UNN holds special senate session in his honour
The final homeward journey for Nigeria’s late literary icon, Prof Chinua Achebe, who died in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States of America, on March 22, began Tuesday with the arrival of his remains at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
His body was brought in aboard a British Airways flight at exactly 4.45 am into the waiting arms of his family who kept vigil at the local wing of the airport.
The atmosphere at the domestic wing of the airport where the casket was draped in the national colours of green-white-green, was quiet and solemn.
Government officials were nowhere to be found, until around 7.00 am, when the Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, and a few officiating priests from the Anglican Diocese, Onitsha surfaced.
Except for Achebe’s large portrait that adorned the reception hall of the domestic wing of the airport, the day would have been just like any other. The entire ceremony at the airport took less than an hour.
Other top government functionaries that were at the airport included the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo; former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory, Mr. Chibudom Odom; and former Ambassador, Mrs. Judith Attah Okigbo.
The widow, children and grandchildren who were all clad in black attire all wore pensive looks and refused to speak to the press.
However, Achebe’s immediate constituency, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), were on hand to offer their last respects for one of their own.
Obi, who later explained that he was representing the other governors from the South-east, stressed that the deceased lived a life of truth, humility and tried to preach those things that would make Nigeria a better nation.
He urged Nigerians to emulate the virtues of Achebe, which he said were humility and truth, twin attributes that can make Nigeria a better place.
The Bishop of the Anglican Diocese, Onitsha, Rt. Rev Owen Nwokolo, also eulogised the late literary giant, who took his final bow at 82, stating: “The professor was well known for his discipline, courage and humility in service; he was not a proud man, as he was down to earth in all his dealings. He loved this country; he loved humanity; he wanted the best for everyone.”
According to him, Achebe was unlike some other Nigerians who cornered the wealth of the people for personal usage, adding that he had knowledge and this country is also blessed with people with knowledge but at times it is not well applied.
The deceased’s eldest son, Dr. Ike Achebe, who spoke on behalf of the family, thanked the people who had gathered to welcome his father back to Nigeria.
“I would like to thank those who have worked tirelessly with us to ensure that the transition is peaceful and that the welcome is well conducted. Thank you for coming, I wish you all God’s blessing,” he said.
From Abuja, Achebe’s remains were flown to Enugu just as the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) was holding a special senate session in his honour.
The body, which arrived at the Akanu-Ibiam International Airport in a chattered aircraft at about 12.30 pm, in company with his widow, Prof. Christy Achebe, and Ike, among other relatives, was received by the Secretary to the Enugu State Government, Amaechi Okolo, some commissioners and top government functionaries from Enugu, as well as members of the Ogidi Town Union from Anambra State.
There was however no representation from governors of the other four states of Abia, Anambra, Imo and Ebonyi.
From the airport, the body left for the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, where an academic procession and the 369th session of the university’s senate was held in his honour amidst tears and tributes.
Achebe’s body arrived the university premises at about 3.47 pm and was led into a long procession into the main hall with solemn music supplied by the school’s music department.
Draped in national colours, the customised brown casket was lowered on a table in the main hall for the senate session which began immediately.
There was however an eerie moment at the special session as a grave silence fell on the hall upon the mention of the name of Emeritus Prof Chinua Achebe on the roll call of members of the university senate as reeled out by the registrar.
The name of the late literary giant was called thrice without a response, prompting the vice-chancellor to equally call the name again but was also met with silence indicating that he was indeed no more.
“It’s quite unlike Professor Achebe, our revered man of letters, the literary giant, the Eagle on Iroko, to stay silent at the mention of his name. This is a solemn confirmation that the earthly sojourn of our revered colleague, our compatriot who rose to become a citizen of the world has come to an end.
“May I therefore formally announce the passing of a highly revered colleague, a truly distinguished academic of international status and one of the finest academics that the UNN has ever produced,” Okolo said.
The special senate session and academic procession was one in a series of programmes for the funeral obsequies for the late author of Things Fall Apart.
Members of the university’s administration, faculty, staff and students, where Achebe had taught for six years and lent his name to its lustre attended the event.
Okolo, in his tribute, said the institution had gathered to pay respects to “one of the best creative minds of our generation.
“I am talking about a man who told the story of Africa in over 50 different languages. In doing so, he brought various aspects of the political history and socio-political existence of Nigeria to the attention of the world.
“In the same vein, his association with the University of Nigeria continues to be a source of immense pride and inspiration to all of us.”
According to the UNN vice-chancellor, while the world mourns Achebe for his literary prowess, Nigeria mourns him “for his unwavering patriotism”.
Achebe served on the faculty of UNN as a researcher and teacher, leading to his position as Professor of Literature and Director of the Institute of African Studies.