Chinua Achebe: A Biafran in Nigerian clothes (3), By Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u

Muhammed Jameel Yusha'u
Muhammad Jameel Yushau

Continued from last week…

One key fact Chinua Achebe ignored completely in his book was the injustice that triggered the civil war. The premier of Northern region, the prime minister, all senior military officers from the region except Lt Colonel Yakubu Gowon, who was on his way back from Britain, were murdered. The civil war was a sad story, but justice should be extended to all.

Professor Chinua Achebe’s contribution to African literature is enormous, and we should give him credit for that. It is also true that his writings and those of his peers contributed in marketing African literature in English and other European languages. But we should never ignore African indigenous literature. Although Chinua Achebe has briefly acknowledged the writings of the likes of Muhammadu Bello, it is clear that before Africans started writing in English, French and other European languages, they have for decades been writing in either Arabic or their indigenous languages. This is common among the different communities that use what is called “ajami” (writing in a native language using Arabic letters). In Mali, Sudan, Sokoto caliphate and the Borno empire, literary writing had taken root centuries before the arrival of colonialists.

As for Ahmad Bello University, Zaria, being a centre for promoting hatred against the Igbos, that equally requires evidence rather than a generalised, baseless declaration. Right from its formation, ABU had been one of the most multi-cultural and multi-ethnic universities you can find in Africa. In the days of Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman, Dr Ibrahim Tahir and Dr. Patrick Wilmot, it was a centre for public debate and African nationalism. One key area that Professor Chinua Achebe was right was his condemnation of corruption. He has equally used an interview with General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) in order to respond to some of the allegations made in the book. But I believe the best response is for General Yakubu Gowon to write his personal account of the war in collaboration with a reputable international publisher.

Professor Achebe also alleged that only Christians and southerners were being killed in Nigeria. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The reality is neither side has monopoly of violence; it is therefore the responsibility of each section of the country to come together and stop the mess. I challenge Professor Chinua Achebe to investigate all the sectarian crises in Nigeria. One of the few cases in which a court of law convicted people for engaging in shedding the blood of innocent people was the Zangon Kataf crisis. Find out who and whom the court convicted, even if the military decided to reverse the verdict.

The debate at the House of Commons was both fierce and respectful. What was however clear was that the agitation for Biafra remains very much alive. In one of the speeches by Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu during the Biafran War, he boasted that Biafra would not die as long as he was alive. Ojukwu is dead, but Chinua Achebe, with his new book, has kept the touch alive and has made himself the leading light for the actualization of Biafra. More than what Ojukwu has done, Chinua Achebe’s book will be a reference point in world libraries. It is therefore important for those who witnessed the war to give their accounts as well by writing books on the issue. From the content of the book, Chinua Achebe appears to be a Biafran in spirit, although he wears a Nigerian flesh.

From the exchanges among the participants at the debate, it was clear Nigerians need to have an honest conversation about the future of their country. Citizens are clearly divided between the Biafran supporters who still want to part ways with Nigeria, those who are comfortable with the status quo, and those who want a restructured country. It also became clear at the debate that some members of the British parliament had been fed wrong information about the situation in Nigeria. I was shocked when Dianne Abbot, the Shadow Minister of Health, told me northern elites are the problem with Nigeria. Yes Northern elites have contributed to the current predicament of Nigeria. But they were not alone in creating the mess we are in. The elites from the North and South worked together to bring Nigeria to its knees, and they should jointly be accountable for their indiscretion. Regarding the way forward, I refer you to an article I wrote few months back entitled “2015: let’s have referendum not elections” available on my blog.

As we were walking out of the House of Commons after the debate, somebody called my attention to how the Hausas, the Igbos and the Yorubas walked out of the venue in groups of three comprising the three ethnic group. It’s sad that 52 years after independence, we are still struggling to sit under one roof and act in unity. It is difficult to say who is to blame for this state of affair. It’s however unfortunate that Achebe has used what could have been a great book to divide our country even the more.

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






  • Anonymous

    Though articulately captured, ur posit is baseless and lacks salt. Sectarian violence has always been the major import and export commodity of the North and that is what is destroying u now. As the saying goes, ‘u live by the sword, u die by the sword’.

    The sins of Nigeria (the North) against the Igbo wil continue to hunt them. In fact, like someone said, the North will soon become the minority in Nigeria.

    Sleep on Nigeria! Sleep out North!!

    • Abuhanifah

      My dear brother “kwenu”. If the North has nothing to offer, our Southern brothers would not be struglling to make a survival there.
      Honestly speaking, it is time we stop aportioning blame. Let’s work to develop our immediate families and communities because by so doing, we would eventually liberate ourselves. If we are resolved to act truthfully and righteously as is obtained in the developed countries, these teething problems will naturally ease out.
      Unfortunately, in one way or the other we aid and abet the situation. “Attitudinal change is what we need”; permit me to borrow the language of a one time minister I adore alot – Chukwuemeka Chikelu.

    • Epetedo

      What do you, and other Igbo apologists, say to the fact, undeniable, that Igbo officers murdered the Premier of the Nothern region, the Prime Minister of Nigeria, and senior army officers from the north?

      At the same time, Igbo politicians like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael Okpara, and others, were left unscathed.

      You see, to every action there is a reaction. What happened has happened, and the consequences have been very grave and very expensive for all involved.

      To deny verifiable facts will not make those facts to disappear; though it might be a source of (false) consolation to do so.

  • yusuf

    Why is every body trying to kill chinue achebe’s great work. He gave his personal account of the biafia war. Pls if you don’t agree with him, go write your own.

    • Hassan

      The book is much more than a “personal account” of the war. Once a book is published and enters the public domain, it ceases to be “personal” and becomes public property.

  • Obiukwu

    What is divided is divided. The truth is that as an amalgam Nigeria is doomed to fail, until we have a referrendum to decide if we will stay together or not, we will continue to beat about the bush. Nigeria is made up of many nations, The Hausa, Yoruba, Efik, Tiv, Idoma, Igbo and others, it is either we stay together or part ways. For parting ways is more ideal: it will bring governance to the people and will engender creative competition. Let us have a referendum or let us kill all corrupt leaders past and present.

  • Hassan

    For many decades after the establishment of Ahmadu Bello University, the vast majority of the graduates of the University were from Southern Nigeria. The University, the Sardauna said, was founded to ” impart knowledge and learning to men and women of all races without any distinction on grounds of race, religious or political beliefs.” Fortunately, the University has been true to this ideal throughout the fifty years of its existence as it is the higher institution of learning in the whole of the country with the most diverse student and staff populations.

  • Abuhanifah

    You have said it all in a just, fair and fearles manner. Please Nigerians, let’s live up to expectation else we go our seperate ways. Quite disheartening that nearly a century of our so-called marriage, we still cannot allow peace a chance. Isn’t it erroneous to blame a section of the Nigerian society for the apalling situation of the country when there have never been a time the governance of our dear country was done by one section in isolation of others.
    What have we achieved since 1999? Please, I need an answer?

  • Amazed

    It’s a great job you have done Dr. Yusha’u. I think even our egoistic Igbo brothers have no choice than to take a bow given the way you approached the subject. But I’m surprised that you are the first intellectual from the North who has risen in defence of that region. Is the North short of eggheads. See how the Yoruba rose in fierce defence of Awolowo. Ditto the Igbo who have aggressively backed Achebe all the way. Achebe castigated iconic Hausa/Fulani leaders, yet there has been acute shortage of northern voices in this debate. Northern intellectuals should hide their faces in shame. Posterity will judge them harshly.

  • SilentObserver

    Very well written article – never expected anything less though. While the article raises very salient points, the saddest part is the seemingly evidence that the appropriate lessons from the war has not been learnt. Until there is a determined effort to put the civil war into proper perspectives and in an un-biased way, Nigerians will keep chasing shadows and pointing accusing fingers at each other. The truth be told, some factors triggered the war and the sad fall outs thereof. To dismiss the cause of the war, and focus on the outcomes only is dodging the issues. I find it really odd, that the number of casualties of about 2-3 million being bandied around from the South East sounds absurd and can easily be proven based on population growth or otherwise! Writing books and articles that are unfounded and largely unproven with rock solid statistics or facts will only re-open old wounds whilst fanning the embers of hatred and suspicion. What is required is for Nigeria to move forward and take her place in the world. Unfortunately if we unable to do so because of the hate and baggage of the civil war, then our future generations will hold us fully responsible.

  • Chudi

    Jameel, thank you for your fine and easygoing sentiments. I will like to know how calm and easygoing you would remain when your son, or mother, or people who share the same language and place of origin, are constantly at the receiving end of ethnically-motivated violence. Truth is that Nigeria is inherently divided. We have to accept that fact (not pretend it away) and then try to figure out how to deal with it, leaving all options open. Achebe’s book is no less important because you dont share his views. In my world and in the world of many other people, it is an intensely important work.