This week the remains of the foremost African novelist, story teller, literary artist par excellence, critic, patriot and activist, Professor Chinualumogu Achebe will be flown home from Brown University USA and interred in his country home Ogidi, Anambra state according to his will.
In life, I didn’t have the opportunity and luck of meeting him one on one, something I would have cherished. But he spoke to me through his literary works—Things Fall Apart, Man of The People, Arrow of God, The Trouble with Nigeria, Anthills of The Savannah, and recently There Was a Country. The nearest I came across to him in flesh was during the Ahiajoku Lecture in either 1999 or 2001 at Owerri where he was the keynote speaker—and he delivered the lecture in Igbo language—an audacious thing to do.
Chinua Achebe had a larger than life impact on all of us. He founded and edited the popular African Writers Series through which many talented African literary artists saw the light. The impetus was to deconstruct colonial verbiage and present literature from the African perspective. For me, he made me develop love for literature and influenced my career as a journalist. As an activist and a crusader for justice, he made me develop a spirit of rebellion against evil and anything that is antagonistic to natural justice. He changed my worldview to stand for the oppressed—something he devoted all his life to through his literary works.
Achebe changed our pattern of interaction. He believed that the essence of language was to communicate, and that informed the simplicity of words that characterized all his narratives. This pattern of writing stood him apart and enabled him to win many literary awards. But if there was anything he may have missed most in life, it was the jewel of academic excellence—the Nobel Prize.
As his remains go back to nature with a blaze of glory, he will forever remain in the pantheon of the galaxy of stars whose radiant light shone brightly in the Nigerian firmament and illuminated our dark alleys.
Even in death, I can still hear his voice telling our leaders: ‘change your ways to make this country a better nation, where no one shall be oppressed’.
Achebe, I can hear William Hazlitt say of you: “now you are in a sleep deeper and calmer than that of infancy, wrapped in the softest and finest dust”. Adieu!