Notes on Biafran War
Hmmm. Haaaa. Waaar. What is it good for?
This rhetoric has been reproduced on paper, on song, on the field and in practice such that one would expect that it would have permeated our consciousness and the crux of its simple message would abide in our hearts. But then, we are humans, aren’t we?
The Nigerian Civil War or the Biafran War is perhaps the most devastating event that colours Nigeria’s history. We still talk about it hush-hush. There are all sorts of propaganda and counter-propaganda that continue to perpetuate themselves even now after forty years of ending the war.
It is worthy of note that this war is not being taught in History classes. What’s more, history has been removed from the school curriculum. What is this if not an agenda to institute a form of collective amnesia and a retrospective falsification of a gory needless war?
I have always been wary of interrogating the civil war for many reasons. One is that I did not live through the war. Two, none of my family members were directed hit by the war, unlike Adichie who wrote a dazzling novel set in the war. Three, the war itself as a history as not being adjudged as a collective misdeed, blames have not been apportioned, there has not been any real form of therapeutic debriefing. Instead, every once in a while, we instigate conversations, often bitter and biting, occasioned by another account of the civil war, mostly recently of which was Achebe’s final book, There Was A Country.
I read that book with extreme caution because of the controversy it generated. In my reading, there was perhaps a subconscious attempt of the author to write himself into the civil war narrative as an active participant. Of course, it was just a personal account, but what is personal about a war? Achebe, to all intent and purposes, was a minor player if not a pawn. This hardly makes him more of a casualty than those who lost their lives or family or friends during the war. What is often shattering, in my reading, is that Achebe never puts a mouth on Ojukwu, the warlord who made himself some sort of Black Moses and failed colossally. Having read some other accounts of the civil war, there was no doubt that the war was almost completely lost before it began. So why did they extend the casualties beyond necessary? Why waste so many lives? These are the hard questions Achebe did not ask or answer. I came away with an opinion that Achebe’s account was a privileged one, albeit belated, but still reeked of the Igbo propaganda machinery that spewed it out.
Of course, I began to look for other narratives. One book which came highly recommended was Elechi Amadi’s Sunset at Biafra whose title shares a semblance with Chukwuemeka Ike’s novel, Sunset at Dawn. Elechi Amadi’s account is also representative of his minority tribe, Ikwerre. Using his war experience, Amadi used himself as a reference point for the suffering of minority tribes who were essentially caught between the ungainly tango between the Igbos and the Nigerians. Perhaps their skepticism was a vantage point, Amadi wrote about the war with enthusiastic pessimism from the scratch. He unfortunately could not keep his skepticism to himself and direly suffered for this with sequences of detention, sometimes spaced and oftentimes muddled together. He lost touch with his family and suffered a great deal in spite of being a retired army man. This is a more valid war experience if you ask me, closer to home, to the reality of the masses that actually suffered during the war.
That said, I remember the name of a local government in Anambra, Ayemelum, which roughly translates to war is terrible thing.