WHAT ACHEBE TAUGHT ME
I struggled with what to call this piece. Initially I called it “Ode to Achebe”, but changed it when it dawned on me that I am not gifted in poetry or songwriting. This was compounded by my concern about how to do justice to the life of a colossal figure, who is not only an African literary Icon, but also a global one for that matter?
Like Professor Chinua Achebe, some of us left the shores of Nigeria for “better” opportunities. It could be for greener pastures, for political asylum from military persecution or just for a more enabling academic (less corrupt) environment where we can practice our profession/trade and live an uncompromising life. His death caused me to travel down memory lane. I recall with fond memories reading Things Fall Apart as a teenager in Abraka. It is a book whose words and nuggets of truth stayed with me, even during my sojourn abroad. I was extremely happy and impressed when I stumbled across a copy of this great book, at the Museum of African Art at The Smithsonian in Washington DC. I almost did not recognize it because it was under a different cover. Although they had changed the cover design, there was no mistaking the great contents of its pages. Today, Things Fall Apart is now a required text in many American schools.
The first lesson Achebe thought me was the value of a good foundation. You must build a proper academic and life foundation. When I was lecturing at the university, I was saddened at the number of students who did not have the proper English,, math or moral foundations. Your early foundation becomes the center of many things in your life. One of the quotes from his book is “the center cannot hold.” Two parallel quotes from the Bible are apropos here. Job 4:19 “How much more those who dwell in houses of clay, Whose foundation is in the dust, Who are crushed before a moth?” A second quote is Psalm 11:3, which says “If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?” The second scripture is a rhetorical question upon which emanates many deliverance prayers. However, my interest here is on the first quote from the Book of Job. I hold a black belt in the Korean martial Arts of Tae Kwon Do. One clear lesson when I started as a white belt (beginner) is that you must learn the basics first. You must know how to chamber your kicks before you can create powerful sidekicks. You must master your front kick before learning axe kick. Academically, you must learn algebra before proceeding to trigonometry or quadratic equations. Spelling is necessary for complex grammatical essays. No short cuts. You learn to crawl before you can walk and walk before running. Nowadays, our youths and politicians do not want to pay the price for a solid “center.”
Achebe also taught me the value of standing for (and saying) what you believe, even if it is contrary to those who promote anti-disestablishment-serialism. This is just a fancy multi-syllable word that negates itself, but means that you are not a sycophant. Professor Achebe stands in the record book as the only Nigerian to have stood by his principles and declined twice (2004 & 2011) a national honour award as Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), although he accepted a National Merits Award (NAMA). Please see my article of September 17, 2012 titled “Merit in the National Honor Award” for a better understanding of the difference between the two types of awards. In addition, he did not mind if the contents of his book offended anyone as long as he was stating his conscience, as evidenced by the controversy that trailed his recent book. The point is that we still salute him for saying what he believes, believing what he says, and standing by what he believes even to death.
Achebe went further and taught me that you should expand your scope of influence and not settle for being a local champion or live a life of mediocrity. Your work will show your worth. He could have settled for a small village life confined to southeastern Nigerian, but chose to spread his intellectual tentacles and affected the lives of other ethnic nationalities, including Caucasians. A local pugilist will never know if he can win a World Boxing Title if he just stays in the safe confines of his community where he has knocked out all challengers. Of course, some “locals” are afraid of Daniel's elucidation of the handwriting on the wall for King Belshazzar (son of Nebuchadnezzar) in Daniel 5:27 "TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.” Many oppose zoning and its twin brother called federal character because they elevate people who when weighed in the balance (comparison to others), will be found wanting.
Finally, Professor Achebe taught me and everyone else, that at the end of our life, we would be judged. What will you be remembered for? When I preach at funerals or address youths, I use the initials “DASH” to teach on living and leaving a legacy. DASH represents the period between your birth and your death. D stands for your deeds. What are your deeds (actions) here? A represents your attitude. We all detests people with bad attitude. Your attitude determines your altitude more than your aptitude. S stands for Sacrifice and you must live a life of sacrifice if you want to succeed. Successful people know the value of sacrifice. In my book, The Seven Open Secrets of Success (available on Amazon.com), I listed sacrifice as the sixth open secret. H stands for your heart. Your heart must be right with God and man so that when you die, your eternal abode will be unquestionable. As the Old Testament Preacher said in Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” Professor Achebe has taught me to live in such a way that at the end of my life, I will be missed because I left a legacy based on an amazing DASH.
Professor Chinua Achebe may have passed away eight (8) months short of his 83rd birthday, but his influence on the world will not pass or fade away. His legacy lives on. I doff my hat to a literary Icon, knowing his soul will rest in perfect peace.
Prof Alex O. Atawa-Akpodiete is an author, Computer Scientist, Educator, Consultant, lawyer, Political Analyst, Public affair analyst & Social commentator. He has a Doctorate degree in Jurisprudence from the US. He has lectured Law, Ethics and Security & Intelligence Studies at the University level here in Nigeria and US. He also writes for a state daily newspaper & national monthly journal. He currently divides his time between Nigeria and USA where he runs a PR and an international capacity-building firm ATAWA GROUP. Contact him on 08138391661 or [email protected] He is also on Facebook and Twitter.