There Was A CountryMan: Chinua Achebe Dead!

Posted by Cosmas Asogwa On Friday, March 22, 2013 0 comments
Last night while waiting for sleep to come, I picked that controversial book titled "There Was A Country" by chinua Achebe.
As I perused through it I became so captivated by the stories well articulated by the the literary genuis of our time and as continued reading the book, rather falling asleep I was wide awake and at some point had to reluctantly close up the book lest I wont be early work.
But as fate appears to now have it, last night would be the last time I would be reading Achebe's book in his lifetime as news reaching us this morning is that there was a transformation
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Naija.com captured this sad news thus: Tragedy has befallen the land. The iroko has fallen. The Eagle On The Iroko, Prof. Chinua Achebe, is dead.
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Chinua Achebe, one of the world’s most celebrated writers and author of the classic novel Things Fall Apart, is dead.
SaharaReporters learned that Achebe, who was the David and Mariana Fisher Professor of Literature at Brown University, died last night in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Professor Achebe had been sick for some time.
He was 82, having been born on November 16, 1930, and had been in hospital in recent days.
Achebe is best known for his classical novel Things fall Apart. His last book, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, is still making waves.
As we await the details, lets take a journey down memory lane with Ogunbiyi who wrote in from the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, via tayoogunbiyi@rocketmail.com


In his book, ‘What is History?’, famous historian, E.H. Carr, attempted to put in perspective the role of  individuals in defining and shaping events in the society. While he agrees that the society offers the platform for individuals to achieve set goals, he, nevertheless, submits that there are personalities whose vision and strength of character have significantly shaped, defined and influenced their respective societies. These include Adolf Hitler of Germany, Mikel Gobachev of the former Soviet Union, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, to mention but a few of those whose passion, vision and mindsets radically impacted on their societies.


 In Nigeria, despite the lopsidedness in our socio-political system, a few men still stand out when it comes to honour, integrity and altruism. Chinua Achebe; teacher, poet, author, broadcaster, social crusader, and political activist certainly belongs to this class. Popularly referred to as the ‘Grandfather of African Fiction’, Achebe bestrode the literary world as a colossus until his death on Friday, March 22, 2013 at the ripe age of 82.   In ‘Things Fall Apart’, one of his famous novels, which was published in 1958, Achebe told the story of the intrigues and contradictions involved in the colonisation of the African continent. In the novel, Okonkwo, the main character, struggles with the legacy of his father, a lazy debtor fond of playing the flute, as well as the complications and contradictions that arise when the white missionaries arrive in his village of Umuofia. Navigating the landscape of cultural conflict, particularly the encounter between Igbo tradition and Christian doctrine, Achebe returns to the themes of his earlier stories, which grew from his own background.
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now, he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one,” says Okonkwo’s friend, Obierika, in the novel. ‘Things Fall Apart’ represents a compelling story that was told in a fashion that has remained unequal, till date. It is a master piece from a grand master.  No wonder, the novel has sold more than 10 million copies all over the world in addition to being translated and published in over 50 languages. Such was the strength of the literary and intellectual acumen on display by Achebe in the classic novel and, indeed, in all his other works.
Like the biblical light that cannot be hidden, Achebe’s literary expertise was not concealed to the rest world as he had been honoured across the globe on countless occasions.  For instance, he won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for his collection ‘Christmas in Biafra’ while he was a finalist for the 1987 Booker Prize for his novel, ‘Anthills of the Savannah’.  In 2007, he won the Man Booker International Prize. The woman who presided over the judges at the event, Elaine Showalter, declared that Achebe had “inaugurated the modern African novel”, while her fellow judge, the South African Nobel Laureate, Nadine Gordimer, referred to his fiction as “an original synthesis of the psychological novel, The Joycean stream of consciousness, the postmodern breaking of sequence”, and that Achebe was “a joy and an illumination to read”. In 2010, Achebe was awarded The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for $300,000, one of the highest prizes for the arts.
A further testimony to his literary profundity came from no other person than another great son, and indeed great pride, of the African continent, Nelson Mandela, who once pronounced that Achebe “brought Africa to the rest of the world” in addition to referring to him  as “the writer in whose company the prison walls came down”. At the Brown University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States, where Achebe held the position of David and Marianna Fisher University professor and professor of Africana Studies until his demise, one of his essays, “is recognised as one of the most generative interventions on Conrad; and one that opened the social study of literary texts, particularly the impact of power relations on 20th-century literary imagination”.
The tragedy of the Nigerian nation is well reflected in the life and times of the late literary icon. How did such a rare talent choose to remain abroad at such an advanced age when his countrymen were supposed to be drinking from his cup of wisdom? Is it not a tragedy that the Nigerian society could not provide the man the succour he needed in his old age? No wonder, he found the allure of a foreign nation so irresistible!  After he had been involved in an accident that cruelly damaged his spine on March 22, 1990, Achebe preferred to reside in the US. In an interview in 2007, Achebe revealed: “I miss Nigeria very much. My injury means I need to know I am near a good hospital and close to my doctor. I need to know that if I went to a pharmacist, the medicine there would be the drug that the bottle says”. Most men of his age, who did not have the luxury of the choice Achebe had, had died in miserable circumstances long before now. That is the tragedy of the Nigerian nation.
Aside from his literary proficiency, Achebe was famous in Nigeria for always standing on the side of truth, justice and fairness. In a country where hypocrisy, deception and opportunism have become a national pastime, Achebe was able to keep his dignity and honour intact.  Throughout his lifetime, he was always on the side of the people. He was never tired of spearheading the cause of the ordinary and downtrodden Nigerian folk. As many shamelessly hobnob with some of the oppressors at the corridors of power to further inflict pains on the Nigerian masses, Achebe cautiously distanced himself from the ‘men of power’. Twice, in 2004 and 2011, he rejected enticing offer of national honours from the Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan administrations respectively.  He hinged his rejection of the honours on the unchanging socio-political system in the country. He said: “For some time now, I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay. I have watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency … Nigeria’s condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honour awarded me in the 2004 list.”
Born in Ogidi, in present day Anambra State, on November 16, 1930, Achebe was the son of a Christian evangelist. He went to mission schools and to the University College, Ibadan, and taught briefly before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, where he was Director of External Broadcasting from 1961 to 1966.  As this great son of Africa transits to the great beyond, I join millions of his admirers across the world in celebrating his eventful life. Adieu, Prof. Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, the teacher of teachers. The great son of the world from Mother Africa.
•Ogunbiyi wrote in from the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, via tayoogunbiyi@rocketmail.com


As the Guardian Newspaper recalled, Chinua Achebe, 82, was most famous for his ground breaking 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, which dealt with the impact of colonialism on African society. Things Fall Apart has sold more than 10 million copies - and has been translated into more than 50 languages. He has been living in the US since 1990 following injuries from a car crash.


A novelist, poet and essayist, Achebe was perhaps best known for his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, the story of the Igbo warrior Okonkwo and the colonial era, which has sold more than 10 million copies around the world and has been published in 50 languages.
Things Fall Apart is considered the most widely read book in modern African Literature. The book sold over 12 million copies and has been translated to over 50 languages worldwide.
Many of his other novels, including Arrow of God, No Longer at Ease, Anthills of the Savannah, and A man of the People, were equally influential as well.

Prof Achebe was born in Ogidi, Anambra State, on November 16, 1930 and attended St Philips’ Central School at the age of six. He moved away from his family to Nekede, four kilometres from Owerri, the capital of Imo State, at the age of 12 and registered at the Central School there.

He attended Government College Umuahia for his secondary school education. He was a pioneer student of the University College, now University of Ibadan in 1948. He was first admitted to study medicine but changed to English, history and theology after his first year.
 Achebe won the Commonwealth poetry prize for his collection Christmas in Biafra, was a finalist for the 1987 Booker prize for his novel Anthills of the Savannah, and in 2007 won the Man Booker international prize. Chair of the judges on that occasion, Elaine Showalter, said he had "inaugurated the modern African novel", while her fellow judge, the South African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, said his fiction was "an original synthesis of the psychological novel, the Joycean stream of consciousness, the postmodern breaking of sequence", and that Achebe was "a joy and an illumination to read"

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