Thrice the Registrar called, but grave silence followed the mention of the name of Emeritus Prof Chinua Achebe on the roll of members as the University of Nigeria held a Special Senate Session and Academic Procession in honour of the late icon of literature Tuesday in the main hall of its Enugu campus.
Vice Chancellor Prof Bartho Okolo observed after Registrar Chief Anthony Okonta had called up the roll, “Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it is quite unlike Emeritus Professor Chinua Achebe, our revered man of letters, the literary giant, the Eagle on Iroko, to stay silent at the mention of his name.”
Okolo continued: “For the avoidance of doubt, may I call his name just one more time: Emeritus Professor Chinua Achebe!” There was no response as the hall fell deeply silent at the further calling of Achebe’s name. “Truly, this is a solemn confirmation that the earthly sojourn of our revered colleague, Emeritus Professor Chinualumogu Albert Achebe, our compatriot who rose to become a citizen of the world has come an end. It is therefore with profound grief and regret that I preside over this special Senate in his honour”, the Vice Chancellor added.
Prof Christie Achebe, the late author’s widow, his son Dr. Chidi Achebe and other members of the family sat in the front row facing the high table and the casket at the solemn event. At the other end of the high table annexed to the table for the University administration sat Prof T. Uzodinma Nwala, Achebe’s erstwhile colleague at UNN and member of the Organising Committee for the funeral as well as Prof Oye Ibidapo Obe, vice chancellor of the Federal University, Ndifu Alike, Ebonyi State. Academics from neighbouring higher institutions also featured at the event.
The Special UNN Senate Session and academic procession was one in a series of programmes for the funeral obsequies for the late author of Things Fall Apart.
Members of University administration, faculty, staff and students of the University where Achebe taught for six years and lent his name to its lustre attended the event.
After formally announcing “the passing of a highly revered colleague” to the 369th Senate session of the University, UNN Vice Chancellor Okolo said the institution had gathered to pay respects to “one of the best creative minds of our generation”. He added: “I am talking about a man who told the story of Africa in over 50 different languages. In doing so, he brought various aspects of the political history and socio-political existence of Nigeria to the attention of the world. In the same vein, his association with the University of Nigeria continues to be a source of immense pride and inspiration to all of us.”
According to the UNN Vice Chancellor, while the world mourns Achebe for his literary prowess, Nigeria mourns him “for his unwavering patriotism”. He noted, “Here at the University of Nigeria, we mourn him for his unique contributions to the development of our university and for his unique contributions to the development of our university and for the enormous visibility he brought to our university through his creative works, even in his death.” He said Achebe remains “revered” in the university.
For UNN, Okolo stated, Achebe “will be remembered as a remarkable teacher, an astute administrator, a creative genius, a story teller and author of extra ordinary ability. In addition, our Institute of African Studies which he headed during a remarkable period of growth and the Okike journal, which he founded, will continue to serve as worthy and enduring monuments of the remarkable career of this great man at the University of Nigeria”.