World renowned literary giant and famous writer, Professor Chinua Achebe was the center of attraction over the weekend in New York where the Nigerian Lawyers Association, NLA, at its annual dinner event honored Achebe with the group's annual merit award for his "literary genuis and oustanding community leadership."
And as Achebe, currently a top Professor at Bard University, upstate New York, received the award he waxed literarily comparing Nigeria to a poem-Lazarus that depicted a society where law and order had broken down. Achebe who last year turned down President Olusegun Obasanjo's offer of a national award concluded again on Saturday evening in New York that "Nigeria has become a soeity on the brink of lawlessness."
Present to add color to the celebration of Achebe by Nigerian lawyers and about 300 Nigerian professionals at the packed hall in Times Square, New York, where two former ministers and other eminent Nigerians from home and abroad. Professor Ibrahim Gambari, former External Affairs Minister and his wife, his colleague in the Buhari cabinet Chief Chike Ofodile, former Attorney General and Justice Minister made speeches in honor of Achebe at the event. Professor Bolanle Awe, the mother of the incumbent president of the Nigeria Lawyers Association, NLA, Tinuade Awe, was also in attendance and Dr. Ferdinand Ofodile, America's top plastic surgeon. Others included Nigerian- fathered but American bred New York Judge, Ms Gloria Dabiri.
Although Achebe did not speak for too long, he was very particular that lawyers have a crucial role to play in keeping a society safe. But he warned that the job of a lawyer could be a dangerous one, especially in a dangerous state, referring to the assasination of Chief Bola Ige, the former Attorney- General few years ago.
Calling Ige, "my friend", Achebe said "in the real world, the lawyer's vocation is dangerous...couple years ago my friend Chief Bola Ige was assasinated in broad day light in his own home, it seemed unlikely until it happened." He then referred to Ofodile who was also Attorney General before Ige, saying he was lucky that he served and is alive "to tell the story."
In a distant reference to the national question and the ongoing discourse on the issue, Achebe recalled Chief Obafemi Awolowo's description of Nigeria as a mere geographic expression without mentioning his name. For Achebe, Nigeria is indeed a legal fiction, "but some fictions are more fictitious than the others," adding that "the fragility of our assemblage is quite apparent."
Earlier Professor Gambari, the Under Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs had paid tribute to Achebe, saying he also brought warm greetings from the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Gambari described Achebe as "an eminent Nigerian citizen, great son of Africa and a great novelist and a fantastic human being."
Gambari also delved into a review of some of Achebe's work and concluded that he is a true friend of the underprivilege and someone who did not leave politics to politicians alone, referring to Achebe's foray into politics in the second republic.
The UN political chief, who the lawyers described as a fatherly figure to the NLA, said Achebe understood the belief that our world interacts with others and even though we may not have the same past, we do have a similar future. According to Gambari, Achebe "insists that every human being must begiven their due respects." Observing affinity with Achebe on three fronts, Gambari said Achebe is a patrotic Nigerian, and citizen of the world, his "very senior colleague" in the Ivory tower, and a friend and brother.
In his own tribute, Chief Ofodile said Achebe is "a man who knows and knows that he knows." According to the former Attorney General Achebe is not just a reputable professor but an important red cap chief from eastern Nigeria.
Ofodile, who was also described by the MC of the event, former NLA President Shamsey Oloko as a long standing friend of the NLA, urged the Nigerian lawyers abroad "to take time to look into what's going on in Nigeria and put in a word or two." He said afterall to whom much is given, much is expected. According to him Nigerian lawyers in the US can say-we came, we saw and we conquerred."
In her remarks made by the New York Judge Dabiri, she noted that Achebe is a great leadership inspiration, who has had a profound inspiration on her childhood especially as an African American in the early days of US civil rights movements of the 50s and 60s. Dabiri said she was truly honored to finally meet Achebe in person.
In her welcome address Tinuade Awe, the president of the NLA described Achebe as "Nigeria, nay Africa's premier emissary of letters. His life is an inspiration. His accomplishments in the literary field are beyond question. They continue to serve as the standard for Nigerians all over the world as many of us declare boldly that we are citizens of Prof. Achebe's country."
Awe said Achebe's wise and measured interventions in the affairs of our dear country provide hope to many Nigerians, adding that the the "modest, honest, and decent manner in which he has always conducted himself is worthy of emulation, more so as reckless ostentation in the midst of severe want is fast becoming the model for younger Nigerians.
Responding to the tributes, Achebe said he is "truly overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity shown me this evening. It is a great honor to be chosen." The famous writer said he was humbled by the kind word spoken, and mentioned in a light reference to Gambari, whom he called "my friend in the ivory tower" that "he chose to go to the wiser world," refering to Gambari's diplomatic career.
She said the group has earned increased recognition within the American legal community and expanding its social responsibilities both in the US and NIgeria. According to her "In March 2005, the NLA as part of a group of minority bar associations raised $1020 to support the work of Council for Unity, an organization dedicated to helping ast risk youths in disadvantaged communities."
Awe, a practising lawyer in New York city said also in June this year the NLA instituted a program of free legal clinics within the Nigerian community and also recently gave a donation of $3000 towards combating AIDS in Nigeria.
The event was planned by a team of notable New York lawyers as members of the NLA including former president Shmasey Oloko, who chaired the planning committee, former executive member Placid Agunwa, who gave a colorful vote of thanks among others. Other members of the committee are Ifeoma Anekwe, Ike Echeruo, Ikenna Emehelu, Chris Eribo, and Bola Lawrence.
Another highlight of the event was the introduction of Prof. Achebe by another former NLA president Beatrice Hamza-Bassey. Achebe said Hamza's introduction which was a truly brillaint analysis of Achebe's work could earn her a professorial chair in the university.
Current executives of the NLA are Tinuade Awe, president, Wuyi Ogunyinka, vice president, Ikenna P. Emechelu, the secretary and Lanre Abiola, treasurer.