Op ed

Achebe’s farewell to Nigeria and Biafra

ONE  was not too sure if the foremost literary stylist from  Nigeria and Africa foresaw  his passing on so soon?  With his most recent slightly vituperative literary outing titled, There Was A Country, a literary-cum-historical bombshell on the Nigerian civil war in which he lampooned the persons of   certain key figures of the fratricidal bloodbath such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the vice chairman of the Gowon regime who propounded the theory that starvation was a legitimate weapon of war and General Yakubu Gowon, whom he accused of spearheading   a genocide  against the Igbos.

The author of the celebrated novel, Things Fall Apart and the number one in the African Writers Series. That novel which was written in the late fifties became an instant classic. It was based essentially on Igbo culture and the predictable conflicts they had with the coming of the White Colonial Masters. It was a book that turned out to be a world beater and enshrined his name in letters of gold. As a writer with a very sensitive use of the English Language, he largely popularised the use of  Igbo proverbs in every chapter of his breath-taking  and enthralling novel, especially the unforgettable:  ‘’Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten”

After that he came out with several other novels like No longer at Ease in 1960, The Arrow of God in 1964; A Man of the People in 1966 and his later day novel Anthhills in the Savanah’ and his not too successful book of poetry titled Beware Soul Brother capturing the civil war years during which the Biafran girls were deliberately put on the war front to lure sex-starved federal troops to their sudden death through amorous relationships with the soldiers.

After relocating to the United States during the war, he committed his enormous talents and skills to propaganda purposes on behalf of  the Republic of Biafra, using the Radio Biafra and other channels.

One was old enough to listen to the golden voice of the ace broadcaster from CrossRiversState, the late Okokon Ndem, who read powerful and emotion-laden news talks against Nigeria.

If you listened then to the Radio Biafra, a kind of roving radio, the Republic of Biafra won the war in the airwaves while the federal troop gained the upper hand on the killing fields of Abagana and Ulli Ihiala. Chinua Achebe’s attempt to join the political stage was a disaster as he pitched tent with the late Mallam Aminu Kano’s Peoples Redemption Party, PRP. It was during those trips to Kano that he  had the accident that disabled him and consigned him to a wheel chair for the better part of 42 years.

When he came out with his There Was A Country, many Nigerians from the Yoruba ethnic nationality reacted in anger to the bombshell against their demi- god, Papa Awolowo.

They accused Achebe of suffering from senility and argued vociferously that if ever there was a friend of the Igbos, it was the Yorubas as Pa Awo reportedly went to the East to persuade Ojukwu to abandon his secessionist ambition, and declaring  that if the East was allowed to go, the West would follow suit.

For 42 odd years, Chinua Achebe had carried the burden on his soul. And perhaps, foreseeing the end was near, he decided to ruffle the political waters of his former country Nigeria by refusing National Honours of CFR twice and decided to stay put in America, his adopted father- land.

For most of us who had missed his creative prowess for these many years, the motor accident he was involved in symbolically truncated his creative Muse and those of other budding writers who had made their marks in the African Writers Series which he founded.

There Was A Country was sufficiently emotive for him as he lamented not only the loss of Biafra during the war, but also the loss of Nigeria in which he was perhaps, No longer at Ease with. Before he died recently, he eventually came to terms with the failed Biafra and Nigeria. If Achebe had called many more Nigerians names for the misfortune of the Igbos in Nigeria, we should forgive him because writers are generally idealistic and illusionists, writing from the realms of fantasy and some bit of propaganda.

That last testimony to the Biafran war, to me, was a belated application to return to fatherland. On the flip side of the book, he must have regretted the fact that the country he fought for deploying his literary talents ended up in smoke, even if it lasted just 30 months before the walls of Biafra started cracking and falling. There Was A Country was the epitome of his literary cup of bitterness against his country. It is safe to assume that the ghastly accident he suffered cut short his prolific writing skills and subsequently fuelled his bitterness before he bowed out gracefully. And with the avalanche of testimonies and obituaries on this icon of the literary world, Achebe did not die, he merely but gloriously transited to the great beyond.

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