by Ayomitan Stevens
There are so many facts now re-emerging in the public domain to strengthen the positions of both supporters and opponents, but such facts are being used not simply to refute or bolster an opinion but to slander a person.
Everyone has something to say about Chinua Achebe’s new book; everyone from the regional chieftains to the political has-beens to the hoi polloi, like me. But it’s hard to find someone who really looks at the book and immediately gets the most important fact about it, so obvious yet so ignored. Right on the title page, it’s there: “A Personal History”.
Very few people bother with this little detail however: most folks just think that either Achebe slighted their revered leader or he defended his Igbo people, and they jumped on the bandwagon, every tribe to its own and God for us all, getting a little cyber inter-tribal war going.
I am definitely not a voice of reason; I too have my biases, so I can understand what many are feeling: Achebe has a powerful and widely heard voice, his opinions matter, so when he writes so strongly, it ticks some off, and stirs others. Many would say that an individual like him who wields such influence ought to be more responsible and be more diplomatic. May be so, but he’s said his piece, it’s what we do with it that matters.
Personally, I disagree strongly with those who wish to stifle his words, who cast him as a senile old man having an “Eastwooding” moment, and those that are tainting his carefully built reputation with unnecessary attacks.
Achebe has a right to his opinions, opinions that I believe where not lightly formed; he has not described his opinions as objective history, he’s called it personal. And we must not begrudge him of that, we must instead respect it, for what it is.
Is Achebe bitter or petty? Perhaps, but his personal experiences led him to the conclusions he made. Conclusions that are as valid to him as any objective history drudged out from some true-to-God facts; and we must respect his right to those conclusions, imperfect though they are.
None of us will walk the path he has walked and many will not even walk any similar road, so we will not see the things he saw from where he saw them. We will not sense the feeling of sorrow he had as he was jeered or taunted by his neighbours, for being not much different, when he was leaving Lagos just as the War began; we will not bear the burden of despair he bore as he circled the world, seeking for sympathy and solidarity for his besieged people; nor will we understand that agony of losing loved ones who simply were fighting for justice and the right to live freely in the land of their ancestors. So maybe we should let him speak and unload the old time aches.
I may think he was not fully fair to Awolowo, that any man with such onerous responsibilities as leading a war effort is often not afforded the luxury of morality, that even the oft-cited western ethos of the moral unjustifiability of mass murder was defied in the second world war with the nuclear bombing of Japan; yet I do not know if there was indeed more to it as Achebe alleges.
It’s true that the ideals of life, liberty and justice many times are crushed by the hard headedness of realities (feeding your adversary and keeping him alive makes no sense even to the God of the Old Testament); still, there may have been other ways things could have worked out, a mutually beneficial way that was not utilized- a fact that convinced Achebe of what he now believes.
There are so many facts now re-emerging in the public domain to strengthen the positions of both supporters and opponents, but such facts are being used not simply to refute or bolster an opinion but to slander a person. It is their right too to do that, but it could serve a better purpose.
It is also a fact that many have read only excerpts of his book and yet rushed hastily to form uninformed opinions, let us wait till we read his whole opinion, let us. Then we can pass judgement while fully impressed that it is only a personal history. He is not perfect, never claimed to be; so though it may have been borne of honesty, it could as well be from a place of malice, still it is his opinion, his right. Maybe we should just respect it.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.