Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Starvation of Biafrans: Chinua Achebe vs Okey Ndibe By Remi Oyeyemi

Published:

Prof Chinua Achebe

“Whether Achebe and his Biafran cohorts will escape justice for their crimes against the Igbo people or not, TIME WILL TELL.”

 

Renditions of History could always be influenced by one’s position in the society and the milieu that prevailed at the point in time. This seems to have been the case with the famous Biafran fiction writer, Chinua Achebe and his avid admirer, Okey Ndibe. Both of them are Igbo and both of them have written about their experience in Biafra. Despite their friendship, their accounts to a very great degree were contrarian. It suggested perspectives from both an oppressor and oppressed. Chinua Achebe falls into the category of the oppressor as far as Biafra is concerned while my friend, Ndibe, falls into the category of the oppressed. Without having to state the obvious, the Head of State of Biafra, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, would also fall into the category of the oppressors.

As Adam Nossiter pointed out in his review:

“Led by the charismatic Oxford-educated, Shakespeare-loving Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, the fledgling nation called itself the Republic of Biafra. Achebe, an Ibo himself and the new country’s pre-­eminent intellectual, a product of Nigeria’s finest ­English-style schools and author of “Things Fall Apart” — soon went to work at Biafra’s Ministry of Information, serving as special envoy and chairman of a committee charged with writing a constitution for the new country.”

To deny that the two men mentioned in the quote above do not fit the category of “elites” or oppressor in the Biafran set up would amount to intellectual dishonesty. When you are the Head of State or Special Envoy, the obvious could not be denied.

For Okey Ndibe, his parents and siblings, things were very different. While Chinua Achebe was enjoying the perquisites of elitism, engineering the propagation of patriotism and urging and nudging innocent youngsters of Biafra to give up their lives, disadvantaged ones like Ndibe, were going through hell on earth. Hear Ndibe in “My Biafran Eyes”:

“One day, my siblings and I were out fetching firewood when an air strike began. We threw down our bundles of wood and cowered on the ground, gaping up. The jets tipped in the direction of our home and released a load. The awful boom of explosives deafened us. My stomach heaved; I was certain that our home had been hit. I pictured my parents in the rumble of smashed concrete and steel. We lay still until the staccato gunfire of Biafran soldiers startled the air, a futile gesture to repel the jets. Then we walked home in a daze, my legs rubbery, and found that the bombs had missed our home, but only narrowly. They had detonated at a nearby school.”

In comparison to Ndibe’s experience, this is what Adam Nossiter wrote about Achebe:

“It (Biafra) had ministries, oil wells, a ragtag army, an often-shifting capital, official cars (Achebe had one) and a famous airstrip.” (emphasis mine).

Yes, Achebe had an official car while others (including his friend Christopher Okigbo) were dying in the trenches for Biafra. He was a constant user of the “famous airtstrip” as he gallivanted all over the world as a Special Envoy. The only experience of Achebe close to this was when he returned to find his home bombed and his three-year-old was begging not to let someone die. Pray, what does a shielded three-year-old know about the concept of death? Achebe and lies? There is no end to it!

Achebe insisted that the blockade of Biafra by Chief Obafemi Awolowo was responsible for the starvation of and the eventual genocide against Biafrans. Achebe, however, as an expert propagandist and purveyor of lies refused to inform the world what kind of blockade did the Federal Government had against Biafra? Was it land, Sea or Air? If the blockade was on land where was this done? The sea could not have been possible as Biafra was a landlocked country given the timeline of the alleged deed. If it was air blockade, which air strip was blockaded and from what date? Achebe was deliberate in not providing answers to these questions because that would have made it easier for his lies to be exposed. He was also acting as a good student of Joseph Goebbels who preached the following:

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – IT MUST CONFINE ITSELF TO A FEW POINTS AND REPEAT THEM OVER AND OVER.” (emphasis mine)

While Achebe was blaming Chief Obafemi Awolowo for alleged blockade of Biafra, insisting that this was why there was starvation in Biafra without being able to prove this, Ndibe had a different experience as follows:

“Like other Biafrans, we depended on food and medicines donated by such international agencies as Catholic Relief and the Red Cross. Sometimes I accompanied my parents on trips to relief centers. The food queues, which snaked for what seemed like miles—a crush of men, women, children—offered less food than frustration as there was never enough to go round. One day, I saw a man crumble to the ground. Other men surrounded his limp body. As they removed him, my parents blocked my sight, an effete attempt to shield me from a tragedy I had already fully witnessed.

Some unscrupulous officers of the beleaguered Biafra diverted food to their homes. Bags of rice, beans and other foods, marked with a donor agency’s insignia, were not uncommon in markets. The betrayal pained my father. He railed by signing and distributing a petition against the Biafran officials who hoarded relief food or sold it for profit.”

How could a blockaded Biafra had access to and “depended on food and medicines donated by such international agencies as Catholic Relief and Red Cross” as Ndibe just claimed in the above quotation? How could a blockaded Biafra find “Bags of rice, beans and other foods, marked  with a donor agency’s insignia” all over and “not uncommon in markets” as posited by Ndibe above? Is Achebe shading the truth in his new book “There was A Country?” Or is his book an extension of Biafran lies and propaganda? But Ndibe was not finished yet. He wrote further:

“The petition drew the ire of the censured officials; the signatories were categorized as saboteurs. To be tagged a saboteur in Biafra was to be branded with a capital crime. A roundup was ordered. One afternoon, some grave-looking men arrived at our home. They snooped all over the house. They turned things over. They pulled out papers and pored over them, brows crinkled half in consternation, half in concentration. As they ransacked the house, they kept my father closely in view. Then they took him away.

Father was detained for several weeks. I don’t remember that our mother ever explained his absence. It was as if my father had died. And yet, since his disappearance was unspoken, it was as if he hadn’t.”

Ndibe used the word “hoarded.” To “hoard,” according to Encarta Dictionary of North American English, means “to collect and store, often SECRETLY, large amounts of things such as food or money for future use.” (emphasis mine). If the hoarding of these foods (a criminal act on the part of Achebe and other Biafran leaders) was not an official policy by them, why would they storm the Ndibes’ residence, arrest Okey’s father and sent him to detention? If Achebe and other oppressors in Biafra were sincere and truly loved their people, how come Okey’s father turned into a villain rather than a hero? Okey’s dad was “tagged a saboteur in Biafra” for which Achebe was a prime policy formulator and “branded with a capital crime” because he (Okey’s father) protested the starving of ordinary Biafrans?   Is this not a deliberate attempt to starve the children and women of Biafra just to see an instrument of lies and propaganda for use to generate sympathy from the unwary world? Is this not time to have Achebe and others of his ilk arrested and be tried for starving innocent Biafrans? Should this kind of crime against humanity be allowed to go unpunished?

While Achebe and his cohorts in Biafra were starving Biafrans and committing genocide against their women and children, he (Achebe) was engineering the most heinous lies and propaganda to further encourage starving 14-year-olds to go defend a declining Biafra in the trenches. According to Adam Nossiter, “for over two brutal years, the Biafran war dragged on at the insistence of Ojukwu — described as “brooding, detached and sometimes imperious” in a 1969 New York Times profile by Lloyd Garrison.” Achebe was his henchman to further deceive the Biafrans about the fortunes of their ill-fated country. What kind of leaders would hoard foods sent to their people, starve them on the home front and manufacture lies to convince them to go defend a failed course to boost their own ego?

How could an always “brooding” and “detached” leader have the “real feel” for the suffering of his people? How could he have the conscience to prevent the starvation of his own people? How could he be bothered by the genocide he was inflicting on his own people? Ojukwu was so “detached” that he was willing to starve Biafrans to sustain a failing Biafra? Achebe was the propaganda manager for Biafra. He had a duty to project a “brooding” and “detached” leader as a hero while ordinary Biafrans were being deliberately starved to death. And by the leaders they had trusted and unto whom they had handed their destiny!

To appreciate the extent to which Achebe as head of Ojukwu’s information management team destroyed his own people emotionally through lies, fiction  and propaganda, read below the agonies of Okey who watched his father’s anguish manipulated mercilessly by Radio Biafra:

“Father owned a small transistor radio. It became the link between our war-torn space and the rest of the world. Every morning, as he shaved, my father tuned the radio to the British Broadcasting Corporation, which gave a more or less objective account of Biafra’s dwindling fortunes. It reported Biafra’s reverses, lost strongholds and captured soldiers as well as interviews with gloating Nigerian officials. Sometimes a Biafran official came on to refute accounts of lost ground and vow the Biafrans’ resolve to fight to the finish.

Feigning obliviousness, I always planted myself within earshot, then monitored my father’s face, hungry to gauge his response, the key to decoding the news. But his countenance remained inscrutable. Because he monitored the BBC while shaving, it was impossible to tell whether winces or tightening were from the scrape of a blade or the turn of the war.

At the end of the BBC broadcasts, my father twisted the knob to Radio Biafra, and then his emotions came on full display. Between interludes of martial music and heady war songs, the official mouthpiece gave exaggerated reports of the exploits of Biafran forces. They spoke about enemy soldiers “flushed out” or “wiped out” by gallant Biafran troops, of Nigerian soldiers surrendering. When an African country granted diplomatic recognition to Biafra, the development was described in superlative terms, sold as the beginning of a welter of such recognitions from powerful nations around the globe. “Yes! Yes!” my father would exclaim, buoyed by the diet of propaganda. How he must have detested it when the BBC disabused him, painted a patina of grey over Radio Biafra’s glossy canvas.”

This story is an exemplary rendition of how Achebe took charge of the deceit of ordinary Biafrans. It showcased a mindless crime against innocent children and women for which the Biafran leaders have been striving to escape punishment. To make this effort of having them punished for their war crimes more convoluted, Achebe as the chief propagandist has to look for someone in Yakubu Gowon, Obafemi Awolowo or any other,  to be blamed for the crimes he (Achebe) and his Biafran cohorts committed.

The commission of this crime was corroborated by another official of the Biafran state Ralph Uwechue. Ralph Uwechue, who was Biafran Foreign Minister to France, in his book titled “Reflections On The Nigerian Civil War” published in 1996 told of the self serving propaganda of Ojukwu and the entire elites of Biafra of which Achebe was one. “Uwechue wrote about the grand insensitivities of this group to the sufferings of their own people during the war.” This was a confirmation of the observation of Lloyd Garrison of the New York Times 27 years earlier in 1969, when he described Emeka Ojukwu as “brooding, detached and imperious.”

When Achebe wrote his commentary on the History of Nigerian Civil War, he forgot that he was not the only one who lived through it, the only one who would be writing about it or the only one who has read about it. Some things are however clear, a deliberate starvation policy could not have allowed the availability of foods in Biafra. Blockade could not have made access to foods from Relief Agents available in Biafra. Achebe could not have been right if Ndibe was right. If Achebe has been wrong, what would be his motive for half truths or outright lies in his new book? Is this a function of serious character flaws – engaging in deliberate lies, falsehood and fiction – in Achebe that had hitherto been unknown? Or is this a manifestation of an unending desire to escape justice for the crimes he committed as a Biafran official? What has this got to do with the failure or outright refusal of Chukwuemeka Ojukwu to write any memoirs? Is this an attempt to avoid self incrimination? Could Achebe and his Biafran cohorts still escape trial for their crimes? To this extent, how could the rest of the materials in the book be taken seriously? How are we sure that the book is not ridden with tall tales, lies, half truths and blatant falsehoods?

 

Once again, here is Adam Nossiter:

“Like his nostalgia for Biafra, Achebe’s judgment on contemporary Nigeria seems excessive — more the products of a writer’s jaundiced backward glances than a coming to grips with the reality of what was and what is.”

Whether Achebe and his Biafran cohorts will escape justice for their crimes against the Igbo people or not, TIME WILL TELL.

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