Why would I review an Author’s personal account of the realities of his time on a page that deals with fiction and development issues? Drawing from a background of literature and history, I believe that the book ‘There was a Country’ by Chinua Achebe gives deeper insight into the development of the country Nigeria. It gives relevance to the past and the future of our world perhaps projecting the need of a better perspective for younger generation trying to understand their root.
This book comes littered with thought provoking poems that gives the right ambience to the issues discussed. It speaks of an era when renowned authors responded to development issues using fiction writing that produced satiric works like ‘Before the Black out’ by Wole Soyinka and Man of the People by Chinua Achebe amongst others. It tells of the role of a writer in social and national development. Chinua Achebe emphasizes that ‘if a society is ill, the writer has a responsibility to point it out’. It highlights the political position of creative writing in the advancement of development in any era.
Beyond this, the book indeed has placed a moral lens on how we as young people view our history and our past leaders (villains and heroes alike). It helps one position the intentions of the many giant nations, especially the western nation in the development of Nigeria. It is here to help us look through our national pathologies and indeed unlearn things that will stop ugly history from repeating.
The Biafran war remains a very political issue; it is not spoken of without raising a tribal dust. Its realities are barely known to people like me who were born three or four decades ago. For most of us, Biafra was that war that failed to divide Nigeria; it’s when the people of Ibo descents wanted a country of their own. Not many of us have strived to understand clearly the roots of this desired separation. Perhaps it has been politically hidden in our education. As the Author clearly asked, ‘why has the war not been discussed, or taught to the young, fourty years after its end?’
Reading this book, momentarily estranged me from my generation and I kindled to the life and truth of the Author’s generation, it gave my life more depth, meaning and resonance. I understand the war began not just as a result of belligerency raised by some primitive Ibo tribe. It was not a war between progressive nationalist and retrogressive tribal bigots. By Achebe’s projections, it started with a military coup that was misconstrued and given a tribal colour, it was stirred by a pogrom committed severally against a group. It was fuelled by manifold rivalry allowed by a complacent government.
When you read of the Asaba and Calabar Massacre, amongst others followed by the many pogroms that preceded it in Nigeria, you may like myself be tempted to ask if an apology by the incumbent leaders at the time was enough? Did this belated apology change the fact that there was genocide in Biafra? Will it change the alterations their acts had done to the present day people and their families who as the children of yesterday watched their father and brother’s bloods splashing on their faces and settling in violation on the earth?
I am not trying to raise a settled dust, No! The dusts are not settled! Again and again they rise with the tornadoes of many injustice and cycles of inter-ethnic and inter-religious killings littered all over Nigeria. They are there in the life and family of the many Ibo fathers, who were Biafran casualties, who wake up spontaneously angry, violent and abusive to wives and children for reasons they do not know. Perhaps they still duck under cover, hear the howls of pain, picture Biafran babies with washed out ribs and blown out bellies starved into submission in a landscape where the air is heavy with odours of blood. Hmmnn…to the children of yesterday, there is a cry for justice. To the children of today, there is a hunger for peace. But there will be no peace without justice.
Achebe’s personal accounts, gave an insight into the genesis of election rigging (another national cancer) as an eclectic seed of the West. The manipulations of the embittered British Colonists aided the transfer of power to the then most conservative elements in the country hence inspiring the perpetual death of faith in genuine democracy. The character of the independence given to the country Nigeria came with so much ease that one would wonder if it were not a Greek gift.
This book showcased landmark events that could have catalyzed development in Africa. But rather our leaders compromised or altered them with mediocre thinking which enshrined our government. Perhaps we may need to ask what our acclaimed altruistic leaders had done with the ingenuity of the Biafran scientist and think-tanks who fourty decades ago, could pilot planes and generate technologies they used to fight their cause. These people survived for years refining their own oil and maintaining their vehicle with no western aid or resources. What happened to the indigenous skills of this group of people who did what the Europeans may have tagged impossible for Africa in that time? In three years of the war, necessity gave birth to great inventions which if integrated into national development could advance a nation and perhaps a continent. But alas, we buried them all, we buried true African independence with the memories of men and women en-masse that died for their faith.
The late writer paid his last due by putting in our hands the gift of a little history book and now I can confidently say that ‘There was a Country’! I am always of the opinion that our African fathers failed us by their choices and decisions in a revolutionary era. Now I am tempted to say that my generation may be on the verge of failing our children by being complacent and not questioning many past and present conventions, for fear that we will raise another dust! But must Biafra come again?
By Adaobi Nkeokelonye