As somebody who has always been intrigued by the war, the book was worth the read. I honestly do not understand why the war is not talked about as often as it should be in our Nigerian classrooms or even by our parents or uncles. My parents never talked to me about it, neither did my uncles and most of them were either born or lived during that period. It is almost like everybody from that generation made a pact not to talk about the war to future generations. We need to know people fought to give us the country that we have today.
I read the book by Chinua Achebe with a healthy dose of skepticism. I did not fully grasp why an 80 something year old man would wait till now to write a book about the Civil war. You know when it nears time for an old man to die, they sometimes start reminiscing and wishing for the days of old. I hoped that Chinua Achebe had not suffered from the same plight.
Achebe talks about his own personal life growing up and how he came to write the novel Things Fall Apart and he makes mention of the golden days when Nigerians from all across the country attended the best schools in the nation, taught by quality professors and teachers. He identifies how Nigeria came to be a country, how the British basically gobbled up all this ethnicities together and made it a country. The question remains whether Nigeria was ever a nation to begin with, yes we were a country in terms of population and boundary but where we ever a nation? A nation with a common identity. I don't think so. He also makes mention of the March to Independence and all the founding fathers such as Herbert Macauley, Azikiwe, Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa & Ahmadu Bello. it is obvious at this juncture that in our bid for independence, our founding fathers had not ironed out the issues that would face the nation after independence. It was like they forgot about their differences and swept it all under the rug and united to kick the British out. As some Nigerians will say "the founding fathers blood was too hot". A nation of 250 languages/ethnicities, how did you think kicking the British out would solve the problem? It's almost like a kid telling the father, I'm ready to drive a car when he's not old or mature enough to have a license but decides to get behind the wheel.
Achebe lays out how the Igbos came to be resented due to their industrial and individualistic nature. Most of the civil jobs held in government positions during the time was held by Igbos, and we were in every fabric of the new nation. The first coup in Nigeria was on January 15th, 1966 led by an Igbo officer Nzeogwu and others. They murdered the prime minister Tafawa Balewa, the premier of the West (Yorubas) Akintola & the premiere of the North (Hausas) Ahmadu Bello. I did further research on the death of the prime minister Balewa and found that his body was discovered six days later on the road. I was honestly shocked, a whole prime minister? Left for dead on the road like a common rat. I still don't get the point of this particular coup as it set a chain reaction in which the North reacted by killing Igbos living in the North and 6 months later a counter coup killed the Head of State Aguiyi Ironsi. This time, the coup was led by Northern officers and Gowon became Head of State after that. I do not know why the first coup even took place and the fact that it comes across as an Igbo led coup against the North did not sit well with me. I can't for the life of me understand why Nzeogwu would lead a coup that killed quite a few Northern leaders and think that the Northerners would just let that slide. The coup on January 15th, 1966 led to the Civil War in my opinion. And the fact that those in the coup were not strung up and executed after they were caught drives me bonkers. These were men who had earned the trust of the leaders that they killed, one of the officers Major Ifeajuna in the coup killed his long time mentor Brigadier Maimalari. This theme of betrayal is one conveyed throughout the entire book. What makes men kill other men on the basis of ethnicity?
I find it remarkable that men who had studied abroad with high levels of education could sink to the depths of tribalism when it came to governance. Achebe singled out people like Awolowo for being primarily responsible for the collapse of the first republic. Awolowo comes off as a power hungry man who would do anything to remain relevant. Not to mention the people who were in the military, people such as Obasanjo, Danjuma, Ironsi, Ojukwu, Gowon, etc. These were probably men who had been friends, men who knew each other's families, yet at the end these were men ready to lead other men to war to kill each other. If there's one thing this book conveyed to me, it was the sense of betrayal and disloyalty as bad as Judas betraying Jesus.
Gowon was thirty two years old and Ojukwu was thirty three years old when the Nigerian Civil war began, two young men on two different sides. One leading a people out of "Egypt", another seeking to keep people from leaving "Egypt".
Achebe makes mention of programs in the North that led to the death of thirty thousand Igbo people in the North and the mass evacuation of Igbos from the North back to the East. He also makes mention of the Asaba Massacre in which men in Asaba where killed by Nigerian Soldiers. Both sides were guilty of atrocities as it is also noted that Biafran soldiers killed some people living in the mid west, accusing them of collaborating with the Nigerian forces.
The fact that Ojukwu fled after the war left a really bad taste in my mouth. Here was a man who had sent thousands to die for a cause yet when push came to shove suddenly realized he wasn't willing to die for this country called Biafra. Same Ojukwu who as Achebe pointed out executed quite a number of Igbo Officers on the charges of treason and betraying Biafra yet he himself betrayed the very nation which he killed others for betraying. Yet, when he died this past year or so he was hailed as a hero? Ha. Hitler could have fled Germany when it was surrendered yet he stayed and died for what he believed in. Ojukwu later ran for election in 2003 for the very same Nigeria which he sought to secede from.. It kind of reminds me of a quote that says "Men should pledge themselves to nothing because reflection makes a liar of their resolution" .
Achebe seems to suggest that the problem with Nigeria today arises because of the Biafran war and the failure of the Igbo people to reintegrate back into Nigeria. I find this premise hard to believe because we Igbos have reintegrated quite successfully in my opinion and if there is a problem with Nigeria it lies with the corruption that seems to plague government leaders whether they be Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba. Corruption is not an affliction that only one tribe gets to suffer, we have Igbo leaders/governors in Nigeria who have decided to steal money rather than use the money allocated to them to help their particular state.
The Question is sometimes asked "Why don't Nigerians rise up against the government and demand Change?" Achebe responds by stating " Once a people have been dispossessed and subjugated by dictatorships for such a long time as in Nigeria's case, the oppressive process also effectively strips away from the minds of the people the knowledge that they have rights. Restoring flawed democratic systems will not make the country a success overnight".
I feel like Achebe's response is a serious "cop out" like Americans would say. Nigeria has been independent for 52 years, give or take we have been in a dictatorship for lets assume 30 years of those 52 years. So are we saying that we have lost the knowledge that we have rights after only 30 years of dictatorship? Have there not been countries with a far worse plight than ours? Egypt? Tunisia? Other Latin Countries where their people still rose up against the government and demanded change? Why have Nigerians not demanded any change from their government? Why does it seem like we are content to wallow in mediocrity? Does it have anything to do with the moral makeup of the nation? Are we so corrupt that we can't look past our mediocre surroundings?
At this point I want to make a special note about something. I feel like in Nigeria, we have a "lost generation". What happened to our parents generation? The generation born during the war from 1960 till 1975? Where did that generation go? What did they contribute to Nigeria? It is almost like a whole generation gave up on a nation and now handed over this mess of a nation to we the younger generation to clean up. I can't comprehend how the generation did not do more to stop Nigeria from going down the road it has found itself today. What stopped them from stepping up to the plate?
As a young Nigerian who would really like to see Nigeria blossom, this book does not offer any clear solution in my opinion. Should Nigeria remain as a country or break up like the old Yugoslavia? When we say "One Nigeria" are we saying that just for the sake of unity for unity's sake? Sometimes it is better to be divided and be in peace than united and be in chaos.
I was led to believe that Nigeria had heroes in it's founding fathers, but I have changed my opinion on that matter. Our founding fathers were not heroes, they were ambitious men who sought to have power for themselves in my humble opinion. Men who were not mature enough to drive the "car" named Nigeria but demanded for the keys.
The name of this blog is Truth Don Die and it is evident to me that even in Achebe's book Truth Died a little bit. Achebe seems to suggest that the Civil War was a clear plan by the Northerners to exterminate the Igbos, well if this was true how come they didn't exterminate us after the war?
Achebe also suggests that it was a Jihad by the Muslim North against the Christian South, if this is true how come the leadership of Nigeria at the time were mostly Christian men and not all of them were from the North. The head of State Gowon was a christian man, Danjuma was a christian man, Obasanjo a christian man. The only prominent Muslim was General Murtala Mohammed.
The truth of the matter is that the igbos lost the trust of the Northerners in the North by starting a coup which killed prominent Yoruba and mostly Northern leaders but left many Igbo leaders untouched. It came across as the ultimate betrayal, especially as so many igbos had settled down in the North and been welcomed by the Northerners.
My purpose is not to cast blame on one side, it is to show that both sides have a story to tell. The truth is not limited to only one ethnicity. After reading this book, one may come to feel a deep sympathy for the Igbos and a strong dislike for the Northerners. I urge that we get all sides of the story, let all sides of the story be discussed as a nation. And after discussing, forge a path forward.
Review of Chinua Achebe's book from a Northern Perspective