By Anote Ajeluorou
Last Tuesday at Alex Ekwueme Square, Awka, Igbo leaders received the remains of late Prof. Chinua Achebe in its final journey home. Virtually all the traditional rulers in Anambra State turned up to celebrate their son, who was variously described as an icon, a hero, a true mentor and a man of inestimable value.
From novelist and Igwe Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike and musicologist,Igwe Prof. Laz Ekwueme to Archibishop of Canterbury, Bishop Welby, Catholic Bishop of Awka, Bishop Eze Okafor and other eminent Nigerians and foreigners, eulogies continued to pour in for the late cultural ambassador.
It started at the boundary between Enugu and Anambra States when the body was first received by Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi and Sen. Chris Ngige, as it made its way from the former Anambra State capital from where it arrived from Abuja on Monday after its journey from the United States where Achebe died on March 21.
Obi was accompanied by a large entourage of Anambra State’s functionaries and then driven in a motorcade to the Amex Ekwueme Square where a large number of Igbo people had gathered to pay their last respect to Ugonabo.
The priest first offered payers that although things have fallen apart in Nigeria and no longer at ease, but that not the arrow but the mercy of God should fall on Nigeria that had produced a great icon like Achebe.
Obi thanked all for honouring Achebe whom he described as a hero. He said the state was honouring Achebe just as it honoured another of its illustrious son, Prof. Chike Obi, when he died a few years ago.
He added, “All we are doing today is praising the man we are gathered here for. He has shown us the path of good life. Can we then start follow that path, those values and the character he put up all through his life? He was not a council chairman, a governor or president, but we have received condolences from over 12 world presidents. Let us start doing the wonderful works of our great grandfather for Nigeria to be better”.
Ngige also praised the courage of Achebe in speaking up during his ordeal as governor of the state, when he was abducted, and Achebe spoke up by rejecting the honour bestowed on him by the Olusegun Obasanjo-led government in power at the time. He said Achebe had received better honours before the shambolic one he was being offered.
The Ikelionwu of Dikelionwu and the former Registrar of West Africa Examinations Council, Ike, said Achebe was a broadcaster per excellence whom his fellow writers conferred on him the Eagle on Iroko at an international conference on him at University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1990. He stated that Nigeria was experiencing a near-carnival of activities in his death, but he wondered what would the outlook of writing would be like after his burial. Ike lamented the passage of some of Nigeria’s men of letters like Christopher Okigbo, Cyprian Ekwensi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, TM Aluko and now Achebe.
He said the greatest writers of Achebe’s generation like Wole Soyinka, JP Clark, Femi Osofisan, Elechi Amadi and Gabriel Okara including himself all attended government colleges established by the colonial government like Umuahia, Ibadan and Ughelli, which had a great atmosphere for learning that enabled their creative talent to flourish and wondered which school today was playing such role in the country. Ike said Nigeria owed it to Achebe to produce the Achebes of the future.
Sen. Udoma Egba, who led the Federal Government’s delegation that included Sen. Uche Chuckwumerije and Sen. Magoro, said Achebe was a world figure and personality, who brought fame to Nigeria, adding, “His life has been exemplary to humanity”.
But the Udoma Egba made a tragic statement in presenting his co-delegates to the Igbo elders that attended the event in their large numbers. He introduced Gen. Magoro as a civil war hero who fought the Biafra to a standstill and who had returned to his home. Magoro didn’t receive any applause if that what was Udoma Egba intended. If anything, it was a tasteless bit of effrontery on the sensibility of Igbo elders, especially those who saw the brutal war for Magoro to be so heroically presented in Awka.
Igwe of Oko, Laz Ekwueme, who represented the traditional rulers in Anambra State, said a warrior, a big tree, had fallen in Igboland, a man on whom the title ‘Eagle on iroko’ sat so well on. In a dirge he sang in his honour, which called for response from the huge crowd, the professor of music, sang for Achebe to go well and go gently in his journey into ancestry.
President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Prof. Remi Raji-Oyelade praised the founder of the association for his immense contributions to literature and cultural revival of the African people worldwide. He said, “ANA hereby celebrate the mortality and immortality of a true African legend, emeritus professor; here’s a salute to the life of real path-finder. A writer in whose backyard the dream of Nigerian writers was reborn. Achebe, ace broadcaster, first and trustee of ANA; first editor of African Writers series, an acclaimed author of the most translated African novel today, Things Fall Apart.
“Achebe was also one of the early thinkers and teachers of a realistic way of reading of African and third world literatures; a glorious life bequeathed to us from Ogidi, passing through Umuahia and flowering in Ibadan towards world literary recognition.
“His writing career carefully wroughts the ethics of conviction and the compulsion of storytelling. He, who picks his words and weigh them as nuggets of wits and anecdotes to fit a particular time and character. Salute to the long horns and tall drums; salute to the signature of compelling storytelling. We salute the spirit of master artists; we salute the will to live beyond death. Eagle on Iroko, we salute your resilience; we dream of your proverbial wisdom; we have shared your vision of telling truth to power, and as you hoped, we hope against all the impediments, stubborn hope for a loftier dreams for our country.
“Your immortality is assured; let those who live now learn the lessons of resilience, the lesson of commitment; the lesson of shared humility, which you have and your trained genius. Achebe, may your eagle sail home safely, gently, peacefully!”.
Former Minister of Solid Minerals, Mrs. Obe Ezekwesili, who broke down in tears, said Achebe was one of those her father used to symbolised the true Igbo person and she had had to follow him afar to learn something about the dignity of the Igbo person. The World Bank chief lamented the absence of Achebe’s nobility, dignity, humility in today’s Igbo person and tasked all to relearn the quintessential Achebe character for a better Nigeria. She further called him a man of values and the inestimable values Achebe left for all. Obe said Achebe did not make the best of the circumstance of the accident that confined him to a wheelchair.
University of Ibadan Vice Chancellor, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said although Achebe had died, his distinguished career dictated that its famous alumnus should be celebrated. Adewole described Achebe as “the foremost ancestor of African literature”.