[Achebe] is a professor of English, a writer of repute and runs regular commentary on socio-political development in Nigeria. He has been nominated two times to receive national honors, but turned down the offer both times. Achebe’s latest work, now available in the UK, is his personal memoir of the Nigerian/Biafran civil war. In the PR the book is decribed as “the towering reckoning with one of the modern Africa’s most fateful experience, both as he lived it and he has now come to understand it.”
Achebe, in an article for the guardian UK stated
But if the diabolical disregard for human life seen during the war was not due to the northern military elite’s jihadist or genocidal obsession, then why were there more small arms used on Biafran soil than during the entire second world war? Why were there 100,000 casualties on the much larger Nigerian side compared with more than 2 million – mainly children – Biafrans killed?
It is important to point out that most Nigerians were against the war and abhorred the senseless violence that ensued. The wartime cabinet of General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals like Chief Obafemi Awolowo among others who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies. A statement credited to Awolowo and echoed by his cohorts is the most callous and unfortunate: all is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder.
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.
The federal government’s actions soon after the war could be seen not as conciliatory but as outright hostile. After the conflict ended, the same hardliners in the Nigerian government cast Igbos in the role of treasonable felons and wreckers of the nation – and got the regime to adopt a banking policy that nullified any bank account operated during the war by the Biafrans. A flat sum of 20 Nigerian pounds was approved for each Igbo depositor, regardless of the amount of deposit. If there was ever a measure put in place to stunt, or even obliterate, the economy of a people, this was it.
Since the article and some reviews of the book were published, controversy has been brewing in the Nigerian literary and political space, with long threads of commentary on social media platforms and message boards. Newspapers are not left out as politicians and parties air their views. Read the statements below and share your own views in the comment section. Biggest question is, should Achebe as a writer need to publish a memoir on the civil war, and will it affect the country for the good or worse?
A political activist and convener of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER), Mr. Ayo Opadokun, took umbrage at the position of Achebe in the new book. He said: “The new write-up is another rehash of the perverted intellectual laziness which he had exhibited in the past in matters relating to Awo when Achebe described Awo as a Yoruba irredentist. What he expected was that Awo should fold his arms to allow the Igbo race led by Zik to preside over the affairs of the Yoruba nation. The fact that the Yoruba people in their wisdom, having found out that the NCNC through Zik and Okpara had established a government of their choice and then wanted to follow up with the appropriation of the Yorubaland as their catchment area. It is a demonstration of the contempt of Achebe and his ilk for the Yoruba nation.
Chairman of the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Wale Oshun wondered why some Igbo, especially Chinua Achebe “find it convenient to pick Awolowo as a scapegoat of all that happened to them during the war.” He asked, “did awo start the war? He was just the Federal Commissioner for Finance with responsibility for coming up with appropriate fiscal and monetary policies. He was not at the battle field and could not therefore be fairly charged with genocide..” The former Chief Whip of the House of Representatives also challenged anyone to come up with any publication where Awo said starvation should be regarded as a legitimate weapon of war. “Neither in any of the books written by him nor on him was any such thing said. It is the work of those who hated his guts. It is not factual. It must be remembered that even when he was not in the cabinet, he tried to prevent the war, but as soon as it broke out, it was between Nigeria and Biafra. He had to come up with policies that would end the war quickly. Those who are peddling this line have forgotten that Awo was in prison when the crisis started.”
Awo’s official biographer, Prof Moses Makinde, who heads Awolowo Centre for Philosophy, Ideology and Good Governance, Osogbo, is the author of ‘Awo: The Last Conversation’. The other two are: ‘Awo as a Philosopher’ and ‘A Memoir of the Jewel’. He disagreed with Achebe, maintaining that the Ikenne-born statesman was a full-blooded nationalist. His words: “I do not agree with Prof Achebe on the statement. It is not true that Awo’s civil war role smacked of even an iota of selfish political aggrandisement. I was his biographer and I can state authoritatively that, though he did not penetrate the North, he had a firm belief in the unity of Nigeria and that was why he wanted to govern the country as an indivisible entity. All the governors and other close associates of his would attest to the fact that he was a believer in the oneness of Nigeria which was why he wanted to govern the entire country for the overall benefit of her entire citizenry.
Dr Awolowo-Dosunmu told Sunday Vanguard, yesterday, while responding to the Achebe claim: “One is still trying to come to terms with the sense of disappointment about the person who wrote what is now a brewing controversy in the country. “While a formal statement responding to the offensive comments of the writer is being prepared by the family all I can say for now is that I feel so disappointed”.
But, Mbadinuju, defending Achebe, said: “I have not read the book. I don’t want to speculate. During the civil war, I was studying in the United States of America. However, I have absolute confidence in Prof Chinua Achebe. He is an acclaimed international scholar and figure; whatever he says about the civil war should be taken seriously.”