Awka, the Anambra State capital, stood still Wednesday as the body of the literary giant, Professor Chinua Achebe arrived the state for its final journey to Ogidi, his home town, in Idemili North Local Government Area where it will be later buried today.
The remains of the famous writer, who died in Boston, Massachusetts in the US was brought to Awka, via Abuja and Enugu at exactly 1.07 pm in a motorcade and was taken to Ekwueme Square, where it was laid in state for many to pay their last respects.
Among the thousands who thronged the venue to witness the colourful ceremony included his kinsmen, friends, colleagues, businessmen and high profile delegates from various governments from across the world.
Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi and the senator representing Anambra Central in the senate – Achebe’s senatorial zone – Dr. Chris Ngige received Achebe’s body at Amansea border between Enugu and Anambra States with a waiting crowd comprising civil servants, politicians and journalists. The entourage headed straight to Alex Ekwueme’s square where prayers and tributes were lavishly poured on the author.
The venue was frenzied, as a sea of people filled the arena, which in fact overflowed. Street vendors made brisk business, selling a compilation of Achebe’s quotes and hurriedly-bound compendium of reviews of his works, as well as souvenirs.
As Achebe himself once said: “A man’s life from birth to death is a series of transition rites which brings him nearer and nearer to his ancestors.” This perhaps explained why world personalities gathered to celebrate Achebe with tributes as part of his transition rites in Awka.
The body lay in state in the middle of the square and was surrounded by Achebe’s kinsmen adorned in their traditional regalia with red caps to match.
At the venue to witness the solemn tributes anchored by the actor Bob Manuel Udokwu were Chris Odom; Professor Joneta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC; Prof. Scott of Penguin Books; and Professor Whelan of the University of Cambridge in the UK, who represented the Archbishop of Canterbury.
There were also members of the Achebe family comprising his widow Prof. Christie Achebe and his children, Dr. Ike Achebe, Prof. Chinelo Achebe, Dr. Chidi Achebe and Prof. Nwando Achebe.
In his glowing tribute to the deceased, Scott described the late writer as a very great man of letters, whose works have had a succession of influence across generations of writers.
He noted particularly the influence of Achebe’s first three books: Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, and No Longer At Ease, which he described as a “trilogy of African literature”, stressing that “I have not seen other books or writers that have been so studied and reprinted like Achebe and his works.
Among other personalities that witnessed the Awka ceremony were the Senate Leader, Senator Ndoma Egba, who led other senators, namely: Senators Uche Chukwumerije, Mohammed Magoro and Ngige to represent the senate.
The Anglican Bishop of Awka, Rt. Rev. Alex Ibezim, in his opening prayer, said with the death of Achebe, things have fallen apart and Nigerians should pray for the mercy of God.
According to the Bishop, “Achebe’s death is a celebration of life because he achieved so much for humanity. It is however sad in a way because we will no longer see him, and this is painful.”
To the traditional ruler of Ndikelionwu Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, himself a renowned author, Achebe neither benefited from any godfather, nor participated in the looting of the public treasury, but worked hard to become an international figure.
Chairman of Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU) Dr. Innocent Onwubuya, described Achebe as both a traditional person, having been the president general of Ogidi Town Union and an academician who had done the nation proud.
Others who paid tribute to Achebe included Prof. Laz Ekwueme; President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Prof. Remi Raji; Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe Univerisity, Prof. Boniface Egboka; former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili; and Mr. Chike Momah, who was Achebe’s classmate, both at Government College, Umuahia and University College, Ibadan.
The Anambra State governor, in his speech, commended Nigerians for according the literary icon the respect he deserves. He said Achebe’s personality towered so high that no fewer than 12 heads of state sent condolence messages to him after his death and urged Nigerians to emulate his lifestyle.
To Obi, the writer had done his beat and that if there is heaven, “Achebe will definitely be there because he ran his race so well”.