Thursday, April 24, 2014

Chinua Achebe: A Biafran in Nigerian clothes (3), By Muhammad 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






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