Written by Ogechukwu Ezeajughi
NOW that the army of critics of Prof. Chinua Achebe’s new book: There was a Country are getting tired, it is appropriate to assess the psychology of these critics, their criticisms and the state of mind of the educated elite to the Nigerian project.
I have to own up from the on-set that I have neither seen nor read the book about which hundreds of thousands of both ugly and beautiful words, attacks and counter-attack have been heaped upon. As a resident in one of the numerous back yards of Nigeria where access to the basic necessities of life is a mirage and the desperate quest for daily sustenance, a consuming passion affair of such high intellectual magnitude may receive little or no attention. I, therefore, do not expect early access to the book. Our counterparts, who constitute the diminishing reading public resident in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, might have read the work. You can be sure that by the time some of us lay hands on the book, one would be quarreling with his vendor about whether what one is having in his hand is the original copy from Heinemann (assumed publisher) or pirated copy from the enemies of copyright owners.
Written words are probably the most criticised of the ‘inventions’ of man. Imagine the mountain of criticisms that have been made on Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, Thomas Khun’s The Structure of the Scientific Revolution or Rashdie’s Satanic Verses. Even Chief Obafemi Awolowo reviled the forty-nine wise men that framed the 1979 Constitution and their product for having spent two years copying what took him six months to write. For the uniformed, the admirable chief was saying that the Constitution Drafting Committee headed by the late legal icon, Chief Rotimi Williams, copied or plagiarised his book: Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution.
I am an ardent admirer of Achebe as an intellectual prodigy and Africa’s gift to the world that compares with established masters of English language and literature. I suspect you also admire him for his hard work. But certainly, I have also been a victim of his intellectual bravado whereby he cajoled Heineman into withdrawing the publishing right already given to translate Things Fall Apart, his magnum opus, into Igbo after the work has been rendered as Ihe Agbasaa by a publishing company in which I have financial interests.
From my reading of excerpts from There was a Country, Achebe has not said anything new on Biafra and Chief Awolowo’s place in that dirty interregnum on Nigerian history that has not been written between 1967 and 2012. And the literature on the subject is quite high. If scholars still write and reinterpret American Civil War, which occurred more than 200 years ago, Achebe has the right as a participant in the Biafra project, to write his recollections on such a recent event. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees him safe landing. And the platform is also safe for Ebenezer Babatope, an ardent Awoist, Femi Fani-Kayode, an emergency Awoist, and others.
It is to my mind, a good development that Achebe has written again at the age of 82. A leopard will never change its spots. And as usual, he has provoked the kind of reactions that his works have always generated. But any person that has got some sinews of Nigerianess in him should be worried that mere exhibition of such old data from a personal perspective would generate such huge ethnocentric invectives. It shows that the Nigerian intelligentia is irredeemably lost. Rather than being worried that the Cocoa House, architectural symbol of Awoism has been in decay; rather than being worried that no other stadium has been built in the Western Region after Liberty Stadium, Babatope and others are worried about data that Chief Awolowo acknowledged to be its author before his death. In Anambra State, I am worried that the only state-sponsored functional library is the one at Onitsha built by Dr. Michael Okpara, a political contemporary of Chief Awolowo, but commissioned by Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu in 1967. I am worried that in 2002, Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju claimed he had built a state-of-the-art stadium at Awka when the nearest one to Anambra State is the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium at Enugu. I am worried that while Biafra, which is the subject of discussion, successfully operated two International Airports at Uga and Uli, Enugu Airport inherited from the Eastern Region has degenerated so hopelessly that sometime ago, the Sam Mbakwe Airport at Owerri built through community effort in 1980, has been the saving grace for air travelers in the entire Igbo region. I am worried that Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s own state, Plateau, is an isolated illustration of a failed ‘state’ where life has been short and brutish, forty two years after his so-called war to keep Nigeria one. I am worried that while Biafran scientists refined their own petroleum, invented ‘shore batteries’, self propelled bombs (ogbunigwe) etc and sustained the struggle for self-determination for three long years, today, Nigeria cannot satisfy the petroleum needs of its population.
For some of these writers to heap insult on Achebe and charge the atmosphere with anti-Igbo sentiments and ethnocentrism seems to be a continued portrayal of Nigeria as the ‘mistake of 1914’, which one would expect the Civil War to have corrected. I neither twit nor blog but I am informed that one blogger suggested that Things Fall Apart be banned in schools after he had exhausted his gangrene of tribalism on the Igbo. The corrective intendment of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) on the intellectual windsowers, whose primary and secondary allegiance has been to their tribe, is still lost as evident from anti-Achebe writings.
The Yoruba no doubt rightly hold Chief Awolowo in high esteem on account of his seminal works that started with the construction of Yoruba unity from the time he founded Egbe Omo Oduduwa through massive social and economic development efforts in the old Western Region. But for the attackers of Achebe to allude sainthood to Awolowo is to emulate a man who through the intrigues of cross-carpeting in 1956, elevated ethnicism to a standard policy. Achebe merely pointed to the Yoruba house with his right hand; he did not use his left.
The defenders of Achebe from the ‘East from whence I come’ have as usual fought back to prevent their kinsman from intellectual annihilation. The defence line is quite long – from both sides of the Niger shoreline to the littoral front of Igwocha (Port Harcourt). I doubt if I have come across any Yoruba writer that has called for a truce. From the Igbo side at least, I have read Dr. Anthony Nwaezeigwe simmering along that line. Prof. ABC. Nwosu’s detailed expose, which I suspect are excerpts from a forthcoming book on the same subject ‘I Horatio’ is authoritative and detribalised. We are waiting for I Horatio hoping that its production will not be encumbered with the mentality of publishing abroad.
• Ogechukwu Ezeajughi wrote from Awka.