A Candle Light In A Dark Nation
Last night, sleep deserted me and I was left with my wild thoughts as my only companion. Like journeyman, my mind travelled across lands, places, met people, read books, had dates. But at a point my mind halted, went on reverse and then parked as it were just in time to listen to a rare conversation between God and a man named Lot. After an intense bargaining, God told Lot he would forgive a whole nation if he could find just five upright men amongst them. As though it was to me God spoke, I set out to find some Nigerians who have in the face of growing corruption and wickedness chosen to be answerable to that small inner voice called conscience; men and women who would not trade their value system for the gratification money, power and fame bring. As I beamed my searchlight, one name popped up: Prof. Chinua Achebe
Born on the 16th of November 1930, to the family of Isaiah Okafo Achebe and Janet Anaenechi Iloegbunam, Albert Chinualumogu (as he was known from birth) is a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. He is best known for his first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart (1959), which is the most widely read book in modern African literature
For many Nigerians, Prof Achebe is no more than the famed author of the legendary Things Fall Apart, who rejected national awards from two presidents probably because he is apolitical. Well, while such persons are not really wrong, they would have reduced an iconic demonstration of character to the level of political polemics. Need I say that not even Femi Fani Kayode could bring the colossus a trillion miles near that.
After years of situating Africa on a philo-literary pedestal, Prof returned home in a bid to bring sanity to the land he called his own. In an August 1976 interview, he lashed out at the archetypal Nigerian intellectual, who is divorced from the intellect “but for two things: status and stomach. And if there’s any danger that he might suffer official displeasure or lose his job, he would prefer to turn a blind eye to what is happening around him.” For his blunt and honest stance on national, state and private issues, in October 1979, Achebe was awarded the first-ever Nigerian National Merit Award. This lays to rest any thought that the man is not award-friendly as presidential charlatans would have us believe when in his immortal words to then president Obasanjo, “Nigeria under your watch, however, is too dangerous for silence”. What a display of bravery, uprightness, value and most importantly an absence of greed.
Even when a certain presidential aide well-known for disrespectful, careless tongue stung him as expected by riposting that “the rejection was not a slap on the face of Obasanjo or his government but the Nigerian people.” According to him, it was a pity he would be yearning for the Nobel Prize in Literature, “quests for foreign and international awards in places like Sweden and elsewhere while rejecting an honour done him at home. No matter how brilliant and gifted an individual you are, if you feel that your country does not deserve to honour you, we believe that you certainly do not deserve your country.” The wise old head chose not to dignify either the sender nor the errand boy with an answer.
One would have expected President Jonathan to learn from historyand leave the old man in peace, but urged on by his mushroom professors, he dragged the illustrious name to a jamboree meant for shameless old crooks thereby distracting the Prof from his educational duties but in one stroke granting the rare privilege of hearing the oracle speak. What a busy man he must be as his letter to Uncle Jona was brief but enough for the wise. This time he simply said: “The reasons for rejecting the offer of ‘national honour’ when it was first made have not been addressed let alone solved. It is inappropriate to offer it again to me. I must therefore regretfully decline the offer again.”
Sadly, wisdom is a quality Nigerian leaders sorely lack, rather than reflect on the view of a patriot, general Reuben Abati put on his gloves to fight God knows who. “Coming as it does, against the background of the widely acclaimed electoral reforms undertaken by the Jonathan administration, the claim by Prof. Achebe clearly flies in the face of the reality of Nigeria’s current political situation. The President continues to hold Prof. Achebe in very high esteem in spite of his regrettable decision which may have been borne out of misinformation as to the true state of affairs in Nigeria and hopes that he will find time to visit home soon and see the progress being made by the Jonathan administration for himself”. How dumb our leaders can sound when they open their mouth scares me to death!
While many of our leaders like Ibori and co have made a career from doing anything to grab money, Prof Chinua Achebe did not only turned down but disciplined rapper 50cents for daring to offer him $1m bribe to turn a blind eye on a crime against a mere copyright law; he was even willing to reject $1bn! To the man, a heritage that dates 17years before 50cents was conceived is worth more than all the riches the world had to offer. In him I saw a fitting answer to the criminal assumption that everyman has got a price.
As far back as 1983, Achebe aptly diagnosed the Nigeria diseasewhen he said, “the Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility and to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership” A true Nigeria who would not accept profits unless from legal, honest means. A man who as national vice president of PRP not only rejected the election that brought them to power in Kano state because their party rigged but reportedly fought the first beneficiary of the criminality, Bakin Zuwo. When he found out he was alone in the fight, he chose not to cross carpet to another party as our political jobbers do, Achebe resigned from PRP and kept his distance from political parties, expressing his sadness at the dishonesty and weakness of the people involved
Why have I chosen to write on Achebe today? I strongly advocate that we take a break from our usual practice of honouring only the dead. No nation grows with this culture of pouring encomiumks to only corpses. We can start re-building our collapsed values by commending those who, in the midst of this persistent corrosion thereof, insisted on being unrepentantly upright. I have chosen to begin that by recognizing a true son of the soil, a father, leader, teacher, model, enigma, legend, colossus, epitome of trust, bravery, honesty, forthrightness, doggedness, unwavering devotion to values and morals; a man on whom all laudable adjectives any dictionary can boast of will hardly do justice to.
Professor Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, is a candlelight in a dark nation.
But how do you propose we honour him since he presently rejects such honours? I expect we propose some attitudinal change that will meet his model of responsible citizenry and responsive leadership.
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This article was first published March 4, 2012