Chinua Achebe Under Fire Over Attack On Awo, Gowon

Chinua Achebe Literary giant Prof. Chinua Achebe has stirred the hornets’ nest, with his claim that war-time Head of State General Yakubu Gowon and the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo formulated policies that promoted genocide against the Igbo.

In his newly released civil war memoirs, There was a country, Achebe said: “Almost 30 years before Rwanda, before Darfur, more than 2 million people-mothers, children, babies, civilians-lost their lives as a result of the blatantly callous and unnecessary policies enacted by the leaders of the federal government of Nigeria.”

Quoting the Oxford Dictionary, the celebrated writer said genocide is “the deliberate and systematic extermination of an ethnic or national group …The UN General Assembly defined it in 1946 as …a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups.”

He said: “Throughout the conflict, the Biafrans consistently charged that the Nigerians had a design to exterminate the Igbo people from the face of the earth. This calculation, the Biafrans insisted, was predicated on a holy jihad proclaimed by mainly Islamic extremists in the Nigerian Army and supported by the policies of economic blockade that prevented shipments of humanitarian aid, food and supplies to the needy in Biafra .”

On Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was the Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council and Minister of Defence, Achebe said: “The wartime cabinet of General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals, like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others, 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’.

“It is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself and for his Yoruba people. There is, on the surface at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbo at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose with the Nigeria-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 two million people, mainly members of future generations.”

Achebe’s views provoked anger yesterday.

Reacting yesterday, Mr. Ayo Opadokun who was Assistant Director of Organisation of the late Chief Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and later Secretary of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), described the Achebe assertion as “typical”.

“It is a reharsh of the perverted intellectual laziness which he had exhibited in the past in matters related to Chief Obafemi Awolowo. When Achebe described Awo as a Yoruba irredentist, what he expected was that Awo should fold his arms to allow the Igbo race led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, to preside over the affairs of the Yoruba nation,” Opadokun said.

Opadokun pointed out that some of his colleagues who played prominent roles in liberating Nigeria from the clutches of military rule, such as Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd), Dr. Arthur Nwankwo, Alhaji Abulaziz Ude and others who he described as “men of honour and integrity”, are Igbo. But he found it difficult to believe that a scholar of Achebe’s stature could be so unforgiving.

He said, “Let our Igbo brothers be reminded that about three-quarters of their assets not in the eastern Region are in Lagos and we have been very liberal and accommodating. We have allowed them to live undisturbed.”

Senator Biyi Durojaiye shares Opadokun’s view. He said: “My view is that you don’t expect somebody on the receiving end of a war to say something pleasant about the winners.

“I don’t share Achebe’s view that Awolowo did all he did for personal political aggarandisement. It was all in the process of keeping Nigeria one. What he and General Gowon did was in the process of preserving the integrity of Nigeria .”

He urged the Igbo to be more charitable, seeing that both sides of the war are now benefiting from its outcome. He enjoined all to join hands in facing the challenges of the moment, insisting that the way to go is for all Nigerians to support a Sovereign National Conference and restructuring of the polity.

Mr. Jacob Omosanya who participated actively in Action Group politics as a member of the Action Group Youth Association AGYA), said Achebe and many of his kinsmen in public life are tribalistic and “that is what he has exhibited in this new book.”

“It is not new. He canvassed similar views in The trouble with Nigeria. Dr. Azikiwe and his people should be grateful to the Yoruba who have always been liberal. When Zik was on his way back home from the United States, he ran into trouble in the Gold Coast. It was a team of lawyers led by the late H. O. Davies that saved him. This is a fact of history that should not be lost on the Igbo.”

Mr. Omosanya said he had expected that people intellectuals such as Achebe, would be bridge builders and avoid inflaming passions.

From: The Nation

  1. AFO Reply

    Achebe, a literary giant but a continued rebel @ heart. Even though the Biafran war took its toll more on Igbo’s side but he should not pervert history to paint some people bad. History of Biafran war is already written by those who acted in it. There was no victor or vanquished…

  2. Emeka Reply

    Needless controversy, Prof. Achebe was right most of the policies formulated was to ensure that Igbos are exterminated from the geographical entity called Nigeria. The No victory No vanquished slogan of the then Military Government was just to fool the international community. Take for instance when after the war no igbo man was allowed to withdraw more than twenty pounds irrespective of what he has in his account is a calculated attempt to cut igbos off economically. The killing of innocent civilians by late Muritala Mohammed in Asaba and other numerous atrocities are aimed at wiping igbos out. The truth is always bitter.

  3. Salimmonu Kadiri Reply

    Achebe has forgotten that the parliamentary coup d’etat that overthrew the government of Action Group in Western Region in May 1962 was made possible by the Federal Government controlled by Hausas and Igbos.That the 13 emergency Acts for Western Region was signed into law by Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe the Governor General. That the Igbos and Hausas controlled Federal Government sentenced the Action Group leader, Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo to 10years jail in 1963.That Awolowo and most of his supporters were still in prison in July 1966 when Igbo millitary ruler Aguiyi Ironsi was overthrown by Gowon who ordered the release of Awolowo and his supporters from prison. As for the war, the Federal Government decided that all planes and ships carrying humanitarian items to “Biafra” should first land/anchore in Nigeria for inspection so as to prevent transportation of millitary weapons.Ojukwu rejected that UN norm claiming it violated Biafra’s sovereignity.Please note that the UN recently confirmed the right of Israel to inspect any ship sailing to Palestine for weapons, as long as a state of war persisted, when Turkish sailors were killed by Israelis on board a ship to Palestine.

  4. nkem Reply

    Its amazing reading these reactions. First off its sad someone thinks there were winners in a civil war. Civil war always leads to retrogression not progress. Secondly that line about yorubas being accommodating and the one that says igbos are tribalistic clearly point out those who are really tribalistic. There’s no restriction on yorubas living in the east so please enough with the cliche on being accommodating. Its not the fault of igbos that they can migrate and thrive wherever.

  5. AfricaRise Reply

    For a better understanding of the matter raised by Chinua Achebe in his book (There was a country) which is causing so much noise in naija, read Professor Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe’s review of Achebe’s new book on biafra here:
    Professor Ekwe-Ekwe has done commendable work that would help us understand what Achebe is saying

  6. Prince Ikenna Ogbonna Reply

    I like listening or reading the people words expression in matters arising. People think prehistoric gainsay stories can generally affect our moment now. Very sorry to them because their have failed to put to mind that those days are now past time. Lagos original owners don’t raise matter the way this people do. Go back to the history of Lagos original owner to help adjust this mental disturbing problem.
    Professor Achabe is truly the man of his people I can never deny that. He rekindled his people mind consigning their so called brother pretends and Igbos successful envy that is now alarming. Whatever bond in mind can never change what has being established.
    The Issue of Lagos owner and strangers mind recollection from westerner has raised to a point something has to be done in order to settle differences and control embarrassed statements published on national dailies. People that depend only on their seditious life to make living out of other people in Lagos came out boldly to make unclassified statement on widely read pages despite their alarming mutinous life. Go and transform your people so that they will inculcate better generation ahead that will help redress present generation failed mission.
    Irrespective of this people subversive life there are still some excerpted. I advice people to restrained outburst sentiment to unchangeable action.

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