Prof. Chinua Achebe: The Gods Are Not to Blame – A Tribute by Odusote Oluwakoyode
Excerpt of a poem (“The Second Coming”) composed by Irish poet William Butler Yeats in 1919 is vividly brought to life in the story of one particular man that took the title of his book (“Things fall Apart”) from the poem – Chinua Achebe, His passage was announced on the 21st of March, 2013.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity”.
The style of Achebe’s fiction draws heavily on the oral tradition of the Igbo people. He weaves folk tales into the fabric of his stories, illuminating community values in both the content and the form of the storytelling.
Things Fall Apart became a household name for most young Nigerians. It was widely watched as a television series with the main character in Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofia—one of a fictional group of nine villages in Nigeria, inhabited by the Igbo people. It focuses on his family and personal history, the customs and society of the Igbo, and the influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on the Igbo community during the late nineteenth century. Things Fall Apart was followed by a sequel, No Longer at Ease, originally written as the second part of Things Fall Apart, and Arrow of God, on a similar subject.
Many books and essays have been written about Prof. Chinua Achebe (popularly referred to as “The father of modern African writing”) and his works. His transition has given birth to creativity. I have seen adaptations from the title of some of his books coined to describe the loss of this rare gem. One that caught my attention most reads “Things have fallen apart and we are no longer at ease because the arrow of god has struck”.
This expression like so many others is the evident truth of how the depth of a loss is felt. The arrow of God in my opinion did not however strike; Achebe was simply approached by the zephyrs for a peaceful journey home. Achebe paid his dues, therefore, we do not need to mourn his departure, and all that is required is to celebrate his achievements. In his home call, the gods are not to blame.
Prof. Chinua Achebe left behind the legacies of his qualities and hadthem hidden as treasures in his works, what is expected of us now areto discover them and apply such positive opinions to the development of our nation.
Our failures as a nation to recognize and put to use the qualities of our excellent intellectuals have cost us massive brain drain. The countries that respect and appreciate the qualities we often ignore have gained from their wealth of knowledge and put their expertise to their own citizen’s advantage. Whilst they celebrate such intelligentsia impartation, we are left to bemoan the loss of ideology from our national development.
We have a golden record of celebrating loss of qualities. As usual, statements of condolences will be engraved in publications to remind us of the loss of “a rare gem who died when the country needs his wealth of experience”. We often insult ourselves when as a nation, the only time we recognize a great person is when such individual loses his life. It’s at such point we resort to naming edifices, streets, roads etc. after such person.
We should not mourn for the soul we never honored (I do not mean award of national honors), we should not regret the loss of a quality we never put to use, we should not lament the untimely death of a mind we deserted and we should not blame the gods for taking what is not appreciated – the gods are not to blame.
In case we realize how much we’ve lost to brain drain, Achebe’s contemporaries in all fields of industry are still available for us if we are wise enough to get their services into use for our own nation. Most of them have sacrificed a lot to ensure the progress of Nigeria. They have had degrees of international experiences than most of our political leaders, yet they are not willing to compromise their hard earned reputation for selfish political ambition. All that is required is just to listen to their wise counsel and make use of their logical solutions to problems we are faced with.
History as I learnt prefers legends to men and the world’s greatest occupy such space of exceptional quality. The history of Nigeria will of course reflect the qualities of Chinua Achebe .He will always be remembered by history because he paid his dues and he served his fatherland responsibly. He fought a good fight for the Igbo nation in particular and Nigeria in general; he upheld utmost integrity and soared with his speeches as against being on the side line of Pollywood as a complaining spectator.
He lived an exemplary life with the qualities he had. He never sought after material wealth to be recognized. Unlike some Nigerians who believe that acquiring wealth will grant them eternal safety from poverty, Achebe made it through intellectual dexterity. He made the intellectual weapon available for his tribe and he used it at will to caution the usual corrupt system of our nation. Till he died, he was a gladiator that never retired.
As an exceptional writer, he contributed immensely to the course of humanity. His achievements did not only serve him, the nation benefitted from his popularity. His achievements and contributions to our nation should not be celebrated by mediocre naming of institutions after him, rather, his contributions and golden achievements should be recognized by living the Nigeria he hoped for – corruption free.
Irrespective of the capacity a being occupies in life’s sojourn, there is the need to make a positive impact. That is the mark expected to be trailed in remembrance of the great. A mark that would be a reference point to generations unborn, a mark that will tell of the painful past and that would assure of a positive future.
He expressed his feelings about his country in his writings and I’m sure he had answers hidden in his books for possible questions that would emerge after him. He made his talents available for the course of service and he served responsibly.
Whilst the literature world mourns the passage of one of the great, it should be recognized that his soul has transcended to the Beulah land while his spirit is reflected in his works.
His last work “There was a country” generated lots of controversies. He specifically opined that late Obafemi Awolowo supported genocide against the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria during the civil war. As much as I disagreed totally with his claim against Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s role in the whole event, I respect his boldness to say it the way he believed it happened. The lessons in all of this for us as a nation however, is that there are unhealed grievances and there is urgent need to have a round table discourse just as Prof. Wole Soyinka has always promoted – sovereign national conference to heal bitter memories.
Such a discourse is essential in helping heal the ethnic acrimony and apprehensions that exist in minds of so many Nigerians. Most Nigerians are living with untold bitterness of ethnic differences going by past bitter experiences and by stories being told to the present generations of the youth. The nation cannot pretend that all is well. A discourse to heal wounds is better convoked than allowing mediocre silence that is heavily pregnant with discreet hatred.
The daunting solutions to our problems rest on our shoulders and not the international community. Achebe himself asserted as a folk tale that “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.” Just as said in the novel “things fall apart, the proposition of a national conference is therefore needed for kinsmen to sit together and discuss.
In villages and towns, in various national and international institutions and the industry of intellectuals, in the states across the federation and schools of learning, Achebe was a voice that was heard, decrying injustice and mobilizing others with his pen. In the book “Anthills of the savannah” he said “Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control; they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit — in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.”
Achebe recognized his powers when he said “my weapon is literature”. His battlefield lay solely in the realms of intellectual debate and his weapon was the pen.
Just like he titled his last book “There was a Country”, Achebe is now easily captioned in that tense in description. There was a Chinua Achebe whose wealth of qualities are legacies we should emulate. The qualities should not elude us before we recognize them. We are a nation that kills our best.
Those in political capacities without records of reasonable career are more recognized than those with excellent records of achievement both nationally and internationally.
Achebe died possibly holding the grievance of misgivings against the Igbo as expressed in his book “There was a Country”. Such suspicion of grievance were also expressed by Prof. Wole Soyinka and J.P Clark in their official tribute that “Indeed, we cannot help wondering if the recent insensate massacre of Chinua’s people in Kano, only a few days ago, hastened the fatal undermining of that resilient will that had sustained him so many years after his crippling accident.”
Achebe was deeply connected to his root and even though he lived in U.S.A, he was still connected to his people and followed closely the happenings in the country.
How long do people have to die regretting the failures of a nation deliberately crippled for selfish reasons? Shall we then accept the need to come together and engage in a sincere dialogue, or shall we continue to engage in serial violence of killings all in the name of ethnic or religious beliefs? Those who continue to discard the need for a National conference or a National dialogue have unfortunately lent a support to the crusade of death over Nigeria.
We live in fear every day because the trumpet of violence could blow anytime due to lack of trust between 250 ethnic nationalities. Every move, speech, opinions and advice of different ethnic region is misinterpreted and actions could even be seen as a mandate to pour out into the street, destroy the places of worship of others to kill and maim. We do not understand ourselves in a country we called ours.
We live with doubts of every reasonable advice to the government because of misinterpretation. We question if a possible solution to our problems is feasible. The word of Prof. Wole Soyinka is a reference point when he said “No, I fear it cannot be. Not when those who have had the unearned privilege to rule this land before, those who treasonably seized the reins of leadership of this nation, continue to ignite the dormant flames of zealotry, compound their career of infamy by fanning those flames with divisive declamations, affirming what we have always asserted – that they are closet fanatics, wedded to a hegemonic agenda, that theirs has ever been an opportunism that masqueraded as a social reformist zeal.. Now, disrobed of the mantle of power, they reveal the parlousness of their self-vaunting leadership integrity, the emptiness of their commitment to the concept of this nation, indeed the hollowness of their very pretensions to a common humanity.
Prof. Achebe made sacrifices for his people’s freedom from mediocre claws. He is gone but his works are available for our references. The god’s are not to be blamed for taking a quality back to where he belonged – the Beulah land
For the living, as we celebrate the achievements and passage of Prof. Chinua Achebe, it important to note that we can’t give up on Nigeria till we reach the Promised Land. The wise advice of Alfred Lord Tennyson from the Ulysses is important for our reference:
“…Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are— One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.
Rest well in the Beulah Land Prof. Albert Chinualumogu Achebe.
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