Wednesday, 19 June 2013
If “There Was A Country” – Let Them Have It
I have resisted the urge to join in comments on the memoirs of Prof. Chinua Achebe hoping that someone will arise amongst the Ibos who will be temperate in his comments. So far, all the commentators from among the Ibo tribe have toed the line of Achebe’s “impression”. The only moderate exception so far, in my opinion, has been Chimamanda Adichie, who in her article “We Remember Differently” tried to present a balanced view of the memoir of Chinua Achebe. Even then, what I considered “moderate” has been the subject of a number of protests.
The young woman said, “... but I do not believe the blockade was a calculated power grab by Awolowo for himself and his ethnic group; I think of it, instead, as one of the many dehumanizing acts that war, by its nature, brings about”. In making this statement, she identified the real murderer of innocent lives from 1967 – 1970, on both sides of the conflict. It was “WAR”. It should not have been started. Once you start it, you lose control of its consequences. The only way to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe is to prevent war. The people that should be held responsible for the deaths during the civil war were the persons that caused the war.
She opined further, “I wish THERE WAS A COUNTRY had been better edited ...” I agree with her.
WHERE ARE THE ELDERS?
In every society, elders are expected to act as restraining agents to the coming generation and use their experiences in life to guide their descendants into a life of peace and prosperity. I find the opposite in the “impression” of Chinua Achebe. The encoded message in that book seems to be, “my fellow Ibo people, I am 82 years old and I can die any moment from now. Do not forget, the Yorubas are your enemies, they killed two million of our children during the civil war because they wanted power at all costs.”
This is how Ibo leaders have interpreted the “impression” of Chinua Achebe. Almost all the Ibo leaders, as well as notable columnists and Ibo bloggers have claimed, “the truth has been told”. Since when has a man’s impression become the “truth”? So, if I say “it is my impression that you are a paedophile”, would it be right for those who hear me to say, “the truth has been told”. As I mentioned earlier, THERE WAS A COUNTRY is a coded message to the Ibos and they decoded it correctly.
I am of the opinion that it is in the best interest of the Ibo people that Chinua Achebe should correct the wrong impression that he has created. If he does not do that before he dies, he would have laid the foundation for a terrible calamity to befall his people. Sooner or later, they are going to act on this “impression”, and the consequences will be disastrous. Achebe has distorted reality for the Ibos and created a wrong world view for them. The result of such mind set can only be disaster.
The attitude of the Ibos to the civil war is quite opposite the attitude of the Germans to the Second World War. The Germans accepted responsibility for causing the war and moved to prevent a re-occurrence. They actually built a house in Bonn named “Haus der Geschichte”, which means “house of history” in which they documented the Second World War. They preserved vehicle, train, guns, books and videos of the war. They did not exclude the videos of the holocaust. The impressive part of it is that when their sons reach the age of 9, or thereabout, they will take him to the “Haus der Geschichte” and show him the horrors of the war and the atrocities that the German army committed against the Jews and impress on that child, “it must never happen again”. I was actually at the Haus der Geschichte and I witnessed a father taking his child round. The young boy was weeping profusely but his father kept taking him round.
This is what elders are supposed to do; they are NOT expected to transfer the poison that caused destruction in their generation to their descendants. The Ibos pride themselves that in Iboland there is no king; is it that there are no elders either?
What Professor Achebe has done is wrong. He did the wrong thing at the wrong time. There are emerging windows of opportunity for complete healing and restoration from the civil war. In the first term of governor Fashola, an Ibo man was appointed a Commissioner in Lagos State. A responsible and sagacious elder would have urged the Ibos to reciprocate by appointing a Yoruba man a Commissioner in Ibo land. If he had done that, healing and restoration from the hurts of the past would have been accelerated. As it is, Chinua Achebe has re-opened old wounds and driven a wedge between the Yorubas and the Ibos. I am yet to see what the Ibos will gain from what Achebe has done, but I can foresee what they will lose, both in the short and long terms. For one, you can forget the prospect of an Ibo president in 2015. Let us face the truth, no Hausa man, in the foreseeable future, will support an Ibo presidency. You must first wipe out the memory of the death of the Sardauna and Tafawa Balewa from their brain. It will take the intervention of the West, as it happened for Goodluck Jonathan, for an Ibo president to emerge.
The Ibos caused the war, and till today, they refused to accept responsibility for it. Chinua Achebe was one of the people that drafted the Ahiara Declaration and he has not let go of the dream of Biafra. Inwardly, he is blaming Obafemi Awolowo, as the skilful manager that enabled the Federal side to win and scuttle the Biafran dream. The claim that two million Ibo children were killed during the Civil War is calculated to whip up sentiments. Did Achebe conduct a census before and after the war? The original figure that was made known after the war was that one million people died during the Nigerian Civil War; and it was not only among the Ibos that people died.
IT WAS ALL MADNESS
It is on record that Awolowo did persuade Ojukwu to desist from secession. Hilary Njoku, the head of the Biafran army at the beginning of the war, stated in his memoirs, A Tragedy Without Heroes, “ When Ojukwu moved too fast recklessly in his ostrich strategy, the same Chief Awolowo led a delegation of Western and some Midwestern leaders to Enugu on 6th May, 1967 and pleaded with Ojukwu not to secede, reminding him that the Western Region was not militarily ready to follow suit in view of the weaknesses of the Western Command of the Nigerian Army and the dominant position of the Northern troops in the West. Ojukwu turned a deaf ear to this advice maybe because of his wrong concept”. (p.141) No Ibo man shouted here, “the truth has been told!”
I watched Ojukwu on NTA after his return from exile. He was asked what was responsible for the civil war and he responded “it was all madness”. If Chinua Achebe now claims that “2 million” Ibo people died as a result of the civil war, Obafemi Awolowo did not kill them; they were killed by the war which was the result of “madness” and “recklessness”.
Sun Tzu on The Art of War said, “Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.” Awolowo analyzed the situation and concluded that the West was not ready to initiate war. That is not cowardice that is common sense. You do not start what you lack the capacity to finish. He gave the same advice to Ojukwu in May 1967, but Ojukwu with the likes of Chinua Achebe rejected the counsel and led the Ibos into a path of destruction. 42 years after the war, they are still looking for someone to hang the blame upon.
Sun Tzu further said “He will win who know when to fight and when not to fight.” You fight when you are ready for war. You do not precipitate a war situation under a burst of emotional anger. War is a serious matter because once you start it you lose control over its consequences. What kind of a leader will precipitate a war against a sovereign state with 120 rifles?
SOWING THE WRONG SEED
I am pained to write on this subject because I have some decent, civilized and broad minded Ibo people as my friends. Some of them are out rightly upset whenever they hear of Biafra. There are Ibos living in the West who are willing to integrate and forget the past and move forward. They believe that every nation has its history and every relationship has its downside. Unfortunately, with poison spewing tribal leaders like Chinua Achebe still around, the dream of cultural integration and unity in Nigeria will remain a mirage.
I foresee that sooner or later, an emotionally charged group of Ibo people are going to act on the false impression created by Professor Chinua Achebe and the consequences will be disastrous for the Ibo people. You see, war is a scourge and no human society is ever ready for it. What Nigerians call “gra gra” is not courage; it is presumption. On the other hand, moderation and temperance, which the Yorubas exhibit is not cowardice; it is cultural maturity. In a multi ethnic society, you cannot have an attitude of “me first, and me only”, it will always bring you into conflict with other ethnic groups.
If there should be a skirmish between the Yorubas and the Ibos, arising from this false impression of Chinua Achebe, the Hausa/Fulani do not need an invitation to join. You do not need a soothsayer to tell you which group they are going to attack. They will launch the attack from the North.
DISTORTION OF REALITY
Based on Achebe’s “impression”, the Ibos are vociferously insulting the Yoruba people, forgetting that the safest place for the Ibos presently in Nigeria is in Yorubaland. Even in his ancestral home, the Ibo man is not safe. The only place in Nigeria today, where the Ibo man can make his money peacefully and flaunt it is in the West. If he tries it in the East, he will be kidnapped by his own people. If he tries it in the North, the Hausa man will set his house on fire.
What this saga has exposed is the amount of hatred and ill-will that some Ibo people have towards the Yorubas. It is frightening that people can harbour such hate culture against another group of people, without any justifiable reason, and yet live in their midst. It is increasingly clear that nothing would please some Ibo people more than witnessing a terrible calamity befalling the Yoruba people. As a matter of fact, one gets the general impression that it is the silent prayer of the ilk of Achebe that another civil war should occur and the location should be Yorubaland. The Ibos have forgotten that while the Hausa man was killing them in the North and the Rivers people were taking their properties in the South-South, the Yoruba was helping them to collect rent on their properties in the West and handed both their properties and their rent to them after the war. Besides, during the civil war, was it not the Biafran army that first attacked the West?
Reality has been distorted for the Ibo man. His friend has been presented to him as his enemy and his enemy as his friend. This seems to be the pattern of the Ibo leaders from time immemorial.
• In 1959, Azikiwe claimed to have “won” election in the West, but there was “carpet crossing” by the Yoruba people. No, sir. That is not what happened. Three parties contested the election in the West – AG, NCNC and Ibadan Communal Party. None of them won enough seats to form a government. Ibadan Communal Party formed an alliance with AG leaving NCNC in the opposition. Rather than stay and head the opposition, Azikiwe headed for the East with the story of “winning” the election but there was “carpet crossing”. Do not forget that this is exactly was Azikiwe himself did in 1979 when he broke his merger with UPN and his NPP forged alliance with NPN. Did you hear any Yoruba man complain?
• Ojukwu claimed that Awolowo promised that if the East seceded, the West would follow suit. That is also wrong. Awolowo addressed Yoruba leaders on 1st May 1967 that if the East was allowed to secede, the West would have no other option, but also to leave. He was not talking to Ojukwu. On the contrary, Awolowo led a delegation of Western and Mid-Western leaders to Enugu on 6th May, 1967, to dissuade Ojukwu from seceding. As Hillary Njoku made clear in his memoirs, Ojukwu turned deaf ears. Today, the average Ibo man believes that Awolowo led them into the war. It is a lie.
• Ojukwu told his people that he released Awolowo from prison. Haba! Oga, take it easy now. Gowon is still alive and the newspapers cuttings are still available. An Ibo man did not release Awolowo from prison; Yakubu Gowon did.
Whenever Ibo leaders want to manipulate their people, they play on their Yorubaphobia. A recent occurrence is the Ifeanyi Uba and Coscharis debacle. Uba simply told Cosmas Maduka that “Yoruba people” wanted him out of business in Lagos and against every professional advice, Cosmas Maduka became “emotional” and teamed up with him. It was a 21 billion naira lesson that Yoruba people are neither vindictive nor envious. If they were envious, Coscharis himself would not be operating in the West. Coscharis lost 21 billion naira due to Yorubaphobia, I wonder how much the Ibo people will ultimately lose from this “impression” of Chinua Achebe?
MENTION YOUR FRIEND
Who then is the friend of the Ibos? With the Hausa/Fulani, it is a constant dog and cat relationship. At the slightest provocation, even without any provocation at all, the Hausa/Fulani seem to derive satisfaction in attacking the Ibos in the North. A few days ago, (in November ’12), an Ibo tailor mispronounced a Hausa word in Kano and he was charged with blasphemy. Before you could say “calm down”, Ibo people have been attacked. Three people have been killed, houses were burnt, and shops were looted and destroyed. Down south, there is still animosity between the Ibos and the Rivers people over abandoned property.
That is why I recommend, if THERE WAS A COUNTRY let them have it. The world has moved beyond 1967, when declaration of ethnic independence must be opposed with force. On 18th December 1992, the United Nations adopted resolution 47/135 for the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. All that the Ibos need do is to convene a referendum and take the result to the United Nations. Peacefully, they shall actualize Biafra. I strongly suggest that the Ibos should hold a referendum and settle this Biafra issue once and for all.
Rather than remain in the entity called Nigeria and be at loggerheads with the other ethnic groups, you can have your country. I do not expect Chinua Achebe to correct the wrong impression that he has handed down to his tribe. The only other option, is for the country that was, to become the country that is, if majority of the Ibo people want it so.
If there was a country, you can have it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters