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When an illustrious personage passes on, his death is not mourned but celebrated. This phenomenal human characteristic underlies the celebratory circumstance that had underpinned the epochal translation of Professor Albert Chinualumogu Achebe. The global outpouring of eulogies is a splendid testament to the superlative reckoning and a profundity of aura this renowned novelist of facile princeps symbolized. A literary trailblazer and a man of transcendental pedigree, Achebe is an irreplaceable icon. Nigeria and indeed the world have lost a gem.
Despite his grouse about the leadership question in Nigeria, the explanation for his serial rejection of national honours, he had an unflinching and confounding patriotic fervor that was clearly inimitable. Unlike most other citizens of his status, he was never taciturn on his country’s degeneracy—if he had any regret before his glorious exit, it would be that his dream of a progressive country was never a reality.
Achebe’s pioneering and seminal contributions to the development of African literature, particularly through the African Writers’ Series that threw up great writers on the continent, are immeasurable and unrivalled. His greatest work and the most-widely read novel in the history of Africa, Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, has been translated into more than 50 languages and over 12 million copies of it sold worldwide! A legendary author and editor, Achebe had a peculiar writing skill that strikingly brought his reader to a redefinition of an idyllic life devoid of illusions, an existential denouement of sorts that domesticated staunch apostleship and advocacy for Africa’s decolonization and triumph over disillusionment, all encapsulated in multifarious award-winning reconstructs.
As a constructive griot, Achebe exposed European jaundiced and dismissive perspectives of the continent in the strong belief and stern conviction that Africans had their own originality and life’s perception contrary to Eurocentric deliberate misrepresentations. This misconception informed his profound submission: “Until the lions produce their own historian, the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter.”
An iconic storyteller, who was variously a broadcaster and university lecturer in Nigeria and overseas, Achebe was the progenitor of what is widely acclaimed today as modern African literature. His latest work, There Was a Country, an experiential chronicle of what Biafra underwent during Nigeria’s civil war, is demonstrative of his courage and commitment to literature which he traversed without fear of hypercritics’ malicious dispositions and prejudicial inclinations as exemplified in some jaundiced reactions to this personal account and other classics before it.
Achebe’s death marks the beginning of the end of an epoch indeed. His life and passage will remain evergreen not just among the literati, but the entirety of human race, particularly Africans whose cause he championed all his life. Even at his septuagenarian age, he was still active in a global community, where, from the age of 40, people begin to wind down in retrospection. Had death not struck, Achebe would still have continued to be an indefatigable icon for the holistic emancipation of Africans not anymore from colonial shackles but from neocolonialists’ tomfoolery arising from years of imperialistic stupefaction.
A man of prodigious fame and acclaim, Achebe will live forever in the consciousness of present and future generations because of his best-sellers that earned him innumerable awards and honours at home and abroad. There is no doubt that the literary community has been further depleted with the exit of this fearless, even if controversial, mind, but there is an assurance that Achebe’s fecundity contributed immeasurably to the breeding of countless young successors who will keep the tradition alive and the torch aflame as a consolatory tonic for the literary vocation.
It is apposite to point out that some people misconstrue the import of Achebe’s literary philosophy and postulations on the national question especially and other global issues, but the truth, conviction, vision and boldness that characterized his interventions cannot be ignored or dismissed by any dispassionate critic—except those who out of self-exhibitionism futilely picked holes in his works without even reading them! His contributions will continue to play major roles in the ultimate reshaping of Nigeria. No altruistic person can gloss over any of Achebe’s submissions—the worst scenario can only be a disagreement with his presentation methodology and not the consensual substance of the matter.
This iconoclastic writer that the world is celebrating interminably because of his scholastic legacies was born in Ogidi, Anambra State, on November 16, 1930. The son of a Christian evangelist, he went to mission schools and to University College, Ibadan, and taught briefly before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, where he was director of external broadcasting from 1961 to 1966. In 1972 he moved to the United States and returned to Nigeria later to become a research fellow and professor of English at the University of Nigeria between 1976 and 1981. His last duty call was at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Unfortunately, in 1990, a vehicular mishap in Nigeria confined Achebe to the wheelchair and culminated shortly thereafter in his near-permanent residency in the United States because of medical facilities and mobility infrastructure available there. He came home occasionally for cerebral engagements despite circumstantial challenges for a physically-challenged person like him amid regrets on his inability to visit home regularly.
Alas! The Iroko has fallen, but his literary seeds will continue to sprout and flourish across borders. Already, some of his offshoots and offspring have attained prolific professional heights of international recognition. An unparalleled social critic and activist-writer, Achebe’s vacuum will be difficult, if not impossible, to fill. There may never be another illuminating moralist and an unapologetic colossus like Chinua Achebe.
With the translation of Achebe into eternity comes the end of a literary era. His blazing exit marks the beginning of yet another book—not just a chapter. Even though he did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature, his towering stature is in no way diminished as attested to by one and all. A man of global citizenship, Achebe’s classical works will keep him in the hearts and minds of humanity perpetually!
As the Trojan departs, may his versatile and conquering soul rest in peace. May his immediate family and the literary fraternity have the candour to bear his mortality and the vigour to pursue his unfulfilled dreams, most especially his resolution on the evolution of an egalitarian society where equality, fairness and justice are cardinal.
Even with his translation, Achebe’s spirit will still be devoted to impacting unromantic behavioural regeneration not in heavenly paradise but through the virtual instrumentality of telepathic interconnectedness with the world, as profoundly espoused by African traditional religion.
With Chinua Achebe’s departure, things have indeed fallen apart! And to paraphrase him, there was a man in the anthills of the savannah known as the trouble with Nigeria. Here goes a man of the people in a blaze of glory!