"The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose SHADE you do not expect to sit." - Nelson Henderson
When the Institute of African studies, university of Nigeria Nsukka, wrote in to inform
me of my nomination for award as a Champion of intellectual discourse followed with a
request to deliver a paper at the first Chinua Achebe international conference with the
theme, “Chinua Achebe and the convolutions of immortality: Assessing the Writer in
Relation to new Realities” to mark the fourth year anniversary of his interment, it dawned
on me that the spirit of the icon lives on. The Institute acknowledged the role I played as
a former Governor of Imo State when we hosted what turned out Achebe’s last major
outing in Nigeria at the Ahiajoku lecture where he delivered the keynote address.
The Achebe essence remains evergreen and those that benefitted from his remarkable
scholarly works are unarguably eternally grateful for the indelible impression he left on
Meeting Chinualumogu Achebe on the pages of his book, Things Fall Apart, was an
encounter that triggered off an inner desire to make an inquest into the essence of, the
values, character, world view, morality, ethos, mores and idiosyncrasies of an
unadulterated Igbo society. That classical Igbo society of yore that carved a place of pride
Achebe created imagery with words, took us back to the old Igbo society that was built
on sound moral values, high sense of communalism and deification of community icons
that exhibited valour, courage and cant.
Reading through this book that was a historical document on the place of culture and
tradition in the pristine Igbo society, one cannot but acknowledge an exhibition of rare
intellect , creativity in writing, sound understanding of the imperatives of communication
and mastery of the art of arresting the attention of the reader.
Beyond the input in literary accomplishment, Things Fall Apart was a compelling read
for students of the society in exploring and explaining the intricate issues in cultural
conflicts, the inherent shocks, the fall-outs and resolutions.
The opening sections of this internationally received piece of literary work, vividly
captured a social scenario that defines the impact of cultural conflicts in societies.
In the words of the author, “Turning and turning in a widening gay, the falcon cannot bear
the falconer, things fall apart, the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is lost upon the
world”. The principal character in the book, Okonkwo, was a metaphorical
characterization that clearly gave colour and resonance that made the book a magnum
Even though Achebe had other great literary works in books and papers that received
commendable reviews and were widely published in world journals, Things Fall Apart
pointed a torch towards him early which earned him the admiration of many.
It did not just expose capacity in word management but literary discipline that kept him
on course from the beginning of the book till the end without running the risk of losing the attention and interest of the reader.
Anyone that encountered the work, would readily have a picture of the society under
reference, the people, the environment, what they stood for, their drive, preferences,
values, world view and interests.
Like many others across the globe, the love for the works of Prof. Chinua Achebe, to me,
translated to an unquenchable desire to drink from the intellectual reservoir of this great
mind whose exposure in the literary world did not imperil an inner desire to submit to the
noble cause of using his works to influence the society positively.
All his works were devoted to educating the mind, promoting the essence of humanity,
challenging the leadership to work towards building a society that would be beneficial to
all, and calling for an aggregate redirection of our energies in achieving group good.
Achebe’s work which covered the colonial years in which he was born, years of
nationalist struggle and the years after independence, are evidence of restless heart that
took time, deploying energy and resources to stamp an intellectual imprimatur as a
reliable and dependable literary historian horned in the art of chronicling events that
defined our past, the present and the relevance in shaping our future.
He shared thoughts through his books on the nationalist response to colonial rule, the
need to preserve tradition and culture that are not injurious to modernity, the
independence disenchantment, the civil war in Nigeria (the implications, lessons and
fallouts), the leadership gaps and its debilitating effect top of which, is the arresting of
human and structural development.
Even though his writings were essentially directed to an African audience, curiously, their
psychological insight especially within the context of the world as a global village,
resonates across boundaries, thus the universal acceptance.
Achebe changed the perception of novelists as mere story tellers. No political scientist,
historian, anthropolist, or any class of social scientist, would lay claim to churning out
more works that x-rayed the society, the people, politics and leadership than Prof. Chinua
Achebe. In terms of impact, pervasiveness and penetration, Achebe stood tall because of
his style and elan.
He owed no one any apology for being described as a political writer. According to him,
“my politics is concerned with universal human communication across racial and cultural
boundaries as a means of fostering respect for all people”.
Such respect he continued, can issue only from understanding. “so my primary concern is
with clearing the channels of communication in my own neighborhood by hacking away
at the thickets that choke them”.
Africa’s meeting with Europe to him was a historical fact that turned a terrible disaster
given the reality that the meeting precluded any warmth of friendship that could have
facilitated genuine understanding and appreciation of Africa. The African world Achebe
insisted, is still bedeviled by the consequences of an encounter that turned cataclysmic.
The distortion in development in human and material terms are direct consequences of a
deliberate erosion of the value system of Africans and the people. While some Africans
capitulated, the metaphorical OKONKWO took the noblest path of not allowing the
Whiteman urinate on his honour and integrity.
My take on Achebe’s intellectual works is that Africans have been paying the price of an
encounter with Europe that robbed her the opportunity of leveraging a rich historical past
to shape a future consistent with a pattern that suites its people.
Granted that some of the pristine practices were reprehensible, a total obliteration of the
culture, tradition and values through radical and hostile mental and psychological invasion created major social dissonance with the attendant impairments.
The colonialists invaded Africa with a mentality that was divisive instead of integrative,
recriminatory, exploitative and airs of superiority complex that questioned our essence
I could not but find in Achebe, a man whose space must be shared, convictions identified
with and teachings accepted and equally propagated as a veritable means of self and
group identification (Ima onwe).
An Igbo adage holds that its only when one understands how and where rain started
beating him, that the one would find an answer to the dilemma of life. Because we may
be building on quick sand if the foundational imbalances are not properly dealt with.
The opportunity of a life time to share space with this world citizen and intellectual
colossus came in 2008 when the Imo State government was preparing to mount the
Ahiajoku lecture slated for Friday, January 23, 2009.
It came at a time there was public concern about the place of the Igbo in Nigeria. The
state executive council in Imo State then felt challenged to devote the Ahiajoku lecture as
a platform to stir discussion and call attention to the state of affairs that was troubling and
In order to give the event the national and international colour it deserved, the State Exco
had no better option than Prof. Chinua Achebe, as the right masquerade whose presence
will draw the crowd and his message likely to hit the bull’s eye to a point of
conscientizing the entire Igbo nation to ask the right questions.
The choice was the best but the challenge of climbing the iroko tree was a tall order given
that for a long period after the accident that set him on the wheel chair, Prof, Achebe
seldom honoured invitations to events in Nigeria for obvious logistics reasons.
As the Governor of Imo State, it dawned on me that whatever it would take in planning
and logistics to bring Achebe to the colloquium was worthy, especially against the
backdrop of allowing ndi Igbo and Nigerians the opportunity of drinking from the
fountain of his experience, knowledge and intellectual intervention
The Imo State government under my watch, consistent with its policy of rising up to the
occasion no matter the challenges and odds, succeeded in displaying the masquerade at
the 2009 Ahiajoku colloquim with the theme “UWA NDI IGBO (the world of Igobs)”.
Prof. Chinua Achebe who delivered the keynote address was at his oratonical best and
took liberty in the mastery of Igbo proverbs, idioms, anecdote and flawless delivery in
both English and Igbo language to hold the audience (made up of who is who amongst
the Igbo intellegentia, academia, captains of industry etc) spell bound.
Drawing inspiration from his great works, top of which was Things Fall Apart, Achebe
delivered what could rightly be described as a generational message on the need for the
Igbo to go back to the basics for proper group identification.
According to him, there are certain virtues that set the Igbo apart as a people with rich
history of accomplishments that define who they are and which must not be allowed to
die because of the complexities of competition in a nation that cares less about promoting
merit and identifying with progressive ideals.
‘Uwa nid Igbo’ before the ant infestation, was defined by adventure, courage, pushing
the limits, breaking and barriers/boundaries, high sense of accommodation and inclusion,
enterprise, resilience, building bridges and alliances and commonality of purpose. The
Igbo sense of community which flows from structured family system helped shaped the
The essential Igbo, promoted community life and a moral society that drew strength and
bearing from Chi Ukwu (the ultimate reality), the author of life that shapes the destiny of
men based on the degree of conformity with that which is moral and noble. The concept
of “Nso Ala “ was a moral barometer that regulated the society.
Things fell apart the moment the falcon could no longer bear the falconer. The civil war
and its consequences changed the vista of the Igbo nation and outsiders took turns in
manipulating us and found willing allies amongst the dregs of Igbo society whose
Igboness are suspect in every material particular.
Where we are today is a factor of group capitulation based on loss of identity and self
worth. Granted that the post civil war experiences compounded by state sponsored
economic strangulation exposed our people to deprivations and poverty which made a
greater number susceptible to devious external influences, should we accept this verdict
as our fate?
47 years after the end of the civil war is enough time for us to shake off a past that has
questioned our humanity, integrity and sense of self worth. Must we allow the intrigues of
a competition that starks all odds against our collective will and aspiration to consume us
as a people. Achebe asked questions and ended by reminding us that “Taa bu gboo”, onye
a juru aju anaghi aju onwe ya”. Aha onye kporo nkita ya ka o ga-aza.
What Achebe found very disturbing was the growing trend of generational betrayal by
the Igbo elite which led to the multiplication of a culture of impunity and self denial.
My articulation of “Nshiko mentality” largely explains the consequences of allowing a
reign of impunity oiled by a club of unpatriotic Igbo sons and daughters sponsored by
powerful external influences that are bent on holding the Igbo nation down by destroying
the ladder which our people can rely on to climb to excellence.
The moment any Igbo shows signs of marching torwards political visibility, the person
would be stigmatized and dragged down. Unfortunately, the “Oshebe mentality” has not
allowed us to read the hand writing on the wall as to understand the intrigues as they play
out the champions of money politics readily find willing tools amongst the youths that the
system deliberately denies honourable empowerment.
In Prof. Chinualumogu Achebe, I saw a man who was equally a victim of this same
sentiment. A man who was celebrated across the globe as a rare intellectual gift to
humanity that had less acknowledgement from home because of his place of birth.
If an Achebe had happened in other parts of Nigeria, the narrative would have been
different. The time calls for introspection amongst the youths of Igbo nation whose future
might remain on the cliff if they fail to deploy their energy in changing the vista of Ndi
Igbo by investing in a new leadership ensemble that would make our people more
competitive. A leadership that would be respected by other sections of the country based
on who they are and what they can bring to the table.
A less competitive Igbo leadership would continue to be foot mats when the chips are
down. That message from Prf. Chinua Achebe should be imbibed and allowed to define
the world of the Igbo if other ethnic nationalities will accord us the space we rightly
deserve in political leadership and economic engagement.