Black Boy Review

Thoughts on Achebe (by Chijioke Ngobili)


What does Achebe think or what was he thinking when and while he wrote many of his works that pointed at the then Nigeria’s messy future, which is now? What were his thoughts when he wrote that pamphlet-like novel he called “CHIKE AND THE RIVER”? What lessons was he teaching when he used that ‘very bad boy’ called ‘Ezekiel’ and other favorite characters like the famous Chike, S.M.O.G and others, together with the circumstances surrounding them? And if there were lessons he taught – if they were learned too – were/are they true about the then future and now present Nigeria he may have referred to? And if the answers to the above are more in the affirmative than in the negative, could it then be that Achebe was chosen by NATURE for the job of ‘predictive prophecy or prophetic prediction’ about/on Nigeria?

By the way, who is HE? Does Achebe think himself less or lesser; great or greater? Who or what does he think of himself – when surely – his brains would never again be able to conceive those ‘fictitious and non-fictitious stories’ that mean different things to different people; his fingers unable to type or write or even handle his sword – the pen; and his ‘four’ eyes unable to see and edit those ‘fearless and daring’ pieces he’d always written about Nigeria un-apologetically? Yes, I’m asking too much and even overreaching myself by doing so, but you or he (Achebe) will never have me apologize for doing so by the end of this discourse. I bet you!


“Ezekiel”, wrote Achebe (on page 16 of CHIKE AND THE RIVER), “had ‘somehow’ got hold of the names of the three boys in England who wanted Nigerian pen-friends. He wrote them asking one to send him money, another to send him camera and the third to send him a pair of shoes. He drew a pattern of his right foot on a piece of paper and sent it along. He promised each of the boys a leopard-skin in return. Of course he had no intention of fulfilling the promise. For one thing he had never seen a leopard-skin in his life. After a month he received a ten-shilling postal order from one of the boys. He showed it to his mother and she called him ‘Clever Boy’ which was one of the many fond names she had given him. Then she took him to the Post Office to cash the postal order. Ezekiel told his friends at school about his exploits and they were highly impressed. ‘Tough Boy! Tough Boy!’ was shouted on all sides. The same day many other boys rushed off letters to England……what did he want a leopard-skin for? English people must be crazy, thought Chike”.

Achebe continued his tale (on page 17 of CHIKE AND THE RIVER): “…One day at school the headmaster called Ezekiel out and took him to his office…Then the school bell rang and classes stopped. The headmaster, stern and full of anger, spoke to the school. ‘I have just received a letter from the headmaster of a school in England’, he said and held up a blue letter for all to see. ‘The content of this letter has filled me with shame’, he continued. ‘I did not know that among us here are thieves and robbers, wolves in sheep’s clothing…Think of the bad name you have given to Nigeria, your motherland’, he said and the whole school sighed. ‘Think how the school in England will always remember Nigeria as a country of liars and thieves…Some of you will go to study in England when you grow up. What do you think will happen to you there? I will tell you. As soon as you open your mouth and say you come from Nigeria everybody will hold fast to his purse. Is that a good thing?”

“Is this Ngobili mildly going nuts or what? What’s he driving at?” you may mutter. Please, permit me to guide and take you along with me, friend.

My hunch has mainly been on my generation (‘the helplessly hopeless’, you remember?), and how to identify the ‘disjoints’ we suffer so that, not only would the ‘bones’ be strongly re-joined, but also the future and possible ‘disjoints’ would be easily spotted and mended back again anytime. And if this is my delight and passion, why would I not have to TAKE ACHEBE ON now when I can do so?

I should be naughty – at this age – to have read a novel many of my mates have read many years ago, and which presently is meant for primary school kids. But, I happened to be re-reading the little-mighty novel after so many years; this time, with an older mind, with a more mature imaginative sense and with a more experiential analysis.

On reading pages 16 & 17 of that novel, I saw myself re-reading it over and over again. And one folder of pictures – just ONE picture folder about our present day Nigeria struck and GOT stuck on my mind. The folder had Achebe’s “Ezekiel” and his wily acts representing the YAHOO-YAHOO BOYS AND YAHOO-YAHOO SYNDROME that has become the chosen ‘vocation’ of many of my generation’s members.

“Ezekiel’s mother” was another pix in the folder; she represented some of our parents who – out of the frustration of their graduated children’s joblessness – can’t but support or look the other way when they see them brandishing some questionable and obscene wealth.

On a lighter note, I saw ABDUL-MUTALLAB FAROUK’s insolence in the ‘blue letter’ written by the ‘English headmaster’. You remember Mutallab, the suicide bomber, don’t you?

And the last but not the least is that ‘cross of living with a bad image abroad’, which Achebe via the ‘headmaster’ predictably lamented on, and which we are now forced to live with outside these shores.
You must have left these shores – perhaps, to Europe, Asia or even some saner African nations, or your relations have done so. You have experienced and have known that ‘burden’ of a bad image than I’d do, haven’t you? Is Achebe not vindicated 40sth years after, having seen that messy future and called our minds to it in a little-mighty novel he christened ‘CHIKE AND THE RIVER’? I pray I’d be able to make you see that folder and the pictorial contents exactly as I saw them, and even more.

TO WANNA TAKE A WHOLE ACHEBE ON? Me? A little brat. An imp who has no ‘fear’ for a ‘grandfather’. Would I be able to withstand the littlest of his ‘pebbles’, should he decide to fling a few or even one at me? Come what may, I’m already doing that and won’t stop off either!
Seriously, I should be doing so because I strongly believe that “Achebe’s LEGEND hasn’t started; it is yet to!”

If History would remember me and my opinionated reflections on Chinua Achebe, it may get to re-echo me that: JUST LIKE AMERICA’S ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S LEGEND ROSE CENTURIES AFTER HIS DEATH; JUST LIKE SHAKESPEARE’S LEGEND KEPT TOUCHING THE SKY CENTURIES AFTER HIS DEATH, SO TOO WILL OUR OWN CHINUA ACHEBE’S LEGEND RISE HIGHER THAN WE MAY EVEN IMAGINE HUNDREDS OF YEARS AFTER HE MUST HAVE BOWED OUT. If only you’d be here strong and alive in the next 100-200 years, you’d be embarrassed at how the unborn generations would be enlightening you on the Achebe they never witnessed, but who you did witness. I don’t know about you, but as for me, I must have to explore, exploit and learn from what I have while I can. How I wish you – my generation members – would be able to do same!

A good number of us can join me and TAKE ACHEBE ON, because it’s going to serve us and help our historical senses, which we are fast losing both by commission and omission. A good number of Achebe’s works, had always called our attentions to Nigeria’s ‘dangerous futures’, which Achebe himself mostly lived to see materialize, even as nothing was done to avert the omen. Tell you? We shan’t and can’t be through with the ‘human mystery’ called Chinua Achebe and his burden with Nigeria and Africa at large, just in one piece. Never!

I’m always awed and overwhelmed whenever I read and reflect on the many lines of the many works Achebe’s done. Achebe may not know it and he must not know it either – that he is bigger than himself – following what I’ve always believed NATURE laid upon his shoulders about Nigeria and Africa. You can still remember I called it – and it is – ‘to predictively prophesy or to prophetically predict’ about Nigeria and Africa’s paths. You see why I can hardly relax about a man whose words could have one thing or the other to do with the humanity, of which you and I share. Tell me I shouldn’t TAKE HIM ON, will you still ably do that?

To paraphrase the man in his ‘THINGS FALL APART’; “…since eneke the bird has learnt to fly without perching, the hunter has learnt to shoot without missing”. I can’t resist the urge to discuss Achebe, since he has accepted from his ‘gods’ a role that will affect my life while he does it. (Smiles…)

Professor Chinualumogu (formerly baptized ‘Albert’) Achebe is a great man, not just because he answered some questions and proffered some solutions to different Nigeria’s myriad of problems, but because – to me – he posed some questions to the younger generations, yet, hiding the answers smartly, such that the smart ones would find them, and the not-smart ones would be challenged to be smart too. Of course, as you and I know – he does it in a very simple and plain language, while retaining the hydra-headed meaning under the surface. Chinua is really a glorious mankind! He’s not an ordinary writer and he’s said it in a way. His ‘extra-ordinariness’ isn’t necessarily in his achievements, but somehow in the blessings of his Creator. Wrote Achebe in his recently-published ‘THERE WAS A COUNTRY’: “…I’ve been extraordinarily lucky”. That’s not untrue either!

Meanwhile, this is necessarily not a eulogy to Achebe; it is just a way of re-opening our minds to the things we can still richly savor while we can, so that we don’t regret why we lost the opportunity. In his many works, Achebe calls on us – the younger generation – to come and learn the ideals, the stories, the ‘high’-stories, and the African philosophy upon which we can build the true and lasting ideologies that would enable us correct the present anomalies, and leave our own good legacies for tomorrow’s Nigeria and Nigerians.

Now, educate me; could Chinua Achebe be a ‘prophetic predictor’ or a ‘predictive prophet’, or even both? I hunger to be taught!

December 23, 2012

(CHIJIOKE NGOBILI is a Nigerian social and political writer.)

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5 Responses

  1. This is great. I believe Achebe to be endowed with the ability to write about the present and future acts though he{Chinua} may not know. He is a pride to Africa, Nigeria and man kind at large and his works of art muct live after him. Kudos to u.

  2. This quite stimulating. Chijioke you are another pen man to watch. You are full of wise saws and modern instances. I read this piece without a pinch of salt. Your intellect is whole and consummate. Thanks jaree.

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