If a celebrated scholar and a well respected writer like Prof. Achebe, who has brought honour to this country through his literary efforts in the global scene-with his age long knowledge and supposedly acquired experience in nation building, plus the generally expected consciousness of the negative effect of ethnocentrism, could ethnically assume a position in adjudging the role played by Awolowo during the 1967 civil war, some forty years after. Then, I would be forced to assume the people of Nigeria, especially the youth, might have been depending on wrong crop of leaders for historical facts in our pursuit of peace and unity.
Quoting directly the excerpts from his book, ‘There Was A Country’, Achebe wrote, “It is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself and for his Yoruba people.” Here, I understand Achebe is saying Awolowo had an ambition; one that would cover the entire Yoruba race too.
He continued, “However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbo at the time as the obstacles to that goal.” Here, the Ibo was the reason why Awolowo and the Yoruba’s wouldn’t achieve their ambition.
And he concluded with this, “In the Biafra 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.” So, for another human course (Awolowo’s and Yoruba’s ambition) to be a success, other humans (Ibo race), had to go for it.
Okay, if this is what we are preaching at fifty two, we are nowhere near true Nationhood.
At this time of diabolical and disruptive national growth, the word artificial can’t be over emphasized in describing the entity called Nigeria. A time when a truly detribalised Nigeria is more of a mirage than reality, ninety eight years after the forceful merger and fifty two years after independence. Like many other African Nations, Nigeria was artificially structured by colonial powers. The British, for economic and political gains forced together, tribes of different background ; a people of different socio-political systems, traditions , customs and values , in what they called the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates. No wonder the British direct rule didn’t work, so many variables to be considered in accommodating the different tribes under one unifying authority.
What further enhanced the traditionally derived differences amongst the three main regions over the years in Nigeria could be traced to the British system of indirect rule that was later introduced by Lord Frederick Lugard. During this period, the North, where the indirect rule system found convenient ambit to thrive, under the existing absolute dictatorship, enjoyed closure to Christian missionary intrusion and European cultural imperialism; two critical factors that greatly shaped the way of life and values of the two other regions. The country was further divided in a way that the North had slightly more population than the other two regions combined. Thus, the North was allocated majority seats in the federal legislature established by the colonial authorities. This, the other regions fumed at and led to agitations by the Western and Eastern regions for an independent Nigeria to be organised in to several small states, to address the domination of the Northern conservatives. During this period also, all the regional political parties had tribal coloration and ethnic allegiance.
At independence, most of the diversities occasioned by the existing natural differences amongst the variously forced tribes and the artificially induced differences by the indirect rule made the North disinterested in independence when other regions were. Therefore, dreading the domination of the more Westernized elites of the South, they refused and resolved to adhere to the perpetuation of the British rule. This explains why the Eastern and Western regions got self liberated in 1957, two years before the North. At the end, as a condition for accepting independent, the North demanded the country continued to be divided into three regions with North having a clear majority. This was yet another issue that was on ground before independence but our leaders agreed anyway.
According to Ali Mazrui, “At independence amalgamation had given Nigeria an ethnically mixed single national army. But inadequate national integration had made ethnic consciousness a little too strong within the armed forces. Amalgamation had made the Nigeria army strong enough to control both halves of the country, North and South. But ethnic divisions within the armed forces turned Nigeria’s first military coup in January 1966 into an ethnic bloodbath (essentially in favour of the Igbo). The counter-coup which followed a few months later deepened the ethnic and regional divide which resulted in the pogrom and the civil war. The country remained amalgamated, but not adequately integrated.”
All of this and many more tends to put strain on our Nationhood and cultural relevance of each of the regions. Our historical antecedent and attendant need to tread warily, especially on the surface of sensitive national issues becomes the reason why Achebe’s comment appears sentimentally dis-unifying. As much as we need to talk about history, a lot need to be fashioned into the telling, such that shouldn’t affect the historical balance and heroic relevance of our past leaders. The attempt by Chinua Achebe to re-write motives behind historical facts to bring division between Ibos and Yoruba’s should be diligently checked and widely condemned.
The effect it could have shouldn’t be overlooked. Already, lots of controversies, debates and tantrums have been intersecting in the cyber space and the print media over what some tagged as a cruel and unguarded distortion of facts, while other public opinion agrees with Achebe’s assertions. What we need in Nigeria at this trying time is the reason to be together, especially at a time, when the Northern origin is delusively killing the Southern origins that are resident in the North. A time when the South-South feels short-changed over the oil found in their land without commensurate developmental effort in Niger-delta which has made them rise up against the federal government.
At this critical time of monumental travails, what we need are literatures to reconnect the dying union between the tribes in the country. As much as we need to hear what went wrong, pre and during the civil war, its recap should be objectively delivered in whatever form and not this sentimental pointing of fingers towards a sleeping martyr. What we need is the reason for the West to stand up for those in the North, to see them as humans who also deserves to live and not be killed by the rampaging Boko Haram and the military Joint Task Force (JTF) turned killing machines.
What we need, is for our leaders to say what needed to be said, in a way not to rouse enmity between the people of Nigeria at a time when so many Yoruba’s are falling in love with the Ibo’s. When we have children of mixed origin, father Ibo, mother Yoruba or vice versa; when so many Yoruba’s now have Ibo’s as cousins, aunts and uncles. When in our society, church and place of work, we see ourselves as one; live together as one, worship together as one and work together as one. When it’s easy and more interesting for a Yoruba to want to learn the Eastern language and the Ibo the Yoruba language; when I particularly have more Ibo friends than I can remember I had and when it’s obvious we have just one course at hand which is to fight a common enemy and survive together.
This is why I have to agree with Ayo Turton’s write-up in Sunday Tribune, where he wrote “. One would have thought that an 81-year-old man would work to foster unity, bridge gap, use the opportunity presented by writing his war memoirs more to heal wounds and preach forgiveness and brotherhood, rather than making a futile attempt at re-establishing the phantom Igbo dominance and superiority over others and further driving a wedge between Igbo people and other Nigerians.”
Professor Chinua Achebe, this is not what we need at this time.
Follow me on twitter @manueladesola