For our father, Corporal Ohanugo, you who never came back to the children of the barracks…
[In which I compile my various thoughts on Professor Chinua Achebe’s book, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra culled from my numerous postings on Twitter, Facebook and listserves. This is intended to serve primarily as a historical archive of my views. So I (we) may not forget.]
I enjoyed reading Chinua Achebe’s memoir, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Many devotees of Achebe will recognize several chapters from previous essays; however he does a good job of putting them together to tell a majestic story. It is an important book, one that should adorn every thinker’s book shelf or e-reader. What I am going to say here is not a review or critique of the book; I don’t think that the world could stand yet another review of that book. Yes, there are some really good reviews of the book and there are many atrocious rants posing as reviews. My favorite review is by Tolu Ogunlesi whose coolly cerebral analysis puts to shame the reams of hot air from several architects of Nigeria’s ruin. Reading the book clearly makes the profoundly sad point that many who have “reviewed” the book dispensed with the inconvenience of reading it. Too bad. Achebe’s memoir is a great, nostalgic look back at a very complex era, one that should have elicited a more coherent and respectful engagement than what we witnessed when the book was released. To be fair, Nigeria’s educational system is at best incoherent, in reality in shambles. Not much of what Achebe had to say can be gleaned from Nigeria’s classrooms. And so, many people have reacted with pieces of dog-eared crap because Nigeria has not invested in an instructional and intellectual infrastructure that keeps her history intact. It is Nigeria’s loss, not Achebe’s.
The noise making and intemperate dance of shame that heralded Achebe’s book are a sad commentary on how many Nigerians conduct the business of scholarship these days. Many people should be stripped of their academic degrees; they are a disgrace to scholarship. There are many things to disagree with Achebe about, but one comes away with a sad realization that we are witnessing the passing of an era, of principled hard-working writers and thinkers, well-educated and brought up to believe in intellectual rigor. I say to those who “reviewed” the book before reading it, please go and read that book before you open your mouths one more time. Talk about a hardworking scholar; the man puts together an impeccable compilation of academic sources including my favorite historian, the indefatigable Professor Toyin Falola, in order to tell a compelling story about his life and our world. And yes, There Was A Country is not all about Biafra. There are powerful passages there for instance about the burden of the writer of African extraction, profoundly moving are his thoughts on what we should be preoccupied with as writers and thinkers. Achebe is a meticulous writer, providing sources everywhere appropriate. And that’s the other thing; many Nigerian writers would not know to go to Professor Toyin Falola as a reference, not as long as there is a Western scholar babbling stuff about “Africa,” Achebe did. The sources alone are worth the price of the book.
The truth must be told: Most people commenting on Achebe’s opinions were merely reacting to what he wrote about Chief Obafemi Awolowo in an Op-ed piece in the UK Guardian on Tuesday, October 2, 2012.
This is what Achebe said about Chief Awolowo:
“The wartime cabinet of General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals like Chief Obafemi Awolowo among others who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies. A statement credited to Awolowo and echoed by his cohorts is the most callous and unfortunate: all is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder.
It is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself and for his Yoruba people. There is, on the surface at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose – the Nigeria-Biafra war – his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of his enemies significantly through starvation — eliminating over two million people, mainly members of future generations.”
It is not the most elegant critique of Pa Awolowo’s role and complicity in the genocide that was Biafra. But then, there is something offensive about expecting Achebe to be “objective” in his narrative. There was a horrific conflict and he is telling his side of the story. Readers are mature enough to understand that Achebe is coming from a certain perspective and they respect that. As Achebe reminds us, until the lions produce their own historian, the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter. Facts are facts and not even the saccharine hagiographies offered by insincere architects of Nigeria’s ruin can change that. To my dying day I will always maintain that Pa Awolowo and Pa Enahoro are culpable in the genocide that wiped out millions of Nigerians. They said it themselves, garrulously and loudly. We cannot and should not run away from that. Simply Google their names and the truth will come tumbling out of their boastful mouths.
Yes. Chief Awolowo virtually accepted responsibility in the blockade that starved millions of women children and defenseless women of Biafra. In response to Achebe’s biting words about Pa Awolowo, many exhumed a 1983 interview in which he tried to defend his role in the civil war. It is an awful interview with patronizing and condescending opinions about the other. He says of his role:
“You won’t hear of a single lawyer, a single doctor, a single architect, who suffered from kwashiorkor? None of their children either, so they waylaid the foods, they ambush the vehicles and took the foods to their friends and to their collaborators and to their children and the masses were suffering. So I decided to stop sending the food there. In the process the civilians would suffer, but the soldiers will suffer most.”
If you do not start from a point of truth and courage, you have a broken compass. What happened in Biafra was genocide, no ifs, no buts. I have always thought that as a (contrived) people, our cowardice is primeval and savage. The criminals who did this to millions of women, children and the defenseless are still alive as “statesmen.” The evil dead are immortalized in currency notes and their evil names adorn airports. I respect Pa Awolowo but I think he was not only wrong, he and Chief Anthony Enahoro are culpable in the genocide that was Biafra. I am not Igbo, not that it should matter, but I could tell you about what it meant to be caught in a war-zone (Benin City under the Biafran army occupation) at age 8, without your parents, tending to your six-year old brother while living in a two-room lean to of a distant relative. I could tell you that the terror lives with both of us to this day. Because war is hell.
Yes. the Nigerian civil war is infinitely more complicated than any book I have ever read can script it. My parents’ ancestral land is part of my experience but not in terms of a formal education. It is quite possible that without a free primary education powered by Pa Awolowo’s vision, I would not be here today. It is also true that many Biafran children are not with us today because Pa Awolowo denied them that which he offered me so generously; food, water and life. That is the absolute truth and Pa Awolowo confirmed it in the God awful (yes, awful) interview that many proudly brandish all over the place. It is impossible to forget Biafra, but today, Nigeria is in a very bad place, on many levels. Those that ruined our country are still strutting about handing us gobs of malu droppings. In the meantime in medieval places like Aluu, youths are slaughtered and burnt alive for allegedly stealing phones. Nigeria’s retired crooks are on social media tweeting quotes from Mahatma Gandhi. I mean, how difficult is it to say that the forced starvation of children and women was wrong?
Again, I say to these people, read the book. Despite Achebe’s anger, he devotes space in the book to reflect on the positive qualities of Pa Awolowo and he gives him due credit.
“By the time I became a young adult, Obafemi Awolowo had emerged as one of Nigeria’s dominant political figures. He was an erudite and accomplished lawyer who had been educated at the University of London. When he returned to the Nigerian political scene from England in 1947, Awolowo found the once powerful political establishment of western Nigeria in disarray— sidetracked by partisan and intra-ethnic squabbles. Chief Awolowo and close associates reunited his ancient Yoruba people with powerful glue— resuscitated ethnic pride— and created a political party, the Action Group, in 1951, from an amalgamation of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, the Nigerian Produce Traders’ Association, and a few other factions….
Initially Chief Obafemi Awolowo struggled to woo support from the Ibadan-based (and other non-Ijebu) Yoruba leaders who considered him a radical and a bit of an upstart. However, despite some initial difficulty, Awolowo transformed the Action Group into a formidable, highly disciplined political machine that often outperformed the NCNC in regional elections. It did so by meticulously galvanizing political support in Yoruba land and among the riverine and minority groups in the Niger Delta who shared a similar dread of the prospects of Igbo political domination.” (Kindle Locations 784-797)
Yes, Achebe said all that about Pa Awolowo. Read the book first before reviewing it. Too many of the combatants in this shameless orgy of finger-pointing dunked the conversation in the filthy lucre of true and tired orthodoxy, to hell with a new realistic way of looking at our world. Think about it; in a certain sense, for a long time now, Western education and civilization have foisted on Black Africa, two tribes, one made up of the self-serving intellectual and political elite, and the rest, the dregs, the dispossessed. The poor are the ones that die by the millions, they are the ones that watch their children die of malnutrition, and endure abusive public education in the hands of intellectuals and politicians. They are the ones that are doubly victimized by thieving pastors. Their suffering knows no end. I ask my fellow intellectuals and professionals today: How many of us are in Nigeria? How many of us have children in Nigeria? How many of our children can speak an indigenous language? How many of our children give a hoot about any of this? It is our collective hypocrisy that even as we fight over dead leaders like Pa Obafemi Awolowo, our children are abroad at Starbucks, sipping lattes with their Spanish teachers. We will line up the poor, struggling in the dying remnants of ancient civilizations, to fight for our ideals.
What has happened to Achebe’s book is ordinarily an outrage. But it sells books and Achebe should be chuckling all the way to the bank. Ignorance sells. It bears repeating: Our intellectual and ruling elite know one fact – fiefdoms are not sustainable in the 21st century. We see this in their behavior. Their children and families are ensconced in the best communities and schools of the West, learn English, Spanish and lately Chinese, and busily acquire skills for 21st century survival while they force the dispossessed to look back in anger at their version of history. This they know: Expanding the boundaries of their world, their new ethnic enclave of middle-class living to embrace even more is anathema to their civilization. Our people are the new savages; our leaders are the new Conrads, little Naipauls shivering in the warmth of the other, dressed in ill-fitting Tweeds. The children of our pretend-tribal warlords do not speak a single “African” language, would not know a Yoruba from Siri. That is our Achilles heels, the rank hypocrisy of the intellectual and ruling class.
Chinua Achebe has said his piece and we should applaud him for jumpstarting a conversation. I believe his narrative more than that of a Pa Awolowo or Pa Anthony Enahoro garrulously defiant about the need to starve to death children, just to make a deadly point. By the way, I did not need Achebe’s book to come to that point. I am also very interested in the minority narrative, something which Achebe mostly ignores in his book and which many others gloss over, as if it is a patronizing afterthought. It is what it is, those of us cursed with the minority label daily endure the ordeal of our communal balls being squeezed by the big three groups – the Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani and Igbo. I will concede that many Igbo intellectuals have reflected deeply on the war and to their credit have been unsparing of Igbo leaders in the horror that was the Nigerian civil war. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for instance managed a certain distance from the war in her lovely book, Half of a Yellow Sun. That book, which I reviewed here, should be required reading in every classroom everywhere in the world.
Many things I don’t understand, but perhaps, Africa is where bad ideas go to die. And yes, my point is this: Chinua Achebe’s book, There Was a Country, has fueled the bile of ancients, flag barriers of ethnic prejudices, shaking gnarled fists at the truth of Nigeria’s shame. There was a country indeed. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but nations and physical boundaries are so 20th century. Nations as we know them are dying, and not just because the great teacher, Chinua Achebe says so. Even as thriving nations are helped along to the new paradigm shift by their intellectuals, there is no end to the finger-pointing and recriminations among Nigeria’s narcissistic, navel gazing, and in many instances, thieving intellectuals. My generation of intellectuals and rulers (I would not call them leaders) has proven eloquently that we have lost the plot when it comes to Nigeria’s desired future. Many of us have taken to open looting, and virtually all of us have become defensive and perhaps abusive when it comes to getting feedback. Follow our intellectual and political elite and their buffoonery and Biafra seems so far away:
Our intellectuals are asleep at the wheel of divination. That is a shame. It is time for us to face some honest truths. Today, for many intellectuals, Biafra is an academic exercise for the most part and a dishonest one for that matter. Any notion that Biafra would have been a nirvana is easily dispelled by the state of Eastern states today. Corruption has eroded the people’s sense of self; the struggle continues, to use the cliché. There is not a single credible museum dedicated to the war effort anywhere in Nigeria. There are pretend-museums, but nothing like you would expect in honor of millions dead. In Anambra State, children of the traumatized and dispossessed are “educated” in hovels as this appalling video shows.
Back to Achebe’s book. Achebe needs no one to defend him and I am sure he expected some reaction to the book because he makes many statements in there that are controversial. There is plenty to disagree with in the book, for example, Achebe says:
“I have written in my small book entitled The Trouble with Nigeria that Nigerians will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo. The origin of the national resentment of the Igbo is as old as Nigeria and quite as complicated. But it can be summarized thus: The Igbo culture, being receptive to change, individualistic, and highly competitive, gave the Igbo man an unquestioned advantage over his compatriots in securing credentials for advancement in Nigerian colonial society. Unlike the Hausa/ Fulani he was unhindered by a wary religion, and unlike the Yoruba he was unhampered by traditional hierarchies. This kind of creature, fearing no god or man, was custom-made to grasp the opportunities, such as they were, of the white man’s dispensations. And the Igbo did so with both hands. Although the Yoruba had a huge historical and geographical head start, the Igbo wiped out their handicap in one fantastic burst of energy in the twenty years between 1930 and 1950.”
Achebe, Chinua (2012-10-11). There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra (Kindle Locations 1226-1233). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
Achebe lost me here. My own people do not resent the Igbo. Achebe lost me there, yes. But I certainly understand why he would say that. The Igbo have suffered pogroms, massacres, genocide, economic and political marginalization and a man can be forgiven for those feelings. Everything has context. These words that I excerpted above were first written in that great little book of his that roared, The Trouble With Nigeria. Indeed, it is the case that many thoughts in There Was A Country are previously articulated in several other essays as Achebe meticulously documents in the various sources in the book. It is not a hagiography of the war; He is harsh in his assessment, not only of the Nigerian experiment, but on the Biafra leadership. Achebe is harsh on Biafran leader Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and provides credible sources who are severe critics of Ojukwu. He is harsh on the January 15, 1966 coup plotters and he ridicules Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, one of the masterminds of the coup.
What I find surprising is how little of Achebe’s works have been read even by many of Nigeria’s intellectuals. Very little of it in this book is new that Achebe has not previously said. I will say however that the beauty of the book is how it tells a story as if it is all new. Achebe is a master story teller. If children can now ask elders questions about Biafra because of Achebe’s book, then he has been successful beyond my wildest imagination. What Achebe’s new book has told me is that there is hunger in our land – for stories; that Nigerian youngsters pine for history, for the written word; that perhaps, writers must reflect on their role in creating a culture of people actively engaged in their writing.
Decades of decadent irresponsible governance have robbed millions of Nigerian youths of their birthright – a good education, safety and security. Add to that a future that is certain only in the sense that there is probably none. Again, Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is a good book for those who want to read something contemporary, engaging and evocative regarding Biafra There are many contentious issues that Adichie brings up – and there is no shortage of robust debate about them. That is what a book should do. Dan Obi Auduche also has a helpful bibliography of eighty books on the Biafran war here. Adichie’s book has a reference list of thirty books. My favorite essay on Biafra by the way is My Biafran Eyes by Okey Ndibe. You may feast on it freely on Guernica here. Achebe has achieved what many intellectuals like him have attempted and failed – which is to write an engaging story of that period of our history when the world watched as children’s tummies swelled from hunger, not from food. Achebe, the eagle chuckles atop the Iroko. I salute you, Professor Chinua Achebe.
17 thoughts on “There was a Country: Baying at the ghost of Biafra”
Wonderful review. Balanced and well researched.
Reblogged this on visionvoiceandviews and commented:
A must-read review of TWAC.
This review is so engaging that I simply had to reblog. I wish that my own review of TWAC done in October 2012 was that engaging! http://t.co/xHdxVO5j
Finally Papi! I couldn’t understand the uproar when the book was published. From what I have read so far, it is a personal account of the writer, and in this case, the writer also happens to be the aggrieved. If we can take the account of the oppressor as gospel, i see no wrong in hearing, with unbiased ears, the account of the oppressed. The book, if anything shows Chief Awolowo as human, flawed and ambitious. Not the demi-god we have been raised to believe. I believe the book was made better because he dare to infuse sentiment, a right he earned by being present. I think it should be added to the reading list for students, but in our myopic educational system ( where we don’t teach Nigerian history) that is unlikely and of course, a huge shame
Ikhide has in narrating his views on Achebe’s TWAC displayed mature, bold and frank analysis which sadly is becoming an endangered quality in our land even amongst intellectuals.Achebe got a similar reaction drippng with ethnic emotion when in a letter to the editor of Vanguard newspaper at the death of Chief Awolowo expressed a contrary view to that of his kinsmen that Awo did not deserve a national burial because he was not a national Leader but certainly a great leader of his Yoruba nation,his failed efforts at being the President of Nigeria not withstanding.Then editorials were written calling for Achebe’s head and some called for a boycott of Vanguard newspaper for daring to publish the letter which most newspapers controlled by the Yorubas had rejected.But Nigeria remains both intriguing and intresting because a few days afterwards the New Nigerian newspaer,the then mouth piece of the north came out with an editorial caption of: SALUTE TO COURAGE in which it praised Achebe for his courage in saying the truth.I believe Achebe is in familiar turf with the kind of criticism he is getting.I agree with Ikhide that Nigerian history is not told.This in my view is delibrate and a matter of policy which is why it is disappearing in our primary and secondary school curriculum.it is indeed a great tragedy of our time especially for the younger generation who have an ample knowledge of European and American history including the world wars,American civil wars but know next to nothing of their own country’s civil war.Only recently the Jews celebrated their holocaust experience from a war that ended nearly 70 years ago.In Nigeria people are saying don’t talk about ours.Perhaps to draw attention to this important experience of our national life, the Igbos should set out a day for rememberance called GENOCIDE DAY.The events of the war are too real,that it is guranteed life by the memories of the millions that died.We need to remind our selves continously as we roll down that dangerous cliff yet again that NEVER AGAIN.
This is a great write-up dripping with balance and corrective analysis. When I got a copy of TWAC, I went through the book and had to go through it again in search of the issues that made the “commentators” mad. I concluded that they were special issue commentators…they did not need to read the book. Many saw the occasion as an opportunity to reestablish ethnic esteem that had been rudely bashed by election losses. For many it was a case of image laundry.
Achebe called it a personal History. Sure he told it from his own perspective; but on facts as he saw them. Name calling and arrogant reaffirmation of wrongs remain uncalled for. One could challenge facts and even conclusions. We would all be better for it.
Ikhide’s view of the intellectual/politic0-economic class(elites as in Naija) is very obvious. I have always thought that people with special skills belong to that class. A pity the badge – For sale – could easily be worn by many of them. Achebe’s bold story proves a starting point. The History has started and we can embellish further. If this can spur a lot of personal Histories about that key period of our life,that will be wonderful . We must also start seeing History to include the story of one’s mistakes. This can also move us forward. It does not pay us much if History is taught as an “alibi for not having joined humanity”.
The sad aspect is that the erstwhile Biafrans even need this story most. The real debate should be rekindled by them and even more for them. As at now it will appear that we learned very little from Biafra. TWAC gives us the opportunity to open this big debate. Nigerians should discuss this period and establish the right history, so that the present and future people can live a better life ;having benefited from the History of their past.
But for those who want to defend the indefensible,they can take solace in the fact that Hitler made same mistake as Napoleon…refusal to learn from History. Both ended up losers.
Ikhide, why do you call the Biafran War genocide? Weren’t both sides killing indiscriminately? It seems to me that you had two inept sets of soldiers who shot at anything and burnt anything in their paths. Are we to expect that if Biafra had captured parts of the Southwest or the North, they would have taken soldiers prisoners of war? To the best of my knowledge there were no prisoners of war on any side, so how can you accuse one side of genocide?
A read very well worth my while. Thank you Pa.
A great read
I disagree with your review and I think it is most fundamentally flawed because you are a writer, an intellectual – a tribe which is going extinct in Nigeria as you have stated in your essays. As such, your hero worship – and nostalgia for the “good old days” – of people like Achebe precludes your ability to judge him subjectively. Please, do not take this personally, I love intellectual discourse, but intellect and literature are only useful if they are furthering the truth. That is why my judgment might seem harsh and that is why I am commenting on your essay on the book – There was a country.
I did not witness the Biafran war, but my father had a whole library of books from “rebels against rebels” to “why we struck”. I should mention that some of those books are actually much better both factually and as literature than some of the books you celebrate wildly here. My parents belonged to the group of Yorubas who believe that Awolowo should have pursued the secession of the Yoruba state once Ojukwu decided for the Ibos. Of course, their decision is retrospective considering the mess that Nigeria has become.
Now to history , that was a civil war and not genocide, the same thing happened in the US where you reside in 1861-1865. Do you know that Ojukwu and even Achebe were involved in hiring mercenaries and securing weapons from foreign countries? I guess they wanted these resources to scare the rest of Nigeria and not to kill. Is that what you think? Are you trying to tell me that if Biafra was the mightier party, the rest of Nigeria would not have suffered the same fate? And this controversial book would have been written by Sola Rotimi or Balarabe Musa? Note, I am not comparing these people to Prof. Achebe by any means – their names only serve my purpose.
Please, let’s refrain from naivety about this issue. If the Ibo are bitter about the events leading to the war (and that’s another long story), of course they should be, but labeling those events as genocide is nothing but heresy! I have the utmost respect for Chief Ojukwu because he is one of the bravest Nigerians; he took action, something that Nigerians rarely do today – because now we have GOD, who will come down in his glorious awesomeness to solve all of our problems. And, he did this as a young man, but maybe youth was his Achilles’ heel, because he fought a war that was poorly planned and executed. While the east was falling, he advanced towards Benin/Ore – where you were at that time. He did count his cost before embarking on an exercise of such incredible magnitude, or perhaps, his calculations were wrong. Do you think lives were lost in that exercise?
I can go on forever about this issue but my point here is that Achebe is exactly falling into the same fault he stated by saying “until the lions produce their own historian, the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter”. Now, he is the hunter with all the power, the ears of the west and the great endowment sponsored chairs. So, he can re-write history, write a bestseller (which you think is very important) with misinformation and acerbic opinions. He occupies a very important position, but like several Africans, selflessness usually eludes us. Achebe has the ear of a lot of people especially the young Nigerians which we both care a lot about apparently, what has he done for them? You will say he created a discourse and opened a long-forgotten chapter in Nigerian history. But, in what direction? To what end? Everywhere you read about this book, the reactions, reviews and responses are always extremely tribalistic and polarizing save a few. Please, read Ojukwu’s books, although they are less voluminous and his stories are told with less dexterity, he has more to offer both the Nigeria of today and yesterday. That, is what I respect, and that is what I consider important. Posterity still exists, do not poison the well simply because you are leaving, rather, build more wells. I hope he watched the recently concluded AFCON and wished it was Biafra carrying the cup and not Nigeria. For me, I loved how the green-white-green seemed to flow on and on, I loved the moment of collective achievement for the incompatible neighbors
On Awolowo’s position, I agree that the 1983 interview was awful. Definitely, at that time, they did not have the benefit of political correctness, and he also obviously had and some issues with his opinions of personal greatness. A habit which was no doubt encouraged and fed by the Yoruba people, as such, he would take credit for anything publicly to feed the unquenchable diet of his oversize ego. Presently, it is difficult to have an opinion about those “demi-gods”, but I daresay I prefer them and those times to now when the land greatly needs but starves endlessly for heroes. Nevertheless, Awo was definitely wrong for using that approach but remember war is not a game of rock/paper/scissors. It had to end. There is no telling if the killings that occurred would have equaled the eventual number if there was no such “intelligent but evil” intervention. He is dead now, but I would have requested him to make an apology if he was still alive.
In conclusion, Achebe is wrong and will remain wrong till the end of time. I am happy this is Nigeria and not a more obscure African country whose only voice or export to the world is the distinguished professor. I admire him as a scholar, but he is not a leader and he can do better. Of course, we should teach the civil war vividly in our classrooms, we should have never-ending conversations about it. Emotionally, it should awaken our conscience and hopefully it should propel us to greatness. Just like the flood and Noah, if death moved God so much, it should stir us to promise never to do that to one another ever again. Physically, we should have a public holiday – a sincere day of reverence to honor the sacrificed and a befitting museum to remember the fallen. But, we will only get there, if we stop peddling hate and realize the danger of a single story – just like Chimamanda said.
[…] whistling all the way to the bank. For the rest of my thoughts on Achebe’s new book, please click here. I should probably start criticizing our elders on my blog. I need the […]
Ikhide! I greet you.You are without doubt an erudite scholar,whose excellent conmand of English that will make an Englishman doff his hat for you. Great indeed,but sir,I fault your being part of the chorus censuring the late Awo as the architect of the supposed “genocide” against the Ibo race.As a matter of fact.I am very much surprised because,I have always viewed you as an avid reader of books which I believe has equiped you fully with the intimidating credentials of being knowledgeably knowledgeable, who perhaps had read everything from the revered Plato to our own Achebe the laureate who never got a Nobel.I would want to believe too,the possibility of your being privy even to rarest informations on the esoteric bothering on withcraft through spiritism to spirituality making you an enviably informed literary critic. So I would presume too that your knowledge of history should be vast especially as regards 2uropean history, which every avid reader of history know, is full of vivid description of wars and battles, from Nimrod, that mighty hunter of man and beast in the dawn of history through the great Julius Caeser to our 21st century “Eisenhower”the famed Swhartzkopf of the “Desertstorm”.Unless maybe my knowledge of history is warped and bothers on mediocrity or I am a victim of amnesia,I don’t think there are historical books with records bearing witness to.either Titus sending relief materials to the beleaguered Jewish resistance during his famous seige of Jerusalem or President Rossevelt parachuting food and medicine to the hapless citizens of Cologne when he ordered the firebombing that razed that ancient city to groundzero in world war 11.Sir! For the enlightenment of our “cry genocides”,when Raphael Lemkin coined the word genocide in 1944 at the height of the 2nd World War,he was alluding to the atrocities.of.Nazi Germany in their conquered territories of Europe which were already occupied and shooting wars between opposing armies had ceased and virtually non existent but went about hunting down people whom they termed subhumans and undesirable elements, particularlly targeting Jews and Gypsies for extermination.The Germans were not accused of crimes when laying siege around pockets or cities of strong resistance that most times led to acute shortage of food and other materials essential for the survivability of the beleaguered city’s civil populace but rather, were accused of war crimes when after all shooting had ceased and the surrender of a town accepted,still went ahead to subject the civil populace of such a town or city to degrading ,inhuman conditions like. Indiscriminate hostage taking and brutal reprisals whenever german soldiers were killed by partisans.
Now coming to our unfortunate civil war which was brought about as a result the reckless grandiose plan of some youths.Yes!I call them youths because in Nigeria our youth service designated for people whose age limit has not exceeded 30years of age, thereby making a youth someone below 30, in the and these guys were all virtualy under 30 and fanatically nationalistic hotheads who most probally envisioned themselves in the modes of the likes of Che Guevera.Fidel Castro and a host of other revolutionaries around the world during this perio of history.But,it was not be as everything backfired,reminscent of what happen to the conspirators against Caesar, an unavoidable vaccum was created with the inexperienced trying to tow the path of now extinct experienced suppossedly corrupt leadership, leading to a fraticidal civil war that went on for 30 harrowing months.Here again.saw a hawkish Ojukwu barely out of youth, who had this grandiose illusion because he had participated in a few military bush excercises and war games of probably battalion or regimental sizes envisioned himself in the mode of great historic military figures like generalissimo Joseph Stalin of the now defunct Soviet Union who wore down. Hitlers armies in gangantuan struggle before finally turning the tide that led to the final destruction of the Nazi war machine. But unlike Ojukwu, Stalin had armies of excellent trained troops,huge industries,vast potentials.of diverse nationalities and space to operate, where army groups upon army groups were flung at the enemy from one theatre to another.But what did Ojukwu have? No army but raw recruits and badly trained,no industries but some few communnal farmlands managed by subsistent farmers and no allies among the other ethnic groups he roped up to creat Biafra.
I still remember vividly hungry looking Biafran soldiers that came to our house in Benin City, some few days after the Biafran Army captured Benin,it was so sad I remember one of my aunt who understood the ibo language heard them saying in their language,there were no food in Biafra.
Ojukwu knew.this and went ahead with his gamble which was like Hitler’s” last gamble” in the Arddennes in 1944,doomed from the beginning.
Without mincing words,I would that the whole Biafran business was a doom enterprise from the beginning. And the so called “genocide was precipitated either by his apathy or incompetence in interpreting the signs of the period especially the fact that thousands of displaced persons flooded the east,swelling up the population just before his infamous declearation of seccession.
Now with the Biafran “army” reeling back from all fronts,leading to a dangerous encirclement of the Ibo heartland proper and acute shortages of everything from food andmedicine to munitions,coupled the absence of manuoverable space for effective troop deployment,a sane and experienced military leader would have initiated peace overtures. Not Ojukwu,he was like Hitler still trying to conjure immaginary deployment of non existent troops,thereby jeopardizing the lives of the Ibo civil populace
This,History will not forgive him,because he gambled with the destiny of his fellow Ibos and lost.
[…] Please read today’s Kabir Alabi Garba’s interview of Professor Niyi Osundare in the Guardian, (Who Begat Literature, August 9, 2013). Ugh! Just when you think that certain issues have been laid to rest, someone comes along and asks the same questions over and over again. So, Garba asks Osundare about the dust-up regarding Achebe as the Founder of African literature, Achebe’s legacy, and of course, Achebe’s controversial best-seller, There Was A Country, the last book he wrote before he passed away ( Read my thoughts on the book here). […]
A great piece! Boldly and honestly written. Thank you so much Pa, for re-posting this piece on Facebook.
Reblogged this on ogbuefi kenechukwu chukwukelue.
This review is fantastic. You write beautifully too.
Your analysis is just as good as the book.
Thumbs up 👍.