Achebe: Nigeria civil war a chronic ulcer that never heals

By IndepthAfrica
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Dec 17th, 2012
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by Okenwa R. Nwosu, M.D

The Biafra War In Nigeria

The Biafra War In Nigeria

“Then, and more so, even now, I still believe that despite the intellectual foundations of the book, it can only serve to draw us back and to divide us further as a nation. And everything that I have read on both sides of the controversy had only strengthened my belief. Permit me, most kindly, to repeat what I wrote at the time. In the

first paragraph of the three part series I had made the following observations.

“I wept for Nigeria when the excerpts of Chinua Achebe’s MEMOIRS were published in Nigeria. I instinctively knew that the season of media and social lynch-mobs had started. It is one of the inevitable, but unintended consequences of that book.

Wounds which were gradually healing might once again be re-opened depending on how we handle the intellectual bomb handed to us. It is my strong belief that we should defuse it; for, if we fail, the results will be disastrous beyond our wildest nightmares.”

It was an appeal to Igbos and non-Igbos to let sleeping dogs lie and to allow peace to reign despite the explosive statements in the book. There was no doubt in my mind that no Igbo person would fail to support it and no Yoruba or even non-Igbo would fail to condemn it.” – Dele Sobowale

Dele,

I join you to thank the Lagos state governor, Babatunde Fashola, for honoring the invitation to be the keynote speaker at the Chinua Achebe Colloquium Fair, held at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA. Gov. Fashola himself admitted that he had already accepted the invitation to partake in the annual event long before Prof. Achebe released his latest epic publication “There Was A country – A Personal History of Biafra”. The governor’s decision to honor his promise portends well for his credulity as an individual and as a rising political leader of note on the national scene. In my opinion, he would have done himself enormous harm politically if he had opted to hide behind his Awoist persuasions to deny himself a unique opportunity to demonstrate his mettle way beyond the borders of Nigeria. I am pleased to learn that you, as an Awoist, would have also showed up at the colloquium if an invitation had been extended to you. That is the right frame of mind to be in, even about topical issues that may cause you some anxiety. I don’t intend to belabor my retort to some of the views you have eloquently expressed below. So, let’s get on to business.

It is obvious that you played a leading role in heralding the “the season of media and social lynch-mobs” which was orchestrated through the Lagos press to assail Professor Achebe for mustering the guts to portray your political icon, Obafemi Awolowo, in his new book in ways that could have riled the sensibilities of the politician’s ardent admirers. Well, I can see where you are coming from. I would have reacted impulsively in a similar fashion if someone who I hold in very high esteem is portrayed in a not-so-complimentary fashion. But after the initial impulsive reaction, there ought to have been a more profound rethink of the whole phenomenon. My question to you is this. Were there specific characterizations of Awolowo in Achebe’s book that are factually challenged? If so, what are they? Chief Awolowo was the number two person in a ruling junta that waged a murderous war which resulted in the loss of millions of lives, mass starvation and extreme deprivation inside Biafra during the Civil War. As the civilian second in command at Dodan Barracks, were there strategic and tactical decisions made about the prosecution of that horrendous war that Chief Awolowo disagreed with? If there were, they ought to be shared with the rest of us. What Achebe did and rightly so, was to hang the tragic consequences of that war on the chief perpetrators’ neck. Awolowo happened to be the next in line after General Gowon. Leadership has its perks as well as responsibilities. Chief Awolowo sure enjoyed and exploited the leverage of his high position in the country’s top leadership echelon. Why should anyone, therefore, lose sleep over the fact that he was also tagged with the responsibility for the brutality that resulted from the judgmental call made by the junta in which he was the Vice Chairman?

Perhaps, what irks most on the receiving end is the immediate post-war policies which were definitely punitive in nature against fellow countrymen who just emerged from 30 months off hellish existence inside the war zone. If Awolowo was a man of conscience to the extent that his admirers tend to suggest, he would have regretted his decision to contribute in further impoverishing the war survivors by his £20-pound policy when he was the overall boss at the Ministry of Finance. He was in the position to show mercy and human compassion, but he chose to act otherwise. At conclusion of the Civil War, 70% of the private industrial manufacturing capacity in Nigeria was controlled by foreign-owned companies. The ruling junta passed a decree to indigenize these foreign companies; a process which compelled their owners to sell participatory equity, virtually for peanuts, to Nigerians who could pony up the cash to pay at the time. The industrial manufacturing capacity of post-war Nigeria was put on auction sale per se and you would bet that £20 could not pay for even the padlocks used by the gatekeepers at Unilever, Kingsway, UAC, Lever Brothers etc. I hope that you are still with me.

Now, let’s take look at your “Handshake Across the Niger” proposition. Unless I have missed something, the object of your suggestion is to “convene a colloquium ……. to bring the South East and the South West together”. But you were unclear in stating the discussion themes for such a get-together. Your allusion to Dr. Ekwueme’s demand for “Igbo presidency at the earliest possible time” appears to be the bait for getting the Southeast to partake in the proposed colloquium. Yes, the Igbo presidency cannot be accomplished with Southeast votes alone. I can bet you also that a combination of Southeast and Southwest votes cannot cut the muster either. How about a handshake across the Benue? Hear me. There are multitudes of Southeasterners and Igbo who don’t consider the so-called Igbo presidency as significant in extricating the country from the mess in which is currently mired. Some don’t actually consider it as even desirable before any visible commitment of the Nigerian polity to the principle of equity in relating to all geopolitical interest groups in the country. The pre civil-war handshake across the Niger ended up meaning nothing to write home about. What makes you think that the variant being proposed by you now shall have a better luck?

Let me conclude by reminding your ilk that the unwarranted verbal assault on Achebe’s person for writing his memoirs on Biafra is a knee-jerk reaction that is devoid of level headed thought. It is indeed funny that some have blamed the master storyteller of our times for opening up a wound that has supposedly healed or that is in the process of healing. What actually is the basis for such a supposition? A deep deliberately inflicted wound does not just heal because it was neglected for decades. Such a wound does not heal; it festers instead. It may form a scab over its surface, but it remains raw underneath. All it takes is an accidental poke into the scab and the pussy ooze shall indicate that the neglected wound is far from being healed.

Obviously, what appears to have missed the attention and interest of the “media and social lynch-mobs” attacking Achebe is the fact that tens of millions of fellow Nigerians were profoundly traumatized by the melodrama that was played out nationwide before, during and after the Civil War. As a veteran of that cataclysm, my sensibilities are clearly riled by those who would rather devote their energies to shield personalities who, one way or the other, contributed in inflicting untold misery on the lives of millions who were caught up in the mayhem which they, individually, did nothing to unleash. Millions of fellow compatriots found themselves neck-deep in the civil-war melee before they even could fully appreciate what was amiss. As is often the case in barely literate societies, such as ours. the intrigues of a handful of elites do end up determining the fate of millions, most of whom usually have no clue about the real issues at play. Nigeria had its problems in the immediate post-Independence era, but it was managed by the nation’s founding fathers the best way they knew how. Bloodshed was a rare happenstance before arrival of the military at the apex of political power. Murder incorporated took over the affairs of Nigeria since its governance emanated from muzzle of the gun. Irrational excesses of military strongmen at the helm legitimized wanton murder as a veritable political tool. That one of Nigeria’s founding fathers would readily become an accessory to this deviant governance mantra, under whatever pretext, shall remain an object for study for this and future generations to come. This is what Chinua Achebe’s “There Was A Country” all about. Unless the present generation would muster the guts to face and frontally deal with the mess of the civil-war era, Achebe’s memoirs must be hailed as sincere revelations about a murderous war that its perpetrators would like to forget. If this generation cannot face up to its reality and find appropriate closure to it, maybe the next generations would.

Countries that are serious about their nationhood do not simply bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich and hope that the shared trauma which have severely afflicted their citizenry, such as civil wars, would simply heal themselves with mere passage of time. It is probably only in Nigeria that such a bizarre expectation is given currency. Countries opt to immortalize such national catharses as permanent object lessons for their future nation building endeavors. In Nigeria, some of us are only interested about sweeping everything under the carpet as soon as possible for reasons that are indeed very hard to fathom. Is anyone in a hurry to hide something here from prying eyes or inquiring minds? There is an element of dis-ingenuousness and treachery involved in this mad rush to bury the lessons of the Civil War without any interest to learn a thing from its many instructive experiences for the Nigerian nation. I am surely one of those who say, not so fast. What Achebe’s civil-war memoirs have done is to reaffirm and authenticate my kind of mindset on the matter. It is self-defeatist to hurry into burying the memories of the civil war long before we have learnt anything from it.

What we need is a colloquium to talk about the real lessons of the civil war, not merely to mouth off over the so-called Igbo presidency in a polity which is fast losing its way within the wilderness of political and economic opportunism, sea of corruption, ethnic jingoism, religious fundamentalism, ignorance, mass unemployment and material poverty that is contemporary Nigeria. Do you, in true conscience, expect folks like me to believe that the nation we have today is a suitable recompense for all the hell that was visited on fellow Nigerians before, during and after the Civil War?

Unless you entertain such an illusion, Prof. Achebe ought to be lauded for his patriotism in baring his mind, not chided as some like you have elected to do.

Okenwa.

Achebe visit: Thanks Gov. Fashola

On December 16, 2012 · In Frankly Speaking, By Dele Sobowale

“We salute the men and women who kept our nation together, especially those who paid the supreme price…The only way we can honour their memory is not to re-open old wounds but to resolve that never again will our people’s blood be shed by their own people. We must harness our diversity to make our union perfect”. Governor Babatunde Fashola, at Colloquium Fair, held at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA by Professor Chinua Achebe.

Just when I thought that the last words have appeared on these pages about Chinua Achebe’s book and its consequences for Nigeria, the most desirable, at least to me, event occurred, which made this a successful year for Nigeria. Roads are still in deplorable condition, poverty increases, jobs are difficult to find and cash is short for ninety per cent of our people.

But, out of the possible calamity that the old Professor’s book was about to unleash on us has come a ray of hope. I don’t know whether or not Governor Fashola was invited before the book was launched, but everybody knows he belongs to the “Awoist” camp and is fully aware of what they think of Achebe’s book.

It must have been one of the most difficult decisions for him to make when he made up his mind to accept the invitation and attend the seminar. Personally, I am glad he did; and I would have gladly attended if invited. I am also happy that Governor Fashola said in different words what I advocated when this book was first brought to our attention in Nigeria.

Then, and more so, even now, I still believe that despite the intellectual foundations of the book, it can only serve to draw us back and to divide us further as a nation. And everything that I have read on both sides of the controversy had only strengthened my belief. Permit me, most kindly, to repeat what I wrote at the time. In the first paragraph of the three part series I had made the following observations.

“I wept for Nigeria when the excerpts of Chinua Achebe’s MEMOIRS were published in Nigeria. I instinctively knew that the season of media and social lynch-mobs had started. It is one of the inevitable, but unintended consequences of that book.

Wounds which were gradually healing might once again be re-opened depending on how we handle the intellectual bomb handed to us. It is my strong belief that we should defuse it; for, if we fail, the results will be disastrous beyond our wildest nightmares.”

It was an appeal to Igbos and non-Igbos to let sleeping dogs lie and to allow peace to reign despite the explosive statements in the book. There was no doubt in my mind that no Igbo person would fail to support it and no Yoruba or even non-Igbo would fail to condemn it.

Minds were made up before the book was written and released and nothing was going to change them. One Igbo reader sent me several text messages full of abuses for asking that the “truth” be suppressed. He branded the suggestion for caution “madness” and later claimed that was not an insult.

I challenge anybody to go and read all the contributions to newspapers on this subject and fault my prediction that we were heading for another ethnic war of words. No single Igbo dissented from Achebe and no non-Igbo agreed with him. So, what have we achieved other than re-opening of old wounds which we refuse to heal?

Obviously it took a lot of courage for Fashola to go. But as Nelson Mandela had told us, “There are times when a leader must move ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way”. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 124). Fashola has become the first “Awoist” “to move out ahead of the flock” and he has my support.

All we need now is to find an Igbo leader to also “move ahead of the flock”; join with Fashola and together they can convene a colloquium of their own to bring the South East and the South West together. Whether invited or not I shall attend the gathering. The logical question is, “who can convene such a meeting?”

HANDSHAKE ACROSS THE NIGER: SOUTH EAST/SOUTHWEST CONVENTION

At the risk of being accused of meddling in the affairs of the South East, let me first of all present some of the personal attributes the convener of such a conference should possess.

First he/she must have high personal integrity and be credible to leaders of thought in the two zones. Second, he must command respect across all possible political and social circles. Third he must be prepared to be a bridge builder and must possess a high tolerance for frustration because this is not going to be an easy assignment but one which might ultimately save our country — Nigeria.

Before proposing two individuals from the zone, let me provide the reason for my not so modest proposal. In the GUARDIAN on Sunday, December 9, 2012, Dr Alex Ekwueme granted an interview in which he advocated for Igbo presidency at the earliest possible time. I cannot agree more. Indeed, I think it was a mistake not to have done it in 1999 and I wrote that in my book PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED. Ekwueme himself was partly responsible for the delay. Now we can wait no longer.

However, Igbo presidency will not arise from wishful thinking; it calls for purposeful work and strategic alliances between Igbos and others. It is axiomatic that no Igbo candidate can become President by wining only Igbo votes. As it turned out, from historical evidence available, the Yoruba people of the Southwest have been more friendly with Igbos than any other ethnic group.

Unless challenged to prove this statement, I will move on. Furthermore, once convinced about a candidate they generally provide more solid support. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, despite his failure to become Premier of the Western Region, was a beneficiary of this traditional friendship.

He was first elected into the Western Regional House of Assembly from a constituency that was over 80 per cent Yoruba. Even, the NCNC which he led, until the end of the First Republic, was founded by Yoruba politicians. Zik emerged from the party because he had the attributes listed above. The challenge now is to find another Igbo who can command the votes of the Southwest.

I have two in mind; Dr Ekwueme himself and Chief Emeka Anyaoku. Somehow, these two leaders have managed to escape having any strong political adversaries; while making friends everywhere. There must be a handshake across the Niger for Nigeria to move forward.

CHIP SHOTS

Words and Action.

Last week, President Jonathan announced to anybody who cared to listen to fiction that Nigeria is secure. Two days after that announcement, those who actually control the “security” of Nigeria struck, by kidnapping the mother of the “Senior Prefect” Minister. I am sure that even the Finance Minister no longer believes the boss. Who’s next?

Presidential Airlines.

With ten aircraft to his credit, the President of Nigeria now runs the second largest airline in Nigeria. Only Arik has more “balloons” in the air (or tarmac). That is “privatization in practice. The “toys” cost N9 billion per annum to play with.

My Fellow Countrymen, you deserve the insults.

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