Saturday, 29 December 2012
(39): Chinua Achebe: A Biafran in Nigerian clothes (III)
One key thing that Chinua Achebe ignored completely in his book was the injustice that created the circumstances of the civil war. The premier of Northern region, the prime minister, all senior military officers from the region except Lt Colonel Yakubu Gowon who was on his way back from Britain were wiped out. The civil war was a sad story, but justice should be extended to all.
Professor Chinua Achebe’s contribution to African literature is enormous, and we should give him credit for that. It is also true that his writings and those of his peers contributed in marketing African literature in English and other European languages. But we should never ignore African indigenous literature. Although Chinua Achebe has briefly acknowledged the writings of the likes of Muhammadu Bello, it is clear that before Africans started writing in English, French and other European languages, they have for decades been writing in either Arabic or their indigenous languages. This is common among the different communities that use what is called “ajami” (writing in a native language using Arabic letters). In Mali, Sudan, Sokoto caliphate and the Borno empire literary writing has taken root centuries before the arrival of colonialists.
As for Ahmad Bello University, Zaria being a centre for promoting hatred against the Igbos, that equally requires evidence rather than a swift statement. Right from its formation, ABU had been one of the most multi-cultural and multiethnic universities you can find in Africa. In the days of Dr Yusufu Bala Usman, Dr Ibrahim Tahir and Dr Patrick Wilmot, it was a centre for public debate and African nationalism. One key area that Professor Chinua Achebe was right was his condemnation of corruption. He has equally used an interview with General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) in order to respond to some of the allegations made in the book. But I believe the best response is for General Yakubu Gowon to write his personal account of the war with a reputable international publisher.
Professor Achebe has alleged that at the moment only Christians and Southerners are killed in Nigeria. The reality is neither side has monopoly of shedding the blood of innocent people; it is therefore the responsibility of each section of the country to come together and stop that mess. I ask Professor Chinua Achebe to investigate all the crises in Nigeria. One of the few cases in which a court of law convicted people for engaging in shedding the blood of innocent people was the Zangon Kataf crises. Find out who and who were convicted by the court, even if the military decided to reverse the decision.
The debate at the House of Commons was both fierce and respectful. What was however clear was that the agitation for Biafra did not die. In one of the speeches by Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu during the Biafran War, he mentioned that Biafra will not die as long as he is alive. Ojukwu is dead, but Chinua Achebe has revived its spirit with his book. More than what Ojukwu has done, Chinua Achebe’s book will be a reference point in world libraries. It is therefore important for those who witnessed the war to give their account as well by writing books on the issue. From the content of the book, Chinua Achebe appears to be a Biafran first, although he wears Nigerian clothes.
From the exchanges among the participants at the debate, it was clear that Nigerians need to have an honest discussion about the future of their country. People were clearly divided between the Biafran supporters who still want to part ways with Nigeria, those who want it to remain the same, and those calling for a restructured country. It was also clear that some members of the British parliament are fed with wrong information about the situation in Nigeria. I was shocked when Dianne Abbot, the Shadow Minister of Health told me that northern elites are the problem with Nigeria. Yes Northern elites have contributed to the current predicament of Nigeria. But they were not alone. The elites from the North and South worked together to bring Nigeria to its knees, and they should be accountable for what they have done. Regarding the way forward, I refer you to an article I wrote few months back entitled “2015: let’s have referendum not elections” available on my blog www.jameelyushau.blogspot.com
As we were walking out of the House of Commons after the debate, somebody called for my attention to see how the Hausas, the Igbos and the Yorubas walked out of the venue, each among his ethnic group. 52 years after independence we are still struggling to sit under one roof. Who is to blame?
23rd December, 2012
Newcastle upon Tyne