RE: ACHEBE's MEMOIRS, "THERE WAS A COUNTRY: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF BIAFRA" ...BIAFRAN WAR OF 1967-1970
As a writer, my literary idol is late Professor Ola Rotimi followed by Ngugi Wa Thiong O. Aside from the two, Chinua Achebe is the one I hold dearest in literature. I am in love with the writings of that genius of a man!
On the other hand, Chief Obafemi Awolowo is my role model and political cum philosophical idol alongside former Presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Kwameh Nkurumah of Ghana, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and President Barack Obama of U.S.
As an Awoist for life, I was hurt to read the excerpts of Achebe's Memoirs dated 2nd Oct 2012 published by The Guardian of London newspaper wherein he used unfair words to describe the role played by Awoo in the infamous civil war that claimed millions of innocent lives most of whom were the Igbos.
According to Achebe, "the wartime cabinet of General Gowon, the military ruler, it should be remembered, was full of intellectuals like Chief Obafemi Awolowo who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies. A statement credited to Awolowo and echoed by his cohorts is the most callous and unfortunate: all is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don't see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder."
Achebe went further to say that "it is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself and for his yoruba people ... Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose - the Nigerian-Biafra war - his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of his enemies significantly through starvation - eliminating over 2 million people, mainly members of future generations."
Achebe further lamented the alleged banking policy of the FGN that nullified any bank account operated during the war by the Biafrans and in which a flat sum of 20 Nigerian pounds was approved for each Igbo depositor, regardless of the amount of deposit and also that there was imposition of a ban on importation of secondhand clothing and stockfish in an attempt to further devastate the resilient and emerging eastern commercial sector.
Though as a student of History and Government, I have read so much about what transpired during the civil war and I therefore possess the wealth of knowledge to contradict with due respect, the prejudicial assertions of our dear Achebe but the Sage of Sages is in a much better position to defend himself. The dead, they say, don't talk but AWOO is in the realm of the immortal and still talks from his resting place. The late indefatigable Grand Commander of the Federal Republic and a highly reputable Senior Advocate of Nigeria was quick to respond to Achebe and his allies as follows:
"The ending of the war itself that I am accused of starving the Igbo, I did nothing of the sort. You know shortly after the liberation of these places, Calabar, Enugu and Port Harcourt, I decided to pay a visit... But when I went there, what did I see? I saw the kwashiorkor victims. If you see a kwashiorkor victim you'll never like war to be waged. Terrible sight, in Enugu, in Port Harcourt, not many in Calabar, but mainly in Enugu and Port Harcourt. Then I enquired what happened to the food we were sending to the civilians. We were sending food through the Red Cross, and CARITAS to them, but what happened was that the vehicles carrying the food were always ambushed by the soldiers. That's what I discovered, and the food would then be taken to the soldiers to feed them and so they were able to continue to fight. And I said that was a very dangerous policy, we didn't intend the food for soldiers. But who will go behind the lines to stop the soldiers from ambushing the vehicles that were carrying the food? And as long as the soldiers were fed, the war will continue, and who will continue to suffer? Those who didn't go to the place to see things as I did, you remember that all the big guns, all the soldiers in the Biafran Army looked all well fed after the war, it's only the mass of the people that suffered kwashiorkor. You won't hear of a single lawyer, a single doctor, a single architect, who suffered from kwashiorkor. None of their children either, so they waylaid the foods, they ambushed the vehicles and took the foods to their friends and collaborators and to their children and the masses were suffering. So I decided to stop sending the food there. In the process the civilians would suffer, but the soldiers suffered most... when you saw Ojukwu's picture after the war, did he look like someone who is not well fed? But he has been taking the food which we send to the civilians, and so we stopped the food."
Awo's response above speaks for itself and any wise or reasonable person in his shoes would have done the same thing at the time. Why would the Biafran warlords be feeding themselves alone at the expense of the poor Igbo masses for whom they claimed to be fighting the war? Perhaps, they deliberately denied the poor masses food in order to draw sympathy from international communities!
I am by no means trying to beg Achebe or any of his allies to accept Awo's defence because I know they will never accept the truth. That's why Awo himself said that: " I have learnt to rely completely on the providence and vindication of Almighty God in some of these things. I've tried to explain myself in the past, but these liars persist. Ojukwu (now Achebe) had only recently told the same lie against me. What's is the point in correcting lies when people are determined to persist in telling lies against you, what's the point? I know that someday, the Igbo people will realise who their friends are, and who their real enemies are. And the day that happens, woe betide those enemies. The Igbos will deal with them very roughly."
I am sure the Igbos have realised that there real enemies are among themselves. When Ojukwu ran for the Presidency of this nation, how many Igbos voted for him? How many Igbos are members of APGA formed by Ojukwu? How many Governors emerged under the platform of APGA? Have the Igbos ever presented a consensus candidate to run for the Presidency of this country? Or is it Awo that is responsible for the disunity among the Igbos? What reasonable dividends of democracy have the Igbo electorates enjoyed under the administration of their elected brothers? The answers to those questions are negative!
Even the late Ikemba himself (Ojukwu) realised Awo was not the enemy of the Igbos because he later described him after his demise as "the best president Nigeria never had." I am sure such accolade wouldn't have come from Ojukwu if he still nursed the ill feelings still being carried around by Achebe and his cohorts. One may not blame Achebe for his write up because he served as the Biafran Cultural Ambassador during the period of the infamous civil war but no one can be more catholic than the Pope. It is hightime Achebe accepted the truth and praise Awo as Ojukwu (his master) did rather than cast aspersions upon the hard earned integrity of the late Sage.
To all those who think they can drag the names of Awo in the mud, including our very dear Achebe, listen to the concluding voice of the legendary Awo himself:
" And so, when I look back to all my life, treasonable felony, jail, all the abuses that were heaped on me, to Coker Inquiry, all sorts, and I see what has happened to the people who led all these denigration campaigns, where are they today? Those that are alive are what I call HOMO MORTUUS- dead living, that's what they are. So when I look back, I come to the conclusion that all these abuses which have been heaped on me all my life for doing nothing, for doing good, they have become honour, and so Eebudola is one of my nicknames. So I've cultivated an attitude of indifference, I'VE DONE NO EVIL TO THE IBOS." Those were the words of Awo - the words of wisdom.
Rest in Peace our dear Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo, GCFR, SAN, Losi of Ikenne, Lisa of Ijeun, Asiwaju of Remo, Odofin of Owo, Ajagunla of Ado-Ekiti, Apesin of Osogbo, Odole of Ife and Obong Ikpa Isong of Ibibioland!
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!