Awo vs Achebe

October 11, 2012

Chinua Achebe, Biafra and the travesties of war

Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
DIDN’T remember to tell you yesterday, but I’ve just finished reading Achebe’s THERE WAS A COUNTRY. I’m amazed at his cavalier attitude to basic facts of history and the strident tone of victimhood along with the inability to see anything wrong with Biafra.

Not to mention his frightening subjectivism in appraising historical figures on the other side of the divide. Achebe has opened new flanks of battle: intellectual and political”- TEXT I SENT TO SEGUN AYOBOLU

I spent the weekend reading Chinua Achebe’s long-awaited book on his Biafran experience: THERE WAS A COUNTRY: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF BIAFRA. It is a very explosive personal account of the most tragic phase in Nigerian history: the Civil War of 1967 to 1970. I am not surprised that despite the fact that most people have only seen excerpts from the book, they have reacted angrily to his descriptions of the motives and actions of historical figures.

This has been true of his description of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s war policies. It was clear that the Yoruba elite and other champions of the war-time Finance minister and architect of Nigeria’s economic policies in the immediate post-war years, would not take things lying low.

Chief Awolowo is no longer alive to respond to Achebe’s description of an alleged wartime statement as ‘callous and unfortunate’; that: “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”. The responses to these have gone viral on the internet.

If people have been angry about the strident tone of accusations, nothing has stoked anger more in the South-west, than his characterisation of Chief Obafemi Awolowo: “It is my impression that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general.

And let it be said that there is, on the surface, at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacle 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 number of his enemies significantly through starvation-eliminating over two million people, mainly members of future generations”. Expectedly, the followers of Chief Awolowo are baying for battle!

War is a most brutal continuation of hegemonic political battles and the events of the 1960s pitted against each other formidable foes. A ruling class consensus had foundered long before the coup of January 1966 scattered the political process. But the sinister element was the ethnic dimension which the first coup assumed, consciously or accidentally.

The fact that only leading members of the regional political leadership of Northern and Western Nigeria suffered disproportionately, was bound to set the stage for the counter-coup and the crisis which that generated in turn: the massive killings of Easterners; the mass movement of people around the country; the political impasse which became the prelude to the declaration of Biafran secession and the war.

In war, the earliest casualty is often the truth and propaganda becomes the handmaiden of political expediency. Biafra was the height of propaganda and reading through Achebe’s book, it was amazing to see how our greatest writer himself helped to fashion the process of propaganda; was an emissary for the secession and ultimately, became a believer of the propaganda of his own side of the tragic war.

I was surprised that Chinua Achebe can be as cavalier with basic facts as he was in the book. For example in page 46, he said: “when Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, decided to create the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in the late 1940s…” But Dr. Barau Dikko CREATED the NPC! So if our great writer is ignorant of this basic fact, what else has he been ignorant of, in his narrative? The prejudice flows through when he talked about “Ahmadu Bello and HIS HENCHMEN (my emphasis)” in describing the Northern leadership.

He went further to join the fashionable Southern mindset about how a British official named Harold Smith had been selected by Sir James Robertson “to oversee the rigging of Nigeria’s first election ‘so that its compliant friends in (Northern Nigeria) would win power, dominate the country, and serve British interests after independence'”.

Yet the basis of a political process which made it difficult to overcome regionalism, had been a central aspect of his book. It was the famous writer, Tolstoy, who once said that the most important thing in art as in life, is to tell the truth. We will look at the truth in the face, through Achebe’s book, next week.

Kwankwaso, Ekwueme and  state creation

THE Kano State Governor, Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso has become something close to a hate figure for many circles in Southern Nigeria in recent times for views he expressed about some of the current issues of controversy in Nigeria. Kwankwaso had argued for the review of the on shore/off shore revenue sharing formula.

As has become usual in such circumstances, being a Northerner, a threatening chorus was ratcheted up filled with abuses; and these included governors of oil-producing states, such as Dr. Uduaghan, warning that the ‘boys’ in the creeks still had their guns and if anybody dared to review the on-shore/off shore formula, they would go back to war! So it did not come as a surprise when his comments about an extra state for the South-East has also raised some dust.

As a matter of fact, the campaign to wring our hands for an extra state for the Igbo-speaking people is one of the most elaborate emotional campaigns of blackmail in recent Nigerian history. An ethnic consensus has been carefully crafted which runs to the highest levels of government; is central to political calculations and is carefully canvassed in the media.

The Southeast is alleged to be “disadvantaged” in the number of its states, according to this emotional, ethnic narrative. The only way to right this alleged ‘injustice’, according to its champions is to create another Igbo state. The most ‘sophisticated’ argument for this position has been canvassed by the father of the ‘geo-politicisation’ of Nigeria himself, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, former vice president and a leading member of the ruling PDP.

Ekueme gave an interesting interview to THISDAY newspaper on Sunday, October 7, 2012, where he gave an elaborate exposition of his views on several of the issues he has become so well-known for, in recent years and the most central being the six geo-political zones, which seems to mean a lot to people in the South of Nigeria and is treated with indifference or in extreme cases, with contempt, in Northern Nigeria.

The different attitudes can be understood from the basis of the decision to advocate the platform in the first place. For the political elite in Southern Nigeria, curtailing the political influence of the North is the only way to achieve the Nigeria of their dreams (whatever such dreams might consist of). This was important to those in the First Republic, and has remained a perpetual goal for successor elements of Southern Nigerian politics up till today.

But none has been as well-crafted as Ekwueme’s six geo-political zones. It was in fact one of the main reasons that he lost the chance to become the PDP’s presidential candidate in 1999 and maybe, the reason he will never become Nigeria’s president!

The THISDAY interview gave a fairly good idea of the working of Dr. Ekwueme’s mind. And it is interesting that he reminded that Obasanjo’s political conference (a discredited effort to achieve the Third Term Agenda), “unanimously” agreed that “an additional state should be created in the South-east zone”, before the gymnastic about how some states transformed into newer states. In all he said, he avoided the fact that the Nigerian states were not created as ethnic states, but were based on the old regions from independence.

The weakness of Dr. Ekwueme’s emotional argument for an extra state is that it is ethnic-based. But we are a territorial country; and no reasonable appreciation of our history will allow us to be drawn into this ethnic argument. On the basis of regions of old, there are nine states in the old Eastern Nigeria: Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu, Abia, Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River and Akwa Ibom.

These are the facts on the ground that Dr. Ekwueme and the canvassers for an extra Igbo state have conveniently forgotten. The delusion of six geo-political zones will not erase these historical facts. But to deepen his campaign against Kwankwaso, Dr. Ekwueme raised the controversy about populations in Lagos and Kano. He said “the population of Lagos state, to all independent observers, is well in excess of the population of Kano”.

That may well be true; but Nigeria’s last population census was conducted by the PDP regime of Olusegun Obasanjo and a statutory body, the Nigerian Population Commission (NPC), not by his “independent observers”.

Furthermore, he added that “Lagos State went and did its own census where they came out to say they have about five million people more than Kano State”; as if that meant anything more than the politics which underlined the futile effort at its basis. They did not even help Dr. Ekwueme’s argument. The truth is that the emotional blackmail will not wash.

It will be very difficult to create new states on the basis of the crudely ethnic argument that a highly respected former vice president, and other members of the Igbo elite have continued to canvas in its support.

Nigeria faces an interesting dilemma; some members of the elite argue that the states cannot guarantee development and so must be jettisoned, yet others stridently demand states while the Igbo elements want one just for themselves only! It is impossible to find consensus in this cacophony of self-serving arguments, which in real terms is to earn prebendal fiefs to further impoverish the Nigerian people.

If Kwankwaso has ruffled feathers so much, it is because his argument seemed to have touched raw nerves in very high places. On a final note, Dr. Ekwueme rode his geo-political zone horse again, to determine the number of years that each of them has occupied Nigeria’s presidency, arguing that “South-east has had it for only six months plus few days”; therefore “the South-east would be justified in their quest to be given the first chance as president at the next dispensation”. If only politics were that simple. And I thought that Dr. Alex Ekuweme knew these things better!