By McPhilips Nwachukwu, Vincent Ujumadu &UDUMA KALU
AWKA—The burial in Ogidi, Anambra State yesterday of the literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, was literally turned to a political gathering given the caliber of political figures and political insignias that coloured the five- star burial.
Achebe’s burial attracted President Goodluck Jonathan, Ghanaian counterpart, John Mahama, former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, former Secretary General of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Emeka Ihedioha, Governors Roachas Okorocha of Imo, Martin Elechi of Ebonyi, Liyel Imoke of Cross River, Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta and the host, Peter Obi of Anambra State
Other prominent Nigerians present include labour minister, Emeka Wogu, Minister of state for foreign affairs, Prof Viola Onwuliri, Prof. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Power minister, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, Senator Chris Ngige representing Anambra Centsral, Senator Andy Uba representing Anambra South, former governor, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former MAMSER Director General, Prof Elochukwu Amaucheazi, Prof Laz Ekwueme, among others.
All through his very eventful life, Achebe lived the life of a writer and scholar.
Though not overtly stated, however, the parading of some uniform-wearing political party members became something of concern that the burial of such an intellectual has been politicized.
With the presence of many governorship aspirants, including Mr. Ifeanyi Uba, Uche Ekwunife, Senator Andy Uba, Senator Chris Ngige, among others, the atmosphere of St. Philip’s Church was politically charged as their supporters danced round the area in various uniforms with photographs of their candidates.
Achebe’s burial also attracted members of the clergy, the diplomatic corps from Canada, Germany, America and Ghana. It was also noticed that Professor Wole Soyinka and Prof John Pepper Clark did not attend the burial.
The absence of Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka and Prof John Pepper Clark at the occasion, to many was worrisome. The quartet of Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Clark and Chris Okigbo shaped the character and direction of modern African literature.
While Achebe and Okigbo are now late, Soyinka and Clark were the faces highly sought after by many at the event.
Death and Forgiveness
In his sermon, Most Reverend Dr. Ikechi Nwosu, the Archbishop of Aba Diocese, who represented the Primate of Anglican Church in Nigeria, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, commended President Jonathan for what he described as his large heartedness bothering on spirit of forgiveness.
Apparently referring to the late Achebe’s rejection of the national honours, Okoh noted that it showed forgiveness of heart that the President would still be present to honour the burial of the late icon.
While thanking the number one citizen for his unmatched gesture, the bishop also enjoined other Nigerians to show love and emulate the spirit of forgiveness as a way of moving the country foreword.
Nwosu said Igbo must give special thanks to God for making Achebe come from this part of the world.
He said: “Many of us gained so much from his knowledge. He was a Christian to the core and a man of great social standing.
Dwelling on the theme, “Chinua Achebe, a parable to the Nigerian nation,” Archbishop Nwosu observed that the late writer used so many parables in his books and could have fitted properly as a pastor.
According to him, Achebe had a foundation of the Bible flowing in him which was why he was actually inspired in his writings.
He said further: “We may narrate all our woes as a nation, but with determination, we will excel. Achebe was determined and that was why he excelled and so shall it be for Nigeria .
“He also proved that there is no end to one’s exploits in life. Whatever God has designed that we will be in life, that we will surely become. Achebe worked so hard to encourage so many people. He was a husband, a father and above all, a practical man.
He said further: “Achebe loved Nigeria so much and wanted things to works well. Please do not count anything against him. He meant well for our country.”
The cleric said though Achebe was not a politician and did not aspire for anything, he was appreciated more than most political leaders.
In his speech, President Jonathan said the late literary icon, abhorred bad leadership and observed that the greatest honour Nigerians could do for him was to change from their bad behaviour.
The president said though there had been so much comment on Achebe’s last book, ‘There was a country’, part of which he read at the church, he asked, Have we changed from what Achebe complained about?
He said: ”Those of us who are political, business and religious leaders must work hard to change our behavious. Our 2011 elections showed that we can change. If we can conduct free and fair election and change politicians for the better, our country will be better.
The president, who said he read Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ as a secondary school student in 1972, described him as a great philosopher who used his books to tell stories that make great impact on the lives of the people.
To the Ghanaian president, John Mahama who also attended the burial ceremony, Achebe was a great inspiration to him. He said: “Though we never met physically, we were speaking on phone. Achebe was to deliver a lecture in Ghana, but could not do it before his death.
“I am grateful to God for the life of Achebe and the way he chose to live his life. He was much more than a writer and we thank Achebe for showing us that we can be ourselves.”
Both President Jonathan and President Mahama of Ghana, promised to rebuild the Akpakaogwe Primary School, Ogidi which Achebe attended.
Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi, said by personally attending the burial and attracting another president, Jonathan had shown a rare sense of leadership, which no other president would have done.
Obi said: “The love you are showing to Igbo is a life line which we will never forget. For what you are doing for us, we will continue to be behind you.”
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Professor Viola Onwuliri, presented all the condolence registers signed for Achebe in all the Nigerian missions abroad to the eldest son of Achebe, Dr. Ikechukwu Achebe.
There was, however, an uproar when the minister, apparently out of excitement, said the registers were so many that they could not even be contained in a ‘Ghana Must Go’, which sent the whole congregation, into laughter including the Ghanaian President, John Mahama, who was in the church with his aides from his country.
Realizing the slip, Mrs. Onwuliri quickly apologized, saying she did not mean to be disrespectful to the president of Ghana.
The President’s aircraft touched down at 11.05am, heralding the ringing of the church bell for the commencement of the church service. The brown casket bearing the body of Achebe was carried by eight young men in suits with purple shirts to match.
The service started at 11.30am with Achebe’s elder sister, Ezinne Zinobia Ikpeze on wheel chair leading other members of the family. Their dress was different from what they wore at the Ekwueme square in Awka, when the body arrived from Enugu on Wednesday.
Achebe’s eldest son, Ikechukwu, read the only lesson at the church service taken from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 7 Verse 9 –end.
Achebe’s widow, Christy rendered a special song in honour of her husband which according to her she sang last when she renewed her marriage vow with Chinua Achebe.
His remains were later buried after the Church service at the Mousoleum built in his compound.