why did my parents leave their religion and become Christians... why did those people lose their independence?"
His father was a Christian convert and missionary, but his great uncle was a keeper of the shrine to traditional gods.
Late Mr Achebe was one of the last generations of Africans who heard first-hand from their elders what life was like before the white man came. That is what made his stories so vivid.
His high level of discipline was portrayed In “Trouble with Nigeria”, where he wrote that "there is indeed no better place to observe the thrusting indiscipline of Nigerian behaviour than on the roads: frenetic energy, rudeness, noisiness".
He described their indifference to safety as of "truly psychiatric proportions" and complained of convoys of VIPs travelling with police escorts becoming a "childish and cacophonous instrument for the celebration of status... a medieval chieftain's progress complete with magicians and acrobats chasing citizens out of the way".
Yet he was forced to travel just like that to reach his home state in south-east Nigeria.
His optimistic nature on the issue of development of Nigeria was as steadfast as his belief in its people. He once delivered a lecture at Owerri, the regional capital of Igbo land where more than 2,000 people turned out to listen to him.
He spoke to them in a slow, gentle but strong voice. His message was clear. He is deeply disappointed at how little Nigeria has achieved since independence.
His generation struggled for freedom, but "we don't seem to have the receipt", he said.
Nigerians must "overcome that ‘miseducation’ that we received under colonial rule... and celebrate our lives".
He believed that Africans must not reject their own culture but look to their past to discover values that will enable Africa to develop now.
On maintaining the Igbo language, his mother tongue, Achebe, who was very critical of colonialism and its aftermath in Africa, explained that he himself writes in English because he is a victim of linguistic colonialism.
But he added that he felt it was important not to "lose sight of the need for our mother tongue."
"The situation may well develop in the future, in which the different languages of Africa will begin to reassert themselves," he added.
"I have made provision for that myself, by writing certain kinds of material in Igbo. For instance, I will insist my poetry is translated back into Igbo while I'm still around."
He insisted that he wrote in English not to attract a wide international audience, but simply because he had been educated in English.
But he added that his use of English was inspired by his Igbo background.
"When I'm writing in English, Igbo is standing next to it," he added.
"I have therefore developed, I think, this possibly, in which these two languages are in communion.
"I hope I have shown it is possible, in these two languages, to show respect to English and Igbo together." 
His selflessness and contentment was never overemphasized as he humbly declined the Nigerian government's attempt to name him a Commander of the Federal Republic.
This is the second time the Nigerian author has rejected the Nigerian national honour, after he initially refused it in 2004. Achebe issued a statement to Nigerian press to say that he was turning down the award because "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 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," he wrote.
"Forty-three years ago, at the first anniversary of Nigeria's independence I was given the first Nigerian National Trophy for Literature. In 1979, I received two further honours – the Nigerian National Order of Merit and the Order of the Federal Republic – and in 1999 the first National Creativity Award. I accepted all these honours 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 honour awarded me in the 2004 Honours List."
Nigeria's current president, Goodluck Jonathan, called Achebe's refusal of this year's award "a regrettable decision which may have been borne out of misinformation as to the true state of affairs in Nigeria". In a statement, published in full in Nigerian newspaper the Nation, he expressed his hope that Achebe "will find time to visit home soon and see the progress being made by the Jonathan Administration for himself".
"Professor Achebe remains in President Jonathan's consideration a national icon, a Nigerian of high attainments, indeed one of the greatest living Africans of our time."
This great icon would always be remembered for the books he has written which have touched the lives of many, given hopes to the hopeless, beliefs to the unbelievers and knowledge to the ignorant. The most famous, Things Fall Apart, remains the most translated piece of African literature, with over 50 translations and 80,000,000 copies sold worldwide. To have read Things Fall Apart between the experimental ages of eleven and fourteen is marveling. Its psychological firmness, using the Igbo culture as a premise for demystifying the ideology cemented by the racist colonialists that Africans were a lost and hopeless race, was not something my young mind could grapple with and understand. The world to me was simple and straightforward — humanity was good, progressive and supportive of each other.Achebe was a moral and literary model for countless Africans and a profound influence on such American writers as Morrison, Ha Jin and Junot Diaz.
He wouldn’t be forgotten in haste due to his help in defining revolutionary change in his country, from independence to dictatorship to the disastrous war between Nigeria and the breakaway country of Biafra in the late 1960s. He knew both the prestige of serving on government commissions and the fear of being declared an enemy of the state. 
I will always describe him as a person of modest abilities. In reality he was a colossus. He was our hero. He brought fame to our country. I admired his achievements and the great international respect in which he was held.
But above all, I loved him for what he represented – a determination to succeed against the odds, humility, an innate sense of fair play, and a tremendous sense of service to the community, at home and abroad.
Sir Chinua Achebe’s extraordinary life has been an inspiration to our small nation and to many beyond our shores.
As individuals, we may not be able to match his imaginations and thoughts, his values were strong; they are timeless; and they will endure.
May God grant us the fortitude to bear this great loss...
May His Gentle soul, and all that it stood for, rest in peace.

By: Iweanya Chika


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