By Anote Ajeluorou
The journey that started on March 21 when the world was jolted by the announcement of his death finally came to an end yesterday when the father of African literature, Prof. Chinua Achebe was laid to rest in his hometown, Ogidi at about 3pm. It began at the St. Philip’s Anglican Church at about 11am President Goodluck Jonathan and his Ghanaian counterpart, President John Dramani Mahama and other dignitaries arrived Ogidi for the burial.
First to arrive was Delta State governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, dressed in his Itsekiri traditional attire in company of a handful of state officials. After this, the Secrete Security Service officials went on over-drive in their zealousness to cordon off the church from anyone without permit. Their overzealousness formed part of Rev. Ikechukwu Nwosu’s sermon as the clergy man, who stood in for the Primate of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, who had observed how SSS officials almost prevented the vicar from entering the church.
Jonathan said he was in Ogidi to appreciate God for creating somebody like Achebe from little known place like Ogidi and Nigeria. Although he didn’t interact with Achebe, Jonathan said he had met others like him and that he sometimes wondered whether the man loved his books more than his father and vice versa, which caused mild laughter in the church.
Jonathan described Achebe as “a philosopher and like all philosophers, he used literature, a subject he loved and knew very well to express his philosophic ideas”.
The President breezed through Achebe’s books, talking about their subject matters, especially Things Fall Apart, which he said, “The title is unique and a reference to colonialism as putting a knife to the things like our values, culture and customs for things to fall apart”
Jonathan also took on Achebe’s political treatise about Nigeria, The Trouble with Nigeria and concluded, “Achebe said political leadership is what is wrong with Nigeria. Things Fall Apart is as far back as 1958 and he noticed that there was something wrong with Nigeria. Then came There was A Country” and Jonathan read an excerpt from the book indicating Achebe’s scathing criticism of corruption as it was far back as the 1950s and 1960s.
Jonathan then asked, “Those in office today, have they changed? Perhaps, Achebe’s grandchildren will write There Is A Country. All of us must work hard to change this country. Achebe said in his book that 2011 election was significantly better. So, we must fix our elections and leaders must work towards a better Nigeria so that their children will write There is A Country”.
According to Nwosu, who took his bible text from Matthew 13 verse three, had his sermon titled, ‘Achebe: Parable to the Nigerian nation’, said Achebe’s life and times were parables to the people of Nigeria. He noted that Achebe’s life ran like a story that had strong message for the people, adding that the good upbringing Achebe had could be adduced for his moral uprightness and the immense work he did for humanity.
Nwosu said, “We appreciate Jonathan for coming for Achebe’s burial. We thank God for making Achebe to come to this side of the planet and the gift God lavished upon him so that all drank from his fountain of knowledge; a giant in the literary world, a man of social action. People like Chinua Achebe cannot be buried; he will live on.”
Nwosu said Achebe could have followed his father’s footsteps and become a cleric, a question he said he once put to him. Nwosu said Achebe’s upbringing as the son of a catechist was responsible for his greatness and tasked the congregation not to neglect their religious lives, especially their Christian roots as it would serve as a measure of their greatness like Achebe.
He intoned, “All knowledge has beginning in Christ. If you have God in your heart, you’ll never be disappointed. Achebe went ahead to be professors of professors, a great man. We may narrate all our woes as a nation, but what God has designed for us will come to pass”.
He urged Nigerians not to despair but to be hopeful and forge ahead with determination, saying Nigeria would excel just as Achebe excelled in spite of the difficulties he faced. Nwosu said, “Nigeria shall be well by defying all negative forces. There’s no end to Nigeria’s exploits. When rough times come upon you, don’t chicken out.”
Nwosu also saluted Achebe for being a practical man in his faith and convictions. He said Achebe’s rejecting of a national honour bestowed on him was part of him being a parable to Nigeria, adding that he meant well by so doing. He said, “Achebe believed thoroughly in Nigeria”
The cleric also pointed out Achebe’s standpoint in the gay controversy raging in the Anglican community, saying the literary icon vehemently opposed the idea of gay and said so openly, calling it an abomination.
There was a mild drama while Rev. Nwosu was giving his sermon. Jonathan, apparently embarrassed that the cleric did not acknowledge his Ghanaian counterpart, sent him a note to remind him as much. But the Nwosu tacitly said acknowledging Jonathan felt like an umbrella that covered all other dignitaries and continued his sermon with aplomb.
With Governor Peter Obi taking over the ceremony after the sermon and called out dignitaries to pay their last respects to Achebe.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Prof. Viola Onwuliri brought the international dimension when she brought messages of world leaders from far and near to the congregation. She extolled the virtues of Achebe as encapsulated in the condolences sent to her ministry. Nevertheless, while quipping about the large number of them, Onwuliri inadvertently made a diplomatic gaff when she the letters of condolences were in a Ghana-must-go bag apparently forgetting the present of Ghanaian president, Mahama. She quickly corrected herself, but not after it caused a mild guffaw in the church.
Chief Emeka Anyaoku also lent his deep basal voice to the condolence register. The diplomat said Achebe gave Africa a voice and confidence to speak for themselves having been so denigrated by the colonial masters. He noted, “Achebe gave us confidence through his writings. He told us Africans and the world that there Africa with a very respectful culture that subsists till today. He helped us discover ourselves. Te legacy of Achebe has left for Nigeria and Africa is a legacy that will subsist in Africa and the world for a long time to come”.
Ghanaian President, Mahama called Achebe an icon of African literature, a great man. He admitted to Things Fall Apart shaping his life while growing up. He expressed his gratitude for the way Achebe lived an exemplary life and how much empowerment he had given to many who would follow his footsteps. He capped it off by saying, “Achebe will never die!”