Ladies and gentlemen, greetings.
If it is said that an elephant is not a wild animal, a person will say that it seemed as if something went by in the twinkling of an eye. The one who saw the elephant told what he saw. Very few people in our Igboland have not heard the name of the 1999 Odenigbo lecturer. If we were breaking out a masquerade today, it would be IJELE. Ijele is a great masquerade that it takes five years to prepare. But today it is a great man in person, a widely-known man of learning, who stands among us in Odenigbo House. Only Archbishop Obinna knows what it took for him to invite our great brother back to us for the big Odenigbo celebration this year.
BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD OF ACHEBE
On November 16, 1930, Isaiah Okafo Achebe and his wife, Janet, had their fifth child. They named the new baby Chinualumogu [“God fought for me”]–Chinua for short. His parents had their reasons for giving their son a name like this. Chinua grew up to be someone who made the town of Ogidi proud. He quickly went through Ogidi Primary School and from there entered Government College Umuahia, where it took him only four years to complete the course that it took his peers five years to complete. Immediately after that, he entered University College Ibadan in 1948. Chinua was known in elementary and high school as being bright and coming out first in examinations. Thus one teacher said to his father, “You had better tighten your belt, because your son’s education will not end in Nigeria.” Indeed, Chinua Achebe entered the university to study western medicine, but he abandoned the idea of becoming a physician and switched to studies in the Arts. He stayed there until he obtained the degree of Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) in 1953
ACHEBE THE WORKER
Our hero tried his hand at various jobs. He has worked in foreign lands as well as Igboland where he was known for dedication to his work. Where does one start in recounting them?
He took on a teaching job beginning in 1953 in the town of Oba. He worked at this only seven months before the people at Nigerian Broadcasting Service called him and employed him in 1954. His competence at this work caused him to be sent out for study in England. On his return, he was promoted to the position of Radio Broadcast Director. Following this, he became the supervisor of the Nigerian Broadcasting Service in the Eastern Department.
In 1961 he was made Director of the Voice of Nigeria. It was from here that he ran for his life in 1966, when darkness gripped us in Nigeria.
The University of Nigeria at Nsuka then invited him to work as a “Research Fellow.” He did this work until 1973, when he was made Professor of English. Please hail him as Prof!!
At the same time, Prof. Achebe was teaching at the University of Massachusetts in America. When he finished, he continued at the University of Nigeria at Nsuka, where he taught until he decided on his own to stop teaching in 1981 so he could have the time to write books. Other places where Prof. Achebe has taught include universities all over the U.S.A. such as Storrs, Connecticut, Guelph, New York, and California, as well as universities in Canada, until he suffered a highway accident in the year 1990. His god was awake and fought for him and saved his life. We are grateful to the European doctors who treated him, and to his wife Christie Chinwe who took good care of him. While Chinua was recovering, the people of Bard College in America came and asked Prof. Achebe to teach for them. That is the place from which has returned to give us the Odenigbo lecture of 1999.
PROF. ACHEBE THE WRITER
One cannot count the books Prof. Achebe has written. They are so numerous and plentiful. Allow me to mention just a few. His books include: Things Fall Apart (1958), the one he is most known for, which has been translated into more than 60 of the world’s languages — Igbo Kwenu!!! — No Longer At Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), Anthills of the Savannah (1987). Books of Prof. Achebe’s poetry include Beware Soul Brother and Christmas in Biafra. He also wrote Girls At War, Morning Yet on Creation Day, and Hopes and Impediments. Books that Prof. Achebe edited include African Short Stories, Contemporary African Stories, Don’t Let Him Die, The Umuahian, Aka Weta, Egwu Aguluagu na Egwu Edeluede, Africa, The Drum and The Flute, The Trouble with Nigeria, etc. According to what we have heard, new books that Chinua has written will be emerging soon. It is wonderful. Thanks be to God.
PROF. ACHEBE AND HONORARY DEGREES
Various countries of the world have praised Prof. Achebe for the books he has written. Twenty-seven universities have awarded him honorary doctorates. In Nigeria, the universities of Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Ife, and Nsuka have given him doctor’s degrees. In foreign countries, some of the universities that gave Prof. Achebe doctor’s degrees include Harvard, City University of New York, and New Brunswick in Canada. Open University of Kent in England, Georgetown in Washington, Westfield in Massachusetts, and many others have also given him doctorates. To enumerate them all would take too much time.
PROF. ACHEBE AS CARETAKER OF PEOPLE
Prof. Achebe is a good father in his household. His children have had his full support in completing their educations in various universities. He and his wife have lived together happily for 38 years.
The way Chinua has cared for his household is the way he has cared for the public. It was he who started the Association of Nigerian Authors; he also started the journal called Okike, Uwa ndi Igbo [The World of the Igbo People], and a magazine called African Commentary. He was once the Pro-Chancellor and Chief Counsel of Anambra State University of Science and Technology, as well as President General of Ogidi Town Union. This means that he has taken care of his household, taken care of his town, taken care of his fellow writers as well as university people. Our people, one who is sought out is really doing something!! Prof., well done!
PROF. ACHEBE, A WORLD-FAMOUS MAN
Prof. Achebe is a man who is not only the pride of the Igbo abroad, but his name is famous all over the world.
As soon as Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, and Arrow of God are mentioned, everyone knows the singer of these songs and pays attention.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) made Prof. Achebe their spokesman in regard to the health and well-being of the world’s people. It is said that one who eats beans will drink water [to him who hath shall be given], that is why he was given the awards of the Margaret Wrong Memorial Prize in 1959; the Nigerian National Trophy in 1961; the Jack Campbell Prize in 1964; Chairmanship of the National Guidance Committee in 1969; the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1972; an Honorary Fellowship of the Modem Language Association of America in 1975; the Nigerian National Merit Award and Officer of the Federal Republic in 1979; a Fellowship in the Royal Society of Literature of London in 1981; a Fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and the Assistant Chairmanship of the People’s Redemption Party in 1983.
Countrymen, Prof. Achebe’s awards are innumerable.
Fellow citizens, you have seen indeed that our brother Prof. Achebe is a man whose name is known in the world. Hurrah!! Blessings on the Igbo!!
If the whole world praises this person, will his brothers and sisters keep quiet? No! Igbo kwenu! [Rally round, Igbo people!]
My brothers, the one we present so we may hear his voice now is one who leads the world with his stories, one who blazes a trail with his writing, one who uses his thoughts in a meaningful way.
I therefore respectfully ask our father the Archbishop to personally introduce to us this learned man of ours, one who is known throughout the world, who is the true Igbo son whom he brought back to us from a foreign country so he could open the package of ideas that make up the Odenigbo lecture of 1999.
Friends — let it be written — in Igbo!