The Achebe I knew for 42 years – Prof. Nwala

The Achebe I knew for 42 years – Prof. Nwala

•What he told me about There Was a Country

To some people, Prof. Chinua Achebe wasn’t just the Things Fall Apart personality read in the text or announced in the media like a song. Achebe, the literary giant that passed on last week was a close friend, a contemporary, a friend, guiding light, role model and close associate of some people.

One of such that shared so much intimacy with Achebe is Prof. Tim Uzodinma Nwala. Achebe is the father of African literature, as Nwala is father of African philosophy. So, what they had in common included the pan African spirit.

They also had in common years of service at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). He toldDaily Sun on the day Achebe’s death was announced that the demise was something personal to him because he was too close to the late icon and his entire family. He recalled that: “Those days in the early 70s when we worked in the African Institute, Achebe was already a household name because of his pioneering role in African literature and particularly his Things Fall Apart and broadcast days in Nigeria and during the Biafra war.

He was a character we looked up to as role model. So, at the last colloqium, he invited my wife and I to the gathering of intellectuals of international repute. The lecture was delivered by Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State. Its focus was on Governance, Security and Peace in Africa. Achebe was an Afro-centric thinker all his days and he never pretended about that.”

As he recalled his last interaction with Achebe in his home in USA last December, he noted, concerning the Achebe he knew so closely that: “I grew up to appreciate great minds and scholars, including Achebe and the likes of Wole Soyinka and Umaru Shehu.

In his lifetime I had been part of the celebration of Things Fall Apart and I delivered the first UNN annual Chinua Achebe lecture last year, and I know that the development of African and Igbo philosophy is the philosophical companion of Things Fall Apart.” “So, I am a believer in hoisting the personality and great stature of these intellects of Africa to revive the African ethics and values.

They represent the positive points of reference to lift Africa and recreate a better society.” Nwala spoke in high spirits about Achebe’s departure because “Achebe is immortal. I cannot grieve over an outstanding man, who lived fully and left so much mark in history because the Achebe I know, Africa and the world know can never die.”

Nwala noted that he was at the last Chinua Achebe International Colloquium at the Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, between December 7 and 8 last year. He said: “Achebe personally invited my wife and I because I have known him since 1971 when we worked at the Institute of African Studies of UNN.”

“He was a senior research fellow while some of us were juniors. So, at the Colloquium, after the lectures, he took my wife and I home for dinner where we had great time with his entire family.” What he told me about There was a Country “At dinner, he personally spoke to me that the reason he invited me to the event was to ask me to play a role in ensuring that the reason for his last book,

There was a Country was not lost in the heat of the bickering that attended its outing. He spoke to me in pains that Nigerians had dropped the real intent for his work to quarrel over what they thought was the plank.” Asked what Achebe told him was the target of the book, Nwala said: “Let us look beyond his last book on Biafra and rather look at other books he wrote that were purely on the essence of rebuilding Nigeria.

He is the father of African literature and, therefore, a pan-Africanist. So, he told me that the reason he wrote the book was not to create bad blood but to tell the whole truth, which he felt the nation needed badly to get healing.

Achebe told me that he had lived for the hope of a better Nigeria and his dream was to release the book with the truths to confront the injustice that resulted in the war and still persist, thereby stopping the nation from progressing the way it should. He told me also that the second point for the book was to expose the enormity of the wrongs committed against some Nigerians during the war so as to make sure such mistakes are not made again.

The whole thing was for a better and unified and healed Nigeria. That is the whole truth the icon told me personally over dinner and I cannot falsify it.” On his death, Nwala said he had been in touch with Achebe’s two sons and his wife, Christy, who was his contemporary in UNN in the past one week. “Sometime on Thursday, Ike, his first son, called to tell me that Achebe had been transferred to the intensive care unit. Late Thursday night, I woke up to see six missed calls from Ike. When I called back, he informed me that hope was dimming on the giant of literature. I had to speak with his wife, and his second child, Chidi.” “So, later in the early hours of yesterday, he called again to inform me that the battle was over.

He directed me to call Governor Peter Obi, the Ohanaeze President, the Deputy Senate President, who incidentally was in London and some others to tell them how it turned out. I got hooked to the Secretary to the Anambra State Government and broke the news to him.” Ask Nwala to give a tribute to Achebe and he interjects: “It is hard to say Achebe has passed on. I think he took his place among the greatest like Homer, the author of the Great Iliad; Pushkin, the reverred Russian author; Shakespeare and other great writers.

Remember he was the author and founder of African literature and these live forever. So, I am not sad because Achebe is still here with us and will continue to live as long humanity endures. I am proud that I knew such a great man so closely and I am convinced he played his role and left the rest to history.” “His works invariably encapsulated the history, culture and ethos of the Igbo world.

They also narrated the culture shock and adjustment that occurred between the Igbo and the colonial masters and how that incursion changed the tide of our history either for good of for bad. Achebe, while writing just a story, unwittingly documented the history and evolution of the Igbo society from the days his story covered until it ended in the series.

“He took it further to write on the Nigerian political system and how we got it wrong and the way to return it to the right paths. If there is a pain I have, it is the reality that Achebe never lived to see that Nigeria of order he dreamed of. And bad enough, things don’t even seem to move in the direction of righting the wrongs. “I remember he refused and rejected national honours twice.

The first time he said he refused it because his home state was plundered by the same government that gave him honour and said it meant nothing to be so honoured when his place is in a state of war.

The second time, he said his reason for refusing it the first time remained because nothing changed. Achebe was not a character linked to the pillaging or plundering of the society. He hated the way things were operated and distanced himself from it to avoid any stain. I hold him very high and feel proud about knowing him so closely.”


Read full article in The Sun


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