There Was an Eagle on Iroko

Chinua Achebe, the one who achieved fame n’uwanile “through solid personal achievements”, is a hero to many who are perturbed by the place of the black man in the world. I am proud to be one of them. While growing up, I lived less than a kilometre away from his home on the campus of the University of Nigeria but met him for the first time when he delivered a lecture in 1988 or so. The last time I saw him in person was in 1990 when UNN celebrated him. The theme of the celebration was “Eagle on Iroko”; it came before his 60th birthday but the university marked it, as if it foresaw what was to befall him before November: an auto crash on one of Nigeria’s killer roads that left him with a spinal cord injury and made him spend the rest of his life in the United States.

He is returning home this week, never to reside in a foreign land ever again. Something akin to a state funeral has started. Everyone – vile politicians not excluded – wants to identify with the father of African literature. Achebe wrote books for everyone — children, poets, intellectuals, politicians.  Only a few can claim to have read all his works. Many have become professors simply by analysing his seminal novel, Things Fall Apart. Others have won awards by critiquing No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God or A Man of the People. Few commentators on Nigeria have failed to quote a line or two from The Trouble with Nigeria. In Anthills of the Savannah, Achebe probably sought to remind those who failed to understand his language style in his earlier novels that he was still the master of English prose. But those who wanted to rewrite the history of Nigeria and bury the truth were jolted by his last book, There Was a Country.

We loved Achebe because he always spoke the truth and wrote the truth. When he rejected the National Honours award twice (in 2004 and 2011), it was a reaction to the trouble with Nigeria that he had identified in his 1983 book.  And if those crazy, political members of the Nobel committee had attempted to give him the Nobel prize in his lifetime, I’m sure he would have equally shamed them by rejecting it. The Nobel is much inferior to even the sand a little boy will put into his grave in Ogidi, Anambra State, this Thursday. He was a god of literature and did not need the Nobel’s validation.

I agree with Igbo sociocultural group Aka Ikenga that the best way for Nigeria to immortalise this great son is by fighting corruption, poverty and injustice, just as he did all his life. Naming streets (there are a few Achebe streets already), highways and universities after him is an honour, but following his numerous prescriptions for rescuing the country would be a greater honour. He admitted that his generation had lost the 20th century but prayed that his children’s generation would not lose the 21st century. Is it not time the trouble with Nigeria ceased to be “simply and squarely a failure of leadership”? It’s up to the current leaders to pretend that all has been well or search inwards to remedy the situation.

Achebe lived for his country and for the black man. Those who denied him the Nobel were piqued by his Afrocentricism. Notable writer Chinweizu correctly predicted that the racists would never give him the prize as a result of a comment he made just as the Nobel panel was sitting sometime in the ‘80s. Must the truth be buried whenever it suits the white man? As Achebe confessed, Things Fall Apart was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in which he claimed that Africans had no history. Achebe chose to write in English but think in Igbo.

The West had so distorted history that, were it not for Achebe and his like, we probably would have remained blind to our origins and histories. We were taught, for instance, that Mungo Park discovered River Niger, yet our ancestors fished in the same river long before Mungo Park’s grandparents were born. Somebody else “discovered” Africa! They said they met our ancestors as pagans, yet our forefathers worshipped One God from time immemorial. The slave traders and colonialists were “evangelising” missionaries; 100 years after, their own descendants turned atheists. There is no end to the deceit.

My future book, Things Fall in Place, will create a nation in the 22rd century that contrasts sharply with the one in Things Fall Apart. I will strive to prove that our ancestors of the 19th century lived more happily than the yahoo-yahoo sheep of the 21st century. By year 2100, I predict, all of the white man’s lies will have been exposed, and the blacks living in Europe and America will long to return to pre-colonial Africa. The battle then will be against the so-called civilisation that will have completely destroyed morality, unity, justice and neighbourliness. [Already, capitalism is failing: global recession, global unemployment, global terrorism.]

Through Things Fall Apart, Achebe proved that our ancestors were not savages or pagans or monkeys before the coming of the white man. Things Fall in Place will prove that we turned savages 150 years after the white man’s incursion: drug users and peddlers, kidnappers, suicide bombers, armed robbers, pen robbers, merchants of death (fake drug sellers), makers of weapons of mass destruction. We now have to contend with impunity: a man can now embezzle billions of dollars belonging to his fellow compatriots and then use it to get “elected” as president. Despite the presence of numerous churches and mosques, Africans now worship money instead of God. Fellow feeling is gone: people can now jump over a human corpse without looking back; they can watch as a vulture waits for a starving child to die.

A fifth of Africans are homeless and do not know where the next meal will come from. Compare the present situation in Africa with the world that Achebe captured in Things Fall Apart and discover how deep we have sunk as people of the “modern” world. My book will be a tribute to the author of Things Fall Apart and Africa’s greatest writer in the 20th century. The main character, an African immigrant in America, will lead the great exodus back to the land filled with milk and honey in year 2130. [Writers beware:  the idea I’ve discussed including the title of my future book, Things Fall in Place, is covered by the Copyright Act. No transmission of it in any form is allowed without my permission – and nobody will get my permission anyway!]

The politicians won’t let some of us pay our last respects to the Eagle on Iroko this week. That’s why I have decided to utilise this space wisely. Let the kite perch; let the eagle perch; either one that says no to the other, may his wings break. Nna anyi Achebe, laa n’udo-ooo! O ga-adiri gi mma-oooo!

— By ANIEBO NWAMU, May 19, 2013


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