Achebe’s I Before Others Fairy Tales By S. Kadiri

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Achebe’s I Before Others Fairy Tales By S. Kadiri On October 9, 2008, Chinua Achebe delivered a lecture titled, “WHAT NIGERIA MEANS TO ME,” on the occasion of marking The Guardian Silver Jubilee at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island Lagos. Referring to July 29, 1966 army putsch in Nigeria, Chinua Achebe said, “Six months later, Northern officers carried out what was perhaps a revenge coup in which they killed officers and men in large number. If it had ended there, the matter might have been seen as a tragic, very sad interlude in nation building, a horrendous tit for tat. But the northerners turned on Igbo civilians living in the North and unleashed waves of brutal massacres... it was estimated that 30, 000 civilians, men, women and children died.” This particular statement incensed Achebe’s fellow Igbo man, Dr. Ozodi Thomas Osuji, whose response appeared in the Nigerian Village Square of 15 October 2008 under the title, “FALSE SENSE OF VICTIMIZATION IN ACHEBE’S WORLDVIEW.” by S. Kadiri Nov 13, 2012 On October 9, 2008, Chinua Achebe delivered a lecture titled, “WHAT NIGERIA MEANS TO ME,” on the occasion of marking The Guardian Silver Jubilee at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island Lagos. Referring to July 29, 1966 army putsch in Nigeria, Chinua Achebe said, “Six months later, Northern officers carried out what was perhaps a revenge coup in which they killed officers and men in large number. If it had ended there, the matter might have been seen as a tragic, very sad interlude in nation building, a horrendous tit for tat. But the northerners turned on Igbo civilians living in the North and unleashed waves of brutal massacres... it was estimated that 30, 000 civilians, men, women and children died.” This particular statement incensed Achebe’s fellow Igbo man, Dr. Ozodi Thomas Osuji, whose response appeared in the Nigerian Village Square of 15 October 2008 under the title, “FALSE SENSE OF VICTIMIZATION IN ACHEBE’S WORLDVIEW.” Dr. Osuji asked, “What did the Igbos expect when they killed the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Premier of Northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello and the Premier of Western Nigeria, Samuel Akintola and did not kill a single Igbo leader, such as Nnamdi Azikwe (Nwafor Orizu) and Michael Okpara?” May I add here that the following military officers were also killed in the 15th January 1966 coup d’état: Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari (North), Colonel Kuru Mohamed (North), Lt. Colonel Abogo Largema (North), Lt. Colonel James Yakubu Pam (North), Brigadier Samuel Adesujo Ademulegun and his civilian pregnant wife (West), Colonel Robert A. Shodeinde (West) Lt. Colonel Arthur Chinyelu Unegbe (East) and Major Samuel Adegoke (West). With these facts of history, Dr. Osuji averred, “The counter coup was exactly what political realists would have anticipated and, perhaps, prepared for but naive Igbos apparently did not expect those whose leaders they just killed to kill their own leaders!” In Dr. Osuji,s view, “Achebe, apparently, has not learned the lesson that he was supposed to learn from the pogrom. He is still minimizing the action of Nzeogwu and his fellow Igbos. He is still seeing Igbos as victims unto whom supposedly bad Nigerians unleashed evil to. Therein lay Achebe’s problem.” Furthermore in his ‘what Nigeria means to me’ Achebe stated categorically, “I find it difficult to forgive Nigeria and my countrymen and women for the political nonchalance and cruelty that unleashed upon us these terrible events; events that resulted in a 30 months war and at the end of which Biafra was vast smouldering rubble; the cost in human lives was a staggering two million souls making it one of the bloodiest civil wars in human history.” On this passage, Dr. Osuji asserted, “One sees Achebe’s either arrested mental development or refusal to understand history and reality as it is, not as he wants it to be. He does not seem able to understand what happens when folks living in multiethnic polity do not behave realistically and minimize the consequences of their naive actions.” Perhaps the most educative part of Dr. Osuji’s article is the reason he attributed to Achebe’s ethnic chauvinism. And he wrote, “Achebe is a simple story teller not a social scientist, his novels are of secondary school variety and lack what, for lack of a better phrase, can be called philosophical and psychological thinking. Achebe writes for teenagers but not for adults. His reasoning tends not to be analytic; his writing is what one would expect from a secondary school graduate but not from a sophisticated thinker who understands the nature of man and the ways of the world. Achebe tends to appeal to his reader’s emotions and not to their reason.” I came to think about Dr. Osuji and most especially the last quoted paragraph of his essay on Chinua Achebe four years ago on reading media’s review of Achebe’s *Igbos Before Others Fairy Tales* that he called, ”There was a country-A personal narrative of Biafra.” Here follows media’s excerpts from the book; “Throughout the conflict, the Biafran consistently charged that the Nigerians had a design to exterminate the Igbo people from the face of the earth. This calculation, the Biafrans insisted, was predicated on a holy Jihad proclaimed by mainly Islamic extremists in the Nigerian Army and supported by policies of economic blockade that prevented shipments of humanitarian aid, food and supplies to the needy in Biafra. THE WARTIME CABINET OF General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals, like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others, who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies. A statement credited to Awolowo and echoed by his cohorts is the most callous and unfortunate: all is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder. It is my impression that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition of power, for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba People in general. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at that time as the obstacle for that goal, and when the opportunity arose – the Nigeria – Biafra war – his ambition drove him to frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the number of his enemies significantly through starvation eliminating over two million people mainly members of future generations.” The above quoted part of Achebe’s book accurately justifies Dr. Osuji’s characterisation of Chinua Achebe as a simple story teller whose writings tend to appeal to his reader’s emotions and not their reason. Achebe is treating the history of the civil war in Nigeria as a fictitious tale telling, something like the tortoise and the fox, whereas, the war was not just a history of political and military tacticians but also poor strategists who carelessly perished their future options and manoeuvrability for the sake of short term advantages. Let us rummage in history! The seed of the Nigerian civil war was actually sown after 1959 December federal election which decided who was to be the Prime Minister of Nigeria for the next four years. The main political parties that contested the election were: Northern People’s Congress (NPC) led by the Premier of the North, Ahmadu Bello; the National Council of Nigerian Citizen (NCNC) led by the Premier of the East, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe, who formed alliance with Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) led by Aminu Kano; and Action Group (AG) led by the Premier of the West, Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, who formed alliance with the United Middle-Belt Congress (UMBC) in the North and Calabar Ogoja State Party led by Joseph Tarka and Wenike Briggs respectively. The NPC which contested only in the North won 134 seats in the Federal Parliament; the NCNC/NEPU won 58 seats in the East, 8 in the North, 23 in the West & Lagos which equalled to 89 total seats in the Federal Parliament; and the AG and its allies won 14 seats in the East, 25 seats in the North, and 34 seats in the West & Lagos which gave 73 total seats in the Federal Parliament out of 312 total seats. Sixteen independent candidates (one in the East, seven in the North and eight in the West & Lagos) also won seats into the Parliament. However, fourteen independent candidates declared for the NPC while the rest two declared for the AG swelling their respective strength in the Parliament to 148 and 75. Since none of the political parties had majority in the Parliament to form a government, a national coalition of all the political parties or a coalition of two political parties was necessary. Relying on the fact that NCNC and AG had a total seat of 164 spread throughout the whole country as against NPC’s 148, Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo offered to serve under a national government led by Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe as the Prime Minister. However, on Sunday, 20 December 1959, the leaders of NCNC and NPC signed a coalition agreement to constitute the Federal Government under a Prime Minister named, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The decision of the leaders of the NCNC was informed by the belief that the educational and academic superiority of its members to NPC would put the control of the government in their hands even though the Prime Minister was an NPC. While Awolowo handed over the Premiership of Western Region to Samuel Ladoke Akintola to become leader of opposition in the Federal Parliament, Azikwe handed over the Premiership of Eastern Region to Michael Ihenokura Okpara to become the President of the Senate. When the colonial Governor- General, James Robertson left office in November 1960 Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe was inaugurated as the Governor – General on the 16th of November 1960 and Nwafor Orizu succeeded him as President of the Senate. It must be stated that NEPU, the political ally of the NCNC in the North was excluded from ministerial or any official appointments in the Federal coalition government. As the colonial officials were leaving Nigeria, the NCNC supplanted them with their own educated elites who stepped in to fill the colonialists jobs, play their roles, inherit their rates of pay and privileges (including housing, children, servant and car allowances), and assume the colonialists attitudes of having divine right to rule and prosper at the expense of the masses in Nigeria. Towards the end of 1961, the deputy leader of AG and Premier of Western Region, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, blamed Awolowo for the exclusion of the people from his region from the share of appointments in the federal civil service and federal government owned corporations because of Awolowo’s refusal to take part in the national coalition government at the centre. Before discussing what that blame led to later let me establish some historical facts about the Federal Coalition Government agreement of December 20, 1959 between the NPC and NCNC. Contrary to the view held by Achebe and his ilk, it is a historical fact that Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe of the NCNC never regarded Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Jihadists when he entered into coalition government agreement in 1959. And if religion was important in the choice of a coalition partner, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe ought to have chosen Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, a Christian like him, instead of the Muslims, Abubakar Tafawa Nalewa and Ahmadu Bello. Awolowo declared that taking part in the Federal Government should not be based on personal and tribal interest but on national interest. He emphasised that appointed Ministers, top civil servants and directors of government corporations were to serve the entire nation and not a specific tribe. Awolowo based his refusal to join the Federal Government on the feudalistic and reactionary characters of the NPC leaders. Awolowo stated categorically that if the Action Group Party decided to partake in the Federal Government he would not accept any post including that of the Deputy Prime Minister that he was being offered. On February 2, 1962, the Action Group had a Congress at Jos in the Northern Region. The Congress resolved among other things to replace Ayotunde Rosiji as the Secretary of the AG with Samuel Ikoku, the Action Group Leader of opposition in the Eastern House of Assembly. Furthermore, the party adopted Democratic Socialism as its ideology. As the crisis between Awolowo and Akintola deepened, Awolowo addressed a joint meeting of the Western and Midwestern executive committees on his Deputy’s anti party activities on Saturday, 19 May 1962 and called for a disciplinary action against him. Consequently a resolution demanding the immediate resignation of Akintola as the Premier of the West and Deputy Leader of the Action Group was carried by 81 votes to 29. By Monday, 21st of May 1962, the Governor of Western Region, Adesoji Aderemi, received a petition signed by sixty-five out of one-hundred and seventeen members of the House of Assembly requesting him to remove Akintola from office on the constitutional ground that he no longer commanded the support of a majority of the assemblymen. The Governor agreed with the party to dismiss Akintola from office and Alhaji Dauda Soroye Adegbenro was sworn in as Premier having been chosen as the new parliamentary leader of the party in the West. On Friday, 25th of May 1962, Adegbenro summoned the House of Assembly to a meeting to pass a vote of confidence in his government. Akintola’s supporters led by one Oke violently disrupted the proceedings of the House and the Federal Police tear gassed members out of the chamber. The Premier designate, Alhaji Adegbenro, telephoned the Prime Minister of the Federation, Alhaji Balewa, and asked him to provide police protection within the chamber so that the House could conduct the affairs of the day peacefully but Balewa declined to accede to his request. When the House tried to meet in the evening of the same day, violence broke out in the chamber once more and Balewa ordered the police to clear the chamber and lock it up. On the 28th of May 1962, a joint meeting of the NCNC’s National Executive Committee and Federal Parliamentarians presided over by the Premier of Eastern Region, Michael Ihenokura Okpara, voted to back up the Federal Government to declare a state of Emergency in the West. Then on Tuesday, 29th of May 1962, the Federal Government composed of NPC and NCNC declared a State of Emergency in the Western Region for six months after a motion to that effect was moved in the Federal Parliament by Balewa and carried by 232 votes to 44. The 13 Emergency Powers Act enacted by the Federal Parliament on Western Region were signed into law by the Governor General of the Federation, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe. Thereafter, Balewa appointed an Administrator, Moses A Majekodunmi, who was empowered to impose curfew, to censor, search, detain, and restrict people. While Emergency persisted, Awolowo and many of his supporters in the Action Group had been rounded up and charged to court, for treasonable felony. Thus, when the state of emergency was lifted in the West, Awolowo and many of his supporters were remanded in prison custody for treasonable felony trial. On the other hand, Akintola was reinstated as Premier of Western Region on the 1st of January 1963 after forming a new party called United People’s Party (UPP) with the help of deflectors from the Action Group. He then entered into a coalition government with the NCNC which had 35 seats in the House of Assembly. It must be mentioned here that in spite of the demand of minorities in the North, East and West for new regions, it was only in the West that the Federal Coalition Government of NPC and NCNC carved out Midwest Region. In September 1963 Awolowo was sentenced to ten years imprisonment while some of his co-accused received various jail terms. On October 1, 1963, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe, former leader of NCNC, was installed as the President of Nigeria after Nigeria had become a Republic. Reasoning analytically one would discover from the sequence of events narrated above that if Awolowo was driven by overriding ambition of power he would have accepted the offer to serve as Deputy Prime Minister in the Federal Coalition Government led by Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. And if Awolowo had been a hater of Igbo people, he would have seen to it that Ayotunde Rosiji, the Secretary of the Action Group, was succeeded by another Yoruba man instead of an Igbo man, Samuel G Ikoku. If one should apply Achebe’s method of projecting the behaviour of individuals on their tribal origins it would be correct to say that the Igbo people under the leadership of Michael Ihenokura Okpara conspired with the Hausa man, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to stage a parliamentary coup in Yoruba land by proclaiming a state of emergency and thereby overthrew the democratically elected government of the Region in order to slowpoke the progress of Yoruba people. Utilizing Achebe’s tribal prejudice one can conclude that because of the hatred the Igbo Governor-General of the Federation, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe, had for the Yoruba people he signed the Emergency Acts into law in order to halt and destroy the progress of Yoruba people. Viewing it from religious angle, Balewa and Adegbenro were Muslims as appellation of Alhaji before their first names indicated that both were ex-Mecca visitors. Because of their Muslim affinity one would have expected Balewa to accede to Adegbenro’s request for police presence in the Western House of Assembly so as to enable members pass a vote of confidence in a Premier of their choice. Not only did Balewa dump his Muslim brother but he went further to choose a Christian administrator for the State of Emergency in the West, in the person of Moses A. Majekodunmi. With Awolowo and many of his supporters in the Action Group incarcerated, the NCNC leadership had hoped that Western Region would be delivered to it politically on a platter of gold. However, in February 1964 the Federal Census Board announced the preliminary statistics for the 1963 census figures of which Northern Region had 29.78 million, Eastern Region 12.39 million, Western Region 10.30 million, Midwest Region 2.51 million and Lagos Capital Territory 0.68 million. Since allocation of seats to the Regions in the Federal Parliament depended on population, it implied that the North would have more seats than the entire South. Understandably, the NCNC controlled governments of the Eastern and Midwestern Regions rejected the figures and expected the NCNC/UPP coalition government in the West to do the same. Contrary to expectations, the government of Western Region did not only accept the census figures but a new party called Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) had simultaneously been formed. The new party (NNDP) under the leadership of Samuel Ladoke Akintola absorbed all members of the UPP and almost the entire members of the NCNC in the Region’s House of Assembly. While the NCNC was decimated in the West, a serious conflict erupted between it and its Federal Coalition partner, the NPC. The NCNC’s attempt to stop the use of the census figures for the 1964 December Federal election through court action was to no avail. However, Akintola and his NNDP were so unpopular in Western Region where Awolowo had acquired the status of a martyr. Therefore, in their quest to gain acceptance of the people in the Region the NNDP government issued a white paper detailing how tribe, not merit and competence had guided appointments and promotions in the Federal Government dominated by the NCNC since 1960. The NNDP accused the NCNC of practising “Igbocracy” meaning a network which secured for Igbos a disproportionate share of jobs, commercial opportunities,

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