Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Adichie and the limits of art, By Kehinde Owolabi

Kehinde Owolabi faults Chimamanda Adichie's comment on Chinua Achebe's new book saying she shielded Ojukwu and Achebe from blame in the starvation of millions of Biafrans to death

When Plato, one of the primary sources of human thought was delineating roles in his hypothetical Republic, he set the limit to Art. Though I do not agree with Plato’s conclusions, there is something intuitive about his premises. Therefore, I think it is interesting to re-visit his arguments in the light of the conversation over Chinua Achebe’s book “There Was A Country” and Adichie Chimamanda’s review of the book in her eulogy of Achebe.  Three reference points have defined the book. They are the roles of Nigeria’s first political leaders during our struggle for independence, principally Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The second reference point that has defined the conversation around the book is Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s role in the Civil War. The third is Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s role after the Civil War. Having read the book, my reflection on it continues to grow. I will tarry a little before I make a final and categorical judgment. Thus this is not a review of the book but a response to Ms. Adichie Ngozi Chimamanda. In the course of my response, it is inevitable that I will refer to the part of the book Adichie refers to. My reference should not be taken as a full-blown review of Achebe’s book but a response to Adichie.

Both Achebe and Adichie’s comments on the book have generated some controversy. However, I wish to say that I disagree with those, if they exist, who may claim that we should not discuss the civil war.   I think we should talk about everything in Nigeria. We must not hold anything back. So Achebe has a right to write his book and say anything and everything. By extension, I believe that Achebe has a right to his views. Consequently, I believe that Adichie also has a right to her views. I will defend Achebe and Adichie’s rights to say anything. By implication, I think those who may want to keep mum about issues have a right to. The right they do not have is to ask others not to discuss.

However, given what Adichie set out to do in her essay, I think Ms. Adichie Chimamanda subverted herself and therefore failed. In other words, given her statements which drew a distinction between the cultural ethnic and political ethnic, she seemed to believe that the cultural ethnic is more socially and morally worthy. But she failed to defend this cultural ethnic   but went ahead to embrace the political ethnic.  Whether it is an act of omission or commission, the fact that such contradiction ensued from her as a writer is significant. How that happened and its implications are the subject matter of this essay. But the proper point to start is Plato’s critique of art.

Plato, in Book 10 of the Republic, argues that art is imitation or mimetic. Given this nature of the art, Plato believes that art is twice removed from the truth. Based on this double distance of art from truth, Plato argues that art appeals to the irrational part of the human brain. On the basis of these premises, Plato concludes that art can corrupt a person through influencing undesirable emotions and therefore art should be censored.  Again, I disagree with Plato’s conclusion but a lot of his premises make sense in the light of Achebe’s book and they are relevant to Adichie’s take on this book and its intersection with Nigerian political reality. Reading Adichie’s essay and the responses to her and the book, one will think that we are back in Plato’s Republic where art has corrupted and influenced undesirable emotions in Nigerians. The seeming truth in Plato can be seen in the way writers themselves tend to see the relationship between their works and reality. Even when they do not say so, they tend to believe that their works are expressions of reality.  Nothing can be further from the truth.

This short essay is based on the same excerpt about Awolowo and Nigerian political leaders, which Adichie referred to in her essay. They have become staple foods; we do not need to restate them. It seems to me that like everything Nigerian we are incapable of enunciating rational principles, which will be binding on us universally.  It is the lack of such rationality in art that is the basis of the Platonic critique of the art, and it forms the basis of my critique and rejection of most of the obvious and implied conclusions in Adichie’s essay.  Given my tentative belief that the backwardness in African societies is gradually approaching a hopelessly   genetic and incurable point (I am scared to reach this conclusion, but there does not seem to be an alternative), and given that I believe that the basis of this backwardness is our failure to institute the rational in our lives, I will appeal only to the rational in this essay.

Though Adichie’s essay is primarily a eulogy of Achebe at 82, Adichie makes the following claims. Some of the claims are substantive. Some are the frame for her narration.  First, she claims she is remembering and that we remember differently. Second, she claims that her Nigerian education left gaping holes in Nigerian history.   Third, she draws a distinction between the cultural ethnic and the political ethnic. She suggests that while the political ethnic is unhelpful, the cultural ethnic is positive. Fourth, on the Civil War, she is “startled and sad” at Nigerians who responded and rejected   the Achebe judgment on Awolowo.  I will not know if the part of the excerpt she is “sad and startled” about includes Achebe’s position on Nigerian political leaders and other national groups in Nigeria.  I will like to quote her words directly: “I have been startled and saddened by the responses to this excerpt. Many are blindingly ethnic, lacking in empathy and, most disturbing of all, lacking in knowledge.” I do not know which of the responses Adichie is referring to between the non-Igbo responses and the Igbo responses. But obviously given the slant in her narration in her essay, which is defined, by her selected examples and judgments, she means the non-Igbo responses. By implication if this were the case, if the non-Igbo responses are guilty as charged by Adichie Chimamanda, it would follow that the Igbo responses are free of her charge. Thus, theoretically speaking, she has a moral obligation (and she does not need to take it) to inform us if the Igbo responses also have the “blindingly ethnic qualities, lacking in empathy and most disturbing or lacking in knowledge…” she ascribes to the non-Igbo responses.

While there is nothing wrong in her being an Igbo irredentist, but given the slant of her essay she has the scholarly and moral obligation to let us know if her own essay is free of the “blindingly ethnic” she accuses her opponents of. Again, she does not need to take this challenge. Fifth, she believes that Awolowo’s position on the blockade is immoral. Sixth, while she believes that Ojukwu should have accepted the land corridor offer of federal government, she believes it is disingenuous to suggest that Ojukwu’s rejection of the offer causes starvation.

Finally, to show the feelings of Igbos to Awolowo she informs us how Igbos see Awolowo.  She reports what she claims the “adults” told her about the 1952 Zik’s loss of election in the Western House of assembly and said that the  “adults” told her that Igbos believe that Awolowo engineered it. Adichie is a creative writer, and as a creative writer she knows what she is doing in her essay with her examples and the deployment of those examples at the appropriate time. Let me say that there is an old Igbo narrative of Awolowo and the Yorubas( I am NOT saying that ALL Igbos subscribe to this, some do) which Adichie herself points out the “stories” the “adults” told her. Chinua Achebe has creatively re-fashioned that as an industry. I call that the Achebe ‘Awolowo And Yoruba Hate Industry and Religion” Though, Adichie is a more contemporary Igbo writer, her narrative on Awolowo and the old Igbo narrative are the same conceptually and qualitatively. And that is the beginning of the problem with Adichie’s narrative.  She managed to put a lot of   writer’s style onto it basically to screen off the primary goal. But those melt off under serious analysis.

Adichie fails in her essay because she wanted to defend the cultural ethnic over the political ethnic but sank abysmally back almost immediately to the political ethnic. Adichie’s failure in her essay begins with her ethical relativist frame. First ethical relativism does not pretend to approach truth or objectivity because for the ethical relativist there is no objectivity and truth is relative. For the relativist of whom Adichie is a type at least in her essay, everything is relative including truth and morals.

I am putting it to those who claim there is objectivity in Adichie’s narrative to contend with this claim rationally. Here I am not talking about what Plato calls “the irrational part of the human and undesirable emotions…” or “pepper soup talk”.  I am not sure that Adichie will lay claim to being objective in that narrative. But just in case she does, I believe that she fails because at least from her essay she misunderstands what objectivity is all about.  Objectivity is not a mere “report” of a so-called “two” sides, as Adichie must have felt she did in her essay. Given her ethical relativist frame and her search for “holes” motif, Adichie is conceptually incapable of “reporting” both sides. It is a settled matter in thought that ethical relativism cannot report both sides.

Therefore to pretend to use an ethical relativist frame to presumably report both sides will lead to intellectual absurdity for you will think you are doing it, yet you are not. We see that not only in Adichie’s essay but in the Achebe book she seems to be reviewing or talking about. In other words, given Adichie’s conceptual frame Adichie cannot be objective.  Yet she projects an image of “innocently” reporting what she sees and hears people say thus giving the impression of a commitment to ‘objectivity’. It is that move that shows a basic assault on reason and knowledge, as we know it. Why? It is an obvious contradiction to deploy an ethical relativist frame while pretending to be innocent and reaching for objectivity because we get this voice in her essay  “oh as you can see I am reporting both sides… or I am only reporting what people say about X, Y, Z….” More importantly, objectivity has a more serious and respectable career path than the way it is being projected in Adichie’s essay. Objectivity is stating the fact independent of one’s feelings and position, and following the logic of that fact to its logical conclusion even if one is put in an uncomfortable position in the process.  Adichie’s ethical relativist frame cannot do this respectable and serious job. Thus conceptually speaking, try as Adichie may, she cannot be objective. Therefore she wrote an excellent eulogy for her hero Achebe, but she could not have been said to have written the truth about the issues she delved into. It is conceptually impossible. This is the basis of the consequences of the intellectual absurdity in her essay.

The second problematic in Adichie’s essay is her search for  “holes’. I think it is a kind of writer’s motif. She may be doing this consciously or unconsciously as a writer. But this is a familiar ‘post modernist” search motif, or “journey motif”.  But while this so-called  ‘journey”, “search” or “hole” motif may be okay as a muse it is known to be philosophically problematic. It is problematic because this sort of motif lays claim to starting on the journey or search for ‘holes” from a tabula rasa.  In this so-called “journey” subjects make claims to being innocent, open and ready to take in new ideas. But this is philosophically false for no one is innocent, we are all historically constituted. Adichie is. I am. We all are. Therefore when Adichie “reported” all the things she claims the Igbo people say about Awolowo as if she is not constituted by that, she is raising serious ethical issues about her art because she seems to believe them, yet she wants to pass on the impression that she does not.  To give the impression that she does not believe them in the name of a so-called search for ‘holes” some so-called journey motif, is morally problematic. That her “hole” motif is nothing but a way to say what she believes while sounding to be objective can be seen in the sudden drifts she made sometimes in her essay.   I will show that presently.

But let me make a brief detour into the so-called 1952 carpet crossing in the Western House of Assembly, which Adichie used in her review of, or talk about Achebe’s book.  In Adichie’s review or comments on Achebe’s book, she went straight to the controversial excerpt, treated it and jumped to 1952 and other matters as the “adults” “told” her.  The 1952 event and others she mentions will qualify as some of the “holes” in Nigerian history she says are gaping. It is instructive morally that all Adichie’s “holes” are non-Igbo. It is possible she does not have enough time to talk about all the “holes’.  But we also need to note this.

Let me begin to call attention to Adichie’s silence in the “gaping holes” she treaded in the book she reviewed or commented on.  Achebe has made bold and palpably false assertions about the first set of Nigerian political leaders. Achebe claimed that out of all Nigerian political leaders of the time he was writing about only Igbo leaders wanted Nigerian unity.   Achebe said Dr Azikiwe was the only pan Africanist of his time.  Adichie read this “hole”, failed to state her view, drifted, and fled to 1952 election to Western House of Assembly.  Adichie does not have a burden in this, but Adichie’s sources are crucial and instructive. They are adults. In other words she grew up being told these stories about Awolowo and perhaps Yorubas. When we grow up being told stories, we form a view, we are no longer innocents. Even when we are looking for “gaping holes” we are culturally formed and historically constituted” as we dig for “holes”.

Given the stories Adichie’s heard growing up and her flight to 1952, I am interested in the historical frame and methodology of most Nigerian histories. We must place Achebe’s claim about Nigerian political leaders, Zik etc side by side 1952. Many historians have documented 1952 differently but space will not allow me to repeat each strand of the argument here. But I am rising what might not have been said, at least, which I have not read in the literature of the pre and immediate postcolonial politics in Nigeria. It is one reason I assert that we should talk about every strand of our lives in Nigeria. There are many historiographies-i.e. different methodology to writing history. I will isolate two. One has been used consistently to write Nigerian history. The other is rarely used. The first one is a bourgeois view of history as the solipsistic fortunes of a lone hero. This is the frame that has been used to write Nigerian history. This is the frame we see in Achebe’s book and the frame that has been used to transmit “stories” and “tales’ to Adichie by “adults”.  The second is history as the material conditions of the masses of the people. Most Nigerian historians do not use this. I recommend that we use this to interrogate the “ gaping holes” in Nigerian history. If we do this we will focus on the people as the makers of their own history, rather than the individuals. My question therefore is: how did it happen that the masses of Yoruba voters voted against one of their own and for non-Yoruba(s)? Is there anything in the cultures, societies, values, and historical conditions of the people that made this happen? The twin question is: did this act of voting by the masses of the people against one’s own native happen in other parts of Nigeria? Did it happen in Igbo land?  If so let us document them. If no, why? I believe the Yoruba and human ethic of voting freely and voting against one’s own native is worthy of being emulated, it is the right thing to do but the critical question is: did it happen in other areas of Nigeria? Did it happen in Igbo land the time it was happening in Yoruba land? Was this reciprocated in other places? If no, why did it not happen? This more or less “Marxist” way of writing history is not new. The following historians use this methodological frame in various ways to write the history of their societies- the Nigerian historian Mahmud Tukur and the American historian Howard Zinn.  I recommend it to us all.   It will help us examine the extent of inclusion and pluralism in each and all Nigerian societies in a way that will help a more profound “stories” “adults” tell children as they grow. It will help us fill “our gaping holes” in a way that help us see social processes and growth of societies rather than the solipsistic fortunes and “misfortunes” of individuals. We can give more details to this later. But this methodology makes us ask the question: how inclusive and plural was and is each Nigerian society-Yoruba, Igbo, etc. I believe this is the question the “adults” who tell us story may have wanted to ask either consciously or unconsciously which they perhaps do in their own way by using the fortunes and misfortunes of individuals and lone heroes as narrative and story telling devices. But if we base our history and “adult” story telling on the social and cultural processes in societies we will gather social data and fill those “holes” with the features of pluralism and inclusiveness in Nigerian societies (where they exist, to what extent they exist, and where they do not exist, and to what extent they do not exist)-Igbo, Kanuri, Yoruba etc- (all our Nigerian societies,) as our working hypothesis.   No doubt listening to tales of adults about “others” and theorizing them also help build a particular type of nation. But just in case we are interested in a great Nigeria, the idea of history from below which make us focus on theorizing the inclusive and plural features of each Nigerian society, harvest them into a basket and use those social features and practices   for Nigeria may also be helpful.  I reject the bourgeois historiography of Nigerian history because it is the half-truth, a side is never remembered or if it’s remembered it is doctored. When pressed into tales, and “stories” adults tell, the type of the people in Platonic Republic show up. In the Nigerian Republic the victims are our children.  I must say that Achebe’s book paradoxically impelled me to begin to look at things this way and ask that we check and gather the plural and inclusive features and practices in all Nigerian societies as we talk and tell “stories” about 1952 and other “stories”.

On the Civil War, in Achebe’s book we are told the story: Chief Obafemi Awolowo did nothing to prevent the war.  Chief Obafemi Awolowo tricked Igbos to go to war because he saw them as an obstacle and he wanted   to promote the Yorubas.  Though Adichie managed to mildly say that she did not think Awolowo did that to promote Yorubas, we are left with a lot of things unsaid. Again, we cannot be selective in our moral choices. To be is to be unethical.  The first condition of being ethical is moral consistency and going the whole hog. That way you remember all.  Adichie did not do this in her essay because of the way she decided to remember which she has a right to. But she suddenly remembered what the Igbo adults told her that Awolowo tricked the Igbos to go to war.

 But the argument is solid and unimpeachable that Chief Obafemi Awolowo could not have tricked anyone to go to war. The facts show it. The conceptual framework of his assertion validates the claim that Chief Awolowo could not have tricked anyone to go to war. It is a solid argument no one can refute or rebut rationally.  None. You run into serious logical, conceptual and moral problem when you try to refute this. That Adichie mentioned that she did not think Awolowo acted as Federal Minister of Finance to promote Yorubas and failed to remember to let us   know her position on the obvious myth and wickedness that Awolowo tricked Igbos to go to war is significant. It is also significant the source from which we hear Adichie talks about this-the “stories’ her adults told her.  If her task is the civil war, the way it has been falsely framed to claim that Awolowo gave a promise to the Igbos   is equally important.  If we want a debate on this particular issue, we will have it.  I have tested the substance and conceptual frame of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s assertion in academic conferences to both Nigerian and non-Nigerian audiences. This is one reason I said perhaps the problem of the black person is genetic for one is shocked at the failure of even so called Professors, so-called educated people, to see a basic argument anyone in an elementary reasoning class will see. I am being very frank here for such failure is sickening and frightening.

Given the substance and frame of Awolowo’s assertion, no rational participant in such conferences I referred to   held him responsible for giving a promise, for there was no promise both substantively, logically and conceptually. I challenge others to do the same-i.e.  take Awolowo’s assertion, remove all references to historical personae, present it to a more rational audience and ask them to make their judgment.  I am not talking about remembering a sad, bad and tragic   emotional event differently, which is a legitimate enterprise and practice. I am talking about an audience who has the moral, intellectual and emotional privilege of distancing themselves from the event and arriving at what I call the cold rational and objective truth. I am talking about those who may have the ethical privilege of a veil of ignorance, or who avail themselves of such, and which allows them to arrive at an objective and truthful conclusions.   I maintain this position because in the said conferences I performed an experiment in presenting the case. I removed all historical names. I presented the substance and frame of Awolowo’s assertion. Each time I did this, the verdict is that there was no promissory note in Chief Obafemi Awolwo’s statement that could be claimed by anyone for it was NOT a promissory note. Such verdict is backed with rational arguments, and not personal biases or ‘stories” “adults” tell, and children hear, for none knew the personae involved.  Ojukwu knew his onions. He ought to know that there was no promissory note in Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s assertion. If Ojikwu spanned the assertion like the Biafra radio and propaganda machine, as led by Achebe, spanned Chief Awolowo’s last meeting with Ojukwu then the Biafra leadership should take moral responsibility for their unethical spin. It is immoral for the remnant of that leadership as symbolized in Achebe to fail to take responsibility for their spin and passed it on to Awolowo and use it to build the now fabled Achebe “Awolowo and Yoruba Hate Industry and Religion” that now has minstrels, parishioners, workers, online writers, journalists etc in it.

The continuation of the view that Chief Obafemi Awolowo gave a promissory note shows the poverty of our education and the poverty of theory, and lack of depth among some Nigerians. And it is sad. Whoever is familiar with Awolowo’s books know the amount of rational time that would have gone to each claim he makes in his books. Reading his books makes you feel you are reading the classical thoughts of philosophical ancients for each claim is argued out systematically and backed with well stated premises. They are not “tales” or “stories” “adults” tell and “children” “listen” to. They are always serious issues of his and our time. I just think people should read serious books beyond “stories” as Plato cautions. Thus, the maligning of Awolowo that he gave a promissory note to the Igbos on the basis of his assertion is basic poor thinking at the minimum and an   assault on knowledge and reason. It explains why nothing rational or systematic in thought ever comes out of governance and public discourse in Nigeria for those who peddle this obviously pedestrian view often manage to be in government sometimes, and are also commentators on public issues in the public square.   If those who hold this view are scholars, I am surprised what they teach students in the classrooms. Unfortunately, Adichie managed to speak to this maligning of Chief Awolowo in her essay through what the “adults” told her. That drift was loud. Why? It seems obvious in a subtle sense. Adichie took a position on the way she wants to remember. But this gap only shows that it is a partial way to remember which she has a right to.

Now coming to the factual thing that continues to surprise some of us. Because I had never ever thought this way, until this Achebe narrative that Awolowo killed Igbos to promote Yorubas. It is shocking to me.  Given Achebe’s frame, by implication Achebe has told us that the Igbos naturally see Yorubas as rivals because these are people, according to Achebe, who Awolowo had helped to take “Igbo positions”. This is a self-delusion of the most horrible and horrific type.   This is not only socially and intellectually dangerous, it is an extremely immoral and unethical position from Achebe. But what did Adichie say? She said she did not believe it was a calculated grab for power. And that is all that is needed!  I said to myself:  “Thanks Ms. Adichie Chimamanda, Good Job Great Job”.

In my original culture, it is argued that one does not count children for their parents. It is an ethics that is deployed to negate human alienation. Hence, the average Yoruba who is steeped in Yoruba thought often balks at comparing people, lives and humans. They are reluctant to do it because they think that to quantify human lives is to reduce the moral worth of human nature.  This is what Wole Soyinka himself calls the commitment to the moral irreducible. It is the moral universal in Yoruba thought which beckons on humans not to differentiate and segregate people. This allows the Yoruba to practice an ethics of inclusion. With due respect, as an African I consciously and doggedly belong to this ethical school. I struggle to practice it in my daily life. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, and hence I will NOT quantify human lives. This is very personal and sober for me. It is immoral to compare one human life to the other. That is the moral in me the source of which is African Yoruba thought. Therefore even when Adichie’s claim that people respond to Achebe’s book without empathy is morally flawed because she failed badly to speak to the totality of lives that were lost in the civil war, I will stop there. Empathy is a human and moral universal that ought to be applied universally. It is unethical to be selective in its application. I just hope that Ms. Adichie Chimamanda knows what this means.  In moral deference to lives that were lost on both sides and in deference to the African Yoruba moral irreducible in all human natures that calls on all humans to treat every life as qualitatively and morally indistinguishable I will like to keep shut here for purely ethical reasons. But it is tragic and unfortunate that Ms. Adichie Chimamanda makes such statement.

Adichie comments on Awolowo’s role in the civil war. She gives reasons and concludes that Awolowo’s position is immoral.  Since this conversation started she is the first Igbo writer that will acknowledge the federal government food road plan and its rejection by Biafra.  But as she acknowledged this, she also moderated her assertion, which is not morally okay. I have the following questions, which raise questions about our ethics and our morals. Why did it take the Igbo online writers on this issue, of which Adichie is a prominent member, this long before they acknowledge a basic fact? Why did this come only after the publication of an American memo on the war (by PREMIUM TIMES) and a resignation letter by one of Biafra’s former propagandist, Mr. Goldstein?  Why did Adichie claim that it is disingenuous to claim that Biafra’s rejection of the Federal government’s food road corridor has any connection with the starvation of the masses of the Igbo people in the war front?  Chinua Achebe was one of the architects of the Biafra war and its propaganda. The rejection of the food road corridor by Biafra was a Biafra position. Why did Adichie not follow through the involvement and moral responsibility of Chinua Achebe in that position? I want to assert that I acknowledge the struggle Adichie put into moderating the unethical consequences of Biafra rejection of the food road policy option of the Federal Government. Also, I am wondering why Adichie had to literally conceal Chinua Achebe, one of the architects of Biafra propaganda, from view in her treatment of Biafra rejection of food road corridor option, when that rejection was a propaganda material. Any discerning reader will see through Adichie’s qualifications, moderations and deft footwork when she got to “gaping holes” in Nigerian history.  When Adichie got into that ‘hole”, peeped and looked, she must have been surprised at what she saw.  I guess she was scared. She could not name what she saw. But what she saw has a name-it is pathological, sick, evil and intensely unethical for Ojukwu and Achebe to have made the survival of Biafra project prior to the raging starvation of the masses of Igbo. I challenge anyone to rationally set forth the qualitative difference between what Ojukwu and Achebe did and what Sadam Hussein and Ghadafi did using human beings as shields during the Iraqi and Libyan wars.

For reason of clarification and argument, let us note that Awolowo is a Nigerian and Yoruba culturally. He is not Igbo. Ojukwu and Achebe are Nigerians and culturally  Igbos. It is common sense that they ought to be closer to the suffering Igbo masses than Awolowo who is not Igbo. Ojukwu and Achebe failed that simple moral test of the affinity of basic kinship, love and kindness for one’s people over the crude politics of sustaining the Biafra project. It is unkind and evil for Achebe and Ojukwu to have put the survival of the Biafra project over the basic feelings, and life threatening conditions of fellow Igbos. Adichie is welcome to deploy all tools to moderate this evil and guilt, but I challenge anyone to use basic reason and rational principles to fault my conclusion. But a moral question hangs: why couldn’t Ms. Adichie Chimamanda name what she saw in the “gaping holes” on the food road corridor? Why did she hide Achebe from the rejection of that food road corridor? Why the silence?

Why did it take this long for Igbo online writers to acknowledge a basic truth? Let us assume that everything written about this by Adichie and other Igbo writers on Awolowo’s role is correct, let us assume that Awolowo is and was the “devil incarnate”, let us assume that Awolowo is and was the very “symbol of Satan”. The question is if Awolowo took responsibility for his own alleged “satanic” “devilish”, “evil” “power grabbing” “Yoruba promoting” action in Ms. Adichie Chimamanda  “gaping holes”, why can’t Achebe and Ojukwu take responsibility for their own actions in the same Ms. Adichie Chimamanda “gaping holes”? Is it no longer the truth that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander? Does Adichie want to turn this moral universal on its head and negate it? The minimum that is required for human morality is that one takes responsibility for one’s action.  Ojukwu and Achebe did not do that. Adichie compounded that immorality by drifting off and failing to name what she saw in the “holes when she needed to speak to help her fellow Igbos. She is free not to name what she saw. But she cannot say that is moral. Using humans as shield to raise emotional uproar and for propaganda effect is evil and it is a sick act. Our judgment of it has to be CATEGORICAL AND NOT RELATIVIST as Adichie does.

Thus to fail like many of the Igbo commentators on this issue, including Chinua Achebe, to see Ojukwu and Achebe’s immorality completely undercuts anything called ethics. It is immoral. The case against Chinua Achebe on this is worse. He knew and he did not tell the truth. It is not good morally and we should say so.   At 82, and for a presumed teacher, it is an immoral act on Achebe’s part to know this and fail to tell the truth.  On Adichie’s part, it is obvious how in her essay she manages to gloss over that important fact. I know people may want to call it “objectivity”. But ethical relativism, Adichie’s frame, can never conceptually generate objectivity. It is just not possible if we are talking about serious knowledge and not some pepper soup, clinging of wine glasses and intellectually lazy talk. And Adichie’s “objectivity” that drifts away from truth and fact (which she chooses not to remember) in a covert and stealthy manner is dangerous intellectually. But however, Adichie is consistent in the way she wanted to remember and gloss over truths she did not want to remember but which she had no alternative but to mention because she will be reminded. No one should gloss over the emotional issues she etches in her   essay. But beyond the narrative are the facts and knowledge. Her gloss over the fact that Ojukwu and Achebe ought to accept the food road corridor to save lives is consistent for she moderated that immorality and culpability on the part of Ojukwu with other claims and completely screened Achebe the architect off. I do not think it is moral for Adichie to moderate Ojukwu ‘s immoral act and literally hide Achebe from Achebe’s opportunism and intense immorality. But Adichie has to do that because the Igbo narrative must always turn around and come back to Awolowo as the “guilty” person even when given Adichie ‘s more contemporary presence she gives the impression that she wants to distance herself from the older Igbo narrative.   At the end of her narrative it turns out to be a mere writer’s ploy for she turns round to embrace warmly and faithfully the political ethnic she wants to critique.  But she could not distance herself   because she does not rise above her own caution that we ought not to use the political ethnic. She surreptitiously goes back to the old Igbo narrative via the “stories” adults tell and “children” listen to, while paying pious remarks but-“Awolowo has to be guilty” even when she admits in the face of cold facts that Biafra leadership rejected what could have saved lives. In other words, Adichie fails her own test. She could not have succeeded. There is a serious ethical problem in such inconsistency.

I have deliberately ignored how Achebe carried his “Awolowo and Yoruba Hate Industry and Religion” to the 1979 election when Achebe gloated over Awolowo’s loss of election through the Twelve Two Third case. There are living witnesses to Chinua Achebe gloat for that for it is well documented.  But his gloat is not the issue for he has a right to a political viewpoint.  Hypothetically, suppose we can prove that Awolowo was the better candidate for Nigeria in that election, the gloat of a “teacher” like Achebe over Awolowo’s loss sealed the lack of the ethical in Achebe, which a writer like Adichie will like to gloss over. It means Achebe will sacrifice anything to pull down Nigeria based on his “Awolowo and Yoruba Hate Industry and Religion ”, and he does not care. I am inclined to be coldly rational in my thought and I agree that Achebe ought not to care based on the immorality and logic of his “Awolowo and Yoruba Hate Industry and Religion”. But for Adichie to gloss over that huge Achebe  “Awolowo and Yoruba Hate Industry and Religion” which has worshippers, workers and acolytes in it and fail to remember says a lot of things. It is instructive. It raises serious question for the ethics of writing.  I do not think Adichie should allow her craft to be guzzled by such sickening ethical problem by reconciling with what she starts out to subvert the way she does it.  That happened because of the intellectual and moral danger of Adichie’s ethical relativism.  The problem may be the art of narration, and being an Igbo writer at heart is one thing, the cold world of the logic of facts is another. She wanted to follow the latter but she ended on the lane of the former.  Her move and the responses to her move is a reminder of Platonic caution on art. It is tragic and possibly inevitable.  It is a bad way to remember if we want a Nigeria. But it is an excellent way to remember if we do not want Nigeria, if we want to inter it. Though, I do not think that we should finally inter Nigeria yet, both are welcome literary and political enterprises all Nigerians should be allowed to consider  peacefully and openly. It will help our democracy.  It will deepen it.

Kehinde  Owolabi describes himself as a public affairs analyst and teacher. He sent this from Ibadan


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  • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

    another ignorant and sadist rant by a blind ethnic bigot. Not once did he mention that Awolowo admitted that STARVATION IS A FAIR WEAPON OF WAR and he was happy to use it. How dumb can these people be? Awolowo’s words speak for him more eloquently. Case Closed.

  • wow,as long as the narrative was i could not stop until i read it from top to buttom..thank the good lord for literary intellectuals like mr kehinde owolabi,i am lifting this and posting it on my blog…ethnic/tribal bigotry is the cancer ravaging Nigeria its a shame that its not limited to the illiterate and unenlightened but to every facet and demography

  • mr kehinde owolabi, God bless you real good. It takes light to annoy darkness. Your article will annoy Igbo irredentist same way another brilliant piece by mr tunji ariyomo caused commotion. Your article is one of the best I have read on this issue exposing lies blow by blow. You have put Achebe and his upcoming Igbo writer in their proper place. A fact no Igbo can contest today is that there is no where else in Nigeria where they can sleep with their eyes closed than in Yorubaland. Let them continue to say Yorubas and our great Awolowo are their problems. Like you said, they have a right to say. We have the right to continue to expose the lies.

  • Lanre

    Kehinde Owolabi,
    thank you for taking the time out to respond to Ms. Adichie. In my research, I
    found out that she was the daughter of a University Professor and grew up in an
    academic community. The only reason why I responded to her post yesterday (November
    24, 2012). Moreover, I saw her allusion to Chief Awolowo and advised her to
    steer clear of mud-slinging politics. If you want to be a successful writer,
    you cannot afford a jaundiced, biased view of issues. I was attacked by little
    kids. Bothers me none.

    To the issues you have raised let me state the following:

    1). It is very clear that Chinua Achebe does not believe in Nigeria. If Chief
    Awolowo prosecuted a war to unite a country and you do not acknowledge that
    fact but rather claim that the prosecution was done to further Chief Awolowo’s
    ethnic group, then I should not be in the same country with Chinua Achebe. Or
    any of his supporters.

    2). I just watched the Movie “Lincoln” after reading severally on the
    American Civil War. Americans paid the supreme sacrifice in that war where the
    country had the greatest fatal casualties of any war. When Gen.Gowon and his
    team used emotions in pardoning the Biafran Rebels he gave latitude to people
    like Chinua Achebe to reignite the Nigerian Conflict.

    3). The British forced the Nigerian Union. France and Germany have always been
    known to be adversaries but they are separate countries. Those two European
    countries ignited World War 1 and World War 2. Today Democracy and an effective
    Nuclear Shield separates the two. India has broken up into India, Pakistan and
    Bangladesh. Yugoslavia. Czechoslovakia. Nigeria cannot be any different. Enough
    of the strong head of the Obasanjos and Tinubus, Yoruba leaders who still go
    around championing one Nigeria.

    4).I commend your
    deep intellectual research reviewing and rebutting some of the claims by these
    upstarts. I must be honest with you, the Igbos have sprung a surprise on me. I
    was always looking in another direction because of the years of Military Rule
    and the involvement of Babangida and Abacha in suppressing Yorubas. Now we have
    the Igbos to deal with. And this is worse because there are so many of them in
    our midst. Achebe, Obasanjo, Babangida and all present Nigerian rulers are
    leaving a dangerous situation for the coming Yoruba generation. Yorubas are not
    known to hate and we cannot allow a different people to hate us and then live
    in our midst. The coming struggles and battles will be hard and long fought. I
    am prepared.

  • Lanre

    Kehinde Owolabi,
    thank you for taking the time out to respond to Ms. Adichie. In my research, I
    found out that she was the daughter of a University Professor and grew up in an
    academic community. The only reason why I responded to her post yesterday (November
    24, 2012). Moreover, I saw her allusion to Chief Awolowo and advised her to
    steer clear of mud-slinging politics. If you want to be a successful writer,
    you cannot afford a jaundiced, biased view of issues. I was attacked by little
    kids. Bothers me none.

    To the issues you have raised let me state the following:

    1). It is very clear that Chinua Achebe does not believe in Nigeria. If Chief
    Awolowo prosecuted a war to unite a country and you do not acknowledge that
    fact but rather claim that the prosecution was done to further Chief Awolowo’s
    ethnic group, then I should not be in the same country with Chinua Achebe. Or
    any of his supporters.

    2). I just watched the Movie “Lincoln” after reading severally on the
    American Civil War. Americans paid the supreme sacrifice in that war where the
    country had the greatest fatal casualties of any war. When Gen.Gowon and his
    team used emotions in pardoning the Biafran Rebels he gave latitude to people
    like Chinua Achebe to reignite the Nigerian Conflict.

    3). The British forced the Nigerian Union. France and Germany have always been
    known to be adversaries but they are separate countries. Those two European
    countries ignited World War 1 and World War 2. Today Democracy and an effective
    Nuclear Shield separates the two. India has broken up into India, Pakistan and
    Bangladesh. Yugoslavia. Czechoslovakia. Nigeria cannot be any different. Enough
    of the strong head of the Obasanjos and Tinubus, Yoruba leaders who still go
    around championing one Nigeria.

    4).I commend your
    deep intellectual research reviewing and rebutting some of the claims by these
    upstarts. I must be honest with you, the Igbos have sprung a surprise on me. I
    was always looking in another direction because of the years of Military Rule
    and the involvement of Babangida and Abacha in suppressing Yorubas. Now we have
    the Igbos to deal with. And this is worse because there are so many of them in
    our midst. Achebe, Obasanjo, Babangida and all present Nigerian rulers are
    leaving a dangerous situation for the coming Yoruba generation. Yorubas are not
    known to hate and we cannot allow a different people to hate us and then live
    in our midst. The coming struggles and battles will be hard and long fought. I
    am prepared.

  • Vince

    I think this is a nice piece complicated by technical intricacy that makes it difficult to comprehend but in patches. I agree with you when you say we are all guilty by the virtue of one or more of our shared history and for this reason you cannot also be objective in this analysis or any other.

    In paragraph 16 of your article, where you admitted to her objectivity you sparingly did her praise. In your words “she manage to mildly say…”.

    You accused adichie of excluding herself from the notion of the igbos which she was painting and you are guilty of same in paragraph 17 as you claim to be the only one who seems to be devoid of this genetic sickening bedeveling Africa.

    In science, what you suggest in paragraph 18 is not valid as would also be the result you would get in writing. “remove all references to history” …surely the statement was not made in that state.

    I couldn’t read it all because it was becoming too lobe-sided as against the initial notion. This is another jaundiced view of the “ofeimun version of the Biafran episode”.

  • Osogagba

    The lady’s name is CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE and not ADICHIE CHIMAMANDA. Maybe Mr. Kehinde Owolabi can start with getting that right before moving on to grasping the full import of her article. The time for cant is long over. The lady is right: we all remember differently given our different backgrounds.

  • Adenrele Adeniran

    Thank you for such an insightful/thought provoking article.

    Once we agree that an opinion is relative, then our interpretation of events and situation could be blurred by the experience, culture, and other factor of the author or writer.

    So even as you and i write, who is right or wrong. Why do two brilliant economist not agree on the way forward when trying to solve a particular economic situation, perspective, again relativity.

    So where or when are we going to stop and say this is the way forward, which i think we need to do in order to make progress in any of life’s endeavour.

  • Egbeso

    “My question therefore is: how did it happen that the masses of Yoruba voters voted against one of their own and for non-Yoruba(s)?”

    The Yorubas did not vote against their own. NCNC was a pan Nigerian party, founded and led by a Yoruba (Herbert Macaulay). Azikiwe took over this party at the death of the Yoruba leader. There was (still is) a contest between two groups of Yorubas – those who wanted development to begin from home and those who wanted Nigeria to assert pre-eminence. Southern Nigeria was more or less united on the second group, but thanks to the vision of Awolowo who was the undisputed leader of the former, Yorubas were eventually persuaded (after the elections) to make a decision that served them well in Nigeria. All that we, as Yorubas, are doing today is to defend that decision as not being injurious to other ethnic groups or personalities. This is why we have the Adeniran Ogunsanyas and MKO Abiolas and Olusegun Obasanjos as “bastard” Yorubas.
    Sophistry and cant can work for sometime but it will always have the Owolabis working full time to defend the Yoruba Decision.

    • ahmadu

      Egbeso,

      And how did it happen that Igbo voters did not vote for non-Igbos in Igboland? Here it is about consistency. Or is it that the Igbo voters felt that they wanted development to start from home too? That was and is not really a bad idea !!! only if you are honest with it and stop the false posturings and myths about some people wanting unity when they were the first to lunch secession!. But more importantly, question is: if the Igbos and Zik as an Igbo leader argued that position(to also “develop” from “home” since we did not see that the Igbo voters voted for non-Igbos in Igboland) what is the basis for their position? Also, what is the basis for the false claim that Zik and Igbo leaders were the only “nationalists’ in Nigeria? I agree entirely with the writer when he said we should discuss everything, civil war anything and everything. So why do the Igbo elites practice at home what they want to deny outside Igboland? What is the basis of such false posturing? Or why do the few Igbo elites want to demand outside Igboland what they did not and do not give in Igboland? When Sir Ahmadu Bello told Zik bluntly that we should understand our differences rather than paper over them and proceed to unite on the basis of clear understanding of those differences, when Zik was falsely posturing and attempting to paper over them, why did the great Zik of Africa and the few Igbo elites who were falsely posturing about unity not work for non-Igbos to be elected in Igboland? If they worked for non-Igbos to be voted for in Igboland, isnt that more practical than all the verbose speeches about unity which are mere words without actions? Is it no longer true that actions speak louder than verbiage and words? And forward to 1979, when Zik was asked to present his tax receipts before he could contest the presidential election, he could not. Why did the great “pan Africanist” and “nationalist” Zik according to Achebe claim he was being victimised because he was Igbo? These are the so-called “gaping holes” Adichie failed to remember because she remembers differently!!!. It is either she and her few Igbo elite sponsors lack knowledge or lack ethics. Both are terrifying irredentist positions especially coming from a young writer who has postured and marketed herself as above irredentism. But she is not. Actions speak louder than words. And it is good that she reveals herself very early. Adichie’s case is similar to the Achebe we did not know pack venom and poison in her heart. Nigerians also did not know that Adichie packed so much irredentism in her young heart from the so-called stories ‘adults” told her and she “listened” to. But her gesture is helpful, for we now know and cannot be deceived by the usual posturing. With the help of her Igbos she has defined herself. So answer the questions. These are simple questions. Let us discuss everything and everything. There should be no-go areas.