Address of Welcome for the 2021 Chinua Achebe Literary Festival, By Izunna Okafor
AN ADDRESS OF WELCOME BY IZUNNA OKAFOR, THE COORDINATOR OF SOCIETY OF YOUNG NIGERIAN WRITERS (ANAMBRA STATE CHAPTER) AT THE 2020 CHINUA ACHEBE LITERARY FESTIVAL
SALUTATION AND INTRODUCTION:
I bring you all greetings from Achebe, dear noble ladies and honourable gentlemen in the house. The Executive Governor of Anambra State, our amiable and capable Keynote Speaker, the Chairman of the Occasion, our Royal Father of the Day, our Special Guest, the Honourable Commissioners here present, our guests, and gentlemen of the press; I say welcome to you all.
THE EVENT AND THE ESSENCE:
“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground, it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.” — Chinua Achebe, 1958
It is based on this age-long maxim that it interests me to unveil the reason behind our gathering here today, 16th November 2021, at the Prof. Kenneth Dike State Central E-Library, Akwa, Anambra State, Nigeria.
In a succinctest word, ladies and gentlemen, we are primarily here to remember, because it is right remember; to celebrate, because it is right to celebrate; and equally importantly, to fuel a worthy light that has already been ignited — a worthy light of literary renaissance. We are here to mark a great literary event in honour of our own very Prof. Chinualumogu Albert Achebe, an Anambra-born quintessential savant and literary doyen.
By definition, this noble occasion, known as 'Chinua Achebe Literary Festival and Memorial Lecture' is an annual literary event organized by Society of Young Nigerian Writers, (Anambra State Chapter) in commemoration and celebration of the life, works and legacies of Achebe, who 'is' one of the world's greatest literary legends that ever existed. Started in 2016 as only Chinua Achebe Literary Festival, this annual event is in its sixth edition now, with many testimonies. Howbeit, last year, being its fifth anniversary, we decided to introduce the Chinua Achebe Memorial Lecture into it; hence its new name — Chinua Achebe Literary Festival and Maiden Memorial Lecture.
It is for a reason that the event is held on no other date, but 16th November. Achebe was born on a great day like this, the 16th day of November, 1930, and died on 21st March, 2013, at the age of 82 years, 125 days; spending a total of 30, 076 days in his entire life, with laudable achievements and legacies from which humanity and the society at large benefit till date.
Achebe was a renowned author and intellectual, the man who brought the beauty of Africa and African culture to the limelight, a genius, freedom fighter, voracious reader, recipient of over hundred national and international awards with over forty Honorary Degrees from universities across the world, America’s best lecturer in English, Africa's most widely read author, and the host of other numerous landmark achievements and legacies attached to him.
Wouldn't it be nameless not to discuss and celebrate all these and this noble achiever, ladies and gentlemen?
It would indeed be; as both these and their achiever are worth recognizing, celebrating, commemorating, and, more importantly, immortalizating. Ladies and gentlemen, that is why we are gathered here today as kinsmen.
It is noteworthy that, through this annual gathering, we the young writers in Achebe's home-state, Anambra, do not only remind the concerned authorities to immortalize Achebe; we equally immortalize him and his writing in our own ways. To retain his fingers in the writing field, we annually publish an international anthology in his honour, known as the Chinua Achebe Poetry/Essay Anthology, which comprises poems and essays written and submitted by writers from different countries of the world who identify with Achebe's legendary and personality. They do so in response to a 'Call for Submission' we usually make earlier before the event each year.
The newest edition of this anthology published this year with the title 'There Was a Man' will be officially unveiled and presented today as the event unfolds. Other previous editions of this international anthology include 'Achebe: A Man of the People' (2020), 'Arrows of Words' (2019), etc. You could see that the titles of these anthologies eponymously coincide with the titles of some of Achebe's works, like 'Arrow of God', 'A Man of the People', 'There Was a Country', and so on and so forth.
Aside immortalizing him with the anthology, we also, through this event, promote, encourage and reward creative writing and reading culture among the youths and the students; discover and harness the amazing talents among our young ones, and also present writers and readers (intellectuals) as elixirs to the society's malady today. More Importantly, this event also affords our leaders the opportunity to re-evaluate and juxtapose themselves against the standard, as was showcased by Achebe himself, and also highlighted in most of his books.
THE THEME OF THE EVENT:
This theme of this year's edition of the event —“REMEMBERING ACHEBE... IN A TIME LIKE” is not only apt but was carefully selected, looking at Achebe's words and predictions long time ago, the happenings of this present time, the ever-deteriorating standard of leadership, the unimaginable quest for power in our society today, the need to respect, honour and value intellectuals in a time like this; Achebe's absence and the need for more people like him in a time like this, and such other realities that necessitate remembering Achebe, his works, his words, his action, and his personality characterized by patriotism, dignity, equity, justice and strong hatred for corruption.
HOSTING THE EVENT:
Ladies and gentlemen, with these, you can see that our gathering here is not unavailing, as it's now apparent that we've gathered in this moonlit village ground to champion a cause that will have a chain of positive impacts on our society, both today and tomorrow. We have done this over the years, and have always succeeded in doing it.
Notwithstanding how dulcet and inspiring these may have sounded, I must sincerely confess that it has not been easy hosting and sustaining this event for the past six consecutive years, and still counting, without break. Indeed, we have laboured ourselves so hard to come thus far, as we annually finance and host such a fecund and impactful event as this by ourselves, without sponsors.
We therefore call on the State Government and/or private individuals, and/or corporate organizations to please undertake the annual sponsorship of this wonderful event in honour of this legend who, till today, is yet to be befittingly immortalized.
We should not be left to fund this event by ourselves, as many of our members are youngsters and students whose financial muscle apparently reflects on the current standard of this event.
The program should be upgraded beyond this level, and made a tourist attraction, just as Achebe's name alone is a tourist attraction.
We commend the Anambra State Government for endowing the annual ₦1,000 000 Chinua Achebe Prize for Nigerian Writing, administered by Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA (which was founded over 40 years ago by Achebe himself). The first edition of the award was won two weeks ago by Obinna Udenwe, for his novel, 'Colours of Hatred'.
We also commend and congratulate ANA for recently commissioning the Chinua Achebe International Conference Centre, Abuja during the recent celebration of ANA @ 40. Obviously, the need to immortalize Achebe, our role model, is really being recognized now; and we are happy, since that is one of the key reasons behind this event.
However commendable these are, like Oliver Twist, we are still asking for more and pleading that more be done, especially something more befitting. I have always said in each address of welcome I present at this event for the past six years, that there is only one Writers Residency in Nigeria, and that is the Ebedi Writers Residency in Iseyi, Oyo State, which is even privately owned, by Dr. Wale Okediran.
Taking this into consideration, it would be a laudable feat if Anambra State Government should establish one in Achebe's name, as in Chinua Achebe Writers Residency. Achebe himself was a beneficiary and fellow of other writers residencies in other countries of the world before his demise. So, it won't be an overdoing to immortalize him with one.
It may surprise you to hear that, in their essay and poem, one of the foreign authors and one of the Nigerian poets who we published in this year's Chinua Achebe Poetry Essay Anthology which will be unveiled today, recommended renaming the newly commissioned Anambra International Airport after Achebe, as one of the good ways to also immortalize him. The state government should think over this.
We request the State Government to appoint aides on Literary Matters (such as Special Assistant and/or Senior Special Assistant on Literary Matters) who will stand as a bridge between writers (both young and established) and the state government. Anambra has many exportable brands of star writers; and as such, deserves to create such a vital office, even though no state government in the country has ever created nor thought of such. Anambra is known for setting the pace; and that should also be manifested here.
Again, I want to say it here that young writers in this state also need empowerment, both intellectually and financially.
Just as other youths in the state, who are into agriculture, entrepreneurship, one skill acquisition or the other are trained and empowered periodically to start what they have learnt; young writers also need to be periodically trained (by way of Creative Writing Workshop) and thereafter, financially empowered to publish what they have written, so that we shall continue to remain the first state to reckon with in the literary field. This will also help to raise other Achebes who will replace the man in whose honour we are hear today.
The state should also endow, at least, one state-based annual literay award, to recognize, reward and encourage creative writing in the state. A lot of Anambra young and established writers are making the state proud locally and internationally (both in award and in publication), and the state ought to recognize, reward and encourage this.
Finally, this association needs a vehicle for mobilization and running around for certain things. We have monthly book reading, and need a vehicle for mobilising members to and from different part of the state for the book readings.
Igbo sị na ọ na-abụ ebe e zùrù dibịa, a gbara ya afa, ma sịkwa onye rịrị ọjị kpàrá ya nkụ maka na a naghị arị ọjị kwàdáá. And that is why we thought it wise to use this great opportunity to table some of our needs and requests here, believing that we have the right people who can either help out or amplify our voices to be heard.
This event is garnished with a lot of literary activities and packages slated for the day, which have already begun to unfold in their best footings.
We heartily appreciate those who have contributed in one way or the other to make this dream come true, especially collaborator, the Anambra State Library Board, ably headed by Dr. Nkechi Udeze, who allows us to use this auditorium hall to host this event over the last six years, without paying a dime. They also allow us to use the Library and its facilities for our monthly reading, absolutely free.
Similarly, we recognize and hail our media partners, who have been in this cause with us for the past six years, especially the Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation (publishers of National Light Newspaper, Ka Ọ Dị Taa Igbo Newspaper, Sportslight Xtra, and Homeland), and the Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS).
It is worthy to mention at this juncture that since 2019, Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation, through the MD/CEO, Sir Chuka Nnabuife, endowed and took over the sponsorship of our annual Chinua Achebe Essay Writing Competition (an essay writing contest for secondary schools in the state); and we immensely appreciate them for that, while also calling for more of such sponsorship from other bodies or individuals.
We specially appreciate the youthful and benevolent MD/CEO of Naira Rice who has been donating bag of rice to us each year, to host this event, and which he has done over the years. We thank him for his benevolence and interest in youth development.
Importantly, we also appreciate our Keynote Speaker and MD/CEO of Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation, Sir Chuka Nnabuife for swiftly accepting our humble and impromptu request to deliver the 2021 Achebe Lecture that you will hear today.
More respectfully, we commend our amiable Chairman of the Occasion, Prof. Peter Umeadi, who is also a former Chief Judge of Anambra State, for also gladly accepting to Chair this year's occasion, despite the short notice, caused by the guber election and the recurrent sit-at-home order.
To our Royal Father of the Day, H.R.H. Igwe Chidubem Iweka, the Traditional Ruler of Obosi, we say you're the best, your majesty.
Greetings to our last year's guests most of whom their supports will be appreciated today. Thanks also to our 2021 guests, for squeezing out time to honour our humble invitation, despite their tight schedules.
We recognize and appreciate the authors of the works in our sixth Chinua Achebe Poetry/Essay Anthology that will be unveiled today; as well as other guests who have come from far and near to witness this occasion. Thanks also to my ardent and hard-working members who have devoted their time and ideas to make this dream come true.
Having said these, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all to this memorable occasion once again, and pray that the good Lord who gathered us here also will grant us a joyfu stay, and enable us to live a life worthy of emulation and leave legacies worthy of celebration, even after our lives here on this earth, just as we are remembering and celebrating Achebe's life and his own legacies today.
This address is indeed a sermon on the mountain, but worth the time.
Once again, I welcome you all and wish you a happy stay here. Your presence means a lot to us.
Nnọ́ọ̀nụ̀ ndị be anyị na ndị ọbịa anyị.
Thank you all for listening.
The Coordinator, Society of Young Nigerian Writers, Anambra State Chapter.