Achebe’s “There was a Country”: Reflections and Controversies on Awolowo—Dr. Emmanuel C. Alozie

March 6, 2013

As an Ibo child of the Biafran-Nigerian Civil cialis price War, I have read the extract of Chinua Achebe’s There was a Country from a variety of sources. I have also followed the controversy that ensued in the airwaves, pages of newspapers worldwide and the Internet after the Guardian (UK) published the excerpt.

These discussions have enveloped Nigerian and foreign news outlets as well as the Public Square.

Of all the issues of value that Achebe enumerated about Nigeria before, during and after the war, the single issue that has attracted most attention dealt with his contention that Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the second ranking person in the federal government during the war advocated, hunger as a weapon of war. It has been estimated that one to two million Ibos died during the pogrom and a war in which hunger was used as an instrument of war. Some degree of attention has been paid to the financial policies that almost rendered Ibos bankrupt if not for their resilience.  Ibos received a pittance of twenty pounds in exchange of any amount of Biafran currency they had and/or money left in Nigerian banks prior to the war. Considering the near economic ruin and the starvation of Ibo children and adults faced during the war—why would anyone not admire Achebe’s position and willingness to outline the consequences of the actions of the two men at the helm of the federal government during the war? As the first African war to garner attention in the world media stemming from the photographs and news coverage of starving Ibo children with distended stomach, the conflict was dubbed a “media propaganda war.” The sufferings of Biafrans witnessed on pages of newspapers and on films evoked strong reaction from the public in many countries.

Accounts and perceptions of the war as well as the controversies brewing over Achebe’s claims are colored by whom you are and personal experiences. Yorubas have rallied to defend Awolowo, their leader, who contributed much to the development of the West, he must be given his due. If he worked to prevent the war before it commenced as his disciplines have pointed out, his effort must be recognized. Let us not forget Emeka Ojukwu declared him as the best leader Nigeria never had” and in his interviews did not bore resentment for the man. As head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon has defended his war policies. Most Northerners would surely support him, if you read foreign commentators and commentaries, their stance on the war are colored by the policies of their governments. For example, Adam Nossiter of New York Times seemed to blame the Ibos for rushing into war and for the plight of her people. But let us not forget that the freedom loving government of the United States stood by as Ibos were slaughtered and her children starved to death. The U.S. stood by at the behest of the British government—a government that has had uneasy relationships with Ibos in lieu of their fierce republican and industrial tendencies—let us not forget the Aba women’s riot against unfair British taxation. Of all the groups in Nigeria, Ibos resisted British rule from the onset, this accounts for the strained relationship between Ibos and the British.  Owing to feudal systems in the North and monarchical rule in the Southwest, the British had an easier go in those regions. Despite the sour relationship between the Ibos and the British, Achebe tended to recall colonial rule with nostalgia, this speaks to his objectivity. Like Nossiter, most British officials and commentators, it could be argued share the view Ibos rushed into an unattainable war. While not absolving Ibo leaders of the era of making mistakes—for example the dominant role of Ibos army officers in the 1966 coup—it should not be forgotten that Ibos were being massacred in almost every part of the North and pockets of the West following the revenge coup of  1966. At the same time, a Yourba gave his life to defend an Ibo head of state. As a result of the pogrom, Ibos had to retreat to their ancestral home for security. They had no choice but to defend themselves at shores of their ancestral home. Defending themselves meant establishing a homeland—just as the Jews did. As Wole Soyinka pointed out, secession and the military option were unwise steps for Ibos, but one has to consider Ibos had few options in the face of intense prosecution and massacre.

As Ibos reflect on the war, it would be wrong to condemn and ostracize Ibos whose views of the war differed from the majority as long as their contentions remain objective and devoid of personal and political expedience. Considering the rut among Ibos, the war and the current controversies provide the tribe with an opportunity to engage in soul searching. Ibos must point out where our late able leader (whom my father guarded from the beginning to the end of the war at Biafran state houses in Enugu, Aba and Umuahia), and his cabinet might have gone wrong so as to take corrective actions in the future. We should respect the opinions of non-Ibos and foreigners in order to learn. Ibos should base on their fate and reflections on the notion that no matter the degree of effort being taken to seek absolution, deny or hide the truth of the three-year war, history has a way of exposing the truth. Time will judge the actions of the federal government under the leadership of Gowon and Awolowo. They prosecuted one of the dirtiest wars in human history with the support of their allies abroad.

 It should not be forgotten the history will remember that the government of the United States stood by, while Russia and Britain, Cold War foes, became fast friends to supply the federal government with moral and logistics support as well as ammunitions to destroy the Ibos. History will also show that France, Haiti, Israel and Tanzania recognized the downtrodden Ibos and came to their assistance. History will also recall the ordinary people in the United States and Europe worked to feed starving Biafran children. It is stunning to read from A.B.C Nwosu that Steve Jobs, Apple founder, renounced Christianity as result of the inaction of the American and British government and their allies. Let us not forget the student from Columbia University who died of the burns he suffered after setting himself on fire to urge the United Nations to take action on Biafra.

Let us not forget, Ibos have recovered somewhat, but after forty years, an Ibo is yet to reach of pinnacle of power in Nigeria. Ibos are still being killed in the guise of religion and suffer from economic marginalization. Only hard work, dedication, self-reflection, brotherliness and unity that used to be the hallmarks of Ibo values would return them their rightful place. Let us not forget our shortcomings—our hubris—as Achebe pointed out in his book. The self-aggrandizement found among Ibo leaders of today can only lead them to abyss. As part of the entity known as Nigeria, Ibos must extend their hands across the Niger. They must remain vigilant and cautious. Africans, at large, must find ways to co-exist and use their rich natural and human endowments to promote the welfare of the African masses.

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