It was an act of hubris, really. When Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan chose to award novelist Chinua Achebe, perhaps Nigeria’s most famous son, one of the country’s top honours, he thought it would be a glowing endorsement of his government. But like most acts of hubris, it backfired – badly. By SIMON ALLISON.
There’s a bit of history between Achebe and this particular award. He’s been named a Commander of the Federal Republic once before, seven years ago under the government of Olusegun Obasanjo. Achebe was unimpressed by the commendation then. “I write this letter with a very heavy heart. For some time now I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay,” wrote Achebe in a letter to Obasanjo explaining why he refused to accept the award. “I have watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency.”
Jonathan’s decision to re-nominate Achebe was, therefore, an expression of confidence in the improvements Jonathan thinks he’s made. But Achebe was not convinced, and his rejection this time was even more cutting in its brevity. “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.”
Achebe’s rejection has caused a flurry of excitement in local media, with Achebe’s position prompting new criticism of Jonathan’s government. Jonathan, described Achebe’s rejection as “a regrettable decision which may have been borne out of misinformation as to the true state of affairs in Nigeria.”
This is a dig at the fact that Achebe is based at an American university and rarely returns to his home country. A government spokesman said Jonathan hoped Achebe “will find time to visit home soon and see the progress being made by the Jonathan administration for himself”. DM