Ghanaian president, Archbishop of Canterbury, others for Achebe's burial Thursday

By The Citizen

Ghanaian President John Mahama, three other foreign presidents and other dignitaries, including  the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev. Justin Welby, are expected to attend the burial of literary icon, Prof. Chinua Achebe, in his home-town Ogidi, Anambra State, Thursday.

Highlighting the burial arrangement which commenced a week ago, the Anambra State Secretary to the Government (SSG), Oseloka Obaze, announced that it was a partnership involving Anambra, the Federal Government and the Ogidi community.

Besides, for about an hour in the main auditorium of the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus (UNEC), the academic community paid tributes to the late Achebe, an emeritus professor of English Literature at the university.

For the academics, the special senate, the 369th senate session of the university in honour of Achebe was  a solemn confirmation that their revered colleague, 'our compatriot who rose to become a citizen of the world, has come to an end.'

Achebe's end was further confirmed when he failed to answer to his name when the Registrar, Mr. Anthony Okonta, took the roll of the over 20 emeritus professors of the institution. All the professors answered to their names. And then Okonta called, 'Emeritus Prof. Chinua Achebe.' No response. Two more calls yielded deep silence from the casket, draped in national colours in their presence.

Okonta, who had broken tradition by calling out to Achebe thrice, reported to the Vice Chancellor that Achebe had failed to answer to his name. It was the first time Achebe would not answer to his name in their conclave. Okonta said: 'Mr. Vice Chancellor, here lies the remains of Emeritus Prof. Chinua Achebe. In line with tradition, I have called the roll call but he did not respond to his name.'

Apparently to confirm the report, Okolo once more called out, 'Emeritus Prof. Chinua Achebe,' and with no response, he lamented: 'Our compatriot who rose to become a citizen of the world has come to an end.'

The vice chancellor noted: 'So today, we are gathered for the primary purpose of paying our last respects to our colleague, one of the best creative minds of our generation.'

He continued: 'Here at the University of Nigeria we mourn him for his unique contributions to the development of our university and for the enormous visibility he brought to our university through his creative works, even in his death.

'Expectedly, his passing will leave a void in our hearts and in our university where he is revered as a great academic and administrator. He will be remembered as a remarkable teacher, an astute administrator, a creative genius, a story teller and author of extra-ordinary ability. In addition, our Institute of African Studies, which he headed during a remarkable period of growth and the Okike Journal, which he founded, will continue to serve as worthy and enduring monuments of remarkable career of this great man of the University of Nigeria.'

Achebe's body had arrived at the Akanu Ibiam, Enugu airport at about 12.25 p.m. on an aircraft marked FNBPE and was received by Secretary to Enugu State Government, Amechi Okolo, among other government functionaries.

After brief airport formalities, the hearse accompanied by his family members, cultural and dancing troupes heralded the return of Achebe.

Achebe's remains arrived on the university premises at about 3.47 p.m. and were led in a long procession of academics into the main hall with solemn music supplied by the school's music department.

Wrapped in national colours, the customised brown casket was lowered on a table in the main hall for the special session, which began soon after with Okolo presiding.

Obaze said the state government would perform the 'celebration of life for the late Prof. Achebe at the Alex Ekwueme Square tomorrow (Wednesday)' and urged all citizens of the state to attend the ceremony where they would pay their last respect to him.

He said that all state legislators, government officials, civil servants, local council workers, town unions and the private sector were expected to grace the occasion.

Commenting on the burial plan, he disclosed that the funeral service would hold at St. Philip's Anglican Church, Ogidi, while his final resting place would be in his family compound at Ogidi on May 23.

He disclosed further that all necessary logistics had been taken care of, but quickly added that they had taken a cue from the Achebe family on how the state government could assist, insisting that the ultimate goal was to give the late writer a befitting burial.

'Anambra State government is fully involved in the planning. We have put down resources at Ogidi, provided security, cleaned out the environment and worked on the roads in the area. The South-East governors have been fully supportive.

'As I speak to you now, his remains have arrived in Enugu where South-East governors and dignitaries converged to receive him. The state deputy governor was at the night of tributes.

'In terms of physical immortalisation, it will happen in the course of time, we will consult the Achebe family', Obaze said.

In preparation for the arrival of the remains of the late novelist, hotels and guest houses in Ogidi and adjoining communities have been fully booked for visitors. (The Guardian)