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Composites: German Language and 'Things Fall Apart'

I read "Things Fall Apart" to find my past, but it defined my future. It helped me recognize the beauty of the English language and prepared me for life in a way that no book had ever done before.

 

Even though our teachers indulged such playfulness when we wrote in German, they were all the more harsh when it came to our English assignments. They knew that we had a hankering for creating long sentences, so they returned them to us covered in red ink markings, indicative of their syntactic fervor. This obsession with short sentences and words took the joy out of writing in English. German was the language of beauty and poetry, whereas English became the language best suited for efficient communication. By the time I reached my teenage years, I began to lose interest in writing anything in English beyond our mandatory school assignments. I still enjoyed reading books in English, such as the books of Enid Blyton, but I could not fathom how a language of simple sentences and simple words could be used to create works of literary beauty. This false notion fell apart when I first read "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe.

 

» Full news story

 

Jalees Rehman, M.D.   -  Scientist and physician

On March 22nd this year 2013, the World lost one of its greatest story-tellers and Africa one of her most strident voices for liberation, freedom and equality. Chinua Achebe known in childhood years as Albert Chinualumogu Achebe of Nigeria is no more. We are here at the invitation of the African Leadership Institute USA and Wright State University, to celebrate his life and pay tribute to the enormity of Chinua Achebe's accomplishments.

 

I met Chinua Achebe for the first time fifty years ago in my secondary school library. Even though we studied literature in school; an African writing a book to be considered worthy of study by secondary school students was not considered a good idea. It was with guilt that I read his books, which were not yet in the syllabus. It was much later, when I entered the University as student of English, that I had the good fortune to be introduced to Achebe 's works; Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, The Arrow of God and Man of the People. At that time I didn't quite realize that I would be held in Achebe 's eagle- on-iroko grip, for much of the rest of my life. He taught literature, and was a card-carrying member of the Peoples Redemption Party. During the Nigerian Civil war, he was Ambassador Plenipotentiary of the defunct Biafra. He was a great writer who enriched literature and the human capacity to fight for freedom and truth. My journey through life as a student and teacher of literature, as writer, politician and diplomat may have been unconscious attempts to follow in his prodigious footsteps on this less-travelled pathway.

 

Prof. Achebe has come to the end of this hard road to travel in glory. So many of us today are still on that road as writers because he had picked the gauntlet on our behalf, fought a good fight, and now he deserves to rest. I stand here, as proxy on behalf of other African writers, who desired to join us today to celebrate Achebe, but were unable for whatever reasons. We acknowledge the unique ability of writers to transcend time and space to mentor others who never met with them other than in their writings. This is what Achebe has been; mentor and beacon. I never shook his hands physically, and never will. But I am in warm embrace of his vision and ideas that speak for the liberation of humankind from their oppressors.

 

In his life time, Chinua Achebe was a formidable voice in literature. His Magnus Opus , Things Fall Apart was translated into over fifty languages. Many of his readers who followed him around the globe lauded him for his clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity. The world fell in love with Things Fall Apart. To many, Chinua Achebe became Things Fall Apart, and Okonkwo. Things Fall Apart, defined Chinua Achebe and his writings resonated through the world with deepest emotions and memories that conveyed his value for candour, simplicity and dignity.

 

But Achebe was more than Things Fall Apart; a much misunderstood Novel. In my last life time, as Nigeria's Ambassador to Canada, I was asked by one of Achebe's ardent admirers, if I could relate the story of Okonkwo, to contemporary Nigerian politics. In my amazement, I had undiplomatically answered back with a question that, "why don't we relate the story of Okonkwo with contemporary happenings in Canada, USA, Korea, Iran, Japan and else where, because Achebe wrote for the world?"

 

There is a time in every nation, when things fall apart and the centre cannot hold. When that happens within a democratic setting, there is a change of government in a free and fair election. In despotic regimes, the centre is unable to hold when the leaders refuse to leave the stage and grind the face of the citizens into grime. The Okonkwo character in Things Fall Apart represents the failure of a Leader to embrace change. The tragedy of Okonkwo is the tragedy of all world leaders who reject dialogue, negotiation, diversity and compromise. Such Leaders like Okonkwo rely on their wealth and power. The World helplessly watches the modern Okonkwo's in government, and business, who suppress human emotions and empathy for the weak and vulnerable in society. They are stuck in old ways where they live on entitlements of pillage. The global race for Weapons of Mass Destruction, is ultimately to endow the modern day Okonkwo in leadership position with masculinity, so as to emerge; the toughest wrestler in the global village.

 

Things Fall Apart remains a globally focussed narrative, which defined the literary journey Achebe took up to the time he succumbed to the common destiny of all living things. Writing Things Fall Apart was an act of uncommon courage and defiance against Eurocentric writing that refused to accord the voices of the subject people of Africa utterance and identity; except that given by the Western writers like Joseph Conrad, and Joyce Cary. He not only challenged the colonial Empire, he created opportunities for other African writers to be read around the world.

 

Chinua Achebe gave to the dispossessed, oppressed and silenced Africans the ability to be self-defined instead of being negatively defined. Achebe provided an alternative and new view of reality outside that of Empire. Through Achebe, the anguished cry of the colonized was distinctively heard, and their humanity held up for scrutiny. Furthermore Things fall apart was written in an English language that was authentic English; in authentic African thought. This was a brave, bold and remarkable thing for one writing on such weighty matters in an acquired language.

 

Things Fall Apart is however, not my favourite Achebe Novel. No Longer At Ease is it. Achebe defined the humanity of Africa in Things Fall Apart and took sides with the African prey against Empire. In No longer at Ease and A Man of the People, he defined the African predators and took sides with the victims; the poor, the unclad, and the vulnerable who had hoped at independence that the new African elite in power would work for the common good. They were mistaken. Obi was not the change they had waited for. Post-colonial Africa was betrayed by the civil servants and political Leaders who wallowed in corruption and identity politics and became emperors. The people had anticipated change and invested in Obi, to help them comprehend and thrive in change. Obi was a bad investment. The change agent sacrificed principles for filthy lucre and ended up in Jail for taking bribes. He failed Achebe's integrity test when it mattered most. Achebe states, " one of the truest test of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised".

 

It is not only for his creative works that we will miss Chinua Achebe. My colleagues and I in the Leadership institute Nigeria, London and USA will miss his leadership teaching and mentoring. He was one of the world's leading voices in leadership ethics. Despite being confined in the wheel chair for 23 years, he continued to play his iconic leadership roles, by his relentless struggle for the freedom of others. In his book, The trouble with Nigeria, Achebe the ethical leader, diagnosed Nigeria's ailment as leadership deficit. In his words, " the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely the failure of leadership."

 

Achebe was fearless, as he was demanding and exploratory in his search for the ideal leader, who in his mind was neither General Yakubu Gowon nor Chief Obafemi Awolowo, against whom he was so very angry. He used story- telling as pedagogy for leadership education. He declared, " Story-tellers threaten all champions of control. They frighten usurpers of the right to freedom of the human spirit." In his last book, There was a country, Achebe opened the wounds of identity politics in Nigeria and plied the eyes of collective amnesia wide open to once again behold the horror of horrific Biafra, and then to deal with it. He became different things to different people. Some denounced him as an ethnic irredentist. Others even accused him of trying to start a civil war and kindling the spirit of defunct Biafra. Even his close confidant the Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka said that he had wished Achebe "had never written-that is, not in the way it was. There are statements in the work that I wished he had never made."

 

There Was a Country is Achebe's farewell song to his country Nigeria. That there was a country named Biafra is undeniable. So also was the collective foolishness and bad leadership on both sides of the war; that led to so much loss of life and pushed Nigeria from a fast developing economy, to a fast under-developing one. There are lessons to be learnt and memories to be shared and stored. Achebe in this farewell gospel is compelling all of us to a common vocabulary and shared historical memory without which the wounds of the Nigerian civil war may not heal and real peace would continue to elude us.

 

Achebe is the ultimate contrarian who, having put pen to paper; not all the pleas of the world, or all the waters of river Niger, can make him erase or change even a dot. He never apologised for any statements or words in his writings. He not only rode the storm of criticism of There Was a Country: his farewell memento. His pregnant silence, even unto to the grave said it all. He was telling his critics what he had told them before, "it is the duty of a writer to give headaches " and to " write to make people uncomfortable." But many misunderstood Achebe's deep patriotism and love for Nigeria. Many thought it was an honour to describe him as a dissident. That is after his death. These insult the memory of the Nigerian patriot, who had stated in his book The Education of a British Protected Child that if he were to re-incarnate in this world, he would love to be a Nigerian again. This wish is already fulfilled because; long after the dynasties of stolen wealth have crumbled, power extinguished and arrogance humbled, Chinua Achebe will be left standing in the human heart against injustice, stupidity and untruth. GREAT WRITERS NEVER DIE.

 

Achebe as an iconic leader used his skills as writer to fashion and inhabit a democratic movement where he saw a vision of a better Nigeria, a better Africa and indeed a better world. He taught the world the importance of self-esteem. Without self esteem in nations, societies and individuals; there is no growth but self-hatred, hatred of others and stagnation. Democracy cannot flourish in the absence of self-esteem because true transformation can only come to a country when the citizens obey their conscience and refuse to obey ethnic voices, the rule of corrupt enrichment and un-enlightened self-interest. He propagated the ideal that democracy fails to take root in societies where the people cannot bear to hear each other, especially the anguished voices of those that are undergoing oppression. This is the revolutionary movement, where our minds are now free to explore our anxieties, insecurities and doubts in the face of violence, and man created poverty.

 

Finally, Achebe is gone to rest but we the living must find the cure for the headache he has left us with. The cure must come from the desire of the leaders and the followers to pursue justice, to value honour, integrity and humility. He has ignited a moral revolution in the minds of us all to work for a turn around;

 

It is now time to heal and not to hurt.

 

Time to build and not to plunder

 

A time to right the wrongs we have caused one another

 

The time to make the small things that became too big small again

 

The end of time to keep silent

 

When the time has come on the story-teller

 

Chinua Achebe to rest in peace.


Prof. (Amb) Iyorwuese Hagher presented this tribute at Wright State University, Dayton Ohio, United States.

Professor Chinua Achebe had left the University of Massachusetts about a decade before I joined the same University in 1983 as Professor and Director of the Automation and Robotics laboratory. At the time, Achebe’s reputation was still looming large at UMass. On realizing that Achebe and I came from the same country and the same state in Nigeria (old Anambra State), students and professors as well as non-academic staff ceaselessly asked me questions about Achebe—about his health, his family, his books and, of course, about the legendary village of Umuofia in his epic novel, Things Fall Apart. Poor fellows! My only contact with Achebe then was only through his books which I thoroughly enjoyed reading while in high school.

 

The ceaseless questions about Achebe, speaking with the benefit of hindsight, often remind me of the story told by Michael Thelwell, a renowned Jamaican professor of literature at the W. E. B. Dubois Department of African American Studies at UMass and an eminent authority on the Achebe oeuvre, that once “a person tells some Jamaicans that he or she lives in New York, they would reply, ‘you must know my cousin who lives in New York, too!’ ”.

 

 

As fate would have it, Professor Achebe and I would meet in flesh and blood in the United States when he came once more to UMass as a visiting professor; more importantly, we worked together on a critical Africa-centered project -- the founding and publication of African Commentary.  At the inception of African Commentary in the late 1980s, the investors and promoters of the monthly magazine had no difficulty making Achebe both the chairman and publisher of the monthly, while I served as the president.  The magazine was a combination of intellectualism and journalism designed to bridge the communication divide between the African continent and the African Diaspora and offer a most rewarding black perspective on the global issues of the day.  Well received no sooner than it hit the newsstands, African Commentary deservedly won a lot of recognition in the US media. It was also used in some universities for teaching African history and literature. Interestingly, almost all of us who invested in the magazine were academics with no practical experience of how to run a newspaper business. We consequently took certain steps, which, in retrospect, were pretty funny. For instance, some board members used to attend meetings with their spouses who did not make any investments in the enterprise, yet they actively participated in the board meetings and vote on fundamental issues! In spite of obvious governance and management issues and liquidity challenges, the monthly lasted a whole two years.

 

 

 

Professor Achebe was an exceedingly wise man, not just an intellectual or writer. All of us always profited from Achebe’s sagacity. In fact, he was a born teacher. For instance, it is normal for people to state in conversations and meetings “I do not know how to present this matter”, thus leaving the audience rather confused and sometimes embarrassed. Achebe would carefully guide any person who made such a statement to think through the subject, form his or her thoughts properly before rephrasing and presenting them in a logical manner. This would normally force the individual to be clear in stating issues, and not give excuses. Achebe had a wonderful gift of clarity of thought and clarity of expression.

 

 

It is truly amazing that his first novel, Things Fall Apart, was published when he was merely 28 years of age. In other words, the classic was written when he was not more than 26 and conceived when he was even younger. How did someone of such callow or young age come up with this great novel, which has been translated into dozens of languages and sold over 12 million copies globally? This is a book of fiction, yet historians, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, literary stylists, etc. constantly cite it. The truth is that the young Chinua was a child prodigy. His elementary school teachers recognized early enough that he would go places, and so never hesitated to say so. As his childhood friend, Chike Momah, the retired diplomat, has informed us, their common elementary school teacher used to tell the very brilliant Momah that Chinua would beat him in class if they both should meet at Government College, Umuahia, in today’s Abia State. They did meet, and the teacher’s statement turned out prophetic! We understand that after only the first term, Chinua was promoted to the next class where he maintained the first position until he left high school. At the University College, Ibadan in today’s Oyo State, Achebe’s record was not different.

 

 

 

Mabel Segun, the Nigerian writer and Achebe’s classmate, has regaled us with stories of how Achebe was a father figure even when he was a young student at Ibadan, ascribing this attribute to Achebe’s long and deep association with elders of his native community in Ogidi, Anambra State. Achebe was always ahead of his generation in both intellect and mien and carriage. Okey Ndibe, editor of African Commentary, and C. Don Adinuba, the journal's West African bureau chief, once confided in me how they gave Achebe the sobriquet of grandpa when he was only in his 50s. They were visiting Achebe in his residence at the University of Nigeria when his elder brother, an engineer and retired director in the public service, came to the place. The engineer was older than Professor Achebe, yet he was looking quite younger.  Out of an interesting sense of humour, the two journalists nicknamed Achebe "Grandpa" and fondly called him that for decades—though always in his back.

 

 

It is regrettable the Nigerian political class did not allow itself to profit well from Achebe’s tremendous wisdom. The writer foresaw Nigeria’s first military coup which occurred on June 15, 1966, but also the counter-coup of July 29, 1966. His fourth novel, A Man of the People, released on January 2, 1966, ended on a note prophesying a military coup d’état.  When the putsch took place, some people suggested that Achebe was probably privy to it; all the more so since the majority of the leaders were of Igbo extraction like Achebe. The suspicion was utterly misplaced. This excellent novel on political corruption also predicted a counter coup. If Achebe was privy to the first coup because of his ethnic background, was he also privy to the counter coup that was by soldiers of northern extraction?

 

 

Characteristic of his modest nature, a key feature of wisdom, Achebe insisted on playing down his farsightedness in recognizing that a coup was inevitable in Nigeria. In an interview with Nkem Agetua, the Nigerian journalist and literary critic, Achebe in the 1970s compared his foresight to that of a person observing someone driving recklessly. “It is just like saying,” Achebe, noted, “this drunken driver would have an accident, and it happened shortly after”.  It is a manifestation of Achebe’s prophetic gift that a few months after he published a famous treatise on the Nigerian political condition entitled The Trouble With Nigeria a popular military coup took place on December 31, 1983. If only the political class had listened, the course of Nigeria’s political history could have been different.

 

 

Professor Chinua Achebe was a wise man, a thinker of the finest hue, a seer and prophet who saw tomorrow today. He was ahead of his generation. His place in world history is assured. He has educated us and his memory will ever remain green in our minds.

 

Professor Nnaji, former  Director of the Automation and Robotics laboratory, University of Massachusetts and former Nigeria Minister of Power.

 

 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013 14:52

Africa’s Voice, Nigeria’s Conscience

I GREW up under my grandfather’s ancient pear tree in the Nigerian village of Uwessan. The tree’s roots were massive and its leaves shielded us from hot tropical sun while we played soccer. Elders also used it as shade while drinking palm wine and telling hunting tales in the evening. We sometimes climbed a low branch to set wire-traps and catch birds. When a dead branch broke off, it became firewood. Most important, the tree was a major cash crop for my grandfather, who sold its fruits to traders from far away.

 

Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian writer who died last week, was a similarly rich resource for an entire generation of Nigerians. He meant different things to different people, but he was first and foremost a writer whom we all grew up to respect.

 

We were raised on Mr. Achebe’s stories. His fame spread through towns and villages across Nigeria and even beyond. I first encountered him at the age of 10 through the pages of “Chike and the River,” a children’s storybook. Mr. Achebe later became a regular staple at every step of my educational journey.

 

In secondary school, his masterpiece “Things Fall Apart” was a recommended text. My older siblings had read the novel and passed down the story and a worn-out copy to me. One of my older sisters had warned me that some parts of the book were so tragic I would cry. I never knew until then that written words could elicit such emotions. When you grew up in a village like mine, not many books had familiar characters, setting or diction like Mr. Achebe’s.

 

His use of parables and proverbs brought his writing home for me, because they were sayings I heard every day as a villager.

 

In my undergrad days as an English and literature major, we were asked to write long essays on him and his works. Throughout the four years in the department, most of us had read him so much we felt we knew him personally.

 

I finally met Mr. Achebe in person years later in New York. When he entered the room, everybody froze in reverence. He was not a physical giant with a booming voice. He was a gentle needle that sewed tattered clothes, a minuscule scorpion’s tail that packed venom. He answered every question with the precision of a sniper. He was a man who spoke gently, yet he was a writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down,” as Nelson Mandela said.

 

Mr. Achebe was a source of pride to many Nigerians, an elder we could point to when the world laughed at our shortcomings. We often invoked his name like that of a fierce god.

 

Beyond his literary prowess, Mr. Achebe was known to stand for what he believed in. When those who did not know the African story told it to glorify themselves, he rose like a lion and thwarted the hunter’s tales with truth. Not only did he fight back against the mistelling of our story by white explorers; he equipped other writers to do the same.

 

With fiction and nonfiction, he helped us deride colonialism. He went to the front lines of the Biafran war in the late 1960s and served as an ambassador for the short-lived breakaway republic when he felt the need to side with his fellow Ibos in their unsuccessful fight for independence.

 

He also addressed corruption head on, teaching younger Nigerians not to be hungry to the point of selling our birthrights. His soul and conscience were nonnegotiable. He turned down Nigeria’s national honors twice because he was one who believed an elder should not eat his meal atop a heap of malodorous rubbish.

 

Mr. Achebe was a gentle rebel who refused to shake the necrotic outstretched hands of corrupt leaders. He was an old breed, a wise man from a different generation who could not stand the wanton looting of Nigeria’s public coffers.

 

Mr. Achebe would have loved to spend his twilight years among his own people instead of in America. With the bastardization of a nation he was once proud of by kleptocratic military and civilian rulers, the old man had no country to return to alive.

 

Victor Ehikhamenor, a writer and visual artist, is the author of “Excuse Me!”

 

 

Writer Chinua Achebe, who passed away, shared his thoughts last year about what's wrong with his home country of Nigeria and what hope there is of fixing it.

 

In January 2012 celebrated Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, who passed away, spoke with former Monitor Africa correspondent Scott Baldauf about his political views, the extent of corruption in his homeland, what hope there is for change, and the dangers of "leaderless uprisings." Achebe was a winner of the Man Booker prize in 2007 and the Gish Prize in 2010 and has been an influential chronicler, in both fiction and non-fiction, of post-Colonial Africa. His novels include "Things Fall Apart," "A Man of the People",” Arrow of God" and "Anthills of the Savannah" and his body of work includes literary criticism, memoirs, poetry and even children's books. Probably the most widely read African author in the world, at the time of his death he held a teaching post at Brown University. His final work,"There was a country: A personal history of Biafra," was published last fall, and is a personal look at the bloody war there with the Nigerian government in the late 1960s. - Dan Murphy

 

Question: In your 1960 novel, "No Longer at Ease," you write about the coming problem of official corruption in Nigerian society, told through the rise and fall of your main character Obi. What do you think are the roots of corruption in Nigerian society – colonial legacy, corporate power, local business elites – and what will it take to uproot it?

 

Everything you mentioned has played a part. Nigeria has had a complicated colonial history. My work has examined that part of our story extensively. (No longer at ease, A man of the people and later Anthills of the savannah also tackle Nigeria’s burden of corruption and political ineptitude…) At this point in Nigeria’s history, however, we can no longer absolve ourselves of the responsibility for our present condition. Corruption is endemic because we have had a complete failure of leadership in Nigeria that has made corruption easy and profitable. It will be controlled when Nigerians put in place checks and balances that will make corruption “inconvenient” – with appropriate jail sentences and penalties to punish those that steal from the state.

 

The first republic produced political leaders in all the regions who were not perfect, but compared to those that came after them they now appear almost “saint like” – they were well educated, grounded politicians who may have embodied a flawed vision or outlook for the country (in my opinion); but at least had one.

 

Following a series of crises that culminated in the bloody Nigeria-Biafra war, Nigeria found itself in the hands of military officers with very little vision for the nation or understanding of the modern world. A period of great decline and decadence set in, and continues to this day. The civilian leadership of the Second Republic continued almost blindly the mistakes of their predecessors. At that point in our history, the scale of corruption and ineptitude had increased exponentially, fueled by the abundance of petro-dollars.

 

By the time the Third Republic arrived, we found ourselves in the grip of former military dictators turned ‘democrats’ with the same old mind set but now donning civilian clothes. So, Nigeria following the first republic has been ruled by the same cult of mediocrity – a deeply corrupt cabal – for at least forty years, recycling themselves in different guises and incarnations. They have then deeply corrupted the local business elites who are in turn often pawns of foreign business interests.

 

When I have talked about the need for a servant leader, I have emphasized an individual that is well prepared – educationally, morally and otherwise – who wants to serve (in the deepest definition of the word); someone who sees the ascendancy to leadership as an anointment by the people and holds the work to be highly important, if not sacred. I know that is asking for a lot, but that really should be our goal. If we aim for that, what we get may not be so bad after all.

 

That elusive great Nigerian leader that is able to transcend our handicaps – corruption, ethnic bigotry, the celebration of mediocrity, indiscipline etc- will only come when we make the process of electing leaders – through free and fair elections in a democracy – as flawless as possible, improving on each exercise as we evolve as a nation.

 

Once we have the right kinds of leaders in place – the true choices of the people – then, I believe, it will be possible to solidify all the freedoms we crave as a people- freedom of the press, assembly, expression etc. Within this democratic environment, the three tiers of government filled with servant leaders chosen by the people, can pass laws that will put in place checks and balances the nation desperately needs to curb corruption.

 

Question: During a 2006 trip to Nigeria, citizens told me that they welcomed the government's rhetoric about fighting corruption, but didn't place any faith in lasting change. Do you think a citizens' movement like Occupy Nigeria can be effective where official government efforts fail?

 

The right to protest, the right to freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of speech…these are all human rights that should be protected in any democracy, indeed in any nation. Any involvement of ordinary Nigerians in a non-violent (peaceful), organized, protest for their rights and improvement in their living standards, in my opinion, as a writer, should be encouraged. An artist, in my understanding of the word, should side with the people against the Emperor that oppresses his or her people.

 

The hope of course, is that the non-violent protest will eventually lead to change in a positive direction – like the civil rights movement in America, Mahatma Gandhi’s independence struggles in India etc. – if that is the case, then I am all for them.

 

A functioning, robust democracy requires a healthy educated, participatory followership, and an educated, morally grounded leadership. Civil society has a role to play in educating the masses about their rights – making sure that they understand that the elected officials report to them, that those in positions of leadership are not monarchs – and then insisting through the ballot box or other avenues of the democratic system that their voices be heard.

 

However, having said that, it is important to emphasize that Nigeria is a complicated country with more than 250 ethnic groups. Protests are often a symptom of deeper rooted problems – in Nigeria’s case, resistance to a fifty year history of leaders essentially swindling the nation of its resources – $400 billion worth - and stashing most of it abroad with little in terms of infrastructure on the ground. Nigeria continues to be held back by the lack of basic amenities – there is epileptic electricity supply (often times blackouts for months), very poor schools, no standard water supply systems, bad roads, poor sanitation…Nothing works – life, schools, electricity, nothing....

 

Question: The Arab uprisings in North Africa raised hopes that other authoritarian governments on the continent could also be challenged by citizen movements. Do you think the Occupy Nigeria movement has the potential to follow in the Tunisian and Tahrir Square footsteps?

 

Popular non-violent uprisings as an expression of the feelings of the people should be allowed and protected. I have already made that clear. The hope is that such movements coalesce onto a defined platform with a clear direction and leadership. The problem with leaderless uprisings taking over is that you don’t always know what you get at the other end. If you are not careful you could replace a bad government with one much worse! My hope for Nigeria actually is that the people will channel all that pent-up rage towards a fight for sound democratic institutions – a competent electoral body that can execute free and fair elections…in other words, exercise their frustrations at the ballot box. Movements that begin on the streets… on the ground… should channel their frustrations in a non-violent, organized direction – politically. But the great challenge for Nigeria – one that has stunted her development since independence – is how to convince 150 million people to put aside competing interests, sideline different religions, ethnicities, political persuasions, and build a united rostrum or two with strong leaders to truly bring about fundamental change to Nigeria. That is the challenge.

 

Question: The statement you signed supporting the Nigerian protests reads, in part, "The country's leadership should not view the incessant attacks as mere temporary misfortune with which the citizenry must learn to live; they are precursors to events that could destabilize the entire country." Nigerians in the past have seen themselves as complacent in fighting injustice. What makes this moment different?

 

Those that perceive Nigerians as complacent don’t completely understand our history.

Nigeria went through a thirty- month-long civil war that cost over 2 million lives (some say as many as three million); mainly children. After that, my people, the Igbo people, for whose survival the war was fought; were economically, politically, if not emotionally exhausted. The rest of Nigeria was also devastated, albeit, to a milder degree. Let us remember that at the time it was seen as one of the bloodiest wars in history. Following this catastrophe were several decades under the iron rule of Military dictators and civilian adventurers. A people don’t just jump up and protest after they have been nearly annihilated by war and then systematically subjugated for decades with their rights stripped from them for so long. In order to survive, people employ a number of tactics– they adopt a posture of subservience, quietness, etc., but it should never be interpreted as weakness. Human beings are alike everywhere you know. All human beings have their breaking point, it could be a big event or a small one; and for most long-suffering Nigerians the removal of oil subsidies made life intolerable because it exponentially increased the cost of living – food, transportation, education, water, you name it – over night. Most clear thinking bureaucrats should have seen this coming…as an untenable situation for the population.

 

Economists often give us condescending lessons in favor of fuel subsidy removal – that fuel subsidies siphon much needed cash away from the treasury of the federal government, that its removal will yield $8 billion; that those who benefit the most in the current system with subsidies are some of Nigeria’s wealthiest citizens; that subsidies further fuel corruption in the oil industry including the state-owned NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation). Other reasons to take away subsidies this group also highlight include the fact that the presence of subsidies prolongs Nigeria’s dependence on fossil fuels, that they are indirectly implicated in the failure of Nigeria to establish and run refineries etc.

 

What has not been pulled into this entire debate is that the scale of corruption in Nigeria – the Nigerian government – and I am talking about corruption at all levels of government – Federal, state, local government, municipal, etc. – amounts to at least $10 billion a year ($400 billion in forty years). Putting an end to this should be the focus of the present government. Is this amount saved by tackling corruption in Nigeria not more than what would be made available with subsidy removal – and at no cost in pain and suffering to the average Nigeria?

 

If the present government reduced its own bloated budget, curbed the outrageous salaries and perks of parliamentarians, state governors, and local government officials - that would yield an additional hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars a year. And that at least would be a start. In an environment where corruption is truly tackled, a conversation can then be had with the people about a gradual withdrawal of subsidized petroleum products. But the way it was done, was harsh, even contemptuous of the average Nigeria and that is why it is being resisted.

 

 

Press Release by Wole Soyinka and JP Clark on death of Chinua Achebe

 

Chinua was a man of resilient will. His works are testimony to the domination of the human spirit over the forces of repression

 

For us, the loss of Chinua Achebe is, above all else, intensely personal. We have lost a brother, a colleague, a trailblazer and a doughty fighter. Of the "pioneer quartet" of contemporary Nigerian literature, two voices have been silenced – one, of the poet Christopher Okigbo, and now, the novelist Chinua Achebe. It is perhaps difficult for outsiders of that intimate circle to appreciate this sense of depletion, but we take consolation in the young generation of writers to whom the baton has been passed, those who have already creatively ensured that there is no break in the continuum of the literary vocation.

Wole JP Achebe Okigbo

We need to stress this at a critical time of Nigerian history, where the forces of darkness appear to overshadow the illumination of existence that literature represents. These are forces that arrogantly pride themselves implacable and brutal enemies of what Chinua and his pen represented, not merely for the African continent, but for humanity. Indeed, we cannot help wondering if the recent insensate massacre of Chinua's people in Kano, only a few days ago, hastened the fatal undermining of that resilient will that had sustained him so many years after his crippling accident.

 

No matter the reality, after the initial shock, and a sense of abandonment, we confidently assert that Chinua lives. His works provide their enduring testimony to the domination of the human spirit over the forces of repression, bigotry and retrogression.

 

Sunday, 14 October 2012 16:02

Chinua Achebe - the Lynch Mob Comes Out

A BOOK REVIEW: There was a country

 

Publication, this past week, of Chinua Achebe's memoir of Biafra, There Was A Country, had the Awoist camp up in arms. The Awoists - followers and defenders of the legacy of Chief Awolowo- have expended a lot of verbal grapes on the person of Chinua Achebe. It felt like a dangerous mob unleashed on one of the world's most important cultural icons. All Achebe did was tell the truth about Awo.

 

In his new book, Achebe writes about many things. His memoir is a deeply reflective tour de force into the events that shaped the Achebean era - an era of great promise that slipped into great infamy. Chinua Achebe has given shape and form to the truths of this era.

 

But truth, particularly if it is uncomfortable and disconcerting is also dangerous. It unsettles too many comfortable myths.Awo is a great industry for mythmakers. Among the provocative truths that Achebe tells in his book is Obafemi Awolowo's war crime of genocide by the "diabolical policy" of starvation against Biafrans.

 

I should say here, that it is a bit sad that out of the very many important issues that Achebe raises and explores in his new book, the one that has gained so much attention is his comment on Awolowo because Awoists do not want such dirty linens aired. It makes them nervous and uncomfortable. It drives them to tears and to rage.

 

Achebe calls out other important members of the Gowon administration like Anthony Enahoro and Allison Ayida, including Gowon himself, on the same issue of genocide against Biafrans. The clear evidence of Achebe's allegation is based on Awo's own statement: "All is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war..." But we do know that all is not fair in war.

 

There is something called the "Geneva Convention" and Awo's war policy violated it. You do not starve civilian populations in war. It is called a war crime. Awo's storm troopers and Brownshirts have nonetheless trooped out in great strength and have come only short of calling for Chinua Achebe's head for his exposure of Awolowo. Calls ranging from a ban of all his books to a "Nuremberg trial" of him and all the Biafrans have been made in response.

 

An obscure two-penny actor, who also claims to write books by the name Femi Robinson says Achebe's books, from Things Fall Apart, should be banned. Ayo Opadokun has made innuendos of ethnic cleansing by reminding the Igbo that much of their property is in Lagos, and presumably the Igbo, like Achebe, should be circumspect about the war.

 

It is a great wonder what Igbo property in Lagos and Yoruba magnanimity"permitting" the Igbo to reside and thrive in Lagos has to do with Achebe's book, except to draw, as did many of such fierce and ignorant diatribes, Achebe as somehow voicing an "Igbo agenda." I think Ayo Opadokun exhibits not only pitiable small-mindedness but ought to be censored and warned.

 

Meanwhile, the Igbo do not seek his permission or anybody's permission for that matter to live and thrive in Lagos. Igbo who came to Lagos, and who reside everywhere in Nigeria do so because they can. They are Nigerians and have a right to live and prosper anywhere in Nigeria and be protected under the laws of Nigeria.

 

They do not need the magnanimity or permission of Ayo Opadokun who himself is a settler in Lagos much like the Igbo residents. Ayo Adebanjo, Femi Fani-Kayode, Biyi Durojaiye, and Ebenezer Babatope all threw their hats in the ring in challenge of Chinua Achebe's view of their idol.

 

But it seems as though against Achebe's articulate and textured views, these are Calibans learning their first curse-words against their master! They "cuss out" the writer, Achebe, but they are yet to contradict him. It is not just enough to defend Awolowo. It is important to defend him with facts; to show that Achebe has lied against him. But the evidence is too compelling. Achebe has not lied against Awo.

 

Even in his 1983 interview re-published to prove and indemnify his innocence, Awolowo does not deny his policy of starvation. He accounts for how he visited the East in the heat of the conflict, in his official capacity; saw "Kwashiokor children" and found out that the food allegedly sent by the Red Cross and Caritas was being hijacked by soldiers: "So I decided to stop sending the food there.

 

In the process the civilians will suffer. But the soldiers will suffer most." This is illogical and counterintuitive,and it is a compelling evidence of Awolowo's deliberate policy of starvation. It is enough to bring him before the International Criminals Court to face the kind of Justice meted out to Milosevic and Charles Taylor in whose company he belongs.

 

But, no! his followers say. Awo was right in using the strategy of mass starvation to end the war. These guys do not belong to a civilized century and have learnt nothing from war!The poet Odia Ofeimun for instance has spent an entire career on Awo, laboring to turn him into the first modern political saint in all of Africa. Odia's project of apotheosis makes him mouth, in reaction to Achebe's work, what I can only describe as blasphemy. He wants Achebe and those in Biafra who defended themselves against the Nigerian onslaught to face a "Nuremberg-style trial."

 

In Mr. Ofeimun's rather strange and, dare I say, warped logic, those Biafrans who knew about starving children without surrendering should be put to trial for genocide. But not Awo who ordered the starvation of children. He blames the victim. It is not just enough that Odia Ofeimun continues to defend atrocities meted against other humans, like all zealots, he is incapable it seems of honesty in this matter. He defends a legacy that includes genocide.

 

The Biafrans did not start the war and therefore did not prepare for a vicious war. They were pushed to war when the Federal Army began a two-pronged attack and they defended themselves.

 

The Biafrans made serious efforts before and during the war to avoid war and settle the Nigerian question amicably. At each point, they were subverted by the Federal government. People who come under siege defend themselves, Mr. Ofeimun; they do not surrender. The Biafrans did not hide the fact of massive starvation.

 

In fact they made it a central issue, and on each occasion when it came out, Enahoro and other Awoists in Gowon's government denied it and put it down to "Biafran propaganda" until compelling evidence pushed them in the Niamey talks in 1968 to make starvation a "legitimate instrument of war." Biafrans always pushed for settlement, but without precondition.

 

Awo wanted nothing less than to "crush" Biafra by any means as he declared during the Commonwealth Conference of Prime Ministers in London in 1969: "This war must be fought to the finish and the federal government is poised for the final push" Mr. Ofeimun may have forgotten; the honest accounts of that war are available, and among the great chroniclers of the event is a woman called Suzanne Cronje whose book published in 1972 indicts Awolowo and the Nigerian government. I recommend that Nigerians seeking honest intellection read this book side by side with Achebe's and the truth will set us free from writers who wish that other writers be tried for telling the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 11 October 2012 19:18

Achebe’s Memoir – A Preview

The fiercest battle within Nigeria’s social milieu these days is not over the substance of Chinua Achebe’s just published memoir, There Was A Country: A Personal Narrative of Biafra, but the arcane question of whether statements he made in the memoir are capable of disrupting the fragile ethnic relationship among Nigerians. If Achebe intended for his memoir to accomplish something other than convey the author’s trademark candor, that would be a sad comment on the exemplary and admirable life of Africa’s most widely read author. Fortunately, the manifest intent (judging from the text) is the brutal honesty of what the iconic Achebe feels based on his immense personal experience.

 

Like it, hate it or love it, the undisputed fact is that Achebe’s memoir will form an essential facet of the checkered history of Nigeria. The message of the erudite author is intellectually nourishing because of the great contemporary and historical significance of the events he recounts in his latest book.

 

The memoir’s contemporary significance is clearly evident in the way that Achebe captures the current state of affairs in Nigeria. Schooled by the type of wisdom that comes from a self-actualized old age, exposure, and first class scholarship, he marshals his quiet eloquence to express disappointment at the horror that is becoming all too normal in the Grand (Woeful) Experiment called Nigeria. Achebe writes:

 

"Nigeria’s federal government has always tolerated terrorism. For over half a century the federal government has turned a blind eye to waves of ferocious and savage massacres of its citizens – mainly Christian Southerners; mostly Igbos or indigenes of the Middle Belt; and others – with impunity."

 

The foregoing lines are at once factual and prophetic. No sooner was Achebe’s memoir published than we started getting news of one barbaric murder after another. First, Nigerians woke up to the shocking news that over 40 unarmed and defenseless students of Federal Polytechnic, Mubi, were heartlessly slaughtered in cold blood. The young men and women were hurried out of the comforts of their beds, lined up, and killed after each had been ordered to announce his or her Christian name.  Where were the team of Nigerian soldiers and members of other armed forces drafted to protect the troubled zone marred by fanatical religious war? They seemed to be in sound sleep as the carnage went on, unabated, for over four hours. If the Nigerian Federal Government did not tolerate terrorism and did not give tacit approval to such dastardly act, tell me why the massacre, which lasted for so long, could have happened. How could such a gruesome act take place in an area where a "crack" team of a special force of soldiers and police were supposedly enforcing a curfew? And it was that curfew that got the victims trapped in their homes. The army and police were there, it appears, merely to create a false impression – that the government was protecting the citizens. The innocent and law abiding citizens would have taken steps to protect themselves better, or even gone back to their various states as often happens. They reposed faith in the instrumentality of the State, and they paid the ultimate price for their misplaced faith and confidence in the government. One feels certain that, but for the Army and Police enforcing a so-called curfew and creating a false sense of safety, most of the young students would still be still today. The federal government’s gross negligence was the direct cause of the massacre. That horror in Mubi vindicated Achebe’s position that the federal government condones the terrorist violation of citizens.

 

While Nigerians were still mourning the massacred students, cut down in their prime, a video of another savage event emerged to wide international circulation. This time, the horrific video came from Choba, Port Harcourt. It revealed how four students were lynched and burnt alive. The macabre scene was videotaped and uploaded on Youtube possibly by the perpetrators of the sordid crime. After watching that video, who would want to question Achebe’s position?

 

Achebe’s memoir is simply filled with riches that reward rereading. Mortimer Jerome, a popular author and philosopher, once said that a great book should be inexhaustible (it can be read again and again with benefit).

 

If the above standard is accepted, Achebe has just published one of the greatest books of our time. This book will be analyzed over and again by generations yet unborn. And each will benefit immensely from the prophetic and historical nature of the book. At present, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart makes the author the most widely read African author, period. A personal story will shed light into how Achebe’s style of writing appeals to generations. My aged father, now late, was visiting the US. I had reasons to travel to Nigeria and asked my father what I should get for him on my way back. His response surprised me: "A copy of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe." Even in his twilight years, my beloved and most cherished father was thinking of Achebe’s most popular book. I got to Nigeria and bought three copies of the book (easily available from street hawkers). I gave Father one and kept two copies. Till date, I still find the book exciting. With a more mature and discerning mind, the novel resonated with me even more powerfully. My prediction is that, when all is said and done, the memoir will have the same profound effect on people. I will likely be asking my child for a copy when I am over 80 years.

 

ACHEBE ON AWOLOWO AND GOWON  - NOW A HARVEST AND BAZAAR FOR ETHNIC JINGOISTS

 

The statement that has ignited a firestorm comes from Achebe’s take on the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo (most popularly called Awo) and Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s war-time head of state.

Those who know Chinua Achebe most intimately attest to his fearless candor and strength of character. These attributes were on full display in his refusal twice to accept Nigeria’s national honors on the grounds that the litany of leadership woes that adversely affect the lives of Nigerians still exists. That moral choice solidified his reputation as a man of unimpeachable principle. This type of gesture is absent in the lexicon of the highly questionable national honor. Let’s face it, many of our best intellectuals have been known to succumb to the temptation to partake in "the national cake," a phrase loosely used to rationalize illegal acquisition of wealth at the expense of the masses, either by accepting highly compromised government jobs or contracts.  Achebe has contributed tremendously to the intellectual and moral advancement of humanity and has stood in solidarity with the Nigerian masses by using his vintage position to zealously advocate for the poor and voiceless.

 

Moving on…….

 

The ignoble role of Gowon is pretty settled. As Nigeria’s military ruler, he prosecuted the genocide during the war. That is far from a controversial claim. The absence of extensive debates on the theories of genocide affirms this position. By contrast, Achebe’s statement about Awolowo has generated fierce and passionate debate, mostly along ethnic lines.

 

Achebe wrote: "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."

 

 

Some have argued that the late Awolowo, a widely revered Nigerian too, should not be blamed for any role in the Biafra genocide. Others have insisted that he should be held accountable especially with relation to the decision to strip members of the Biafran side of economic power by handing them a measly 20 pounds each at the end of the war. The sordid tale often called economic genocide or strangulation is simple to explain. Every Igbo adult was given a mere 20 pounds only in exchange for the assets they formerly owned. It did not matter if a person had 100 million pounds in the bank before the war. Many have blamed the late Awolowo, who was then the Finance Minister, for this policy of economic strangulation of the Igbo. He was the undisputed leader of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the highest policy making body in Nigeria then. Being the brightest and most respected among the FEC members, Awo has now become the focus of debate on most of the obnoxious policies of the then Gowon regime.

 

Should we discountenance Achebe’s argument without the benefit of hearing him interviewed? To do so would be a gross disservice to fairness. Achebe is yet to grant interviews, as is customary after every great publication. As an amateur student writer cum journalist, I used to cherish a situation like this. It is a journalist’s paradise. Interview the great man and ask him questions, those are the opportunities that we should really be waiting for. Heckling on the Internet and local media is of little help.

Achebe’s place in world history is already engraved in glittering gold now and forever. It can never be dented, and his word goes very far. Therefore, we must all seek the golden opportunity of a credible interview on the subject.

 

 

It is sad that Achebe’s statement on Awo appears to have dealt a further blow to the often tense relationship between Yoruba and Igbo. Nigerian politics, notorious for its bare-knuckle ethnic warfare, appears to have gone up in flames. But many of the cyber-gladiators are missing the point by a wide margin. In-depth analysis has been replaced by insults, innuendoes and gossips. As usual, the number of unhygienic insults that you can haul at the other "adversarial ethnic group" now measures your "loyalty" to your ethnic group. Lazy intellectualizing by the best and brightest is now the trend. The facts remain that, when the dust settles, we must discuss the facts with a view to supporting or debunking the widely circulated story.

 

My position is simple. Unless proven otherwise, a super powerful Finance Minister will never be held harmless for any monetary policy by the government that he served. Otherwise, we must all absolve Ngozi Okonjo Iweala of all blame for the huge transfer of Nigeria’s cash to pay what some critics regard as a phantom debt during Obasanjo’s administration. If Awo, as a super powerful FEC leader and Finance Minister during and after the war, can never be discussed with respect to a monetary policy, who then should be discussed?

Dr. Val Ojo, a former lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University, has argued, "PA Awo made a war time decision." Maybe we should be all discussing along that line.

 

I searched and read a publication where the late Awolowo admitted to signing off on the policy, but not being responsible for drafting it. The publication wrote: "During the 1983 elections, Chief Awolowo was hosted to a town hall interview in Abeokuta, where in addition to other pertinent topics of the day, he spoke on his role in the civil war, the 20-pound policy, starvation as a weapon, change of currency, abandoned property etc. Collectors item.

Moderator: Yes Mr…….Mr. Oparadike.

 

TWENTY POUNDS POLICY

 

That’s what I did, and the case of the money they said was not given back to them, you know during the war all the pounds were looted, they printed Biafran currency notes, which they circulated, at the close of the war some people wanted their Biafran notes to be exchanged for them. Of course I couldn’t do that, if I did that the whole country would be bankrupt. We didn’t know about Biafran notes and we didn’t know on what basis they have printed them, so we refused the Biafran note, but I laid down the principle that all those who had savings in the banks on the eve of the declaration of the Biafran war or Biafra, will get their money back if they could satisfy us that they had the savings there, or the money there. Unfortunately, all the banks’s books had been burnt, and many of the people who had savings there didn’t have their saving books or their last statement of account, so a panel had to be set up.

 

I didn’t take part in setting up the panel, it was done by the Central Bank and the pertinent officials of the Ministry of Finance, to look into the matter, and they went carefully into the matter, they took some months to do so, and then made some recommendation which I approved. Go to the archives, all I did was approve, I didn’t write anything more than that, I don’t even remember the name of any of them who took part. So I did everything in this world to assist our Ibo brothers and sisters during and after the war.And anyone who goes back to look at my broadcast in August 1967, which dealt with post-war reconstruction, would see what I said there."

 

NOW,

 

Should Chief Awolowo be solely judged by those actions alone? Definitely not! I also took judicious notice of his response to some of the other questions asked. Some see his response as a moral apology, I leave you to your own conclusion. For completeness, find below other sections of the said interview.

 

AWO’S INTERVIEW  - 1983

 

During the 1983 elections, Chief Awolowo was hosted to a town hall interview in Abeokuta, where in addition to other pertinent topics of the day, he spoke on his role in the civil war, the 20-pound policy, starvation as a weapon, change of currency, abandoned property etc.

 

Collectors item.

 

CIVIL WAR

 

Moderator: Yes Mr…….Mr. Oparadike.

Question: Chief Awolowo, your stand on the civil war, however unpopular it may have been to the Biafran people…Your stand on the civil war, however unpopular it may have been to the Biafrans or Ibo people, helped to shorten the war. Today, you’re being cast as the sole enemy of the Ibo people because of that stand, by among others, some of the people who as members of the federal military government at that time, were party to that decision and are today, in some cases, inheritors of power in one Nigeria which that decision of yours helped to save. How do you feel being cast in this role, and what steps are you taking to endear yourself once again to that large chunk of Nigerians who feels embittered.

Awolowo: As far as I know, the Ibo masses are friendly to me, towards me. In fact, whenever I visit Iboland, either Anambra or Imo, and there’s no campaigning for elections on, the Ibo people receive me warmly and affectionately. But there are some elements in Iboland who believe that they can maintain their popularity only by denigrating me, and so they keep on telling lies against me. Ojukwu is one of them. I don’t want to mention the names of the others because they are still redeemable, but ….Ojukwu is irredeemable so I mention his name, and my attitude to these lies is one of indifference, I must confess to you.

 

I’ve learnt to rely completely on the providence and vindication of Almighty God in some of these things. I’ve tried to explain myself in the past, but these liars persist. Ojukwu had only recently told the same lie against me. What’s the point in correcting lies when people are determined to persist in telling lies against you, what’s the point. I know that someday the Ibos, the masses of the Ibo people will realize who their friends are, and who their real enemies are. And the day that happens woe betide those enemies. The Ibos will deal with them very roughly, very roughly.

 

That has happened in my life. I have a nickname now, if you see my letterhead you’ll find something on top, you’ll find a fish done on the letterhead. Some people put Lion on theirs, some people put Tiger, but mine is Fish. And Fish represents my zodiac sign, those of you who read the stars and so on in the newspapers; you’ll find out that there’s a zodiac sign known as pieces, in Latin pieces mean Fish.

 

So I put pieces on top, that’s my zodiac sign being born on the 6th of March,….er well, the year doesn’t matter, it’s the day that matter. And then on top of it I write Eebudola. All of you know the meaning of that. You know I don’t want to tell a long story but………………Awolowo school, omo Awolowo, the…… started in Urobo land, in mid-west in those days. They were ridiculing my schools, I was building schools –brick and cement, to dpc level, block to dpc level and mud thereafter. And so the big shots in the place.."ah what kind of school is this? is this Awolowo school? Useless school" and when they saw the children.."ah this Awolowo children, they can’t read and write, Awolowo children" that’s how it started, with ridicule, and it became blessing, and now they say "Awolowo children, they are good people" no more ridicule about it, that’s how it started, so the Eebu becomes honor, the abuse became honor.

 

And so when I look back to all my life, treasonable felony, jail, all the abuses that were heaped on me, to Coker Inquiry, all sorts, and I see what has happened to the people who led, who led all these denigration campaign, where are they today? Those that are alive are what I call Homo Mortuus- dead living, oku eniyan, that’s what they are, those that their lives have gone.

 

So when I look back, I come to the conclusion that all these abuses which have been heaped on me all my life for doing nothing, for doing good, they have become honor, and so Eebudola is one of my nicknames. So I’ve cultivated an attitude of indifference, I’ve done no evil to the Ibos.

 

During the war I saw to it that the revenue which was due to the Iboland- South Eastern states they call it, at that time..east central state, I kept it, I saved the money for them. And when they ….was librated I handed over the money to them- millions. If I’d decided to do so, I could have kept the money away from them and then when they took over I saw to it that subvention was given to them at the rate of 990,000 pounds every month. I didn’t go to the executive council to ask for support, or for approval because I knew if I went to the executive council at that time the subvention would not be approved because there were more enemies in the executive council for the Ibos than friends. And since I wasn’t going to take a percentage from what I was going to give them, and I knew I was doing what was right, I wanted the state to survive, I kept on giving the subvention - 990,000 almost a million, every month, and I did that for other states of course- South eastern state, North central state, Kwara and so on.

 

But I did that for the Ibos, and when the war was over, I saw to it that the ACB got three and a half million pounds to start with. This was distributed immediately and I gave another sum of money. The attitude of the experts, officials at the time of the ACB was that ACB should be closed down, and I held the view you couldn’t close the ACB down because that is the bank that gives finance to the Ibo traders, and if you close it down they’ll find it difficult to revive or to survive. So it was given. I did the same thing for the Cooperative Bank of Eastern Nigeria, to rehabilitate all these places, and I saw to it as commissioner for finance that no obstacle was placed in the way of the ministry of economic planning in planning for rehabilitation of the war affected areas.

 

TWENTY POUNDS POLICY

 

That’s what I did, and the case of the money they said was not given back to them, you know during the war all the pounds were looted, they printed Biafran currency notes, which they circulated, at the close of the war some people wanted their Biafran notes to be exchanged for them. Of course I couldn’t do that, if I did that the whole country would be bankrupt. We didn’t know about Biafran notes and we didn’t know on what basis they have printed them, so we refused the Biafran note, but I laid down the principle that all those who had savings in the banks on the eve of the declaration of the Biafran war or Biafra, will get their money back if they could satisfy us that they had the savings there, or the money there. Unfortunately, all the banks’s books had been burnt, and many of the people who had savings there didn’t have their saving books or their last statement of account, so a panel had to be set up.

 

I didn’t take part in setting up the panel, it was done by the Central bank and the pertinent officials of the ministry of finance, to look into the matter, and they went carefully into the matter, they took some months to do so, and then make some recommendation which I approved. Go to the archives, all I did was approve, I didn’t write anything more than that, I don’t even remember the name of any of them who took part. So I did everything in this world to assist our Ibo brothers and sisters during and after the war.

And anyone who goes back to look at my broadcast in August 1967, which dealt with post-war reconstruction would see what I said there.

 

STARVATION POLICY

 

Then, but above all, the ending of the war itself that I’m accused of, accused of starving the Ibos, I did nothing of the sort. You know, shortly after the liberation of these places, Calabar, Enugu and Port Harcort, I decided to pay a visit. There are certain things which I knew which you don’t know, which I don’t want to say here now, when I write my reminisces in the future I will do so. Some of the soldiers were not truthful with us, they didn’t tell us correct stories and so on.

 

I wanted to be there and see things for myself, bear in mind that Gowon himself did not go there at that time, it was after the war was over that he dorn himself up in various military dresses- Air force dress, Army dress and so on, and went to the war torn areas. But I went and some people tried to frighten me out of my goal by saying that Adekunle was my enemy and he was going to see to it that I never return from the place, so I went.

 

But when I went what did I see? I saw the kwashiorkor victims. If you see a kwashiorkor victim you’ll never like war to be waged. Terrible sight, in Enugu, in Port Harcourt, not many in Calabar, but mainly in Enugu and Port Harcourt. Then I enquired what happened to the food we are sending to the civilians. We were sending food through the Red cross, and CARITAS to them, but what happen was that the vehicles carrying the food were always ambushed by the soldiers. That’s what I discovered, and the food would then be taken to the soldiers to feed them, and so they were able to continue to fight. And I said that was a very dangerous policy, we didn’t intend the food for soldiers. But who will go behind the line to stop the soldiers from ambushing the vehicles that were carrying the food? And as long as soldiers were fed, the war will continue, and who’ll continue to suffer? and those who didn’t go to the place to see things as I did, you remember that all the big guns, all the soldiers in the Biafran army looked all well fed after the war, its only the mass of the people that suffered kwashiorkor.

 

You wont 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.

 

CHANGE OF CURRENCY

 

And it is on record that Ojukwu admitted that two things defeated him in this war, that’s as at the day he left Biafra. He said one, the change of currency, he said that was the first thing that defeated him, and we did that to prevent Ojukwu taking the money which his soldiers has stolen from our Central bank for sale abroad to buy arms. We discovered he looted our Central bank in Benin, he looted the one in Port Harcourt, looted the one in Calabar and he was taking the currency notes abroad to sell to earn foreign exchange to buy arms.

 

So I decided to change the currency, and for your benefit, it can now be told the whole world, only Gowon knew the day before, the day before the change took place. I decided, only three of us knew before then- Isong now governor of Cross River, Attah and myself. It was a closely guarded secret, if any commissioner at the time say that he knew about it, he’s only boosting his own ego. Because once you tell someone, he’ll tell another person. So we refused to tell them and we changed the currency notes. So Ojukwu said the change in currency defeated him, and starvation of his soldiers also defeated him.

These were the two things that defeated Ojukwu. And, he reminds me, when you saw Ojukwu’s picture after the war, did he look like someone who’s not well fed? But he has been taking the food which we send to civilians, and so we stopped the food.

 

ABANDONED PROPERTY

 

And then finally, I saw to it that the houses owned by the Ibos in Lagos and on this side, were kept for them. I had an estate agent friend who told me that one of them collected half a million pounds rent which has been kept for him. All his rent were collected, but since we didn’t seize their houses, he came back and collected half a million pounds.

 

So that is the position. I’m a friend of the Ibos and the mass of the Ibos are my friends, but there are certain elements who want to continue to deceive the Ibos by telling lies against me, and one day, they’ll discover and then that day will be terrible for those who have been telling the lies.

 

Obi Enweze, JD. FCA (Washington, DC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra by Chinua Achebe

Meanwhile, I am not in any way or any form suggesting that Sanusi has Nigeria, at independence from British rule in 1960, was called the Giant of Africa. With a large population, an educated elite and many natural resources, especially oil, Nigeria was supposed to fly the flag of democratic success. It did not, and it is clear now, in retrospect, that it could not possibly have done so. Colonial rule, as a government model, was closer to a dictatorship than a democracy. Nigeria was a young nation, created in 1914, as Nigerian children would learn in history class in the endlessly repeated sentence: ‘Lord Frederick Lugard amalgamated the northern and southern protectorates to form one country and his wife gave it the name Nigeria.’

 

It is debatable whether, at independence, Nigeria was a nation at all. The amalgamation was an economic policy; the British colonial government needed to subsidise the poorer North with income from the resource-rich South. With its feudal system of emirs, beautiful walled cities, and centralised power systems, the North was familiar to Lord Lugard – not unlike the Sudan, where he had previously worked. In the South, the religions were more diverse, the power systems more diffuse. Lugard, a theorist of imperial rule, believed in the preservation of native cultures as long as they fitted his theories of what native cultures should be. In the North, the missionaries and their Western education were discouraged, to prevent what Lugard called their ‘corrupting influence’ on Islamic schools. Western education thrived in the South. The regions had different interests, saw each other as competitors, and became autonomous at different times; there was no common centre. A nation is, after all, merely an idea. Colonial policy did not succeed in propagating the idea of a nation: indeed, colonial policy did not try to. In the North colonialism entrenched the old elite; in the South it created a new elite, the Western-educated. This small group would form the core of the nationalist movement in the 1950s, agitating for independence. They tried to establish the idea of ‘nation’ and ‘tribe’ as binary, in opposition to each other, a strategy they believed was important for the exercise of nation-building. But the politicisation of ethnicity had already gone too far.

 

After independence a vicious regional power struggle ensued. The ‘fear of domination’ of one region by another was everywhere. Elections were rigged. The government was unpopular. Only six years later a group of army majors carried out a coup and murdered top government officials. In the North the coup was seen as an Igbo coup, a plot by the southern Igbo to gain dominance. It didn’t help that the new head of state, in a clumsy attempt to calm the nation, instituted a unitary decree. Instead of regional civil services Nigeria now had a single civil service. A second coup by northern officers saw Igbo officers hunted down and murdered. Then the murders became massacres. ‘Massacre’ may seem melodramatic. But perhaps because the events leading to the Nigeria-Biafra war are so often eclipsed by the war itself, so little remembered, it seems an apt word for the thousands of Igbo civilians in the North who were killed between May and September 1966, their homes ransacked and set on fire: Nigerian civilians killed by Nigerian civilians. The numbers are still disputed, but most agree that at least seven thousand died. The federal government seemed incapable of stopping the killings. Had the massacres not occurred, or had they been dealt with differently, the south-eastern region would not have seceded and declared itself the independent nation of Biafra.

 

The darkest chapter of Nigeria’s history: the Nigeria-Biafra war that left a million people dead, towns completely destroyed and a generation stripped of its innocence. On the Biafran side, intellectuals actively participated in the war, buoyed by their belief in the secessionist cause. They drafted press releases, served as roving ambassadors, made weapons. The best known and most influential African poet in English, Christopher Okigbo, joined the Biafran army. He was a romantic, unsatisfied with the administrative or diplomatic roles his fellow intellectuals took on; Chinua Achebe, his close friend, describes him as a man about whom there was a certain inevitability of drama and event. Mere months into the war, he died in battle. Achebe’s recollection of Okigbo’s death in There Was a Country is brief, and no less moving for that. Achebe hears the announcement on his car radio and pulls up at the roadside:

 

The open parkland around Nachi stretched away in all directions. Other cars came and passed. Had no one else heard the terrible news?

 

When I finally got myself home and told my family, my three-year-old son, Ike, screamed: ‘Daddy don’t let him die!’ Ike and Christopher had been special pals. When Christopher came to the house the boy would climb on his knees, seize hold of his fingers and strive with all his power to break them while Christopher would moan in pretended agony. ‘Children are wicked little devils,’ he would say to us over the little fellow’s head, and let out more cries of feigned pain.

 

In the years since the war, Okigbo has become an icon to writers throughout the continent: venerated, enmeshed in myth, his death a striking example of the great tragedy of the war. Achebe almost died too. Before the war started, when Igbo people were under siege in Lagos, soldiers raided his house and only just missed him. Later, his home and his office were bombed, and later still the Biafran army set up an armoury in his porch overnight; his family woke to the sound of shelling and knew it was time to flee. His story is a story of near-misses, of deep scars left by what could have been. After an air raid in Enugu at the beginning of the war, Achebe stares at the ruins of what had been the office of Citadel Press, a publishing company he had started with Okigbo, and thinks: ‘Having had a few too many homes and offices bombed, I walked away from the site and from publishing for ever.’

 

Achebe is the most widely read African author in the world, and was already a known and respected writer in 1967, when he joined the Biafran war effort. He served as an ambassador for Biafra, travelling to different countries to raise support for the beleaguered nation, and participating in various committees, one of which came up with the Ahiara declaration, a moving if starry-eyed document that was the new nation’s intellectual foundation. He has written poems and short stories about Biafra – Girls at War (1972) is a magnificent collection of stories set there. But many have waited and hoped for a memoir, for his personal take on a contested history. Now at last he has written it. Although it is subtitled ‘A Personal History of Biafra’, There Was A Country is striking for not being very personal in its account of the war. Instead it is a Nigerian nationalist lament for the failure of the giant that never was; Achebe is mourning Nigeria’s failures, the greatest and most devastating of which was Biafra.

 

This is a book for Achebe’s admirers, or for those not unfamiliar with his work. Parts are similar to passages from previous essays, and interspersed in the narrative are poems which, even if tweaked here, have been published before. Keen followers of Achebe will be interested in some of the new material about his life in the first section of the book. But the second section, about the war itself, mostly forgoes personal memory. In writing about the major events, Achebe often recounts what he was told rather than what he felt and the reader is left with a nagging dissatisfaction, as though things are being left unsaid. There are a few glimpses. On a visit to Canada as a Biafran ambassador, one of his hosts at the Canadian Council of Churches made a joke, and in the middle of the loud laughter that followed, it occurred to Achebe that Biafra had become different from other places, where laughter was still available. And, later, hearing a plane take off from Heathrow, he instinctively wanted to dive for cover. There are other small details, but all tantalisingly brief, sometimes oblique. I longed to hear more of what he had felt during those months of war – in other words, I longed for a more novelistic approach.

 

The book’s first section is much more satisfying in this respect: more involved and personal. There is his happy childhood, his close-knit family, with portraits of his father, an upright missionary teacher, and his mother, about whom he writes: ‘It is her peaceful determination to tackle barriers in her world that nailed down a very important element of my development – the willingness to bring about change gently.’ The first section is also a celebration of the richness of Igbo philosophy and cosmology and its inclusive culture. In recounting his memory of how welcoming his people were to early white missionaries, he writes about ‘how wholeheartedly they embraced strangers from thousands of miles away, with their different customs and beliefs’. Although he grew up in a Christian household, with regular Bible readings, he was also drawn to Igbo religion, which he found more ‘artistically satisfying’. Much of his work is rooted in this tension between old and new, between the Christian religion of his parents and the retreating older religion of his ancestors.

 

He began to write Things Fall Apart after a British lecturer told him an earlier story he had written lacked ‘form’, but was then unable to explain to him what form meant. ‘I was conscripted by the story,’ he writes, ‘and I was writing at all times – whenever there was any opening. It felt like a sentence, an imprisonment of creativity.’ He is, famously, one of the writers who ‘wrote back’ to the ‘West’, who challenged, by writing his own story, the dominant and reductive Western images of his people. In his essay ‘The Novelist as Teacher’ he wrote that he would be happy if his work did nothing more than show his people that theirs had not been a life of darkness before the advent of the Europeans. ‘The writer,’ he says, ‘is often faced with two choices – turn away from the reality of life’s intimidating complexity or conquer its mystery by battling with it. The writer who chooses the former soon runs out of energy and produces elegantly tired fiction.’ On the other hand, his work never sinks under this burden of responsibility.

 

He describes the situation in eastern Nigeria in the months leading up to war. In Nigeria’s urban mythology, the war would not have happened had it not been for the personal ambition of the Biafran leader Ojukwu. It is now known that the British high commissioner, David Hunt, wrote a memo to London describing Ojukwu as an overambitious man who had engineered the secession and manipulated his people into supporting him. Many others have repeated this view. Achebe vigorously disputes it: ‘I believe that following the pogroms, or rather, the ethnic cleansing in the North that occurred over the four months starting in May 1966, which was compounded by the involvement, even connivance, of the federal government … secession from Nigeria and the war that followed became an inevitability.’ To him it is self-evident that an ethnic group known for its independence of mind could not easily be manipulated into supporting a war. He writes about the reaction among Igbo people after the Northern massacres:

 

One found a new spirit among the people, a spirit one did not know existed, a determination in fact. The spirit was that of a people ready to put in their best and fight for their freedom … But the most vital feeling Biafrans had at that time was that they were finally in a safe place … at home. This was the first and most important thing, and one could see this sense of exhilaration in the effort that the people were putting into the war. Young girls, for example, had taken over the job of controlling traffic. They were really doing it by themselves – no one asked them to. That this kind of spirit existed made us feel tremendously hopeful.

 

One gets the sense from Achebe’s memoir of a man who is effortlessly himself, who will keep silent rather than say what he doesn’t believe. He is meticulous and sincere in his expressions of praise and gratitude – to fellow writers, to people who helped him or helped Biafra. He has a sense of humour, but very little cynicism. Today, when many Western male writers of a certain age are mythologised for their bad manners – rudeness, selfishness etc – as though great male talent must be accompanied by boorishness, it is refreshing to encounter a great male talent of a certain age who feels no need for posturing.

 

Achebe has sometimes been characterised as a writer lacking ‘style’, that word often used by people for whom prose, to be noteworthy, must be an exercise in flashy phrasemaking. If style is that, a form of pyrotechnics, then this is a fair characterisation of his work. But if style is a distinctive way of writing prose, whatever that may be, then Achebe’s style is quite evident. His sentences are confident. He writes a Nigerian, and sometimes a distinctly Igbo English. His writing is quiet, and in this regard he is similar to writers like William Trevor and Okot p’Bitek. He is free of literary anxiety.

 

My kind of storytelling has to add its voice to this universal storytelling before we can say, ‘Now we’ve heard it all.’ I worry when somebody from one particular tradition stands up and says, ‘The novel is dead, the story is dead.’ I find this to be unfair, to put it mildly. You told your own story, and now you’re announcing the novel is dead. Well, I haven’t told mine yet.

 

His prose, which often has the cadence of spoken Nigerian English in his fiction, is sometimes plainly conversational here. I was reminded of my father, a contemporary of Achebe’s, telling stories of his past, in the circuitous storytelling tradition of the Igbo, each story circling in on itself, revelling in coincidence. I imagine Achebe would tell the stories in this book in much the same way as he writes them, with an elegiac, gentle vagueness, a lack of interest in adhering to hard fact. He ‘came first or second’ in an exam; his wife’s father died ‘in the mid-1980s’. There are many repetitions, schoolfriends are introduced more than once, there are digressions, and he casually uses quaint words like ‘lad’ and ‘serpent’. There is more of what writing teachers call ‘telling’ and less ‘showing’. Sometimes, his stories are fable-like, with the simplicity – and simplifications – of that form. In Nigeria under colonial rule, he could travel from Lagos to the south-east at night without worrying about armed robbers. This, he argues, is because the British managed their colonies well. His simplification is rooted in disappointment. He is a member of Nigeria’s generation of the bewildered, the people who were fortunate to be educated, who were taught to believe in Nigeria, and who watched, helpless and confused, as the country crumbled. He was a Biafran patriot, as were most of his Igbo colleagues, because they no longer felt they belonged in Nigeria. He still seems surprised, almost disbelieving, not only at the terrible things that happened but at the response, or lack of response, to them. ‘As many of us packed our belongings to return east some of the people we had lived with for years, some for decades, jeered … that kind of experience is very powerful. It is something I could not possibly forget.’ Later:

 

I was one of the last to flee Lagos. I simply could not bring myself to accept that I could no longer live in my nation’s capital, although the facts clearly said so. My feeling toward Nigeria was one of profound disappointment. Not only because mobs were hunting down and killing innocent civilians in many parts, especially in the North, but because the federal government sat by and let it happen.

 

Achebe mourns Biafra, but his anger is directed at the failures of Nigeria. His great disappointment manifests itself in a rare moment of defiance towards the end of the book:

 

There are many international observers who believe that Gowan’s actions after the war were magnanimous and laudable. There are tons of treatises that talk about how the Igbo were wonderfully integrated into Nigeria. Well, I have news for them: the Igbo were not and continue not to be reintegrated into Nigeria, one of the main reasons for the country’s continued backwardness, in my estimation.

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer. She is Igbo. She has been called "the most prominent" of a "procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors. Awards: Orange Prize for Fiction, Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, MacArthur Fellowship, Beyond Margins Award. Books: Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus

 

If you haven’t yet placed your bets behind Chinua Achebe winning the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, there’s still time. Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times is definitely backing him for the win. Over at the UK wagering house Ladbrokes, Japanese author Haruki Murakami has a 10 to 1 odds of winning, with Chinese author Mo Yan at a safe distance of 12 to 1 odds. The same top two contenders are in reverse order at Nicerodds.

 

Achebe’s 1958 novel Things Fall Apart placed the Nigerian author at the top of the heap of classic African novels of the twentieth century. He has the pedigree, but then again so do other African authors such as Nuruddin Farah and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. In a year that’s looking like it could go in an Asian or Middle Eastern direction, does an African novelist stand a good chance?

 

According to Ladbrokes, Achebe’s odds of nabbing the Nobel stand at 20 to 1. And this may increase with the publication of his “personal history of Biafra”, There Was A Country, later this year. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s name has also been put forward for consideration, and appears on both betting lists:


"Nobody knows who will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Nobody. Not the Swedish Academy, which is still reading through the works of the very secret short list of finalists. Not the most erudite international reader or spot-on fortuneteller. And certainly not me.

That said, I’m going to make some wild, barely founded guesses about some possible contenders.

Like, say, Chinua Achebe. Born in Nigeria, Achebe (pictured) is the author of one of the most enduring works of 20th century African literature: “Things Fall Apart.” Published in 1958, the novel chronicled the clash of cultures between the Nigerian protagonist and Christian missionaries. Achebe has been a politically involved writer — something the Academy often looks upon favorably — and he’ll turn 82 in November. He seems like a strong candidate."


Complete article: The Los Angeles Times

 

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