Tag Archives: Biafra

“We Remember Differently” – Oil is Everything in Nigeria

From Bella Naija – Chimanada Ngozi Adiche responds to some of the criticism of Chinua Achebe’s memoir “There Was a Country”.   I finished reading ‘There Was a Country’ a few days ago and was contemplating my own response to some of the critical reviews of the book.  Fortunately for me Adichie has said nearly everything I wanted to say and probably much better too.   She unlike Achebe’s few lines of reference and unlike all of the reviews I have read, has at least mentioned  one of the two elephants in the room – the Biafrian minorities.     My memory of this period is a vague which probably shows that the war had little impact on our lives.  I do know that our Igbo workers did not leave the compound and there were large numbers of soldiers and check points everywhere – something which has never gone away.    In that sense it was a frightening time – the soldiers were frightening.  Young men with machine guns and red eyes and limited vocabulary.   I do know that families were split between those  who supported Nigeria and those supporting Biafra.   My parents were on the Nigerian side – then.  The Biafran side were in Port Harcourt or thereabouts.    A good question to ask is how much choice did minorities  have but to stay when Biafra was declared and they woke up to find they were in another country?

The other elephant in the room is oil.  I do think it’s worth asking the questions – Would there have  been a war without oil? Would there have been a secession?  Would there have been a succession of coups?  Because Oil is everything in Nigeria.   It would be another 20 years of dance and thievery in what was known as the ‘oil boom’ for some and for others the ‘oil doom’ before the Ogoni people, drowning in oil polluted swamps, would rise up and set in motion a new consciousness amongst Nigerian minorities of the east.
“Chinua Achebe at 82: “We Remember Differently” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

” I have met Chinua Achebe only three times. The first, at the National Arts Club in Manhattan, I joined the admiring circle around him. A gentle-faced man in a wheelchair.

“Good evening, sir. I’m Chimamanda Adichie,” I said, and he replied, mildly, “I thought you were running away from me.”

I mumbled, nervous, grateful for the crush of people around us. I had been running away from him. After my first novel was published, I received an email from his son. My dad has just read your novel and liked it very much. He wants you to call him at this number. I read it over and over, breathless with excitement. But I never called. A few years later, my editor sent Achebe a manuscript of my second novel. She did not tell me, because she wanted to shield me from the possibility of disappointment. One afternoon, she called. “Chimamanda, are you sitting down? I have wonderful news.” She read me the blurb Achebe had just sent her. We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made. Afterwards, I held on to the phone and wept. I have memorized those words. In my mind, they glimmer still, the validation of a writer whose work had validated me.

I grew up writing imitative stories. Of characters eating food I had never seen and having conversations I had never heard. They might have been good or bad, those stories, but they were emotionally false, they were not mine. Then came a glorious awakening: Chinua Achebe’s fiction. Here were familiar characters who felt true; here was language that captured my two worlds; here was a writer writing not what he felt he should write but what he wanted to write. His work was free of anxiety, wore its own skin effortlessly. It emboldened me, not to find my voice, but to speak in the voice I already had. And so, when that e-mail came from his son, I knew, overly-thrilled as I was, that I would not call. His work had done more than enough. In an odd way, I was so awed, so grateful, that I did not want to meet him. I wanted some distance between my literary hero and me.

Chinua Achebe and I have never had a proper conversation. The second time I saw him, at a luncheon in his honor hosted by the British House of Lords, I sat across from him and avoided his eye. (“Chinua Achebe is the only person I have seen you shy with,” a friend said). The third, at a New York event celebrating fifty years of THINGS FALL APART, we crowded around him backstage, Edwidge Danticat and I, Ha Jin and Toni Morrison, Colum McCann and Chris Abani. We seemed, magically, bound together in a warm web, all of us affected by his work. Achebe looked pleased, but also vaguely puzzled by all the attention. He spoke softly, the volume of his entire being turned to ‘low.’ I wanted to tell him how much I admired his integrity, his speaking out about the disastrous leadership in my home state of Anambra, but I did not. Before I went on stage, he told me, “Jisie ike.” I wondered if he fully grasped, if indeed it was possible to, how much his work meant to so many.

History and civics, as school subjects, function not merely to teach facts but to transmit more subtle things, like pride and dignity. My Nigerian education taught me much, but left gaping holes. I had not been taught to imagine my pre-colonial past with any accuracy, or pride, or complexity. And so Achebe’s work, for me, transcended literature. It became personal. ARROW OF GOD, my favorite, was not just about the British government’s creation of warrant chiefs and the linked destinies of two men, it became the life my grandfather might have lived. THINGS FALL APART is the African novel most read — and arguably most loved — by Africans, a novel published when ‘African novel’ meant European accounts of ‘native’ life. Achebe was an unapologetic member of the generation of African writers who were ‘writing back,’ challenging the stock Western images of their homeland, but his work was not burdened by its intent. It is much-loved not because Achebe wrote back, but because he wrote back well. His work was wise, humorous, human. For many Africans, THINGS FALL APART remains a gesture of returned dignity, a literary and an emotional experience; Mandela called Achebe the writer in whose presence the prison walls came down.

Achebe’s most recent book, his long-awaited memoir of the Nigerian-Biafra war, is both sad and angry, a book by a writer looking back and mourning Nigeria’s failures. I wish THERE WAS A COUNTRY had been better edited and more rigorously detailed in its account of the war. But these flaws do not make it any less seminal: an account of the most important event in Nigeria’s history by Nigeria’s most important storyteller.

An excerpt from the book has ignited great controversy among Nigerians. In it, Achebe, indignant about the millions of people who starved to death in Biafra, holds Obafemi Awolowo, Nigerian Finance Minister during the war, responsible for the policy of blockading Biafra. He quote’s Awolowo’s own words on the blockade — ‘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’ and then argues that Awolowo’s support of the blockade was ‘driven by an overriding ambition for power for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general.’

I have been startled and saddened by the responses to this excerpt. Many are blindingly ethnic, lacking in empathy and, most disturbing of all, lacking in knowledge. We can argue about how we interpret the facts of our shared history, but we cannot, surely, argue about the facts themselves. Awolowo, as de facto ‘number two man’ on the Nigerian side, was a central architect of the blockade on Biafra. During and after the war, Awolowo publicly defended the blockade. Without the blockade, the massive starvation in Biafra would not have occurred. These are the facts.

Some Nigerians, in responding to Achebe, have argued that the blockade was fair, as all is fair in war. The blockade was, in my opinion, inhumane and immoral. And it was unnecessary — Nigeria would have won anyway, it was the much-better-armed side in a war that Wole Soyinka called a shabby unequal conflict. The policy of starving a civilian population into surrender does not merely go against the Geneva conventions, but in this case, a war between siblings, people who were formerly fellow country men and women now suddenly on opposite sides, it seems more chilling. All is not fair in war. Especially not in a fratricidal war. But I do not believe the blockade was a calculated power grab by Awolowo for himself and his ethnic group; I think of it, instead, as one of the many dehumanizing acts that war, by its nature, brings about.

Awolowo was undoubtedly a great political leader. He was also — rare for Nigerian leaders — a great intellectual. No Nigerian leader has, arguably, articulated a political vision as people-centered as Awolowo’s. For Nigerians from the west, he was the architect of free primary education, of progressive ideas. But for Nigerians from the east, he was a different man. I grew up hearing, from adults, versions of Achebe’s words about Awolowo. He was the man who prevented an Igbo man from leading the Western House of Assembly in the famous ‘carpet crossing’ incident of 1952. He was the man who betrayed Igbo people when he failed on his alleged promise to follow Biafra’s lead and pull the Western region out of Nigeria. He was the man who, in the words of my uncle, “made Igbo people poor because he never liked us.”

At the end of the war, every Igbo person who had a bank account in Nigeria was given twenty pounds, no matter how much they had in their accounts before the war. I have always thought this a livid injustice. I know a man who worked in a multinational company in 1965. He was, like Achebe, one of the many Igbo who just could not believe that their lives were in danger in Lagos and so he fled in a hurry, at the last minute, leaving thousands of pounds in his account. After the war, his account had twenty pounds. To many Igbo, this policy was uncommonly punitive, and went against the idea of ‘no victor, no vanquished.’ Then came the indigenization decree, which moved industrial and corporate power from foreign to Nigerian hands. It made many Nigerians wealthy; much of the great wealth in Nigeria today has its roots in this decree. But the Igbo could not participate; they were broke.

I do not agree, as Achebe writes, that one of the main reasons for Nigeria’s present backwardness is the failure to fully reintegrate the Igbo. I think Nigeria would be just as backward even if the Igbo had been fully integrated — institutional and leadership failures run across all ethnic lines. But the larger point Achebe makes is true, which is that the Igbo presence in Nigerian positions of power has been much reduced since the war. Before the war, many of Nigeria’s positions of power were occupied by Igbo people, in the military, politics, academia, business. Perhaps because the Igbo were very receptive to Western education, often at the expense of their own traditions, and had both a striving individualism and a communal ethic. This led to what, in history books, is often called a ‘fear of Igbo domination’ in the rest of Nigeria. The Igbo themselves were insensitive to this resentment, the bombast and brashness that is part of Igbo culture only exacerbated it. And so leading Igbo families entered the war as Nigeria’s privileged elite but emerged from it penniless, stripped and bitter.

Today, ‘marginalization’ is a popular word in Igboland. Many Igbo feel marginalized in Nigeria, a feeling based partly on experience and partly on the psychology of a defeated people. (Another consequence of this psychology, perhaps, is the loss of the communal ethic of the Igbo, much resented sixty years ago. It is almost non-existent today, or as my cousin eloquently put it: Igbo people don’t even send each other.)

Some responses to Achebe have had a ‘blame the victim’ undertone, suggesting that Biafrians started the war and therefore deserved what they got. But Biafrians did not ‘start the war.’ Nobody with a basic knowledge of the facts can make that case.

Continue reading on Bella Naija


Nigeria’s Generation of the Bewildered! – A review of “There was a Country”

From London Review of Books, a short excerpt from “Things Left Unsaid” by by Chimamanda Adichie.

In Nigeria under colonial rule, he could travel from Lagos to the south-east at night without worrying about armed robbers. This, he argues, is because the British managed their colonies well. His simplification is rooted in disappointment. He is a member of Nigeria’s generation of the bewildered, the people who were fortunate to be educated, who were taught to believe in Nigeria, and who watched, helpless and confused, as the country crumbled. He was a Biafran patriot, as were most of his Igbo colleagues, because they no longer felt they belonged in Nigeria. He still seems surprised, almost disbelieving, not only at the terrible things that happened but at the response, or lack of response, to them. ‘As many of us packed our belongings to return east some of the people we had lived with for years, some for decades, jeered … that kind of experience is very powerful. It is something I could not possibly forget.’ Later:

“I was one of the last to flee Lagos. I simply could not bring myself to accept that I could no longer live in my nation’s capital, although the facts clearly said so. My feeling toward Nigeria was one of profound disappointment. Not only because mobs were hunting down and killing innocent civilians in many parts, especially in the North, but because the federal government sat by and let it happen.”

Achebe mourns Biafra, but his anger is directed at the failures of Nigeria. His great disappointment manifests itself in a rare moment of defiance towards the end of the book:

“There are many international observers who believe that Gowan’s actions after the war were magnanimous and laudable. There are tons of treatises that talk about how the Igbo were wonderfully integrated into Nigeria. Well, I have news for them: the Igbo were not and continue not to be reintegrated into Nigeria, one of the main reasons for the country’s continued backwardness, in my estimation.? Full review here,,,,,

The genocidal Biafran war still haunts Nigeria

From the Guardian: The genocidal Biafran war still haunts Nigeria by Chinua Achebe

Almost 30 years before Rwanda, before Darfur, more than 2 million people — mothers, children, babies, civilians — lost their lives as a result of the blatantly callous and unnecessary policies enacted by the leaders of the federal government of Nigeria.

As a writer I believe that it is fundamentally important, indeed essential to our humanity, to ask the hard questions, in order to better understand ourselves and our neighbours. Where there is justification for further investigation, justice should be served.

In the case of the Nigeria-Biafra war there is precious little relevant literature that helps answer these questions. Did the federal government of Nigeria engage in the genocide of its Igbo citizens — who set up the republic of Biafra in 1967 — through punitive policies, the most notorious being “starvation as a legitimate weapon of war”? Is the information blockade around the war a case of calculated historical suppression? Why has the war not been discussed, or taught to the young, more than 40 years after its end? Are we perpetually doomed to repeat the errors of the past because we are too stubborn to learn from them?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic extermination of an ethnic or national group …”. The UN general assembly defined it in 1946 as “… a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups”. Throughout the conflict the Biafrans consistently charged that the Nigerians had a design to exterminate the Igbo people from the face of the earth. This calculation, the Biafrans insisted, was predicated on a holy jihad proclaimed by mainly Islamic extremists in the Nigerian army and supported by the policies of economic blockade that prevented shipments of humanitarian aid, food and supplies to the needy in Biafra.

Supporters of the federal government position maintain that a war was being waged and the premise of all wars is for one side to emerge as the victor. Overly ambitious actors may have “taken actions unbecoming of international conventions of human rights, but these things happen everywhere”. This same group often cites findings, from organisations (sanctioned by the federal government) that sent observers during the crisis, that there “was no clear intent on behalf of the Nigerian troops to wipe out the Igbo people … pointing out that over 30,000 Igbos still lived in Lagos, and half a million in the mid-west”.

But if the diabolical disregard for human life seen during the war was not due to the northern military elite’s jihadist or genocidal obsession, then why were there more small arms used on Biafran soil than during the entire second world war? Why were there 100,000 casualties on the much larger Nigerian side compared with more than 2 million — mainly children — Biafrans killed?

It is important to point out that most Nigerians were against the war and abhorred the senseless violence that ensued. The wartime cabinet of General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals like Chief Obafemi Awolowo among others who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies. A statement credited to Awolowo and echoed by his cohorts is the most callous and unfortunate: 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.

It is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself and for his Yoruba people. There is, on the surface at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles 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 numbers of his enemies significantly through starvation – eliminating over two million people, mainly members of future generations.

The federal government’s actions soon after the war could be seen not as conciliatory but as outright hostile. After the conflict ended, the same hardliners in the Nigerian government cast Igbos in the role of treasonable felons and wreckers of the nation — and got the regime to adopt a banking policy that nullified any bank account operated during the war by the Biafrans. A flat sum of 20 Nigerian pounds was approved for each Igbo depositor, regardless of the amount of deposit. If there was ever a measure put in place to stunt, or even obliterate, the economy of a people, this was it.

After that outrageous charade, Nigeria’s leaders sought to devastate the resilient and emerging eastern commercial sector even further by banning the import of secondhand clothing and stockfish — two trade items that they knew the burgeoning market towns of Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi needed to re-emerge. Their fear was that these communities, fully reconstituted, would then serve as the economic engines for the reconstruction of the entire Eastern Region.

There are many international observers who believe that Gowon’s actions after the war were magnanimous and laudable. There are tons of treatises that talk about how the Igbo were wonderfully integrated into Nigeria. Well, I have news for them: The Igbos were not and continue not to be reintegrated into Nigeria, one of the main reasons for the country’s continued backwardness.

Borrowing from the Marshall plan for Europe after the second world war, the federal government launched an elaborate scheme highlighted by three Rs — for reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reconciliation. The only difference is that, while the Americans actually carried out all three prongs of the strategy, Nigeria’s federal government did not.

What has consistently escaped most Nigerians in this entire travesty is the fact that mediocrity destroys the very fabric of a country as surely as a war — ushering in all sorts of banality, ineptitude, corruption and debauchery. Nations enshrine mediocrity as their modus operandi, and create the fertile ground for the rise of tyrants and other base elements of the society, by silently assenting to the dismantling of systems of excellence because they do not immediately benefit one specific ethnic, racial, political, or special-interest group. That, in my humble opinion, is precisely where Nigeria finds itself today.

Read the Guardian’s new Africa blog at www.guardian.co.uk/world/africa-blog

Obodo 9ja

Guest post by Adebiyi Olusolape*

I read Achebe’s piece in the Grauniad. The piece says nothing about his latest book, but it says a lot about Nigeria. What follows are some of my prejudices and misconceptions, stated in response to statements culled from Achebe’s piece:

I believe that it is fundamentally important, indeed essential to our humanity, to ask the hard questions, in order to better understand ourselves and our neighbours.

Spinoza’s exhortation immediately comes to mind, “Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere”– “Not to laugh, not to weep, not to hate, but to understand.” I say let the man laugh, weep and hate, it humanizes. I, too, cherish understanding, but let Achebe laugh, weep and hate, it humanizes. I for my part will cherish understanding, deplore hatred, weep with them that weep and laugh with those who rejoice.

Achebe’s polemic is a study in Hate as fine art, but do we admit it? Because it is Achebe; because he’s an old man; because he is Igbo; because it’s about Biafra; because he knocks Nigeria, which is our national pastime and we are enamored with those who can knock Nigeria with panache and righteously; because the hate is so sublimely expressed– I think he has surpassed Conrad.

Achebe projects the image of Nigeria as “the other world,” the antithesis of Biafra and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality.

Did the federal government of Nigeria engage in the genocide of its Igbo citizens…

Charles Dadi Onyeama was at the ICJ throughout the war. Was it not the Roaring Lion of Eke himself who once (in)famously observed that the Igbo domination of Nigeria was only a matter of time?

Some of Nigeria’s finest jurists were on the Biafran side: Louis Mbanefo, Chike Idigbe, Moses Balonwu, G.C.M. Onyuike, Chukwudifu Oputa, Anthony Aniagolu; Biafra was recognized by Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Haiti– why wasn’t a case of genocide brought before the ICJ?

I recognize Achebe’s question as part of a global process of working out what genocide means. I know there were pogroms before the war in which “Easterners” were sought out and attacked. I believe Federal soldiers have questions to answer over massacres in Asaba, Onitsha, Ihiala and Biafran soldiers over Urhonigbe.

To go off on a tangent, there is a concession in Achebe’s query although it may require some teasing out. It is that all through the war, the Igbos who pledged allegiance to Biafra, that allegiance notwithstanding, continued to be citizens of Nigeria. I have continued to wonder about the ramifications of the expulsion of non-easterners from the Eastern region even before the Federal “police action” began against the “rebellion.”

The world continues to work out what Genocide means. Witness the recent events in France and Turkey over the Armenian question, the recent Bosnian genocide trials. There is renewed interest in the Herero Genocide. I, only recently, made the acquaintance of a scholar who has written on the connections between everyday work and the Rwandan genocide. I can only hope those who have the courage of their convictions will go beyond the kinds of actions that created wartime propaganda to something concrete.

…punitive policies, the most notorious being “starvation as a legitimate weapon of war.”

Is there a weapon of war that is legitimate? Is war itself legitimate? Bear with me, I am still trying to learn Grotius properly: ius ad bellum, ius in bello. Pacifism? Didn’t both sides use starvation as a weapon of war? What does the evidence from when Bonny Island was held by the Federals say? What does the experience of Ogonis, in Biafran concentration and refugee camps, tell us?

Obi Iwuagwu’s ‘Food Shortages, Survival Strategies and the Igbo of Southeastern Nigeria during the Nigeria Civil War’ identifies about ten factors that contributed to starvation during the Nigeria Civil War, the economic blockade being a significant factor.

Chima Korieh’s ‘Agricultural Transformation, State Policy and Agricultural Decline in Eastern Nigeria, 1960-1970 had already pointed me to two other factors. The refusal of relief supplies by the Biafran administration then becomes a thirteenth.

A reading of the various accounts of the civil war has made me wonder about a fourteenth: profiteers and corrupt administrators. Do I pursue understanding to the point of splitting hairs, into proximate and ultimate causes? What is the point? If we neglect other factors and focus on punitive policies alone, what does that help us understand? Are victim-hood and innocence the only grounds for insight?

Why has the war not been discussed, or taught to the young, more than 40 years after its end?

My mother used to tell me about the bombing of Yaba during the Civil War, and how civilians died, others were maimed. She told me direct hits were scored by a Biafran bomber on the area around Casino Cinema, and how after that the once vibrant commerce in that area ebbed away.

She grew up on Ondo Street, Ebute Meta, and is an alumna of Queen’s College and Yabatech. I, myself, am writing this on Raymond Street. Nowadays, the area around “Casino” bus stop, on Herbert Macaulay Way is one of the quieter spots on that long stretch of road. That has always had an extra significance for me.

What dread and pain that bombing brought, some of which my mother was able to communicate to me– what my mother communicated to me was enough to begin understanding the terror and harm that came to others who experienced indescribably worse under Federal aerial bombardment.

As to teaching the war, I was never one to confuse schooling with education. If this is about schooling, shouldn’t the crusaders be directing their practical-critical activity towards the various Ministries of Education in the federation?

I have been searching for a copy of that controversial History of the Nigerian Army (1863-1992) which the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School (NAECS) prepared and which I learnt dedicates over 10% of its content to the period 1966—1970.
I wonder, to cite just one example, whether the petition brought by none other than Prof. Ben Nwabueze, with the Ohaneze Ndigbo, before the Oputa panel and all the responses that petition provoked, especially that of the Ogbakor Ikwerre, can be considered a formal discussion.

I wonder, then, whether the publication of Matthew Kukah’s book, last year and all the related publicity, in which Kukah called upon government to deal with the findings of the Oputa panel, can be held to be another attempt to put these issues on the front burner.

I am struggling not to interpret Achebe’s statement as erasure, not to number him on the side of the successive administrations of the country, similar in their dismissal of the Oputa panel.

This calculation, the Biafrans insisted, was predicated on a holy jihad proclaimed by mainly Islamic extremists in the Nigerian army…

In 1992, a letter was written to the Sultan of Sokoto by the extremist Izalatu Islamic Group, seeking his assistance in waging a jihad in Zangon Katab. On the strength of that letter alone, should the Kataf crises be characterized as jihad?

In any case, the motif of jihad is one that recurs in Nigeria’s history, from the jihad of Uthman Dan Fodio to Boko Haram. I would like to know who the ‘Islamic extremists in the Nigerian army’ were.  I would like to learn about their proclamation of a holy jihad.

Why were there more small arms used on Biafran soil than during the entire second world war?

This is fantastic. I want to look at Achebe’s sources. In any case, ascertaining the sources and quantities of arms supplies to both sides should help us along in answering this loaded question.

Why were there 100,000 casualties on the much larger Nigerian side compared with more than 2 million — mainly children — Biafrans killed?

Tears come out of the skies every time somebody dies. Does one not ask for different skies as from the distance of another life? One trusts to Time to heal all those who were touched directly and in other ways by the staggering loss.

The unfortunate loss of our people is one other reason this country hasn’t made all the progress it should have. Nevertheless, I know the numbers are contested. I would love to know the basis of Achebe’s accounting.

‘The wartime cabinet of General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals like Chief Obafemi Awolowo among others who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies.’

How then does Achebe justify his post-war relationship with the Commissioner for Health in that cabinet? What is Achebe’s position on the role of that Health Commissioner in the pogroms that preceded the war? I mean, does Achebe have a response to Ileogbunam’s allegations in Ironside, allegations which I have been told are corroborated by clues in Tanko Yakassai’s autobiography and the biography written by Alan Feinstein?

However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles 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.

Awolowo’s roles in the conduct of the Civil War are a matter of fact but are his motivations and intentions? I am always wary of diviners of intention.

After that outrageous charade, Nigeria’s leaders sought to devastate the resilient and emerging eastern commercial sector even further by banning the import of secondhand clothing and stockfish — two trade items that they knew the burgeoning market towns of Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi needed to re-emerge.

What was the role of the government of the Mid-West State in the restoration of electricity supply to Onitsha, Enugu, Nsukka, and Nkalagu, enabling the rehabilitation of industries in the former East Central State?

Did Ogbemudia donate furniture and other resources to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to enable that institution resume the training of Nigerians? Did people all over the country, in various ways, lend a helping hand to friends, family, acquaintances and even perfect strangers?

Did Awolowo save, during the period of the war, the revenue due to the East Central State and release those funds as monthly subventions at the rate of £990,000 after the war?

Did Ikoku, the Commissioner for Economic Development in East Central State, aver that the Federal Government made available a £21,505,000 grant and £10, 620,000 in loans for his state?

Did Mbakwe’s administration draw any funds from the federal purse?

In the 90s, I would stay with the Uwezus, in Oke-Ayo, Ibadan, whenever my mother traveled to Aba. In those days, she used to buy Bangkok Linen, Garbadine and other cloth. She also brought back secondhand clothing, which she sourced from Ngwa road.
My grandmother had introduced her daughter to Aba, Ariaria, in the 80s, a few years before I was born. Does it matter that the Uwezus are from Mbaise? Does it matter that my grandmother had her primary education in Umuahia, or that she went on to Uli Girls although she had to complete her secondary education in Enugu?

My interest in Nigerian markets as drivers of economic growth may well be related to certain elements in my personal history. But, what exactly was the significance of secondhand clothing and stockfish to the ‘eastern commercial sector’?

Well, I have news for them: The Igbos were not and continue not to be reintegrated into Nigeria, one of the main reasons for the country’s continued backwardness.

Have the Dukawas ever been integrated into Nigeria? Have the Katafs been reintegrated? The Tivs? An Ijaw man is President of Nigeria today and many Ijaw ex-militants have been placed in the lap of luxury, can we then say the Ijaws have been reintegrated into Nigeria since Adaka Boro’s Twelve-Day Revolution?

What exactly is meant by reintegration? What exactly are the privations peculiar to Igbos in Nigeria? For Achebe’s unqualified claim, Iweala adduced this, “A trip to the Igbo-dominated southeast reveals abysmal roads, bridges threatening to collapse, and a power grid that is all but entirely useless, all what many Igbos believe is a deliberate policy of neglect as punishment for the sin of secession.”

If Iweala is right, then I guess the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the town of Ibafo are to be found in the ‘Igbo-dominated southeast.’ My goodness! Only last week, Dr Ajayi and I went to my house in Elebu, Ibadan. We had to park his car kilometers away from the house and continue on foot because the red strip of laterite that used to pass for a road has been terribly eroded as to become “unmotorable.”

We also waded through a stream because the bridge had long been washed away. I guess that’s because we were being punished for the sin of secession. In any case, we are all from Ado-Na-Idu, as B.O.N. Eluwa argues, in his posthumously published book on Igbo origins.

Is Philip Asiodu Igbo? Was Ukpabi Asika Igbo? Are Kalu Idika Kalu and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Igbo? Clearly, the things Achebe identifies correlate not to “Igbo” but to something deeper, something “Human.” Alas! Some men cling rather to the raft of old hatreds and prejudices than drown in humanity.

As for me, if I am to identify one of the main reasons for continued backwardness in Nigeria, it would be this unfortunate arrangement by which funds for development in, say, Oyo State are expected to come from, say, Bayelsa State.

I am opposed to the principle which is manifest in Decree 5 of 1969 and other revenue allocation measures since then, the recommendations of both the Ojetunji Aboyade Revenue Sharing scheme and the Pius Okigbo Commission on Revenue Allocation etc., etc.

M.I. Ahamba, in Twin Pillars of Unity, wrote, “[T]hose who believe in speaking their mind must develop patient ears.” The case for Nigeria’s unity will only be put beyond debate when this nation sacrifices certain majority interests in order to listen patiently to the voice of her minorities.

Nigeria has substantive ethnic issues to address; why is it that Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba loudmouths are always trying to corner the national discourse? Why does a dog lick its balls? I guess it’s because it can. Just because it can.

Adebiyi Olusolape is a journeyman collagist. He is poetry editor of Saraba Magazine.

A short post on Nigeria

Today Nigeria celebrate 52 years of independence.  My home town is in the Niger Delta where we are still waiting for electricity so that at night we will be able to see the stains and lumps of petroleum waste on the shores and mangroves of the rivers, ponds and creeks. This is just one result of oil exploration – the list is comprehensive and the guilty ones come from within and without.

I believe Nigeria’s greatest achievement is that after 52 years, it is still the same one Nigeria.

Happy Nigeria Day!

It was a long time ago and I cannot remember the details but reading Sefi Atta’s novel, “Everything Good Will Come”, brought memories of my own growing up – I experienced a mix of Enitan and Sheri. A father whose fierceness was hidden behind a veneer of charm who wanted me to study law. A mother who was a free spirit and who jumped into Nigeria feet first. Nothing fazed her. I need to re read the book and refresh my memory but suffice to say Atta is one of the many contemporary Nigerian feminist writers bringing women from the margins to the center and I look forward to reading her latest book “A Bit of Difference” published by Interlinked Books.


At thirty-nine, Deola Bello, a Nigerian expatriate in London, is dissatisfied with being single and working overseas. Deola works as a financial reviewer for an international charity, and when her job takes her back to Nigeria in time for her father’s five-year memorial service, she finds herself turning her scrutiny inward. In Nigeria, Deola encounters changes in her family and in the urban landscape of her home, and new acquaintances who offer unexpected possibilities. Deola’s journey is as much about evading others’ expectations to get to the heart of her frustration as it is about exposing the differences between foreign images of Africa and the realities of contemporary Nigerian life. Deola’s urgent, incisive voice captivates and guides us through the intricate layers and vivid scenes of a life lived across continents. With Sefi Atta’s characteristic boldness and vision, A Bit of Difference limns the complexities of our contemporary world. This is a novel not to be missed.

Farad is a first novel by Emmanuel Iduma, co-founder / editor of Saraba Magazine.  I met Emmanuel on a workshop in Lagos in October 2009 and was immediately taken by his intensity and measured reflection along with excellent writing skills.  I remember he borrowed a book from me and I had to harangue him on the last day to return it.  On reflection I should have just given it to him.  Ever since then I have followed his work and progress.  I notice an increased confidence and self-awareness of himself and the contemporary literary and technology space he occupies.  I try not to be too influenced by  book and film reviews because so many times I end up being disappointed. Even what purports to being a ‘good’ review can be off putting. Take for example this one on Farad

This book is an experimental fulfilment of the uncommonly common. It is broken into eight different stories with unrelated plots. This is surprising. This style will definitely make you angry. The stories are disjointed but united in denouement. After everything, you will also grieve over your taste for normalcy. Everything about this book is resplendently different. Iduma is a daring writer; and this debut does not portray otherwise. Faradis a collage; a delicate calligraphy; a head with multiple faces. Though its resolution is single, the divergent parts are necessary.

What is “uncommonly common” ? “disjointed but united in denouement”?  Everything about this paragraph is pretentious and wordy and really tells us nothing.  So my anticipation for reading Farad is not based on reviews but on  Emmanuel’s writings to date and knowing his interest in ‘experimental’ writing and writing against the grain.  Farad is published by Parresia Publishers.

Finally in the trio of new literature from Nigeria, our dear father [grandfather] Chinua Achebe has  published his memoir on Biafra – “There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra” .  My hope is that along with the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel, “Half of a Yellow Sun“, Nigeria’s lost consciousness on Biafra will be awakened.






Fleeing in the time of Biafra

No one speaks of Biafra but scrape the surface and half of the yellow sun still rises. This short story published in 234NEXT goes some way to break the silence.

Going Home by Chika Unigwe

She said it started with the wife of the Igbo headmaster who was hacked to death in her own home. Neither Mike nor Egbuna remembered the headmaster’s wife. “She called you her boyfriends and Mike especially was shy of her. Every time she came Mike would run and hide in the bedroom. She was very fond of both of you.”

Her gate men had colluded and murdered her while her husband was away on a school trip. “That day, that same day, I swore we were leaving the North. I knew the Hausa meant business then. ” And they did not leave in a car….. Continue reading


Likembe – excellent blog on African music classics – publishes a collection of music from Biafra like this one by Rex Lawson “There is death everywhere” . For more on Biafran music see here