Some basic truths – There is a strong explanatory power in a framework that holds that tragedies arise when uncomprehending humans are caught up by an issue in time and space for which they are ill-equipped to successfully negotiate happy outcomes. The war between Okperi and Umuaro is explainable using such a framework. Conflict literature identifies a number of other elements in situations of interaction that are either conflict provoking or conflict enhancing. These include unfounded assumptions, sinister projections of unfounded intentions, cultural differences, miscues, misreads of the others’ actions, communication failures, arrogance, equivocation, fear of being perceived as weak, ambiguity, idees recues and hazy bargaining.
Most of these played out in the Okperi-Umuaro conflict.
Whether arising from poor communication, or different value systems, including cultural differences or diametrically opposed interests or competition over scarce resources or personality clashes, conflicts can be severely damaging if they are not nipped in the bud as each next step in the conflict has a tendency to escalate and magnify and worsen the situation.
The Okperi – Umuofia conflict adequately illustrates this tendency towards ever widening and damaging escalations in conflict when a conflict is not resolved in its early phases. The story line is simple. The story is told in a manner that is racy but has all the qualities of “vraisemblance” and realism. A piece of land is in dispute between two communities, each community claiming legitimate ownership. Umuaro sends an emissary led by Akukalia to Okperi. Akukalia, whose mother comes from Okperi, has already a poor conception of the typical Okperi person. This choice of an emotionally and cognitively ill-equipped person to lead such an important peace delegation is a first, critical and enabling condition for conflict enlargement.
Secondly, Akukalia assumes that because his mother comes from Okperi, he can get away with certain offenses which someone else without such an ancestry could be punished for. A second seed of conflict, this faulty assumption, is thus sown. Third, the delegation chooses a wrong market day to carry out the assignment. Most Igbo communities do not hold peace or war or marriage talks on Eke days. This wrong choice of day plus Akukalia’s insensitivity and brashness create further tensions, especially after they refuse the traditional white chalk and kola nuts, the ultimate symbols for peace in Igbo society that the Okperi community offers to Akukalia and his delegation. Then a series of miscommunications set in with insensitive language accentuating the ever expanding misunderstanding till an exchange between Ebo and Akukalia, which touches on the sensitive issue of Akukalia’s impotence, literally throws petrol into the now smouldering conundrum. Hurt, Akukalia does the unthinkable, the unpardonable, the ultimate desecration of a man in Igbo land! He breaks Ebo’s IKENGA. Ebo shoots him with his dane gun. Ultimately war breaks out and it required the intervention of Captain Winterbottom to quell it. Winterbottom goes one step further and breaks every gun in Okperi and Umuaro.
The story is told with the right level of diction, economy and pace. No words are wasted and suspense is maintained through gradual exposure and unlayering and unpeeling.
Could the war have been avoided? I think so. With the right level of scan and risk analysis, yes and herein lies one major value of this tale of war and peace told by a master craftsman.