Chinua Achebe: A Biafran in Nigerian clothes (II), By Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u

Muhammed Jameel Yusha'u
Muhammad Jameel Yushau
Muhammed Jameel Yusha'u
Muhammad Jameel Yushau brings a fresh perspective to the debate over Prof Chinua Achebe’s new book, “There Was a Country”

Continued from last week…

Other issues discussed by Chinua Achebe in the book include the idea that fighting for Biafra was fighting for justice. The literary background of Chinua Achebe was also part of the book. He mentioned that writers like him were the first generation of Africans to introduce African literature to the world. Professor Achebe equally called for revisiting the Biafran war and requested that if the Rwandan and Darfur crises could be seen as genocide, then the first act of genocide in post colonial Africa should be the Biafran war.

Responding to all the issues that the literary icon raised will require writing another book, and the best people to do that are the veterans of the civil war many of whom are still alive. It is important to note that what made the book so prominent and controversial is not necessarily the provocative content, but the personality from whom it emanates. Some of the issues discussed require further reflection and should be taken seriously as part of our national discourse. But before outlining the important lessons in the book, and suggesting a way forward for our country, some of the issues raised by Chinua Achebe require some clarifications.

On the notion that Sardauna, the then premier of the Northern region lacked political vision; this claim either stemmed from lack of understanding of the vision of Ahmadu Bello or clear mischief. Sardauna clearly understood that for Nigeria to get political independence, the various regions of the country have to be able to compete as equals. Northern Nigeria was certainly not ready for independence before 1960. If paper qualification were the yardstick for managing a country, then not even Sardauna or Tafawa Balewa will be able to compete with the more intellectually accomplished PhD holders like Nnamdi Azikwe or successful lawyers like Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The key reason why the Sardaunas and the Tafawa Balewas were able to compete was because they were products of an already existing traditional political system that prepared them for the job. A system that unfortunately is crumbling before our eyes.

But the most important vision of Sardauna was his ability to unite the Northern region irrespective of ethnicity, faith or other differences. The fact that he was able to bring together the likes of Michael Audu Buba, Sunday Awoniyi within the politics of the region to work side by side with the Shehu Shagaris and the Maitama Sules without discrimination is an achievement that the whole of Nigeria should emulate today. If there is one thing that our country needs,  it’s a political leader that can unite the people and treat them fairly without prejudice.

The allegation that Tafawa Balewa was built into a statesman by the West requires evidence from Professor Achebe. If speaking English like the native is the sin of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Professor Chinua Achebe can be described as the Williams Shakespeare of Sub-Saharan Africa; which one is more western than the other? Had Professor Chinua Achebe been writing in a language other than English, what are the chances of him becoming a global literary icon? Despite this allegation, Tafawa Balewa, just after receiving political independence continued to treat other world leaders as equals not as subordinates or superiors. I wondered if the current leadership of Nigeria will receive the kind of treatment Tafawa Balewa received from President Kennedy during his visit to the United States in the 1960s, yet throughout the visit, the body language of Tafawa Balewa was that of a leader that is confident and not ready to mortgage the independence of his country.

As for Northerners having a wary religion, and the Yorubas hampered by traditional hierarchy, well, our Yoruba brothers have written enough to counter that assertion, and not all our Igbo compatriots agree with Chinua Achebe. But one thing needs to be made clear on this misinformation by Chinua Achebe. The British did not bring a new civilisation to Northern Nigeria. They met a society that already has a political structure, with clear leadership, courts of law, security system and all the requirements of a modern state. The British had no option than to use that structure to rule the people through indirect rule. Chinua Achebe’s thesis was that the Igbo’s were on the path of becoming a great nation, and that is why other regions were envious of them especially the so-called Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba. No one can deny the fact that Igbos are very enterprising people, but I do not think the Yoruba’s are any different, otherwise ask Governor Babatunde Fashola, and the team of Yoruba people who are working hard to innovate ideas without relying on government handouts. Even the so-called Hausa\Fulani that have to make a catch up after political independence are no less enterprising. I am certain that Aliko Dangote is not from Mars or Jupiter. Here in the United Kingdom, most of the people from Northern Nigeria that I know are as enterprising as any serious community. They are pursuing their masters and PhDs in the most important disciplines you can think of. Many are accomplished medical consultants, engineers and computers scientists.

But we should be ready to acknowledge that as enterprising as some Yorubas or Igbos or Hausa can be, there are among them societal misfits who are ready to engage in 419, internet scams, and political hooliganism. Some of them could even have been part of the political leadership that failed our country, with or without the civil war.

To be concluded next week insha Allah.

Dr. Yusha’u (, a former staff of the BBC, teaches journalism at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, England. He is a weekly columnist for PREMIUM TIMES

Twitter: @jameelyushau
Facebook: Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u



  • Dan-Hausa

    A story writer wants to turn historian. Please Achebe, concentrate on your cooking stories that will be better for you than meddling in history. For the Inyamiri, can’t you see the Biafran war lord had a Muslim daughter and raised in the north. Definitely Ojukwu is a sell out.

  • Khamis Inuwa

    Achebe’s assertions has cost him a lot of respect and intellectual drift in Nigeria and around the world. What he said is a complete perjury and we Nigerians found that very unfortunate.

  • Oluwaseun Toyin

    Thank you Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u for this priceless exhibition of truth. This is really a bridge to the wide opening created by this so called literature mogul.

  • alabi akindele

    Thanks Muhammad. I often read your essays here, and I thank you for them. I am also reading this series you are writing on Achebe. Your thought on this is deep. Now this is my take on this. And readers should please give me some lengthy space. Before now, I had looked at Achebe as someone who has some capacity to be rational and ethical. But sadly, this is not the case. Beside his fictions, I did not read any of those things he had written and said about Nigeria and Nigerian peoples and leaders. That is, my idealism, innocence, nationalism and patriotism did not make me think a writer like Achebe can and will ever write such tribalist and irredentist things about Nigerian peoples and leaders. Innocently, I read him and made my children read him. But after the publication of his latest book, I bought it, I read it, I was shell shocked. I went back to buy his non fictional book, and I became more shocked. I told myself “this man called Achebe deceived me as a reader of literature and of his books for over thirty years, he abused my innocence, civility and civic sense for my country and Nigerian peoples…” I did not know that Achebe is such an irredentist who holds so much hatred, venom and poison in his old heart against other Nigerians, peoples and leaders. As a consumer of literature of all sorts, I feel really abused by him and by the fact that I never read all these tribalist things he wrote about Nigerians for years because I did not know he wrote them, I did not know they existed, hence I did not read them. But it is my fault, I learnt my lesson the very hard way. We all do sometimes. Now I separate Achebe and the few online writers including the lady called Adichie from the rest of the masses of Igbos who do not partake in these irredentist and tribalist things Achebe and Adichie his later ego engage in against other Nigerians and leaders. The Igbo masses work peacefully with other Nigerians in markets, in schools, in offices , inside commuter buses, at bus stops, in laboratories etc. The problem is this few Igbo elites and the hired online writers who are hiding from something, and that is hiding from being prosecuted for their evils against the Igbo masses during the unfortunate civil war. Thus, I am happy that Adichie revealed her Biafran and Igbo irredentism and tribalism very early in her career on behalf of this few Igbo elites who are running away from their guilt and prosecution-otherwise I believe she would have deceived me as a reader of literature and other Nigerians again into believing her just as we wrongly believed Achebe. This is because of the way Adichie herself literally, immorally and dubiously against all known ethics and facts on the Biafra issue hid Achebe, Ojukwu and other Biafran leaders from the scene of the consequences of the war. I thought they say Adichie is a younger writer. In other words one expected that she might be able to see the facts as they are without the stories adults told her and others in private. That Achebe is her hero, thus she might have read Achebe on Nigerian peoples and leaders, and that she still came to her conclusion shows she made a choice as an Igbo irredentist and tribalist. For me there is nothing wrong with that if we are working with a limited, narrow frame and vision. That is, it is okay for her to be an Igbo irredentist and tribalist. But what is not okay which is highly immoral and unethical is for her to be marketed by her publishers and other fellow travelers as being different from a basic and crude Igbo irredentist and tribalist both in thought and in writing. This is because given her violation of simple historical facts, and given that she went to school, hence she ought to see that violation in her review of Achebe. And given that she did not see that violation of historical facts in her review, then she made a conscious choice to be an Igbo irredentist and tribalist by engaging in that violation. This is why I am pleased that these things are happening. Now if I did not know that Adichie is a common and petty Igbo irredentist and tribalist, she would have again deceived me as a reader of literature and other Nigerians, and I would have also innocently out of my sense of nationalism, patritiotism, and love for my country opened myself to abuse as a consumer of books the way I allowed it with Achebe . Now that she boldly told us that she is a common Igbo irredentist and tribalist, I am pleased about that. What shocked me is how these two characters-Achebe and Adichie and the few Igbo online writers failed to see how socially dangerous and evil to social and personal relations in Nigeria and among Nigerians the position of Achebe and Adichie are. I am shocked that they do not see how dangerous and evil it is for Igbo adults Adichie referred to to secretively in their private homes pump false stories of poison, venom, hatred and anger(which historical facts do not bear out) into the minds of Igbo children and youths against other Nigerian children and youths. At least that is what Adichie said Igbo adults she knows often do. I am surprised that they cannot just see this social and moral danger. Is this a poverty of theory, vision, ethics and ideas or Achebe and Adichie are just filled and concerned with their Igbo irredentism and tribalism hence they would not bother? I just do not know.

    Finally I am wondering how Achebe and Adichie would respond to this. Imagine a situation where Achebe and Adichie are in a hypothetical classroom full of Nigerians from different cultures and other non-Nigerians. After Achebe and Adichie have taken morally and historically irresponsible liberty with facts about Nigerian history, peoples and leaders and exhibited this Igbo tribalism and irredentism against Nigerian peoples and leaders, (i) will they be able to look these hypothetical Nigerian students from different cultures in the face? (ii) what will they tell them? That everything is fine after they lied shamelessly from both sides of their mouths as so-called writers? Now remember that these are hypothetical Nigerian students who would have paid so that Achebe and Adichie will be paid for such classroom sessions. So in such archetypal classroom other non-Igbo Nigerian students would have paid for Achebe and Adichie as Igbo tribalists and irredentists to speak to them after the two of them have taken complete irresponsible liberty with facts about Nigerian peoples and leaders? I just do not know. This is why the view that these two and the few online defenders(NOT IGBO PEOPLE OR MASSES OF IGBO PEOPLE) of this Igbo irredentism and tribalism are lacking in depth and deep thinking, poor theoretically and conceptually may just be true-for how can they not see these dangerous social and moral implications? But I guess the fact that they do not see and may even be “bold” to speak in the archetypal and hypothetical classroom to these Nigerian students from different cultural backgrounds may even be seen as ‘courage”by these characters, i.e. it may be said that they are “courageous” about their views!. We read about such silly courage here all the time. So you will take morally and historically irresponsible liberty with facts about a peoples history, you will collect the money paid by these archetypal and hypothetical Nigerian students in an archetypal classroom in order to speak to them, and you will call that “courage”. That happened recently when the so-called Achebe colloquium in the US invited the Lagos state Governor. I chuckled , the opportunism of Achebe and his acolytes will know no bound. You opened your mouth and lied shamelessly against a people, and to cover up and dress things up you went an invite one of their Governors to a so-called Achebe colloquium outside Nigeria. I am sure that is called “debate” or “courage”! Well but it is no different from the “courage” of Okonkwo displayed in killing Ikemefuna. Now we know how some people can paint “courage” again in relativist colors and want to get away with it. It is morally and historically dubious to do this. It is no courage, courage does not have two names. You cannot relativise a basic human ethics which courage is. The Achebe and Adichie act will have one name, it is called opportunism of the worst order. In other words, if you have taken the position that you are an Igbo irredentist and tribalist as Achebe and Adchie have both done, then stay that way, do not go after the fact to perfume a bad odor, limit yourself to your Igbo fora, do not go doing so-called colloquium abroad when you have killed with your tongue at home in NIgeria for you ought to know war starts from the mind and tongue and you have killed with your tongue with your malice, venom and poison, do not pretend, do not use the name of Nigeria, because you do not believe in it, do not go doing so-called talks with innocent Nigerian students and others who do not and might not know you just as I did not know Achebe as the arch tribalist and irredentist for thirty years just because I did not read those so-called non-fictional books early enough. These are the reasons, people wonder why Achebe and Adichie do not see how socially and historically dangerous to Nigeria their positions are. If they do not know how socially dangerous this is to personal and individual relations of Nigerians to one another, then these two characters-Adichie and Achebe must be suffering from a poverty of theory and depth, if they knew and they went ahead to write what they wrote, then they are socially and morally dangerous because they knew and they did not bother. This is why they would by analysis show up as opportunists and immoralists of the worst order whose main concern is not ethics in and of writing but whose main concern is to trade mere words, mere formalism for basic commerce. Innocence, basic ethics, proper social and civil conduct, respect for and deference to history and facts, all have been wronged and damaged by Achebe and his acolytes in Adichie, hence no single sentence, word or concept shall go unchallenged. And this will take place both online and offline face to face in proper academic seminars and conferences. Enough is enough.

    Again, thanks Muhammad for doing this for Nigerians and posterity. We will definitely build this country of ours. We believe in it. But we will open our eyes clearly and take out of the conversation thought and vision such as Achebe, Adichie and others fit only for the medieval period.

    • Charles

      am surprised that most of the comments stated here over three moths ago came from other tribes other than ibo, surprisingly even though they tend to sound detribalized yet it is embedded in the thoughts they shared. I am sorry if this is what we Nigerians are going to live with or think with them we can work out a peaceful transition to a stable state without tribalism. Hmm am not impressed.