Tuesday, 25 November 2014 18:33

On Chinua Achebe

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I am very proud of Chinua Achebe; he was a pioneer and put our Igbo name on the world’s literary map. However, as a reviewer of books I must be objective and impersonal in saying something about writers’ works; I cannot allow my personal feelings to color what I say about their writings. Thus, where necessary I must say what seems not laudatory for Brother Albert. One had to first write books for other folks to criticize one; for writing books I am proud of Achebe.

Owerri folks say that if you want to hear the truth said about people that you should listen to what either mad men or fools say about them. Why?

Mad men have no desire to be liked by society so they say what they see. Fools seem not aware that their utterances have social cost for them; they are not aware that people have prideful egos and if you rob them on the wrong side they feel angry and come at you trying to take you down.

English kings used to have fools (clowns) around them for the sole purpose of having them tell them the truth that their sycophantic, social climbing advisors would not dare tell them least they lose their jobs and heads.

Clearly, I am a fool for I tend to say things as I see them and in the process make enemies.  In that light, knowing that Achebe is the first writer of note (actually, Cyprian Ekwensi was; Ekwensi was a much better writer than Achebe) that Igbos produced, an icon of Igbos hence Igbos are proud of him and anyone who said critical things about him would be hated by Igbos, I said what I felt was true about Chinua Achebe and, as expected, obtained Igbos wrath; many of them came at me with their rusted swords, stabbing wherever they thought that I was but since I was not there they could not hurt me.

I said that Achebe is just a fifteen year old boy in an adult’s body and that his educational level is no more than good secondary school. He was lucky to have attended Government Secondary School at Umuahia during the colonial period. The teachers at that school were mostly white and did their jobs professionally, as opposed to Nigerian teachers who do not give a damn about their job. Achebe obtained first rate secondary school education, perhaps, as good as one would obtain at Eaton or Harrow or Rugby in England. He then attended the University of Ibadan and studied English and can be said to have understood the English language.

The man’s reading list did not expand beyond what one would expect in secondary school. He read folks like the Irish writer, Yeats and borrowed his phrase,” Things Fall Apart and...The center cannot hold” and used it to write his first and only good novelette, Things Fall Apart.

In Things fall Apart, Achebe narrated what happened to his grandfather, Okonkwo as he tried to deal with the incursion of white men into his world. In other writings he dwelled on the same theme, the encounter between the West and Igbo society (No longer at ease, for example).

In The man of the people, Achebe talked about how poverty led Igbo politicians to seek bribery. His causal analysis, at best, is infantile, for Igbos were corrupt before the white man came to their world;  the Warrant chiefs appointed by Lugard were as corrupt as corrupt can be; Igbos became corrupt when they captured their people and sold them to slavery.

To the present Igbos are a corrupt people and so are other Nigerians and Africans; it will probably take, at least, five hundred years of moral retraining to transform Africans to moral  human beings; in the present they are mostly thieves and that is reflected in their thieving governments.

Achebe was a writer with limited range of knowledge; his writing appealed to secondary school boys, as it appealed to me in class one and two but thereafter I found him tedious and, instead, read more intellectual writers, who, unfortunately, were white folk (by class three, such writers as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Dryden, Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austin, Walter Scott, George Elliot, Gorge Orwell, Mark Twain, Eugene O’Neal and others were my staple reading).

Achebe having gained some notoriety from penning books fit for children (those under age 13) thereafter embarked on criticizing Nigerian leaders.

Please note that he seldom criticized the white rulers of Nigeria, as he should have done if he had expanded his horizon by reading about colonialism and history in general. The man railed against our first leaders.

He did not take the trouble to read up on leadership and understand what constitutes leadership. To do so would have meant that he should have returned to school and taken classes at any business school and had a master’s degree in business administration. He would have learned about management, leadership and allied supporting subjects like human resources, finance, accounting, labor relations etc. The man was simply uninformed on the mechanics of leadership and merely ejaculated rubbish on Nigerian leaders so- called poor performance.

Achebe was an idealist; he believed that his real self is no good and rejected it; he then used pure mentation to construct an idealized self and identified with that ideal, perfect self. The ideal, perfect self is a fantasy, not real but he wanted to be him nevertheless. The ideal self has ideal standards. Identifying with the ideal self and its perfect standards, Achebe used the ideal standards to judge his fellow Nigerians.

If you judge any one with imaginary ideal standards he would not measure up. Achebe judged Nigerian leaders with other worldly, perfect standards of behavior and they did not measure up. He felt frustrated by what seems to him bad leadership in Nigeria and ranted against it.  He was like a school boy ranting against the adults in his life but was not adult to know about the limitations nature imposed on human behavior.

As long as people live in bodies, are made of flesh and blood they cannot be perfect. Perfection is only possible outside the human body, in spirit, if spirit exists.

Achebe was a neurotic; actually, he had paranoid tendencies; he exhibited traits of delusion disorder but not of significant quality to warrant that diagnosis.

Achebe was very sensitive; any criticism of him was intolerable for him; he wanted only praises and did not like criticism. He saw criticism as belittling his grandiose self-concept; he feared humiliation, belittlement, and being degraded, all traits found in paranoid personalities. He was suspicious and did not trust anybody; he felt that Nigerians are persecuting him and those he identified with, Igbos. These are all symptoms of paranoid personality disorder.

As a result of the 1966 military coup and the killing of Igbos in other parts of Nigeria, Ojukwu declared secession from Nigeria. Achebe believed that Ojukwu had a chance to bring about the ideal society he yearned for. Thus, he threw his support to Ojukwu and was his ambassador at large. He hoped that Biafra would succeed and bring about the ideal governance and polity in Africa he desired.

Unfortunately, Biafra was defeated by the savages from Northern Nigeria and Igbos returned to the fold of the benighted. Achebe felt demoralized. He fled from the country and parked his behind at any American university that was kind enough to hire a man with only a bachelor’s degree to teach African studies.

Achebe did not study the psychology of his time, which was psychoanalysis (psychology has since moved on to behaviorism and today is mostly biological in its etiological explanation of human behavior). If he had bothered to study, say, Freud, Adler and Jung, Horney, Fromm etc. he would have gained some useful insights into human nature and would have written differently; perhaps, he would have penned mature novels?  He most probably would have moderated his overly idealistic criticism of the rulers of Nigeria’s first republic, rulers who had no prior experience in governing since the white man was governing their world when they grew up.

The mistakes of Nigeria’s first republic rulers were totally understandable if looked at from the context of their lack of leadership experience in a colonial world where Africans were shut out of governance.  Africans had no opportunity to learn leadership skills in colonized Africa.

Achebe could have had some understanding of his muddling brothers and would not have been as severe and merciless in his criticisms of their leadership behaviors.

Wide reading would have moderated Achebe’s idealism; he would have learned that human beings can never become perfect and that comparing them to ideal pictures of who they should be is unrealistic and childish.

Adult people accept human beings as they are, imperfect and do not expect them to be angels. Achebe never attained adult status; he was emotionally retarded at adolescent level of development; being developmentally arrested he took his infantile idealism as reality.  This is sad but such is the story of men; some people grow up and many don’t.

It would have also helped if Achebe cared to improve his understanding of phenomena by reading up on philosophy and science. Reading his books one feels that he is a clod and that he had not read up on Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Pascal, Hume, Berkeley, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson and William James.  He, apparently, did not care to read up on science and know what was going on in classical and new physics (Einstein’s special and general relativity, quantum mechanics). The man’s writing simply did not convey the impression that he was well read; his writing is what one would expect from a secondary school boy turned writer. He does not appeal to adults but to children; this is the God honest truth about the man and his writing.

Here is the lowdown on Nigerian leadership. To the present Nigerian leaders are doing what they have to do, what is in their ability to do; they cannot do better; they are reflecting the lack of education and advanced culture of the people they rule.

You do not expect Churchill like leadership behavior in semi savages who have not even learned to read and write.

Consider Goodluck Jonathan, what is he but a poorly educated boy doing his best but his best is not good enough; he is simply in above his head but there is no better alternative to him. His cohorts are all like him in their developmental attainment.

Buhari who appears disciplined has his own baggage; he supports Sharia law and would impose that Arab Muslim nonsense on all Nigerians. If he did so that would bring about such social upheaval in Nigeria that Afghanistan would be child’s play.

The relevant point I am trying to make is that some of the criticisms directed at the first republic’s leaders by folks like Achebe, Soyinka and Chike Obi were misplaced; they assumed that the leaders could do better than they did; they could not!

Soyinka is a middling writer; he has actually read many books and those are reflected in his convoluted and highfalutin writing that ends up saying little of significance.  He is not a very thoughtful man and cannot be expected to proffer educated criticism of Nigerian leaders.

The brother berating the criticizers of the first republic’s leaders has some useful insights. Unfortunately, his writing is marred by a tendency to abusing people, calling people un-printable derogatory names. Apparently, he enjoys putting folks down; doing so probably makes him seem superior to those he is deprecating.

Such behavior is seen in inferior feeling folks who want to seem superior to other people and somehow believe that insulting folks makes them superior.

No, insulting folks makes one an inferior person! Civilized persons respect all human beings. Civilized persons engage in social discourse respectfully.

We can ignore the brother’s penchant for insulting people and accept his insights into what constitutes good leadership. As Owerri folks say, mad men tell the truth; there is method in the brother’s madness; despite himself, he told the truth although it is obvious that he has psychological issues that he needs to attend to. He needs to learn to respect all people and not think that it is kind of cute to insult whoever he disagrees with.

Having said some unkind stuff about the brother, I sort of expect him to rant and rage against me, put me down to feel superior to me.

He must learn that no human being is ever superior to others. If he respects all people and writes as he does he might make some useful contribution to our social discourse. 

Ozodi is kind of like Achebe; he is a more educated version of him; he is not merely projecting what he sees in him, and denies, to Achebe; he knows that those things are in him; he has studied them and understood how they work in writers and thinkers. Achebe was obstructed by his lack of insight into his personality; he had little or no understanding of why he did what he did. In some of his writings he showed self- hatred without realizing that he did so. For example, he made Okonkwo kill his step son, Ikemefuna, thus appearing like a savage; the least he could have done, if he really had to make the point that Igbo villagers expect ransomed children to be killed, is having another man kill Ikemefuna, not his step father; he made Okonkwo behave worse than one would expect in New Guinea head hunting savages. Achebe insulted the very Igbos he pretended to be representing without knowing that he did so! Future generations of Igbos who are more aware of human psychology probably would be ashamed of Achebe’s books and could hide them from the public?


Ozodi Osuji

November 24, 2014

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: ozodiosuji@gmail.com (907) 310-8176