Huge crowds mourn Achebe

By The Citizen

Hundreds of mourners gathered on Thursday in the hometown of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe for his funeral.

Heavy security was in place throughout the small southeastern town of Ogidi, with President Goodluck Jonathan along with foreign dignitaries attending the service at the local Anglican church.

Pallbearers dressed in dark suits and purple ties carried Achebe’s wooden coffin up the church aisle and placed it atop a pedestal covered in white cloth at the start of the service.

A number of women mourners wore purple headwraps and white dresses, while some men dressed in traditional shirts adorned with Achebe’s picture.

Access inside the church was granted only by invitation, but several thousand people flocked to tents with loudspeakers set up outside.

“I left my house in Asaba (a nearby city) at 5:00 am this morning in order to pay my last respects for this illustrious son of Nigeria who has done his people proud,” said Sylvanus John, a 31-year-old engineer.

Groups of admirers could be seen dancing and singing in the Igbo language spoken throughout the region in the streets of the town in praise of the writer.

His private burial on the family compound will follow the church service.

“The death of my uncle is indeed a great loss not only to the family but to Nigeria and Africa as a whole,” 64-year-old Obi Achebe said on Wednesday.

“He has left big shoes that will be difficult to be worn by anybody.”