A few months ago after reading an article by the best selling author of one of my favorite novels – Half of a Yellow Sun, I had a strong urge to write her and tell her a few of my thoughts. For some reason I restrained myself until now.
Chimamanda has got such a fan base (part of which I am) so much so that my wife wants our first baby named after her. But what strikes me the most about Chimamanda is the disappointment I get in the feeling of selfishness and self-centeredness on her part. Before anyone strikes me down with slurs or accuse me of being judgmental, may I say that I hardly know this woman and so cannot judge her; rather I have drawn my conclusions from events of her writings lately.
I have followed Chimamanda everywhere, facebook, youtube, TEDTalk, you name it. I have gone beyond her books to read her body language, her gesticulations, her appearance, all of which sums into her brand. It is her brand actually that have left a feeling of creepiness and untruth in what she has portrayed herself to be in relation to and in identifying with her roots.
Least you begin to wonder what it is I am talking about, she has made herself unique in an African way. Her hair, cloths, use of Igbo language, etc. which turns out to be a sharp and visible contrast to who she really is, thereby making the whole brand thing – the Igboness and Africanness – a means to an end.
Last January I visited one of the big bookstores in New York, and like I am won’t to do I went straight to the African writers’ section. I was proud to find Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda’s Americanah on the shelf, side by side. There was no other Nigerian author in that section. In Europe and Australia people know Chimamanda next to Chinua Achebe and wonder who Wole Soyinka is (even though he won a Nobel Laureate and is prolific in his own right). The adaptation of Half of A Yellow Sun into a movie only made things better and the fact that it is banned in Nigeria has kept her in global headlines.
Nonetheless, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an Igbo-African writer who is yet to write for her own people. All through her works, she has put the story of her own people into beautiful paperbacks for the reading West. And she has been successful. While Nigerians and Ndigbo celebrate her success, they have not been able to enjoy their identity in these stories. This is mostly because this amiable author of Igbo-African stories lack the Igbo-Africanness that should go beyond her televised appearances and deeper than her skin color.
In one way or the other today, Ndigbo more than any other ethnic group and tribes of Nigeria have been influenced by westernization. We all are at some point vanquished in this regard. Chimamanda is a victim and so I’m I; and the victor here is not the western world, it is rather those of us who have succeeded in striking a balance between the core values from our roots and the very necessary, contemporary life style of the western world. We are victors because in these times westernization come in handy and easy and does as much as increase life expectancy and longevity so that Igbo and African values are pressured to be lost somewhere in the middle – a case of jebe ejebe adiya nma, naba anaba adiya nma – yet we hold forth and enjoy ‘westernity’ without losing who we are. And that is where Chimamanda has failed to identify with whom she appears to be.
I have been pressured not to add a prefix to her name since it will be unAfrican of me to address a woman whose Igbo family took a dowry on as Miss instead of Mrs.; Chimamanda’s insistence to be addressed as Miss Adichie instead of Mrs. Adichie (to excuse her ‘name in fame’ in the hope that her documented last name is her husbands’), is a clear case of the contrast between what she portrays – appearance, writing and who she is – Igbo-African woman. I root for her understanding and explication of feminism, but if this is any part of what she means by feminism then she is a bigger contradiction than I ever thought. My simple proof is that since I am neither her father nor husband, I may not address her as Mrs, but in the same vein I will not address her as Miss, since that will be against our common traditional heritage and values which in itself has no guile nor will its obliteration be a proof of feminism in any case.
In recent times there was bad blood politicking, and then there was terrorism (where according to Chimamanda: “… Boko Haram commits casual mass murder…”); all in a sizeable length of time enough for anyone to notice and cringe. Of course Chimamanda Adichie is “… distressed about the students murdered in their school, about the people whose bodies were spattered in Nyanya, about the girls abducted in Chibok.” And is “…furious that politicians are politicizing what should be a collective Nigerian mourning, a shared Nigerian sadness.” But then, just like the greater part of Nigerians there was nothing she could do about it. Not even what she has decided to do now, rather she again at some point immediately found her pen and lent a voice to the west against the Anti-gay bill which was signed into law in Nigeria as the news hit the web. Why wouldn’t she, when Europe and America will be eager to read or hear her take on a more global issue like homosexuality, a way of life in the very fiber of the west and a decisive factor for who becomes president of the United States. Why will she not want ‘Sochukwuma’ to be like everyone else since she has to think like her western friends in whose countries homosexuality is almost at home - considering the fact that most states in the USA are still battling with the legality of same sex unions. So, maybe because she has to keep the handshake with her western publishers, Literary Awards and various festival Organizers, talk show hosts and interviewers Chimamanda did not stop to think that Sochukwuma was from another clime and culture that is not western enough yet to deal differently with the epiphany of same sex unions for their kits and kin. I am more than certain that she knew all these except that she must keep selling her story to the west – her greatest buyers.
It was regarding this that I restrained myself from writing to Chimamanda about, after she wrote against the Nigerian gay law. I restrained myself because it is her choice as well as mine or anyone else’, even if the reactions to it may differ according to climes not to, secretly or openly support homosexuality. Nevertheless anyone would have known, especially anyone who has lived in the west that homosexuality in Nigeria is neither politics nor economy.
Incidentally, Chimamanda and I share the same icon Albert Chinualumogu Achebe and we all come from the same area, only about 20 minutes from each others’ town. Achebe is one of those who are victors in the battle between westernization and Igbo-Africanness. He did not lose his head in that battle just like Chimamanda is already doing. The literary icon whom Chimamanda and I adore is an ozo title holder whom I am certain will not take Chimamanda’s stand on homosexuality in Nigeria even if that stand would sell a trillion of his published works and give him a worlds record breaking offer for more publishing. In any case, as much as people are won’t to do what their icons would do in a given situation, I still will think it not fair of me to expect that Chimamanda should have considered what Achebe will do if he were here, especially because she is a unique individual.
Today I read and want for Chimamanda the President she wants for herself; it is not a bad one by any standard but the problem here is I am not sure she will get that now. Nigeria is a country where everything is possible and so it wont be a surprise if she got her President right this moment, but that can happen if and only if like her desired President she also draws up expectations of the Nigerian Citizens she wants. If she does, then she must include in her list a citizenry that understands the meaning of democracy to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people and do everything to live by it including not aiding terrorist, giving out information to aid constituted authorities during situations of risk and a lot other things expected of good citizens.
It is in that light therefore that I want to state that there is A CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE I WANT.
It really should not be me expecting so much from Chimamanda since I did not give her anything, but her maker who has given her so much does expect as much, if the adage to whom much is given much is expected is anything to go by. It is on this that I lean and want a Chimamanda who will know that her name can open doors everywhere in the world.
I want a Chimamanda who will know that this time is not one to talk with Kathryn Schulz, Mary Schmich, Zadie Smith, Ramona Koval, Damian Wetzel, etc. but that it is rather time to talk to Muhamadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar, El Rufai, Sanusi Lamido, Nyarko, Shettima, Lamido Adamawa, Ado Bayero, Gusau, Emir of sokoto, ACF, etc. and make them understand that the power to stop Boko Haram is mostly in their hands.
I want a Chimamanda who will put CNN, Channel 4 news, TED Talk, Louisiana Channel, etc. on hold for now and engage all media houses and establishments in Nigeria to national campaigns like appealing to the mindsets of Nigerian citizens towards responsible citizenry especially in this times when responsible leadership seem to be far fetched.
I want a Chimamanda who will give up visiting colleges and universities like kalamazoo college, Rollins college, Middlesex university of Dubai, etc. but rather start visiting ABU Zaria, Kaduna polythecnic, University of Maiduguri, University of Abuja, High schools in the North and south of Nigeria, etc and make the youth understand that their future is cut short every time they are used unpatriotically.
I want a Chimamanda who instead of being at the Sympnony space New York or NYS Writters institute, et al would rather be in some places in Nigeria giving speeches, delivering lectures, holding seminars; especially now, in the bid to pave a way forward as well as educate the people of her country. A Chimamanda who like she did the Commonwhealth should be addressing the on going national conference even if it means once a week.
I want a Chimamanda who will remain very amiable in her views on feminism that she will team up with international acts like Beyonce Knowles and collaborate with Nigerian female acts and carry a campaign to northern Nigeria, paying visits to northern dignitaries and addressing citizens in shows and on the street especially now.
I do not want a Chimamanda who weeks after girls were abducted in chibok, sits behind her desk and writes how she thinks the country should be run, when she could but did not even appear in any rally.
I want Chimamanda to know that America was at war with Russia and the president of America went to morning mass the day Russia was blown away at sea. No one who has not been killed by Boko Haram should have his or her life shut down because the north is held in siege, it doesn’t matter if that person is an orange seller or the President. Only except if the shut down aids security.
I want a Chimamanda who will know that there is only so much that the government of Nigeria can communicate to its citizens because communication if done openhandedly in a place like Nigeria, will lead to more security problems.
I do not want a Chimamanda who cannot attach importance to the fact that the mayhem in the north is linked with where the president of Nigeria should come from, and therefore it does not matter if she doesn’t care where the president comes from.
If most Nigerian feel the impact of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie differently this time, and if I get the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I want, it will become much easier for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to get the president she wants.
“President Jonathan may not fit that bill, but he can approximate it: by being the leader Nigerians desperately need now.” This in fact is possible if we as a nation understand and follow the laws that work towards getting a peoples’ need met. For in truth I remember some words told to my young ears, “a people deserve the government they get” and it has a striking lyricism too.
Chinedu Ezigbo hails from Abatete, Nigeria.