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Half of a yellow truth - Achebe's Biafra

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There are three authors I was sure I would hate for the rest of my life – reason being that they so much oppressed me as a child. Not much of it was their fault though ; they were merely forced into my education : I had the option of reading their books and correctly answering questions on those books , or getting thrown out of school. These authors are…. yes, clap for yourself you got it right; they are Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and William Shakespeare. I eventually forgave the last because he was after all just a mere abstract, having been dead for several centuries. Wole Soyinka gave me a bit more problem. His arrogant prose soared magnificently right over my head , and as I pored over his books , seeking to put a meaning to the mass of words , I dreamed of a glorious day that I would be in a position to do this man great physical harm. This never happened of course and a few years later he did become an inspiration thorough the Pyrates Confraternity. Chinua Achebe I was never able to place. His prose was a lot more pedestrian and filled with annoying metaphors. I am not sure if Achebe wrote any more books apart from Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease. Suffice to say that after I escaped secondary school, I swore never to go near any book with the name of these three authors on them for the rest of my life. I have faithfully kept to my oath, for nearly 40 years now.

Oh well, Professor Achebe (they all eventually become Professors don’t they ?) did finally write a book recently and which did ride into sudden popularity primarily because nearly everyone thought he was not only being merely mischievous, but being irresponsible . The book is titled There Was a Country. I have not read the book and have no intention to (see above for reason) , but I did have the opportunity of reading a review in the London Review of Books by none less than Chimamanda Adichie , herself a Biafra historian born nearly ten years after the Biafra war ended. ( The review did increase my resolution not to read the book. There are two things that are quite suspicious about this book. First , it was so conveniently released at a time when the two most important personalities from his Biafra war story were in no position to point out any errors in the story , reason being they were dead. One being his arch-enemy a Yoruba statesman, the other being his arch-friend, cousin and commander in chief of the Biafra armed forces. Second, this aged man had definitely lost touch with the socio-political situation in Nigeria, not knowing that as he continued to fantasize from far away in America , the youths of Nigeria have lost their respect for irresponsible merchants of tribal hate . Why did Mr Achebe write this book? Has Ms Adichie's book, Half of a Yellow Sun so sufficiently elevated Biafra again into a literary cash cow? Or is it just old age and its attendant problems? One would have imagined that at this time of Nigeria's history and current social problems this book was about things better left unsaid. In any case I hope soon to eventually write my own Biafra memoirs as soon as I can get a good advance from a hopeless Western publisher who doesn't care a hoot about Africans. Tentatively the title of my book is Biafra - Its part in my downfall. Never mind I can also research any old crap and put into it.

Losing a war is certainly bad for the ego; losing a war while your wives and children watched and suffered severe consequences even as they watched, is a thousand times as bad. And when the war is finally lost and the children gather around their tired fathers and ask “Papa, you told us you will win; why didn’t you?” This is a sort of situation would suggest suicide. But when the courage for such a terrible act eludes, the tired warrior must be wise and blame it on someone else: they gave us bad guns to use; the battle ground was too slippery; our enemies failed to feed us.
The dark pall that hung all over the place that was once Biafra after the war ended, must have been terrible indeed. The physical, psychological and spiritual devastation is aptly summed up by a memorable allusion of the Ugandan writer Taban Lo Liyong in the book Fixions , where he wrote :
“.... As dead as the Ibo gods when Biafra fell”
The photos that came out of Biafra in those days were very scary indeed – especially of the starving children.

Back home in Ibadan where I lived, as a mere child I would think we were having a hard time, as we had to observe forced lights-out every night to confuse enemy planes, we were forced to listen to daily drills on radio on what to do when your house is demolished by enemy bombs, constantly harangued about picking up objects from the street (it could be a bomb), constantly panicked out of school on rumors that Ojukwu had finally led his army to the edge of town. We lived under severe curfews, and indeed I once saw a young man, who praise God, is now an ambassador, soundly beaten up and taken away by patrolling soldiers, for being found standing in front of his parents' house a whole 10 minutes before the expiry of the curfew in the morning. We lived under constant fear that Ojukwu and his people would overrun and kill us the very next day. Yes, the psychological trauma was indeed terrible on either side of the battle, but I’d be honest that those starving children of Biafra did give me sleepless nights for long and still move me to tears - those saucer-size reptilian eyes , bloated stomachs and stick limbs. The question I ask myself till this day is why did their parents, why did Ojukwu allow things degenerate to that point? One thing I can say about my Yoruba people is that before it would get this bad for the children, the women will by their own hands kill off the foolish men playing at being soldiers , and by themselves hand over the battle to the enemy.

More confusion would follow though. After the war I was fortunate to be admitted to a Government College. Several boys from Eastern Nigeria who had fled the school at the onset of war also returned, and none looked anything like those starving children of Biafra. Indeed they looked more well-fed than most of us because they were privileged. So, whose children were being starved in Biafra then? In any case these returning students were seamlessly integrated again into school, several became school prefects and all are now pillars of their communities having long put Biafra behind them. In fact these days on would notice that the only people who still find Biafra a veritable lynchpin are the down-at luck and those whose lives had constantly failed on every facet , and well they must blame it on something, right ?
Unfortunately Professor Achebe doesn’t fall in this category … I hope.

I personally have little regard for persons seeking to make cash gains from the misfortune of others. They are like the desperate parent exhibiting their malformed children in the street and in the hope of gaining alms as a consequence. Professor Achebe is not alone though in his Biafra fetish; he has thousands of staunch tribal supporters who have not read the book and probably have not read a book in sixty years, but will tell you that it is the most wonderful piece of writing ever done by any human that ever lived. Many would say that this book seeks to show generations yet unborn the genesis of the Biafra saga, so that it does not happen again. Fair enough, if only they did not also ignore the lopsidedness of the man's account, and how he paints his friends as blue-eyed saints and everyone else demons with no hope of redemption.

Why did Biafra allow the children of their less- privileged citizens to starve to death? One day the Biafra saga will certainly come to an end and I suspect very violently too. It will come when the young ones finally get tired of the rambling of these crazy old fools, gather them together and banish them into the evil forest.

As I observed a few days ago on my Facebook page , this book is a cracked record. None of my children were born till nearly 20 years after the Biafra war ended. They don't need to read this crap; neither do I. It reads like a vindictive book written by a very vindictive and unforgiving old man playing to base emotions. Perhaps if Mr Achebe lived in Nigeria like the rest of us he will not find it too difficult to see that Nigeria does not need this sort of book, not at this time. Unfortunately the only sort of books about Nigeria, which have a market outside Nigeria these days are books about the Biafra war. Of course there is freedom of speech, but then there is also something known as "responsibility". And unfortunately in matters pertaining to responsibility what do Western publishers care about Africa?

Certain people in their own wisdom continue to demand a search for "issues that caused the war" as if finding them will prevent a similar situation in the future. Human beings and human communities are not machines which obey simple equations. Having x in a certain quantity combined with y in a certain quantity will not guarantee that their product, z will also be a certain quantity. To think this will be is grand deception. Intolerance is the foundation of violent acts, and intolerance can be caused by thousands of condition including simple lack of good sleep. That is how complex the human being is. People have been killed in the streets for things as silly as an argument over a football game.
Dwelling on past misfortunes will always arrest progress. Going as far as documenting them so that you and nobody else can never forget them is to say in the least, a sociopathic and psychopathic condition. For Professor Achebe , his book will sell by the thousands and possibly millions, but it will also be considered as a sad end to an otherwise respectable literary career.

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