John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Chinua Achebe Refuses National Honor

by John Campbell
November 16, 2011

Nigerian author Chinua Achebe gestures during a news conference held during Frankfurt bookfair October 12, 2002. (Ralph Orlowski/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, November 16, is acclaimed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe’s eighty-first birthday. A few days ago, he declined again to accept Nigeria’s second highest national honor, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR). In 2004, he did not accept it from then-president Olusegun Obasanjo, essentially in protest over Nigeria’s governance with special reference to his home state of Anambra. At the time, he wrote, “Nigeria’s condition today under your watch is…too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honor awarded me in the 2004 honors list.”

This time, he wrote, “The reasons for rejecting the offer when it was first made have not been addressed let alone solved. It is inappropriate to offer it again to me. I must therefore regretfully decline the offer again.”

The Jonathan administration’s response has been that Achebe is out of touch with Nigerian realities, and Reuben Abati, the presidential press spokesman, made specific reference to “widely acclaimed electoral reforms” to refute Achebe.

In my view, Achebe’s massive integrity and his icon status call to mind Nelson Mandela. They are probably the most widely known Africans in the United States. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and A Man of the People routinely populate high school and college reading lists. The American poet Maya Angelou has said of Achebe’s work that “all readers meet their brothers, sisters, parents and friends and themselves along Nigerian roads.”

And he will not be silenced.

Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by susan Adaji

    Type your comment in here…He Is Indeed A Grath Man. Kudos

  • Posted by prince aliu o.

    Type your comment in here…i hereby support his refusal to receive the award because actually nothing have changed things need to be placed in right direction the rich are only getting richer while the poor remain in abject poverty and penury. Those who have stolen our money and placed in personal pockets and accounts should be prosecuted whether serving officer political office holders or those out of service they should all be dealt with and those monies confiscated from them and used to develop our economy instead of increasing the pump price of petroleum in the all in name of subsidy removal.

  • Posted by samuel ajay

    Chinua Achebe is a man of honour,is also a policy man too,only few Naija can do what he has done by rejecting the national honour,a repect for the great Man.

  • Posted by A ./O

    Is a pity that the Nigeria leaders think that the present situation is a joke, failing to understand that they are already heading to another civil war,which is imminent and not a pretty sight. When it comes to war national honor is zero. My advice is that the issue should be resolve peacefully and allow the Northerner to go on their own and practice their religion.

  • Posted by Alpha A.A.J. Lat

    He has every reason to humbly decline such award, as stated due to the issues within he country. How can he assist them when they dont assist even the common nigerian “second class citizen” who strives against all odds all by himself whilst “someone” else eats all the “national cake”. Things dont seem to fall apart to “them”

  • Posted by Raheem Opeyemi

    ofcourse!….That’s how it ought to be. What are we celebrating?. I mean what are the so called AWARDs meant for?….I hope some reasonable Nigerians will reason wit me…

  • Posted by ifedigbo paschal

    in life, what counts more is not just the position we have attained but how much we use what we have to serve others. I respect Achebe’s decline of the offer, all he wants is a concrete change; let us begin to see things happen. his concern is for he good of all and so I praise for his altruism.

  • Posted by Emmanuel Attah

    He is very much true about the situation in his country. With or without the visit the condition of the country has never change. All hope seem to be lost with the government of the day. He is a true octagenarian and God will bless you for turning down the offer. Let the country tackle poverty & corruption because they are the two key problems that has bedevil this country with no iota of effort to curb it. Mr. Chinua Achebe, i hold you with high esteem. No matter how they refuted your statement, you have said the right thing. We do not need a soothsayer to convince us. Posterity will continue to remember you for the resolution.

  • Posted by Garden-City Boy

    There is great honor in dishonoring dishonor. That is the clear statement by the world renowned writer. The troubling issues remain and the leaders charged with the responsibility to address them turn the other way. The unequivocal message is that the concept itself is meaningless and the exercise an annual circus show.
        Between Obasanjo’s rejected ‘award’ and Jonathan’s, it still remains business as usual;  nothing has changed, and nothing to cheer. Within that same space time window Government had continued to fail the citizenry and the citizenry is tearful with sorrow. On his part, Achebe did not write any more book(s) within this same time bracket of  call-ups, and did not therefore that enhanced his intellectual status any further.  In other words, Prof. Achebe authored no literary work that commanded such world-wide readership as to catch this administration’s attention. He saw no moral grounds on which to claim an award of ‘high’ honor. Was he to be awarded a national honor for just nothing?
       There is no question that turning down the award has greatly enhanced the moral dignity of Prof. Achebe, and brings to the fore the critical question of the mind-boggling troubles with Nigeria. Achebe’s call-up for an award and the strident embellishment of the fanfare it got is a uncanny ploy to give cheap launder to the image of a floundering administration. The sneaky invocation of the Professor’s international stature and goodwill was envisioned quite handy. It is arguable if any among this year’s recipients is known outside our national boundaries for a contribution of acclaim or even associated with any achievement that positively touched anybody’s life. There is indeed great honor in dishonoring dishonor.

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