By Prisca Sam-Duru
The Kongi’s Harvest Gallery, Freedom Park, Lagos was filled to capacity with the literati and dignitaries from the media, showbiz, business society, etc, who congregated in an event held to honour posthumously, Africa’s most quintessential writer, late Professor Chinualumogu Albert Achebe.
Handlers of the luxury champagne house, Moet & Chandon was in charge and the celebration of the life and times of the extraordinary achiever kicked-off informally with guests trooping in and chatting each other up on their diverse impressions on the different works of Achebe which they had read. Accompanying highlife music of evergreen maestros; Chief Osita Osadebe and Sir Victor Uwaifo, also played in the background, creating serenity reminiscent only of a true African setting.
Entertainment was also supplied by a violinist from Crown Troupe of Africa who serenaded guests with a classic tune from NTA- dramatised Things Fall Apart, putting the audience in the right mood for the evening.
At some point, angelic-like waiters invaded the entire gallery handing over, glasses of Moet & Chandon drinks which were raised and everyone toasted enthusiastically to Achebe’s memory. That actually took place after individuals took turns to pour encomiums on Achebe with particular reference to his phenomenon and its huge impact on African literature.
The evening of toast to Africa’s literary ancestor, was highly spiced with readings from his books especially, his most controversial work, “There Was A Country: A Personal History Of Biafra” which highly dominated headlines prior to his transition.
Renowned writers, authors and journalists such as Toyin Akinosho, Eghosa Imaseun, Jahman Anikulapo, Deji Toye and Lola Shoneyin, were among speakers who seized the stage to eulogise the gem, while writer and freelance journalist, Tolu Ogunlesi anchored the session.
Taking the lead of speakers, Mr. Toyin Akinosho described Achebe as “the man who built the local content in African literature”.
Author of “God Of Poetry”, Maxim Uzoatu, relived details of his trip from Lagos to Ogidi for Achebe’s burial which took place last May, and how the man’s personality elicited arguments and debates from his people as regards who he really was.
He narrated how the writer’s burial was publicised with massive billboards and huge posters which conspicuously adorned every available space in his home town as well as how people thronged the burial en masse adding that “Achebe became a myth in his native birthplace”.
Uzoatu, who described him as an organised person, who never joked with his writing right from the beginning added, “Some of us lack the courage of conviction, but Achebe was a man of his own. The initial efforts of Achebe, Soyinka and Ammos Tutuola made them pathfinders. We should return to the original African story. That’s the legend of Achebe!”
He further said, “He was a product of his era. The era itself produced the writing. It was a gate-keeping era in which the architecture, historiography, musicology, visual arts and literary art were wrested from European hegemony and stranglehold.”
Respected poet and activist, Daggar Tolar praised Achebe for living out his ideals, noting that like Okonkwo, in the icon’s Things Fall Apart who stood alone till the very end, Achebe also stood alone to the very last as a strong oppositional figure in the fight for a better Nigeria.
In a most touching narrative, former editor of The Guardian on Sunday, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo could not hide his disappointment over how Achebe’s “There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra” ignited so much debate, leading to his condemnation even from unenlightened individuals as well as people who hadn’t even read the book.
He regretted “the way we reduced Achebe to our ethnic narrowness. The way we represented him wasn’t how he was. Achebe represented our own collective imagination.”
Anikulapo also narrated to the audience, an ugly encounter when he was mandated to cover Achebe’s arrival to Nigeria years after the accident that took away his ability to walk till his death.