Achebe: Why I rejected Nigeria's2004 national honors from Obasanjo's government
First and Special to USAfricaonline.com,USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston CLASSmagazine and TheBlack Business Journal
By CHIDO NWANGWU
October 15, 2004: The author of the epic, literarymasterpiece, 'Things Fall Apart' (written in 1958), social conscienceof millions, cultural custodian and elevator, chronicler andessayist, goodwill ambassador and man of progressive rock-ribbedprinciples,
the most translated writer of Black heritage inthe world the Eagle on theIroko, Professor Chinua Achebe, has taken the extraordinary step of"declining to accept the high honor awarded me in the 2004 HonorsList" by Nigeria's president, retired General Olusegun Obasanjo.
In the October 2004 letter sent to the presidency,the eminent writer and statesman Achebe informed Obasanjo, that"Nigeria's condition today under your watch is, however, toodangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment andprotest...."
Accordingto the letter obtained by USAfricaonline.com,USAfrica The Newspaper and CLASSmagazine (the first media networks to obtain and publish itscontent), Achebe pointed to the issues of Nigeria's leaders failingto unite the country's diverse peoples and the what he identified as"the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency" in thedestabilization of parts of Nigeria and state governments bypolitical and business renegades.
Achebe, the author of 'No Longer at Ease' (1960),'Arrow of God' (1964--rev. 1974), and 'Anthills of the Savannah'(1987), wrote Obasanjo "For some time now I have watched events inNigeria with alarm and dismay. I have watched particularly the chaosin my own state of Anambrawhere a small clique of renegades, openly boasting itsconnections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland intoa bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness ofthis clique and the silence, if not connivance, of thePresidency."
Achebe noted in his usual clarity and depth ofmeaning that he wrote "this letter with a very heavy heart."President Obasanjo was born on March 5, 1937 while Prof. Achebe wasborn November 16, 1930, in Ogidi, Nigeria
In rejecting the award from the embattledpresidency of Obasanjo, Achebe's symbolic point will further draw theline between the toadying apologists of Obasanjo who insist that thepresident who is on his 2nd time as Nigeria's head of state (3 yearsas a military dictator from 1976-1979), and 2nd term as civilianleader (since 1999) is "doing his best to improve Nigeria and itsstature internationally" and the leader's ardent critics who cite thecost of living, decaying infrastructure and killings in differentparts of the country as the results of "a mediocre, inept,know-it-all and corrupt Obasanjo government."
Achebe's decision to reject the 2004 nationalhonors from Obasanjo is not accidental; it's rooted in his positionthat the writer ought to see himself/herself as a part of the widergoal of building a better society. For him, there's an organicrelationship between writing as education and the building of abetter society. Recall that the distinguished and prolific Achebewrote in 1975 in his work 'Morning Yet on Creation Day' that "Thewriter cannot be excused from the task of re-education andregeneration that must be done "
Achebe has never shied away from speaking histruths to the face of power, especially writing with such lucidityand accessibility that his essays and books have since becomeequalizers for the scholarly and the average reader. (See selectedworks of Achebe at the bottom of this page).
Achebe's latest note and poignant reminder to the"powers that be" in Nigeria follows in his decades old commitment tocall the leadership to do better for a long-suffering people -especially in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. I recall flying back tothe U.S. (from South Africa directly to New York) to attend Prof.Achebe's 70th birthday at the historic Bard College (November 3-4,2000) and its related conference titled, "Home and Exile: Achebe at70" - where Achebe made a similar point. In the midst of his friendsand some of the best writers in the world, he mentioned how everyonewas speaking so nicely of him in honor of his birthday; then he jokedthat were he a military dictator may be those two days of Novemberwould have been declared national holidays. He burst intolaughter.... That's vintage Achebean sarcasm.
In 1983, he wrote the often quoted pamphlet, 'TheTrouble with Nigeria. In the latter, he cited the litany of failuresof the leaders and pointed the way forward. In rejecting Obasanjo'saward, he's making a statement about the direction and quality ofleadership in Nigeria, today. The sage has picked the moment to sethis revered and valuable company and name apart from a list whichdoes not separate dealers from leaders. With Chinua Achebe, Eagle onthe Iroko, you may never mistake his message.
ChidoNwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence award(1997), is Founder and Publisher of USAfricaonline.com (firstAfrican-owned U.S.-based professional newspaper to be published onthe internet), USAfrica The Newspaper, CLASSmagazine and TheBlack Business Journal. He served as an adviser tothe Mayor of Houston on international business (Africa) and appearsas an analyst on CNN Inside Africa, CNN International, VOA, NPR, CBSNews, NBC and ABC news affiliates.
This USAfricaonline.com special report and commentary iscopyrighted. Links to it are permitted. Archiving on any other website or newspaper is unauthorized except with a Written Approval byUSAfricaonline.comFounder. October 16, 2004
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Obasanjo: Let me say this to you, when you put the question of 10,000 -- 10,000 people dying in Nigeria, of course, for a population of over 120 million people...." But USAfricaonline.com Founder and recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), Chido Nwangwu, who appeared on the same program as as a CNN International analyst (Africa) pointed out that "when (President Obasanjo) answered that in a country of 100 million that 10,000 people are said to have died, as if that was a small number, that in itself reflects a disconnect with the concerns of Nigerians. The second one is that when the risk is civil disagreement, the police are required to intervene in the country. And the deployment of the armed forces of Nigeria requires at least some consultation, however modest, with the parliament." Nwangwu, former member of the editorial board of Nigeria's Daily Times continued that "the third factor that is equally important to underscore is that the armed forces of Nigeria moved in for a punitive action rather than just containing a civil disagreement." He noted in USAfricaonline.com backgrounder "it was revealing and interesting interesting discussing Nigeria's issues with its leader - under the current circumstances of an increasingly out-of-schedule elections and the gathering storm of an impeachment process by a majority of the members of the National Assembly, predominantly by Obasanjo's party members." See rush transcript of the CNN International news program.
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* THINGS FALL APART,1958
* NO LONGER AT EASE,1960
* THE SACRIFICAL EGG AND OTHERSTORIES, 1962
* ARROW OF GOD, 1964
* A MAN OF THE PEOPLE, 1966 -Kansan mies
* CHIKE AND THE RIVER,1966
* BEWARE, SOUL BROTHER,1971
* GIRLS AT WAR, 1972
* HOW THE LEOPARD GOT HIS CLAWS,1972
* CHRISTMAS IN BIAFRA AND OTHERPOEMS, 1973
* MORNING YET ON CREATION DAY,1975
* THE DRUM, 1977
* THE FLUTE, 1977
* LITERATURE AND SOCIETY,1980
* THE TROUBLE WITH NIGERIA,1983
* THE WORLD OF OGBANJE,1986
* ANTHILLS OF THE SAVANNA, 1987 -short listed for the Booker Prize
* THE UNIVERSITY AND THELEADERSHIP FACTOR IN NIGERIAN POLITICS, 1988
* HOPES AND IMPEDIMENTS,1989
* NIGERIAN TOPICS, 1989
* ed.: THE HEINEMANN BOOK OFCONTEMPORARY AFRICAN SHORT STORIES, 1992 (with C.L. Innes)
* HOME AND EXILE,2000