from Africa in Transition

Chinua Achebe Refuses National Honor

November 16, 2011

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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.

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