Sunday, April 20, 2014

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

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



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