By Paul Nwosu
GOVERNOR Charles Chukwuma Soludo has renamed the Anambra International and Cargo Airport, Umueri, to Chinua Achebe International Passenger and Cargo Airport. In his speech at the 63rd Nigerian Independence Anniversary which took place at Dr. Alex Ekwueme Square, Awka, on October 1, Soludo informed the applauding audience that the airport was named after Achebe after wide consultations, because Achebe is an African and global hero.
Governor Soludo recalled that in his lifetime, Achebe declined to accept two high Nigerian national honours in protest against what he perceived as injustice to his home state that had tacit support from high officialdom. For Soludo, it’s now incumbent on Achebe’s home state of Anambra to honour Anambra’s greatest gift to the literary world. Soludo stated that his administration would work in tandem with the Federal Government to offer an international airport worthy of the Achebe legacy.
Achebe is globally acclaimed as Africa’s most influential writer. His classic novel Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, ranks amongst the greatest novels ever written in the world. Achebe was the founder of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in 1981 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where Governor Soludo was then a young student.
It needs to be stressed that Achebe was not just a writer. He was at once also a critic, activist, organizer, publisher, politician, and an uncommon leader who served as the President-General (PG) of his native town union in Ogidi, Anambra State. As a national political leader, Achebe was the Vice-Chairman of Aminu Kano’s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) of the Second Republic.
A man of unshakable principle, Achebe wrote the following words when he rejected the award of the high national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) in October, 2004: “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 connection 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.” Achebe also rejected the award when it was re-offered in 2011.
If he were to be alive today, and seeing the dire circumstances of the country, Achebe would have made his word count as he did in his 1983 epochal book The Trouble with Nigeria that began with these famous damning words: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”
Achebe’s oeuvre is indeed intimidating, starting from the legendary Things Fall Apart in 1958 and grandly lapping all the way through No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God, A Man of the People, Anthills of the Savannah, Girls at War and Other Stories, Beware Soul Brother, Morning Yet on Creation Day, The Trouble with Nigeria, Chike and the River, Home and Exile, Hopes and Impediments, The Education of a British-Protected Child, and There Was A Country, etc.
When Achebe died at exactly 11:51pm (US time), that is 4.51am (Nigerian time), on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at the Harvard University Teaching Hospital, Massachusetts, US, aged 82, it was one death that shook the entire world as tributes came pouring in from all the continents of the world, from presidents down to paupers.
The great Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who Achebe mentored paid him this tribute: “Achebe bestrides generations and geographies. Every country in Africa claims him as their own.”
The then American President Barack Obama extolled Achebe thusly: “A revolutionary author, educator, and cultural ambassador, Chinua shattered the conventions of literature and shaped the collective identity of Nigerians throughout the world. With a dream of taking on misperceptions of his homeland, he gave voice to perspectives that cultivated understanding and drew our world closer together. His legacy will endure in the hearts of all whose lives he touched with the everlasting power of his art.”
Governor Soludo has delivered a universal masterstroke by renaming the airport to Chinua Achebe International Passenger and Cargo Airport, Umueri. Global tourists will in due course flood in because of the Achebe appeal in the same manner that Bard College, New York, US built the Achebe House in the university.
Governor Soludo’s drive to turn Anambra State into a liveable and prosperous homeland that will be a destination point instead of a departure lounge has received the ultimate uplift with the naming of the Achebe International Airport.
* Sir Nwosu is Commissioner for Information, Anambra State