Chinua Achebe is my favourite Nigerian writer of his generation. In my private literary world Achebe has won a Nobel, back to back pulitzers, and just for being himself: several Oscars and countless golden globes…
But that’s in my world. And it’s a really simple world, mine. Which perhaps explains why Achebe is no.1 here. Never understood Soyinka’s writings. After mathematical Lacombes, The Man Died is second on my childhood ‘list of Books from Uranus written in human language.’
Chinua Achebe, I ‘found out’ last week, is Igbo. I have never been made more painfully aware of that fact than this past week. I have been content with his being Eastern Nigerian for two decades since I personally ‘discovered’ A Man of The People.
But now not only is he Igbo, but he played a quite active part in the Biafran war.
Achebe has published his memoirs, entitled There Was A Country, and we are told it is mostly a vivid recollection of the pains of that war. In a section of the book Achebe pours out his heartfelt opinion on the wartime actions of a great political icon of the Yoruba nation: Obafemi Awolowo or Awo as he is generally known.
Awo is not my favourite Nigerian politician of his generation. Aminu Kano is. I don’t understand Awo. He is fiery and direct against the colonialist oppressor in one breadth and in the next he is fiery and cunningly playing the prebendal and tribal form of politics that has characterized our polity since Oct 1 1960.
Awo, I agree however, is one of the most achieved politicians of his generation. It is simple. Awo, whatever his failings, didn’t focus his political activities on commissioning boreholes and reconstructing government lodges. He took his politics to the heart of qualitative human capital development; equal education for all. In that Awo was a visionary.
Emeka Ojukwu, the primary figure in the Biafran saga saw the Biafra project as a revolutionary means of establishing an Igbo nation free of the excesses of a lopsided and oppressive federalism which has subsumed the Nigerian project from its inception till today. In that Ojukwu was a visionary.
But visionaries are not angels. And even angels, we learn from religious history, fall.
I look forward to reading Achebe’s memoirs, to relive events which for my generation are a distant history. Today’s events seem really more pressing and frightening to my simple reality. But interestingly, the roots to Boko Haram and PDPism and rotational mediocrity unfold with each paragraph, each transcript of Nigerian history flowing from Achebe’s pen, Awo’s interviews and writings, and our other ‘statesmen’s stories of tribal coups and counter coups.
Well now that I am learning without much success that there might be a difference between being an Igbo scholar and being a Yoruba scholar, one thing remains clear and simple; Nigeria needs more master storytellers like Achebe and Soyinka, more politicians with Awo’s vision and commitment, more revolutionaries with Ojukwu’s courage and gravitas. Less regional presidents, vacuous lawmakers and egotistic governors. Less debates on ethnic domination, more on an accountable social contract, a centrally planned economy, and proper education as the bedrock of all lofty human accomplishments…
And did I mention Cyprian Ekwensi is my second favourite. Pray, he’s not from Bakassi, is he…?