Debo Adejugbe: There will be a country – Achebe’s last prophecy (Y! Politico)

by Debo Adejugbe

Debo Adejugbe Y! Politico 2

Corruption is now a staple in our homes. Tribalism -acknowledged or not- is now a seam in our national fabric.

I finally read Chinua Achebe’s “There Was a Country” and I have to admit it really is a work of art. The master storyteller, as we have come to know Achebe, did not disappoint – taking us through his life, childhood, struggles as a writer, the Nigeria we never knew (at least for my generation) and the most contentious issues of all, Biafra and the roles played by several actors.

This is Achebe’s story and the contribution to a very important national discourse – “his story”. Let’s take, as an example, the tale of the proverbial “six blind men” who went on an excursion to feel what an Elephant “looked like”; they came back with different stories, waxing lyrical about the part they were able to feel. In the end, they were all right but the ‘assemblage’ of their descriptions was what clearly depicted an Elephant. Achebe has written from his perspective; others should write theirs for us to form an informed opinion.

The tone for the book is set from the very beginning but Achebe made sure to define his person, style and views when he said “In my definition I am a protest writer, with restraint” while talking about the role of the writer in Africa. As one flips through the highly engrossing narration delivered in a way that you will be addicted, one thing stands out. Achebe’s love for the Igbo heritage can never be questioned and he was obviously bitter about the way Nigeria has gone downwards ever since independence.

I continuously longed for the Nigeria that Achebe described in his early years as I leafed through the pages of TWAC. A country where the roads are good and safe; where the prospect of getting a good job after graduation is high and merit forms an integral part of the society. That country is long gone and we are now left with a caricature of a sane society.

Though TWAC is a personal memoir, there were instances where Achebe relied on “other views” to support his position. With phrases such as “I am told” “It was said” “Rumour has it” “It was a widely held belief” “It was reported’ et al used in asserting facts, the burden to decipher falls to the reader to pick from other clues as to what really happened.

He tells us chilling and gripping war tales, meshing it with the perpetuity in which they lived with the impending loss of lives and how they –his family- were able to survive day after day, even cracking one or two jokes along the way. They were – like many others – a family continuously moving to avoid being casualties of war. The love and respect that Achebe had for Christopher Okigbo couldn’t be missed as he extolled him whenever the chance came up. His sadness, which can be loosely termed regret, at the death of Okigbo is infectious.

Achebe – despite the clarity he had of the situation- was a man lost in the chaos of war and the continuous relocation that accompanied it while trying to cope with an expanding family and the loss of a very dear friend. There is a profoundly layered assumption that Achebe condones tribalism from some of the reviews I read, the point was totally missed. It is either they didn’t read the book or decided to court mischief by trivializing the various issues that the book addressed.

Forgotten in reviews is that the very people who were given the instrument of our independence conspiratorially derailed us -encouraged corruption and fanned the ember of tribalism to hold tightly to power and in the end; they invited the 1966 coup that -one way or the other- morphed into the Nigeria-Biafra war.

Particularly resenting in some reviews is the idea of focusing mainly on Achebe’s thoughts on some actors while totally relegating accusations of genocide and “all is fair in war” mantra that led to the massacre of civilians in Calabar, Asaba, open market strikes in Umuohiagu and Ozu-abam, targeting of red cross relief areas and the several other atrocities perpetrated during the Nigeria-Biafra war. Neither side can be totally excused as they both made mistakes that, even, Achebe acknowledged. Achebe did come on as too strong in some areas, but then he never pretended he was writing a fairytale.

In “There Was A Country”; I saw a man who was really pained and felt betrayed by a country he had given so much to. Here was a “Lagosian” who was chased out of his home and jeered by those he had called neighbours. The fact that Achebe wrote without extreme restraints means we have been blessed with someone’s genuine feeling of that dark era and for him to navigate through the book without trying to unnecessarily embellish some of the accepted civil war myths made it more compelling.

The most contentious part of the book has been the roles he ascribed to major civil war actors like Obafemi Awolowo, Emeka Ojukwu, Yakubu Gowon, Theophilus Danjuma, Anthony Enahoro etc. with Chief Awolowo’s particular portrayal by Achebe a major point of anger among some Yorubas. Achebe’s continuous reference to Ojukwu as “General Ojukwu” is bound to bring up some issues too.

So much has been said about Biafra but so little has been written or done to teach our generation to avert such crisis again. In Part IV of the book, Achebe prescribed some solutions to the Nigerian problem as it affects us today. There has been so much bad blood generated because a man wrote his story – a story we are not inclined to have told. Those with a contrary story should write and save us the pain of having to live with a single story.

Obviously, Achebe has probed into the dark heart of Nigeria and encouraged us to ask the questions we have consistently shied away from, saying: “My aim is not to provide all the answers but to raise questions, and perhaps to cause a few headaches in the process”. There is need to revisit Biafra and the questions it raised.

The prevalent issues that necessitated Biafra are still here and have grown more serious. Corruption is now a staple in our homes. Tribalism -acknowledged or not – is now a seam in our national fabric. Our roads are death traps amidst the plenty we earn. Schools have gone on perpetual sabbatical and several forms of tribal wars are taking place – typified by the Niger-Delta militants, Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Boko Haram and the other militia groups springing up- and we still think all is well?

If the present trade of blame-shifting continues, we wouldn’t have to join Achebe in lamenting a country that was, in Biafra, but we might have to start writing a new “There Was A Country” which this time will focus on the demise of Nigeria.


Debo Adejugbe is a trained Telecommunications/Electronics Engineer and a certified IT professional living in Lagos. Dad to amazing Hailey and an advocate against Sexual and Domestic Abuses. Debo has political sympathy for the Labour Party. He tweets from @deboadejugbe


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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