By Sylvester Asoya
Chinua Achebe, the accomplished author of many remarkable books will forever be remembered.
For many years, he wrote extraordinary novels, essays, short stories, poems, monographs and instructional materials for his readers’ development and reading pleasure. Most of his books, particularly his fictional accounts were inspired mainly by his environment and identity as a proud African. In these books, he writes about his misunderstood continent and people. And he uses every opportunity to tell the world about Africa in a manner that provides education, appreciation and insight. He also shatters prejudices in his writings by debunking false claims and giving the African continent a vote on the global literary stage.
But Achebe was also a notable teacher, consummate scholar, critic and evidently, a great editor who was highly proficient in written English. For many years, he served as advisory editor of African Writers Series (AWS), a series of enduring books published by Heinemann many decades ago that gave African writers a voice.
He was indeed, a writer’s writer.
This renowned author of Things Fall Apart is respected all over the world for his writing influence, scholarship, activism and ability to tell stories. For instance, Things Fall Apart has so far, sold millions of copies. The book, regarded as the most commonly read African novel has also been translated into more than 70 languages and generally considered a classic globally.
No doubt, Achebe lived a life in writing. He also lived a life of service. He was a dedicated teacher to his students and an unassuming mentor to many who came in contact with him.
During the unfortunate Civil War that took place in Nigeria between 1967 and 1970, Achebe and other literary giants took sides like every conscious and responsible writer. In that moment of grave crisis, nothing else mattered to him except the survival of his endangered people, the Igbo. He toured the world and acted as ambassador for Biafra.
However, in 2011, the renowned writer showed what he was made of. He declined an attempt by the Nigerian government to award him Commander of the Federal Republic. He had rejected an earlier award in 2004 on the same ground: leadership failure.
“For some time now, I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay. 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. Forty 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 by declining to accept the high honour…”, he writes.
Today, tomorrow and for years to come, Achebe will always be remembered with genuine affection by those who were touched by his humanity, courage, remarkable writing and patriotism. Aside the recognition at home, he also received distinguished awards like the Peace Price of the German Book Trade; International Booker Prize; St. Louis Literary Award and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.
In Ogidi, his hometown in Anambra State, Achebe is truly a prophet with honour; everyone knows and respects him. There is even a public library in his name in Ogidi. The tragic part, however, is that hoodlums under the guise of EndSars Protests, razed to the ground, this important edifice that served public good for many years.
Chinyere Ezeabogu, the Librarian of Professor Chinua Achebe’s Library, Ogidi says the entire town is still in mourning over the unwarranted attack on the library by some misguided youths. According to her, many important books and journals were lost to the inferno but she is optimistic that from the ashes of the burnt collection of great books, a new library will rise again. “We are working very hard to ensure that we bring back the library because we must not allow Achebe’s name here in this premises to be lost”, she says. This is also the view of Johnson Chikere Apeh, a driver who insists that everything humanly possible must be done to honour the literary icon who continues to project Ogidi positively, even in death.
Ngozi Emedolibe is a writer from Ogidi. He draws attention to the influences of Ogidi on Achebe’s works in an interview with alice. “Like every writer, the Ogidi community where Achebe hailed from influenced some of his works. Arrow of God and Things Fall Apart drew a lot from Ogidi community in Anambra State. To an appreciable extent, the incidents in Things Fall Apart took place at Ogidi and he built them into a mind-blowing narrative that Things Fall Apart became”, he says.
Emedolibe also recalls the larger-than-life stories he heard about Achebe and Things Fall Apart as a young person growing up in Ogidi and other parts of the South East. “As a child, I remember being told that Ikemefuna was killed at the location where they built Ogidi Girls’ Secondary School. Umuofia also shares a lot with Ogidi. There are nine villages in Umuofia just the same way as Ogidi. In Arrow of God, there is a strong representation of the Ogidi culture as well, which is quite symbolic and highlights the extent art could sell one’s perspectives to the world. But he was also critical of bad systems and strongly resented them. It is instructive to note that the period he turned down the honour from the federal government which he did twice to two presidents, he gladly accepted to be honoured by Idemili people. We recognize three of them who did us proud: Achebe, Emeka Anyaoku and Cardinal Francis Arinze”, he reveals.
He holds a special place in the hearts of many people for his literary feats, accomplishments and useful interventions.
Achebe’s other works are: No Longer At Ease, Anthills Of The Savannah, A Man of The People, There Was A Country, Girls At War And Other Stories, Chike And The River, Hopes And Impediments, The Trouble With Nigeria, How The Leopard Got His Claws, Christmas In Biafra And Other Stories, Beware Soul Brother and others.
As the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA turns 40 this year, Achebe will surely be remembered for bringing Nigerian writers together and for being ANA’s first president.
This article was first published in alice, the in-flight magazine of Air Peace.