Friday, March 22, 2013

A Tribute to Chinua Achebe

By Adejoh Idoko Momoh

At the accomplished age of 82, Nigerian literary icon Chinua Achebe is dead. Mostly acclaimed for his 1958 novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ which has sold a staggering 10 million copies and has been translated into about 50 languages, Achebe was until his death Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University.
To everyone, Achebe meant something. To impressive writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, he was a source of inspiration, a mentor of some sort. To school children, his literature helped shape language –the simplicity, courage of his writing: Achebe was never too complex to hinder understanding and never too simple to pass as pedestrian. To activists, he was a fellow activist- having refused Nigerian national honors in 2004 and 2011, accusing the government of turning Nigeria into ‘a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom’. To the Igbo’s, he was liberator- having played active roles in the 1967-70 struggle for Biafra’s liberation. In whichever way you choose to describe Achebe, one undeniable fact is that without Achebe, the Nigerian country and language would not have evolved as far as it has. 
According to his publishers ‘Penguin Books’, Achebe passed on the 21st March 2013. But it wasn’t until the next day I would hear of it. As my colleague broke the news, my immediate reaction was to question:
‘How can Achebe die?’
 No, I didn’t think he was immortal and therefore incapable of dying, I just needed some time to have the sad news of his death sink in. And giving that in a typical Nigerian day, you hear of the deaths of Nelson Mandela, Wole Soyinka amongst others, I wanted to confirm the news before I believed it. Looking back, I realize the news my colleague shared was mostly responsible for my sober mood all that day.
Let me say this, I am a writer with, every other Thursday, I am obligated to produce an article that exposes some flaw in society, governance. People have often asked if with my writing I am capable of making any change in response to these people, I would borrow a quote from Chinua Achebe: 
"There is no moral obligation to write in a particular way. But there is a moral obligation, I think, not to ally oneself with power against the powerless."
Being a man who spent his life sharing his gift with millions of us lovers of literature/ students/ writers Achebe challenges me to put my gifts to good use.  To not be selfish, write as much as I can. Never cease to speak up when I see people oppressed. From reviews I have read, his most recent work ‘There Was A Country’ very artfully blends painful memories, history and ideals while retaining its truthfulness. 

I mourn Achebe’s physical death but I am consoled for I know amongst writers that he graciously shared his gifts, a part of him would in their writing live. For every student he touched, a part of him would in their intellect live. For every activist, it is hoped that the lessons of his kindness, his boldness would be inspiration, and for all Igbo’s, they have the gift of pride. Knowing that they had a brother, father, son that made we all as a country proud.

Adejoh Momoh ( can be followed on twitter @adejoh