By Toyin Falola
The process, methodology, and documentation of life writing will forever flourish across all ages and eras. Nowadays, content creation, documentation through social media platforms, and recording of our daily lives through reality TV shows have rapidly increased. The thirst and longing to know more about people’s lives and how we keep tabs on their everyday life through blogs, photographs, tweets, and Instagram and Facebook posts remain fascinating. In the past, posting letters and sending postcards were more popular for keeping a record of one’s life. However, this is not to dismiss or raise one above the other but to demonstrate that both traditional and digital modes are valid forms of autoethnography, with biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies having produced some very fascinating writings in various languages.
The Letterman, written by Musikilu Mojeed, brings back the thrill of reading letters through the character of a complex man Aremu Okikiola Matthew Olusegun Obasanjo, a General, President, and Chief. The collation of Obasanjo’s letters exchanged with notable people over the years has enabled Mojeed to significantly contribute to the field of Life Writing in our National Archives and helped to reveal the tensions and intentions of major political players in Nigeria, Africa, and the world at large.
Reading the last two sentences of the Preface of The Letterman—“It is left for you, the readers, to say if my efforts make some sense or otherwise. Whatever your verdict, I am grateful.”—forms the foundation of my thoughts and allows me to debunk the widespread belief that the epistolary work of art is outdated, especially in how the book has pushed the boundaries of service, national unity, nationhood, personhood, citizenship, and patriotism. By seeking objective criticism from the start of the book, Mojeed has successfully nudged the readers to dive into the journey of a complex character in Nigeria’s history by reading different letters to different people in different capacities.
Upon reading the book’s array of letters, I considered whether to adopt letter writing as a form of communication in this swift digital age. I also thought that, perhaps, there should be an annual or lifetime award for the best letter writer in the country. At that moment, I stopped fawning over the content and style of President Obasanjo’s letters to acknowledge the contributions of the journalist, lawyer, and one-time minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Tony Momoh. His consistent letters to stakeholders in the country about the economic and political spheres were later compiled as a book titled Letters to my Countrymen. In as much as Momoh’s letters were more of a service work, Obasanjo’s letters in terms of approach, message, diction, audience, tone, and mood significantly differ from the former. Also, Mojeed notes the ease and natural indulgence of Obasanjo’s love for letter writing, which he catalogues at the Presidential Library at Abeokuta. Through the letters, readers can walk on a journey into Obasanjo’s life and dive into his psychology and phenomenology.
Surprisingly, there are only a few attempts to write Obasanjo’s biography and walk through the complex mind of this enigma. Therefore, The Letterman is unique. Mojeed has consciously and unconsciously crafted a fascinating window for the public to see the famous one-time military Head of State and later a democratically-elected President of Nigeria, and in so doing, allowing the readers and, by extension, the public to funnel through the character and traits of the so-called complex man. This has excitingly opened new ways to see and study the man in many remarkable points.
Mojeed has aroused a new interest in the art of letter writing, which is so dear to Obasanjo, and the current men in service and governance can adopt this method of communication to reach a larger audience. Throughout the book, readers can decipher that letters can reveal a whole lot about the individual’s personality, and the deep and personal connection of the art of letter writing brings the element of believability to a whole new level. I believe Mojeed must have motivated other writers and biographers to take the initiative to invest in the portraiture of notable people in government administration, which makes it surprising that there is no visible attempt to publish a biography on Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. I hope Mojeed’s The Letterman will be the catalyst for documenting the enigma.
While reviewing this book, the overall plan is to survey the author and his ingenious art based on the series of letters compiled in the book, which are as complex in content and style as the writer’s character traits. Mojeed notes that these letters, by the subject, date back to Obasanjo’s life as a young adult—he even wrote to his mother on two different dates in February 1952. Based on this information and the organization of the various letters in The Letterman, readers are assured that the book will be a pleasing read and an adventurous one on the life of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the Elder statesman, thereby opening a web on his life and experiences.
I will not be overreaching by stating that The Letterman is more about understanding the subject’s psychology. Just like the glass prism experiment in Physics, I am going to trace the path of the rays of light by viewing the different colours and how they travel differently, and, as a result, view these letters revolving around different subjects and covered in 25 chapters. The 130 unpublished letters in the 462-page book will be viewed through a prism to understand the man with a coat of many colours. Thus, I will combine the elements of the timing of the letters, the range of people he wrote them to, the structure, and the historical importance of these letters as accurately assembled by Mojeed in the book.
Like every successful individual has been termed complex, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has had his fair share of criticisms from society, but with these letters, Mojeed has opened up the traits of the subject as a patriot, hero, and realist, including his flaws and shortcomings. Deluging with images written from different emotions, I will review this book by focusing on the letters Obasanjo wrote during the military regime and letters to former presidents and citizens. The focus will be on each letter’s tone, diction, purpose, and efficacy at the time they were written. This complicates the subject’s character and the lens through which the populace views him on his legacies on nationhood and Nigerian unity.
Drawing insights from the Foreword of the book, written by the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the art of letter writing is deeply embedded and stitched into the fabric of Obasanjo’s experiences and times. The readers get an idea that the letters are strictly straight to the point, unbiased, and critical to the various addressees, with the subject’s emotions brewing as we read the letters. Following this, we sense that the subject is a patriotic and passionate man with a strong-willed personality who pushes his thoughts to the letter regardless of the individual he is addressing.
Chapter One and Chapter Two of The Letterman unmask and slightly give the readers a tip of the iceberg on what to expect. The author opens up with a series of famous letters written to President Goodluck Jonathan, Ibikunle Amosun, Ayo Fayose, Bola Tinubu, and even the subject’s daughter, Iyabo Obasanjo. In doing so, the author whets our appetite for what is to come and reminds the readers about how highly critical and openly truthful Obasanjo is. The second chapter demonstrates the psyche and history of Obasanjo’s letters over his years in public service for about 50 years, which helps to corroborate this and solidify the idea that letter writing is natural to him.
Mojeed notes that Obasanjo “wrote diligently to his predecessors, contemporaries and successors in the various offices he held since 1969.” Tracing this historical catalogue, Mojeed notes that the art of letter writing is a family thing as it is ingrained in his DNA. Mojeed is observant enough to come across and read a letter to Obasanjo’s mother; however, he does not have duplicates for his family. Mojeed notes that after reading several letters by Obasanjo, he understood that Obasanjo’s life is tough, especially for a man who places his personality and image on the line by constantly speaking his mind and standing by it. Nevertheless, Mojeed still notes the flaws as Obasanjo admits his mistakes and that he has offended top personalities through his letters.
The highlight of the second chapter, which I find fascinating and phenomenal, is Mojeed’s attempt to break down Obasanjo’s persona into such categories as outspokenness, patriotism, record keeping, transparency, appreciation, and kindness. These character traits are assembled based on the series of letters that Mojeed read, and I see them as an embodiment of the communitarian spirit and the ability to see oneself in others, which the idea of service to humanity and strengthening bonds are all about and what Obasanjo seeks to achieve with his various letters. In one of his letters to General Adeyinka, he espouses these compliments and traits the author accords him in Item 3, which reads thus: “I have honour and respect for myself and I would rather be dead than sell my self-respect and honour or soil my name for a pot of porridge. I will not like to be used for self-building-up or for showing false self importance.” This paragraph is fascinating partly due to his language and effective choice of words to state his unbiased nature. Also, one of his letters, dated August 4, 1970, written as a newly appointed GOC to replace Adekunle in 1970, shows how transparent Obasanjo is: “I want to express to you my reactions to the great disappointment that I experienced from you during my last trip to Port Harcourt. It so touched me that I had to mention it to Olu Aboderin, who in turn explained to me that it was not a deliberate act.”
Following the trend of the letters and the author’s categorization, it is significant to understand how gratitude and respect are portrayed. There is no gainsaying the fact that Obasanjo’s deep and intimate belief in God was majorly shaped by his times in prison. To put this into perspective, after he was released from prison, he wrote and published two books: This Animal Called Man and Women of Virtue: Stories of Outstanding Women in the Bible. These books affirmed his faith and showed that the letters he wrote while in prison were kinder in tone. Obasanjo wrote to family, friends, staff and associates, and according to Mojeed, the jail letters give us a view into “Obasanjo’s roles as a parent, boss, church lay person and friend, despite the prison experience.”
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In his long letter under the chapter “Letters from Jail,” Obasanjo wrote about the African Leadership Forum, the economy, and family. The tone of the letter seems sombre and empathetic and shows how the subject was seeing to the need of others despite being in confinement. The letter’s last paragraph shows a different Obasanjo: “The plans made so far for everything should carry us through my first year of imprisonment. My greatest handicap is that I don’t know what Ayo has received and what he has done with them. For instance, I want to know if he received my letter to my bank manager in New York for Ramana’s salary. Has he also received the parcel of mosquito coil and diabinese? Let him tell me.” Notably, the diction of the letter exudes everyday language in the way it infuses pidgin and jokes, compared to the more critical and serious tone of other letters that I will review later.
Other letters in the chapter reveal that Obasanjo wrote kind and thoughtful letters to birthday celebrants among his friends and associates. For instance, in a letter dated March 3, 1998, he commended Tunji Kolapo, who later became a High Commissioner, and Onaolapo Soleye, ex-minister of finance. Chapter 15, however, contradicts the calmness and respect shown in the previous one. It showcases the explosive letter written to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Plateau State, in which Obasanjo, in a burst of anger at a question about how he addressed the issues of the killings of Christians and Muslims in Plateau State, retorted “CAN my foot!” The harsh tone of his letters to the religious body seems controversial during his presidency, after the memorable thanksgiving organized for him at his swearing-in ceremony in May 1999. However, we cannot deny Obasanjo’s ability to respect religious bodies and the value systems of goodness that he commands and inspires.
The former president’s ideas of self-respect, gratitude, and love are well-espoused in his love letters to international celebrities: Serena Williams and Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha. The letters to these superstars allow the readers to see the compassionate, father-figure, and national leadership side of Obasanjo. The letter to Serena Williams shows Obasanjo’s respect and admiration for exemplary youth who are blazing the trail in their fields of endeavour. He writes in the opening lines of the letter thus: “The people of Nigeria have followed your progress in the game of tennis. You have brought joy to millions, especially in this country, not only by your achievements on the tennis court, but also by your exemplary good conduct on and off the court.”
In the same vein, Obasanjo’s letter to Jay-Jay Okocha, which he wrote to admonish him and persuade him not to retire from the national team, is filled with empathy, gratitude, love, and respect for the Nigerian Super Eagle’s attacking midfielder. The line in the letter to Okocha: “Together, we must re-possess Nigeria’s winning soccer dominance in Africa and beyond”, shows Obasanjo’s passion for Nigeria and his desire for the nation to succeed. As a leader, Obasanjo wrote this letter to Okocha on the latter’s birthday, which exudes intimacy and a personal relationship. The diction and tone of the letter portray class, and words such as greatest, consistent, morale, winning, rebuilding, colleague, dominance, repossess, and meaningful all point to Obasanjo’s personal and national interest, which is enlightening and a sign of patriotism at its finest. It is remarkable that after this compassionate letter, Jay Jay Okocha returned and played for the Super Eagles for a few more years. Some letters did produce positive effects!
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Achebean Studies: A Tribute And A Syllabus
By Toyin Falola
On September 29 and 30, 2023, some of the most prominent names in the field of African literature will present papers at the Chinua Achebe International Symposium, which also doubles as the 10th memorial celebration of the late sage and central figure of African literature. There will be poetry reading, performances, hosting, and toasting to infuse dynamism and creativity into the feast. His Royal Majesty Igwe Alex Onyido, the Monarch of the Ogidi Kingdom, will be present in his royalty. There are also ambassadors, led by my good friend, Professor Abena Busia. Another major highlight of the event is the Keynote Speaker, His Excellency Peter Obi (now a household name), the recent presidential candidate of the Labour Party and the former Governor of Anambra State. Just as Nnamdi Azikiwe lent his name to the Zikist movement established in 1946, Obi has become an iconic figure of the “Obidient” movement. To Obidients worldwide, Peter should not allow the cock to crow three times!
As only the deep can call to the deep, only a scholar of Dr. Chika Okeke-Agulu’s calibre can organize a conference this expensive and elaborate. I am sure many already know Chika, but for those who are unfamiliar with him, his brief biography can be found at https://www.premiumtimesng.com/opinion/546722-chika-okeke-agulu-shining-the-spotlight-on-a-true-son-of-the-soil-by-toyin-falola.html?tztc=1. Chika’s leadership of the Africa World Initiative has been stellar and impressive, in addition to his incredible skill in partnering with the program in African Studies and The Christie and Chinua Achebe Foundation.
In my brief presentation on the occasion, which I am releasing now as no one knows tomorrow, I will direct my attention to the dialogue encompassing Achebe’s literary body of work within the framework of global literature to facilitate cross-cultural exchanges and create a platform for discourse that brings the eternal and universal essence of Achebe’s profound perspectives to the forefront. Next year, Bloomsbury will release my long book on this iconic figure, Chinua Achebe: Narrating Africa in Fictions and History. Nothing in this tribute anticipates my long book.
Africa, as we know, is a continent teeming with abundant diversity, intricate historical narratives, and deep intricacies. From the golden sands of the Sahara to the verdant rainforests of the Congo, from the vibrant streets of Lagos to the tranquil vistas of the Maasai Mara, our continent is a rich tapestry interwoven with a multitude of cultures, languages, and customs. However, amidst this kaleidoscope of diversity, a common thread exists that unites us all – our shared past and the guidance that has shaped it. The chronicle of African leadership is as ancient as the continent itself. It is a tale that spans millennia, from the time-honoured realms of Egypt, Mali, and Great Zimbabwe to contemporary nation-states.
Throughout this extensive chronicle, the art of guiding has played a pivotal and transformative role in shaping the course of our destinies, for better or worse. As we stand at the crossroads of a new era, we must thoroughly scrutinize the paths taken by our leaders, the obstacles they encounter, and the prospects that lie ahead. African leadership has emerged as a tapestry interwoven with contradictions in the postcolonial epoch. We have borne witness to visionary leaders who have ardently championed the cause of emancipation, ushering in waves of sanguinity and aspiration. However, we have also observed individuals who, cloaked in the guise of liberation, have fortified their positions of authority, often at the detriment of the same people they pledged to serve. This dichotomy, this inherent tension between the allure of leadership and its frequently tumultuous reality, constitutes the essence of our present discourse and aligns with the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Chinua Achebe’s provocative political treatise, The Trouble with Nigeria.
We honour the magnificent literary titan, Chinua Achebe, and commemorate his profound impact on the world. Hailing from the fertile lands of Nigeria, he was a guiding light for Africa, resonating far beyond its borders. Achebe’s brilliance extended far beyond his mere occupation as a writer; he was a masterful storyteller, a profound philosopher, and a protector of our collective memories. Through the eloquent rhythm of his prose, he infused vitality into the ancestral chronicles, painting vibrant tapestries that encapsulated our culture, traditions, and the essence of our shared humanity. The power wielded by Achebe’s pen surpassed that of any sword, challenging and dismantling colonial narratives while offering the world a glimpse into Africa’s soul. From the heart-wrenching downfall of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart to the intricate political entanglements of A Man of the People, Achebe masterfully captured the intricacies, magnificence, and hardships of a continent teetering on the precipice of transformation. However, beyond the pages of his novels, Achebe emerged as a champion of humanism. He embraced the profound value of each individual’s inherent dignity, the interconnectedness of our shared humanity, and the wondrous ability of narratives to bridge the gaps that divide us.
Prof. Chinua Achebe
In our celebration of Achebe, we do not merely pay tribute to a man but to a legacy—a legacy that serves as a poignant reminder of the potency of language, the significance of our cultural heritage, and the boundless opportunities that open up when we dare to follow our dreams. Although Achebe, the majestic Eagle perched upon the Iroko tree, may have taken his final bow, his tales, sagacity, and unconquerable spirit will eternally soar within the depths of our souls.
In the heart of Africa, a storyteller was born,
Achebe, the voice, when hope seemed forlorn.
With a pen as his spear and paper as his shield,
He painted our stories, and our wounds slowly healed.
From the banks of the Niger to the world’s vast expanse,
He sang of our heroes, our love, and our dance.
In tales of tradition, of gods and goddesses,
He echoed our struggles time and again.
Oh, Chinua, the sage, with wisdom so profound,
Through your words, our history will forever remain.
For in every line and every verse,
You captured our soul, the universe’s diverse.
A beacon of hope, a pillar so tall,
In the annals of time, your legacy won’t fall.
For as long as stories of Africa are told,
Your spirit, dear Achebe, will forever hold.
Rest, great bard, in the land of the free,
Your legacy lives on in hearts like the sea.
Achebe’s Discussions, Scholarships, and Interpolations
Following Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah’s brilliant views on the book The Trouble with Nigeria, he notes that Chinua Achebe expressed strong criticism of Nigeria’s insufficient road network, only to tragically become a victim of a life-altering accident on the same road. In Anthills of the Savannah, Achebe vividly portrays a ruthless military regime willing to sacrifice the citizens’ lives for its interests. According to Na’Allah, Achebe’s prophetic admonitions regarding the Nigerian political landscape remain pertinent, encompassing Nigeria and neighbouring nations. Despite a concise overview, this analysis necessitates attention due to Achebe’s multifaceted role as a political writer, essayist, and activist. Subsequent issues will delve into these facets. This significance arises from Achebe’s post-independence essays, novels, and poems, which offer a perspective through which the unfolding political events in postcolonial Nigeria can be comprehended.
Achebe’s reflections on the condition of postcolonial Africa are intricately intertwined with politics and aesthetics. This interaction constitutes the core of postcolonial aesthetics. As explored in this segment, examining the language matter, thoroughly studied by scholars and writers such as Owomoyela, Bamiro and Uwasomba, is an integral component of postcolonial identity. In “Postcolonial Adaptation and Appropriation in Chinua Achebe,” Anuradha Basu (2015) contends that Achebe’s literary works present postcolonialism as a means of resistance against the dehumanization of Africans. Nonetheless, as Olaniyan posits, Achebe’s approach is marked by moderate resistance, and he offers an alternative viewpoint on postcolonial politics and identity by employing Igbo aesthetics. In Arrow of God, Achebe metaphorically compares the world to a mask dance, and that remaining static deprives one of truly comprehending its essence. This symbolism embodies Achebe’s balanced position, indicating that the identity of postcolonial individuals should incorporate the consequences of historical events and conflicts between cultures, which profoundly impact African people’s psychological and social composition.
Achebe’s literary contributions have played an important role in the extensive collection of African literature that employs stylistic comparative methods by juxtaposing cultural elements from various origins. Central to his works is the examination of the challenges faced by African identity, both during and after interaction with Western cultures. Achebe’s narratives symbolize the profound impact of this encounter on African literature, as they are heavily influenced by the reactions of indigenous Africans to foreign ideologies and values. Nigeria’s complex tapestry of multi-ethnic divisions is a poignant backdrop to Achebe’s exploration of the obstacles to national unity. His writings act as mirrors that reflect the intricacies of the socio-cultural landscape of this nation. Presently, scholars engage with Achebe’s literary creations and the reflections embedded within them. This scholarly endeavour aims to evaluate the accuracy of Achebe’s portrayals and acknowledge any potential shortcomings in his representations.
Beyond this critical examination, the scholarly scrutiny of Achebe’s work is motivated by a desire to appreciate his enduring legacy and continued significance in the African literary panorama and on the continent. Both as a man and a writer, Achebe remains an enduring figure of interest within academia. Consequently, this intense focus on Achebe’s life and literary output has generated a rich research reservoir. These studies comprehensively analyze every facet of the Achebe phenomenon, providing valuable insights into the complexities of African identity and the evolution of African literature. Achebe’s contributions ignited a profound intellectual exploration that continues to shape our understanding of African cultures, identities, and the power of literature as a medium of reflection and transformation.
An Achebe-Inspired Proposal on New Waves and Directions on African Leadership
As we engage in discourse regarding leadership and statecraft in Nigeria and Africa, I am eager to present novel concepts, perspectives, and courses of action to this esteemed gathering. These ideas provide a distinctive framework to examine the intricate nature of African leadership, incorporating insights from historical circumstances and present-day trials.
- Neo-traditionalism in contemporary leadership
Although Africa boasts a wealth of historical traditional leadership structures, a noteworthy trend is emerging in which modern leaders embrace and adapt these conventional roles to consolidate their authority. This phenomenon of neo-traditionalism entails leaders embracing ancient titles and rituals, not necessarily to honour tradition but to authenticate their governance and appeal to cultural sensibilities. The implications of this trend on democratic processes and institutions in Africa could be profound, necessitating a more comprehensive investigation.
- The evolution of the “Big Man” syndrome
The “Big Man” syndrome, characterized by leaders wielding centralized power and influence, has been a recurring motif in African leadership. Nevertheless, with the advent of social media and the proliferation of globalized communication, some leaders now utilize these platforms to construct a more contemporary and accessible image while retaining their hold on centralized control. The existence of this duality–embodying the characteristics of a conventional “Big Man” while having the qualities of a contemporary, technology-savvy leader–poses an exceptional difficulty for both governing bodies and opposition movements.
- The role of women in African leadership
Throughout history, African leadership has predominantly been under the control and influence of the male gender. Nevertheless, there is a growing acknowledgement of the importance of women in assuming leadership positions, be it within the realm of politics or traditional settings. For instance, countries like Rwanda have remarkably progressed in this domain. This discourse could centre around the obstacles that female leaders encounter, the distinctive viewpoints they bring forth, and the societal transformations facilitating this paradigm shift.
- Postcolonial leadership and the shadow of the past
Following independence, several African leaders positioned themselves as emancipators, liberating their nations from the shackles of colonial domination. Nonetheless, several decades after independence, confident leaders still rely on their liberation credentials to retain their authority, frequently at the expense of democratic processes. The panel could explore the continued influence of colonialism on leadership styles and the expectations placed on leaders in the postcolonial era.
- Youth movements and the challenge to established leadership
Given that a considerable proportion of Africa’s populace is below 30, a discernible divide is emerging between the established leadership and the younger generation. Instances such as the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria and the protests in Sudan highlight the youth’s discontentment with the existing state of affairs and their yearning for transformation. The panel discussion may delve into the obstacles and prospects engendered by this demographic shift, the aspirations of the younger generation, and how the leadership can adapt and respond to these demands.
New Directions in Achebean Studies
Achebe, an eminent figure in African literature, has masterfully composed stories that depict the African encounter and reflect the intricacies of human societies. His literary creations, abundant in thematic profundity and narrative artistry, provide a rich fabric of discernment that is simultaneously profound and illuminating.
- The principle of balance in Achebe’s fiction: The recurring motif in Achebe’s literary works is the principle of balance, which manifests thematically and stylistically. A more intricate depiction emerges when examining the relationship between the direction of balance in Achebe’s fiction and its form and style. As Marjorie Winters notes, Achebe’s narrative style deviates from conventional English usage, introducing elements of “interest, variety, and emphasis.” Although these divergences momentarily impede the narrative’s progression, they contribute to a sense of equilibrium in sentence structure. Critics often interpret this stylistic equilibrium as indicative of “stateliness or formality.” Such a balanced stylistic approach is evident in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, with irregular sentences employed approximately one-third of the time, resulting in a distinctive rhythm and cadence.
- Ironies of balance: Achebe’s anthology Girls at War, presents diverse narratives that explore the societal shifts and transformations occurring in postcolonial Africa. While thematically bound, these stories testify to Achebe’s command of language and narrative techniques. In praising Achebe’s works, a literary critic has highlighted the notion of balance as a recurring aspect of his fiction. This balance can be observed in various dimensions, ranging from the balanced dualities of the Igbo worldview to the equitable evaluation of characters and situations elicited by his fiction. The stories within this collection, which include the depiction of the Biafran conflict and explorations of tradition and modernity, are imbued with a pervasive sense of equilibrium. However, this equilibrium is frequently tinged with irony, particularly in Achebe’s portrayal of the societal shifts and the erosion of traditional values.
- Achebe’s narrative techniques: Achebe’s use of narrative techniques extends beyond exploring themes; it exemplifies a masterful demonstration of narrative skill. His utilization of oral and literary narrative techniques results in the creation of a distinctive style of storytelling. This style, characterized by juxtaposing, adding, and aggregating various elements, provides equal significance to each narrative component, thus highlighting their importance.
- Embracing tradition and modernity: Achebe’s narratives frequently grapple with the inherent conflict between tradition and modernity. These stories place a considerable emphasis on practice and acknowledge the transformative influence of modernity. As one selected excerpt elucidates, “Despite the preoccupation with the thematic content of these stories, I propose that there exists an unnoticed quality within them: a peculiar and subversive manipulation of linguistic symbols, a manipulation that conventional notions of rationality, equilibrium, and moral order have tended to suppress.”
Drawing upon these insights, it is apparent that Achebe’s literary creations are not merely a mirror image of African societies but also a form of commentary on the human condition. His works offer readers a profound comprehension of the intricacies of life, culture, and history through their intricate fusion of theme and style. Therefore, scholars can uncover the layers of intricacy and subtlety that establish him as one of the most noteworthy writers of the 20th century by examining Achebe’s literary oeuvre through these critical perspectives. Such a multifaceted exploration will enhance the scholarly dialogue surrounding Achebe’s works and give students a more comprehensive understanding of the complexities of African literature and culture.
At this moment, I propose five new avenues that can be considered in the field of Achebean Studies, which could be advantageous in the Africana Studies curriculum.
Achebe’s critique of Eurocentrism
Achebe’s literary works, particularly Things Fall Apart, can be perceived as a direct response to European literature that inaccurately represents Africa, such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. A more in-depth analysis would entail dissecting Achebe’s narrative techniques undermining the Eurocentric perspective. This endeavour would require a critical examination of how Achebe reclaimed the African narrative, presenting an alternative history that challenges Western perceptions and stereotypes of Africa.
Gender dynamics in a changing society
Although women in his novels may appear subservient at first glance, a more meticulous examination uncovers layers of agency, resilience, and subversion, making his depiction of women multifaceted. A scholarly inquiry can concentrate on the nuanced methods through which women navigate the patriarchal structures of Igbo society, particularly in the presence of colonialism and Christianity. This exploration can illuminate the interconnectedness of gender, colonialism, and tradition.
The tragedy of Okonkwo: A comparative analysis
Okonkwo’s tragic descent can be juxtaposed with the tragic heroes of other civilizations, such as Oedipus or Hamlet. A comparative analysis can delve into the cultural aspects that mould these sad narratives, illuminating the widespread nature of specific human experiences and emphasizing the distinctive cultural contexts that shape them.
Language, power, and identity
Achebe’s decision to write in English while infusing his prose with Igbo proverbs and idioms is an important assertion of language and authority. A critical examination could concentrate on how language in Achebe’s literary works is not merely a means of communication but also a tool of opposition, assertion of identity, and preservation of culture. This will result in more extensive discussions on language politics in postcolonial societies.
The interplay of individual and community
Achebe’s characters often encounter tension between personal desires and communal obligations. A deeper analysis can focus on how Achebe portrays the intricate balance between individual agency and societal expectations. This will shed light on the broader theme of the individual versus society, a conflict that resonates across cultures and periods.
So, with reference to Nigeria, it is not surprising that the immediate consequence of the realistic portrayal and exposition of the inefficiencies of Nigerian politicians and the subtle condemnation of their pseudo-messianic tendencies by prominent post-independent African fiction will emerge. With the country’s increased political instability, African and Nigerian writers, historians, and political scholars have risen correspondingly, diligently delving into political systems, actively documenting unstable political occurrences, and significantly producing works in Administrative Studies. The primary motive and objective behind these professionals’ endeavours in Africa is to elucidate and hopefully raise awareness among the general public about the continent’s political predicaments and anticipate the inevitable instability, crises, and disorder within the African polities.
However, rather than explore the terrains of political scholars in understanding this phenomenon, the choice of focusing on Chinua Achebe is vital, partly because he is one of the foremost Nigerian writers to adequately present political crisis through many lenses from the military regime to war stories, and even democratic settings. Also, Achebe’s restriction to the Nigerian space is captivating, chiefly because of his universal depiction of the size, cultural complexity, and modes of operation unique to the nation, as well as criticizing the Nigerian government and giving voice and agency to citizens who suffered and were silenced by these forces of leadership.
Once again, congratulations to the distinguished Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu for hosting this major gathering. Thanks for organizing what will become conversations across time and space. I now rarely attend conferences except to deliver Keynote Addresses, but this is an invitation that I cannot decline from one of the world’s most prominent art historians, an activist, and also, by any measure, an iconic figure himself.
Toyin Falola’s New Book, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni And African Decolonial Studies, Explores Decoloniality Discourse
Prof. Toyin Falola’s new book, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni And African Decolonial Studies, is divided into 11 chapters:
Chapter 1: Introduction: Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s Decolonization Vision for the World
Chapter 2: Decolonization and Decoloniality
Chapter 3: Marxism and Decolonization
Chapter 4: Race and African Studies
Chapter 5: Africa’s Liberation
Chapter 6: Zimbabwe in History
Chapter 7: Mugabe and His Politics
Chapter 8: Militarism in Africa
Chapter 9: The Challenges of Higher Education
Chapter 10: Futurity
Chapter 11: An Epilogue: The Future of Decolonial Studies
This book considers the work of the preeminent scholar on decoloniality, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, as a means of examining the development of decoloniality discourse and considering the future direction of the African knowledge economy.
Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni has been instrumental in constructing theories and ideas necessary for advancing a decolonial system of education and epistemology. This book considers how Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s work has helped to shape our thinking both on Mugabe and the history of Zimbabwe, and beyond to the broader questions of race, liberation, higher education, and the future of decolonial studies. Renowned author Professor Toyin Falola then invites us to consider the dangers of continued repression of African epistemologies, and the enormous benefits of an alternative knowledge economy in which a diverse multiplicity of ideas drives our understanding of the world on to new heights.
Unpacking the various conceptual leanings of decoloniality through the works of one of its leading lights, this book will be an essential read for researchers across African Studies, Race Studies, Philosophy, and Education.
Toyin Falola, Ph.D., is the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and University Distinguished Teaching Professor, Department of History, The University of Texas at Austin. He is an Extraordinary Professor of Political Science, at the University of Pretoria, Professor of Human Rights, University of the Free State, and Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Lead City University, Ibadan. He is the recipient of many distinguished awards, including 16 honorary doctorates. He has contributed substantially to decolonization studies, most recently Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, and Voice (2022) and Decolonizing African Knowledge: Autoethnography and African Epistemologies (2022).
Nigerian Writer, Other New Voices Dominate Booker Prize Nominations
A graceful novel about a squash prodigy battling grief on court, a dystopia that reimagines Ireland as a totalitarian state and a coming-of-age tale about a neurodiverse teenager are among 13 titles longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.
The longlist, announced in a news release on Tuesday, features only a handful of novels by celebrated authors, including Sebastian Barry’s “Old God’s Time,” about a retired policeman confronting painful memories, and Paul Harding’s “This Other Eden,” about a mixed-race community that faces eviction from its island home.
Instead, the list is dominated by works by lesser-known writers, including four debuts. On the list is Nigerian writer Ayòbámi Adébáyò, “A Spell of Good Things”.
The New York Times quoted Esi Edugyan, an author who is the chair of this year’s judges, as saying in the news release that the list was “defined by its freshness — by the irreverence of new voices, by the iconoclasm of established ones.”
All the nominated books “cast new light on what it means to exist in our time, and they do so in original and thrilling ways,” Edugyan added.
The four debut books are “If I Survive You,” by Jonathan Escoffery, about a Jamaican family in Miami; “Pearl,” by Sian Hughes, about a mother’s disappearance; “All the Little Bird-Hearts,” by Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow, which is told from the perspective of a mother with autism; and “Western Lane,” by Chetna Maroo, about the grieving squash player and her family.
Among the other nominees are “How to Build a Boat,” by Elaine Feeney, about a neurodiverse schoolboy and the teachers who help him, and the forthcoming “Prophet Song,” by Paul Lynch, about an Irish society falling under the grip of authoritarianism.
Founded in 1969, the Booker Prize is one of the world’s most coveted literary awards, given each year to the author of a novel written in English and published in Britain or Ireland. It is often seen as the capstone of a writer’s career, but the award has also regularly made new literary stars. Recent winners have included Bernardine Evaristo, Douglas Stuart and Marlon James.
Last year, the Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka won the prize with “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida,” a satire exploring the trauma of his country’s civil war. After the announcement, the book’s sales jumped to more than 100,000 copies and it has now been translated into 19 languages, the Booker Prize Foundation said in Tuesday’s news release.
This year’s judges will now narrow the longlist down to a six-book shortlist, scheduled to be revealed on Sep. 21. The winning book, whose author will receive a 50,000 pound prize, about $64,000, will be announced at a ceremony in London on Nov. 26.
The full longlist is:
Ayòbámi Adébáyò, “A Spell of Good Things”
Sebastian Barry, “Old God’s Time”
Sarah Bernstein, “Study for Obedience”
Jonathan Escoffery, “If I Survive You”
Elaine Feeney, “How to Build a Boat”
Paul Harding, “This Other Eden”
Siân Hughes, “Pearl”
Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow, “All the Little Bird-Hearts”
Paul Lynch, “Prophet Song”
Martin MacInnes, “In Ascension”
Chetna Maroo, “Western Lane”
Paul Murray, “The Bee Sting”
Tan Twan Eng, “The House of Doors”
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