Speech 2


I sincerely thank the Management of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Nigeria for the honour of asking me to chair this Public Lecture dedicated to the memory of Professor Chinua Achebe, which, I understand, is a biennial event.

To say that Achebe was a literary giant and an intellectual colossus is to state the obvious. He was also a repository of high principles and a sobering voice for rectitude in public service. I remember in 1987 when the Federal Government was considering giving the Late Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a State burial. A simple-worded article by the titan of prose himself in the Guardian Newspaperilluminated the issues in discourse. We would also recall that at the height of the political crisis in Anambra State, it took Achebe’s public rejection of a national award, drawing attention to the despicable political game playing out in Anambra, and setting off a chain of events that may have resulted in the eventual triumph of our Keynote Speaker of today claiming his victory as Governor of Anambra State.Achebe’sopinions on, especially international literary awards also carried a lot weight, forcing those international bodies to re-appraise their standards and criteria of selection of awardees.

Reading Achebe’s works is soothing. His language is one that has a serenity and refreshing simplicity, and yet appeals to every generation in its profundity. His effortless deployment of Igbo proverbs to, in a few words, paint a mental picture is one that truly makes him one of a kind.Things Fall Apart opened Africa, and its cultures, to the world, humanizing African people and creating a narrative to their way of life. Arrow of God was an exhilarating expose’ on a clash of civilizationsplayed around the fragile templates of principles and pride. A man of the People was as prophetic and it was fulfilling. Anthills of the Savanah examined the nature of power and the character of sycophancy and resistance in an African society. Achebe’s essays, especially Morning Yet on Creation Day simply opened up the horizons of knowledge, garnished in inimitable style.The Trouble with Nigeria, and his last, There was a Country are weaved around the trajectory of Nigeria’s political history to help a perpetually potential great country rescue itself from self-pity. For him, the absence of a credible national leadership has been the bane of Nigeria’s developmental aspirations and greatness.The Odenigbo Lectures which he delivered in Igbo Language was a revealing vortex of his grassroots assuredness, despite many years of sojourn in the diaspora.

It can be seen that I have an open admiration for Chinua Achebe, whose voiceresonated. Achebe was a man about whom so much can be said. The topic of today’s lecture, therefore, is apt. A public lecture in memory of Professor Achebe should appropriately be in the Service of the Arts: in the Service of Culture and Nation. For those were the ideals which Prof. Achebe lived for and embodied.

I am looking forward to this mouth-watering lecture. Our keynote Speaker, His Excellency Mr. Peter Obi is a leader of vast experience. He has navigated the thin line between the demands of culture and the realities of modern leadership. He is well suited to speak on the leadership issues within our cultural milieu and the larger Nigerian context. The Special Guest, My Lord, Justice Chukwuma-Eneh, retired Justice of the Supreme Court is one whose wealth of experience and depth of knowledge is what we should all tap from. The work of Prof. JOJ Nwachukwu-Agbada, an erudite scholar on the context, functions and performance of Igbo Proverbs gives me a peep into the intellectual firestorm today is promising to be and makes me want to sit back quickly and relish today.

On that note, I once again thank the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, an alma mater we all proud of, for instituting this Lecture. Let me save some words for the closing remarks, after the intellectual yo-yo we are about to begin.