” Given the expression of ignorance displayed by Femi Fani Kayode and the avalanche of criticism that greeted Achebe’s memoir , there is no question if the book is a success, it is an instant success for as Malcolm X will say ‘If you have no critics , you will likely have no success.’
In the words of Awolowo “War is bad, by all means should be avoided . If you saw Kwashiorkor victims you will never want war to be waged”. However if war is waged the story must be told for posterity and to ensure it does not happen twice to the same people . No matter how unpalatable or heroic the story of war may be there are lessons for the survivors.
In this context, one lesson being the unspoken truth that the North backed by the Federal government who for over half a century turned blind eye on the ferocious and savage massacres of Southerners, including Yoruba people are the real enemies of one Nigeria. The Igbo and Yoruba are both victims and mere pawns on the chess board of the crafty feudal players who erroneously believed it is their destiny to rule and ruin Nigeria people forever or nothing else.
I remain convinced that the exaggerated mutual dislike and suspicion between the Igbo and Yoruba is fuelled by the same Northern players with their agents to keep us perpetually apart. The sooner we the South realize this and begin the work of healing what is wrong with us we can then use those things that are right about us as basis of friendship hence I urge both the Yoruba and Igbo people to have a better appreciation of the pains expressed in Achebe’s memoir as the anxious word of love from a brother vexed by an incomprehensible family feud and invariably seeking for true fellowship and sincere handshake of love across the Niger.
Achebe’s view in his memoir about the genocide is neither new nor a personal obsession but an intensification of issues constantly denied but still differently documented by other icons like Prof Wole Soyinka who in his war memoir ‘The Man Died’, narrated how innocent people , women and children were shot indiscriminately by a young soldier of the Federal side in Asaba and remained scot free, that soldier was Major Murtala Ramat Mohammed whose face adorned our currency and national edifices named after , an indication of the federal government deep seethed tolerance for terrorism and genocide.
Achebe’s forthright narration will not be the last account of the civil war hence I again urge all witness to the war to also recount their story in a more compelling manner so as to awaken the dozen consciences of Nigerians and in particular the South West. It’s my honest view that the full reintegration of the South East and Nigeria’s march to greatness will be achieved the moment the new generation of Yoruba people who though may have heard about the Igbo stories will also begin to feel in their heart what we the South Easterners felt in our heart as a result of the war.
Such denial of the Genocide by persons like Odia Offeimu is in fact the cruelest aspect of the victimization of the Igbo people for whoever denies the genocide kills the victim a second time . His reactions on the scathing remarks against the role of Chief Awolowo vis-a-vis the economic policy of blockade that led to the genocide is understandable yet unjustified . It is understandable that Ofeimun as Awolowo’s principal secretary during the war owe a duty to the late sage, it is true that in the South West , the name Awolowo is almost like a deity, an avatar but when we are talking of history we are talking of an unbiased account of events. Chief Awolowo was human and not an infallible god. Like most politicians he had his moment of gaffe and may have made mistakes when analyzed from hindsight. His justification of blockade and starvation as a legitimate policy during a visit to Calabar at the heat of the war was one of those difficult moments that put him on the historical radar of genocide. There is simply no justification to this.
I do not think that 42 years afterwards that Chief Awolowo will be proud of such policy that targeted and killed over two million people most of whom were non combatants and in specific women and children in a war that he didn’t originate, a war that shouldn’t have been fought and also given that the reasons for that war which remain a monumental tragedy are still with us.
Fredrick Fasheun’s characterization of Achebe, a global icon as a frustrated person is laughable as only an envious mind will characterize a man of Achebe’s stature and noble accomplishment as frustrated. Perhaps Fasheun is only seeking for academic credibility in making his off the mark comments . His reaction in my view requires no further refutation other than already said.
Femi Fani Kayode as usual didn’t sound believable in his attempt to defend the indefensible especially where he argued that ‘Achebe and most Igbo people always conveniently forget to mention the other half of the story’ as according to him ” if anyone is to be blamed for the hundreds of thousands of Igbo people that died from starvation during the war , it was not Awolowo or Gowon but Col Emeka Ojukwu”.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. Achebe was forthright in his analysis of the war . He questioned the rationality behind Ojukwu’s rejection of Nigeria’s Federal Government proposal for road corridor for food and the Nigerian Federal Governments rejection of Ojuwku’s alternative.’ Only Ojukwu’s memoir on the war and Gowon’s eventual account will resolve this puzzle.
The bitter truth is that , it is difficult to extricate Awolowo and Gowon from the mass starvation to death of millions of Igbo children and women for according to Duro Onabulue: ‘even if Awolowo was not in position to effect his believe in starvation as a weapon during the war , the facts remain that he publicly took that position and was widely reported in the media. And he could not deny even after the war in the face of criticism because the facts were there. His only feeble explanation in 1983 was not an outright denial but a rationalization that he authorized the policy to quickly bring the war to an end. A feat he achieved but at the cost of a colossal human tragedy. Being a major political figure me thinks Awolowo should have had his eye on posterity.
In the build up to the second world war Hitler operated a concentration camp under most inhuman condition including starvation. When the war started he opened and operated another camp at Belen , mainly for starving hundreds and thousands of Jews and other prisoners of war but Hitler never officially and publicly hold out starvation as a deliberate or legitimate policy of war. The difference therefore was that no government official or public office holder ever came out came out in the history of wars to acknowledge that starvation was being employed as a deliberate and legitimate policy”.
The essence of Achebe ‘s memoir is not so much as to denigrate Awolowo and disrobe him as a god or raise another phase of needless rancor with the South West , the book simply spoke to the failures of the Federal side to show empathy in the face of humanitarian crisis . I expect Odia, Femi Fani Kayode , Ebenezer Babtope and Fredrick Fasheun despite their enthusiasm in defense of Awolowo to be courageous to accept as truth that the callous starvation to death of non combatant civilians mostly women and children inside Biafra is a fact of history and that such a policy is inhuman ; to justify the starvation to death of over two million people is to justify ethnic cleansing and nothing else; it also mean former President Charles Taylor of Liberia can justify the amputation of women and children in Sieralone ; it mean Hitler can justify the operation of his concentration camp ; to justify the genocide against the Igbo people is equivalent to Germany justifying the Nazi holocaust and to deny that the Igbos didn’t suffer genocide is like anyone denying holocaust. I see nothing to be proud of in this dubious accomplishment.
By all means , I believe Achebe’s new book should be read with an open mind and also the analysis of the actions ascribed to respective actors viewed within the context of the time and circumstances . This in my view may assist the South West appreciate the sufferings and pains their South East brothers and sisters had endured and continue to endure to keep Nigeria one.