By Anote Ajeluorou
Early preparations for the burial rites for late legendary literary icon began last Tuesday when by Igbo socio-political Think-tank, Aka Ikenga held a day of tributes for the late man of letters, Prof. Chinua Achebe at Nigeria Institute for International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos. Friends, colleagues and admirers of the literary icon extolled the virtues of Achebe as a man of courage, a man who lived life to the full.
Also, Nigerians, especially the young ones, were urged to emulate his exemplary life, a man with whom humility, integrity, courage sat well, just as the countdown to his burial on May 23rd starts today, with activities in Abuja before his arrival on Tuesday and his final journey to his resting place in his hometown, Ogidi, Anambra State.
Among prominent Igbo sons that paid tribute to Achebe included Amb. Arthur Mbanefo, Profs. Anya O. Anya, George Obiozor and Uzodinma Nwuala, Anthony Merini and Nnabuife. Others were President, Government College, Umuahia Old Students Association, Mr. C.N.C. Nweke and many other old boys and dignitaries.
Also, it was an event that was spiced with musical rendition, poetry rendition in Igbo and English. At the forefront of the musical performance was the post-graduate class of Performing Arts Department, University of Lagos, which rendered several Igbo choral songs. Prof. Nnabuife’s rendition of elegiac poem in Igbo was a moving, superb and effortless in the classic manner of ancient griots, which even the late Achebe would have applauded in its edification of the Igbo language as a fitting language for peotry. Punctuated by the accompaniment of the local Igbo flute dexterously weaving in and out among the stanzas, the performance could best be described as a fitting funereal for the great wordsmith it was composed for as it mourned the man and played up the havoc death wreaks on mankind both great and small.
And as the performance progress, the unmistakable ekwe sound, not unlike how Achebe played it up chapter two of his now famous Things Fall Apart joined the poetic rendition to further heighten the mournful cadence of the performance.
In his tribute, Mbanefo commended Achebe for his iconic status in letters that transcended Nigeria and Africa to the wider world. He said it was a thing of pride that Achebe as an Igbo son was acclaimed world-wide, and added that Nigerians should not lose sight of the values of integrity, humility and excellence that Achebe represented and transmitted in his works.
He noted, “He was the elephant not only of Nigeria and Africa but of the entire world. Anybody who had Achebe knew that he had somebody. His death is a thing of tears and sorrow but it also causes a lot of reflection on our part. What he depicted was not a myth; he tried to practice what he wrote, which is very hard in this country. He played honest politics; he stood out. He was one that didn’t give in; he believed in himself and was truthful. He stood straight to the end. In a country where people beg for national honours, Achebe rejected them because the hands that wanted to give him such honours were not clean. We have lost a gem”.
Also, Prof. Anya said Achebe, his neighbour at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was the greatest literary artist of the 20th century Africa produced, adding, “Achebe does not belong to the dead but the living. This is a day of reflection, for us to see what lessons we can take away from his life”.
The iconic economist wondered why Igbo did not honour their own when they were still alive, starting from foremost historian and first Vice Chancellor of University College, Ibadan, Prof. Kenneth Dike and another foremost academics, Prof. Eni Njoku. He said these legendary men of letters deserved to be laureates in their fields but that world politics played them out of such considerations.
Anya said Achebe’s burial date of May 23 was just six days away from May 29th, a symbolic date in Igbo’s history, when the 1966 progrom started in the North of Nigeria, which eventually ushered in the bitter civil war that decimated the lives of Nd’Igbo. He also linked the passing of Odumegu Ojukwu and Achebe in close proximity at this time as not mere happenstance, but some sort of closure for Nd’Igbo, as the past drawing the curtain against the past for a new chapter and renaissance of Igbo people.
Prof. Obiozor, hilariously explosive, stated that the greatness of any nation was determined by the quality of the sons and daughters she produced. He praised Achebe’s greatness as an exceptional one that trailed him from the beginning to the end, which started at Government College, Umuahia as a first class student. He harped on the injustice that has continued to be the hallmark of Nigeria and stressed that until the injustice was addressed in the land, peace would continue to elude Nigeria.
Earlier, President of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike extolled the virtues of Achebe as a man whose fame far preceded him. He pointed out the celebration his death came to represent all over the world and said Igbo was lucky to give such a rare gift to the world.