Decades ago, in our small apartment in Agbado area of Lagos where I grew up in a family of full-blown Yoruba people, adjacent my parent’s room, was a two feet shelf that contained memorabilia from Biafra. I remember the Biafra coins and currency notes, receipts and moth eaten photographs that lay in a black paper satchel on the shelf.
At a time when we eventually had to move down to Àkúré, into our very own bungalow, the shelf was burnt along with the satchel. Dad never told me anything about the war or the experiences at the time.
Dad never told me anything about the war or the experiences at the time.
Just recently, I got to read through Achebe’s memoir and at the end, in my half-lit room here in Àkúré, I got up, sighed and somehow…my eyes got teary. Reason being that Chinua Achebe painted his picture with such bitterness and an uneven wrath.
Chinua Achebe’s “There Was a Country“, a landscape of remembrance and bitterness was published, forty two years after the end of the Nigeria Civil War. The book is divided in to four parts.
Achebe sets out to tell his story in a story-telling form. This is not surprising since he is a story teller. He tells his story with a mixture of analysis, reportage, anecdotes, personal histories and poetry.
In some ways, I felt the grievances of the distinguished novelist. In the beginning, Achebe writes about childhood, dreams and ambition as an intellectual and tells quite another story in its backdrop; the story of the worst conflict in the history of Nigeria.
He further writes about, the thirst for independence in the 1950s-1960s, the ultimate transfer of power to Africans, the excitement and expectations of Africans, and growing in a new nation. He writes about personal connections, relationships and meetings.
Achebe notes that Nigeria was given her freedom which ought not to be so. Freedom not fought for would not be appreciated. After independence, there was great frenzy throughout the nation as its citizens believed their lives would be enriched since they now ruled themselves without any external factor.
However, the joy didn’t last long as it dissolved into a chaos, due to her bad leadership, corruption, neo colonization and ethnic oppression. The Igbo people, suffered more from these crisis than any other segments in the country; though a dominant successful people in the east, Achebe laments that Nigeria would achieve consensus on no other issue but the fact that they hated the Igbos for their domineering attitude. He notes that the Igbos had a distinctive attitude to survival: this distinctive attitude often sets them apart. Hence, after independence, the ethnic group that populated the civil service and other sectors of the economy was the Igbo because they were qualified and the rest of the country, most especially the northern ethnic group who hated the Igbos for this.
The counter coup of July 1966 provided the opportunity for the north to carry out violence on the Igbo ethnic group. During this period, Achebe records that almost 30,000 Igbos were massacred. This massacre led many Igbos to migrate back to the their home in the Eastern part of the country.
In 1967, after a consultation with the elders and other Eastern stakeholders, power was conferred on Odumegwu Ojukwu, the then military governor of the region to declare a secession from the Nigerian nation based on the argument that they had been denied their basic right to existence by a country that was saddled with the responsibility of protecting it. The then Nigerian government led Yakubu Gowon would not buy the idea, as they wouldn’t allow the secession of the Eastern region considering that:
the region had oil
her colonial masters would think she was weak
it would be bad news that a country that was just 6 years old had broken up.
A civil war took place for the next three year. The war period was characterized by intense starvation, propaganda, poverty, violations and deaths of Igbos.
During the war period, Achebe was active as a diplomat and emissary on behalf of Biafra. While remaining indifference to France’s contribution, Achebe indicts both England and America for their overt and covert contributions to the war. He also highlights the recognition given to Biafra by Ivory Coast.
The final phase of the memoir reflects on Nigeria’s journey since the end of the civil war. He identifies problems such as corruption, nepotism, bad leadership as some of the problems still facing Nigeria.
The major weakness I find in the book is that there are too many generalizations. And he talked of the other ethnic groups hating the Igbos having Yoruba and Hausa in mind without considering other minority ethnic groups. Well, they are his opinions of what happened in the war and though my dad may not have told me some things about the war but I now know a little about the war.
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All ideas herein are perspectives of the author
©George O. Victor