Truth is often bitter but it is the perfect antidote to self-deception. Truth also helps protect the public from undue manipulation and mind control by governments and their licensed agents and spinners anxious to sell smoke, hype and inaccuracies to a population seduced by adulation and trapped by credulity. We need social critics and activists who are willing to speak evidence-based truths to rulers and the ruled. Chidi Odikanlu’s take on this government’s anti-corruption campaign is important because it is precisely such an exercise. It is an exercise in fact-checking and evidence-based evaluation where hard reality is used to confront government’s posturings and verbalizations on corruption. His verdict? “Buhari’s Anti-corruption war (is) Partisan (and) Lacks Credibility”.
I would even add that the “anti-corruption war” is the child of political posturing which was used, along with two other sound bytes – Security and Employment, to appeal to a populace that had felt politically excluded by PDP misgovernance.
The entire contribution by Prof Chidi Odinkalu is worth reading. Clicking the link line takes you to it. It needs a lot of courage to speak up and out as Professor Odinkalu has done. Yet such voices of courage are needed since as more voices rise to speak truth to power and to chastise with love and civility those we have entrusted with ruling us for observed mismatches between their rhetoric and action, the more and firmer will grow the tree of accountability and responsible governance.
(I share my review of Chinua Achebe’s book – There was a country TWAC – a review I wrote so many years back.)
Chinua Achebe’s new book “There was a country, a personal history of Biafra” (TWAC, for short in the rest of this essay) has stirred up and continues to stir up considerable furore in Nigeria. Reactions to the book cover a broad spectrum of emotions – from over-enthusiastic reception at one end to outright rejection and even condemnation of the author and his book at the other. We are a nation with unique proneness for extreme positions on some matters. We often forget in the manifestation of this predilection for extreme positions, that truth is usually sober and flees such extremes in most cases.
My purpose in this essay is to attempt a review of this book as objectively as I can and in the process identify whatever utility the book possesses for Nigeria in its efforts to manage its challenged present and chart its future in the current haze of colossal national dysfunctions. Any effective charting of such a future must, in my view, depend on a proper understanding and acceptance of her troubled past.
Let me start by presenting the structure of the book. TWAC is in four unequal parts with a postscript (on the example of Nelson Mandela as an icon of leadership in Africa) and an appendix – Brigadier Banjo’s Broadcast to Mid-West. Achebe claims he is writing the book for the sake of the future of Nigeria, for our children and our grandchildren. Let me then attempt a synopsis of this book.
Part 1 recounts Achebe’s early days, his education from primary school days, his secondary school experience at Umuahia, his days at Ibadan, the beginning of his literary career and his meeting with Christie Achebe, his wife. Part 1 also examines the January 1966 coup, the army, the counter-coup, the reprisals, the pogrom, the worsening tensions, attempts at peace, the failed Aburi accord, ethnic tensions, and resentment. It ends with a sub-section titled “the nightmare begins”, where we learn of the creation of states by the Gowon led Federal Administration on the 27th May and the proclamation of Biafran Independence by Ojukwu on the 30th May, 1967. There is a lot of nostalgia for the good old days in some portions of part 1 and some of the sections here are teasingly brief and telegraphic, especially his meeting, courtship and marriage to Christie!
Part 2 deals with the Nigeria-Biafra war. It presents a fairly detailed account of the war, Achebe’s wartime activities and his role in the Biafran struggle. We also get to learn of his association with Chris Okigbo and the death of this great poet. Achebe’s narration of this death is so subdued. Part 2 also provides glimpses into life in Biafra, starvation, death, air raids, war casualties, Biafran ingenuity, the Ogbunigwe, the war efforts and theatres, the role of external parties in the conflict, the Uli airstrip, the airlift operations and a host of other details.
Part 3 narrates the economic starvation and blockade, the vicissitudes of the fighting and takes the reader through to the eventual collapse of Biafra. It also addresses the very sensitive issues concerning the use of hunger and starvation during the war and some economic decisions taken by the federal authorities both during the war and at its end. This is the part that has caused most offense in some quarters in Nigeria and also provoked a torrent of ethnic driven and emotive responses.
Part 4 looks at Nigeria in the present. The writer’s hopes and aspirations for a renewed Nigeria shine through. The prose in each of these parts is interspersed with his poems, two of the most haunting being Refugee mother and child and the vultures!
I am Igbo, lived through the war and may therefore not be in a good position to be neutral about TWAC. But I think that Achebe has written a fine book, a book in which he makes every effort to be factual to the point of adopting what I call a flat clinically detached narrative voice in much of parts 1 and 2! One of the strengths of TWAC is the detailed historical referencing and openness to a diversity of sources! The creative writer in Achebe cedes place in major portions of parts 1 and 2 to the cold and detached historian. This is not Achebe that we know, the animated storyteller who knows how to make words come alive, dance and sing with the same virtuosity one would ascribe to Obika in his Ogbazulu obodo role. Not only does he subdue personal voice in large portions of TWAC, Achebe also succeeds fairly well in managing any biases. For instance, he does not spare either Ojukwu or Gowon in his judgments, laying the blame for the conflict on the pride and personal jousts between these two colonels. For someone who served Biafra in such elevated and personal levels to achieve this level of objectivity in a personal war memoir is commendable
In much of TWAC, what we therefore see is the subdued artist surrendering his impulses to the discipline of facts and available evidence. So great is this surrender to the demands of objective historiography that the personal comments one expects are not delivered. Rather the writer presents the views of others even when these challenge the Biafran position! This historical disciplining appears to have been lost on the writers of some reviews who have tried to fault TWAC on grounds of faulty historical methods. One reviewer even went as far as accusing Achebe of Awophobia whilst another accused him of senility! Such ad hominems are useful to the extent that they provide us good glimpses of how serious minded some of our literary scholars and reviewers in Nigeria are! Incidentally, one also wonders whether some of these reviewers really read the book! I suspect some did not, given the timing and content of their reviews. But this suspicion does not in any way reduce my admiration for such gifted folks who can review a book without ever reading it! They are proof of the abundance of paranormal capacities in Nigeria!
Like I said earlier, the narrative tone is one that is controlled and clinical. Achebe’s voice however returns from p.222 through to part 4 of TWAC. With the return of voice, the book then comes more alive.
TWAC is inconvenient though useful as we grapple with nation building. It forces us to think of our past. To move into the future on firmer footing, the present must go back and catch up with our troubled past and learn from it. We cannot deny the reality of the pogrom. We cannot say that children did not die of hunger and starvation during the war. It is also unproductive to seek through convoluted sophistry to exonerate certain persons from the consequences of their actions or inactions. We need to confront our past, accept our mistakes and learn from them and move on. This is the inconvenient message of TWAC, its beauty and its social utility. Truth is bitter but it heals!
Incidentally, some of the issues in TWAC had already been touched upon in part in Achebe’s earlier works notably – “The Education of a British Protected child”, “Home and Exile” and “The Trouble with Nigeria” books which overflow with wit, sarcasm, erudition, intellectual energy and boldness! Yet the reception to these books was not as hostile as the one accorded TWAC. A discerning reader noting the focus and thrusts of the hostile reactions will easily know why!
But beyond providing a history of a piece of our troubled past, TWAC, especially pp39-61, represents an important contribution to African aesthetics. It therefore extends Achebe’s thinking presented in his books “Home and Exile” and “The Education of a British protected child” on the role of literature and the artist in reclaiming the past, understanding the present and building the future. I find the notion of beneficent fiction in TWAC (p57) to represent a useful African position on the role of literature and writers in social engagement! For Achebe, the writer must be engaged as a moral obligation and must not “ally oneself with power against the powerless” or run the risk of producing “elegantly tired fiction” TWAC p.59
But TWAC is not only about criticisms, social or literary. Achebe addresses current issues including corruption and Boko Haram. He laments our cult of mediocrity which he believes is at the base of our present malaise. He argues for checks and balances to reduce the decadence, corruption and debauchery of the past several decades (p252) He argues for a strengthening of democratic institutions and for free and fair elections and looks forward to the emergence of a leader humbled by the trust people place on him/her and who is willing to use “the power given him for the good of the people?” p253. Achebe has been prophetic in the past. I hope GEJ and JEGA are listening to him. The successes of Edo and Ondo already encourage and challenge.
The Jury is out for candidate Buhari – Elombah News
— Read on elombah.com/amp/index.php/politics/jury-candidate-buhari/
A must read!
+John Cardinal Onaiyekan
NTA, VON, RADIO NIGERIA CHRISTMAS 2016
CAROLS AND NINE READINGS
NATIONAL CHRISTIAN CENTRE, ABUJA, Sunday 12th 2016
Message by +John Cardinal ONAIYEKAN, Archbishop of Abuja
Christmas however, is a celebration for the whole world because it is an essential part of the Christian faith that God’s love embraces every human being. That is perhaps why the Christmas mood spread all over the world in these weeks, as we see decorations and shopping sprees in all the great capitals of the world.
Everyone must share in this mood of joy, peace and hope. It is a mood of God being with us. It is joy in the midst of challenges and economic recession, hope against every despair and faith to be able to see light at the end of the tunnel of a rather somber environment. It is a season for sharing, for expressing solidarity and for reaching out to others especially to the poor and needy. Perhaps there will be less heavily loaded hampers flying around this year. But there must not be less generosity among us all. Perhaps we must seriously consider this year those with whom we exchange gifts. Jesus said: “If you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect? Lk. 6:33. For the very fact that there are so many of our countrymen who are in situations of distress and poverty, this is all the more reason therefore why all of us, especially we who are Christians, must reach out to them, wherever we can, at our own levels.
Our differences however are not the end of story because we do have a lot of things in common. We therefore must try to seek those common grounds in terms of those shared spiritual and religious values which then help us to be able to join hands to face the challenges that afflict all of us, without discrimination or distinction. Whether it is Ebola or Malaria, HIV/AIDS or even corruption, every religious community is challenged to take action with the spiritual resources at its disposal, for the common good of all.
For all this to happen, we need to agree on the place of religion in our nation. The age-old debate of the relationship between politics and religion cannot be avoided. Nor can we make any serious progress as a nation with serious disagreement on this matter. This is particularly crucial in the area of the law of the land. Can we distinguish between the legal civil code that binds each one of us as citizens of the same nation and the religious moral norms which each of us have embraced in freedom as part of his or her own religion? If we sincerely want a nation that is united and integrated, we must work seriously towards one law for every citizen. If we must tell the truth, it must be said that the Sharia issue is still burning. Recent moves in the National Assembly for a drastic review of our constitution to make room for ecclesiastical laws side by side with Sharia is perhaps only the first salvo in a looming religious war that I believe is not too late to avoid. It is therefore indeed about time we begin to think seriously about thoroughly reviewing our constitution in the line of working towards one nation, one law. Despite our pluralism of religions, and maybe even because of this, one law ought to be enough for the entire nation, provided the freedom of everyone is guaranteed. This can be achieved with the following two simple conditions: that the law of the land must not command what religious laws forbid, and that it must not forbid what religious laws command. This leaves everyone to freely follow the injunctions of his or her own religion, without dragging in the state. This is what obtains in many countries which have one law for all citizens of diverse religions. With patience and a modicum of good will, this can be done also in our country, so that we can say good bye to fruitless conflicts over religious laws.
Interreligious dialogue is very important but not enough. We must also promote intra-religious harmony. Intra-religious dialogue demands that we acknowledge pluralism and differences even within our faiths. The Christian community must accept the challenge of working towards ever greater unity, as much as we can, rather than acquiescing, or even encouraging and maybe celebrating our present state of scandalous dividedness. We ask God to show us the way to sort out the problems that have been bedeviling the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) in the past few years. For this crisis to end, all hands must be on deck, and every stake holder must take up its own responsibility.
Within the Islamic community, I beg to be allowed to strongly encourage that differences should also be recognized and taken on board, within the greater Islamic community. The recent crisis with the Shiite group is a cause for concern, not only for Muslims but for the entire nation. If there are other Muslim groups, they too must have a right to free expression and an opportunity for them to play their own role for the building up of our nation. Every religious group must be seen as seeking ways to serve God and through God serving our neighbor, within the ambit of the law of the land. It is the duty of the state to protect all genuine religions, and be very slow to ban any, no matter how inconvenient.
We pray that soon, the millions of our country men, women and children still living in camps as Internally Displaced Persons, (IDPs) will be able to return home, a home that will be secure and ready to receive them. At the same time however, more should be done to give them a viable option of settling elsewhere in the country. For example there are many IDP camps all around Abuja. Those who have been languishing in these camps for more than two years have every right to ask for resettlement within the Federal Capital Territory. It is affront to human dignity to leave people to rot away in such camps. After all, almost all of us here have come to settle here from different parts of the nation. Why not them the IDPs? There is certainly enough space for them within the FCT, and the funding can be sourced if government would only muster the political will to embrace them, as fellow Nigerians.
Reports from kidnapping victims have also confirmed the rumours that they have been responsible for much of the kidnappings going on in many parts of the country. This must stop. The authorities must take effective action, so as to defuse the rising tide of resentment and hatred in many communities against the Fulani herdsmen and all who are considered related to them. More ominously, some communities are already thinking and talking of arming themselves for self-defense. This is very bad news. May God show us the way forward.
“Faced with the impossibility of placing a soldier behind each citizen to guarantee his or her safety, the only credible sustainable option is to strengthen all the mechanisms that enable us to LIVE TOGETHER, despite all our differences.”
Happy Christmas to everybody.
And may the Lord God bless our nation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I just learnt of the passing of this great man, this super athlete, this wonderful fellow who contributed in raising the status of boxing from that of brute pugilism to that of an art comparable to ballet. Yes, it is to Ali’s credit that he was able to transform what was before him an ugly physical sport into a delicately executed dance form with its beauty, its engaging fluidity, its glides and slides and its captivating elegance. Ali had this ability to execute what was a complex move with speed and grace and make it look simple!
Anti-corruption rhetoric and dramatics are now very popular in Nigeria. I totally support campaigns to rid this country of corruption but I also insist that such campaigns must carried with the right level of professionalism, detachment, neutrality, integrity and honesty. Anything short of these is plain dishonest. Anything short of these really amounts to the continued enthronement and celebration of corruption in efforts to combat it. where anti-corruption are not neutral, detached and honest, then they are likely to abuse their powers and influences, applying inconsistent rules and procedures in their treatment of persons and agencies. Double standards also represent critical threats to anti-corruption campaigns as they throw up different evaluations and reactions for the same behaviour. Such practices, where they occur, amount to corruption!
Here are a few reflections on this subject matter.