Monday , November 21 2022

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: WAS THERE TRULY A BIAFRA

Fejiro Oliver

The much “historical” book of Achebe is finally out, but instead of getting encomiums like his previous literary works, it has garnered unprecedented criticism, and unless Chinua Achebe himself moves to douse the tension, the dust his book has raised may never go down.

I am neither Igbo nor Yoruba, I’m simply a Nigerian and thus one should not see it as being partial when I take my side of the divide. In life, it’s either you are for, or you are against. There’s simply no sitting on the fence. Achebe has nursed the wound of the Civil war for years and when he could no longer bear it, he wrote yet another classic, barring his personal view of the war.

Haven been an Awoist since my secondary school days, as well as an Ojukwumania, I find it convenient to comfortably do justice to the review of Achebe’s book. Having read many criticism about the book, mainly those from the Eastern part of the country praising Achebe for being frank and the South West condemning Achebe for murdering history, one thing missing in all criticism is their failure to realize that Chinua Achebe made it clear that the book is not from the historical or general perception and experience, but his own PERSONAL experience (emphasis mine).

What our literary giant failed to realize is that he has crossed the stage of mortality to immortality, as whatever he says and writes is documented and becomes a reference point, even if what he wrote are blatant lies. When a document becomes a reference point, everything it says is assumed as truth. But for his latest work, I dare say that Chinua Achebe was ethnically sentimental in his book.

His accusation of Obafemi Awolowo being instrumental to the defeat of a certain country called ‘Biafra’ does not hold water. Biafra was never a country and the earlier we correct that notion, the better for us all. Achebe wrote that Awolowo used starvation to prosecute the war, and this amounted to genocide. I think our erudite professor should go back to the history of Cote d’Ivoire and the Jews and know what it means to be guilty of genocide. Yes! I was not born before the civil war, and that is why I have always taken my history books serious.

For all I remember, Awolowo in an interview noted that he sends food to the people of ‘Biafra’, but the truck load of food were hijacked by the ‘Biafran’ soldiers it was when he discovered their antics that he stopped sending food. Now, who would want to feed his enemy fat and give him strength to fight? Even Ojukwu who I adore would do so were he in Awolowo’s shoe. Professor Achebe failed to write that Ojukwu confessed that what made him loose the war was the change in currency by the Nigerian Government, an action which Awolowo master minded. Ojukwu was said to have looted the Central Bank of Nigeria in Port Harcourt and other CBN located in their domain, so he could use it to purchase weapons. Achebe was never a protagonist of the war and cannot be in the right position to comment on it. Ojukwu concluded that change in currency defeated him, while Achebe concluded that starvation defeated Ojukwu. Funny it is, but an exam with such question will see the candidates ticking currency change. Writing, Achebe said, “it is my impression that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition of power, for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general.

And let it be said on the surface at least nothing wrong with these aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacle for that goal and when the opportunity arose, the Nigeria-Biafra war- his ambition drove him to frenzy to go every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafra case, it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of future generations”.

Well written, but distorted facts. On Saturday 6th May 1967, in Enugu, Awolowo led a team of people to Enugu for a meeting with Ojukwu for a peace resolution and stop the war, which would have killed the “over 2 million people” that Achebe talked about. Hardly had Awolowo left Enugu when Ojukwu announced the creation of Biafra. How can a man who wants to eliminate his enemies broker a peace talk?

It is this Awolowo that Achebe said is afraid of Igbo domination that supported an Easterner, Mr. Ikoli for a seat as Lagos member in the Legislature Council against his kinsmen, Oba Samuel Adesanya, an act which made his people called him traitor. Today, Achebe blames the war defeat on Chief Awolowo, leaving out the head of State, General Gowon, who fought the war. Is it a sign of his bitterness against the Yoruba folks, who have led the Academics way in Nigeria, and their son crowning it all with the greatest literary prize- Nobel Prize for literature? At 81 years of, Achebe should be bridging the gaps of war, not deepening the fabrics of hatred, which already exist in Nigeria.

The Igbos and Yoruba have lived in peace since the end of the civil war, and if Achebe pen brings back the hatred, he may just have written his name on the wrong sand of history. Agreed, Awolowo is human and is fallible, but to paint him as a blood thirsty power hungry leader is a statement taken too far. Ojukwu must have been wise not to have written his memories on the war.

With his action, he turned a demi god. Despite Awolowo supposed ambition and hatred for Igbos as encapsulated by Achebe, is it not ironical that when Awo died, Ojukwu the war protagonist called him, “the best president Nigeria never had?”

It sure tells that Ojukwu appreciated Awo’s mastery of the civil war, and thus there was never a country! You are entitled to your own wife, cars and life but you are not entitled to your own facts. Facts are sacred and it is on this premise that Chinua Achebe goofed!

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