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Jonathan, Mahama, Ekwueme, Anyaoku, Govs, others bid Achebe farewell

By The Citizen
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BY 4.10 p.m., the great writer was laid to rest. The burial was conducted by the family. The public was barred from entering the mausoleum.

The funeral service at St. Phillips Anglican Church, Ogidi, was presided over by Rt. Rev. Owen C. Nwokolo, Bishop on the Niger, while Archbishop of Aba Province and Bishop of Umuahia Diocese, Rt. Rev. Ikechukwu Nwosu, gave the sermon. Nwosu represented the Most Rev. Nicholas D. Okoh, the Primate, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion.

In his less than 10 minutes speech, President Goodluck Jonathan stated that he was particularly touched by three books written by the late Prof. Chinua Achebe. He mentioned Things Fall Apart, The Trouble With Nigeria and There Was A Country.

'I thank God for his works and I believe He will console the family of the great icon. Some people saw him in different ways but I will quickly say that he was a philosopher and just like all philosophers he used a particular subject to influence  our thinking. And literature is the subject he loved so much.

'I read Things Fall Apart in 1972 when I was in secondary school. And it was published in 1958, two years before our independence. In 1958, Achebe was 28 years old. Probably, he started the work when he was 26 or 27 years old.'

The President noted that in The Trouble With Nigeria, Achebe didn't not blame the air, water, soil, or the environment but that 'the problem is the political leadership'. He got a loud applause from this.

Earlier, Jonathan and his Ghanaian counterpart, Mr. John Mahama, pledged to rebuild in honour of Achebe, the primary school the late professor attended.

But the promise attracted various responses from stakeholders in Ogidi, the home-town of the iconic professor. While many hailed the promise as unexpected, some described it as too little for a man of Achebe's calibre.

While appreciating the President's promise, a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Maxwell Okudo, said: 'It is advisable not to make any huge demands so that the little that is promised us will be fulfilled. When the President comes to commission the primary school, we will then make more demands. It must be appreciated that he must have done some other things. This promise is just an extra mile he has gone. This is a gift and it must be appreciated. We thank God for someone like Achebe whose death brought such big names like our president and the president of Ghana to Ogidi.'

He continued: 'The promise is not below expectation at all. He noted that development takes a gradual process. We need to lure someone in position of authority with an achievable and possible request first.'

Commenting on the burial, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife said: 'It was more than we expected.' On the President's promise, he said: 'The promise was not expected. It is going to be a university of a primary school.'

Chief Maurice Ebo, the President of the Nkwelle Ogidi Development Union, said: 'We are happy that the President came but we are not impressed with the promise of Mr. President. We should be moving forward, considering the number of years that has passed when Achebe attended his primary education there. We expected him to consider it making it a university, because there is enough land space for that. Nothing would be more gratifying than to see the Federal Government in a unique way liaising with the Ghanaian Government to build a university in Ogidi in memory of Achebe.

'We thought at least they could build Chinua Achebe Institute of Literary Studies in Ogidi.'

The headmistress of the primary school, Mrs. Ngozi Oraka, said that the news of the promise was exciting. She noted that the fact that the governments of Nigeria and Ghana were collaborating on the primary school made it more interesting.

She said: 'I am sure it will be a befitting primary school in honour of Achebe. I am very happy; we have been waiting for a day like this. This is the best thing that has happened to this school. Achebe was our hero, having been raised in my school, we need to honour him.

'The school has never received any recognition apart from once when some individuals collaborated to renovate the falling roof. Chinua visited us once, and we never saw him again till his death. We missed saying our bye-bye to him because we were not included in the programme.'

The President-General of Ogidi Union Nigeria said that the 'promise is a welcome development and we are excited. It is commendable that the pupils will be given a sense of belonging by the presidential intervention in building a school of 21st century standard.

'It was exceptionally special for such gesture to come from our president and his Ghanaian counterpart. There is nothing wrong to have our primary schools to look like a three-star hotel duly equipped with modern learning facilities.'

The roll-call at the burial included Second Republic Vice President Alex Ekwueme, former Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku, governors Emmanuel Uduaghan, Theodore  Orji, members of the federal cabinet, Pat Nebo, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Ebonyi State governor, Sam Egwu, Bishops of Nnewi, Oguata, Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity Chief  Emeka Wogu, Deputy  Speaker, House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, Cross River Governor Liyel Imoke.

A little drama occurred. The officiating priest, Rev. Ikechukwu Nwosu, failed to recognise Mahama. Jonathan reminded the priest. He sent the priest a reminder that he didn't recognise the Ghanaian president while thanking him for coming. The priest excused himself that he was riding on Jonathan's back in recognising all notable dignitaries and continued his sermon without a fuss.

Rainmakers promised a clement weather.
As the sun shone, a member of Ndi Ichie Ume, the highest traditional body in Ogidi, quipped: 'The church people are enjoying a clear sky now. They don't know what went behind to achieve it.' His select audience burst into controlled laughter as a band of local musicians entertained guests in the compound.

There was an argument on whether the rainmakers were responsible for the bright and sunny day. The Ichie continued: 'There will be no rain. But from 8.00 p.m., the rainmakers will open the heavens till 4.00 a.m.'

Someone noted that from Awka, the state capital, it was sunny all the way.

In his tribute entitled 'Rectishaping our World: Re- at-homing Chinua Achebe or Rectishaping our World',  made available to The Guardian, Archibishop of Owerri Catholic Ecclesisatic Province, Dr. Anthony J. V. Obinna, recounted how he invited the  late Achebe in July 1997 to deliver the yearly lecture series of the province in Obiri Odenigbo in 1999.

According to the cleric, as a teacher in the institution, before his consecration as a bishop, he had seen Achebe closely at the then Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri (now Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri) in 1977 when he had come to carry out an academic programme from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), adding that he found in him a satisfying academic stock.

He recalled: 'That Odenigbo lecture turned out to be a true home-coming for Chinua Achebe after nine years of exile in the United States of America seeking to manage his life following the near-fatal car accident he had on our accident - prone roads. Interestingly, various government officials and top politicians from all over Nigeria found their way to my ramshackle Obiri Odenigbo, the venue of the lecture seeking to touch our physically-challenged but internationally renowned teacher. Thereafter, invitations started coming to Achebe from various admirers at top levels to come and brighten their world with his presence. Even the presidency at the time suddenly woke up to Achebe's renown and offered to honour him either with a dinner or a federal award. Our disciplined and consistent Achebe characteristically turned down the offer. If I remember well, he turned down the offer a second time making waves more by his refusal than by his acceptance.'

Obinna said he had been called by Achebe's wife, Christie, and son, Ike, when his health was failing and even, when he passed on in March.

'After the Odenigbo lecture in 1999, Chinua Achebe and family continued to keep in touch with me. And I did too. We had become true friends.

'As news of Achebe's failing health began to filter into Nigeria with Nigeria's normal mill of rumour and certainty of death by the high priests of rumour the family graciously called to inform me of the actual developments. Three days before his death they made me realize that the situation was grave. On the day of his home return to God our creator or in Achebe's words to the home of 'haunted revelry', Christie, the wife and Ike, his son kindly informed me of Achebe's gracious and peaceful death. May his noble soul rest in peace.' (The Guardian)