Archbishop Of Canterbury, Others Eulogise Achebe At Service Of Songs
• Academy of Letters, college old boys, others pay tributes
MOHAMMED ABUBAKAR, NKECHI ONYEDIKA (ABUJA), TUNDE OYEDOYIN (LONDON), LAWRENCE NJOKU (ENUGU) AND ANOTE AJELUOROU (LAGOS)
The Guardian Nigeria, Sunday, May 19, 2013
FRESH tributes came for the late Nigerian novelist, Prof. Chinua Achebe, as the Archbishop of Canterbury – the leader of the Anglican Church Communion worldwide – the Most Rev. Justin Welby, led a full Anglican service of songs for him in London.
The Bishop of Woolich, Rt. Revd. Michael Ipgrave and his Southwark counterpart, Rt. Revd. Christopher Chessun, also eulogised him, so also was the Jamaican High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (UK), Mrs. Aloun Ndombet-Assamba.
Also, the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) and old boys of Government College, Umuahia, Sunday paid tributes to the late literary icon.
In a one-page eulogy read by his representative at the service held at All Saints Cathedral in New Cross on Saturday evening, Welby said “it is a great privilege to be able to send this tribute to Chinua Achebe as you gather for a service at All Saints in his memory. Chinua Achebe was a wonderful poet and novelist, and one of the most important and influential writers in the history of Literature in English.
“He was a world figure, and played a significant role in shaping my own understanding of Nigeria and of the post-colonial era. In offering my condolences, I would also like to express my admiration for his courage in pursuing justice and integrity. ”
Welby also described Achebe as “a tremendous human being, and also a family man.”
In his own eulogy, Chessun described him as a “novelist of great stature.” The cleric also echoed what Nelson Mandela famously said of Achebe, that he, through his writings, “brought Africa to the world” while remaining rooted as an African.
Continuing, Chessun noted: “Certainly his role in the formation of national identity and consciousness in post-independence Nigeria cannot be under-estimated.”
Eulogising Achebe, Ipgrave said he was not just “a great teller of stories,” but “a notable academic” who “lived between the worlds of scholarships and of popular culture, and at times, also of politics and religion.” According to him, that place in-between often proved to be a hard and costly place to be.
The bishop told the congregation of about 200 not to be gloomy, noting that: “What we mark tonight for Chinua Achebe is his journey into a place which is no longer at the centre where things fall apart.”
On her part, Ndombet-Assamba commended Achebe for not only having a “great impact” on her personally and others who read his books in the Caribbean, but that he “gave them dignity as people of colour.” The diplomat thanked Achebe for giving her and millions of others the “wonderful gift of words from an African perspective.”
There were also eulogies from the Chairman of the Central Association of Nigerians in the United Kingdom (CANUK), Chief Bimbo Afoloyan and from the service organiser, Alex Achebe, who was Achebe’s nephew. Alex also read from his uncle’s last work, There was a country.
At the colloquium and night of tributes organised by old boys of Government College, Umuahia, elder statesman, Dr. Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo, regretted that the societal ills, which made Achebe reject national honours on two occasions, still thrive in the country.
He particularly lamented the state of infrastructure, especially the deplorable Enugu-Onitsha highway, where Achebe sustained the road mishap that condemned him to a wheelchair until his death, stressing that it was unfortunate that Achebe’s remains would be taken through the same road in its poor state.
He said: “He had hoped that in his lifetime, he would see a Nigeria that is truly federal in character and practice; he had hoped that Nigerians would have come to a roundtable to discuss the basis of their continued existence; he had hoped that the leadership would have by now improved infrastructure in the country; repaired the many damaged roads in the country, which, in the first instance, condemned him to a wheelchair till death; rehabilitated our collapsing institutions and given hope to the ordinary Nigerian. That he died without seeing these expectations come to fulfilment is an indictment on Nigeria and her leaders and an indication that all is not well with Nigeria. More than anything else, we should while paying deserved tribute to this literary icon and avatar, give serious thought to the tragedy that Nigeria has turned into if there is going to be a tomorrow for all of us.”
He said it would have been a smear on the reputation of Achebe had he accepted on two occasions national honours based on his belief that the government was notorious for its corruption, ineptitude and economic strangulation of the masses.
Nwankwo, who is the Chancellor of Eastern Mandate Union (EMU) and former presidential candidate, described Achebe as a ‘dictionary’, stressing that he lived in the library at Government College, Umuahia, devouring the writings of such writers as Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad.
He insisted that the views expressed by Achebe in his last book, There was a country, represented the minds of the Igbo, stressing that the book was outstanding because it was written with pride and not prejudice.
He said the death of Achebe had brought to an end a glorious career that spanned over six decades, adding that he reshaped the English Language to accommodate Igbo voices and concepts.
The Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) described Achebe’s death as a great tragedy not only to his immediate family, the country but to the whole world.
In a statement made available to The Guardian in Abuja, the President of the Academy, Prof. Munzali Jubril, said the passage of Achebe, who was a foundation fellow of the organisation, would continue to leave a very deep vacuum in the literary world when taken into account the impact his literary works had had on the world.
According to Munzali, a one-time Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), “Achebe is universally remembered as the author of Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, two of the great African novels of the 20th century. Both are stories of the colonial encounters told from the point of view of a post-colonial era. Besides, Achebe had a profound sense of history. For him, the past is the foundation of the present, and that what we do with our past has a consequence for posterity.
“He had always insisted on the need to understand where we are coming from if we are to remain in control of the present and future, and he applied this principle to his creative writing, and he even extended it beyond himself by mentoring the young generation of writers that would succeed an aging generation that includes Profs. Wole Soyinka and J.P. Clark, two other distinguished fellows of the academy.”
The statement continued: “His bequest to the younger generation includes creative writing journal, Okike and the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) that he founded a generation ago. He was a creative intellectual who was politically engaged with the issues of his country. As a spokesman for races, nations, ethnic groups and small communities, he claimed the privilege of the visionary who would not see his people perish by insisting on the right of every community to tell its own story.”
Lamenting the decadence of infrastructure in the country, Munzali said: “It is an irony that such a culturally engaged writer and a nationalist should die in another country seeking medical care for an accident that he sustained through his country’s neglect of its road and infrastructure. It should not be that Achebe, who has written so well about the indigenous civilisation of African peoples and in their defence, should now be diminished by being presented champion of one ethnic group.
“In culture-specific, but politically representative fictions, he wrote about the colonised for a global reading public as no one has written before.”
Meanwhile, at a commendation service organised by the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, in Achebe’s honour in Abuja, the Archbishop Metropolitan and Primate of Anglican All Nigeria, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, described the late writer as a great man, pride of Africa, a world-class professor and a gold medallist of African literature.
He noted that Achebe was God’s gift to Africa, Nigeria and Igbo people, adding that he developed African literature and succeeded in spreading the knowledge of African literature to the entire world through his writings.
For the Minister of Finance and the Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Achebe was a man that brought fame and dignity to Nigeria.
Describing Achebe’s literary works as classic, Okonjo-Iweala noted that he encouraged other young Nigerian writers, adding that his departure had created a vacuum in the literary world.
Also speaking, Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, described Achebe as one of the most important Nigerians in the last 100 years.
On behalf of the family, the Chairman of the burial committee, Prof. Uzodinma Nwala, noted the family was not mourning but celebrating his transition knowing that Achebe had achieved an immortal place in human civilisation.