LAGOS, Nigeria — The author of the internationally acclaimed novel “Things Fall Apart” and other works examining the political failures and corruption of oil-rich Nigeria has rejected a national honor for a second time over what he says are the country’s failings.
Chinua Achebe’s decision to turn down the ceremonial title that he would have received Monday brought a curt reaction from Nigeria’s government, which has long tried to portray the country as a properly developing democracy with a campaign slogan of “Good People, Great Nation.”
However, as the nation faces increased attacks from a radical Muslim sect, continued banditry in its oil-rich delta and a population throttled by endemic poverty, some wonder whether the 80-year-old’s writings ring truer today than ever before.
President Goodluck Jonathan sought to give Mr. Achebe the honorary title of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic, which the leader bestowed on diplomats, businessmen and military leaders during a ceremony Monday. However, Mr. Achebe turned down the honor in a short, terse letter to the president in which he noted that he also rejected the award in 2004.
That year, Mr. Achebe told then-President Olusegun Obasanjo that his concerns about securityand corruption in the nation made it “too dangerous for silence” as he worried his home state of Anambra had become “a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom.” This year, the writer told Mr. Jonathan that he had to “regretfully decline the offer again.”
“The reasons for rejecting the offer when it was first made have not been addressed let alone solved,” Mr. Achebe wrote in the letter, a copy of which was given to the Associated Press on Monday. “It is inappropriate to offer it again to me.”
The move apparently surprised Mr. Jonathan’s administration, which came to power in an April election observers called largely fair, though it sparked religious and political rioting that left 800 people dead.
In a statement Sunday, the presidency called Mr. Achebe “a national icon,” but suggested his “regrettable decision” came from misinformation from not living in Nigeria. Mr. Achebe now lives in Providence, R.I., where he serves as a professor of Africana studies at Brown University.
“Coming as it does, against the background of the widely acclaimed electoral reforms undertaken by the Jonathan administration, the claim by [Professor] Achebe clearly flies in the face of the reality of Nigeria’s current political situation,” the statement reads.
Many view Mr. Achebe as one of the pre-eminent voices of dissent and conscience in his native Nigeria. His 1958 book “Things Fall Apart,” about a village leader’s fall from power as colonialists take hold of Nigeria, is considered the first work of postcolonial fiction in Africa. Mr. Achebe also strongly supported the breakaway Republic of Biafra during Nigeria’s brutal civil war in the late 1960s, which saw 1 million people killed from violence and hunger.
Nigeria embraced democracy in 1999 after a string of military rulers. Despite new political freedoms and billions of dollars in oil revenues, the country remains strangled by corruption that leaves the majority of the nation live in poverty.
The country also has been under increasing attack from a radical Muslim sect that has killed more than 360 people this year alone, according to an AP count. On Monday, Mr. Jonathan awarded the same title he sought for Mr. Achebe to the heads of the country’s federal police, intelligence service and secret police - the agencies still unable to combat the threat.
“We are a nation with a proud and rich heritage that dates back into antiquity, a nation of great warriors, poets, traditional artists, great musicians and scientists who have distinguished themselves on the world stage,” Mr. Jonathan told those gathered at the ceremony, which was televised live in Nigeria.
Mr. Achebe, in his 1983 essay called “The Trouble With Nigeria,” offered a much more cautious tone about the country’s history that many still cite today as the ultimate protest against what the nation has become.
“Spurious patriotism is one of the hallmarks of Nigeria’s privileged classes whose generally unearned positions of sudden power and wealth must seem unreal even to themselves,” he wrote. “To lay the ghost of their insecurity, they talk patriotically. But their protestation is only mouth-deep; it does not exist in their heads nor in their hearts and certainly not in the work of their hands.”