Emotional tributes as Achebe lies in state in his home state

The Anambra governor said he had received condolences from 12 presidents on late Achebe.

The remains of novelist and poet, Chinua Achebe, arrived Awka, the Anambra State capital on Wednesday to a flurry of tributes and eulogies from Nigerians.

Mr. Achebe, 82, died on March 22 in Boston, United States of America.

After a lying-in-state ceremony on Tuesday at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Mr. Achebe’s remains began a journey to his hometown in Ogidi that included a stop at the Anambra State capital in Awka.

By 10 a.m., armed security officers comprising the Nigeria Police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps stationed at the Alex Ekwueme Square, Awka; had begun screening people and vehicles entering into the venue.

Though billed to arrive at the Square by 10.30 a.m., the late Mr. Achebe’s body made it into the venue at 1.30 p.m.

In his speech, Chukwuemeka Ike, renowned author, described the deceased as a “perfect gentleman of honour and transparent integrity.”

“Achebe became great not through godfatherism, not through looting the national treasury, not through any corrupt practice, but by diligently maximizing his God given talent,” said Mr. Ike, who is now a traditional ruler.

Confined to a wheelchair after an auto accident in 1990, Mr. Ike said that lesser mortals would have “thrown in the towel.”

“But Chinua went ahead from the wheelchair to serve as Charles P. Stephenson Professor of Languages and Linguistics at Bards College, New York; a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Population Fund; and an editor of Heinemann Books and Contemporary Studies,” said Mr. Ike.

“The accident brought out the best in his family. Christy, his wife, humbly brushed aside her brilliant academic career to give her husband maximum attention. She deserves high accolades of a model wife. The children rallied round their father commendably,” he added.

Boniface Egboka, the Vice-Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, said that Mr. Achebe was “a true Igbo son who never abandoned his people in their time of need.”

“Professor Achebe retired from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1982, devoting his time to becoming active in politics. He became the deputy national vice chairman of the PRP in 1983,” said Professor Egboka.

“The series of that short sojourn yielded the book ‘The Trouble with Nigeria.’ If Nigeria had listened to the advice of Professor Achebe then, probably our collective fortune would have been different today,” he added.

An emotional Oby Ezekwesili, former Vice President of the World Bank, highlighted the “dignity, courage, nobility, greatness, and excellence” of Mr. Achebe.

“Aunty Christy, Ike, Nwando, and Chidi,” Mrs. Ezekwesili turned to the deceased’s family.

“He gave you everything. There is nothing anybody can give you now, nothing. Your father gave you everything. Your husband gave you everything. Any other thing is just something, Achebe did not live for something,” said the former Education Minister.

“We know that what he said that there are many stars in the firmament, but some stars will shine brighter than all the others. It is true. Uncle Chinua, keep shining,” she added, amidst tears.

Other speakers, from Andrew Wheeler, who represented the Archbishop of Canterbury, to Chris Ngige, Senator representing Anambra Central, eulogized the “fearlessness” of Mr. Achebe.

Peter Obi, the governor of Anambra State, said that Mr. Achebe’s name opened doors for the state outside the shores of the country.

“He was not a councillor, he was not a local government chairman, a legislator, a governor, president; but as governor of this state, I have received condolences from over 12 presidents,” Mr. Obi said.

“There are presidents and heads of state in Nigeria that passed on, nobody sent them a condolence message, but this person wrote a book,” he added.

Mr. Achebe’s burial rites continues on Thursday with his interment at his hometown, Ogidi; which according to the state governor, would be attended by three presidents, including President Goodluck Jonathan.


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