It appears the drama that trailed the death of Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu is about to be replayed in the death of Prof. Chinua Achebe. Reports have it that some members of his family are underwhelmed by the way his wife is handling burial preparations. The small matter of money again rears its head. Sigh. My take on this? If he did not want something when he was alive, the chances of him wanting that thing in death are slim to zero.
by Hauwa Gambo
It’s not the kind of news you want to hear about a man whose global exploits
but there are reports that, three days to the five-fay burial writes of author and
teacher, Chinua Achebe, his family is locked in controversy as to whether to hand
over the programme for his burial to government – federal and Anambra state in
The burial is scheduled for Thursday, 23 May in Ogidi, Anambra.
According to Premium Times, they have in the last one week,
“received several telephone calls from some of Mr. Achebe’s family members,
contemporaries, associates, friends and fans accusing the late writer’s wife,
Christy and her children, of surrendering Mr. Achebe’s corpse to the government
for pecuniary gains. The family wouldn’t comment on the allegations.”
While alive, Mr. Achebe, who died on March 22 at 82, was a
consistent and vociferous critic of the Nigerian federal and state
governments who he repeatedly accused of monumental corruption,
ineptitude and misgovernment. In protest against the way Nigeria is run,
the revered novelist, in 2004 and 2011, rejected national honours
awarded him by the federal government.
But the federal and state governments that Mr. Achebe criticized and
kept at bay while alive have now been handed leading roles in the burial of
the globally acclaimed novelist, a development that has irked not a few family
members, contemporaries, fans and associates.
“Prof was a simple man who deliberately rejected affiliation with the
Nigerian government,” lamented an Achebe family member who pleaded
not to be named for fear of being ostracized by the late writer’s family.
“It is now shocking and nauseating that his wife and children have now sold
his corpse to the same destructive forces he opposed till death.”
She added, “We are trying to understand why they are trying to destroy his
legacy when the man actually left more than enough wealth to be given a
befitting burial without any government getting involved. Why don’t they
want to spend the man’s money to give him a befitting burial?”
Checks by this newspaper revealed that the federal and Anambra state
government are handling almost all aspects of the burial. The federal
government has constituted a Chinua Achebe Transition Committee,
led by Professor T. Uzodinma Nwala, to handle logistics for the burial.
The Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has also been detailed
to arrange accommodation, transportation and security for all guests
expected at the burial. In fact, a document seen by one of our sources
listed Mr. Achebe’s wife and children among guests being expected at
the burial, suggesting that they were being invited to their own patriarch’s
A programme drawn up by the Professor Nwala’s committee showed
that Mr. Achebe’s remains would, on May 21, be received at the airport
in Abuja by Nigerian politicians and political office holders, some of
whom the writer considered corrupt and inept while alive. The novelist
will also be treated to a reception at the National Assembly, populated
mainly by elements Mr. Achebe believed were holding Nigeria down.
“We can’t understand why Achebe’s wife and kid are taking steps that
are contrary to what the good man stood for,” a contemporary of the
late writer said via telephone from the United States. “They are doing the
opposite of what their father would do.” He requested not to be named f
or fear he might be accused of trying to derail his friend’s burial.
Olu Oguibe, a Professor of Art and African-American Studies at the University
of Connecticut, Storrs, and family friend of the Achebes, has been especially
vociferous in his criticism of the late writer’s family. “To the best of the
knowledge of many who were close to him, his views and opinion of the
Nigerian government and that of his state which he so clearly protested
in 2004 and 2011 had not changed,” Mr. Oguibe said in an April 29 post
on his Facebook page that stirred extensive discussion. “ So, what does it
mean that in death, the very same government that this great philosopher
and patriot so strongly and unequivocally disapproved of has been given
free rein to organize his last rites.”
“The government that he rejected and protested in life is now the chief host
at his funeral. That has nothing to do with him, of course; he’s moved on and
he made it absolutely clear what he believed in and where he stood.
Yet, what does it mean for those who’ve turned his farewell over to
brigands and thieves?”
Many other angry fans of the late writer soon joined in the debate.
“In every sphere of existence, Nigerians are found wanting,” lamented
Zainab Haliru, an Abuja-based writer. “It is as though we are meant to be
case studies of the exception of rules. We bastardise everything.
A man like Achebe just did not fit into our dishonest and disrespectful ways.
I would have thought that his immediate family would have turned down the offers.
I remember Gani Fawehinmi’s family did.”
Yet another commentator, Ralph Tathagata, said, “Without any resort to insult,
children of great minds are not known for making remarkable decisions at
moments like this.”
Mr. Tathagata then added, “When the most popular modern existentialist
philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre died in April, 1980, President Giscard d’Estaing
came in person to the hospital and spent an hour beside his coffin. He understood
that Sartre, a man who had always rejected official honours
(including the Nobel Prize for Literature), would not want a national burial.
However, he told Sartre’s friends(including Simone de Beauvoir),
‘but the government would like to pay the cost of his funeral.
The Sartreans thanked him, but refused. The Achebeans must not let these
base elements in the corridors power stand astride Achebe’s grave.”
The family sources insist that this is not the first time his wife and children will so
“betray” him – pointing to 1990 when they accepted a 75,000 pounds gift from the
head of state at the time, military dictator Ibrahim Babangida.
Mr. Achebe, the source said, was still in coma when the emissary arrived
with the money. One of the late writer’s son, Ike, who reportedly warned
the family against accepting the gift, was shouted down by other family
members who were quoted as saying “Achebe should be allowed to chop
Nigeria’s money for once”.
“Some of us are ashamed that Prof’s family members are the ones betraying him,
offering his corpse to government in return for favours,” the family source said.
And then there’s the matter of the award he rejected, twice:
A presidency source said the government has also offered to award a posthumous
national honour to Mr. Achebe but it is not clear whether his family has acceded
to the proposal.
When the government offered Mr. Achebe a national honour of Commander
of the Federal Republic, CFR, in 2004, he wrote to the administration rejecting it.
“Nigeria’s condition today is, however, too dangerous for silence. I must register
my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honour awarded
me in the 2004 Honours List,” he wrote.
He added, “I write this letter with a very heavy heart. For some time now I have
watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay. I have watched particularly
the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades,
openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my
homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness
of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency.”
When the award was again offered him in 2011, he again turned it down, saying
“The reasons for rejecting the offer when it was first made have not been
addressed let alone solved.”
Handing the Achebe Colloquium to government
Sources close to the family also told PREMIUM TIMES that the Federal Government
has also offered to henceforth fund the Achebe Colloquium, a festival of ideas
convened annually since 2009 by the late writer to bring “together an international
group of scholars, officials from African governments, the United Nations,
the United States, the European Union, and other organizations for two days of
intense deliberation and exchange of ideas on the importance of strengthening
democracy and peace on the African continent”.
Critics say asking the Nigerian government to fund a gathering through which
experts examine what is wrong with African countries and proffer solutions
amounted “to asking the same governments considered rotten by Achebe to take charge.”
“This is a huge betrayal of Achebe’s legacy,” an associate of the late novelist said.
In all of this, the immediate family is keeping mum. The son, told the press that interviews
will not be granted until after the burial. However, another family source – who begged anonymity –
remarked that it is impossible to stop the goverment from participating in the burial because
Achebe is an “ozu Nigeria” (a corpse belonging to Nigeria).
“The family can’t stand in the way of government because Prof was a national figure,”
he said. “He transcended local politics and anyone who wants to be helpful during his
burial should be free to do so.”
Culled from ynaija.com