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ACHEBE AND THE INVENTION OF AFRICAN LITERATURE (2)

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Prof. Chinua Achebe

Prof. Chinua Achebe

The novel narrative possesses limitless capacity to explore space and time to tell an extended story, commenting on particular events and characters. It has the advantage of travelling to distant places and different locations to influence individual minds. On the other hand, the novel is an individual enterprise which some critics, like Eustace Palmer, have argued is a western genre which does not suit the African literary environment. In the West, Ian Watt observes the influence of the philosophical thinking of Descartes and John Locke in the development of the novel. Descartes’ self definitive statement, ‘I think therefore I am’ (Cogito ergo sum) is the novelist’s motivation to first and foremost assert the primacy of his existence as Defoe did with his autobiographical memoirs. However, for the African writer, with Achebe or Ngugi as our examples, it wasn’t as much a need to define his individuality, as it was a need to define his community misrepresented by colonial redefinition. Though, for a writer like Achebe who has Igbo philosophical background, one’s individuality is best defined in relation to the community. It is in one’s community, in relation to the other that one finds self fulfilment. “Umuntu ngumuntu nqabantu – A human is human because of other humans”  is a great Bantu saying, which Achebe quotes in his The Education of a British Protected Child, published in 2009.  It is therefore my opinion that yes, Achebe’s novels could also have arisen for self assertion to Europe but it is an assertion made on behalf of the African (Igbo) society. In other words, the African novelist’s assertion of ‘I think therefore I am’ is not individualistic like that of their European counterparts; it is communal.  It was a necessary assertion made in face of the dehumanising activities of colonialism, which Alastair Pennycook observes to be more acute in Africa than in Asia. So then, the African narrative, sought to address the individualism of western narrative because as far  as Achebe is concerned, the task before the writer is to defend a (good) culture and preserve national consciousness.

By 1965, Achebe acknowledged the fact that the novel was new to Africa and it was too soon to describe the relationship between the writers and the readers. He, however, went on in his essay, “The Novelist as Teacher”, to show that many people looked up to him as a teacher, some as a moral teacher who should write more of his kind of novels while some looked up to him as a school teacher who should include questions and answers at the back of his text to help them prepare for examinations.  In saying this, Achebe shows that African readers have always existed for the novels and he contests the idea of African writers writing for European and American audiences. “What I do know is that they don’t have to. At least I know that I don’t have to.” But then in another essay, “Thoughts on the African Novel”, he writes:

At the root of all these strange and untidy thoughts lies a monumental historical fact, Europe – a presence which has obsessed us from Equiano to Ekwensi. For Equiano a preoccupation with Europe was inevitable….

In our own time a preoccupation with Europe has seemed almost equally inevitable despite the passage of nearly two hundred years. In the colonial period and its aftermath we were preoccupied with Europe in the form of protest.

Protest involves an ‘opposing point of view’, which Said says is the work of narrative to undertake. The reason for the opposition was to ‘rebuild the walls of Jerusalem’ and restore national dignity.  In aiming at the cultural liberation of the Igbo, Gikandi argues that Achebe could not have started writing until he could locate himself “in a strategic linguistic and ideological position in relation to something else – an obscurant colonial condition.” This is notwithstanding the fact that Achebe had said in another essay, that he did not set about writing his first novel, Things Fall Apart, “consciously in that solemn way….”. Gikandi insists: “The narrative of liberation derives its power from the tradition it seeks to reject, revise, or appropriate and set in a different direction. Indeed, as Roland Barthes has observed, resisting the dominant tradition is an important precondition for modern literature.”   This is evident in the first two pages (if not the first paragraph) of Things Fall Apart where questions of African character, subjectivity, history and colonial modes of representation were addressed. For example, the dominant tradition in Achebe’s case was a tradition that named an African, Mr Johnson as in Joyce Cary’s novel. That was an important precondition for starting his first novel with the name, Okonkwo. In other words, the false ‘I know my natives’ claim by the colonial administrator formed part of the ideological background to Achebe’s writings. Such a claim meant the power to define the people and as pointed out earlier, the colonial definitions did more harm than good, so that Achebe said he “decided that the story we had to tell could not be told for us by anyone else no matter how gifted or well-intentioned”.

The stories we have to tell, Achebe’s stories – our stories, have to be told and retold from one generation to the next so that our offspring do not blunder “like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence”. “We need the same stories over and over, then, as one of the most powerful, perhaps the most powerful, of ways to assert the basic ideology of our culture.”  The Igbo basic ideology, which the oral tales propagate, is that the community is wiser and stronger than any individual. Achebe’s novels recast this Igbo ideology while at the same time asking questions that aim at enhancing the community versus individual relationship within the colonial, postcolonial and neo-colonial dispensations. Igbo worldview, which upholds the supremacy of community over the individual, forms the basic ideology that generates his tragic characters. That is why he uses the story of the tortoise and the birds in Things Fall Apart (pp. 68 -70) as a metaphor for the relationship between Okonkwo and Umuofia. When Ezeulu fails in Arrow of God, Achebe ends the novel thus:

So in the end only Umuaro and its leaders saw the final outcome. To them the issue was simple. Their god had taken sides with them against his headstrong and ambitious priest and thus upheld the wisdom of their ancestors – that no man however great was greater than his people; that no one ever won judgment against his clan.

The heroes in his trilogy end up tragically because they walk in the opposite direction against their communities while Odili, the hero of A Man of the People survives because from being a detached intellectual he ends up identifying himself with the people.  As far as Achebe is concerned, the community’s interest supersedes individual interest and his novels try to regenerate the collective will of the people. However, his works go beyond that to make us realise that within every new dispensation, we must review the umunna dogma to make it relevant to contemporary realities like the mbari art system – a system that influenced his approach to arts more than anything else. In the mbari system, which is almost extinct in Igbo land, every age is called, without prejudice to past collections, to represent the realities of their time in the carved and sculpted images, which are presented to Chukwu through the local deities and Ala the earth goddess.  To capture the joys and pains of each period, was the guiding principle in the mbari system. It is in keeping with this principle that Achebe, who was a pioneer member of the Mbari Club while a student at the University of Ibadan, always sought to address the joys and pains of any period when he writes. This is how he invented the African literature by capturing the anxieties of the time when self-government was in the air for African countries. It was necessary for the African communities, in returning to self-governance, to understand where and how the rain began to beat them. Achebe remained true to this system until death as his swan song, There was a Country, also captured the anxieties of this time, when many young Igbo are seeking answers to what happened between Nigeria and Biafra, asking questions about our continued existence as one country.  Should the Igbo culture truly evolve, should our progeny be saved from blunders, Achebe’s works must be integral to Igbo philosophical thought.

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Rev Fr Chikwendu PaschalKizito Anyanwu (PhD, Middlesex Uni London), a Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Owerri,  is an Achebe Scholar; adapted A Man of the People to stage drama in 2007 as part of his PhD Creative Writing process. He is currently the Principal of Christ the King Secondary School, Obike Ngor/Okpala, Imo State.

 

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The Data of Forgiveness

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The Universal Character of Salvation

The most important ingredient in today’s media economy is data. The amount of data available determines how much and how long we can work or play on the internet. Currently, many of the service providers offer unlimited data plans but we know that those “unlimited” plans are not always unlimited. Sometimes, your download speed can get slowed down when you cross a certain point. Today, however, Jesus gives us the divine model of an unlimited plan. It is the unlimited bundle of compassion and forgiveness which never gets slowed downed shut down for maintenance. The theme for this week is that we must learn to forgive without limits no matter the injury committed against us.

In Matthew’s Gospel, today’s teaching on unlimited forgiveness comes after Jesus had told his disciples the parable of the wandering sheep, so it is plausible that some would have wondered among themselves how many times a good shepherd should go after the same sheep if it keeps wandering away. In those days, people believed that forgiveness was limited to three times only – a fourth transgression was not to be forgiven. So, by asking Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother, Peter was probably aiming to increase the limit to seven times. And Jesus makes it clear that we are to forgive others, “not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22).That means we must dispense an unlimited data bundle of mercy.

In Jesus Christ, we have the forgiveness of a debt we could never pay. Sin is an offence against God and a direct rebellion against his authority and creation. The debt of 10,000 talents mentioned in today’s parable symbolizes the magnitude of the offence that sin causes in God’s eyes, but he is always willing to forgive without limits. However, we can easily cut ourselves off from God’s river of mercy when we refuse to forgive others. We end up restraining God’s mercy and putting ourselves under strict justice. To unfold his mercy without compromising his justice, God leaves each person free to choose between the two. If we insist on strict justice when we are offended, we bring God’s strict justice upon ourselves. But if we offer an unlimited bundle of mercy to others, we draw God’s unlimited data of forgiveness upon ourselves.

The secret to forming a forgiving heart lies in recognizing the evil of our sin and the immensity of God’s goodness in forgiving us. Until we see the ugliness of our ingratitude and selfishness, we will never appreciate the generosity of God’s forgiveness. Let us examine ourselves now to see how much forgiveness we are giving. Is there someone we still cannot forgive even after they have expressed sorrow for their actions? Have we judged someone too harshly because of something they said or did that we did not particularly like? How many times have we failed to help somebody because we are still dwelling on an injury that we suffered many years ago? How many times have we treated someone differently based on preconceived notions or stereotypes? These are some of the factors that shackle us like chains and that disrupt the unlimited data of divine grace in our lives. When we close ourselves off to people or dismiss them based on our preconceptions, mistaken judgments, and prejudices, not only do we make them suffer, we suffer as well.

But it does not have to be that way. Jesus came to free us from and the burden of sin and unhappiness. Forgiveness is like mercury, which runs away when it is held tightly in the hand but is preserved by keeping the palm open. When we lose forgiveness, we lose the ability to give and to receive love because love is the foundation of forgiveness. And since God is the foundation of love, whoever refuses to forgive automatically rejects the love of God. This is the essence of today’s parable and it is highlighted by the contrast between what was owed by each man. The wicked slave owed his master some 10000 talents. In gold terms, that is 350 tons and at today’s price, he owed his master USD21.8 billion. This was way more than King Solomon made in a year which was 666 talents of gold or USD1.45 billion in today’s value (cf. I Kings 10:14). So, this unforgiving servant owed his master what no individual could never payback. In contrast, his fellow servant owed him the equivalent of one talent of gold or USD2.1 million; so a man who was forgiven $21.8b could not let go of $2.1m, and his wickedness landed him in the hands of torturers.

Dear friends, forgiveness is an act of compassion which is expressed in the free choice to pardon one another’s shortcomings every day, and to also pardon ourselves for own mistakes Forgiveness transcends the fear of being wounded again; it is a deliberate act in imitation of the redemptive work of Jesus, the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, and the loving kindness of the Father. The whole point of today’s parable is that our Father in heaven will do the same to anyone who refuses to forgive others. Whoever refuses to forgive is doomed to a life of bitterness, and as the ugly trend continues, the person ends up building invisible walls of resentment around themselves, thereby blocking off not just one’s relationships with other people but with God as well. Forgiveness is not just an emotional expression or a sense of righteousness; it means being merciful not only when there is an explanation or apology, or a promise of amendment from the offender, but even when the offence is deliberate, and the offender is adamant. Forgiveness is a precious gift of grace, which does not depend on the worthiness of the receiver. Forgiveness is what we called to do, and the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us in that regard. Amen.

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Imo Deputy Governor’s giant strides towards revitalizing agriculture

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Imo Deputy Governor's giant strides towards revitalizing agriculture
By Joy Opara

The increasing cost of Agricultural products in Imo State in recent times has continued to be a major source of concern to the citizens of the state.

A critical appraisal of the development of Agriculture in this state reveals that successive governments had neglected this major sector of the economy, over three decades now, and this has adversely affected the revenue of government.

In line with the vision of the “shared prosperity” government of the Hope Uzodinma administration, the revolution of agriculture is among its cardinal programmes for which a high powered committee (on agricultural master plan for Imo State) has been set up.
For the purpose of resuscitating all moribund agricultural industries and facilities in the state, it is not surprising that this committee is headed by a world class Professor of Agriculture and Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof. Placid Njoku.

The need to diversify the economy cannot be over-emphasized. It is a well known fact that there is no better and more sustainable means of diversifying the economy than through agriculture. It would be recalled that after the inauguration of his committee, the deputy governor went into action, first by visiting all moribund agricultural facilities in the state, which included Adapalm in Ohaji/ Egbema LGA, Avutu Poultry farm in Avutu, Obowo LGA, Songhai farms, Okigwe road, Owerri, ADP farms in Nekede, Owerri West. Others are Acharaubo farms in Emekuku, Owerri North, Imo Rubber Plantation in Obiti, Ohaji/ Egbema, amongst others.
Prof. Njoku in one of his speeches during the tour described agriculture as the economic base of most countries of the world. Considering the dwindling oil revenue, he said it should be a source of worry to people of good conscience that the vision of our founding fathers to generate revenue, food security, economic advancement, industrialization, employment and eradication of poverty was destroyed by successive governments.
The Deputy Governor, who not only is acknowledged as one of the greatest professors of Animal Science, a renowned Agriculturist and former Vice Chancellor of a leading University of Agriculture, the Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, made it clear that the present government led by Governor Hope Uzodinma is desirous to return agriculture to its former glory.

The Ikeduru-born technocrat and farmer per-excellence said that the 3R Mantra of this administration namely: Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery is a base for making the dream of Imo State as the food basket of the nation come true.

Noting that government is a continuum, the deputy governor promised that his committee will build upon what is already on ground by rehabilitating the ones that could be rehabilitated and bringing in new facilities where necessary to ensure that the passion of the governor towards agricultural revival is achieved.

Meanwhile, in most of the establishments visited by the committee, it was discovered that indigenes of the communities had badly encroached into the lands and converted them to personal use. Investigations by the committee revealed that agents of some past governments in the state connived with the communities to make it possible, for their personal aggrandizement.

The deputy governor, whose humility has become legendary pledged his total support to the Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma whom he described as God sent to right all that were done wrong by the previous administrations in the state. He called on all to give this administration the needed support to rewrite the history of Imo State in gold, especially the agricultural sector.

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Child Abuse: A case of betrayal of reciprocal trust

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Child Abuse: A case of betrayal of reciprocal trust
By Christian Uzoukwu

Some years ago, while as a kid, I fell out with my father due to an occasion of sheer disobedience and on that very day, I was given no food and was ultimately battered by hunger. Child abuse includes both acts of commission and omission on the part of parents, guardians as well as care-givers.

These acts have led to a lot of actual and threatened harm meted out on countless number of children. In 2014, the WHO made an estimate of 41,000 children (under the age of 15) that are victims of homicide and other related offences. This estimate, as expounded by this world body is grossly below the real figures due to the views of the society in relation to corporal punishment experienced by children. Girls are always most vulnerable to different forms of child abuse during unrests and in war-thorn territories.

Cases of child abuse can be established in some deadly human vices such as child trafficking, child labour, forced adoption as seen in the one-child policy prevalent in China. In the Asian country, women, by law are only allowed to have one child. Local governments would sometimes allow the woman to give birth and then they would take the baby away stating the mother violated the one child policy. Child traffickers, often paid by the government, would sell the children to orphanages that would arrange international adoptions worth tens of thousands of dollars, turning a profit for the government.

Other striking examples of child abuse are the various forms of violence against the girl-child which involves infanticide, sex-selective abortions, female genital mutilations (FGM), sexual initiation of virgins in some African cultures, breast ironing in some parts of Cameroon – involving the vicious use of hot stones and other tools to flatten the breast tissue of girls who have attained the age of puberty. As if those were not enough, female students are also subject to maltreatments in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is not to talk of recurring kidnapp of female students in some parts of Nigeria, as we saw in the case of Dapchi and Chibok schoolgirls.

Based on simple analysis, child abuse can be defined as “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power”.

This definition by WHO also falls in line with the definition propounded by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that child abuse are acts of commission. This commission includes “words or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child”, and acts of omission (neglect), meaning “the failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, or educational needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm.

In Nigeria, most cases of child abuse have become cumbersome due to the fact that these acts of abuses are regarded as mere punishments to unruly young ones and by so doing, should be justified and doesn’t call for any further discussion and/or scrutiny. According to various statistical studies and researches, child abuse is a vast societal cankerworm and has four profound tentacles viz:

Physical Abuse: this involves undue hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, biting, burning, strangling, insertion of pepper into the eyes and pubic regions of children, maltreatments from house-help(s) and seniors at boarding/day schools, suffocating and forcing children to live in unwholesome conditions.

Sexual Abuse also includes persuading a minor into acts of sexual intercourse, exposure of the child’s private parts, production of child-related pornographic contents and actual sexual contacts with children.

Psychological Abuse of children can be seen in cases of excessive scolding, lack of proper attention that children should be receiving from their parents and guardians, destructive criticisms and destruction of a child’s personality.

Neglect of children can also lead to children dropping out of schools, begging/stealing for food and money, lack of proper medical care for minors and realities of children looking like ragamuffins.

Consequently, the causes of child abuse can be judiciously related to sex, age, personal history, societal norms, economic challenges, lack of Rights’ Protection Agencies, parents battling with traits of alcoholism and family size. These causative agents of child abuse can bring untold effects upon the society at large and these effects can be emotional, physical and psychological as the case may be, giving rise to individuals with dissociative lifestyles.

Furthermore, the treatment of individuals who have been malformed with respect to the abuses they experienced abinitio, can be a long process because it involves behavioral therapy and other forms of neoteric therapies. Treatments of psyche-related problems are not just a one-day process due to the long-lasting effects of abuses on various conscious mental activities. It is also noteworthy to point out that, prevention is always better than cure and holding fast to this true reality, entails that agencies who have the responsibility of protecting the rights of children must continue to do the needful which requires proper oversights of parent-child relationships.

To conclude this piece therefore, we must agree that untold hardships have been a great challenge for children especially in Africa and some parts of Asia. Children with long histories of abuses turn out to become societal misfits. To this end we encourage that: Children should be given a free platform to express themselves on many topical issues and issues relating to their existence.

Children should also be allowed to freely ask questions on any issue, no matter, how weird it seems to be.

Governments should make regulations outlawing societal norms and values that might amount to child abuses.

Corporal punishments by parents, guardians and care-givers should be discouraged at all levels, thereby making parents/guardians/care-givers who seem to be incorrigible, to face the full weight of justice enshrined in the law of the land.

Education system (both conventional and unconventional) in Nigeria should be able to train up young ones into becoming critical, analytical and evaluative individuals with a view of defending the vulnerable.

And again, since children are said to be leaders of tomorrow, it is pertinent to note that to secure their future, their present existence must be cherished and protected.

Christian Chimemerem Uzoukwu
08100029867 / 09025760804
Admin Critical Thinkers’ Forum.

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