By Anote Ajeluorou
WHILE the debate may still be ongoing in some quarters on whether late Prof. Chinua Achebe is the father of African literature or not, what is unmistakable is the iconic nature of his works in defining and giving shape to modern Africa literature and politics. This becomes even more evident in the worldwide line-up of events to mark 50 years of the publication of Achebe’s third novel, Arrow of God in 1964, with Nigeria also blazing the trail with transnational events in seven major cities.
With an international colloquium titled ‘Literature, Leadership and National Unity’, a constituted local organising committee comprising of former Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) President, former member, House of Representatives and chairman, LOC, Dr. Wale Okediran, Mrs. Chinyere Obi-Obasi, Isaac Ogezi, Ikeogu Oke, ANA Vice President, Denja Abdullahi and Akintayo Abodunrin, the stage is set for a bouquet of events that would kick off in April 2014.
In a statement, the committee said, “In 2014, it would be the golden anniversary of the publication of the novel Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe. Arrow of God is a 1964 novel by Chinua Achebe, his third novel after Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease. These three books are sometimes called The African Trilogy, as they share similar settings and themes. The novel centres around Ezeulu, the chief priest of several villages in South Eastern Nigeria, who confronts adversaries to his office, colonial powers and Christian missionaries in the 1920s.
“Set in Eastern Nigeria in the early 20th, Arrow of God is a political and cultural novel that captures the clash of two cultures and their inability to contend peaceably with their differences. Achebe portrays the disrupting effect that externally imposed power system (the British) has on an internally imposed power system (African tradition and customs). He portrays the true colour of colonialism as it walked over existing traditions, destroyed age-long customs and shattered norms and lores to institute its authority.
“This book succinctly examines conflicts within the Igbo society, which the external forces capitalized on to invade the traditional society. It also explored the resultant disaster for the Igbo society, which disintegrates and fizzles into nothingness as the missionaries took over with their arm of Christianity. This reorientation will lead not only to the assimilation of Western values and beliefs, but also to the eventual loss of the Igbo cultural identity and by extension, the political identity of Nigeria at large.
“However, the main thrust of the book, which many readers and critics have adjudged the most intricate and most accomplished of Achebe’s novels, is its exploration of the question of power and leadership as exercised by the elites of a community, reflected in the character of Ezeulu and his equally powerful antagonists in the book. The choice the community is left with at the end of the book which arose out of the power play between Ezeulu and his adversaries is very instructive to Nigeria of today and Africa with regard to presence or lack of development as a result of inappropriate exercise of power and leadership. The book is also relevant in the contemporary Nigerian discourse on leadership, democracy and national unity.
“It will therefore be very auspicious to use the opportunity of the 50th Anniversary of the publication of the book to re-examine the concepts of power, leadership, responsibility and good governance in Nigeria and Africa as derivable from the vagaries of Ezeulu and his confederating communities in Arrow of God.
“Amidst the seemingly obdurate challenges of globalisation, this conference presents an appropriate opportunity to use the story in Arrow of God for an inward search and necessary projections on the past, present and the future of our shared community experiences, especially in the areas of leadership, democracy and nation building.
“The conference, also in line with the spirit of the proposed national conference in the country, will also negotiate the ever-deepening social divides and increased alienation among sub-sections of the Nigerian society by unraveling the democratic fabric on which future stability and legitimacy depends. It will pursue the argument that citizens in shared communities must forge the path, and exemplify strong, vibrant partnership to meet up with the demands of national unity and globalization.
“Recasting the experience Achebe presented in Arrow of God could help forge a new path for formalizing and expanding our existing democratic and leadership apparatus and creating new ones throughout the country. It will also re-invigorate our cultural activities, including cultural events, sports, learning opportunities and shared celebrations, as well as social activism in response to political disillusionment and dictatorship in the nation’s body polity”.
TENTATIVELY, dates for the celebrations of Arrow of God follow thus: Lagos – Monday, April 21, 2014; a symposium and stage play, Ezeulu written by Isaac Ogezi; Ibadan – Wednesday, April 23, 2014; a symposium and stage play, Harvest of Ants by Kalu Uka; Abuja – Saturday, April 26, 2014; Children’s Carnival and stage play by secondary school students; Sokoto – Monday, April 28, 2014; a symposium and Martinee of the stage adaptation; Awka – Wednesday, April 30, 2014; a symposium and stage play, When the Arrow Rebounds by Emeka Nwabueze; Ogidi – Thursday, May 1, 2014; A Day with the Master; visits to Achebe’s birthplace, primary school and mausoleum by secondary school students. Activities for the celebration will be brought to a close at President Goodluck Jonathan’s hometown, Otuoke – Saturday, May 3, 2014; a symposium and Night of Tributes/Dinner.
Another unique feature of this celebration of the literary competition that will be held among selected secondary school students across the country. Copies of Arrow of God will be given to these students to read for one month before the day of the literary competition. The competition will involve a quiz, reading comprehension and one-act dramatic enactment by participating schools of any part of the book that exemplifies the main conflicts of the narrative world of the book.
The proposed date for the colloquium is April 23 to May 3 2014. Collaborations will be done with the Association of Nigerian Authors at the National Level and through its local branches where the events are billed to hold as well as tertiary institutions such as University of Lagos, University of Ibadan, University of Abuja, Usman Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka as well as the Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State.
Executive Director of TheNews magazine, Mr. Kunle Ajibade, had said Achebe had confessed in the second edition of Arrow of God, “It is one of his books he’d be caught reading again and that it was why he reversed it to correct some structural errors he noticed. If it’s (Arrow of God) turning 50, we must do everything in our capacity to amplify it. We’ll not just be celebrating excellence but celebrating ourselves. If we (Nigerians) don’t celebrate way others will and it will diminish us. We should up the standard we set in celebrating Things Fall Apart in 2008”.
On her part, university don and novelist, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, said, “We’re celebrating a book regarded as the most intellectually and aesthetically satisfying. In spite of the popularity of Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God is more important as a text in the study of leadership and power and its use or abuse. I believe so much in it. Achebe is an icon; we’re lucky to have him; he remained a patriot all through his lifetime in spite of his challenges. He contributed so much to global leadership at Brown University, Rhodes, U.S. celebrating Arrow of God will give us so much pleasure. His legacy will not die; his works will continue to live after him”.