The renown novelist, Chinua Achebe, has been brewing quite a storm recently following the release of his long awaited war memoirs ‘There was a Country’. The book which became public last week has gotten some good reviews, however, his accusation of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s most respected leaders of being part of the genocide has brought up some debates.
Below is the controversial excerpt from the book:
“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 – 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.”
His statement has received condemnation especially from Yoruba leaders who claim that Awolowo cannot be blamed for the war, rather he pleaded against it.
“It is unfortunate that a great man of letters of Achebe’s status has descended to the arena of Biafran propagandists who are always ready to sacrifice the truth to achieve emotional blackmail. He has betrayed his intellectual calling by joining in the circulation of low quality rumours against Awo. I had looked forward to reading the book, but now I doubt if I would pick up a copy even if dropped at my gate.“
Similarly, Awolowo’s daughter, Dr (Mrs) Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu has said she was disappointed about Achebe’s claim and that the Awolowo family may issue a formal response on the controversial claim by the novelist.
She told Vanguard, “One is still trying to come to terms with the sense of disappointment about the person who wrote what is now a brewing controversy in the country.
“While a formal statement responding to the offensive comments of the writer is being prepared by the family all I can say for now is that I feel so disappointed”.
There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra recounts the 1967-1970 war when Biafra tried to secede from Nigeria. The book focuses on the author’s experiences during the war and explores the roles played by some of the major actors, including Awolowo.
It’s a bit difficult for me to understand what is actually going on here. But for those who do, do you think Chinua Achebe went too far?