“He indicts us, and not even in the more obvious ways.”
by Richard Ali
I was walking down the streets of Wuse Zone 5, Abuja when I received a call from The Guardian’s Anote—he wanted a response for the Press. I am Publicity Secretary [North] of the Association of Nigerian Authors. I stopped still—shocked. I could only mutter that I would get back to him. I’d been off the internet for a day but immediately, I tried to reach my President, Prof. Remi Raji; his number wasn’t going through. I eventually reached the Association’s General Secretary B. M. Dzukogi. There was no concrete information coming out. For the next two hours I was absolutely disoriented.
You imagine a tree in the centre of a communal square, a tree that has always been there. Then one morning you stand before it and realize that in the night the spirit of the tree has left it. But the trunk is still there in the wealth of green leaves and ideas and history. It is such a sense of loss that is abstract yet intensely painful in each cuticle. I never realized that Chinua Achebe was that old, it never seemed a fitting word or idea to associate with him.
He was a towering figure, we were born into the milieu he more than any single-handedly created—Africana studies. And African literature. And while we grew up to question and add to the increasing discourse of Africana Studies, and while we came to disagree on some of his ideas, there was no doubt he was a father figure to generations of writers and wannabe thinkers.
Beyond his essays, every one of which is stellar, his chief achievements are three books of his in this order—Arrow of God, Things Fall Apart and Anthills of the Savannah. He had other books but these are in my reckoning, the finest. Then of course, there was his forming of the Association of Nigerian Authors and the great moral strength he demonstrated, from his intervention in the coup plot allegation against soldier-poet, Gen. Mamman Vatsa, to his intervention in the Anambra imbroglio a few years back with a Statement which I was honoured to co-sign alongside other writers. These are great achievement. Few people create new fields of study, Chinua Achebe did.
I think the world did recognize him. Africana Studies is established in most Universities in the world and is a key part of the theoretical framework for English Studies in African universities. And if anything, the responses to his demise show the high opinion the world had of him.
He was a great man who was, at the last, was disappointed and possibly bitter at the way the Nigeria Project turned out. The mindset we find in his last memoirs, There Was A Country, one that seemed to return to an ethnicist atavism, is an indictment on how we have turned the promise of the 60’s into the evolving tragedy of today. He indicts us, and not even in the more obvious ways.
Richard is a Publicity Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and the author of City of Memories.