Re-Achebe: A Non-Romantic View, By Ma’aruf Tijjani

Achebe country 600I found miffy the remarks credited to Wole Soyinka and J P Clark in the Guardian Newspaper (March 22 2013) that “Indeed, we cannot help wondering the recent insensate massacre of Chinua’s people in Kano, only a few days ago, hastened the fatal undermining of that resilient will that had sustained him so many years after his crippling accident” not because of the impeccable,  non romantic albeit Marxian analysis of the eulogies and accolades that followed the demise of what may be undoubtedly seen as a literary “giant”, not for Professor Ibrahim -Kano’s piece which brought to limelight that authors are not only judged by  hyperbolizing their works that enjoyed coincidental literary fame but by the innate and salient meanings they actually transmit. I share almost completely the view expressed by Ibrahim -Kano on Achebe not only because of my Disciplinary relationship with him as my teacher in the university about a decade ago but mainly because of the arrant showcasing of literary capability as a “registered trade mark” of a section of a country without due consideration of the same from other peoples within a nation.

Times without number Soyinka and his cohorts never demonstrate any measure of appreciation to litearary works of genius dimension authored by people outside this seemingly self-acclaimed literary “trade mark”.. I also agree with Prof. -Kano’s assertion that  “there is no doubt that Chinua Achebe, was, by many accounts, an outstanding writer”. Despite this however. his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), which received the most literary popularity after its publication, and which was translated into over 50 languages is and shouldn’t be the sole measure of his deserve for “father of African literature”. With all the credits for the translation of the book into many languages, it was not for instance translated in to Hausa one of the Languages that are adjudged to of international standard, a view upheld and expressed by his geographical kinsman Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, the President of Nigeria, sometimes in 2011 when he came to Kano for Presidential campaign. the book were to live up to its lofty literariness, then it could have in translated in this very important language. Alas! The thematic concern of Things fall Apart was not ubiquitous but narrowed down to Igbo cultures which was misconstrued to represent African cultures.

It was tragic that. Things Fall Apart  was written by a non-Western but Western educated intellectual and by implication culturally portraying his own culture and expressing it in Western language and sense in many facets. This could give the interpretation that even Chinua’s concept of Things Falling Apart was somehow pre-mature as compared to the turn of events nowadays. In fact his death unmistakably came at a time when Things Have more than his conception fallen apart!

Therefore Things Fall Apart’s fame could only be seen as coincidental and contextual having come at a time when there was a dire need for Africans that could demonstrate some measure of novel-writing  skills. He,  was therefore fortunate because “there was, then, a large literate international English-speaking reading public eager to get access to the new African writing”.

Therefore, we can also ascribe literary appraisal of Chinua Achebe based on his Three books which clearly portray biased and unhumanistic thematic concerns and parochial views as well as desecration of other peoples way of life as could be deduced from The Anthills of The Savannah, The Trouble with Nigeria and his most recent book There Was A Country.  In the former, there was a trace of intellectual reverse gear and “Indeed the novel marks a notable decline in his liberal vision and creative acumen” as argued by Professor Ibrahim -Kano who went further to rightly point out that . “the novel is, by any standard, a trivial thriller and is uneven in linguistic and literary quality. Arguably, large parts of Anthills read like pulp fiction, or a crudely crafted political thriller”…..

From the narrative the Northern part of Nigeria which is Muslim dominated and largely Hausa/Fulani was portrayed and is visibly veiled dystopian entity in Nigeria, “which is variously called “the scrub-land”, “the scorched landscape”, “another country”, “ of dusty fields [and] bottomed baobab tree[s] so strange in appearance”, etc. On the other hand, In this novel, the Souther part of Nigeria, his homeland, was by contrast a “ rainforest (“the rain country”) of the South is favourably contrasted with the “parkland of grass and stunted trees… of mud walls and reddish earth”, the North”. These descriptions portray the Northern part of Nigeria as a privileged parasite which doesn’t know how to be prosperous and  which  has put the Southern part at an ebb tide despite their posture as “exceptionally talented, intelligent, hardworking, economically gifted, and industrially-savvy”.

Achebe’s  argument  that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership also puts the Leaders of Nigeria from the North at the blame end ignoring thath leaders from the North have proved to have a better record and ability to run the country in moistly turbulent political and circumstances, Societies are mostly engulfed by artificial and sociological evils that usually becomes an affliction that every member of the society has to contend with, Leaders are invariably products of institutional and social entrenchments. As such, Achebe’s view that … the unwillingness and inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example” is flawed because we have to define a standard for “living by example”. I quite agree with the point that “This postulation of Achebe’s ignores the deep structural constraints on human and psychology;. Leadership works within institutional, historical, cultural, and contexts which limits on what human agents can and cannot do”.

To round up our appraisal for Achebe’s literary legacy, we note with tragic concern that he concluded his nobility with what might be called unnobelist work: There was a Country, “Perhaps Achebe’s most disappointing book, or to phrase matters differently, his most inferior work” this is basically true as “there is something distasteful about open myopia of blind ethnic solidarity or communal jingoism and. what is strikingly- provocative- about the book is its complete lack of a keen political insight, its petty romantic vision of Nigeria’s political history”.

I concur very much with Professor IBK that in There was a Country, at least, Achebe portrayed himself as “an overwhelmingly ‘ethnic nationalist’, an ‘Igbo-phile’and a Biafra apologist to boot…. He is, in this book at least, a homo duplex, the Double Man, in effect, both Biafran and Nigerian; Igbophile and Nationalist; Anti-colonial Writer and a Post-colonial Apologist of Expert British Rule”

We pay a tribute to this important novelist and late literary Professor, whose death has left a big vacuum in African literary circle but I am to write his epitaph, his Igbophility comes before his nationalistic acclaim as the “Father” or “founder” of African literature. Lest, I also should remark, at the same time, that we should not, in our romantic rush to venerate our little (culture) heroes, forget earlier illustrious and master English-speaking storytellers such as Amos Tutuola (1920-1997) and Cyprian Odiatu Ekwensi (1921-2007), Ayi Kwei Armah, Sambene Ousmane, Ngugi wa Thiog’o, and, not least, the incomparable Kenyan writer, Meja Mwangi

As for Achebe, It’s ADIEW; for truly, there was indeed a great novelist, but who, tragically, could be seen as a tribal jingoist in his works and eulogized by his cohorts-who hardly see the good in others- as the father of all literary works.

Long live Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano 

Ma’aruf Tijjani
Department of Educational Foundations Sa’adatu Rimi        College of Education, Kano, Nigeria
e-mails [email protected]   [email protected]  


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