FLASHBACK: How Achebe rejected Nigeria’s third-highest honour from two presidents

Chinua Achebe, one of Nigeria’s most iconic writers, would have been 87 years today, and even Google, the world’s search engine giant, designed a special doodle using the legend’s picture.

One the many actions for which Achebe would be remembered was his famous rejection of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s offer of a National Award of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) in 2004, and again in 2011 under former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Achebe wrote an open letter to Obasanjo, condemning the then President’s leadership style.

“I write this letter with a very heavy heart. For some time now I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay,” the legendary author had written.

“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.

“Forty three years ago, at the first anniversary of Nigeria’s independence I was given the first Nigerian National Trophy for Literature. In 1979, I received two further honours — the Nigerian National Order of Merit and the Order of the Federal Republic — and in 1999 the first National Creativity Award.

“I accepted all these honours fully aware that Nigeria was not perfect; but I had a strong belief that we would outgrow our shortcomings under leaders committed to uniting our diverse peoples.

    “Nigeria’s condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honour awarded me in the 2004 Honours List.”

    When the award was offered him again in 2011, Achebe issued a short statement that read: “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.”

    Two years later, In March 2013, at the age of 82, Achebe died after a brief illness in Boston — USA but not before releasing his final book, There was a Country, in September 2012.

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