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Reflections from the Achebe Colloquium

By Emma Okocha
Thanks to Professor Chinua Achebe, whose timely interventions in Nigeria’s history, whether they are real or out of his pithy fictions, will always remain signal moments in the destiny of that country.

The gathering in Providence, Rhode Island, on December 11 will go down in history for what it revealed. It is not only Nigerians who are agonizing over the waning lights of their hapless country.

The cold air was heavy with the dolor of tragedy, and the somber looks on people’s faces did not help. Achebe and Soyinka, peripatetic national oracles fearful of another impending and incalculable loss, Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, an ageing soldier of destiny, whose sacrificial and futile Nigerian image echoed too sorrowfully of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Frustrated friends of Nigeria such as Ambassador Carrington barely containing his wrath and disappointment from over the years of selfless international service and friendship with Nigeria; scholars, diplomats, academics and intellectuals from all over the world, Nigeria’s morally beleaguered representatives.

It was a cast of characters loaded with something unnameable which eeriely reminded me of the kind of chill I felt as a young student in Nigeria after reading an article by a young media genius of those days called Peter Pan.

In my favorite column in Daily Times in 1966, Peter Enahoro, wrote, “Before the Darkness Falls”. And prophetically, the darkness did fall, with as much weight and senseless tragic fratricide as that prophecy accurately predicted.

The darkness was the three year civil war, 1967 to 1970 which Nigeria is yet to recover from. You could hear the same demons who provoked that war still drumming and re-drawing the same old lines of tragedy.

In the high peaks of the grave intellectual din, you could even hear, if you were alive in 1966 Nigeria, that strange ominous levity of “no cause for alarm” which one of the destined ritual symbols,the gods rest his soul, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, used to answer the worries from millions of Nigerian hearts.

Rhode Island is another Nigerian  Aburi gathering before the darkness falls again on that country. Those who gathered there were not representing clear cleavages as in Aburi, but in the same kind of gravity, and worse, with spiritual implications, they were.

Believe me, that gathering, in terms of vision and insight, was acute and accurate in their recognition that if the coming elections in Anambra State do not go well, we would have heard in it the same mournful alarum we heard in the fires in Western Nigeria in 1965 before the more terrible larger fire, the Biafran insurgency, consumed the Nigerian nation.

The expression, “bell weather”, was repeated several times by all and sundry. Some preferred the word “litmus”to describe the forthcoming elections in Anambra State.

But by and large, everybody could read the naked words from the human soul there aglow with that extraordinary knowledge of the shape of things to come that “this is it”.

By commission, all presenters at the colloquium,  were unanimous about one fact. Nigerian leaders missed the train and the tracks long ago and were headed into a tragic alien wilderness.

All signs indicate that the forthcoming elections in Anambra State,unless action is taken quickly, will plunge Nigeria into an abyss that no one will have words to describe.

Behind federal machinations and chicanery,the attitude of the warders of the elections say it. The total lack of faith nationally says it. A comatose presidency and the national lack of will around that presidency say it.

Behind that swirling vortex, the tragic whirlpool toward which the soul of the Nigerian nation appears tragically headed, the Nigerian destiny was recognized as something shaped and being shaped by Nigeria’s faith in crude oil, according to Herman J.Cohen. Another participant, Richard Dowden suggested that unless there is a resolve to “change the reality”, nothing will change.

Richard Joseph commented on the fact that Africa has failed in its polity “to serve real human beings”.

That was something buttressed by a harrowing comment by a sad Jean Herskovits who thinks, so rightfully too, that Abuja makes Nigeria another kind of apartheid society; only the wealthy have access into that haven or heaven.

Is there no hope then in the so-called re-branding of Nigeria, agonizingly asked one of the moderators, Professor Obiora Udechukwu, a distinguished don from New York’s St Lawrence University?

Not without drastic “re-orientation” was the overwhelming consensus by participants, many of who invoked even violent revolution in their frustration. Emma Okocha whose writing and presentation debunks his youth challenged the ”cowardly intellectual class for resigning and abdicating field.”

He shook the early forum when he put Wole Soyinka on the spot; ”Prof, you and the Ibadan School scripted the January 15 Revolution”? …you, Ifeajuna, Okigbo, Clark, rose up at the appointed time…where are our intellectuals when the rotten system is placating the army, promoting to Admirals, naval officers who have no ships!!  Even though the bearded activist denied being part of any Nigerian coup, he revealed that the January 15 was indeed a preemptive strike as there was an impending very bloody conservative plot to have taken place on January 17, 1966.

Nigerian representatives who participated include, Aiwalu, Umar, Ikedioha, Peter Obi, and Ken Nnamani. While the first two will be remembered for their candor, Ikedioha will be remembered as one whose contribution appeared to reveal in tragi-comic fashion the innards of Nigeria’s woes.

His evasiveness was Nigerian political magic at its best. At a point, in absurdist theatricality, he affably challenged the audience to compare the salaries of Nigerian government officials with that of Americans.

That was a horrifying and catastrophic gaff, a comparison between a country of tragic decrepitude in infrastructure where nothing worked and a well-oiled super-efficient technocracy.

The man who should really be watched and respected from all that transpired was Ken Nnamani whose commitment and passion for probity, accountability, and social justice was applauded.

The colloquium ended with the same gravity with which it opened. A communique has been released.

The government of the federal republic of Nigeria should wake up and try to learn how to serve real people, as one of the participants charged. Light, water , modern hospitals, good roads, well-equipped schools and security are basic entitlements of any citizen in this modern world.

For that modern world to be a country as wealthy endowed as Nigeria makes such lacks crimes beyond pardon. A word again for the Nigerian foreign minister who once collided with me at another forum. A leadership that is irresponsible to her citizens deserves nothing less than a humble abdication or destruction.
Chimalum Nwankwo
Professor of English
North Carolina A&T State University


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