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Achebe: Yesterday’s storyteller in tomorrow’s eye

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ONCE upon a time, not long ago, there was a storyteller. Neither elephant nor dwarf in size, not of patrician or impecunious roots, both his birth on November 16, 1930 and boyhood in Ogidi, Idemmili-North L. G. A of Anambra State went as any other.

Little did anyone knew that to the gateway town was born a wordsmith, honed in an incredible blend of a philosopher’s thought clarity and a prophet’s avidity from his mother’s womb, whose ink would drip on a jaunty sky’s face to give African literature a new name that animated literary stylistics with equal socio-cultural velocity as nuclear ballistics. His name is Prof Albert Chinualumogu Achebe.

As if he knew that not even taking Mr. Death through a spell casting anecdote at its H-Hour could sway its cold hands, were its heart wish to defer his journey into the pantheon of sages, Achebe set forth at dawn to “set the record straight” as he told his mission in life and arts in his own words. Imaginative, prophetic, far-sighted, all his works are seminal and cerebral. Little wonder, renowned Nigerian poet and playwright, Bekederemo Clark conceded as much.

“Chinua, I know you are a prophet. Everything in your books has happened,” Clark crowed like a dutiful cock in a correspondence.

Where his contemporary, the one and only Kongi of a free world grates tyranny in mortars of metaphors like thunder cracks, Achebe pulls stuffed ears of oppression with subtleness for both to meld at revolutionary genre of literature.

While both literary icons continue to cart global acclaim for their creaseless style, Achebe weaves his fleck-free conflicts in multi-dimensional plots whose diction feeds from Igbo proverbs to climax in hard-nosed denouement.

Which other Nigerian, apart from Chinua Achebe, repudiated national honours from former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, just to avoid rubbing shoulders on a roll with nondescript vampires and shills tarnished with political putrescence? That’s why spars in some quatres, that his works did not see tomorrow in their “incoherence” on the total “evolution” of Igboman’s social DNA, which reek like a snake curling in front of a gleeful innocent child, continue to trudge wearily like a bicycle rider climbing Kilimanjaro. A fast crisscross of some of his illuminating works – which one should come ahead of others – will – true to his native name – fight for this doyen of storytelling.

When early Christian missionaries crossed River Niger with their shipload of polite legerdemain that hid colonialism, warts and all, Achebe’s muse rained an allegorical Things Fall Apart (1959) into his ink with No Longer at Ease (1960) giving an epistemological explanation when snarling side-effects snorting from the white man, such as British mores lurching at native values like a hungry lion, would not abate.

In Arrow of God (1989), Achebe projects the entrepreneurial compass that shows people where agriculture interfaces with religion when political disruption, another pot of (ill) luck from the white man’s doogoodism, started turning arable lands into railways to dial away minds from pastoral life. This brings his first trilogy to an illustrious climax.

Achebe did not rest on his oars when neocolonialism began to bare its teeth like a witch native midwife looking over newborn baby on a colt. Hence, he reached for The Trouble with Nigeria (1985) to put Nigeria squarely at the doorpost of leadership deficit. In similar wavelength, the griot dusted Anthills of the Savannah (1987) as a satirical parody of Nigeria at the second berth of military rule. Of course, these are just mere glimpse into Achebe’s rich tapestry of creativity. But to put his didactic narratives to practice, he was not ensconced from the grassroots where he played leadership roles as high or low as serving as Presidential General of Ogidi Town Union.

Another floppy argument is that Achebe’s art went dumb before the sophistication of poetry. But always coming as right as rain, he turned this argument on its head in Beware Soul Brother and Other Poems (1972) as did Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems (1973) among others, to find in poetry a means of expressing distress and other esoteric complexities of the human mind at crossroads, including his personal experiences during Nigeria civil war.

Nor did Achebe forget the child reader as Butterfly (1998), How the Leopard Got its Claws (1972), Chike and the River (1966) as well as The Drum (1966) and so many more speak in his favour.

For sure, tomorrow’s epitaph for Achebe sizzles like an early morning palm wine. But as the universe adds another year to its gain in his birth, and yet one more year to its loss in his death, Achebe’s full and large footprints on the literary dais continue to call on hearts to doff their hats, bowing before this iroko who has taken his final bow on March 21, 2013. No monuments may immortalise him more.

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