Sunday, February 10, 2008

Things Fall Apart +50

Interview with Achebe in The Chronicle here (thanks JG for the link).

I find it hard to believe he doesn't live in Nigeria because of fear of the consequences of his criticism of previous administrations. In the article linked above, we find the following passage, 'his protests against government corruption in Nigeria have made him unwelcome there. After years of dignified but forthright objections to Nigeria's often-tyrannical rulers, in 2004 he declined the high Nigerian honor of Commander of the Federal Republic. "That has changed everything for me," he says. "I can't simply get on a plane and return home."'

There are plenty of people living and breathing in Nigeria who have been and are still equally critical of the political status-quo. Is he using this explanation as a foil for a latent reluctance to leave the leafy comforts of Bard College and live in Nigeria, or is it really the case that he would be given a hard time if he moved back?

What about this for an idea: he moves back to UNN to take up a post as Professor of Literature, as the centrepiece of a new creative writing programme that would be set up there. A new generation of upcoming Nigerian writers would benefit from his insights and wisdom into African fiction and creative writing, rather than the overprivileged of Bard. Your thoughts please.


Been-to,  2:23 pm  

Achebe deserves all he is enjoying at Bard, which is effectively a comfortable retirement plan, on a double USD income. Good for him.

As for the political exile role he is trying to ascribe to himself, this is mere fantasy, for the benefit of wide-eyed oyibos. Achebe is not nearly as controversial as Soyinka.

Achebe, for all his gift, is a fairly typical Nija taking refuge abroad. The road accident, the lines of 'visitors' (and no doubt, cash-strapped relatives) etc. These are the typical moans of any Nija Abroad-type.

Yes it would be great if he would return to Nija and give something back as Jeremy suggests. Achebe has never made any claims at being a hero.

If he decides to enjoy his old age in US, he has given enough in his career to have earned this small indulgence,surely.

Jeremy 2:42 pm  

the issue is not whether he deserves his retirement at Bard - I'm sure he does. The point is rather how much a work of fiction the 'political exile' story is. I take it to be a fiction that is now wearing thin - but perhaps I am wrong..

More generally, if an African writer prefers the comforts of campus life in America to the realities of actually living in Africa/Nigeria again, why has it become taboo to say so?

Anonymous,  4:52 pm  

This man has given so much to uphold the dignity of African society, tradition, values and people, however, the very people he tries to dignify always seem to be exceptionally good at proving the 'foe' right and in the process making a fool of the 'friend'.

Things fall apart was written 50 odd years ago, but rather than understand and embrace the message the book was conveyed, our society and people have gone deeper into the deeper into a trance, there are literally over 140million people in Nigeria who believe literally in heaven and hell as told by the 'white man', or that their own traditional beliefs are evil, an astonishing figure for a country that produced Chinua Achebe, and even more astonishing to find that so few people understand his message.

It's like a defence lawyer who pleads an excellent case to the Judge, Jury, prosecution and gallery only for the accused to stand up, admit guilt and concede defeat. Like it or not, Achebe is broken man, a man who believed so much in his people only to be so cruelly let down over the decades, he really believed we would be great you know, before independence, post-colonial Africa would prove these horrific theories wrong, and what did he get?

Let the man use any excuse available to him, the truth is that we as a people have failed men like Achebe, and if you don't understand why, then you as a person have failed him too!


Anonymous,  9:59 am  

A.J. please. I am sick and tired of people going on and on about how great this man or that man is. Yes, he wrote a fairly medicore book that put Africa on the map and we are grateful. But should we be grateful forever. Besides Things Fall Apart, how many people are actually aware of his other books? How many people cares. More Nigerians have been broken more than Achebe. Why should he be special?

If the guy wants to enjoy his leafy life at Bard, he is entitled to it. But I believe the question asked, is to what extent his claim of perscution true. Has he ever really been perscuted in the way Soyinka has been? Truly Truly this is a tired old story and writers should just get over it. No one can deny that life can be hard in Nigeria, especially if you are wheelchair bound. And as been-to said, why should he have to deal with the lines of hungry visitors. but he should stop going about fear of perscution. It is old and tired. more outspoken people than him are talking freely.

Anonymous,  4:03 pm  

How much persecution would he have to suffer before his "political exile" story becomes real as opposed to fiction? When the system breaks down regarding government services he might need, what would he ascribe it to? breakdown or persecution? how would you know if this story is fiction or not? While I am not holding brief for Achebe, I would give him the benefit of the doubt especially since he has spurned the advances of government notably the dubious federal honor they attempted to give him.

As far as I know, Achebe is not beholden to any government entity and he has not allowed himself to be lured into association with any recent Nigerian government leaving him the option of criticizing with a pure heart and voice.

nneoma 8:25 pm  

please, Achebe, no one is looking to assassinate you home. I heard this excuse from the least to the greatest of Nigerians here in the US who claim that they cannot return home because their afraid of being robbed, kidnapped, 419ed etc. There are so many skilled Nigerians who are abroad who could be of use at home (not all, as indicated in your post on class in Nigeria - to which I whole-heartedly agree with). Either they use some version of Achebe excuse or they use the Philip Emeagwali (the computer guru now living in Jamaica) excuse that by working abroad he is having a global impact that indirectly trickles down to Nigeria as well...please. (Of course I am not one to talk...yet...since I have not yet actualized my plans of moving back to Naija yet...but plans are in the works.) But yes, you bring up an interesting point Jeremy, why is it no longer okay to admit that one simply prefers the US to Naija - especially amongst our intelligentsia abroad...I do not really know

plastiQ 7:21 am  

Believe me, its not a debate/intellectual capacity/political correctness situation...leave the things you don't understand. Personally, i believe he is in a position of power, a vantage position. We have enough 'matyrs' down here and look how far it's brought us. Thing is: his voice could and is actually louder from the distance. Chinua Achebe does not have to be resident in Nigeria to be able to contribute to national debates. A man can choose to live anywhere he wants; and what's more? He owes no one any explanations.

Jeremy 8:04 am  

Sorry plastiq but that's a vapid thing to say. If all the writers/intellectuals in a society choose to live overseas, the society itself gets to be ruled by fools and loses all capacity for critical reflection. That's exactly what has happened in Nigeria (just look at the Nudity Bill as an example of this). A man may be able to chose where he wants to live. He may also be disingenuous about the reasons behind his choice. And the consequences of his choice has effects which go far beyond him..

If all Nigerian writers, when given the opportunity, leave the country for good, what does that say about Nigeria?

Anonymous,  5:40 pm  

Oga, ehen, you too should return to London and make it better. Abi London is perfect already?

I'm tired of your tired arguments against the rights of Nigerian thinkers to do their thinking wherever they damn well please. You're the hired mourner who is crying more than the bereaved.

We respect your right to follow your vision in Naija, please respect our right to live in Jand or Yankee or wherever.

(You know who!)

Anonymous,  12:13 pm  

To Anon you know who.

you argument is pure emotionality. He raises an interesting and uncomfortable question for those of us located in the diaspora. If all the intellectuals and writers in the UK leave and come to Nigeria, Nigeria will be the better for it and we'll certainly see its effect. The point is they are not leaving the UK in droves. Why because the condition to thrive as intellectuals/artists/writers is there. Our continued diasporicity highlights the problem with Nigeria: it is too damn difficult to cultivate creative pursuit. Before anyone starts saying that there are lots of wonderful artists doing wonderful stuff. Thats a lie. They are all repetitive and unimaginative. It is a rare gem that comes up from that system.

On the one hand many of us want to return, on the other hand, there is a level of comfort, orderliness and rationality that we are use to and we are unwilling to give up. Certainly that is the case me. For all our sins we can talk about how we have the right and choice to live anywhere we want in the world in the same way Jeremy has chosen. The truth is, we really don't have that luxury. Nigeria is in a mess and lcoated in the diaspora, we'll never truly no extent of the rot. The education, the health system etc. is near collapse and there ain't enough of us returning to bring in our expertise as is taking place in Ghana, Sierra leone and south Africa to help rebuild the society. I am amazed by the numbers of Sierra Leonenias intellectuals and artists who are returning and yet we the children of giants are unable to return. For me what is interesting is why is it that only a certain kind of Nigerians are returning. Why are the artists and intellectuals not returning? The kind of people that are actaully needed to make a vibrant and questioning society? I was in Nigeria for 6 months last year and nothing and nothing in this world prepared me for the harshness and the bruality of the place. I know that even if I get the best paying job (which will never happen),I can NEVER NEVER live in Nigeria. Why? Two reasons: I like the material comfort I have in Germany AND my sanity. After 6 months in Nigeria, I miss regular visits to gallaries or museums, I miss going to concerts, just having intense debates that are not about partisan politics and men and the size of their wallet. I miss productive, intellectual engagement. While I was in Nigeria I spent my time in 4 university campuses and after that experience, I cannot blame Achebe or any other creative thinking person if they don't want to return. But we need to be honest with ourselves as to our true reason why we don't want to return. Nigeria is a damn bitch! And it can destroy the soul of the most well meaning.

On Achebe, what exactly is he doing for Nigeria intellectually now? Student's at Bard college are been thoroughly enriched. Good luck to him and them. Lets just be real.

Anonymous,  2:56 pm  

Achebe is one thing. Yes. He's hardly making an intellectual contribution at this point. He hasn't written an interesting book in more than twenty years.

But your general point, about Jeremy having luxuries we diasporic Nigerians don't have--I reject that as essentialist bullshit. Do what you can, where you can. If you go back to Naija because someone has guilted you into it, you'll be some cold hard unpleasant character, crying into the wind, and everyone in Nigeria will tell you to stop complaining, pack your bags, and go.


Anonymous,  7:23 pm  

It seems like you know Jeremy personally. So, is it the case that he was 'guilted' into coming to Nigeria? What a fucked up place to be 'guilted' into living!!

nneoma 3:47 pm  

"After 6 months in Nigeria, I miss regular visits to gallaries or museums, I miss going to concerts, just having intense debates that are not about partisan politics and men and the size of their wallet. I miss productive, intellectual engagement."

uhhhhh, obviously you did not go out much during your six months stay in Nigeria.
And let's be serious, how many Nigerians abroad can boast of enjoying such luxuries. Most are buried in their 24/7 nursing jobs (I seriously mean no offense - it is just that I get a little upset when people spend like the majority of their time in their villages when they travel to Naija and then come back and tell us that Naija lacks modernity....yes, we still have some ways to go, but all this I miss my western comforts crap is old. If you have the money, you can live much better than most in the West.

About This Blog

  © Blogger templates Psi by 2008

Back to TOP