By Anote Ajeluorou
While many in the literary community world-wide agonise over the late literary icon not winning the coveted Nobel Laureate crown, Nigeria’s Information Minister, Mr. Labaran Maku may have found an answer. Maku said at a commendation service in honour of late Prof. Chinua Achebe in Abuja yesterday that the pioneer of African writers probably lost out because of his independence of mind in articulating Pan Africanist visions that countered European’s hegemony on culture, history and civilization.
Specifically, Maku said, Achebe’s rewriting of history, culture and human civilization in arguing against colonialism probably cost him the Nobel crown. He said, “Many people feel he didn’t get the Nobel Laureate because projecting the Africa’s right to think independently from other parts of the world, and because he was anti-colonialism and therefore grounded his works in Afro-centricism. It is, indeed, arguable because he was found to be too independent of mind” against what Europeans think, especially as classifying Africans on the lowest bottom of the race ladder.
Others who praised Achebe were the Primate of the Nigerian Anglican Communion, The Most Rev. Nicholas D. Okoh, who presided over the commendation service, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Chairman, Achebe Transition Committee, Prof. Uzodinma Nwala.
Maku also described Achebe as one of the most important Nigerians in the last one hundred years, and that Achebe would likely live longer that any Nigerian living and dead. He noted, “Through his literature, he has placed Africa on the world map indelibly and he would be relevant to human civilization for thousands of years to come. We see his passing as only transitory in the physical form, but there’s the emotions, the history, the philosophy and he would live after his death would be far more than more important than we knew him while he was alive.
“You can compare him to other immortals like the Greek Homer, like the English John Milton, like so many other writers like Leo Tolstoy, who wrote War and Peace. Achebe did so much for this continent. He broke the ground by placing the African novel on the shelves and so many other writers followed his path. As far as he was concerned, he was a pioneer”.
Maku said apart from his towering stature as pioneer of Agrican literature, Achebe was a true Pan Africanist, “who wrote to enhance the spirit of Africa, to enhance the culture of Africa and to place the dignity of the African that came under abuse in the years of slavery and colonialism in the forefront of human civilization. So, he was not just a novelist; he was defender of the dignity of the African and the right of Africa to organise their literature, their culture. He was a true Pan Africanist, a humanist. We pay him respect not just because he was an African, but one of the greatest African that ever lived”.
His Eminence, Okoh Achebe was “a gift God gave to Africa, to Nigeria and to Igbo people. A man who had a remarkable gift imbued with love for life; he spread Africa literature to the world through his writing and as editor of African Writers Series”. Like the man with five loaves and two fish in Jesus’ parable in the bible, Okoh said Achebe offered what he had to the world and made Africa to be known to the rest of the world and made African traditions known to the world.
Okoh also noted that through Achebe’s iconic novel, Things Fall Apart, the renowned author presented the old order to struggle with the new of Christianity and through his writing, he presented a mirror with which to look at the time Christianity was coming to Africa. He intoned, “There’s no doubt that Achebe was a rich man, but not with money. He had a gift given to him by God, and through that gift, the world knew him and canonised him”.
The cleric further called on Nigeria to emulate the imperishable values Achebe represented and leave lasting legacies.
Okonjo-Iweala said Achebe was an incredible figure and that Nigerians should all be very proud to have had him as a Nigerian for bringing a lot of dignity and fame to the country. She also said Achebe’s departure would create a vacuum in the literary community and that his shoes might just be too great for anybody to fill.