Achebe’s Biafra memoir: Of bitter truth and push-and-start critics, by Enyinnaya Appolos


One of the world’s literary giants, Professor Chinua Achebe, is in the news again. The last time he made headlines in Nigeria was when he rejected the Nigeria’s national honours. 

In the last one week, the media has been awash with barrage of sponsored attacks on him by those who are being too clever-by-half. 

The attacks on Professor Achebe by some myopic and naive critics on his memoir on Biafra in his latest magnum opus- ‘There was a country’…which captures the true account of the dark days of Igbo history, is laughable.

If any thing, these push-and-start critics have buttressed Professor Achebe’s point that there was a plots to decimate Ndigbo during and after the war by the wartime regime of Gowon. 

Also, the attacks bring to mind, the work of a world literary amazon, Chimamanda Adiche, who told the masterpiece: dangers of a single story. 


It is obvious that the Biafran story has been told repeatedly in the past as a single story. It is also obvious that this ‘geographical expression’ is not mature to hear or read the true memoir of Biafra.

It is a moral sin for anybody to suggest that Achebe who will be 82 on November 16, should be economical with the truth while telling any true life story, not to talk of the Biafran story which he was at the centre of the unforgettable event. 

It’s like asking President Nelson Mandela to be economical with the truth while telling the apartheid story. Anyway, methinks that Professor Achebe knew the book will be a bitter pill for some sections of the country to swallow. 

You can’t beat a child and stop him from crying. Achebe is not one of those contractors roaming the streets of Abuja, in search of government contracts. He is not among those that ruined Nigeria. Twice, he rejected the dubious national honors, an indication that he is not in, for the injustice and corruption in this geographical expression. 

Those ranting have not been able to counter Achebe on facts. Instead, they are wasting time on sectional rhetorics in an effort to defend their interests. I expect them to come up with points against what the literary Icon deposed. 

In any case, Professor Achebe didn’t say anything new. What he said are facts of history available to all. Even now, are we not witnesses to the “political ineptitude, mediocrity, indiscipline, ethnic bigotry and the corruption of the ruling class [which] continues to this day”? The big question remains: why is Nigeria where she is 52 years after self rule?

Come to think of it, I don’t think the tribal critics of Professor Achebe are faulting the facts and details of the genocide in the masterpiece. I think their fear and worry is the mileage the truth will go around the globe. Their high-strung is that the world will at last, get to read and know the truth about the genocide against Ndigbo and the masterminds.

It is unarguable that some of those making a noise and attacking Professor Achebe do not have good knowledge of the civil war. They are relying on single story of the war which they were told. No matter how good a historian tells a story of an event, such a historian cannot tell the story better than a man who witnessed and experienced the event of the story. 
No matter how much anybody will pay to either prevent the truth from being told, or to divert attention of the world from a truth when it is told, history cannot be rewritten. 

History will continue to remember and mention ‘the wartime cabinet of General Gowon…intellectuals like Chief Obafemi Awolowo’ and those at the helms of affairs when the Nigerian state formulated policies that promoted genocide against Ndigbo. This is a fact of history. 

Gowon is still alive. Let him come up to counter Achebe. Am sure Gowon will have no defense to the fact that his three R policy was not only anti-Igbo, but was lopsidedly implemented. 

Recently, the Akwa Ibom State governor, Mr. Goodswill Akpabio, at an event in Lagos, confronted Gowon before the likes of Ibrahim Babangida and Mohammadu Buhari, and questioned why Gowon’s three R policy was never implemented anywhere in the Eastern region where the war was fought. Truth is indeed bitter.

Akpabio insisted that if there were to be a reconstruction according to Gowon’s three R policy, the reconstruction should have been concentrated in the Eastern region where properties and lives where destroyed during the war. 

Instead, reconstruction exercises were carried in sections of the country where no single gunshot was fired during the war. Gowon couldn’t answer him. Of course he had no answer. 

Akpabio was never attacked by anyone for asking such a critical question simply because everybody now goes to Akwa Ibom, which is in the region they failed to reconstruct and rehabilitate, to share from the oil money. Thank God for Godswill. 

Gowon’s three R policy was merely on paper as far as Eastern Nigeria is concern. Rather than reconstruction, the theatre of war was, and is totally neglected by the federal government. 

Instead of rehabilitation, the Igbo people were marginalised and made to lose their place of pride in the system. Their accounts with Nigerian banks were confiscated, their hard earn monies looted as they were given only 20 pounds each by the Nigerian authority regardless of what they have in their account.

Mind you that Achebe didn’t say that: “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression.” Neither did he see it as “our grandfather estate.” Those who saw Nigeria in that light are the ones that ruined her, looted her, raped her, and reduced her to a begging giant she is today. They made her a rogue country. A terrorism country. A Boko haramised country. A corrupt country. A country where every wrong is done with impunity.

It is worthy to note that 52 years after Nigeria’s actualization of self rule, and 42 years after the Biafra war, the embers of separation are still starring us in the face, with almost every tribe asking for autonomy today and threatening secession. Why would anyone single out Achebe for tongue-lashing…even when those claiming to be more Nigeria than others, have by various means, supported her disintegration in secret.

Achebe probably wouldn’t have been reduce to the wheelchair if the wartime cabinet of Gowon didn’t hoist an anti-Igbo policy with the three R. Yes, it was on the Enugu-Onitsha-Awka Highway, which they Nigeria state abandoned, like they abandon all major roads in the southeast, that Professor Achebe had the road-crash that reduced him to the wheelchair sometime in 1990.

Up till now, that Enugu-Onitsha-Awka Highway has remained a death-trap where thousands of Igbos die on daily basis on road mishaps. In fact, the genocide agaisnt Ndigbo has taken a new dimension . All major roads linking the southeast to other parts of the country are death-traps, killing Igbos in their numbers. And yet, some people want Achebe to tell them what they want to hear, instead of telling the truth. 

I submit to the Professor, he “had to find the right vehicle that could carry our anguish, our sorrow… the scale of dislocation and destruction…our collective pain…” This book couldn’t have come anytime better than now. 

Truth is bitter. It is obvious Nigeria is not mature to hear the Biafran story. 

One thing attackers of Professor Achebe have done is that they have given the book a well deserved publicity. Everybody is now eagerly waiting for the book to arrive Nigeria for them to grab their copies. Am sure there is more the book will reveal.

The book will end up selling more than his previous books, including Things Fall Apart…am sure the Literary Guru will go on to translate the book into many languages of this world. 

Much as nobody is wishing for such genocide again, the bitter truth must be told.


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