A great writer is the soul and conscience of his country. Writers use their works -novels, plays, poems, and essays- to limn the ills besetting their countries and offer pieces of advice to political leaders on how to navigate their countries out of problems. And some writers are visionaries, who imagine the type of countries their leaders would build after they had taken cognisance of their countries’ population, physical size, ethnic composition, and religious groups. That is the reason why well-intentioned and responsible political leaders accord writers honours.
However, in our today’s world, there are writers, who have become politicians. On the African continent, during the colonial era, we had writer-politicians, who parlayed their scholastic abilities and writings into their political activities to liberate their countries from western imperialism. Leopold Sedar Senghor and Agostinho Neto were great and talented poets, who rose to become national leaders of Senegal and Angola, respectively.
Today, the works of Leopold Sedar Senghor and Agostinho Neto are studied in schools in Africa and elsewhere. In addition to being a poet, Senghor was the greatest proponent of the negritude ideology on the African continent. And, Agostinho Neto participated actively in the struggles for the political liberation of Angola, which led to his incarceration on many occasions. In Nigeria, politicians with scholarly bent like Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo couldn’t win elections to lead Nigeria owing to many factors, the chief of which was the departing British imperialists’ enthronement of the culture of imposition of leaders in Nigeria.
Another great Nigerian scholar and writer, Chinualumogu Albert Achebe, made a foray into partisan politics when he became a member of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), a party with leftist and socialist tendencies. It’s the party of the feuding duo of Abubakar Rimi and Balarabe Musa; and Aminu Kano was the party’s presidential candidate in the second republic.
But Chinua Achebe was more of a writer than a politician. It was Achebe’s response to Joseph Conrad’s derogatory work, The Heart of Darkness, via his fictive and anthropological work, Things Fall Apart, which shot him to global prominence. The thematic concern of Achebe’s Magnus opus is culture-conflict. It narrates the effects of western culture on the Igbo people of the Southeast of Nigeria during the colonial period.
Chinua Achebe was a man cut out for literature and writing, he was nicknamed “The Dictionary” as he always had his head buried in books and dictionaries. This was corroborated by his course mate at University of Ibadan, Mabel Segun, in a newspaper interview. More so, Achebe was a one-time ace broadcaster before his foray into the field of academics. He was an editor at Heinemann Publishing Company, which published novels under the African writers series. Back home in Nigeria, he spearheaded the formation of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).
Achebe’s writings have become canonical. He would have celebrated his 89th birthday on November 16, 2019 were he alive today. Sadly, since his demise six years ago, no government at any level in our dear country, Nigeria, has given him posthumous honour and recognition to acknowledge his prodigious talent, legacies in the field of literature, and contributions to our national development via his elucidatory and insightful discourses. It is important that he is honoured.
- By Chiedu Uche Okoye, Uruowulu-Obosi