Controversy continues to trail Chinua Achebe’s latest memoir, entitled ‘There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra,’ the book which focuses on the Nigerian Civil War. Devils remain in the petty details of this singular memoir by the celebrated author of Things Fall Apart and The Trouble with Nigeria among others.
For as long as it is read, there is no doubt that these details will provoke more controversy which in turn must rightly task our objectivity and sincerity of purpose for nation-building. However, instant lively controversy (albeit binary and divisive) that has trailed this book so far, has paradoxically diminished the value of what could have very well passed for an important historic memoir. By its Nigeria-pessimism post humous title There Was A Country, the author appoints to consign Nigeria to an undeserved and unmerited dust-bin of history; There was a country. Interestingly the book, its author, its critics and admirers alike have shown that contrary to its dead-end title there is indeed still a vibrant lively country called Nigeria, with considerable passions, on the part of patriots, for a better society. Chinua Achebe is certainly not one Karl Maier who entitled his provocative apocalyptic book about Nigeria: ‘This House Has Fallen’ over a decade ago precisely 2000 when he was grappling with ‘Nigeria in crisis’. Maier’s is a typical true-to-type Western intellectual smear and snobbery: what you cannot explain in Africa, simply bury it! While Meir typifies a kind of Afro-pessimism without a human face, if you like, Achebe’s Nigeria-pessimism is borne out of a lived experience, inclusive of a deadly civil war that sadly consumed over a million people as an anti-climax! To that extent we must tolerate Achebe even as we must interrogate and question his facts and his literary assumptions. Achebe himself was once upbeat before he descended into total despair and wholesome disillusionment which he modestly attributes to nothing but the unfortunate Biafra civil war.
According to him “.Nigeria was once a land of great hope and progress, a nation with immense resources at its disposal – natural resources, yes, but even more so, human resources. But the Biafran war changed the course of Nigeria. In my view it was a cataclysmic experience that changed the history of Africa. There is some connection between the particular distress of war, the particular tension of war, and the kind of literacy response it inspires.”
Since Achebe has confessed the source of his agony he verily deserves our understanding even while we must contest his historic claims to justify false conclusions and sheer literary posthumous terrorism against the dead such as his smear comments against great and tested statesmen like Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello who today are not in position to reply. Indeed we will do better if having read the book, we encourage the legendary story teller to rather stop agonizing and organize his thoughts for a better Nigeria not a failed state. The truth of the matter is that, this House (read: Nigeria!) has not fallen. Indeed there was truly a Nigeria, there is a Nigeria that features the likes of Achebe as its own and definitely there will still be a Nigeria contrary to the doomsday scenario and its day enthusiastic supporters that must not include a literary giant like Chinua Achebe. Of course , Nigeria’s crisis persists, even deepens and definitely tasks any writer and patriot any day. But which country is immune from varying crises of different dimensions? And how many patriots would despair as Nigeria’s intellectuals like Achebe do? Yours sincerely is encouraged that Chinua Achebe writes his controversial memoir “for the sake of the future of Nigeria, for our children and grandchildren”. Am even more impressed that he recommends Nelson Mandela leadership model for Nigeria. All we must do is to encourage Chinua Achebe to work his literary prose. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is right to say there is no future without forgiveness. Nelson Mandela never spends a day agonizing about the historic burden of apartheid or putting blames of the dead but courageously moved to organize and organize South Africa towards unprecedented racial reconciliation.
Nigeria had the best post war recovery and reconstruction that even preceded that of South Africa (indeed we liberated South Africa). This means Nigeria’s civil war was unfortunate and artificial with many lives avoidably lost no thanks to military adventurers of the 60s. Let nobody reinvent a dead chapter in the nation’s history.
Authors with their pens must unite the country better than footballers running around round leather ball, but that is if we raise hope in place of despair. By the way, congrats to the Super Eagles for raising the banner of hope at the weekend.
There is certainly still a country.