Posts tagged with Nigeria

Interview with Bayo Omolola regarding the writer Chinua Achebe and Nigeria photograph photograph by Lawrence Morgan

Bayo Omolola is interviewed on Chinua Achebe, poet from Nigeria

Bayo Omolola is a Nigerian living in the United States. He has taught languages, communication, and literature for many years in the United States, Nigeria, and The Gambia. When I heard of Chinua Achebe’s death, I contacted Bayo regarding Chinua Achebe and his importance to Nigerians, Africans and the world. Bayo’s responses are presented below:

“I had read about Professor Chinua Achebe’s death in the Sahara Desert before I received your message asking me for a chance of an interview on the African literary giant who left for the world beyond. I think Sahara Desert was the first newspaper to publish the story. Achebe was a great African writer whose works with peculiar African worldviews and expressions have been translated into many different languages. His writings are being read by students and scholars at different levels of education in many countries and on all continents today.

“However, towards the end of his life he made a comment which many educated Nigerians, particularly the Yoruba, perceived as an attack against their ethnic nation and leader, Obafemi Awolowo. The comment suggests that Achebe was tribalistic and unfair in the evaluation of the role the Yoruba leader played in the Biafra War when the Igbo ethnic nation attempted to carve out another republic in Nigeria in 1966-1970. I would say Achebe envisaged the controversial nature his writing could ignite when in his work, Anthills of the Savannah, he says, “Writers don't give prescriptions. They give headaches!”

Perhaps he knew his writing would annoy his readers, perhaps he knew he would make a case that many of his audience would argue about, react to and get furious about. “The pestle and mortal makers have done their carving; it is now left for the critics to do their work on what has been carved,” goes a Yoruba proverb.


Back to the Biafra story - of course, the Republic of Biafra, in a way, existed temporarily by force for three years! The Igbo’s attempt failed, and Odumegwu Ojukwu, the head of the aborted republic, fled into his exile; thus he lived in Cote D’Ivoire until the Shehu Shagari-led Federal Government granted him a pardon in the Second Republic in Nigeria.

I was very young then

“During the war, many Igbo died and the federal troops in Nigeria also lost many lives. I was very young then. My town, which was not close to the war zone, was filled with fear. We were frequently told to hide in “escape holes” dug in different locations in case the war extended to our vicinity. We were conscious of danger, close to it psychologically but far away from it physically. Only young, strong, physically healthy people were being forced to join the military. Army trucks and seized vehicles would drive into different cities, towns and villages to get the ones that could fight - the ones that could be turned into new military recruits for the federal side.

“Nigeria survived, but the monster, which perhaps contributed to starting the Biafra War, has never left the country. Perhaps this is why the country which appears to be one has too visible diversities and seems to be walking on two opposing legs. One living, slim leg moves the country forward slowly and the other -the heavy, clumsy, robust, terrible leg filled with the monsters -twists the country’s forward-moving, slim leg and makes it wobble along the country’s path to development.

“As concerned, honesty, and hardworking Nigerians struggle to free the country from the claws of satanic elements so that the country can witness beautiful days as soon as possible, unfortunately Chinua Achebe is physically no more. He was one of the few Nigerians thinking the situation should be normal.

He will not be around to see any glorious Nigeria in the future if any will come, if Nigeria will not be dismantled by the forces of darkness which seem to have towered over it. What many Nigerians now have are doubts and dreams and doubts and dreams of doubts.


“Achebe passed away when another serious monster, BOKOHARAM, which started its tough, satanic march on Northern Nigeria has claimed many lives and property and made waves in the South-South, the East, and the South-West of the country. He passed away exactly at the time when the Federal Government of Nigeria felt corruption deserved forgiveness, when more looters were made to dream of escaping from the long harm of justice. Although the situation is not normal in Nigeria now, Achebe lived there before moving to America, made positive contributions in many communities, and helped to polish the image of Nigeria at home and abroad.

Much to learn from Achebe

“He is a literary hero and a fearless writer whose African culture, Igbo culture in particular, remains the stylus which makes his literary contributions distinct. Each of his writings is filled with African philosophical sayings and words of wisdom. Oral tradition often echoes messages that Achebe wants for his audience.

For example, in Things Fall Apart, this popular quotation "Thank you. He who brings kola brings life. But I think you ought to break it," expresses the common ground that a community must have to achieve cohesion and orderliness. In a way, the expression can be interpreted to mean that people should not just talk about peace; they should back up their speeches or promises with appropriate actions. Of course, it can be applied to the situation in which the government just talks but lacks appropriate actions.

Chinua Achebe will live on

“The rest of the world has so many ideas to learn from the works of Chinua Achebe. With rich African philosophical expressions and worldviews that preserve traditions and natural environment and people’s cultural ideologies. Achebe will make the peoples of America, Japan, Indian, China, Europe and other countries to learn beyond their enclaves or periscopes.

Achebe’s works deliver Africa to peoples’ and nations’ corridors. With admiration for Achebe’s works globally - especially in high schools and colleges - I hope that the big names in movie productions, in different countries, such as Hollywood in America, will take interest in converting Achebe’s novels into movies. The global village should not be limited to information via the Internet.

“Besides high schools and colleges, libraries in the United States and in other countries should have copies of Achebe’s works for researchers or curious readers. With his works, the reading public will have the opportunity to acquire cross-fertilization of ideas and be able to develop their inter-cultural and cross-cultural communication skills.

Now that the literary giant has fallen apart, his literary contributions should remain solid and remain so in many centuries ahead. “May his soul rest in peace! Adieu, Professor Chinua Achebe!”

bossip photograph

bossip photograph by Lawrence Morgan

Wikipedia has a good article on Chinua Achebe's background;

Quotations from Achebe's work

Following are some quotes from Chinua Achebe and his work. If you don't know his work, now is the time to select a book and to start reading. If a high school or college doesn't have his work in the library, donate the money for one or more of his books of your choice.

“While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.”

― Anthills of the Savannah

“If you don't like someone's story, write your own.”

“Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am - and what I need - is something I have to find out myself.”

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

- Things Fall Apart

“To me, being an intellectual doesn't mean knowing about intellectual issues; it means taking pleasure in them.”

“We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n'ani ji onwe ya: "He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.”

- The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays

“Charity . . . is the opium of the privileged.”

- Anthills of the Savannah

“My weapon is literature.”

“There is no story that is not true, [...] The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others.”

- Things Fall Apart

“One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised. ”

“When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.”

hindustan times photograph

hindustan times photograph by Lawrence Morgan

“Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit -- in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.”

- Anthills of the Savannah

“People create stories create people; or rather stories create people create stories.”

“Mr. Brown had thought of nothing but numbers. He should have known that the kingdom of God did not depend on large crowds. Our Lord Himself stressed the importance of fewness. Narrow is the way and few the number. To fill the Lord's holy temple with an idolatrous crowd clamoring for signs was a folly of everlasting consequence. Our Lord used the whip only once in His life - to drive the crowd away from His church.”

- Things Fall Apart

“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.”

- Things Fall Apart

“Then listen to me,' he said and cleared his throat. 'It's true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother's hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme. Is it right that you, Okonkwo, should bring your mother a heavy face and refuse to be comforted? Be careful or you may displease the dead. Your duty is to comfort your wives and children and take them back to your fatherland after seven years. But if you allow sorrow to weigh you down and kill you, they will all die in exile.”

- Things Fall Apart

“...when we are comfortable and inattentive, we run the risk of committing grave injustices absentmindedly.”

-The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays

“There is no story that is not true.”

- Things Fall Apart

“Oh, the most important thing about myself is that my life has been full of changes. Therefore, when I observe the world, I don’t expect to see it just like I was seeing the fellow who lives in the next room. There is this complexity which seems to me to be part of the meaning of existence and everything we value.”

“Privilege, you see, is one of the great adversaries of the imagination; it spreads a thick layer of adipose tissue over our sensitivity.”

- Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays

guardian uk photograph

guardian uk photograph by Lawrence Morgan

“Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings.”

-Things Fall Apart

“When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk”

-Things Fall Apart

“Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness.

It was deeper and more intimate the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw.

Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself.”

- Things Fall Apart

“Do not despair. I know you will not despair. You have a manly and a proud heart. A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride. It is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone.”

- Things Fall Apart

“It is only the story...that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather, it is the story that owns us.”

- Anthills of the Savannah

“Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”

- Things Fall Apart

“It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have - otherwise their surviving would have no meaning.”

“The impatient idealist says: 'Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth.' But such a place does not exist. We all have to stand on the earth itself and go with her at her pace.”

- No Longer at Ease

“A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness”

“It is the story that owns and directs us. It is the thing that makes us different from cattle; it is the mark on the face that sets one people apart from their neighbors.”

- Anthills of the Savannah

“Ogbuef Ezedudu,who was the oldest man in the village, was telling two other men when they came to visit him that the punishment for breaking the Peace of Ani had become very mild in their clan. "It has not always been so," he said. "My father told me that he had been told that in the past a man who broke the peace was dragged on the ground through the village until he died. but after a while this custom was stopped because it spoiled the peace which it was meant to preserve.”

- Things Fall Apart

“...Nothing puzzles God”

- Civil Peace

“Writing has always been a serious business for me. I felt it was a moral obligation. A major concern of the time was the absence of the African voice. Being part of that dialogue meant not only sitting at the table but effectively telling the African story from an African perspective - in full earshot of the world.”

- There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra

“The triumph of the written word is often attained when the writer achieves union and trust with the reader, who then becomes ready to be drawn into unfamiliar territory, walking in borrowed literary shoes so to speak, toward a deeper understanding of self or society, or of foreign peoples, cultures, and situations.”

-There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra

“Unoka went into an inner room and soon returned with a small wooden disc containing a kola nut, some alligator pepper and a lump of white chalk.

"I have kola," he announced when he sat down, and passed the disc over to his guest.

"Thank you. He who brings kola brings life. But I think you ought to break it," replied Okoye passing back the disc.

"No, it is for you, I think," and they argued like this for a few moments before Unoka accepted the honor of breaking the kola. Okoye, meanwhile, took the lump of chalk, drew some lines on the floor, and then painted his big toe.”

-Things Fall Apart

“A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing”

“That we are surrounded by deep mysteries is known to all but the incurably ignorant.”

“People from different parts of the world can respond to the same story if it says something to them about their own history and their own experience.”

- There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra

“Africa is people" may seem too simple and too obvious to some of us. But I have found in the course of my travels through the world that the most simple things can still give us a lot of trouble, even the brightest among us: this is particularly so in matters concerning Africa.”

- The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays

“Those whose kernels were cracked by benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.”

thescooping photograph

thescooping photograph by Lawrence Morgan

“Procrastination is a lazy man's apology.”

- Anthills of the Savannah

“What I can say is that it was clear to many of us that an indigenous African literary renaissance was overdue. A major objective was to challenge stereotypes, myths, and the image of ourselves and our continent, and to recast them through stories- prose, poetry, essays, and books for our children. That was my overall goal.”

- There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra

“...Let me say that I do think decency and civilization would insist that the writer take sides with the powerless. Clearly, there's no moral obligation to write in any particular way. But there is a moral obligation, I think, not to ally oneself with power against the powerless. I think an artist, in my definition of that word, would not be someone who takes sides with the emperor against his powerless subjects.”

“In the vocabulary of certain radical theorists contradictions are given the status of some deadly disease to which their opponents alone can succumb. But contradictions are the very stuff of life. If there had been a little dash of contradiction among the Gadarene swine some of them might have been saved from drowning.”

- Anthills of the Savannah

“When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so. [...] But I fear for you young people because you do not understand how strong is the bond of kinship. You do not know what it is to speak with one voice. And what is the result? An abominable religion has settled among you. A man can now leave his father and his brothers. He can curse the gods of his fathers and his ancestors, like a hunter's dog that suddenly goes mad and turns on his master. I fear for you; I fear for the clan.”

“I believe in the complexity of the human story and that there’s no way you can tell that story in one way and say, This is it. Always there will be someone who can tell it differently depending on where they are standing; the same person telling the story will tell it differently. I think of that masquerade in Igbo festivals that dances in the public arena. The Igbo people say, If you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place. The masquerade is moving through this big arena. Dancing. If you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace. So you keep moving, and this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told—from many different perspectives.”

“Paradoxically, a saint like [Albert] Schweitzer can give one a lot more trouble than King Leopold II, villain of unmitigated guilt, because along with doing good and saving African lives Schweitzer also managed to announce that the African was indeed his brother, but only his junior brother.”

-The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays

I wish to thank you, Bayo Omolola, for this interview!

shelf-life.ew photograph

shelf-life.ew photograph by Lawrence Morgan