Chinua Achebe's Nigerian Award debacle: A learning experience and teachable moment
Professor Chinua Achebe, the most influential African writer, a citizen of the world and a respected voice in the world, rejected an award from Nigeria. The issue is not so much that he turns down the national award but on how Nigerian government handled the whole issue. First and foremost, Professor Chinua Achebe is entitle to turn down any award whether from Nigeria or from Nobel Prize committee. That is ‘no-brainer' as Americans like to say but crust of the matter was in the handling of the said award. The Federal government of Nigeria principally the minister of foreign affairs in consultation with the presidency would have dispatched the Nigerian Ambassador to United States and he would have visited Honorable Achebe at his residence in America and talk to him about Nigeria's intention of honoring him.
In the private session Professor Achebe will be diligently explained on how far the country has improved since the last time he rejected the national award. At the moment the country with a new leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan and many world respected technocrats including Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Lamido Sanusi and Professor Nnaji are steering the country in a new and affirmative direction. If he insisted that he must not accept the award then it will all end there and no another ear will hear it, in that case the government will not put his name out there and be embarrassed.
It will be a good thing and strategic victory for the government of President Jonathan to convince Professor Achebe to accept a national award for it will give credibility and restores integrity to the national award which in the eyes of many Nigerians has become an unmerited award for well connected contractors, politicians and elites. On the international scene the voice and the prestige of Chinua Achebe is simply big, his acceptance of the Nigerian Award will return a level of goodwill that it is badly needed by the country. At the moment the administration and country are confronted with myriad of challenges including internal insecurity and poor image; it needs any encourage it can garnish from anywhere especially from this son of Africa Professor Achebe. The assurance and support from Achebe can assure some quarters in the global community.
Even when the federal government did not do its homework and things went the way it did and Professor Chinua Achebe rejected the national award. The handlers of public relation and communication in Aso Rock would have geared into more sophisticated mode of repairing damage and damage control not sending out brainy Dr. Reuben Abati to sound defensive. The more effective defense to the debacle is to go into more humble communication and acknowledged that Chinua Achebe is right on his assertion but the new assertive government of President Goodluck Jonathan is on top of it. More to it the handlers should have communicate more effective how passionate the current administration is on solving the gigantic problems of the country by giving example with the most viable and free election that was conducted by the administration. The handlers must emphasis that the election was accepted by both local and international observers as the freest election ever conducted in the country. Federal government of Nigeria should have said that the administration may have been slipped-off in effective communication of their actions, agenda and achievements but there was no laxity in their actions to right the wrongs of the country.
In future Nigerian government should not be intimidated in trying again to honour one of the greatest writers of all time, a world citizen and a Nigerian native but it should do the necessary arrangement to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes. Nigeria needs Chinua Achebe as a source and beckon of goodwill that convey to whole wide world that Nigeria is ready to do business with the rest of the world.
Emeka Chiakwelu is the Principal Policy Strategist at Afripol Organization. Africa Political and Economic Strategic Center (Afripol) is foremost a public policy center whose fundamental objective is to broaden the parameters of public policy debates in Africa. To advocate, promote and encourage free enterprise, democracy, sustainable green environment, human rights, conflict resolutions, transparency and probity in Africa. http://afripol.org