An Airport for Achebe

Chinua Achebe and Things Fall Apart


Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

There is a Chinua Achebe International Airport in Anambra State. It was a spectacular masterstroke from Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo when he renamed the Anambra Airport at Umueri after Chinua Achebe.

The ovation that Soludo got when he made the announcement in his speech at the 63rd Nigerian Independence Anniversary which took place at Dr Alex Ekwueme Square, Awka, on October 1 was thunderous and long-lasting.

There is no doubt whatsoever that naming the airport after Chinua Achebe will spike up tourism to the state from across the globe.

When Bard College in New York built the Achebe House in the university, for instance, the place instantly turned into a tourist attraction.

In the ennobling words of Governor Soludo, “Chinua Achebe is an African and global hero, Anambra’s greatest gift to the literary world.”

Achebe’s uncommon integrity makes him the archetypal depiction of the title of his fourth novel, “A Man of the People”, in total contradistinction with the politician hero of the novel, Chief MA Nanga.

Chinua Achebe seized the human race by the jugular when he published his first novel Things Fall Apart in 1958.

The novel has never ever gone out of print since its first publication, and has been translated into more than 60 languages.

Things Fall Apart reportedly accounted for more than 80 percent of the sales of Heinemann’s African Writers Series (AWS) which Achebe served as an unpaid Editorial Adviser.

It’s remarkable that Governor Soludo who named the airport after the legendary writer was a young student in 1981 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka when Achebe founded the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) on the grounds of the esteemed institution.

Achebe happened not to be the typical reclusive writer because his activities in the wider society during his lifetime were equally redoubtable.

He was political in his lifetime in the truest sense of the dictum from Aristotle as per “man is by nature a political animal.”

Achebe was the Vice-Chairman of Aminu Kano’s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) in the Second Republic.

He never at any time sat on the fence over national issues, for instance, unapologetically pitching his tent with Biafra when his people faced flagitious pogrom and genocide.

Achebe was a man of many anchors, adeptly combining the roles of critic, activist, organizer, publisher, politician, and served as the President-General (PG) of his native town union in Ogidi, Anambra State.

When he rejected the award of the high national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) in October, 2004, from then President Olusegun Obasanjo, Achebe wrote: “I write this letter with a very heavy heart. 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 connection 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.”

True to his unwavering principle, Achebe also rejected the award when it was re-offered by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011.

Achebe’s word would have resounded if he were to be alive today, seeing the dire circumstances of the country.

A man who always spoke truth to power, Achebe wrote in his 1983 book The Trouble with Nigeria: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

According to Achebe, “Nigeria is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be.”

Chinua Achebe left behind an everlasting body of work: Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God, A Man of the People, Anthills of the Savannah, Girls at War and Other Stories, Beware Soul Brother, Morning Yet on Creation Day, The Trouble with Nigeria, Chike and the River, Home and Exile, Hopes and Impediments, The Education of a British-Protected Child, There Was A Country etc.

It was one death that shook the world when Chinua Achebe died at exactly 11:51pm (US time), that is 4.51am (Nigerian time), on Thursday, March 21 at the Harvard University Teaching Hospital, Massachusetts, USA, aged 82.

Tributes poured in from all over the world such as the iconic Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who wrote: “Achebe bestrides generations and geographies. Every country in Africa claims him as their own.”

Achebe’s legacy was lauded by the then US President Barrack Obama thus: “A revolutionary author, educator, and cultural ambassador, Chinua 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.”

Now that there is a Chinua Achebe International Airport in Anambra State, the whole wide world is welcome!