Chinua, our own Chinua, widely respected all over the world and the author of the best selling book ever to be written by an African(Things Fall Apart) recently put his personal experiences as a Nigerian and then a Biafran together and named the book There Was a Country.
To start with, he stated clearly that the content of the book are his personal experience and one should commend him for his views. At the very least, Chinua is entitled to write his opinions, experiences and views of the events that happened in making him the man that he is today. That is no sacrilege. Also, at no time did he make any attempt at claiming that his views represent those of the larger society. Additionally, he went to great extents to provide written references to support various assertions that he made in the book. To me, anyone that is interested in understanding the Nigerian dilemma, why a country blessed with so much has only strive and poverty to show for it, needs to read Chinua’s accounts as well as those other books that he referenced.
History, many says, is bound to repeat itself. If we as Nigerians do not get a grasp of our past, then our future remains bleak as we would have denied ourselves that very important piece of knowledge informing us of where we have been. As an elder and a constant voice over the decades in the build up of the Nigerian project, when Chinua speaks, people are bound to listen. Much more. Many are bound to hold his words as the words coming from the gods, especially our kinsmen from the East. As a result, Chinua owes us to speak the truth without coloration. He owes the present, the needs for objectivity in his discussions regarding the past. He owes the nation, and those other friends of Nigeria, to be without guile and rise above ordinary men by being conciliatory.
Did Chinua deliver on his debts as summarized above? My personal views are that he came not a little short from fulfilling these expectations. I will quickly accede that after all, he is also a mortal man with his weaknesses and colorations, no matter the efforts at disguising them.
The Nigerian Civil War shaped the destiny of the then budding nation. Unfortunately, the wounds left by the war are yet to heal almost fifty years thereafter. Yes, the Igbos were hounded out of the North and many lost their lives as a result of the senseless killings, especially following the July 1966 coup. Of course, the action of bringing all Igbos home by Ojukwu was the wisest thing to do and he was courageous in doing this. To an extent, one could also support the secession by Biafra. However, knowing when to advance and when to retreat is very important. I think the majority of the losses in human lives and social standing by my fellow countrymen of the Igbo stock was the inability of the leadership to exercise this wisdom. The war should have ended much earlier and the doggheaded refusal of the secessionists to accept the establishment of a land based food and relief corridor largely account for the majority of the war dead.
Chinua is requesting for the leaders of the Nigerian war efforts to be brought to book as their aim was to completely eliminate the Igbo people. I doubt whether many do agree with his views on this, especially beyond the boundaries of the east. While he Igbos should and must complain about the unnecessary killings by the Nigerian Army, this case is not much helped by the fact that the Biafran strategy in countering the Nigerian invasion was to make it a gorilla warfare. In a gorilla warfare, there is nothing much to distinguish an opponent’s soldier from the civilian. Anyone could harbor death for the Nigerian Soldier. Since the Biafran had chosen the war tactic, the response by the Nigerian forces was predictable – each and all men they come across we’re predictably a part of the Biafran Army. Chinua mentioned the choice of his family house, by the Biafran Army, as a good site to position artillery to fight the invading Nigerian Army. In doing this, the Biafrans have indirectly made a civilian structure to become a target for military action. How many more houses, schools, hospitals were used as Biafran Military bases, I do not know. However, eact time the Biafran chose to do this, they have inadvertently turned such into targets for elimination by the Nigerians, hence endangering more Igbo lives. This, to me, was a clear demonstration of leadership apathy to the decimation and suffering of its people.
We are all parts of history, shaping and molding it. Never should we try to re-write it. We should carefully consider how we are affecting current and future generations when we decide to color our stories to make it look good. When Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed by Abacha, I happened to be in the city of Port Harcourt carrying out a work assignment for the bank I was working for. I was led on that trip by Ugo (surname withheld) a senior colleague. Days after the execution, the military decided it was good enough time to announce Ken’s death. When this was broadcast on the radio, Ugo was jubilant, ecstatic and full of rejoicing. He came to my room in the hotel where I was staying to share his hat redness of Ken for being responsible for the take over of the Igbo’s properties in Port Harcourt and then for the penury suffered by Ugo’s family immediately after the war. I saw the hatred in him shown and I was disappointed that Ugo, a man of education and of whom I had tremendous respect could be that base. It is a fact that many Igbos left Port Harcourt and moved to the hinterland, to pursue the Biafran Republic. It is also a fact that many old their properties in doing this and of course lost good fortune as such. Should we hold this against Ken and if we should, should Ken’s execution for a totally different issue be a cause for joy?
This sordid tale, in it’s many varieties, still abound in Nigeria today and is eating deep into the fabrics that bind us together as a people. I believe it is time to let go of the animosity and hatredness. This might have been justifiable during and immediately after the war but four decades later is enough time to let go of the hurts of the war. We should not forget what caused the war and what injustices were suffered by people on both sides of the battle ground and work on building what remains of us as a people.
Chinua, it is time you become a Nigerian again and let go of Biafra – this was good while it lasted.