Written by SOLA-ADEOLA FOLORUNSO
As a child, I grew up reading many novels. Among the authors I read then were Chinua Achebe, Ola Rotimi, Wole Soyinka, James Hardley Chase and all the Pacesetter series I could lay my hands on. My Reverend Sister principal almost suspended me for reading Mills&Boon, the most popular among girls of my age. The most read authors then were Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, and both were highly respected. In fact, my generation has benefited hugely from the documentation both have done.
Things Fall Apart, the epic novel written by Chinua Achebe, is a reaction to Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson, a novel about a Nigerian youth who was not successful in his career in the British Colonial service. Professor Achebe has written history before. Unfortunately, however, his recently released memoir has made things to fall apart and the centre can no longer hold. Emotions are high and seeds of bitterness have been sown.
Speaking on how he got inspiration for his novels, Achebe said Mister Johnson struck him as superficial and fired his determination to write his own novels about Nigeria. This he has said repeatedly.
This time around, if one may ask the highly revered professor, where did he get the inspiration to write his memoir the way he did? Not a few will agree that his memoir has further sown the seed of discord among Nigerians – something that was unexpected from a father figure like Achebe. The war is over and the people that prosecuted it declared there was no victor, no vanquished. So why has the professor stirred the hornets’ nest?
My opinion is that Achebe is an angry man desirous of spewing his anger on someone or some people he, rightly or wrongly, believes are deserving of such. Even now, I suspect Achebe is still out to take it on Professor Wole Soyinka who he has never seen as the rightful winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature. It is now clear why he has rejected the National Honour bestowed on him severally.
In African tradition, which Achebe loves to narrate, an elderly man in the family makes sure he settles all disputes among his children before he dies so that he could rest in peace. If he were to be judged by the standard of the African tradition, Achebe would be declared a failed father for his inability to unite his children even in old age.
His memoir has generated bad blood among Nigerians and further intensified ethnic distrust among Nigerians. Perhaps, one of the most benumbing and confounding issues raised in the memoir was that relating to the role of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo during the civil war. Achebe painted Awolowo as enemy of the Igbo. For sure, generations unborn in Igboland would read the memoir and relate to their chldren how a Yoruba man masterminded the killing of their people.
Whether he intended it or not, Achebe has reopened old wounds, and not many would forgive him for that. But Nigerians will like to know the role Achebe played during the war. Just last week, a lady told me how she was attacked verbally by a trader who she had no business with in a building materials market. According to the lady, she was negotiating the prices of some building materials in a shop next to his and had jokingly told the Igbo shop attendant: “Shylock Igbo man, don’t waste my time.”
But the man in the other shop heard this and shouted at her: “See you. You whose grandfather starved Igbo to death.”
Though she said she didn’t see the face of the man, only his back through the net that demarcated the two shops, when his insults became profuse she replied him thus: “Your grandfather Ojukwu ambushed the food Awolowo sent for his soldiers and later described Awolowo as the best president Nigeria never had. The same Ojukwu came to contest the presidency of Nigeria, but your brothers didn’t vote for him. Even his funeral was modeled after that of Awolowo.”
When she realised she was outnumbered by the Igbo in the area, she wisely left the scene, thus avoiding what easily could have become a mob action on her; though the Igbo trader continued to hurl insults at her.
Professor Achebe, this is the fruit of the seed of discord you have sown. The very fragile relationship among the ethnic groups in Nigeria has finally fallen apart and only God can make the centre hold again. An average Igbo man now hates the Yoruba for the distorted history created by you. This is exactly what Joyce Cary did in Mister Johnson that led you to write Things Fall Apart. History has repeated itself, this time by your distortion of facts and sowing of evil seed among Nigerians, and who knows where this will lead us? Is this the kind of legacy you want to leave behind? This is not how a father should depart.
I am glad some of your kinsmen have come out to speak the truth. But what of the damage that has been done? Would the man at the building materials market understand the damage control? What of the generations unborn who will have access to your memoirs? I repeat, this is not the way to depart. The world now knows that your memoir is written to fight a personal war, not the cause of the Igbo.