Death of Chinua Achebe and Tributes
The Burial of Professor Chinua Achebe
Posted: 12th August 2012
Posted by siteadmin
By Nasrin Pourhamrang
Recently, the classic African novel “Things Fall Apart” by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe was translated into Persian by Ali Hodavand and released in Iran. Nasrin Pourhamrang, Editor-in-Chief of Hatef Weekly Magazine interviewed the author on a wide range of topics from Art, culture and literature;politics, cultural and linguistic preservation;to the legacy of colonialism and his forthcoming book there was a Country-A personal history of Biafra.
Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. He was raised in the large village of Ogidi, one of the first centers of Anglican missionary work in Eastern Nigeria, and is a graduate of University College, Ibadan. His early career in radio ended abruptly in 1966, when he left his post as Director of External Broadcasting in Nigeria during the national upheaval that led to the Biafran War. Achebe joined the Biafran Ministry of Information and represented Biafra on various diplomatic and fund-raising missions. He was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and began lecturing widely abroad. For over fifteen years, he was the Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. He is now the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and professor of Africana studies at Brown University.
Chinua Achebe has written over twenty books – novels, short stories, essays children’s books and collections of poetry. His latest work There was a country – A personal history of Biafra will be available from Penguin publishers in September. Achebe has received numerous honors from around the world, including the Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as honorary doctorates from more than forty colleges and universities. He is also the recipient of Nigeria’s highest award for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Merit Award; the Peace Prize of the German Book trade (Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels) in 2002; the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction in 2007; and the Gish Prize in 2010.
Nasrin Pourhamrang: Technology has come to the help of the borderless world of art and literature and has eliminated the geographical frontiers. How do you feel about the fact that your novel has been translated into Persian and that Iranian readers can read some of your works for the first time and make an acquaintance of Chinua Achebe?
Chinua Achebe: I received the news of the Persian translation of Things Fall Partwith great joy!Of course, one of the goals of any writer is to connect with his or her readers. Things Fall Apart in particular, indeed all my books, have enjoyed a warm readership. I am particularly grateful for the effort of the translators of my work. They extend the reach of Art, in this case stories, to more people who may not have encountered them in the original English. I am told with this Persian translation that Things Fall Apart now exists in nearly 60 world languages! It is a wonderful blessing and I am deeply, deeply, grateful!So, the fact that readers in Iran can also read my work is very important to me.
NP: Are you familiar with Iran, its culture and civilization? Have you ever heard of the artworks of Iranian artists as well as the work of her authors and writers?
CA: I am a life-long student of Literature, History, Art and Culture. I can’t, however, claim to be an authority on Iranian history and culture. Let me also confess that I was caught looking through my Encyclopedia Britannica before this interview – my grandchildren insist that no one does that anymore!
Nevertheless, I am aware of the writings of Herodotus on the Persian Empire and the spectacular golden art work of the Achaemenid period. I have always wanted to seethe ruins of Thachar palace and Persepolis;the Quajarid reliefs, paintings from Iranian antiquity and the beauty of Persian calligraphyup-close. Of course, Persian carpets, as you are well aware, are adored the world over.In university, we encountered stories about great Persian emperors like Cyrus the Great who Alexander the Great revered. Also Darius the Great…and the later emperors.
As a writer, as you might expect, I have a special interest in the ancient scrolls of Persian philosophy. I have also been taken with the medieval poetry ofRumi, Hafez, Sa’adi, Khayyam, Farrid Attar; as well asepics such Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) by Ferdowsi. Modern Iranian classics such as The Blind OwlbyHedayat and Sin by Farrokhzad should be required reading around the world, in my opinion. On mydesk is Cypress Tree by Kamin Mohammadi, who I understand, is a very talented young female writer.
NP: What will you say if I ask you to talk directly to the Iranian audience and discuss your concerns and wishes with them?
CA: “Peaceful co-existence between all racial and religious groups is my sincere wish for mankind”
After the ancient civilizations of Africa, there are no peoples older than those that inhabit what the British first called “the Middle East.” The great world religions come from this part of the world. Islam and Judaism are considered Abrahamic religions because they are believed to descend from God through Abraham. We would not have Christianity without Judaism and the Jewish people. The three religions share many values and tenets and beliefs. There are parts of the Quran that integrate Jewish history.
I wish to highlight lessons from Iranian history that should be championed by Iranian people in today’s precarious world. It is important for all of us to remember that the Iranians and the Jewish people have enjoyed a very long, mutually beneficial and fruitful relationship. It dates back to 727 B.C. and the deportation of the Jewish people to Media and Persian from Samaria…that is nearly three thousand years ago! Cyrus the Great, who we have mentioned in this conversation, through a decree later known as the “Cyrus declaration” allowed the Jewish people who lived along the Babylon river to return to Judea to rebuild their lives. Many, however, who had lived in Persia for a few generations, decided to remain and formed permanent Jewish settlements of intellectuals, merchants and artisans for centuries.
Jewish scholars (something I am told can be confirmed in the Talmud – a revered Jewish book of rabbinical postulates), teach us that the environment was so tolerant for Jews in ancient Persia during this period that in a mark of their own magnanimity towards the Persian people, there was a call by Rabbis of the time for a picture of Susa the capital of Persian Kings to be engraved on the eastern gate of the temple of Jerusalem!
My appeal, therefore, is to the ancient virtue of Iranian hospitality, tolerance and peace. It is vitally important that the educated classes in Iran point out this glorious history which is central not just to the Middle East; but to all of mankind.
Finally, I would like to see the Dialogue of Civilizations proposed by former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami become reality–bringing together representatives of all of the earth’s people to Tehran in an environment of freedom of creative, intellectual,cultural and religious expression.
NP: Your new work There was a Country-A personal history of Biafra is due from Penguin Books next month- September, 2012 – in the United Kingdom. Can you tell Iranian readers what it is about?
CA: The Nigerian-Biafran war raged from 1967-1970 and claimed nearly three million lives. The conflict wiped out twenty percent of my people – the Igbo and other Easterners- who were known as Biafrans. In There was a Country- A personal history of Biafra, I tell three interweaving stories – using an autobiographical prism torecount twobroader stories – the story of pre and post-independence Nigeria, and the story of Biafra and its aftermath.
I have been asked why it took me over 42 years to write about Biafra…The answer is that I was not ready… I had to find the right vehicle that could “carry our anguish, our sorrow… the scale of dislocation and destruction…our collective pain.”In many ways, I can say that I have been writing this book for about four decades – at least in my head and the very scribbling on paper almost as long – particularly the research, interviews, data collection etc. I discoveredwhile working on the book, quite interestingly, that it would not be a straight forward work. I found that I had to draw upon prose, poetry, history, memoir, and politics and that they were independently holding conversations with each other – perhaps because no one genre or art form could bear the weight of the complexity of our condition.You see, the Biafran war was such a cataclysmic event that in my opinion changed the course, not only of Nigeria, which has not fully recovered from that conflict; but of all of Africa. I hope your readers pick up a copy!
Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe chats with former South African President Nelson Mandela at a Steve Biko memorial ceremony in Cape Town in 2002. Biko, a leader of the Black Consciousness movement, died after being beaten by members of Apartheid’s police force. Photo/AFP
NP: It is interesting to me that your first novel, “Things Fall Apart,” which is also your most widely read and translated book was published by a British publisher (William Heinemann LTD). Why did you offer it to a British publisher while it depicted the difficulties and cultural contradictions which the people of your country have suffered as a result of the colonial presence of the British in the past decades?
CA: That is a timely question…… In my new book,There was a Country-A personal history of Biafra, I point out that when a number of us [i.e. African writers] decided to pick up the pen and make writing a career there was no African literature as we know it today. There were many that preceded my time, but still, the numbers were not sufficient.And so I had no idea when I was writing Things Fall Apart whether it would even be accepted or published. All this was new- there was nothing by which I could gauge how it was going to be received.
In those days one had very few avenues to get published…we had very few choices. My first novel was rejected by a number of publishers before providence led it into the hands of Alan Hill at Heinemann after Donald McRae, another Heinemann executive with extensive experience in Africa encouraged Heinemann to publish the novel with a powerful recommendation: “This is the best first novel I have read since the war.”
So, you can tell that I had a good beginning and was only too pleased to have Heinemann publish the work. Later, Alan Hill and James Currey and I developed the African Writers Series (I served as first General Editor for the first one hundred titles). The African Writers Series ended up publishing many of the well-known writers of the era from Africa. In many ways, without the intervention of Alan Hill and Heinemann, many of the writers from that generation may not have found a voice.
NP: Over 50 years have passed since you wrote the book “Things Fall Apart.” Have your viewpoints and approaches toward the presence of a colonial power in the soil of your country changed since that time? Would you make changes and edits if you were to decide to write such a novel or rewrite it now and especially reconfigure the personality and reflections of the main characters such as Okonkwo?
CA: Every thinking person, if you consider yourself a serious intellectual grows…Intellectual evolution and growth does not mean, however, that all of a sudden horrendous things in our shared history appear less appalling. It means that greater knowledge and understanding help place the best and worst of events in clearer perspective.
The legacy of colonialism is not a simple one but one of great complexity, with contradictions- good things as well as bad. We do not have enough time to outline every aspect of the colonial and post-colonial condition…So, one cannot talk about making changes or edits to a book that was written to speak to a condition that existed and continues to exist in different forms and different guises.
In many ways, the world is a much different place today than it was in 1958 when Things Fall Apart was published.Some may say a better place – women’s rights are improving around the world, race relations perhaps can be said to have improved as well. In other ways, many things can also be said to have either remained the same or become worse. So the struggle to make the world a better place must continue!
(L-R) John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo; Chinua Achebe (center) and Wole Soyinka – after meeting with former Nigerian Dictator Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) to plead for the lives of the poet General Mamman Jiya Vatsa and sixteen other officers for staging what has since come to be known as a phantom coup March, 1986
NP: Your books and novels are considered to be the representative of modern African literature. In your view, what are the most prominent features and attributes of the modern African literature?
CA: Yes, well…remember that there was an entire movement, a whole group of us…InThere was a country,I discuss this in greater depth.
Things Fall Apart, I believe, now has a life of its own. I think it is now more famous than I am! (Laughter). The fifty plus translations are a big indication of its impact. I feel like a parent watching a child succeed from the sidelines. The other books have also been successful. It feels good. I am very grateful. What was the second part of the question?
NP: What are the most prominent features and attributes of the modern African literature?
CA: Yes…I have stated elsewhere that one cannot cram African literature into a small, neat definition. I do not see African literature as one unit but as a group of associated units – in fact the sum total of all the national and ethnic literatures of Africa.
National literature in my definition is written in national languages and has a potential audience throughoutthe countries that speak that language. Ethnic literature, by contrast is available to a particular ethnic group within that country or sub-region.
I have often been asked why I choose to write in English rather than in my native language.That is a flawed question and a false choice, because most of us think and write in and speak both our ethnic language and the national languages we were taught in school. Context is very important…Those that ask this question fail to understand my goal and the goal of several other pioneers of modern African writing. When I picked up the pen to make writing a career, African literature did not exist as it does today…the numbers were not there. One of the consequences of colonialism was the loss of the many traditions of Africa.
Many of us engaged Africa’s past, stepping back into what can be referred to as the “era of purity” before the coming of Europe. What we discovered we put in books and that became known widely as “African Culture.” Some of us would decide to use the colonizer’s tools: his language, altered sufficiently to bear the weight of an African creative aesthetic, infused with elements of the African literary tradition. I borrowed proverbs from our culture and history, colloquialisms and African expressive language from the ancient griots, the world views, perspectives, and customs from my Igbo tradition and cosmology, and the sensibilities of everyday people.
It was important to us that a body of work be developed of the highest possible quality that would oppose the negative discourse in some of the novels we encountered. By “writing back” to the West we were attempting to reshape the dialogue between the colonized and the colonizer. Our efforts, we hoped, would broaden the world’s understanding, appreciation, and conceptualization of what literature meant when including the African voice and perspective. We were engaged in what the Nigerian literary scholar Ode Ogede terms “the politics of representation.”
NP: So your choice of writing in English was as much a political choice as a practical one?
CA: Yes. And this requires some further clarification…My books appear in English because it is Nigeria’s national language and the language through which I can reach the most readers, both in Nigeria and world-wide. Many of the national languages, as you are aware, are inherited languages from our colonial history that were “shoved down our throats.”Within Nigeria’s borders, there are two hundred and fifty (250) ethnic groups and distinct languages – note I said distinct languages not dialects – and this requires emphasis because Nigeria with 160 million people, exists in an area of Africa that is one of the most populous, as well as genetically, linguistically, and culturally diverse regions of our planet. A national language in such an environment despite its problems, serves both a practical as well as a logical way to communicate across this diversity, effectively.
Let’s be clear – there are areas of Africa where colonialism divided peoples…But on the whole it did bring together many peoples…And it gave them a language with which to talk to one another…The only reason why we can even talk about African unity is that when we get together we can have a manageable number of languages to communicate in.Indeed we would not be able to hold this conversation if we both did not speak English. We would not be talking about the influence of Things Fall Apart and its impact without this strategic choice.
So there were many practical reasons to write in a National Language: I have already mentioned the fact that I could reach many Africans across languages, but also I could reach others across the world as well, like you. But I have also stated multiple times that it is neither necessary nor desirable for an African writer writing in English to attempt to write like a native speaker…he or she must attempt to find a way as I mentioned earlier to alter the language sufficiently to bear the weight of an African creative aesthetic, infused with elements of the African literary tradition…reinventing the language of the colonizers to tell our stories and retell our collective histories.
NP: There is, however, the problem of the disappearance of native or indigenous cultures and languages…
CA: Yes, the“beating down” of older African cultures and languages, traditions, and philosophies must be halted. We must continue to recapture, revive these endangered cultures, languages and traditions… and this will require large scale intervention…This is a real emergency, and in my opinion requires bold action.
There are two levels to this solution. Economists often talk about the micro and macro levels.On the individual level…I have already spoken about African writers engaged in the retelling of their own stories and recasting their image and the image of their people through novels, children’s books, poetry etc. There are those that write solely in their native languages. I write a lot of poetry in Igbo and edited a literary journal Uwa NdiIgbo for several years – for a focused Igbo readership. I have given full scale lectures to upwards of 20,000 people at a time – the two most recent The Odenigbo lecture and the Ahajioku lectures in 1999 and 2009 respectively; in Igbo land in Nigeria.Thatkind of effort isimportant, but I am afraid itonly scratches the surface of the problem… the sheer scale of the crisis demands big solutions, large scale intervention.
Let me let you in on a well-guarded secret…For several decades, the Achebe foundation –an organizationthat is now run by my son Dr. Ike Achebe and on whose board I serve as Chairman-has been working quietly on the Igbo Language project. This initiative was developed to create a language dictionary, a vast array of language tools and educational and linguistic guides, as well asa data base of phonetics, syntax, grammar etc.- to preserve Igbo, a fast disappearing language.
NP: What you describe is quite remarkable but sounds so incredibly daunting…
CA: Yes, in many ways it is…but one must not let despair crush our resolve!There is another layer of complexity that I would like to point out that makes this work so vitally important: Literacy in African traditional languages – the number of people who can read and write in a given language – is very low. This is not unique to Africa, indeed it also true in all places around the world where we find theproblem of linguistic extinction. The building blocks of literary and linguistic fluency (equally important) – the alphabet, phonetics, penmanship, diction, syntax, grammar etc. must be also captured and widely taught. It is also important to state that language does not exist in a cultural vacuum…in cultural isolation. The ‘Omenani’ of a people – their belief system, customs, cosmology, values, and worldview – are channeled through a people’s language. Now, these are aspects of a people’s culture (and there are other vital components)that should be captured as well, if one is to attain the goal of preserving a people’s language effectively.
NP: How do you avoid the perception that you are imposing your will on others- something that your work has so eloquently highlighted?
CA: That is an excellent question…The Achebe foundation’sIgbo project does not and will not practice cultural imperialism.Wedo not impose artificial structures on the languages (a subject of my Odenigbo lecture of 1999), but willstrive to preserve what is on the ground and respect linguistic dynamism. That means having the people themselves lead the way and having members of our team approach the work with humility…not with the “I am here to save the world” mentality, but with a “how can we, together, accomplish this incredibly important task!” spirit.Another way to protect indigenous cultures is to make sure you have present local representation and a diversity of workers and perspectives on the project.
A small army of experts and partners from around the globe – linguists, computer scientists, statisticians, literature professors, linguistic historians, educators, etc. – have been working on this for several decades. It is all very exciting, but it also means that no one group can exert an undue influence or pressure on the work. There is also a major push to capture what has been termed “linguistic idiosyncrasies” – speech patterns and accents that may have been lost to history. For instance, in the dictionary there is a list of several versions of a single word (in various dialects) rather than one standardized version.
We intend very soon to present our work to the local schools and provide teachers, students, parents, communities, women’s groups and others with tools to preserve, engage with, and propagate Igbo language and culture.
NP: Your work with the Igbo Language projectis incredibly important. Do you intend to spread your effort to other parts of Africa, other endangered languages of the world?
CA: Yes and I hope that the funding will be available.There are many other languages that UNESCO and others have placed on the endangered list. We would like to provide a helping hand in confronting the problems facing several other African languages in much the same way we have tackled the Igbo Language project, to protect them from extinction… but we cannot do it alone. This project has been very expensive and has required personal expenditure on my part…and I do not consider myself a wealthy person. Thankfully, it has also been supported by several foundations and universities in America, but more funding is needed.
International NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations] and African governments should tackle this alarming problem as well. African governments have a lot of work do -there are stumbling blocks to reading that we have discovered – poor eyesight for example. There is a great need for reading glasses in the millions – it is quite alarming.
You can see from what I have described and how long it is taking in just one instance that language and cultural preservation is a painstakingly difficult process that requires an army of dedicated workers and a great deal of resources and effort.This is not a simple problem but one of great complexity. And we need well-funded,large-scale projects to tackle this problem before it is too late.
NP: You’ve experienced living in what you have termed the “poorer addresses of the planet” – in African nations – as well as indeveloped Western countries. What’s your evaluation of the relationship between wealth, technology and culture?
CA: In my opinion, good art can come from any culture and background. Great Art does not cluster in one part of the world or the other. We are living in interesting times. Globalization is our reality, for good or ill… and I can talk about the problems for hours!There are also good things – technology: the internet, television, emails; other tools– have made our world smaller. Many of the best artists and writers are global citizens – they move constantly.Today, there exists a significant degree of cross-fertilization of cultures, ideas, values, stories, art, music, languages – you name it, on a grand scale across the globe. Many artists might have come from former less developed colonies but now they operate on the world stage. So the times have changed.
Having said that, I still feel that before we can announce the arrival of the Great World Story, or Universal culture, we should hear all the stories… appreciate all that the world has to offer. We should hear more stories and revel in the Art from indigenous societies of Africa, Australia, from the Middle East, from Eastern Europe, from Native Americans, from China,India, Brazil and under-represented cultures of Latin America-countries like Ecuador, Uruguay-the Caribbean, and Oceania etc.
Artists from the developing world do no one a favor by blindly copying Western styles and forms. And let me be clear, because I am often misunderstood: I am not decreeing how a writer should write. I am not suggesting that artists should not or cannot be influenced by other artists from different parts of the world.
That is welcome. I am suggesting that an artist should be true to who and what they are and should aspire to produce the best art that they can …that is when the magic in art is released. What I am calling for is an environment where freedom of creative expression is not only possible but protected… where an artist from any part of the worldcanacquire and develop their unique voice and then express themselves on the Great Cultural Stagein full ear shot of the world!
NP: You are now based at Brown University – an American Ivy League University, where you hold the David and Marianna Fisher University Professorship and spearhead the Achebe Colloquium. Tell me a bit more about this initiative.
CA: Yes… well the eminent Ruth Simmons, the former President of Brown recruited me to Brown in 2009,to start a new project in keeping with my life’s work. The Achebe Colloquium on Africa as it is called annually brings together an international group of scholars – Africanists, officials from African governments, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and other organizations – for two days of intense deliberation and exchange of ideas on the importance of strengthening democracy and peace on the African continent. We have had three gatherings since its inception and discussed topics like Corruption, the leadership crisis in Africa, the Rwanda Genocide, the Crisis in the Congo, Nigeria’s myriad problems, the Arab Spring etc. This year’s conference will focus on Governance, Peace and Security in Africa.
Q: Let me end on a lighter note. Why have you attempted to write books for the children while you’ve been mostly focused on writing serious novels for the adults? How is it possible for you to shift your concentration from the complex and problematical world of adults to the simple and happy world ofchildren? Which type of writing is more enjoyable to you?
CA: I decided to write for children as a matter of urgency and necessity. I first noticed there was a problem when I had my first child Chinelo and went to the bookshopsto buy books for her. This was soon after independence from Great Britain. The books about Africa for children were, to put it mildly, not appropriate. So I decided that if I did not like the content of the children’s books, I would write my own. Now, around the same time, my friend Christopher Okigbo – Africa’s greatest modern poet – was the Cambridge University Press’ representative for the entire West African region. He also wanted to create a body of work that was based on local thought and African values for our children. Okigbo was a phenomenal publisher. He was so busy with the world and life and yet he got Cyprian Ekwensi to write a Passport of Mallam Ilia. He then came to me and said “Chinua you must write a children’s book.”
So, in many ways, Chike and the River was a mandated work by Christopher Okigbo. Okigbo had a way of “getting you to do something that you want to do.” He had a saying that the books he published must be first rate or he wouldn’t bother at all. He outlined the Cambridge University Press ‘culture’ – their expectations for a certain number of pages, for a particular moral code, for a particular standard of writing etc. When I accepted to write the book, I already had an inspiration in my life from which to draw for this particular story. I shared in Okigbo’s desire to mold young children into good citizens through good story telling. It sounds heavy, but infact, good writing has a heaviness of its own – like the moral purpose that pervades Shakespeare or the work of Charles Dickens.
So when I took my manuscript in 1966 to Okigbo, he sent it immediately to the Cambridge publishers and they said they liked it but it was too short, to which Okigbo said in good humour to me: “go and read Ekwensi’s children’s book to get a sense of what we want.” So I went back to work and increased the length of the book. It wasn’t something I was planning to get done immediately, but Okigbo gave it an urgency. We were both concerned that African literature for children as it was formulated up to that point, had numerous stories in our oral tradition, but nothing in published form, so I too understood that there was work ahead of us to do, and quickly!I later published other books for children How the Leopard got its Claws, the Flute; and the Drum.
I think writing is very serious work and very important. All writing for me is a privilege and a joy. I do not have a favorite genre and I have written novels (prose), poetry, children’s books, essays, non-fiction works and political commentaries.
I will leave you with a passage from my new book There was a country-A personal history of Biafra, that I feel encapsulates my sentiments about writing:
The triumph of the written word is often attained when the writer achieves union and trust with the reader who then becomes ready to be drawn deep into familiar and occasionally unfamiliar territory, walking in borrowed literary shoes so to speak, towards a deeper understanding of self, society, or of foreign peoples, cultures and situations.
Nasrin Pourhamrang is an Iranian journalist and the chief editor of Hatef weekly magazine, a local publication based in the northern Iranian province of Guilan.
Soyinka, Femi Kuti, Genevieve, Chimamanda, Tuface, 5 other Nigerians ranked
Highly influential American Forbes Magazine, well-known for its lists, has published a list 40 most powerful and influential celebrities in Africa. Nigerian Novelist, Chinua Achebe, tops the list that also has ten other Nigerians. Yemi Adebowale reports
Early in September, influential American Magazine Forbes called for nominations for a list of the 40 most powerful celebrities in contemporary Africa. Over 7,500 nominations came in. After a thorough sifting, a list of 40 eventually emerged. The list, dominated by Nigerians, included actors, cerebral authors, musicians, movie producers, super models, television personalities and athletes from across Africa. Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe was ranked No. 1 while Senegalese musician, Youssou N’dour and Ivorian football star, Didier Drogba ranked second and third respectively.
The other Nigerians on the list are Nobel Laureate, Professsor Wole Soyinka; Afro-beat musician, Femi Kuti; music producer, Don Jazzy; actress Genevieve Nnaji and novelist Chimamanda Adichie. Others are Tuface Idibia, P-Square, D’Banj, Nneka and Asa, all musicians.
How Forbes Arrived at 40 Names…
How did Forbes Magazine narrow down the huge number of nominations to 40? It explains thus: "Determining the celebrities who exert the highest degree of influence in contemporary African pop culture involved sifting through the nominations for the individuals with the highest numbers of votes, and then measuring their media visibility - exposure in print, television, radio and online. It also included their number of web references on Google, television/radio mentions and their general clout across the continent."
Forbes said further that a robust social media presence would have been an invaluable yardstick for determining the intensity of influence these individuals exert over their enthusiasts. However, apart from Senegalese hip-hop act Akon, Nigerian beat maker Michael Collins (Don Jazzy) and a handful of others who boast 6-figure followers on networks like Facebook and Twitter, "an overwhelming number of Africa’s most influential celebrities have either a very small or non-existent social media presence."
Africa’s favourite idols who use their celebrity status to impact social change are also on the rise, so says Forbes. "Take Liya Kebede, for instance. The Ethiopian-born supermodel has leveraged on her celebrity status to raise awareness about maternal health issues. She currently serves as the World Health Organization’s Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and child health. She also founded the Liya Kebede Foundation, which seeks to reduce maternal mortality rates in Ethiopia and around the world by funding advocacy, training and medical programs."
Forbes said further that Drogba had also built on the cult-like following he enjoys at home to call for peace in his war-torn country: "Cote D’Ivoire had been enduring a civil war since 2000. After he led the Ivorian national team to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, Drogba famously made a plea to the combatants, requesting that they drop their weapons in pursuit of peace. They listened. A few days later, there was a cease-fire. Apart from playing a pivotal role in the peace process, Drogba also donated a $5 million endorsement fee he earned from Pepsi to construct a world-class hospital in his hometown of Abidjan."
Albert Achebe (born 16 November 1930) popularly known as Chinua Achebe is best known for his first novel Things Fall Apart which is the most widely read book in modern African literature. Raised by Christian parents in the Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies. He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. After graduation, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service and soon moved to the metropolis of Lagos.
Nobel Laureate Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, is the first African to win a Nobel prize. He was born 13 July 1934 is a writer, poet and playwright. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature and became the first African in Africa and in Diaspora to be so honoured. In 1994, he was designated UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media and communication.
He is the first son of the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Femi has been able to leverage on his father’s brilliance, fame and fortune to position himself as one of Africa’s wealthiest entertainers. He owns the popular Afrikan Shrine. Like his father, he has many popular albums to his credits like Bang, Bang, Bang. He also rakes in a lot of income from international shows and concerts worldwide.
Genevieve is one of the leading Nollywood actresses. She has acted in over 100 home videos in the country and more than a dozen TV soaps. Suave and delectable, Genevieve has also featured in many commercial advertisements and has received many endorsements. Last year, she appeared in the popular Oprah Winfrey show.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born on 15 September 1977 in Enugu, Nigeria, the fifth of six children to Igbo parents, Grace Ifeoma and James Nwoye Adichie.
At the age of nineteen, Chimamanda left for the United States. She gained a scholarship to study communication at Drexel University in Philadelphia for two years, and she went on to pursue a degree in communication and political science at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is the author of the award winning Half a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus.
There is hardly any doubt that he is one of the most successful entertainers to ever come out of Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Born Innocent Ujah Idibia, Tuface has at various times won the MTV Base music award in far away UK, Best African Act at the MOBO Awards and at the KORA Music Awards.
He has received endorsements from Guinness and Airtel, among others.
They are a set of musical twins who took the Nigeria’s entertainment scene by storm. With a sprawling mansion put in the region of N100m, Psquare, who have wined and dined with some of Africa’s leaders-presidents and ministers alike-remain one of Nigeria’s exports that have distinguished themselves in the world of entertainment.
Born Michael Enebeli, the prolific music producer, has been able to sell himself into the major market in the American music industry. After he formed the Mohits Inc. with his partner, D’Banj following their return from the United Kingdom, this chubby producer, who doubles as a musician, is a multi-talented entertainer. He became the toast of top American music acts like Jay Z, Kanye West and Kid Kudi after he produced a remix of one of D’Banj’s hit song, ‘Mr Endowed’ with American superstar, Snoop Dogg. He is at present signed on to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music.
Tagged the Kokomaster, D’Banj was born Dapo Oyebanjo. He remains one of Nigeria’s most talked about and celebrated entertainers. He has done musical collaborations with many local and foreign acts and was recently signed on by Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music after a chance meeting with the rapper in Dubai. D’Banj latest album which is enjoying rave reviews on radio and television in the country is called Oliver Twist.
She is a Nigerian who made her name in music in Germany. Though Nneka’s music is gaining ground in Nigeria as well, she remains one of the best exports from Nigeria who has done so well and brilliantly shown her musical talent.
Asa remains one of the few Nigerian musicians who has done well for herself in the world of music. Her business selling point is her unique voice. She broke out while under the tutelage of Questionmark Entertainment in Nigeria and has endeared herself to the world showbiz impresarios in the UK and France with her genre of music, afro soul.
Source: This Day, 15th October 2011.
Nigeria’s foremost novelist, Prof. Chinua Achebe, has been declared as the number one top celebrity in Africa in a poll conducted by Forbes magazine.
The literary icon and one of Africa’s most celebrated writers came out tops in the debut list of The 40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa.
Achebe, the 80 –year- old novelist of repute and a father of African literature, wrote the 1958 classic, ‘Things Fall Apart’ which has been translated into over 50 languages and sold over 10 million copies.
The literary titan was in the news recently when an American rapper and actor, 50 Cents, reportedly offered Achebe $1m to use the title ‘Things Fall Apart’ for his upcoming film just as Achebe turned down the request.
The celebrity list include actors, cerebral authors, musicians, movie producers, supermodels, TV personalities and athletes from Africa that traversed the generational divide and drew about 7,500 nominations out of which the list was compiled.
Senegalese musician, Youssou N’dour, 51, was number two on the list, while the Ivorian soccer sensation, Didier Drogba was number three.
The list also included Nigerian screen goddess Genevieve Nnaji. Perhaps not surprisingly, the list was dominated by musicians, like Akon, Angelique Kidjo and a Nigerian music producer, Michael Collins (a.k.a. Don Jazzy).
Source: Leadership, 14th October 2011.
Keynote Address Garden City Literary Festival, Port Harcourt, Nigeria. By Chinua Achebe, David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies, Brown University, Rhode Island, USA
Ethnicity is a somewhat problematic word. The great American Anthropologist and poet, Stanley Diamond, used such words as ethnic with complete and disarming respect, unlike most of us. Our use tends to be colored by guilt, condescension, or just awkwardness because this word and others in its category have suffered from cultural and racial politics and the politics of scholarship.
I looked up the word ethnic in my daughter's Random House College Dictionary. It had five definitions as follows:
1) pertaining to or characteristic of a people, especially a speech or culture group
2) referring to the origin, classification, characteristics etc. of such groups
3) pertaining to Non-Christians
4) belonging to or deriving from the cultural, racial, religious or linguistic traditions of a people or country especially a ‘primitive’ one: ethnic dances
5) U.S. a member of an ethnic group especially one belonging to a minority group that is not part of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition.
This is clearly a word loaded with problems. Being the Keynote speaker I could not evade drawing attention to this. Being first has its drawbacks. An Igbo children's chant says that the child who walks in front is the eye that spots evil spirits, the child in the rear has twisted fingers (I don't know why!); the middle child is the happy one.
Having spotted this evil spirit I shall simply step aside to the edge of the pathway and let it pass. I shall use ethnicity in the way I know Stanley [Diamond] intended it. I shall use it to mean those elements of history and culture which distinguish one group of people from their fellows. Put a little differently, ethnicity would comprise all those significant qualities of a people's character -- qualities of mind and behavior which they acquired in their long struggle to domesticate the wilderness and make it their world; their physical and spiritual landscape.
We are talking then about deep, not surface issues; we are not talking about this morning's gossip but about matters which reach back to the beginnings of a people as a people. We are talking about their earliest memories which they consider important and wish to preserve and so recount in well-chosen, pleasing and memorable language. Finally we are talking also about the beginnings of literature. That is what ethnicity suggests to me.
Needless to say that these origins did not involve pen and paper or their ancestors of clay and papyrus. We may imagine some ancient poets making fun of those of their guild who were adopting the new-fangled habit of reading from heavy clay tablets intended for royal edicts and land measurements. This may be no idle imagination.
Several years ago I had invited a seventy-year old illiterate minstrel to recite his epic poetry at the University of Nigeria. His story of the exploits of the hero, Emeka Okoye, began, to everyone's surprise, with paper playing a singularly sinister role. Paper floating down from the sky one morning carried a commandment from the demi-god Enunyilimba prohibiting the eating or drinking of anything however small for seven markets or twenty eight days. The reason: this demi-god was going to feast above for one month and all the inhabitants of the world below must therefore honor him with starvation, on pain of instant death!
The notion of oral performance as serious literature is still received with suspicion or reluctance in many quarters, or at best perceived as a form that ended long ago, perhaps in the age of Homer. But that is far from the truth. The Somali, a pastoral/nomadic people in the Horn of Africa must be accounted among the world's most poetic people. Their life is permeated by the composition and recital of poetry ranging from simple domestic discourse about the superiority of the camel over goats and cows to the intense anti-colonial poetry directed against the British; the Italians and the Ethiopians. Sayyid Muhammad Abdille Hasan whom the British called the "Mad Mullah" is revered to this day not only because of his twenty-year struggle against three colonial powers, but primarily as the greatest poet in the Somali language. Now this language was first written down as recently as 1972.
It is important that we admit the category of oral literature with respect in this literary festival or else we shall have little to talk about beside already very-well-talked-about matters. For myself I am taking my bearing from oral literature.
During the European Middle Ages a succession of empires rose and fell in the West African grasslands or the Sahel. One of the most remarkable among these empires was Mali as remarkable as its founder, Sundiatta. Islam had penetrated into this part of Africa for at least one thousand years and had slowly superseded the indigenous African polytheistic religions. The creation story which I will now tell you quite obviously predates the coming of Islam to Mali:
At the beginning there was a huge drop of milk.
Then Doondari came and he created the stone.
Then the stone created iron;
The iron created fire;
And fire created water;
And water created air.
Then Doondari descended the second time.
And took the five elements
And he shaped them into man.
But man was proud.
Then Doondari created blindness and blindness
But when blindness became too proud,
Doondari created sleep, and sleep defeated
But when sleep became too proud,
Doondari created worry, and worry defeated
But when worry became too proud,
Doondari created death, and death defeated
But when death became too proud,
Doondari descended for the third time,
And he came as Gueno, the eternal one
And Gueno defeated death. [i]
There are many things one could say about this wonderful story but I will settle for only one – the constant battle the Creator wages, to maintain the integrity of his world in the face of insidious threat from pride. Four times Doondari has to create an agent to defeat pride. And four times it rises and fights again. And it was man's pride that began it all.
The Fulani people who made this story before the coming of Allah were obviously concerned about pride. The theology behind the story is not concerned about seven deadly sins, but only one.
In the 1950s after one thousand years of Islam, a young Fulani from Senegal who had received the best education the French could give to a brilliant colonial subject wrote a novel about the plight of his people after their defeat and subjugation by French arms and policies.
One of the major characters in the novel has this to say:
If it were still only a matter of ourselves,
of the conservation of our substance, the
problem would have been less complicated:
not being able to conquer them, we should
have chosen to be wiped out rather than to
yield. But we are among the last men on
earth to possess God as He veritably is in
His Oneness...How are we to save Him?[ii]
The point being made here may elude anyone who has not read Cheikh Hamidou Kane's novel: Ambiguous Adventure so I will summarize it:
“We the Diallobe people,” it says “would have had no excuse to continue living after our fathers were defeated by French arms; we would have had every justification in committing suicide. But we are among the few in the world who truly understand God. If we should die what would happen to God then?”
Now that is hardly a declaration of modesty. In fact it is pretty arrogant. It would seem that the pride which the Diallobe people meditated upon is a living problem still with these people in spite of a thousand years of Islam, in spite of a history that has experienced imperial grandeur of their own making as well as the ultimate humiliation of defeat and colonialization by strangers.
We are thus talking about qualities at the core of a people's character. Something which survives time and events and can ferry across from oral poetry in an African language to modern fiction written in French. We are not talking about transitory fads and fashions.
I take my second example from my own people – the Igbo of South-Eastern Nigeria, and a very different kind of creation myth. Unlike the Fulani story which takes place in a remote, ethereal setting, the Igbo story like the Igbo themselves, is very much down to earth.
The crux of this story is that one morning Chukwu, the Creator, looks down and beholds the king of Nri and the King of Adama sitting disconsolate on an anthill surrounded by marshy ground ( It is not clear whether there are two kings or one king with two titles: for simplicity I shall assume only one.) Chukwu asks him what the matter is and the king replies that the soil is too moist to plant the yam which Chukwu had directed him to plant during an earlier discussion. As a result of this failure of the crop, the story tells us that people are wandering through the bush like wild animals. So Chukwu sends Eze Nri to Awka, the town of blacksmiths to invite one of them to blow on his bellows and make the soil dry.
This is an unusual creation story. It is not the drama of creation that it is concerned with. The world is already made and functioning somehow. But it is not perfect. Man complains to God about this and holds conversations with him to bring about changes and improvements, specifically the tremendous transition of mankind from wanderers in the bush to settled agriculturalists using iron tools.
The Igbo people who made this story are famous (or notorious according to one’s point of view) for their belief in conversation even with God. Unlike their neighbours, they do not care for kings and kingdoms. They were not easy to colonize; the British described them as argumentative. Why the British would consider the Igbo habit of arguing as surprising, is the real surprise. Why would people who argue with the Creator of the world be intimidated by white district officers some of whom were in their twenties? The Igbo did not care for Empires; they preferred small-scale village communities where every adult male was the king of his own household and could take part in decision-making and every adult woman in (admittedly less frequent) women’s decision-making.
I hope you will not expect me to demonstrate in detail how the world of Things Fall Apart and the world of Arrow of God derive their substance and ambience from these primordial conversations between the first Igbo people and their Creator.
When the British colonized Nigeria they had a lot to learn- some of them did, but some of them, unfortunately, did not. It was bad enough that the Igbo had no kings and no horses, but to also demand a hearing was just too much! What the uninitiated members of Britain’s imperial service did not realize was that the Igbo got away long ago talking back to God Himself. That is a major element of their ethnicity and it will be present in their life and literature.
I want now to address briefly the question posed in what appears like a sub-title to the main subject: To what degree is all literature shaped by the cultural contexts of the authors?
The creative enterprise is a magical space onto itself – the mind in mutual collaboration with the world and its elements to produce something of aesthetic value. Creative writers are like painters, using words to paint a literary tapestry. I think that words have a magic, that human situations- one’s environment, culture, ‘ethnicity’ as we have spent time re-discovering – can be unburdened to join other factors wordsmiths use to create literary magic - that extra dimension that the writer can conjure up by placing ideas about the human condition side by side on paper.
I suppose that cultural contexts is another name for what we have so far been calling the factors of ethnicity. Quite clearly these factors do shape literature. The cultural context within which a writer finds him/herself is relevant in so far as it brings something of literary value -contributes to the world story - and does not claim superiority over, deny, obscure or jaundice, even oppress other perspectives or stories. But having said that let me now admit that there are other factors and not least among them is the genius and free-will of the author.
I left this factor out of account until now, for a purpose. Good literature, whether oral or written, will bear the marks of the author's culture as well as his or her own personal signature.
Culture is a shared commodity. It implies community. The behavior of one person is not called culture; but the action of one person can influence the culture of the group, and even change it.
Western literature played a central role in promoting the ideal of individual autonomy. As Lionel Trilling tells us Western literature has in the last one hundred and fifty years held “ an intense and adverse imagination of the culture in which it has its being.” It has promoted the view of society and of culture as a prison-house from which the individual must escape to find freedom and fulfillment.
If this is so then it seems to me that a real parting of the ways may have occurred between Western literature and its own origins, to say nothing of other literatures.
The father of Western philosophy says: I think, therefore I am. The unknown formulator of the great Bantu assertion says Umuntu, Ngumuntu Ngabantu: a person is a person because of other persons. The Igbo put it proverbially: if a person feels an itch in the back he calls his fellow to scratch him; an animal scratches itself against a tree.
Georges Braque, co-founder of cubism, once described perspective as “a ghastly mistake which it has taken four centuries to redress.” Perspective is important but it is also a one-eyed view which can degenerate into mere draughts-manship. Perhaps the celebration of individualism, another one-eyed view of the world, can now use a little redressing in Western literature.
The story of Nigeria is one steeped in ethnic and religious tensions and complexity. ‘Ethnicity’ in the Nigerian context has not evolved, through ‘a post-primordial civic nationalism’[iii] into a blissful, common national identity, as seen in say Switzerland. Until the day “the Swissification of ethnic conflict”[iv] arrives, Nigerians, particularly its writers, should not be satisfied with sweeping the matter ‘under the rug.’
For those who are not proficient in Nigeria’s recent political history it might be useful to point out that the word ethnic was not always ‘the ugly girl that many took to bed at night, but denied during the daytime.’ My generation remembers a Nigeria that was once a land of great hope and progress, a nation of immense resources at its disposal – natural resources, but even more so human resources. Nigeria possesses a great diversity of vibrant peoples who have not always been on the best of terms, but those of us who are old enough remember periods in our history when collaborations across ethnic and religious divides produced great results.
The Nigeria-Biafra war changed the course of Nigeria. One can summarize the conflict as one precipitated by the bile of ethnic hatred. It was such a cataclysmic experience that for me it virtually changed the history of Africa and the history of Nigeria. Everything I had known before, all the optimism had to be rethought. For me, this traumatic event changed my writing for a time, which found expression in a different genre - poetry.
Since the war, Nigerians have been subjected to a clique of military and civilian adventurers and a political class that have exploited the ethnic divisions in Nigeria. This group, unfortunately, has been completely corrupted – spearheading the enormous transfer of the country's wealth into private bank accounts, a wholesale theft of the national resources needed for all kinds of things – for health, for education, for roads. The result has been that the nation’s infrastructure was left to disintegrate unleashing untold suffering on millions of innocent people.
This development has been made easy by Nigerian academics who have presided over the liquidation of the university system and the rise of a culture of anti-intellectualism in Nigeria. One of the ways we have done it is our obsession for office. Twenty-five years ago, university professors were held in very high esteem. Today, I don’t think anybody thinks very much of them, and quite frankly, I think it is our own making. What happens when a university Vice-Chancellor in Nigeria is about to leave office? You ought to see the trips made up and down to government houses in Abuja, begging for cabinet positions.
What upsets me is that this entire mess Nigeria finds itself in was quite avoidable. The leadership appears not to really care for the welfare of the country and its people. If a political class—including intellectuals, university professors, and people like that, who have read all the books and know how the world works—if they had based their actions on principle rather than on opportunity, Nigeria would not be in this predicament. But Nigerian leaders, beginning with the military dictators, looked around and saw that they could buy intellectuals. Anybody who called himself president would immediately find everyone lining up outside his home or his office to be made minister of this or that. And this is what they have exploited—they have exploited the divisions, the ethnic and religious sectionalization in the country. You have leaders who see nothing wrong in inciting religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. It's all simply to retain power. So you find now a different kind of alienation.
In the past in Igbo land, if something kept happening and happening, or if somebody kept failing and failing, the people would go and consult an oracle. They call it Iju Ase. In the modern world, the systems that cause these failures are examined. But frankly, I would suggest that Nigeria has decided to put merit aside and bring up whatever considerations, and that is one of the things that happened to us. And the modern world has not been created on considerations outside of merit.
I despair over Nigeria daily. On the missed opportunities of Nigeria: the fact that nobody has had the imagination to say, ‘Look I’m going to transcend all this ethnic pettiness and become the leader of modern Nigeria’ because this is important for Africa, this is important for the world. So, let’s stop all this nonsense about religion, about tribe and so on. Let’s organize Nigeria and make it a working entity so that it can fulfill its mission in the world.
There is a great deal of work for the Nigerian writer- indeed all writers. If the society is healthy, the writer’s job is limited – which is not the situation in Nigeria. On the other hand, if a society is ill the writer has a responsibility to point it out even if it produces headaches in the halls of power!
The role of the writer in a society such as ours besieged with many pathologies -ethnic bigotry, political ineptitude, corruption, and the cult of mediocrity - is not an easy or rigid one. Nigerian writers can choose to turn away from the reality of Nigeria’s intimidating complexity or conquer its mystery by battling with it. I hope we all choose the latter.
[i] Ulli Beier (ed.) The Origin of Life and Death, London, Heinemann Educational Books, 1966, In Chinua Achebe, Hopes and Impediments, New York, Anchor Doubleday, 1989, P.135.
[ii] Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure, London, Heinemann Educational Books, 1962, p.10.
[iii] Alexandre S. Wilner “The Swiss-ification of Ethnic Conflict: Historical Lessons in Nation building
– The Swiss Example”, Federal Governance Vol. 6, (2007/8), 1-27.
FROM KELVIN EBIRI, GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR AND ANOTE AJELUOROU (PORT HARCOURT)
Anyaoku, Jesse Jackson, Amaechi on way foward
LITERARY icon, Prof. Chinua Achebe yesterday lamented the nation’s woes, painting a picture of how the Nigeria-Biafra war which was precipitated by the bile of ethnic hatred, created a clique of military class and political adventurers that ruined the country.
He said this ugly development has been made easy by Nigerian academics who have presided over the liquidation of the university system in Nigeria and the rise of a culture of anti-intellectualism in the country.
Achebe made the remarks in a keynote address titled “Literature and Ethnicity” which he delivered at the Garden City Literary Festival taking place at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Rivers State. He was represented by his third son, Dr. Chidi.
The renowned professor of literature who spoke to the audience through a recorded video, recalled that though Nigeria is today steeped in ethnic and religious tensions, there was once a time when it was seen as a land of great hope, progress; a nation of immense resources including a great diversity of vibrant people who have not always been on the best of terms, but had collaborated to produce great results for the betterment of all. He said the Nigeria-Biafra war changed all that.
Present at the event were the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, American civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson, Vice Chancellor of UPORT, Prof. Joseph Ajienka, Prof. Molara Ogundipe, Prof. Femi Osofisan, Prof. Nkem Okoh, Prof. Chidi Maduka and other dignitaries.
Achebe said: “Since the war, Nigerians have been subjected to a clique of military and civilian adventurers and a political class that have exploited the ethnic divisions in Nigeria. This group, unfortunately, has been completely corrupted, spearheading the enormous transfer of the country’s wealth into private bank accounts, a wholesale theft of the national resources needed for all kinds of things - health, education, roads. The result has been that the nation’s infrastructure was left to disintegrate unleashing untold suffering on millions of innocent people.”
He noted that what upsets him most is that the entire mess, which Nigeria has found itself today was quite avoidable. According to him, the leadership appears not to really care for the welfare of the country and its people.
Achebe noted that for him, it was such a cataclysmic experience that has virtually changed the history of Africa and that of Nigeria such that he had to rethink all his optimism about the country.
He berated the academia for allegedly collaborating with the military and the civilian authorities to foster a culture of anti-intellectualism and misgoverning the country.
“If a political class, including intellectuals, university professors, and people like that, who have read all the books and know how the world works, had based their actions on principles rather than on opportunity, Nigeria would not have been in this predicament. But Nigerian leaders, beginning with the military dictators, looked around and saw that they could buy intellectuals,” Achebe said.
He said he despairs over Nigeria daily because of her missed opportunities and the fact that nobody has had the imagination to transcend all the ethnic pettiness and become a leader of modern Nigeria.
“So, let us stop all this nonsense about religion, about tribe and so on. Let us organise Nigeria and make it a working entity so that it can fulfil its mission in the world,” he said.
Achebe tasked Nigerian writers and their counterparts around the world to continue to point out the ills in the society even if it produces headaches in the halls of power.
Patron of the festival, Governor Amaechi, said the choice of literature and politics as the theme of this year’s edition of the festival was informed by the fact that politics permeates every aspect of life.
“From the role of women in our society to the struggles of those who feel their points of view are not clearly heard, to the development of our environment, literature probes every facets of our experience, including those bearings on political matters. This year’s festival offers a forum where writers, public figures, scholars and other citizens can discuss the nature and implications of the relationship between literature and politics. My hope is that at the end of this festival, we will come away with deeper insights and a renewed sense of the vital link between literature and politics.”
Amaechi also urged writers to reflect reality, noting that one of their major roles is to identify problems of the society and provide solutions to them.
Anyaoku who chaired the event, stressed that though education is the gateway to the development of any nation, such development would remain far from being achieved if it lacks a good literary culture.
He explained that if politics is to produce a non-dysfunctional world, politics needs literature because the two reinforce each other for good policy.
On his part, the American civil rights leader and former presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, Revd. Jesse Jackson stated that Nigeria’s stability and growth are huge things to the world, saying that, literacy, as the Garden City Literary Festival is promoting, is the key to liberation and that those who have the strong minds break strong chains.
He stated that literacy and poverty cannot co-exist, thus education is a key to competing into this world and “that thinking enables us to co-exist.”
Festival director, Koko Kalango observed that the GCLF has become a yearly forum for networking and conducting business with books, with intellectual ideas as common denominator.
Source: Daily Champion, 15th September 2011.
Renown academic and literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe has said that Nigeria’s woes started during the civil war and the clique of military and civilian opportunists who capitalized on the havoc caused by ethnic hatred.
Prof. Achebe, who stated this at the ongoing Garden City Literary Festival, through recorded video and represented by his third son, Dr Chidi Achebe in Port Harcourt, RIvers State capital also frown at the prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism in the country today, lambasting the crop of academics who have contributed to the fall of the university education in the country.
The renown academic who delivered the keynote address titled ‘Literature and Ethnicity’,noted that although Nigeria is today plagued by ethnic and religious crises, her people, despite their diversity used to live together harmoniously, doing things in common, but that the clique of military and political opportunists had taken advantage of her weakness, causing a war that changed her socio-cultural outlook.
He said further that he had been especially displeased about the turn the nation had taken when he realised that all the misery of today were totally avoidable.
"Since the war, Nigerians have been subjected to a clique of military and civilian adventurers and a political class that have exploited the ethnic divisions in Nigeria. this group, unfortunately, has been completely corrupted, spearheading the enormous transfer of the country’s wealth into private bank accounts, a wholesale theft of the national resources needed for all kinds of thing-health, for education, for roads. The result has been that the nation’s infrastructure was left to disintegrate unleashing untold suffering on millions of innocent people.
"If a political class, including intellectuals, university professors, and people like that, who have read all the books and know how the world works, if they had based their actions on principles rather than on opportunity, Nigeria would not have been in this predicament. But Nigerian leaders, beginning with the military dictators, looked around and saw that they could buy intellectuals
"So, let’s stop all this nonsense about religion, about tribe and so on. Lets organise Nigeria and make it a working entity so that it can fulfil its mission in the world" said Achebe.
In his remarks, Special Guest of Honour Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, said he deliberately chose the term for this year’s festival ‘literature and politics’ to see if the issue of the role of writers in society had been resolved.
The Chairman of the event, Dr Emeka Anyaoku, explained that politics would need literature to be able to produce a workable system.
Source: Daily Champion, 15th September 2011.
By SOLA BALOGUN
Minutes after he rounded off his 38-minute lecture with a “ Thank you” footnote, Professor Chinua Achebe, guest lecturer of the just concluded 2009 Ahiajoku lecture for Ndigbo in Owerri, Imo State capital must have anticipated his audience’s yearning for more. In fact, thousands of guests who listened to the literary icon had mistaken the “ Thank you” for a pause, believing that the professor has more stories to tell Nigerians, particularly his kinsmen, the Ndigbo.
But quite expectedly too, Achebe explored his literary skills to the fullest by employing the wisdom of an elder and storyteller to relay a powerful message to his people. He chose to speak in parables, dishing out several episodes to address the theme of the lecture; Igbo Intellectualism and Development. He drew the curtain with an excerpt in Things Fall Apart, even as he admonished Ndigbo Echendu’s address to his nephew Okonkwo.
Several thousands of Igbo citizens had gathered for the erudite scholar at the Cenotaph venue of the lecture, on Friday January 23. They had come to listen to the man whose classic novel, Things Fall Apart was equally celebrated as part of the yearly Ahiajoku lecture. The government and people of Imo State under the leadership of Chief Ikedi Ohakim had set aside this year’s lecture to pay tributes to Achebe who used his classical work of 50 years to tell the story of his kinsmen to the globe.
It was against this backdrop that both the lecture and Achebe’s achievements as a writer became the subject of celebration, such that virtually all the guests, old and young, high and low gathered en-masse to pay tributes to their illustrious son.
Although the event was slated for 10 am, it could not start formally until 12,50 pm, when a rather long procession of academicians filed in to usher in the guest lecturer. Governor Ohakim and Professor Dora Akunyili, Minister of Information were in the entourage and the audience immediately gave a thunderous applause as they sighted their hero on wheel chair. Following an interlude of songs and dances by the Omenimo Troupe as well as the Imo State Cultural troupe, Professor Pat Utomi of the Lagos Business School presented an illuminating citation of Achebe, describing him as a legend who exhibits humilty even in greatness.
The lecture eventually started at 2,40 pm when Professor Achebe began his story on a note of gratitude to the organizers of the Ahiajoku lecture. He was particularly grateful to Ndigbo for choosing to celebrate his work of 50 years, nothing above all, that Things Fall Apart remains the celebration of the joy and happiness of the Igbo nation.
Apparently underscoring the crucial role, which Ahiajoku lecture has played in the life of Ndigbo, Achebe described his foray into the literary world as personal obsession, which transformed into a societal cause. He disclosed how he wrote Things Fall Apart with the sole intention of writing the story of his people, especially when others had tried to write it wrongly.
Achebe went on to explain that there is no man, community or institution without a story, hence the need by people, especially young Nigerians, to write their own stories lest others write their story wrongly for them. The literary icon also stressed the relevance of creation stories, saying that all over the world, people are fascinated by creation stories. He also relayed the story of Obiejoku in his home town Ogidi, capping it up with the mythical account of Yam (king of crops) in Igboland as well as another story of creation from the Fulanis.
Prof. Achebe drew similarities between creation stories, citing the Biblical story in Genesis as a point of reference. He however reasoned that the Igbo creation story is somehow different, although it equally reflects the constant conversation between man and his creator. He therefore urged Ndigbo to assume the Igbo ‘restless’ spirit, which makes room for everyone to join in discussions and experimentations, with a mission to make the earth produce more and more for the betterment of humanity.
In the same vein, Achebe addressed the issue of language when he reminded that every Igbo remains an Igbo, only that there may be differences in dialects. He lectured therefore, that no one should condemn the other for speaking particular dialects of Igbo, adding “ Igbo people had been speaking their language from ages, without going to war over age and earth. The Igbos lived peacefully until the white men came to find out that there are too many words in Igbo language.’’
Achebe also cautioned that it could be wrong for anyone to tell a child who speaks his or her mother tongue that he or she is wrong. He reasoned that no one has the right to dictate how a dialect should be spoken and that “ people should deviate for fighting over a non-issue, such as attempting to scold a child who is learning how to speak his or her mother tongue”
Apparently speaking to his kinsmen in parables, Achebe rounded off his lecture with a proverb; Mother is supreme, although father is head of home, which her further illustrated through a passage in Things Fall Apart. Achebe used the analogy of Echendu’s meeting with Okonkwo on his arrival at his motherland (after being sent on exile from his fatherland in Umoufia) to relay certain excesses and flaws of man. Thus, Okonkwo, like Ndigbo, receives an elderly advice from Echendu on the virtues of perseverance, tolerance, patience and hope. Achebe ended his lecture on a note of hope, noting, “ no one is perfect, but life must continue”.
Source: Sun, 27th January 2009.
From Kodilinye Obiagwu and Nkechi Onyedika, Owerri
WORLD acclaimed literary icon, Prof Chinua Achebe, has urged Ndigbo to disregard the inherent disparity in language among them and emphasise those things that unite them in the quest to put the Igbo nation on a new pedestal of development.
Delivering the 24th Ahajioku lecture with the theme, " Igbo Intellectualism and Development," Achebe noted that despite the disparities in dialect, Igbo's are one, adding that Ndigbo have spoken their language for centuries without going to war.
He wondered why differences in dialect should be seen as a barrier in the actualisation of the Igbo project.
He said, " It is a sacrilege to tell a child who is learning to speak his mother tongue that he is not correct, it is wrong for a classroom teacher to rule a child who is learning to speak his mother tongue out of order. Igbo people have spoken their language for so many centuries without going to war."
Achebe stated that the Ahajioku lecture would help the Igbo people overcome the mis-education they received during the colonial rule, adding that there is friendship that Igbo people share, which made them different.
According to him, Ahajioku lecture has moved from a mere superficial and academic exercise to something that could be used to provide a new framework to address contemporary development issues confronting the Igboland.
He observed that the novel, " Things Fall Apart" is a celebration of the story of the Igbo people, " It is our story that we are celebrating, there is joy and happiness in our lives and I want us to celebrate our lives. We have the responsibility to make our story known. That is what I felt right from my childhood. We know we have a story and should wage war when someone wants to tell our story, the way that is not true."
In his remarks, the chairman of the occasion and the Asagba of Asaba, His Royal Majesty, Chike Edozie called for the creation of Anioma State as a way of enhancing Igbo unity.
He canvassed an annual subvention from all the South east governors to Ohaneze Ndigbo to enable the body perform its job and also called for a central Eze Ndigbo to be known as, " Eze Ndigbo Nile", instead of the present proliferation of Eze Ndigbo in different parts of the country.
The event was over two hours late but few people noticed. At 12.45 pm, the first of the 21 gun salute for Achebe boomed off. And at 2.35 pm he was wheeled onto the podium from the elevated table, which he shared with Prof Edozie, Dr Dozie Ikedife, and Ambassador Ralph Uwechue.
Achebe greeted the people in Igbo language, mixed up the names of some governors from Igbo speaking areas and their states and apologized for the mistakes "because there are many governors and states."
The people started arriving early and by 12.30 there was no standing space inside the air conditioned tent constructed for the event. The struggle to find a seat and be decorous raged between the surging crowd and the security men.
The university dons, decked in their academic gowns were easily mistaken for the choristers.
His voice drawling, his lecture punctuated with long pauses, Achebe cast the image of one of his characters , Uchendu in Things Fall Apart. He read a passage from the book; it was the passage when Okonkwo's uncle, Uchendu, welcomed him to his maternal home.
Achebe ended the lecture and his book reading with a verse," Onye Ka Odiri Nma", meaning (For whom is it well).
The well-attended lecture had in attendance literary giants, politicians, administrators, members of the National Assembly, academics, traditional and religious leaders, accomplished sons and daughters of Igboland among whom are: Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Senator Ike Nwachukwu; former Minister of Health, Prof. A. B. C Nwosu, former Military Administrator of Edo state, Luke Ochulo, Former Minister of Information, Walter Ofonagoro, Anambra State Governor, Dr Peter Obi and his Predecessor, Dr Chris Ngige, Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, Minister of State For FCT, Mr Chuka Udom, Senator Aurthur Nzeribe, Prof. Pat Utomi, literary giant, Prof Chukwemeka Ike, the out going and incoming President Generals of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr Dozie Ikedife and Ambassador Raph Uwechue among others.
The governors of Abia, Enugu, and Ebonyi states sent their representatives.
Source: The Guardian, 24th January 2009.
By VAL OKARA, Owerri
Imo State governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim says that literary icon and author of the famous Things Fall Apart, Prof Chinua Achebe, is a man the black race should be proud of.
Speaking in Owerri, with a group of journalists, Ohakim said that Achebe had done much in pricking the conscience of Nigerians with his writings and lectures, adding that the author has made the Igbo race proud.
Ohakim, who hosted the Ahajoku lecture, delivered by Achebe, also spoke on the inauguration of Barack Obama as United States president and what this means to the black race, among other things.
Let me begin by saying that I missed watching the live coverage of the event on CNN due to state functions. I was only able to catch a few footages of the pre-event before I set out for work in the morning. I had to give a talk at the Imo Concord Hotel to flag off the international conference on Igbo civilisation. I wish I really had the time to watch the proceedings because of its monumental significance. I’m not complaining, though (general laughter).
But having said that, I think it was a momentous occasion for the black race in particular and humanity in general. If you remember how the man (Obama) started, all the obstacles he had to scale, and where he is now, then you will appreciate the power of hope or to put it in his own word, the ‘audacity of hope.’ Five or six years ago, he was a political nobody. Then, the mention of Barak Obama wouldn’t have elicited any reaction or raised any eyebrow. His break came when he had an opportunity to give a keynote address at the Democratic Convention with John Kerry as the standard bearer in 2004. He seized it. He spoke the language of change and was able to capture the imagination of the American public. The rest is, as they say, now history.
The man has been described as a transcendental person, that is, one who has been able to unite diverse peoples, different races behind a common purpose. I think I agree with such a characterisation. In him, the famous words of the legendary Martin Luther King Jnr in his ‘I’ve a dream’ speech, that, ‘One day, my little daughters will be judged by the content of their characters, not by the colour of their skin’ has truly found a powerful expression. Obama has truly demonstrated that with determination, nothing is impossible.
When setting out for the American presidency years back, he did not see obstacles ahead, rather he saw milestones. He did not see booby traps. He saw stepping stones. It is a big lesson worthy of emulation in our own individual lives, in our families, in our neighbourhoods, in our communities, in our state and in our country. It is this kind of new thinking, new consciousness that we also are talking about in Imo State . It is the consciousness that drives us in our own modest efforts to cause a positive change in Imo State . It is seeking to invoke the can-do spirit of our people.
Yes, why not? In fact, I will say there are one thousand and one Obamas waiting in the wing in Nigeria , seeking an opportunity to make a big statement. We are talking of politics of ideas, not money. I like to define the Obama thing as merit over mediocrity. It is about allowing our best to come forward to leadership. It is about making sure people’s votes count. It is about making sure godfathers do not hijack the political process. It is about creating a new culture of ideals, not deals-making, in public office. I think with the emergence of our party in the 2007 general elections through the popular vote of our people, without the instrumentality of god-fatherism, it has been demonstrated that here in Imo we have already moved ahead.
World renowned literary giant, Professor Chinua Achebe, arrived the country Monday to give a lecture at the Ahiajoku Lecture, which Imo State is hosting. It is a known fact that it is not easy to have Prof Achebe around to give such a lecture. In fact, it is the second time he is in the country in 18 years or so. How did you pull it off?
If I hear you correctly; you are saying how did we manage to convince the respected literary giant to be part of the lecture?
Well, let me say that by coming, Professor Achebe is only making his own contribution towards conscientizing the Nigerian pubic in general and the Igbo public in particular on the need to rediscover ourselves to achieve a more fulfilling existence. We had looked around and realised that there is no better or more qualified person than this literary eagle to come and stir our thoughts, to stimulate fresh debate, to illuminate the road to the future.
In all of this, we need to understand that the old man of letters is not a frivolous person. He is a thorough man of principle and high integrity. He has been at the forefront of the crusade for good governance not only in Igbo land but the nation at large. He is an advocate of good governance and accountability in public office. Don’t forget that there was a time when he rejected a national honour bestowed on him in protest of what he perceived as a disturbing political condition in the country then. Though he is based faraway in the United States , the acclaimed father of African literature has a sharp political antennae monitoring what is going on at home.
At some point, he came out with a pungent statement condemning the menace of godfatherism in his native Anambra State.
If you were at the opening ceremony of the programme at the Concord Hotel today (Tuesday) and you listened to my speech, you will recall that I made reference to the fact that Achebe had referred to these political elements as ‘renegades.’ To him, it was, therefore, improper to accept a national award when the political space was under the assault of these renegades. Don’t forget also that here in Imo State, the people had defeated the cabal of political godfathers in the 2007 polls by voting us into power based on what they regard as the hope we represent and not the number of political godfathers lined behind our candidacy. They voted us not because we gave them gold or shared money, but because they believed the gospel of change we were preaching.
Today, I am sure that Pa Achebe is very much aware that in spite of everything, in spite of the avalanche of negative reports on the political situation at home, there is still an oasis of sanity, of true commitment to public service in a few locations.
That there are still a few public officers trying in their own little way to serve the people truthfully. If he was not convinced that it was worth his trouble, he wouldn’t not have decided to honour the invitation. At best, he probably would just have given a pre-recorded speech. But because of the undying love he has for the Igbo nation and because of his passion to identify with any effort he considers genuine to further the interest of the Igbo nation as a corporate entity, he graciously accepted to honour our invitation, at great physical inconvenience really. You know, following the motor accident he suffered in 1990, the old man has been confined to the wheel-chair. So, you have to factor in the fact that his physical capability is a bit limited. But his mind is as alert as ever.
He is such a great human being who has continued to carry on without engaging in any form of self-pity. So, for him to accept to come really demonstrates his total love for the Igbo nation as well as the Nigerian nation. You will recall that while giving a pre-recorded lecture at the 25th anniversary of The Guardian few months ago, he reiterated his love for the Nigerian nation in spite of everything. He is a patriot par excellence, one who truly acts it, not just mouthing it.
For this reason, we feel highly honoured that Achebe has honoured our invitation. We are delighted in the sense that our own modest efforts have helped facilitate this all-important lecture. It is all about exploring new possibilities for Ndigbo. It is my belief that the well-being of the Igbo nation is also the well-being of the Nigerian federation.
Well, this is no exaggeration. Professor Achebe is arguably one of the greatest writers living today. It is no coincidence that on this trip back to his native land, accompanying him is a large entourage, including representatives of international media, like the BBC. It is to underscore the consequence of Achebe as a global literary celebrity. To me, it is a thing of pride that he is an Igbo man. He has put the Igbo nation on the world literary map. His ‘Things Fall Apart’ has been listed among the 100 most influential books of the 20th century. He is regarded as the ultimate father of African literature in the sense that he helped create a new literary movement that gave Africa a voice at a time when the African history was been dictated by western scholars, who liked to think that Africa was a dark continent with even darker history. Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ helped to tell the African story forcefully. It showcases the richness of Igbo culture and tradition.
At a personal level, I am a lover of the art myself. My passion is, however, not restricted to great books, but also extends to music and dance. I have read a lot of Achebe's works myself and must confess that I find in them a source of inspiration and reassurance that hope is not lost for a renaissance in our culture and society. For instance, there is a lot to be learnt from the courage of Okonkwo in ‘Things Fall Apart’. There is also a lot to be learnt from the compromise of Ezeulu in ‘Arrow of God’. For us the political class, there is also much to learn from Chief Nanga in one of his political novels.
And talking about culture, thanks to Achebe’s writings, the world has been made to realise that the essence of the Igbo tradition is not just about the enchanting sound of the flute in a typical village square, the melody of our folk songs, nor the sheer vigour of the cultural dance. It is about the celebration of the virtues of hard-work, good neighbourliness, tolerance, fair play, charity, faith and high integrity. These are the qualities that defined the traditional Igbo society before imperialism came to derail everything. It is saying that the new labels of ‘get-rich-quick’ syndrome, disrespect for elders, god-fatherism, money worship etc are alien to the real Igbo character.
Today, we must admit that things are not the way they used to be or how they should be. It is for this reason that we seek the counsel of Achebe to help us reconnect with our glorious past to achieve a better future in the Nigerian enterprise.
For this, among other reasons, I would say Professor Achebe is our biggest cultural export as a people.
To us, there is a synergy between the theme of this international conference on Igbo civilisation and the philosophy that inspires our administration in Imo State . From what I can see, the lecture seeks to chart a new way for the Igbo race to meet the challenges of 21st century. It is an invitation to a deep introspection and taking a bold step forward. I am sold on this message as well. I have given a number of lectures in the last two years canvassing this same position. At the World Igbo Congress in Detroit in 2007, I spoke about the need for the Igbo to stop looking at the past with bitterness but look at the future with confidence. At the Ake Ikenga Lecture, which held in May in 2008, I further canvassed that the Igbo re-brand in order to possess their possessions in the 21st century Nigeria.
My position has always been that it is too late to continue to bemoan the pains of the past. While not denying the lessons of the past, I believe we must not become an hostage to the memory of a bitter past, but rather become the soldiers of the future. It is true that Igbo nation has not got their dues in the Nigerian project. We will continue to insist on getting our dues.
But in the interim, that is no excuse for us to be laggards. We must not say because the system has not been fair to us, for that reason we must take to the worship of mammon. Our ancestors were men and women of high integrity and honour. We must seek to re-possess their legacy of industry, courage and high integrity. We must determine to excel in whatever we lay our hands on. That, to me, is the only we can collectively achieve our destiny as a people.
Source: Sun, 24th January 2009.
By Uduma Kalu
NIGERIA'S literary icon, Prof. Chinua Achebe, was yesterday morning named winner of the 2007 Man Booker International Prize.
Achebe, who was called "the father of modern African Literature by one of the judges, celebrated writer Nadine Gordimer, the second winner of the prize.
About N15million ($60,000) Man Booker International Prize is awarded once every two years to a living author for a body of work that has contributed to an achievement in fiction on the world stage. It was first awarded to the Albanian writer Ismail Kadar? in 2005.
Achebe defeated a list of top contenders Britain's Doris Lessing, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, as well as Ireland's John Banville, and two Americans Philip Roth and Don DeLillo.
The others were three Canadians: Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Michael Ondaatje, and the dissident Israeli Amos Oz. Achebe is probably best known for his first novel, Things Fall Apart, written in 1958 and Anthills of the Savannah, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 1987. Things Fall Apart will be officially 50 next year.
The prize's three-judge panel including Gordimer, a South African, honoured Achebe for inaugurating the modern African novel, citing the many writers inspired by his depiction of how colonialism influenced culture and civilisation on the continent.
The award marked the second honour bestowed on a Nigerian novelist in a week. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction on June 6, receiving ?30,000 for `Half of a Yellow Sun, her haunting look at the defunct Biafra's struggle in the late 1960s to break away from Nigeria.
Achebe who is the Charles P Stevenson Jr. Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College, Annandale, New York State, told the organisers immediately after hearing of his winning. "It was 50 years ago this year that I began writing my first novel, Things Fall Apart. It was wonder to hear that my peers have looked at the body of work I have put together in the last 50 years and judged it deserving of this important recognition. I am grateful."
Adichie in her reaction said of Achebe: "He is a remarkable man. The writer and the man. He's what I think writers should be."
Achebe's conviction is shown by his refusal for many years to allow his novels to be translated into Igbo, which he still considers a bastardised missionary version of authentic village dialects. However, Things Fall Apart has been translated into 50 other languages and sold 10million copies.
His other most influential work - discussed in classrooms worldwide - is the essay: 'An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness' (1975), which accuses Conrad of dehumanising Africans and rendering their continent as "a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognisable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril".
Achebe was once asked which authors had told the story of Africa well. Hundreds, he said, "including many we don't normally talk about and regard as literature - the oral tradition", the village storytellers who had been active long before colonisers introduced pen and paper. "Humanity," he said, "will always attempt to create a story."
The Man Booker International Prize is unique in the world of literature in that it can be won by an author of any nationality, providing that his or her work is available in English language. An author can only win the award once. It is also different and distinct from the Man Booker Prize in that it is for a body of work.
One of the panel's members, Elaine Showalter remarked:
"In Things Fall Apart and his other fiction set in Nigeria, Chinua Achebe inaugurated the modern African novel. He also illuminated the path for writers around the world seeking new words and forms for new realities and societies. We honour his literary example and achievements."
Gordimer, on her part, said: "Chinua Achebe's early work made him the father of modern African literature as an integral part of world literature. He has gone on to achieve what one of his characters brilliantly defines as the writer's purpose: 'a new-found utterance' for the capture of life's complexity. This fiction is an original synthesis of the psychological novel, the Joycean Stream of Consciousness, the post-modern breaking of sequence - thereby out-dating any prescriptivity. A joy and an illumination to read."
The third panel member Colm T?ibin was no less effusive in praises. He said: "Chinua Achebe has been one of my heroes since I read his book Things Fall Apart. This book manages to capture an essential moment in the colonial drama; it dramatises momentous change with clarity, sympathy and astonishing fluency and ease. His other books, especially A Man of the People and No Longer At Ease have worked with a mixture of tones, from the satiric, to the prophetic. Anthills of The Savannah manages a variety of voices and cadences with the skill and deep insight of the real master of the novel form."
Born on November 16, 1930, Achebe attended the Government College, Umuahia and the then University College of Ibadan. He received a Bachelor of Arts from the London University in 1953 and in 1956 studied broadcasting in London at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Company in Lagos in 1954, later becoming its Director of External Broadcasting. During the Civil War, he worked for the Biafran government service. After the war, he was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, of which he is now Emeritus Professor of English. He has lectured at many universities worldwide and is now Charles P Stevenson Jr Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College, New York State, Annandale.
Achebe's work is primarily centred on African politics, the depiction of Africa and Africans in the West, and the intricacies of pre-colonial African culture and civilisation, as well as the effects of colonialisation on African societies.
His classic novel, Things Fall Apart, is considered among the finest novels ever written. Having sold over 10 million copies around the world, it has been translated into 50 languages, making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time. He is the recipient of over 30 honorary degrees as well as numerous awards for his work.
In 2004, Achebe declined to accept the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) - Nigeria's second highest honour - in protest of the state of affairs in the country.
Paralysed from the waist down in a 1990 car accident, he is married to Professor Christine Chinwe Achebe, with whom he has four children. He has lectured at many universities worldwide.
Chinua Achebe has written over 20 books, including novels, short stories, essays and collections of poetry.
Source: Guardian, 14th June 2007.
From Nkechi Onyedika, Abuja
IN his first comment on Nigerian soil, 18 years after he left the country, world's acclaimed literary icon, Prof. Chinua Achebe, has expressed disappointment over the rate of democratic growth and practice in Africa, stressing that unless the process of succession is made easy and friendly, Africa will still have a long way to go.
Addressing a press conference yesterday evening in Abuja, Achebe, who observed that politics is not a "do-or-die affair", added that the idea of a civilised society is one where power is transferred willingly because the law is there.
He said: "I must express very profound disappointment with what is happening on the African continent concerning elections and concerning succession. Right here in Africa, we still have not learnt, that unless you have a process that makes succession easy and even friendly so that opponents can smile at each other, unless we get there, we still have a very long way to go. Politics is not warfare.
"We have to be convinced; we have to be really determined to make Nigeria work", he said.
Achebe, who also declared that Nigeria is not yet where it is supposed to be, emphasised that until Nigerians decide and determine that it is time for change, Nigeria would continue to go round the circle.
Commending the Nigerian media for celebrating his works, he said he had come not to "make a presentation" but to say "thank you".
He enjoined the press to continue "doing the good work" because "the business of journalism is good work that is how I view it. Do good work and you won't go wrong".
According to the author of the well-celebrated novel, Things Fall Apart,: "You don't retire from writing, you continue writing until you bow down. If you are really a writer and you are alive, don't look forward to a pension, there are some young people who think the older ones should retire, that is not the way it is done. Young, old, medium, we all have work, don't give up writing, don't give up the idea because that is your calling. I do have a new book coming out and when it comes out, you will see it".
Source: The Guardian, 20th January 2009.
By Reuben Abati
"The Supreme Court has done it again. Their Lordships have once more helped to solve a riddle. They have offered a landmark interpretation of the Constitution in the Anambra matter. This is another prize for Chinua Achebe."
" Chinua Achebe? I just hope there won't be any further trouble in Anambra after this."
" Achebe is from Anambra state. I guess the logic of the Supreme Court ruling in the Peter Obi case is simple enough: a Governor's tenure begins to run from the moment he is sworn in. If Obi won an election, and the wrong man, Ngige, is sworn in, and he, the right man is later declared winner by a competent court of law, it would amount to a miscarriage of justice to deny him the complete fruits of his legal victory".
"So, it means Peter Obi will now be Governor of Anambra State till 2010?"
"That is what the Supreme Court has said. And that is the position of the law."
"But what happens to the Governorship election of April 21 in that state, and Governor Andy Uba who has since assumed authority, and the election petition tribunal sitting over the April 21 election."
"Elementary law, my brother. As Lord Denning put it, you cannot put nothing on nothing, it cannot stand. What the Supreme Court is saying is that there was no basis in law for conducting the Gubernatorial elections in that state on April 21. The Court specifically tongue-lashed INEC."
"And the three years that Governor Ngige spent as Governor of Anambra?"
"That was Ngige's luck. He benefitted from sheer illegality. In law, you could say the Ngige government is not recognized.."
"Does that render everything that Ngige did a nullity?"
"More or less."
"Including the roads that he tarred? The hospitals that he built?"
"Leave Ngige out of this. His government is a good illustration of the effect of electoral fraud."
"I am trying to understand the implications of the ruling."
"I think the Supreme Court ruling is another wake up call for Nigerians, especially INEC and the politicians."
"My fear is that the Courts, at this rate, will start running the country."
"I think I prefer the rule of law, to the rule of brigands. But the point I am making is about learning the right lessons from the Peter Obi case. One, it pays to have faith in due process. Peter Obi will now go down in history as one man who stood by the law, and kept faith. Two, the Anambra debacle would probably not have occurred at all; if the election petition on the 2003 elections in Anambra had been determined before May 29, 2003. This is why I think the Electoral Act must be amended to ensure that election petitions are resolved early enough."
"Do we ever learn in this country?"
"If we don't learn from history, we are bound to repeat mistakes. And in 2007, we are repeating old mistakes."
"There is something I still don't understand."
"What is that?"
"The Andy Uba angle. He was a necessary party in the case, and yet he was not allowed the benefit of making his own representation."
"Who is a necessary party in law? That is the question you are asking. That matter was properly defined in Green v. Green. But you don't have to worry yourself. Andy Uba was properly joined in the case as 5th respondent."
"He was not joined."
"He was. You want to teach their Lordships the law? You think the Supreme Court would overlook such a critical angle to the case?"
"I am only trying to look at the matter beyond the law. The politics of it is as important as the law. You are praising the Supreme Court, for example. But think about the conduct of the Federal High Court, Enugu and the Court of Appeal in the same matter. The High Court ruled against Peter Obi. The Court of Appeal ran away from the case claiming it lacked jurisdiction. Will it be correct to say that that those other judges do not know the law?"
"That is your opinion. Others would say the apex court ruling is all that matters in this case. Once again, the PDP has been put to shame. The PDP created the crisis in Anambra in the first place."
"You mean Obasanjo? Or you mean Chris Uba? Because if Ngige had not fallen out of favour with Aso Rock and his Godfather he probably would have been protected. Only God knows how many Governors completed their tenures between 1999 and 2007 using a stolen mandate."
"A precedent has now been established in law. The Supreme Court has offered a clear and unambiguous interpretation of Section 180 of the 1999 Constitution. It is a triumph for democracy."
"Suppose the Yar'Adua government refuses to obey the ruling."
"The Supreme Court has spoken. Yar'Adua wouldn't dare intervene."
"What if he seeks a political solution?"
"To what effect?"
"But you know, of course, that the matter is not yet over. Even if Obi returns..."
"There is no such thing as even if..."
"Okay, but the House of Assembly in Anambra is PDP-dominated. Peter Obi could be impeached within two weeks of his assuming office again."
"That was not the matter before the Supreme Court."
"And if it happens that way?"
"Then Obi's Deputy takes over."
"And she is also impeached?"
"Then her Deputy takes over."
"Then the PDP House of Assembly will impeach both Governor Peter Obi and his Deputy, and the PDP will take over the state again. You see, there may be no end to the Anambra debacle."
"I hope not."
"I foresee a lot of problems ahead, all the same,, not just in Anambra, but in other states as well. The Supreme Court looks very determined."
"A determined and judicially activist Supreme Court is the best thing to have happened to Nigeria in the last 20 years."
"But what did the Supreme Court say on Governor Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State. Is he also going back to his office?"
"No, his own case is different."
"He took oath of office in 2003."
"But he was impeached, and was later reinstated by the Supreme Court."
"Yes. But he wasn't sworn into office a second time. He simply returned to his office; and he collected all his outstanding salaries and allowances. In his case, it was as if nothing happened, and the Court cannot give what it does not have."
"I see. The law is sometimes convoluted."
"It is straightforward if you look at it closely enough."
"There is something I still don't understand. Suppose Governor Andy Uba refuses to hand-over to Peter Obi?"
"The Inspector-General of Police knows what to do. He and his men will be expected to do their job."
"Which Police are you talking about?"
"The Nigeria Police Force."
"Come on. But you know this is a police organisation that has been declared the most corrupt public institution in Nigeria, perhaps in the whole world"
"I read that. If I had a say in the matter, I would recommend that the Nigeria Police should be disbanded. And if not, then the entire top hierarchy of the Police should be fired."
"Oh come on. Don't throw away the baby with the bath water. The only man who is in the eye of the storm is the former Inspector-General, Mr. Sunday Ehindero."
"In my view, it is the entire police command that has been exposed, dragged in the mud, its integrity completely rubbished."
"No. It is Ehindero you should condemn. The man promised "To Service And Protect With Integrity". But look at the kind of stories we have been reading about him. These are stories being released by Police Headquarters, not even by any outsider. The whole thing stinks."
"I agree. No wonder the entire police is so undisciplined. When the rank and file read about money being hidden in toilets, television sets, and nylon bags in Police Headquarters, why won't they feel encouraged to collect bribe from the public?"
"I like the way the details are being released."
" I read that the former Inspector-General of Police has many palatial houses. There was also something about the purchase of one of the houses of former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun. Then a missing N2.5 billion Police Cooperative Fund and N300 million meant for kits and uniforms"
"Tafa Balogun must be having a good laugh wherever he is."
"I hear the Acting IG Mike Okiro is Tafa's man, and he is helping his former boss to deal with Ehindero who is Tafa's arch-rival. It is the clash of the police bosses."
"I am not interested in any conspiracy theory. What I think is that Sunday Ehindero should begin to speak up. He has a right to defend himself."
"What do you expect him to say?"
"You mean he has nothing to say?"
"Well, the public is listening? Who is the owner of the N21 million that was found inside the toilet, nylon bags and old television set at Police Headquarters? Who bought the IG's House? What happened to Police Cooperative Funds? When did Police Headquarters become a bank?"
"Nigerians have no respect for money at all. That is why the Naira is losing value. Imagine how those policemen were moving money out of Force Headquarters as if they were moving household appliances?"
"But is it only the police? Look at the new class of lawmakers at the Federal level. The Yar'Adua government is giving them lorry loads of money, money meant for settling themselves down in Abuja."
"We had discussed that before, didn't we?"
"That was before the entire list of allowances was published. It is nauseating. The Federal Government is even taking loans from the banks."
"It is a bribe."
"It is a crazy bribe. It is going to cost the Federal Government N3.7 billion per annum."
"For a part-time political assignment? Where then is the idea of service?"
"You are asking me? Each Senator is getting N8.1 million to buy any car of his or her choice, members of the House of Representatives, N7.9 million each, and for Senators N126,650 to maintain the car monthly while Representatives will get N124,075 monthly for the same purpose."
"What kind of car maintenance is that? A brand new car? It doesn't even cost that much to maintain a helicopter in a month."
"You have bought one before?"
"When something is unreasonable, it speaks for itself. Nobody spends N126,000 to maintain a car in a month."
"Every lawmaker will also get a tidy sum as Constituency allowance."
"Constituencies that they do not visit once the election is over?"
"Are they going to the National Assembly for fashion parade?"
"Annual utility allowance also to cover their bills for electricity, gas, water, telephone, refuse disposal."
"You now see why we may never have free and fair elections in this country? That N3.7 billion that is going into the pockets of Federal lawmakers can be used to subsidize petroleum prices, for the benefit of all Nigerians. It can repair some roads, or buy hospital equipment."
"Nobody is thinking along those lines."
"But this is a new government. Yar'Adua should wake up. He is rather slow."
"He has just asked all the people paying solidarity visits to him to stop coming around, so he can start doing some work."
"You mean he has been busy receiving visitors since he got to Aso Villa?"
"He said so himself. And may be he has been playing squash too."
"And the same government will not meet with labour officials and ASUU to resolve lingering industrial disputes.?"
"The Federal Government is meeting with officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress today."
"Only today? They had to wait for Labour's 14-day ultimatum on the increase of the prices of petroleum products and VAT to expire before agreeing to discuss the issue? Is that the new style in Aso Villa?"
"Take it easy. You know our friend, Segun is the President's spokesman. You sef. You too dey do."
"And what has that got to do with the price of petroleum products? Candidly, I think labour should go ahead with the strike. Shut down the country. Force the government to reverse the unfair increases. Teach the Yar'Adua government a lesson about priorities, and the value of being pro-active."
"I agree with you. The man should wake up. Sleep-walking cannot be a leadership style."
"In Nigeria, you never know...."
Source: Guardian, 15th June 2007.
THINGS Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe's literary masterpiece is 50 years old this year. Across the world the literati have aptly rolled out the drums to celebrate this classic which had so poignantly captured the colonial encounter between the Igbo and British, between one culture and the imposed ethos of a 'conquering civilisation'. Indeed, the novel was and is a metaphor for displaced identities and the crucial reaction of the African to the onslaught of colonialism. Reverberations from the thematic concerns of the novel and its cultural interrogations are still debated in contemporary literary discourse. This underscores the significance of the novel: its ability to speak to all generations using the platform of the colonial encounter.
Achebe himself has become an icon, a living legend and a testament to the abiding tenacity of the human spirit. To date he has written 21 novels, short stories and collections of stories. His works have won international acclaim. Arrow of God had won the New Statesman Jock Campbell Award. Christmas in Biafra was the joint winner of the First Commonwealth Prize. Anthills of the Savannah was a finalist in the prestigious Booker Prize in England. Last year, he was the winner of the 2007 Man Booker International Prize for Fiction. Significantly, Achebe rejected a national award which the Obasanjo administration bestowed on him at the peak of the political crisis in Anambra State. This was an expression of his moral objection to the mishandling of the political debacle between the then governor, Dr. Chris Ngige and gadfly Chief Chris Uba, in his home state at the time.
Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart at the age of 28, after his graduation from the then University College, Ibadan. Since then he has written other works which have faithfully captured the nuances of African culture and the aesthetics of the African imagination. No Longer At Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), Anthills of the Savannah (1987), are some of his literary works. His pamphlet The Trouble with Nigeria put the issue of lack of development squarely at the doorstep of poor leadership. Achebe's visionary prowess was uncannily displayed in A Man of the People, a novel that predicted the intervention of the military in Nigerian politics. Achebe taught for many years at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka before he relocated abroad upon retirement from that university.
Currently based in the United States, Achebe has oftentimes intervened in national debates, an indication that though he is in the Diaspora, his attention is riveted on the dynamics and challenges of Nigerian politics. Exile has not separated him from home, the source material for his enormous literary output. In spite of the serious injury which he sustained in a road accident during one of this visits to Nigeria, he has remained active, giving important lectures around the globe. Indeed he is a worthy cultural ambassador for Nigeria, Africa and the Black world.
Things Fall Apart, originally written in English, has been translated into some 60 languages. Okonkwo the central character is as familiar as the major characters in important novels anywhere in the world. The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) once dramatised and serialised the novel directed by David Orere. The novel is a recommended text in English and Cultural Departments across the world. Africans in the Diaspora have organised a series of literary activities to mark the silver jubilee. The Library of Congress in the United States of America plans to honour Achebe and his work on November 14, that is, shortly before his next birthday. The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) has also organised seminars, talk shows and lectures in Lagos, Ibadan and Nsukka, to celebrate the epoch-making novel. This is in order.
We must learn to celebrate our heroes. In the bleak atmosphere that the nation currently finds itself, the worth and place of Things Fall Apart give cause for optimism. We cannot divorce Things Fall Apart from its author. As we celebrate the novel, we pay tribute to this great man of letters and wish him many more years of fruitful living and literary activity.
However, there are disturbing signals in the book or publishing industry in Nigeria. The cost of raw materials is highly prohibitive, thereby placing the cost of books out of the reach of the common man. Real publishing which produced the likes of Achebe is virtually dead in the country. Publishers complain about their inability to sell literary works. Vanity publishing is the order of the day. Heinemann, which published Things Fall Apart, and many other African novels, has since discontinued the African Writers Series. There is also the decline in reading culture. People do not or cannot afford to buy the books in the market. Also, there is a sense in which the national ambience is hostile to reading. Power outages and the sheer demand of grappling with existential questions make reading a hazardous enterprise.
Besides, creative writing is not often supported by the State as it is in other parts of the world. Writers struggle to be heard in the general din in the land. It is instructive that most Nigerian writers who have won international prizes in the last decade are in the Diaspora. Creativity should be encouraged at home. We need to replicate the efforts of our past heroes by creating an environment conducive to writing and reading. This will be our final tribute to and recognition of the place of creative writing in forging an ethos for the sustenance of our national consciousness and identity.
As we congratulate our own Professor Chinualumogu Achebe, poet, novelist, social critic, and celebrate the silver jubilee anniversary of Things Fall Apart, it is apposite to observe that it is curious that the Nobel Prize for Literature has so far eluded this great, monumental writer of Nigerian descent. It is hoped that as an active and dynamic literary personality, the Nobel organisers would ultimately give him due recognition. It is also hoped that the example of Achebe would stimulate the powers-that-be to enunciate policies that could change the fortunes of Nigerian writers.
Source: The Guardian, 15th May 2008.
From January 19 to 22 in Owerri the Imo State capital, the cream of Igbo intellectuals gathered to hold the First World Conference on Igbo Civilisation in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the classic Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. The theme of the conference was Igbo Civilisation and Things Fall Apart. And on January 23, 2009, Achebe presented the 24th Ahiajoku lecture, with the theme 'Igbo intellectualism and Development.' Below are Achebe's thoughts on the conference.
NDI IGBO have immense manpower resources, and have the human capital to solve their local problems. Since the struggle against colonial rule from Great Britain, Ndi Igbo have contributed substantially to the development and progress of Nigeria. The adventurous spirit of Ndi Igbo has led to the export of this precious human capital. Since the civil war, Ndi Igbo have continued this export around the world - England, America, Canada, Asia, and Europe. There are many talented at home and abroad. Ndi Igbo should not allow the civil war to depress indefinitely their spirit and should galvanise their myriad talents to develop Ani Igbo and Nigeria. They have achieved this lofty goal in the past and they can do it again.
Other groups that share similar histories have risen above their predicament. Ndi Igbo, indeed Nigerians, need look no further than to Barrack Obama's success in America for inspiration. We can borrow a leaf or two from this collective history.
As aforementioned, Ndi Igbo have immense human resources. This conference no doubt is creditably handling the day-to-day decisions concerning Ndi Igbo. I will not touch on those issues. However, let me add to a few issues that are dear to my heart concerning Ndi Igbo in particular, and Nigeria in general today in seeking the way forward:
Importance of good governance in the South East
Ndi Igbo should hold their leaders accountable. The people must demand transparency and accountability in government. The people should insist on clear plans from the leadership concerning development, timelines etc. Ndi Igbo should organise pressure groups and insist that budgetary allocations to local governments and state governments continue to be published every month, as has been the practice in the recent past. If government refuses, Igbo institutions should seek out and publish such allocations. Igbo society is one of the most democratic in the nation, we should take a leadership role in preserving the tenets of our burgeoning democracy
As the significance of oil decreases globally, Ndi Igbo must diversify our economy and create jobs that are not based on the oil sector. The greatest importers of oil and oil products such as America and Europe are working feverishly to decrease their dependence on imported oil from countries like Nigeria. Nigeria and Ndi Igbo have no choice but to see the clear writing on the wall concerning the future of fossil fuels. Ndi Igbo celebrate great farmers. They give titles like di-ji to them. Today, we seem to have settled for a diminished status for farming.
Importance of education
Ndi Igbo should invest in education again as they did in the past and make education relevant to our youth. Our young men are not attending secondary and post-secondary schools. If this development persists, it may cause a deep chasm in the intellectual and creative/innovative capability of Ndi Igbo. We must make education relevant to our youth.
Professional instruction can be brought to the traders in the market; establish night schools for traders who work in the markets during the day. Let us encourage young traders to pursue business degrees, MBA etc. I suggest that the government should provide teachers for this purpose and invest in professional teacher education.
Urban and rural development
Ndi Igbo should recognise what is good for their citizenry like: tarred roads and walkways.
There is a total collapse, indeed absence of a good health care sector. The citizenry is burdened by one of the worst health care systems in the world. Infant mortality rates and other indices of societal wellness are some of the worst in the world. Why, I ask is there not a single world-class hospital in all of Igboland comparable to the best hospitals in Europe and America? The one and only reason I remain abroad is the absence of world-class health facilities in Ani Igbo. Waste disposal and environmental sanitation are critical for the health and wellness of Ndi Igbo. Private and public sector funders should establish green waste disposal facilities; and reinstate sanitary inspection.
Abrogation of Osu caste system
Ndi Igbo are strongly encouraged to abandon practices that dehumanise their citizenry such as Osu/Oru system. This will require a deep introspective process and should be addressed at this conference decisively.
Improve the status of women in our society
Ndi Igbo should, as a matter of great urgency, work towards the removal of impediments in the status of women in our society. Several studies have clearly indicated that when women are well educated, the entire society benefits positively in overall standard of living. The dehumanisation of our women through acts such as wife beating, funeral rites that take away the dignity of our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters must be abolished.
The enterprising spirit of Ndi Igbo has led to great success in merchant professions and the acquisition of wealth, often very great riches, among a certain segment of our people. However, there is an ugly under belly of this great success. An endemic obsession for materialistic accumulation has taken a hold of Igboland and has the dire possibility of eroding, permanently, the moral and intellectual capability of an entire society.
Civilisations that have been obsessed with money and materialistic accumulation alone have all failed. We need to emphasise the importance of ideas and education, not simply for job attainment, but for the overall improvement and advancement of our civilisation.
Religious fanaticism and ethnic intolerance
One of the banes of our young republic is the erratic eruption of religious based murders. There has been a complete failure on the part of the successive governments to curtail religious extremism in Nigeria. Having said that, Ndi Igbo should encourage amongst us the virtues of humility, tolerance and temper our natural zest for life often interpreted as Igbo aggressiveness. We are in the project called Nigeria, for us to be successful we have to work towards living well with our neighbours.
Source: The Guardian, 27th January 2009.