My heart was so heavy last week. I got an email from my publicist that you had passed and there was no one to hear me cry out. I couldn’t believe it. I called my mother and she mentioned she had just started re-reading Things Fall Apart.
In spite of the fact that our Nigerian grandparents these days often transition around the age you reached, I just thought it wasn’t fair. You are a giant to me. Your name can only be taken with somewhat of the reverence we use for deities. How can you leave us? I have yet to thank you for the fact that if I say I am a “Nigerian writer,” that it means something valuable.
If it wasn’t for your leading a generation of revolutionary sages, would anyone care what Nigerians have to say? Would anyone believe that Nigerians can write award-winning literature?
The images of Okonkwo’s village and the harvest feast have become part of my imagination’s geographical landscape, never leaving me as I think and write about Africa. The assassination of Ikem haunts me until today as I look to the possibilities as a journalist in Africa.
I saw a photo of you not too long ago, and I thought, “He’s getting up there in age. His time with us may not be as infinite as his influence on us.” But still I was certain, that because your presence on this earth was so large, that your time would be eternally long.
It seems as though you had to release There Was a Country as your last gift to us. You got Nigerians talking about what happened in Biafra and how grossly unfair it was—a crucial part of our modern history. You reinforced the deep divides that have caused us to kill one another for so many generations. You caused even me to rethink my infinite devotion to our other deity, Awolowo. In spite of the amazing things he did for the Southwest, that simple act that killed millions of Biafrans begs the question, how do we even allow ourselves to get into such a war? What is so valuable that millions of people must die to keep an economic unit, a colony, a “new country” intact? The issues of the Nigerian Civil War are the same today. Why are these people of different languages and cultural groups forced to integrate—within broken systems—to the point of war and famine?
I pray that this new generation of Nigerians, shaped in large part by your extraordinary contributions, will continue this discourse in line with African cooperation, unity, and fairness. I pray we keep in mind your wishes for us, your people. I pray that you are welcomed with open arms by your ancestors at the gates of the Most High.
Thank you, Baba.
With humble gratitude for having coexisted in this era with you,
Ololade Siyonbola is the author of Market of Dreams, President of the Yoruba Cultural Institute, and co-founder of Exodus to Afrika International, a research and action organization that provides housing and work resources, as well as, cultural training to Diasporans interested in traveling or relocating to Africa.