Atanmuo said Achebe became a professor in the university and achieved global fame, yet he came down from that high pedestal to become the President General of Ogidi Town Union in the 1980s as a sign that he had something to offer to his people and a demonstration that no position should be a hindrance to anyone who wants to serve his people. He said Achebe’s acceptance to lead the town union then was an attempt to tell the people of his community the way they should look at things.
According to Atanmuo, Achebe’s decision to become a community leader in spite of his global view demonstrated to his clansmen and leaders across the nation showed that the issue of class distinction is artificial. “Hence he came down and mixed with the people, ate with them, lived, played and cracked jokes with them,” Atanmuo pointed out.
That single act by Achebe to his native community, Atanmuo said, meant leadership is showing the people the right path by demonstrating.
He stressed that a lot of things happened during Achebe’s leadership of the town union, stating that a part of it was the opportunities he gave to the poor, because he made the children from less privileged families realise that they too can aspire to becoming great and still be accessible to their people.â€¨
“A lot of us began to emulate him. In those days people will say I want to be that or this. In fact, he was an inspiration and a role model and he was one man you could touch and share your thoughts with. He was inspirational. He wasn’t just president general of Ogidi Town Union, he was also a member of Ndichie Imeobi (a council of advisers to the then traditional ruler, Igwe Ben Amobi).
“Achebe valued his membership of the king’s advisory council so much and at that time Ogidi was in the hands of capable and compassionate leaders such as the Igwe, Chinua Achebe and other illustrious sons of the town,” he said.
Although Achebe’s family is yet to make an official announcement on his funeral, Ogidi people in Anambra State see his burial as a special event, since he was a high chief and former president general of the town union. They said he would be given a befitting burial.
â€¨Atanmuo recalled that a few years ago when he was the chairman of the committee on Achebe’s Things Fall Apart anniversary during which the members of the committee tried to erect his statue at a prominent round about in Ogidi as a mark of honour, they were told at the last minute to discontinue after consultations with the prolific writer because people would think that it was unusual to erect the statue of a living person.â€¨
“Again we planned to name one of the streets in Ogidi after him but people discouraged us and said we should also get his clearance before doing that and the idea was shelved. Now, we have to do it. It has become absolutely necessary because Achebe was a man we valued and honoured a great deal while alive. â€¨
“Ogidi people shall erect the statue at a very prominent location in the town in his memory. Already there is a library built by Idemili North Local Government named after him and we can only urge the local government to modernise and equip it with computers and make it bigger as a centre of learning for young writers,” he said.â€¨
Besides these, Atanmuo said, his funeral would enable Ogidi people express their gratitude to God for giving them a man like Achebe in their time.
He added: “The full traditional burial will also take place and to the people of Ogidi that does not mean paganism. The burial ceremony, Atanmuo reasoned, will be a mixture of traditional and Christian rites because he was a good Christian just as he was a good community leader.â€¨
“The church would be involved because his late father too was a catechist and church teacher and Chinua went to a missionary school.”
Corroborating this, one of his kinsmen from Ikenga Ogidi, Pa Godfrey Agbogu, 84, a retired teacher who said Achebe attended vernacular classes at St. Philip’s School, also said traditionally, members of Achebe’s age grade in Ogidi known as “Ogbo Government Age Grade” will as soon as his kinsmen perform the “Imepu Ozu” ceremony (declaring the burial ceremony open) and his maternal relations and uncles file to take a glance of his corpse, will follow suit in that order.
The maternal relations, according to him, have a special right to inspect the corpse in line with tradition because they have to be convinced that their “son” died of natural causes and was not killed. Besides, the Christian Men’s Association will also see the corpse after which the church service would start.â€¨
But in the absence of a traditional ruler to presides and coordinates the traditional rites of a member of the kings’ advisory council, since Ogidi had remained without a rule in the last 16 years, Atanmuo said the regent will likely take over that role.â€¨
“It would be taken care of. The chiefs buried the late Igwe and they will also bury Chinua Achebe, though Achebe would have loved that an Igwe emerged before he died,” he said.
He indicated that Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio- cultural organisation would also be involved in the planning and execution of Achebe’s burial because it is an issue of culture.
Atanmuo said though the Anambra State Government has shown remarkable interest and commitment to giving the late writer a befitting burial, the people of Ogidi would prefer or make requests that both the federal and state governments name major streets in some state capitals in the country after him. Such streets to be named, he emphasized, might not have to be in Anambra State.
“Schools should also be named after him anywhere in the country and monuments established in his honour by the federal government in Abuja or anywhere in Enugu. The Anambra State Government should also consider naming the state university at Uli with a campus in Igbariam after Chinua Achebe,” he pleaded.