Posted: March 22, 2013 - 21:25
I read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart for the first time in 2008. As a child, I had watched the movie on Nigerian Television and experienced nightmares for months afterwards. The screams of Ikemefuna as he was being sacrificed stayed with me for years. For subsequent re-runs of the movie, I would flee the sitting room at exactly 8:28 p.m., two minutes before the melancholic opening dirge massaged the image to reality in my young mind. As I write, I can still see that haunting picture clearly; of Okonkwo unsheathing his machete as Ikemefuna ran to him for protection calling him “Nna anyi”. I would grow up to search out and read most of Pa Achebe’s work but never Things Fall Apart. I felt that I could not emotionally handle the book.
When in 2008 I got information that Pa Achebe was coming to the Library of Congress (my backyard, then) on occasion of the 50th anniversary of Things Fall Apart, I knew I had stepped beyond the borders of reason in evading the book. I decided that I would rather check myself into psychiatry than enter that meeting armed with only the nightmarish clip of a movie etched in my subconscious.
So I read Thing Fall Apart. In the place of my childhood nightmares, Things Fall Apart the book, left me with wounds. Each sentence I read tore at my soul like a barbed wire on the feet of a trespasser. I felt as if I was trespassing an era that forbade my kind; an era I could not account for; an era that should belong to my history and narrative, but for which I was declared an illegal occupier owing to my ignorance. Questions festered like wounds deep within my soul. I asked myself what, as a human being, I was doing to myself, for myself, to Africa and for Africa. I became afraid of myself and for myself. Fear clutched my soul for the many whose immediate post-natal reality brought to them the realization of their Africanness. I tossed and turned on my bed as I searched my soul for a glimpse of a reality that existed in Things Fall Apart, but which was alien to my existence. “You are living a false life. You are trying to be something you are not. You have been trying to be that for a very long time. Until you change, unless you change, except you change, you will keep striving fruitlessly to be, to belong, to become, until exhausted you fall by the wayside.” That was the only reality my soul could offer in return.
We as a people, as Africans, have been striving so hard to do things we have been told to do by others. We have been begging, apologizing, and regretting our authenticity for so many years. Things Fall Apart brought us face to face with our own story for the first time ever in the history of modern writing. It barely scratched the surface, but it opened the doors in the hearts of many other African writers to start telling their stories. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Ayi Kwei Armah, and others.
However, these writers wrote and were published widely, mostly because the western world, intrigued by Things Fall Apart wanted to read more stories from the “Dark Continent”. Soon, the west would lose interest; this was sometimes in the 80s and 90s. In accordance with our overriding followership temperament, several African writers lost interest in writing authentic African stories. Instead, they placed besides their writing pads, writing manuals from English teachers who with invisible canes, bulala or koboko, purged them of their rich African proverbs, syntax, expressions and mannerisms. Writing among Africans became a show of shame, a humiliating race for who can write better English than the English. It ceased, for the most part, to be about who best can capture the realities of Africans, as close as possible to the way it is. African writers began to light the midnight candle of western expositions in their desperation to get published. And yet publishers snubbed and rejected them in thousands. It must be in the name, some writers thought. So Chinedu Udemueze became Chris Dealy, Akinfolu Adefarasin became Archer Dickson, Kwame Atularke became Cane Tulane. But still, the publishers would not be deceived, they would rather publish one of their kind.
Unfortunately, much of those who were published in the 60s and 70s were lured to the west to teach in the universities. There they were provided with the comforts of life in order to teach Americans and Europeans how to glean the African’s soul and society and write on his behalf. As a result, a huge mentorship gap befell those young Africans back home whose chests were heavy with untold stories.
But there is good news. Although that mentorship gap has not yet been closed, something else is happening to young African writers of this digital age. There is a new song rising out of the continent of Africa. The song is fading-in. It is not loud in the public hearing yet – it need not be. The song is loud and echoing in the hearts and minds of several Africans who have felt insulted enough for being themselves. Its octane rises above the taunts of prim and proper English syntax and the American way of doing things. From the streets, young women and men are placing fingers on the keyboard to express themselves and to publish their thoughts sans the judgments of ill-informed and often ignorant foreigners. There is a growing renaissance of authentic African expressions. In our music African voices are being heard. In the movies, more and more Africans will rather go for their own production than that of foreigners.
In African writing , writers – those who know – are no longer impressed by big, big grammar and superimposed, “modern” realities. The modern is being redefined as simply change in the direction of progress, based on locally sourced and easily available materials. In a short while, our academic institutions will catch the fire, the curricula will be overhauled to reflect our reality and to herald spontaneity of thought and speech, the harbinger of creativity and innovation.
Pa Achebe has made a graceful exit. He must have rejoiced to have seen the internet blossom. For it pained him – he said as much in interviews - that not enough authentic stories are coming out of Africa. The internet as a medium has finally detached the muzzle previously placed upon the mouth of Africans who have something concrete and worthwhile to say. It is a thing of joy that Pa Achebe lived to see the liberalization of communication, the emergence of a platform that is wide open for anyone who wishes to utilize it to project his or her deepest convictions and progressive thoughts about the continent . We thank Pa Achebe for instilling the fear of things falling apart within us and around us. We are now being led to make valid and authentic choices for our progress regardless of so-called “global structures”. We have begun the journey and we shall complete it. Ka chi foo, Nna anyi ukwu. Jee ofuma.
Chika Ezeanya is the author of Penguin Publishers Award for African Writing Shortlisted Before We Set Sail www.beforewesetsail.com. She blogs at www.chikaforafrica.com
Following here also is another tribute well crafted by Prof. Okey Ndibe whose personal experiences with Prof. Chinua Achebe ushers in a deep significant feel of the man, Achebe, from University of Nigeria Nsuka, USA and others. You will surely enjoy reading this.
Chinua Achebe: A Legend and Master Storyteller By Okey Ndibe
The death last night of Professor Chinua Achebe meant the dimming of one of the world’s brightest literary stars. Yet Mr. Achebe, whose works included the inimitable Things Fall Apart and four other highly celebrated novels as well as four collections of essays, a short story collection, several children’s books and last year’s widely debated memoir, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, was in person one of the most approachable men I ever met. His personal modesty sometimes masked the fact he was a writer of such staggering talent, ambitious range, and intellectual power. His surpassing gifts as a writer as well as his admirable personal attributes will combine to make him – one can confidently predict – an imperishable presence in global letters and life.
I had the rare honor and luck of being close to the revered Achebe for some thirty years. In that time, he was an inspiration, model, beacon of moral clarity and intellectual integrity as well as my teacher in the best, broadest sense of that word.
I first met Achebe when I was a young journalist at the now defunct African Concord magazine. My first major assignment was to interview him at his office then at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The encounter taught me something about the man’s genial and generous nature—and the depth of his humanity. I will get to that first encounter later, but must recall a more recent memory.
Five years ago, I drove from my home in central Connecticut to the quiescent country precincts of Annandale-on-Hudson to visit Chinua Achebe, who then held a prestigious endowed professorial chair at Bard College and whose novel Things Fall Apart was enjoying a cheery 50th anniversary. Achebe's self-effacing, soft-spoken personality was always in ironic contrast with the exuberant celebration that erupted around his first – and most widely read and translated – novel. I was in his home to coax him to look back on 50 years of his book's extraordinary journey. Achebe disclosed that I was one of perhaps more than a hundred interviewers he'd hosted that year. Even so, I dared convince myself that there was something special about my interview with him. Let me explain.
I had interviewed Achebe several times in the past – first in 1983, when I was a rookie correspondent for the now defunct African Concord, the last time in 1987, shortly after the publication of his latest novel, Anthills of the Savannah. That first interview set a mood for my relationship with the author. Quite simply, he saved my career.
I met Achebe by sheer serendipity. It was 1983 and I had just graduated from college. Visiting Ogidi, his hometown, to see my girlfriend at the time, I raved and raved about Achebe and Things Fall Apart. The young woman listened for a while, a bemused smile creasing her cheeks. Then she said: "Achebe is my uncle. His house is a short walk away. And he happens to be home this weekend. Do you want to visit him?" Did I ever!
The Achebe I met in his country home personified grace. I still remember that he served us biscuits and chilled Coca Cola. He regarded me with penetrating eyes as I gushed about his novels, his short stories, his essays, even reciting favorite lines I had memorized from years of devoted reading. I told him I had just got a job with the Concord and would be honored to interview him. He gave me his telephone number at Nsukka, the university town where he lived and ran the Institute of African Studies. A week later I flew to Lagos, reported for work, and told the weekly magazine's editor that I had Achebe's telephone number – and a standing commitment that he would give me an interview. Elated, the editor dispatched me on the assignment. It was my first real task as a correspondent.
Achebe and I retreated to his book-lined office at the institute. The air in the office seemed flavored with the scent of books stretching and heaving. Five minutes into the interview I paused and rewound the tape. The recording sounded fine and our interview continued for another two hours. Afterwards Achebe told me it was one of the most exhaustive interviews he'd ever done. I took leave of him and, heady with excitement, took a cab to the local bus stop where I paid the fare for a bus headed for Enugu – the state capital where I had booked a hotel.
That evening several of my friends gathered in my hotel room. They asked questions about Achebe, and then said they wanted to hear his voice. Happy to oblige them, I fetched the tape recorder and pressed its play button. We waited – not a word! I put in two other tapes, the same futile result. How was I going to explain this mishap to my editor who had scheduled the interview as a forthcoming cover?
I phoned Achebe’s home in panic. In a desperate tone I begged that he let me return the next day for a short retake. "Thirty minutes – even twenty – would do," I pleaded. I half-expected him to scold me for lack of professional fastidiousness and hang up, leaving me to stew in my distress. Instead he calmly explained that he had commitments for the next day. If I could return the day after, he'd be delighted to grant me another interview. And he gave me permission to make the next session as elaborate as the first.
Two days later we were back in his office for my second chance. This time I paused every few minutes to check on the equipment. I stretched the interview to an hour-and-a-half before guilt – mixed with gratitude – compelled me to stop. It was not as exhaustive as the first outing, nor did it have the spontaneity of our first interview, but it gave me – and the readers of the magazine – a prized harvest. My friends got a chance to savor Achebe's voice, with its mix of faint lisps and accentuated locutions.
That interview happened thirty years ago. It had been followed by several other encounters with Achebe, but it still stands out in my mind. I had admired the man from a distance, in awe of his extraordinary powers as a writer. After he saved my career, I was inspired by his uncommon generosity.
I was so impressed by Achebe’s example that I became something of a lifelong student of his work, my PhD dissertation focusing partly on his deployment of history and memory in his writing.
In 2009, Brown University lured Achebe away from Bard College, scoring a major transfer of intellectual assets. At the Ivy League Brown, Achebe assumed the chair of the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor of Africana Studies and Literary Arts. With his blessing, Brown University also invited me to take up a visiting appointment.
Achebe was a widely honored and highly decorated writer, winning some of the most prestigious literary prizes, including the Man Booker for the sustained excellence of his oeuvre. In 2010, he was awarded the Gish Prize, established in 1994 as a bequest of two sisters, Dorothy and Lillian. The $300,000 prize is bestowed each year on “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Part of Achebe’s particular contribution was his insistence to speak courageously to power, to bear truthful witness. His genius lay also, I suggest, in his signature clarity of language and brevity of utterance. He did not seek to confound. And he respected language too much to indulge in superfluity. Among us lived a man who for eighty-two years never wasted a word!
The sentiment behind the Gish Prize sums up, for me, the essence of Achebe the man, writer and citizen. He strove in his own quiet, stubborn way to make the world more beautiful. I was blessed to have known him at close quarters, ennobled by his extraordinary example as a writer and human, and ever indebted for the opportunity to learn at his feet.
Okey Ndibe, a visiting professor of Africana literature at Brown University, is the author of the novel Arrows of Rain and the forthcoming novel foreign gods inc.
Yet here is an on-going reading in this column by Sonala Olumhense and I think is standing out as a good tribute to share.
By Sonala Olumhense
I join the world in bidding Chinua Achebe the wordsmith we lost nine days ago, goodbye.
Several things distinguished this famous Nigerian. The best-known and most celebrated was his ability to tell a compelling story. When Achebe told you a story, you became his messenger, re-telling that story in one way or another forever.
That magic was Achebe’s passport to travel through time and space. Using it, as we all came to know, he sold himself to the world, eliminating any need to repeat his name or to raise his voice that he may be heard. When he cleared his throat to speak to a crowd, Achebe did not need a microphone: the crowd fell into silence so deep it was almost in a trance, raising his roof to the rafters.
But he was not your normal storyteller in the tradition of a circus performer whose entertainment ended when you left for home. That was why, if you were not sufficiently careful, you missed the most important truth about Achebe: he was a man who dispensed fiction so he could disburse truth.
That, I am certain will become clear when he is laid to rest and men and women of all kinds try to claim a part of him for themselves in the words of a decent goodbye.
To say goodbye, especially in a Nigerian funeral, is not easy. We often celebrate in death what we denied in life. That is why, to say goodbye to a decent Nigerian of the quality and symbolism of Achebe by a society as indecent as ours would be a Nollywood tale that even Achebe could not have penned.
To bury Achebe among his people is the right thing to do. I believe that is what he would have loved, even if he did not make that decision himself.
But that will throw up all kinds of questions about his people if that happened to be defined less tightly than his immediate family. It would be fascinating to hear some of those who will want the microphone by which to say “a few words.”
A few words.
In Achebe’s final two decades on earth, God seemed to have given him two thrones to say whatever he wanted. The first was the global fame that his fiction had earned him. From Ogidi, his village, to the farthest corners of the earth, he came to symbolize the power of great writing. The world sought him wherever he rested; wherever he went, so did the world as it sought his voice.
The second throne, alas, was a wheelchair. Following his widely-known road crash in 1990, Achebe recovered into a wheelchair, from where he cast his considerable wisdom far and wide. At the foot of that chair, a worldwide horde of admirers came to hear him say whatever he wished.
But a few words were often all he said. A skilful, power user of language, he was a man who got a lot of mileage out of every word and every nuance.
His was a deep well of wisdom, but some of those words, especially when he turned his attention to Nigeria, were angry ones, especially when he identified the trouble with Nigeria.
His book of that title was published 30 years before his death. In it, he bluntly declared that “trouble” to be “simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”
When Achebe brought home the glories and accolades of foreign lands, he was the hero of every Nigerian, including its leadership, but when he turned his attention inwards, that leadership was resentful. It would rather claim him and own him.
That was why, in 2004 under President Olusegun Obasanjo, and again in 2011 under President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria offered Achebe the National Honour of the Commander of the Federal Republic.
In his rejection letter in 2004, Achebe cited his “alarm and dismay” over developments in Nigeria, using as an example the chaos in his home state of Anambra, “where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places.” That clique, he said, seemed determined to turn the state 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 said.
Despite that, Achebe again found his name on the National Honours List nearly two years ago. Again, he refused to accept, as "the reasons for rejecting the offer when it was first made have not been addressed let alone solved.”
It is remarkable to recall the response of Nigeria’s leadership to Achebe’s rejections. In 2004, the government bitterly disowned him, declaring that if the award was not good enough for him he was not good enough for Nigeria. In 2011, he was accused of ignorance, and invited home on his wheelchair to come and see how things had “improved” under President Jonathan.
Things have “improved” so much under Mr. Jonathan that mediocrity and official dubiousness have become pronounced principles of public life; the so-called National Honours are now increasingly given to friends and their friends.
Things have “improved” so much that such top government officials as the President, Vice-President and the President of the Senate do not in their speeches refer to such values as integrity, example, character, or honour.
Things have “improved” so much that President Jonathan told the country he “does not give damn” about declaration of assets, and routinely appoints to office men of poor character. Only two weeks ago, he offered State pardon to Dipreye Alamieyesegha, one of Nigeria’s most reviled symbols of corruption.
All of this will form the background when Nigeria honours Achebe by means of a state burial, as has been proposed, or in “a few words” of tribute.
To say a few words is the most difficult things in the world when those words are dishonest.
Achebe mastered the art of saying a few meaningful words because his agenda and the prism through which he viewed his country never rotted. His views on right and wrong did not shift so that he might obtain a federal contract. His views did not change in the new budget year because he wanted to smuggle one of his children into a job at State House, as many two-faced Nigerians do.
The same heart that was beating in the heart of Achebe, the Nigerian, beat in him until the end. He advocated a country of excellence, one in which leaders led the people with patriotism, honesty and determination, not with self-interest and greed and corruption.
This is why his words and his advocacy never will die. He leaves behind a country that makes up what it lacks in heroes with historic levels of mediocrity and hypocrisy.
He leaves behind the same “alarm and dismay” about which he spoke in 2004, of a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places…that has run Nigeria into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom…” He leaves behind the same shameless, lying, effeminate, unpatriotic and deceitful leadership that remains the trouble with Nigeria.
Achebe’s achievements as a writer will always inspire the world. In his home country, it will accomplish considerably more than that, forever casting illumination on the army of locusts that has taken Nigeria hostage and made her an under-developing country. His voice will be larger in death than it was in life.
Let me add a fourth piece of the tributes and you surely will grapple with the author's perspective.
Chinua Achebe as a Moral Standard – A Tribute
By Osita Ebiem (March 31, 2013, New York City, Sri Lanka Guardian)
Chinua Achebe one of the most important pioneers in African literature and the advancement of world knowledge and understanding died on the 21st of March, 2013 at 82. We join with millions of others around the world with a deep sense of loss to mourn Achebe’s passing. But we also take consolation in the fact that he lived well and has left us with many clear examples of how we should conduct our human affairs. Achebe was a formidable fighter while he lived.
Intellectually he fought to dissipate and disabuse the numerous misconceptions that the rest of the world held about Africa and its peoples. He fought so unreservedly on the side of truth and justice especially when he voluntarily enlisted in the rank of those that championed the struggle for the freedom and independence of his Biafran people. And for more than one decade of the last part of his life he fought without complaining a debilitating handicap where he was paralyzed from waist down and restricted to the wheelchair after a car accident on a Nigerian road. Characteristically, Achebe in spite of this restricting health problem fought his way through and remained active and productive till his last moments. Throughout this period of health troubles he still continued to teach and conduct academic seminars and conferences such as his world famous Achebe Colloquium that held annually every December at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in the United States. Achebe had one of the best and astute of minds but most of all he was an unassailable honest intellectual and truth teller with an impeccable character. Though this can be considered a period of transition and the realigning of many long-established world orders yet there is a general consensus amongst many chroniclers of world events and epochs that the moral standard of our world is currently struggling. This, most people agree, results from the many decades of lack of enough credible voices of people of influence with integrity that speak from the high ground of morality, honesty, truth and sincerity.
On another hand there seems to be the over-abundance of people with compromised and unreliable characters in places of influence and authority. Across the globe today there are noticeable diffused morality lines or near total lack of moral standards. In some societies this negative and even dangerous lack of social/personal moral standards and a sense of what is right is being defended as social liberalism or “freedoms”. As much as we cherish true freedom as the most essential ingredient for all human progress and civilization but we are very much aware that there will always be standards and the legitimate demand from members of any responsible society that those of them in positions of authority and influence show leadership and accountability if such a society will survive and prosper. Freedom is not equivalent to recklessness and lack of individual and collective responsibility. Experiences have proved that it is through the path of responsible freedom and enforceable social standards that societies attain that coveted level of prosperity, greatness, civility, security and the seemingly elusive sense of the brotherhood of man.
Given our present human experience it seems that there may never come a time when any society in the world will be able to afford to do without the mandatory imposition of the rule of law, individual and collective responsibilities and still hope to succeed. So, for a society to succeed the members must find a way to establish and insist on enforcing these standards and collective social goals. And because we know that the mere letters of the law and the best law enforcement agents are never enough and because human beings learn faster and better through emulation then every successful society must find and project to the fore their own human standard bearers; the beacons that the rest of the society aspire to emulate. These epitomes of who we should look like, do not only become mirrors, they also become the conscience of the society. These people do not get to be appointed by any politician or through any ballot box, they achieve this enviable position through dint of hard work and the will to transcend self and maintain stability; consistency in the midst of the vagaries and influences of situations, institutions, environments and persons around them.
It is in this area of being the society’s mirror and conscience that Achebe the artist, intellectual and a human being shines forth so unmistakably. Chinua Achebe through hard work and personal discipline became the mirror and conscience of the society: The Nigerian society and beyond. Through personal choice and conscious effort, Achebe became one of the most important credible truth tellers and unassailable honest individuals of all time who would neither be corrupted nor compromised by powers or tainted honors. It was consistent with his character that though Achebe had accepted numerous local and international merit awards in the past but he would not accept, on two different occasions, national awards from Nigeria’s government in 2004 and 2011 respectively. He rejected these awards because as he said, Nigeria has become too dangerous, unjustifiably genocidal, irretrievably corrupt and unwilling to succeed as a society or country. It should be noted here that his friend Christopher Okigbo, the internationally acclaimed poet and Biafran soldier who died fighting for Biafra’s freedom and independence had exhibited the similar characteristic too. Okigbo would not accept an international literary award in 1965 on the basis that it was couched in a discriminatory nomenclature. When anyone person has a strong enough character and moral strength they would always look at even the proverbial gift horse in the mouth because they will not for reason accept personal gains and promotions at the expense of the greater good.
Achebe lived through an era when truth, justice and the will to do what is right experienced their most difficult moments amongst world leading politicians and policy makers. In Achebe’s prime in the 1960s world leaders and politicians were merely concerned about what will be for their parochial individual interests and were willing to employ every form of chicanery and even immoral brazen display of official power, arm-twisting and undue influences in thwarting justice and what is right. Like official position bullies they overreached themselves and sought to destroy small people and imaginary enemies with disproportional jackboots and sledge hammers. (In those days Britain under the leadership of Harold Wilson did not see anything wrong in the death of more than 3 million Biafrans; Chinua Achebe’s people, so long as the sacrifice of Biafra’s children and women of that number would preserve a hopeless one Nigeria). The Biafran crisis of 1966 to 1970 afforded Great Britain under Prime Minister Harold Wilson one of the best opportunities of all time to do what is right in regards with Nigeria. That was the time when Britain should have acted as an impartial arbiter and helped to re-divide the country as it should be: Along the pre-colonial and still existing ethnic/religious dividing lines. Right from the onset of the ill-fated amalgamation of 1914 by the British colonialist Frederick Lugard it has always been known that the various ethnic/religious groups in Nigeria have very irreconcilable cultural, social, religious and linguistic differences and that they can never coexist and build a successful society as citizens of the same country. Had Britain then honestly taken this most appropriate, reasonable and honorable line of action, the terrible and unconscionable disgraceful murderous events that are taking place in Nigeria today would have been avoided. That Britain was inexcusably wrong in supporting the continued existence of one Nigeria especially at the time when events presented themselves for the division of the country can easily be proved. Two examples among numerous others will suffice here.
All through the colonial era when Britain controlled Nigeria there were several warning signs that were ignored which clearly showed and still show that the peoples that are being forced to live as citizens of one country in Nigeria can never become one and will only end up (as in the physicist’s matter/antimatter phenomenon) annihilating one another should they continue as one Nigeria. The 1945 and 1953 ethnic/religious cleansing in Jos and Kano respectively are just two apt examples. Jos and Kano are two Islamic North of Nigeria cities that have continued to be in the news for exactly the same reasons of ethnic/religious genocides till today.
Today Nigeria as a country has become an abysmal nightmare, the scourge of the civilized world and the graveyard of truth, justice, honesty, sincerity, secured existence of citizens and every positive trait that should normally be found in a modern society. Nigeria has become a bedlam, a thriving center of world Islamic terrorism and the seat of the worst kind of corrupt sociopolitical management. British and other Western nationals are being kidnapped and murdered on a regular basis in Nigeria by Islamic fundamentalist groups like Boko Haram, Ansaru and others which are known to have working relationships with al Qaeda worldwide network and those at the Maghreb in North Africa, AQIM. This mayhem is taking place in Nigeria today because Nigeria is a hopelessly failed government and political state. And this failure has its root in the initiation and perpetuation of an unworkable one Nigeria by the colonial British. This unnecessary Islamic violence to persons and properties, bad governance of society and waste of resources would have easily been avoided in the 1960s when the Biafran crisis afforded the opportunity. The peoples of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria under the assumed name of Biafra were pushed into opting out of the Nigerian union and they sought for a separate existence through the exercise of their legal and legitimate right to Self Determination and national independence. But Britain led a coalition of allies to fight them back and defeat them. But nevertheless, and because the Biafran effort was just, honest and right, Chinua Achebe who was always known for his honesty, incorruptible integrity and sterling strength of character was among those at the vanguard that championed Biafra’s independence.
Though Britain under the leadership of Harold Wilson spearheaded the counter move, yet it did not diminish the justness and the necessity of the Biafran effort. During the 1960s while the crisis was on Wilson as the Prime Minister of Britain worked with the then Soviet Union as he mobilized Egypt, the Islamic Arab League of Nations, the United Nations of U Thant, African Union, then known as Organization of African Unity and a number of other political power centers around the world and worked to frustrate what would have been a redemptive opportunity for Britain. Britain in Biafra was offered a very rare golden opportunity to redeem itself and show that the colonial mistake they made in creating one Nigeria was a mistake of bad judgment and not a deliberate act to create a monstrous demon that would eventually self-destruct while “entertaining” the spectators as in the gruesomeness of the gladiatorial fashion in the Amphitheater of the old Rome. The Self Determination and independence move made by Biafrans in the 1960s offered the British and still do the chance to fix one of the most terrible devastating mistakes of the colonial Europe in Africa (please refer to the 1884 to 1885 Berlin Conference). Unfortunately that opportunity was bungled but it is never too late to do the right thing.
The time is just right today as it was then in 1960s; to divide Nigeria. Dividing Nigeria today will solve permanently Nigeria’s problem of Islamic terrorism, British and other foreign nationals’ kidnappings and killings and end the seemingly unending genocides and ethnic/religious cleansings. Emphatically, dividing Nigeria is Chinua Achebe’s last testament and wishes as he stated in his last and the most important of all his books. Achebe’s memoir was published only a few months before his death and it is the final word on the most reliable solution to one Nigeria: Divide Nigeria. There was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra by Chinua Achebe (published by Penguin Press, New York, 2012) tells us that for the sake of our children and their own children, Nigeria must be divided now. Achebe witnessed the injustices of Biafra and after more than fifty years he concludes in the book that Britain and other former colonial powers that created the unworkable modern states of Africa must help to unravel and disentangle the irreconcilable national unions like in one Nigeria. It is a general consensus that Achebe contributed positively and immensely to the collective global knowledge, progress and understanding through his excellent intellectual efforts. And the best way the world can show gratitude and appreciation for this invaluable contribution now that Achebe is dead is to help fulfill his last wishes: The security and freedom of his people.
The greatest tribute that anyone or group can bestow on Achebe is to prove to our common humanity that it is still right to live honestly and support what is right like Chinua Achebe demonstrated with his life and works. The killings of Achebe’s people in Nigeria as in the 1960s when Achebe and his fellow compatriots had to go to war to prove their right to life and human dignity continues today unabated. Achebe’s memory is asking all humanity to help end these kidnappings and killings by dividing Nigeria and setting Achebe’s people free.
As I have been posting and reposting these writings, I see Prof. Achebe is different from others because he taught us how to use our learning to correct those in power by providing them indices of provocative feelings and actions to do better. And as never before put in a clear critical and unambivalent way on what is the trouble with Nigeria, and indeed Africa by extension, Achebe’s way brought some pontificating of the Nigerian situation with regard to poverty of leadership skills to turn life and society around for the better.