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Obianuju Ndaguba: Africa Needs to Tell Her Own Story

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I met a Jamaican who knew so much about the Biafran war. She was so excited to learn that I was Ibo and she could identify that as the Eastern part of Nigeria. She also asked me about the difference between ‘igbo’ and ‘Ibo’. This was rather surprising for me because only a foreigner with depth of knowledge can guess that Igbo is the language and Ibo is the tribe. She told the story of the war as though she had experienced it.

We spoke over cold coffee, not bothered about what other plans we had for the day. We spoke about how many of my people are still hurting, and concluded that Nigeria as a whole has not fully recovered from the war.

My father grew up in the heat of the war; he told me that one day they were cooking a pot of soup and upon the sound of an explosion, they put the boiling pot of soup in the boot of the car and drove off to the nearest safe place.

My mum grew up in Lagos, still too young to fully understand what was going on. Little did she know that her future husband was a war child.

Most times, I wish I experienced the civil war, because the stories seem interesting – rather ironic for someone who jerks in fear most times at the sound of the alarm announcing that ‘NEPA has brought light’.
I also wish I was old enough to understand what the hell Abacha was doing in leadership. It is the same way I wish I experienced military rule, all for the sake of being able to write a personal account of it.

This is one of the reasons why I studied Journalism. I enjoyed Chimamada’s Half of a Yellow Sun, but I was even more consoled by the fact that she was told the stories of the war the same way I was told.

A book about Boko Haran written by Mike Smith caught my attention. At first instinct, I was offended by how detailed the book was, the stories where drawn from the victims themselves. The author employed the aid of a Northern Nigeria correspondent, Aminu Abubakar who he did well to acknowledge.

How dare a foreigner write about our own issue? That was the point. Nigeria’s story and Africa’s story has for long been defined by the wrong people.

So I was excited to share my story of Biafra with my Jamaican friend. We spoke about how the war affected politics. I told her I look forward to having an Ibo president, not that I was bothered about what part of the country any political leader came from.
I want my people to be more involved in governance, but I fear they are not ready.
I fear that they feel sidelined in the practise of governance.
I fear that they might be intimidated and want to create their own.

My friend asked me if it was true that the Ibos only married amongst themselves. I explained that a lot is changing. Many do not know that Nigeria has evolved. Many do not even know that our generation is different, because our realities are slightly different from that of our parents.

Yet there is a bigger problem; how well do we know our own story? What story are we telling to the world and how are we reacting to the story that is being told about us?

The moment we get to this point, you will get offended the same way I do when I hear a wrong notion about where I am from, you will feel the need to ‘educate’ people and even more, you will desire to share your own experience.

The time has come for Africa to tell her own story.

Photo Credit: Smandy | Dreamstime.com

Obianuju has growing experience in Communications and PR. She has worked in communication across different industries. In 2017, Obianuju delivered a TED talk on "how communities can improve through radio". She writes about business, communication and gender-related issues.

23 Comments

  1. Weezy

    April 12, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    Perhaps we could start by not saying “Africa” when we mean “Nigeria”? Boko Haram (and Biafra) are Nigerian issues and should be discussed as such.

    • Cocolette

      April 13, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      IBO is NOT the tribe!!!! IGBO is the Language and IGBO is the tribe!!! I can’t believe I am reading this in a Bella Naija article! BN was has happened to the standard of your articles?

    • gia

      April 13, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      I just HATE when opeople act as if africa=nigeria!!!!!

  2. fleur

    April 12, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    Well, the point is the issue is generalizable to Africa. We should tell our own stories. Right now the stories we tell via media such as Bella, etc are stories that underscore how much we adore all that is not us. It is almost as if accepting who you are and where you are from retrogression. What people fancy and respect are trips to other countries, showcasing the goods of other people and countries, and hiding as much as we can about ourselves. When we dare show “Nigerianess” it is a form corrupted by many other cultures including American adaptations of Africanness. For example, our music videos leave one wondering what part of African culture is on exhibit with buttocks on display and women who appear like they would submit to a sexual encounter just because there was a hint of an ask. The lyrics of our songs lean heavily towards celebrating disrespectful and traditionally abhorrent sexual encounters. The people with the largest followers and applause tend to be those who steal, pillage and make an uncommon living from the sex trade. We celebrate the villains in our midst – those responsible for our suffering (some weird form of stockholm syndrome). We laugh at things that are not funny because they should be hurting us. All this is not Nigeria.

    • Anon

      April 13, 2017 at 10:02 am

      Why are you people so obsessed with how rich people spend their money? I speak Igbo, live Igbo, breathe Igbo culture. But I go on holiday and wear Louis Vuitton when I can afford it. I was educated abroad my whole life but I still watch Nigerian movies and love Nigerian food. Life is for living, going to places, buying things you like. So because I want to prove I’m Nigerian I should serve Gala at my wedding by force? If I like something in Ankara, I wear Ankara too. Nationalism is pride, in you. An essence. Ghanaians travel abroad but they also have so much pride, you can almost smell it. They always want to go back to Ghana for holidays. To a functioning country with a system. We judge women that give birth abroad but didn’t Eric the musician die in a Nigerian hospital because of malaria? How many Nigerians die everyday due to lack of healthcare facilities? Police brutality? Kidnapping? Road accidents? Rape and abuse? How many Nigerians know their history? How many Nigerians including adults know anything about Queen Amina’s walls, about the precolonial Benin trade with the Portuguese? The mysteries of the aare Ona kakanfo? Do you even? You think it’s by using chewing stick instead of toothbrush? How many Nigerians even feel pushed for nationalism when our politicians are bleeding us dry and people can’t afford pure water? Why should they feel guilted into loving a country that has never loved them? Please. Let people tell their story, yes. But don’t force them to love Nigeria. And to use Nigerian products that will ultimately kill them.

    • molarah

      April 13, 2017 at 11:58 am

      You totally missed fleur’s point…as in, totally! Please go back and read the comment with an aim to comprehending what he/she is trying to say.

    • Anon

      April 13, 2017 at 10:06 am

      *ps African culture before white people had women dressed with almost no clothes. You’re speaking based on your Christian religion a white man brought to you. Didn’t Ogun and Amadioha have morals? Why did you choose the white man’s own? Sex happens so people will talk about sex, that’s not a western thing. To believe that Nigerian culture is everything conservative and repressed even shows a lack of history in itself. Let people sing what they want to sing. There are millions of gospel and inspirational musicians. There are multiple genres to listen to. Let people follow their passions and sing. You just judge and judge and you’re not God. If everyone studied law or engineering do you have jobs for them?

  3. MOH

    April 13, 2017 at 12:37 am

    Nigeria in particular has been telling it’s own story since the inception of constructive writing in Africa, what is needed is more encouragement and more zealous writers

  4. nwafo

    April 13, 2017 at 1:57 am

    Kudos on your quest to learn in order to tell your story more accurately. I too enjoyed HOAYS- especially because Chimamanda was retelling a story she’d been told- of course with a huge dollop of research. She did it so beautifully.

    However, you got one thing wrong. The language is Igbo. The people are also Igbo. Hence we are called ‘ndi igbo’ or ‘ndigbo’ (to account for vowel assimilation), simply meaning ‘Igbo people’.

    This whole ‘Ibo’ thing came about because the Europeans could not articulate Igbo properly, since the ‘gb’ sound was not to be found in their languages. Hence you will find that most early texts written by Europeans use Ibo for both the people and the language.

    Next thing, some Igbos in the Riverine and Delta region decided to start calling themselves Ibo, insisting that it was different from Igbo. That too is wrong.

    Bottom line is this, if you have Igbo as your native language, then you are Igbo- an onye Igbo, not onye Ibo.

  5. E

    April 13, 2017 at 6:35 am

    “……..Igbo is the language and Ibo is the tribe”. This is totally untrue. “Igbo” is what it is whether language or tribe.

    “Ibo” is the wrong spelling and pronunciation for “Igbo”. Please, correct that.

    • Ify

      April 13, 2017 at 7:10 am

      Thank you very much. There’s nothing like “Ibo”. And wishing you experienced the civil war so you can write about it?? Really?? Only a person who has never experienced starvation and illness in any form would say such. I pray you never have to experience a war.

    • nwafo

      April 13, 2017 at 7:14 am

      Thank you. I wrote a comment along the same lines but I guess bellanaija has chosen not to publish it. There is nothing like Ibo, it is just a misspelling. I hope your Jamaican friend gets to read your article and the responses so they can get the correct answer to their question.

  6. Poesy

    April 13, 2017 at 7:26 am

    Make do with what you have instead of yearning after other people’s experiences. Please tell the story of ‘NEPA has brought light’. I look forward to a president (regardless of ethnicity) that will ensure my children consider the lack of electricity in the 21st century to be an urban legend. Then, I can show them your story and say “But it really happened.”

    • le coco

      April 13, 2017 at 8:19 am

      spot on… I am a writer aswell nd I notice tht each generation is obsessed with the past.. there is so much to tell about our own present realities.. tht we don’t need to write about biafra. let those who experienced it first hand tell those stories.. Nd let those of us who experience, No light, No water, and Otodo Gbame tell these stories..

    • Belize

      April 13, 2017 at 10:10 am

      How can we write about the present if we don’t know our history ? :/ of course we need to be obsessed with the past!! Not knowing your history is actually a prerequisite for being unintelligent and stupid. Plus asking old and frail people to put in all the work that goes into writing is not a good idea. Plus many of these people are traumatised. Why ask an aging man to constantly edit and re-edit memories of his mother’s rape or his father’s maiming that he was forced to witness at 12 years old. If he writes it, is it other old people that will read it or the younger generation? All we do in Nigeria is sweep everything under the rug. Hide rape, hide domestic violence, hide adultery, hide, hide and die. Look at where we are as a country.

    • le coco

      April 13, 2017 at 12:39 pm

      I did not say one shouldnt know their history. but there is a difference between knowing your history and being obsessed to the point where one wished they experienced the Biafran war.. nd i didnt say we should stop writing about it completely

  7. Purplegirl

    April 13, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Not to go off point, but it was a Filipino that introduced me to Nigerian music starting with African queen by 2Face. I was so embarrassed that I did not know much about my country but that when I came back I had to make sure I bought a Nigerian artists album, the 1st one by MI, I followed it with the bumper to bumper album by wande coal.

    Anyway I don’t think we should be embarrassed too much when foreigners tell our stories I think it should just spur us to know our stories so that we won’t be lied to or deceived. Imagine the number of Nigerians living abroad that think home is only about war and conflict, or juju and wicked in-laws. If we all know our true stories those gifted with the art of story telling will tell them e.g. Chimamanda and writer of article, and those of us not gifted will pass on to our children, friends and cowor

  8. Ada

    April 13, 2017 at 9:39 am

    It is important to know you past, to understand where you are coming from so you can understand where you are going. I blame the bid to eradicate the past as the cause of some of the problems in Nigeria. If we are made more aware of the atrocities done then, maybe we’ll understand more about the choices we make. Why does the government shrink so much from this? Last week, my niece and nephews wrote NCEE, and I was shocked to find out how little of our history is being taught to these kids. Then, we used to have all these info engraved in our brains. I thought it was the kids fault, but when I checked the question papers, very little attention was given to the General Paper.
    One of the reasons why I adore Adiche’s writing is because she uses this know your history, or past in her novels. Kambili had a past with her abusive father, even Half of a Yellow Sun, had a pre-war phase, and Ifemulu, had her own past with her beau… It really helps to tighten loose ends.

    • nwafo

      April 13, 2017 at 10:08 am

      I couldn’t agree more. It’s absolutely pathetic for anyone to suggest we don’t write about our history. The Biafran war, the Jewish holocaust, the trans-atlantic slave trade, the apartheid era in South Africa- to mention but a few are things that happened in the past but continue to be re-visited by different generations, each with their own take on it. There is room enough to write about our history as well as our contemporary experiences. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      April 13, 2017 at 10:44 am

      Amen and amen.

      I loved history back in secondary school (it was the one subject I got what we used to call an “A1” in) & started studying it for 1 year before switching courses to law.

      Nigerian & African history is a truly fascinating web of stories and events, which even back in my time at school, was not being given the attention it deserved. When you study our history, you understand more of the people we’ve become (not just in the country but across the continent). And I think westerners have had a very long head start on the collective subject of our own past, because they DOCUMENT things.

      We don’t. That’s our first failing. And even the ones who did, we’ve not paid as much effort to preserving and republishing. Our forefathers didn’t have the luxury of writing but what they had that was an amazing culture of constantly passing on history by verbal retelling from one generation to another. Aged men and women, filling the ears of young girls and boys with recounts of past events, which the latter were meant to pass on to their own children.

      That treasure of knowledge is now almost entirely lost to us. I worry about where we’re going…. there’s such a disregard of the past and wilful blindness in us that’s very concerning. I’m fascinated with how the Brits for instance, have continued to formally observe strict days every year, to commemorate the end of World Wars I and II and you know what? 90% of us who join in those observations today weren’t born until long after those wars but we know everything there is to know about the conflicts. We celebrate VE day in May and dutifully buy red poppy flowers every November (all profits made from sales, go into a fund for veterans), to proudly display on our clothes. We observe the 5 minutes of silence on respective days of remembrance, all across the country (offices, homes, public places, etc.). And we are continually moved by the documented history of what happened then to stop those atrocities from repeating themselves.

      Plus somehow, they (and the yanks) have found a way to make up with those damn krauts they were aggressively bombing, around this time over 70 years ago. Nigerians will prefer to forget there ever was a war (oh, no! Don’t talk about it! You’ll stir up ethnic unrest!).

      We must remember, document, learn, evolve and grow from our history.

  9. Mma

    April 13, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Dear Obianuju, there is no such thing as “Ibo”. It is IGBO! The tribe and the language. How are we going to tell our own story if we cannot get basic facts like this one right?

  10. UZOAMAKA

    April 13, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Mz Socially Awkward- may you live long.
    The irony of the side diss at Germans,- U.K. U.S.A is not lost on me.
    @BN, biko make this a separate article- it is not how long but how well!

  11. ogeAdiro

    April 13, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    It’s a scary thing mehn! The fear of the Biafran war is messing us up. The biggest thing dividing us is also the one thing that we don’t want to talk about. The marriage needs very serious therapy. The UN suppose establish some type of international counseling body. A lot of beautiful stories have probably been lost just because we’re scared of looking back.

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