CHINUA ACHEBE AS A MORAL STANDARD - A TRIBUTE
Chinua Achebe one of the most important pioneers in African literature and the advancement of world knowledge and understanding died on the 21st of March, 2013 at 82. We join with millions of others around the world with a deep sense of loss to mourn Achebe’s passing. But we also take consolation in the fact that he lived well and has left us with many clear examples of how we should conduct our human affairs. Achebe was a formidable fighter while he lived. Intellectually he fought to dissipate and disabuse the numerous misconceptions that the rest of the world held about Africa and its peoples. He fought so unreservedly on the side of truth and justice especially when he voluntarily enlisted in the rank of those that championed the struggle for the freedom and independence of his Biafran people. And for more than one decade of the last part of his life he fought without complaining a debilitating handicap where he was paralyzed from waist down and restricted to the wheelchair after a car accident on a Nigerian road. Characteristically, Achebe in spite of this restricting health problem fought his way through and remained active and productive till his last moments. Throughout this period of health troubles he still continued to teach and conduct academic seminars and conferences such as his world famous Achebe Colloquium that held annually every December at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in the United States. Achebe had one of the best and astute of minds but most of all he was an unassailable honest intellectual and truth teller with an impeccable character.
Though this can be considered a period of transition and the realigning of many long-established world orders yet there is a general consensus amongst many chroniclers of world events and epochs that the moral standard of our world is currently struggling. This, most people agree, results from the many decades of lack of enough credible voices of people of influence with integrity that speak from the high ground of morality, honesty, truth and sincerity. On another hand there seems to be the over-abundance of people with compromised and unreliable characters in places of influence and authority. Across the globe today there are noticeable diffused morality lines or near total lack of moral standards. In some societies this negative and even dangerous lack of social/personal moral standards and a sense of what is right is being defended as social liberalism or “freedoms”. As much as we cherish true freedom as the most essential ingredient for all human progress and civilization but we are very much aware that there will always be standards and the legitimate demand from members of any responsible society that those of them in positions of authority and influence show leadership and accountability if such a society will survive and prosper. Freedom is not equivalent to recklessness and lack of individual and collective responsibility.
Experiences have proved that it is through the path of responsible freedom and enforceable social standards that societies attain that coveted level of prosperity, greatness, civility, security and the seemingly elusive sense of the brotherhood of man. Given our present human experience it seems that there may never come a time when any society in the world will be able to afford to do without the mandatory imposition of the rule of law, individual and collective responsibilities and still hope to succeed. So, for a society to succeed the members must find a way to establish and insist on enforcing these standards and collective social goals. And because we know that the mere letters of the law and the best law enforcement agents are never enough and because human beings learn faster and better through emulation then every successful society must find and project to the fore their own human standard bearers; the beacons that the rest of the society aspire to emulate. These epitomes of who we should look like, do not only become mirrors, they also become the conscience of the society. These people do not get to be appointed by any politician or through any ballot box, they achieve this enviable position through dint of hard work and the will to transcend self and maintain stability; consistency in the midst of the vagaries and influences of situations, institutions, environments and persons around them.
It is in this area of being the society’s mirror and conscience that Achebe the artist, intellectual and a human being shines forth so unmistakably. Chinua Achebe through hard work and personal discipline became the mirror and conscience of the society: The Nigerian society and beyond. Through personal choice and conscious effort, Achebe became one of the most important credible truth tellers and unassailable honest individuals of all time who would neither be corrupted nor compromised by powers or tainted honors. It was consistent with his character that though Achebe had accepted numerous local and international merit awards in the past but he would not accept, on two different occasions, national awards from Nigeria’s government in 2004 and 2011 respectively. He rejected these awards because as he said, Nigeria has become too dangerous, unjustifiably genocidal, irretrievably corrupt and unwilling to succeed as a society or country. It should be noted here that his friend Christopher Okigbo, the internationally acclaimed poet and Biafran soldier who died fighting for Biafra’s freedom and independence had exhibited the similar characteristic too. Okigbo would not accept an international literary award in 1965 on the basis that it was couched in a discriminatory nomenclature. When anyone person has a strong enough character and moral strength they would always look at even the proverbial gift horse in the mouth because they will not for reason accept personal gains and promotions at the expense of the greater good.
Achebe lived through an era when truth, justice and the will to do what is right experienced their most difficult moments amongst world leading politicians and policy makers. In Achebe’s prime in the 1960s world leaders and politicians were merely concerned about what will be for their parochial individual interests and were willing to employ every form of chicanery and even immoral brazen display of official power, arm-twisting and undue influences in thwarting justice and what is right. Like official position bullies they overreached themselves and sought to destroy small people and imaginary enemies with disproportional jackboots and sledge hammers. (In those days Britain under the leadership of Harold Wilson did not see anything wrong in the death of more than 3 million Biafrans; Chinua Achebe’s people, so long as the sacrifice of Biafra’s children and women of that number would preserve a hopeless one Nigeria).
The Biafran crisis of 1966 to 1970 afforded Great Britain under Prime Minister Harold Wilson one of the best opportunities of all time to do what is right in regards with Nigeria. That was the time when Britain should have acted as an impartial arbiter and helped to re-divide the country as it should be: Along the pre-colonial and still existing ethnic/religious dividing lines. Right from the onset of the ill-fated amalgamation of 1914 by the British colonialist Frederick Lugard it has always been known that the various ethnic/religious groups in Nigeria have very irreconcilable cultural, social, religious and linguistic differences and that they can never coexist and build a successful society as citizens of the same country. Had Britain then honestly taken this most appropriate, reasonable and honorable line of action, the terrible and unconscionable disgraceful murderous events that are taking place in Nigeria today would have been avoided. That Britain was inexcusably wrong in supporting the continued existence of one Nigeria especially at the time when events presented themselves for the division of the country can easily be proved. Two examples among numerous others will suffice here. All through the colonial era when Britain controlled Nigeria there were several warning signs that were ignored which clearly showed and still show that the peoples that are being forced to live as citizens of one country in Nigeria can never become one and will only end up (as in the physicist’s matter/antimatter phenomenon) annihilating one another should they continue as one Nigeria. The 1945 and 1953 ethnic/religious cleansing in Jos and Kano respectively are just two apt examples. Jos and Kano are two Islamic North of Nigeria cities that have continued to be in the news for exactly the same reasons of ethnic/religious genocides till today.
Today Nigeria as a country has become an abysmal nightmare, the scourge of the civilized world and the graveyard of truth, justice, honesty, sincerity, secured existence of citizens and every positive trait that should normally be found in a modern society. Nigeria has become a bedlam, a thriving center of world Islamic terrorism and the seat of the worst kind of corrupt sociopolitical management. British and other Western nationals are being kidnapped and murdered on a regular basis in Nigeria by Islamic fundamentalist groups like Boko Haram, Ansaru and others which are known to have working relationships with al Qaeda worldwide network and those at the Maghreb in North Africa, AQIM. This mayhem is taking place in Nigeria today because Nigeria is a hopelessly failed government and political state. And this failure has its root in the initiation and perpetuation of an unworkable one Nigeria by the colonial British. This unnecessary Islamic violence to persons and properties, bad governance of society and waste of resources would have easily been avoided in the 1960s when the Biafran crisis afforded the opportunity. The peoples of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria under the assumed name of Biafra were pushed into opting out of the Nigerian union and they sought for a separate existence through the exercise of their legal and legitimate right to Self Determination and national independence. But Britain led a coalition of allies to fight them back and defeat them.
But nevertheless, and because the Biafran effort was just, honest and right, Chinua Achebe who was always known for his honesty, incorruptible integrity and sterling strength of character was among those at the vanguard that championed Biafra’s independence. Though Britain under the leadership of Harold Wilson spearheaded the counter move, yet it did not diminish the justness and the necessity of the Biafran effort. During the 1960s while the crisis was on Wilson as the Prime Minister of Britain worked with the then Soviet Union as he mobilized Egypt, the Islamic Arab League of Nations, the United Nations of U Thant, African Union, then known as Organization of African Unity and a number of other political power centers around the world and worked to frustrate what would have been a redemptive opportunity for Britain.
Britain in Biafra was offered a very rare golden opportunity to redeem itself and show that the colonial mistake they made in creating one Nigeria was a mistake of bad judgment and not a deliberate act to create a monstrous demon that would eventually self-destruct while “entertaining” the spectators as in the gruesomeness of the gladiatorial fashion in the Amphitheater of the old Rome. The Self Determination and independence move made by Biafrans in the 1960s offered the British and still do the chance to fix one of the most terrible devastating mistakes of the colonial Europe in Africa (please refer to the 1884 to 1885 Berlin Conference). Unfortunately that opportunity was bungled but it is never too late to do the right thing. The time is just right today as it was then in 1960s; to divide Nigeria. Dividing Nigeria today will solve permanently Nigeria’s problem of Islamic terrorism, British and other foreign nationals’ kidnappings and killings and end the seemingly unending genocides and ethnic/religious cleansings.
Emphatically, dividing Nigeria is Chinua Achebe’s last testament and wishes as he stated in his last and the most important of all his books. Achebe’s memoir was published only a few months before his death and it is the final word on the most reliable solution to one Nigeria: Divide Nigeria. There was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra by Chinua Achebe (published by Penguin Press, New York, 2012) tells us that for the sake of our children and their own children, Nigeria must be divided now. Achebe witnessed the injustices of Biafra and after more than fifty years he concludes in the book that Britain and other former colonial powers that created the unworkable modern states of Africa must help to unravel and disentangle the irreconcilable national unions like in one Nigeria. It is a general consensus that Achebe contributed positively and immensely to the collective global knowledge, progress and understanding through his excellent intellectual efforts. And the best way the world can show gratitude and appreciation for this invaluable contribution now that Achebe is dead is to help fulfill his last wishes: The security and freedom of his people. The greatest tribute that anyone or group can bestow on Achebe is to prove to our common humanity that it is still right to live honestly and support what is right like Chinua Achebe demonstrated with his life and works. The killings of Achebe’s people in Nigeria as in the 1960s when Achebe and his fellow compatriots had to go to war to prove their right to life and human dignity continues today unabated.
Achebe’s memory is asking all humanity to help end these kidnappings and killings by dividing Nigeria and setting Achebe’s people free. The people of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria; Chinua Achebe’s people, are still as anxious to leave Nigeria and become a separate sovereign independent country today as they were in the 1960s. And Achebe as the quintessential specimen of the best things anyone can hope for in the finest of human beings, in parting offers to us the only answer to the many troubles of Nigeria and the only hope for his Biafran people: The division of Nigeria now.
Written By Osita Ebiem