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Biafra: Between Obafemi Awolowo & Chinua Achebe

awolowo achebe biafra

Oct 15, 2012 – Biafra: Between Obafemi Awolowo & Chinua Achebe

The Biafran war was fought over forty years ago (between 1967-70) but the reverberations continue to linger. Recently the literary icon Prof. Chinua Achebe whose book “Things Fall Apart” has reached almost every corner of the globe in more than fifty languages published his Biafran war memoirs entitled “There Was A Country: A Personal Narrative of Biafra” and controversy was immediately ignited by his narration concerning the late sage Obafemi Awolowo and the former Head of State Gen. Yakubu Gowon accusing both men of genocide against the Igbos.

As one of the greatest authors from Africa Achebe commands considerable following and influence around the world.

According to the popular author of ‘The Trouble With Nigeria’: “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 Igbos 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.” Brutal frankness!

Biafra represented everything horrible and hell on earth! It was a desperate demonstrable acts of sheer evil unleashed on a proud people eager to obtain self-governance, something that can never be qualified as a crime. The spectacle of unmitigated shame of a war prosecuted with satanic gory relish, of human tragedy on a scale horrendously unimaginable; the emaciated, starved kwashiorkor-dehumanized kids and villagers in Igboland beamed to the outside world soon after the end of hostilities would forever remain indelible in the minds and memories of both victims and oppressors alike.

The powerful everlasting truth about Biafra and the ignoble roles played by both the then Col. Yakubu Gowon and the late sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo must be defended robustly and the old literary icon himself must also be defended from untrammeled attacks from scoundrels and ignoramuses out to make ‘name’ for themselves at his esteemed expense. The history of the Biafran genocide cannot be re-written but it ought to be told without fear or favour especially by those like Achebe who witnessed at close range.

According to retired Col. Achuzia, a participant in the war, Prof. Achebe was in order for saying what he said for that was the true picture of things. Arguing that he would reinforce what Achebe wrote in his Biafran memoir the old soldier maintained stiffly that the great man of literature living in America was factually right on the marble. Chief Awolowo himself had admitted initiating the heinous policy to check the ability of Biafran soldiers to continue fighting. So where lies the beef, the resentment toward Achebe?

Though one never saw nor witnessed the horrid war (having been born few years after its end) my late parents did tell me many stories about the war as witnesses. My elder brother who was a baby during the pogrom survived by the grace of God according to my late mother because sometimes they had to sleep in the bush to avoid roaming war planes and bombs! The one-storey building of my late uncle was bombed twice but the house is still standing today — thanks to the maintenance culture of his surviving children. Many young boys in our villages and neighbouring towns were either declared missing ever since or were massacred on the frontlines!

According to conservative estimates over three million Igbos perished in that horror of a war waged with extreme brutality and hatred of the audacity of a great ethnic group east of the Niger to assert itself, its identity, its uniqueness. But it bears stating here that like the Jews in Israel no force in this universe can ever succeed in exterminating the Igbos unless God Almighty so decides! Of course mistakes were made in 1967 and the late Ikemba Ojukwu shared in such callous mistakes blamed on youthful exuberance and martial courage very rare under the African sky at that epoch.

The truth sometimes hurts but it remains a healthy and liberating act! The late Chief Awolowo remains one of the greatest politicians Nigeria ever produced. Some even described him gloriously as the “best President Nigeria never had”! This commentator shares in that sentiment. But the criminal anti-Igbo role he played as the Minister of  Finance in Gowon’s government must be properly situated for history and posterity to benefit from those who should know better. Calling a spade a spade without fear or favour is what Achebe sought to do in his memoir.

Remi Oyeyemi, Femi Fani-Kayode and Ebenezer Babatope and others had all reacted angrily to the Achebe bombshell — calling him names and even exposing their aversion for full disclosure when the subject happens to be the great Awo. Their reactions pandered more to primitive tribal chauvinism and ethnic jingoism! While we refuse to dignify Oyeyemi with any serious attention (as regards the myopic diatribe he ‘spewed’ recently online) given the exposed fact that he is an intellectual lilliputian we must do justice to the two aforementioned ’eminent’ personalities who had come out ‘swinging’, yammering and casting aspersions on greatness which Chinua Achebe represents for generations.

So having ‘disqualified’ O(YEYE)mi from receiving any worthy mention and therefore removed from the picture on account of his pettiness we then ask concerning the two over-fed ‘Awoists’: Who are these people, Ebino Topsy and FFK by the way? And what have been their contributions to the advancement of humanity in general and Nigeria(ns) in particular? Well, permit me to say here with due respect that their various profiles are as empty as they are scandalous. In a land brimming with corruption and impunity (where shame has taken flight) any wonder that Babatope and Fani-Kayode could still see themselves as ‘heroes’ and ‘patriots’ who served their country well?

‘Amala’ and ‘Gbegiri’ soup politicians a la Lamidi Adedibu, political prostitutes of the first degree these phony Awoists have had to serve ‘masters’, dictators et al, Awo would have distanced himself from were he to be alive; for reasons bordering on political ideology and differences in perspectives the late sage would have not had anything to do with the so-called ‘leaders’ Babatope and Fani-Kayode served and through whom they enriched themselves. In Yorubaland political and economic leeches abound and their conscience is an object of merchandise!

Fani-Kayode’s sickening attempt to bulldoze his way back into public reckoning by sounding more Catholic than the Pope and more patriotic than Awo, Zik and Balewa combined must be deprecated here! A corrupt establishment man with roots in political prostitution Fani-Kayode was noted remarkably during his positions under the OBJ imperial presidency to be hyper-active doing every dirty job the Owu Chief threw his way (including insulting elders and those greater than him till eternity) and acting as Baba’s “attack lion” — apology to the present attack lion in Aso Rock Doyin Okupe!

Today, much like Nasir el-Rufai, former FCT Minister and today a social critic, Fani-Kayode is trying to rehabilitate himself in the public eye by intervening sometimes to the shame of his conscience. But the difference, it must be emphasized, between el-Rufai and FFK exists in the established fact that while the former is a tested vigorous and consumate intellectual the latter is just trying to impress sometimes exposing his limitations and hypocrisy. In him one finds a mocking attestation of how best to be a turncoat!

Prof Chinua Achebe is wholly right by telling the truth as it is! And one makes bold to defend him here for whatever it is worth. The late Awo is therefore ‘guilty’ as charged by a competent detribalised Nigerian with global worldview! Having achieved greatness Chinua Achebe can not be accused of courting controversy or pandering to local political or economic ‘warlordism’ in Nigeria like Dr Reuben Abati in order to gain popularity or recognition. To the best of our knowledge the old man of grace and charm is at peace with his conscience!

While held in high esteem in Yorubaland in particular and Nigeria in general for his great intellect, administrative capacity, and leadership prowess the late Obafemi Awolowo acted unstatesmanlike, sadistically and savagely against Biafrans; besides, he must never be equated with God who remains forever the only infallible immortal Being! For some Yorubas he may be a god but not God! Pa Awo was bound to make mistakes as a mortal and he made some while trying to assert his influence and leave footprints in the sand of time. His legacy cannot be complete without the mention of the millions of Igbos he and Gowon killed through the odious starvation policy he initiated remorselessly!

Chief Obafemi Awolowo loved his Yoruba ethnic group no doubt; he worked relentlessly to improve their lives but that regional love came with a huge prize against other regions’ interests. He operated, wittingly or otherwise, this masked policy of ‘my people first and foremost’ to the detriment of patriotism and pan-Nigerianism; he was an Oduduwa chauvinist, one who believed in the Oduduwa myth, whatever that meant to him!

There was indeed a country called and known as Biafra! And this country can still become a country post-Ojukwu when Nigeria (faced with her twisted unjust federal arrangements and mounting political and security challenges) implodes and Arewa and Oduduwa Republics rise out of the carcase of the bruised and battered giant with the feet of clay! Make no mistake about it, folks, the descent into depravity in our fatherland could lead us to our ‘promised lands’ with or without a Moses. Long live Mr ‘Things-Fall-Apart’!

Article by SOC Okenwa

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  1. banky

    October 15, 2012 at 5:20 AM

    You are worse than the fanikayodes and other commentators who wrote in defence of Awo!

    • stanley

      October 15, 2012 at 7:00 AM

      Banky what do you mean by that statement of yours. You know that the truth is always bitter, mr thing’s fall apart just said the truth. And soon i mean very soon the world Biafra will come to stay.

  2. Bishop Oriola

    October 15, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    Obviously, an Igbo man wrote this piece. I just want to say this – if you look at the current Palestine, the average Palestinian is brought up to hate the Jewish state with such venomous impunity, especially with quotations from the Quran – that it makes no difference whatever anybody else says. I want to appeal to Nigerians, of different language and culture, let us try to live in peace with each other, regardless of any one, no matter how influential they are or might have been. Nigeria cannot afford this "buried ugly rancour" rearing its head again……. I believe I speak for everyone?

    • Sylvester Chuma Udekwe

      October 17, 2012 at 9:40 AM

      Mr Bishop, with due respect, where was the peace when Awo and Gowon were massacring the Igbos. Nigeria will be ready to afford any evil they have created. Ojukwu is dead but there are other Ojukwus alive.

    • Bishop Oriola

      October 17, 2012 at 11:59 AM

      Nnaa Sylvee kedu?. I can understand the deep divide in this area of discourse, especially being a Yoruba man myself…But then I grew up in Igbo land – namely Enugu, Onitsha and Ohafia and I am very conversant with the civil – in that I nearly lost my life; as we moved to the east between '69 and 70s. As you can imagine, the war just ended and it was still fresh in peoples' mind. Igbos are my people very much – as the then Obi of Onitsha gave my father a piece of land [that, I can remember] don't know why though………………………………Again, as someone who personally lost my older brother in India [Bombay] to an Indian police friend. When I arrived India, some Nigerians were ready for war and were waiting for me to support their action . I asked them a simple question – would their fighting and avenging my brother's death bring him back alive?. Of course, there was silence. I now told them that as a practising Christian, I was not prepared to do that and equally said to them that they must find it within their heart to forgive and or learn the art of forgiveness [don't get me wrong, it was not very easy then, but for the grace of GOD]………………….So, my brother, you can see where I am coming from; unless you're not a Christian – for that alone, I am prepared to understand and identify with you; but not necessary agree. Hope this is perfectly understood?

    • Sylvester Chuma Udekwe

      October 17, 2012 at 1:09 PM

      Good Bishop, I do understand what you mean . You see, I was as little as two or three years when the war broke out and knew little about the war or the cause of it but of late I read the about the cause of the war, the ill effect to my people, and things like that and these aggrieved me to the extent that I dont want to belong to the so called one Nigeria. I read about the interview granted to the then Saduana, Amadu Bellow saying that Igbos are too possessive that he rather give a job to the foreign british citizens than giving such job to give it an Igbo man. Bishop it is so sad. Bishop I was in Maidugiri in 1982 after my secondary education to seek for employment and an hausa man in the federal ministry of works asked me to go back to Igbo land and get federal government job. It happened again when I wanted to enter into prelim studies into the university of maidugiri, I was told that I cannot have even with my five credits and hausa people without any pass in their WASC were offered admission.Though the bible says forgive, I have forgiving but it is very hard to forget. Now am in another man's country and I was giving quality job. Bishop I have pastored a church of 23 members here which was closed because of my non commitment to it. So I am a christian called to teach the word and having a healing gift. I am only sad about what my people suffered not that I dont have the either of what the bible says about forgiveness. Pray for me to forget the sad event. I could not hold with the system of living in Nigeria that is why I left to the Gambia some sixteen years ago.
      God bless you Bishop. Continue to mail me or call me on 2207279320 or 220 9902930 or email I will like to be your friend and even be lifted again to ministry by you and your ministry.
      Thanks and God bless you.

  3. ONYI

    October 15, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    no you didnt,pls you cant speak for me .first call a spid a spid bf u answer ur Bishop. the igbos are not Nigeria,they are Biafrans and u Bishop know that Nigeria is not one>?

  4. Quincy

    October 15, 2012 at 11:37 PM

    Onyi may God bless you for youe statement

  5. evron

    October 16, 2012 at 8:27 AM

    Have had enough of this tribalism. The igbos should be ashame of themselfs for allowing or expecting their enermy, the people they fighting, the person they want to kill to also feed them….Abeg me non understand this one oooo….Wetin Dey worry all of una….I guess there are some other things involve that the igbo or yoruba man not saying….Awo starve the igbo people during civil war, by so doing he killed over 2million igbos…..Pls, someone should aswer this questions for me…….1. Are the igbos the only ethnic group in the east? 2. Why are they not blaming Ojukwu for killing his own people? 3. Why did the biafra rely on Awo to provide them with food when they want to be self governance? 4. I thought is to use every means necessary to your advange in order to win? Please be more ashame to say Awo killed igbos during civil war….This was a war for christ sake and the truth is, ojukwu was not as smart as he thought. Awo had a strategy and it worked why are u guys now complaining when it was a strategy that worked for the opposition to win the war….Pls guys stop complaining and believing what you folks told you because they couldn’t understand that it was war and it is not fought fairly….Ojukwu and all the igbo leaders at that timeshould be charged for war crimes…..The igbos also committed a lot of atrocities along the way before they finally retreated to the east…..I think your elders didn’t tell you that, the atrocities the igbo soldiers committed on the way before federal soldiers came…Is only what Awo did they saying and not what igbo soldiers did……There are two sides to a coin….

    • TimmyJoshua

      October 16, 2012 at 10:51 AM

      Guy u 2 sure. NICE TALK.

  6. desmond

    October 16, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    ibo has completely lost out

  7. TimmyJoshua

    October 16, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    @Everon u’ve said it all.Now i agree that there is no mistake in d adage says “ACTION SPEAKS BETTER THAN VOICE” for this oldman to open this case again. Even if we’ve not been born by then, this man is telling us exactly what there behaviour was then. Kudos to the strategious and ambidextrous man in his grave(BABA AWO). He woke the yorubas up frm there slumber “stop there food”. They didn’t plan before they started d war, this man also did not plan before writting the fucking book. Has he forgotten that “BI OMODE O BA TAN, A BA AROBA”.

  8. Sylvester Chuma Udekwe

    October 17, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    Soc okenwa, indeed God bless you for your article is a motivator to me and all Igbos in general. I am an Igbo living in the Gambia. I have collected your email I will soon mail you for a further discussion.
    Thanks so much. Will like to know you better. Am an angry igbo man.

  9. Sylvester Chuma Udekwe

    October 17, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    Gowon did what he did but where is the place of middle belt in Nigeria today. Shame Yakubu Gowon.

  10. dante

    October 17, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    this is a war u use every available strategy at ur disposal, so he has use his strategy and it worked for him.Igbo’s u’ve learnt ur lessons stop bringing up such conversation is not good 4 Nigerian condition. Thanks evron for those questions………..

  11. Ernest Ogbogu

    November 1, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    It was really a sad and pathetic one, growing to see, know and understand that you and your generations yet unborn are hated by a group of people with whom you share an entity called Nigeria….so pathetic but we the Igbos must survive…unless God decides otherwise. Chinua Achebe has just done a wonderful job putting down this piece….that 's the profession that makes him who he is….HE HAS NO APPOLOGIES for any "Yeye" man for unearthing the heinous crimes of the so- called Awo or self acclaimed "Born again" Gowon. That's what I so like about my religion (Christianity) that rebel has just turned a born again after cruelly murdering women, children and men of Biafra….God can NEVER be fooled Gowon. You and your cohorts must not go unpurnished in life. You can deceive the people but cant deceive your maker. Bod Bless Biafra! God bless NdiIgbo! Igbo kwenu! Iyaaaaaaaa!

    • Benjamin Okechukwu Echezona

      November 1, 2012 at 2:34 PM

      On Point Brotherly……..

    • Henry Kemebi Tortor

      November 1, 2012 at 3:49 PM

      I beg to disagree. No matter hw heineous ur crime or sin, God does forgive.

    • Ernest Ogbogu

      November 2, 2012 at 12:11 PM

      My good friend, Tortor, I am not God that has the capacity to forgive and forget, am human, ok? The wound might heal but one established fact is that the scar remains.

  12. Augustus Isaac Nwabuokei

    November 3, 2012 at 12:38 AM


  13. a concerned nigerian

    November 13, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    An angry igbo man? You are not only a disgrace to yourself; but to the entire igbo community.chinua Achebe has the right to say or write what he feel is right, but have you forgotten that it’s just his own opinoin.The war was not Awo V. The Igbo, but the Federal government. What would you have done if it were you? Would you feed your enemies? Let the late sage rest in peace.And for chinua Achebe, did you just realize that now? What have you been doing all this years? I mean after 40 years… I conclude on this note that the Igbos should leave Awo out of this and blame ojukwu who was not only over ambitious,but a selfish man who placed his interests over that of his people

  14. gbemi

    November 19, 2012 at 7:33 PM

    The article I read is sickening…… reminds me of palestinians being brought up to hate isrealis… has become part of their exsistence!!!!!!!!!

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