While twice rejecting the Nigerian government’s offer of an award of national honour, Chinua Achebe had expressed his “alarm and dismay” over the state of affairs in his country. The famous author, who died recently, particularly referred to the chaotic conditions in his home state of Anambra where “a small clique of renegades (was) openly boasting of its connections in high places”. Achebe’s despondency was understandable because in a book published three decades before his death, he depicted “trouble” as “simply and squarely a failure of leadership”.
His sorrow was the same as that of another Nigerian, Wole Soyinka, who moaned that today’s Nigeria was not what was “envisaged when we struggled for independence.” Like many Indians, including R.K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand and several present-day celebrities, Achebe wrote in English although it was the language of “colonisers”. From his difficulties with the language, he turned to the colonisers themselves. His most celebrated comment was the description of Joseph Conrad, the author of the Heart of Darkness, as a “bloody racist”, for portraying Africa as a “metaphysical battlefield devoid of all humanity”.
As his trilogy, his magnum opus Things Fall Apart (1958), No Longer At Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964) captivated the world, the Father of African Literature, who was wheelchair-bound in his later years, continued to be an inspiration to his countrymen and others who have had the dispiriting colonial experience in Asia and Africa. Achebe wasn’t only a writer who was closeted in his secluded study, for he supported the cause of Biafra’s separation from Nigeria when the region broke away in 1967. Along with noting the clash of Western and African cultural values, he was also a man of action.