Chinua Achebe’s long awaited book on the Nigerian Civil War has turned the Internet into a battleground between supporters of the famous writer and the admirers of the late Yoruba sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
The fight started on Tuesday after excerpts of Achebe’s memoirs, “There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra”, was published in the Guardian of London.
The book focuses on the octogenarian author’s experiences during the war and explores the roles played by some of the major actors, including Awolowo.
However, it was Achebe’s claims that the late revered statesman used his position as the Vice Chairman of the wartime federal cabinet to “decimate” the Igbo as a race that stirred the hornet’s nest.
Achebe wrote, ”It is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself and for his Yoruba people. There is, on the surface at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations.
“However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose–the Nigeria-Biafra war–his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of his enemies significantly through starvation — eliminating over two million people, mainly members of future generations.”
The controversial excerpts has since spawned passionate debates on the social media, especially on Facebook, Twitter and blogs.
Writing to support Achebe on Facebook, Frank Fabian accused Awolowo, who also served as Nigerian’s finance minister during the Civil War of masterminding an economic blockade that crippled Biafra.
Kalu Kalu also wrote that “Awolowo backed the policy of starvation as a tool of war. How could you say that a man who made and implementated these policies against a people does not hate them? Chinua Achebe is right but the truth is always bitter.”
But those who spoke up for Awolowo, however, described Achebe as biased.
Mayowa Akinsola wrote, “I consider this statement from the highly revered literary icon an attempt at sectional revisionism. Awolowo was perfectly right when he said that everything in war is fair.
“It is shameful that we are putting this type of argument forward, how reasonable to blame our enemies for making policy that will give them victory. It is childish to expect your enemy to feed you during the war. Both of you are looking for victory, and whatever you do to give you victory is fair. If at all there is something that is unfair during the war, not given your enemy food is certainly not one of it.”
Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina wrote that “Knowledge is an awareness over existence of a subject, but wisdom is the ability to rightly interpret/analyse collections of information without damaging its objective and original intention. The motive of the writer (Prof Achebe) was clearly borne out of hatred on the alleged character.”
Writing in one of the popular yahoogroups, Toyi Adepoju argued that Awolowo’s position was misunderstood.
He wrote, “He (Awolowo) stated that the food could get into the hands of soldiers. I am adding that not only is that true, but that the line between soldier and civilian in Biafra was not always clear cut.”
Meanwhile, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, has reacted to Achebe’s remarks on Awolowo, describing it as an abomination.
Secretary General, Afenifere, Bashorun Seinde Arogbofa, said, “He has the right to live anywhere he likes but to start denigrating one of Nigeria’s founders and builders like the Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo is not only unfortunate but a great abomination especially when he knows that the man is dead and cannot defend himself.
“The things that bind us together in this country are already undergoing a great stress due to the economic downturn, poor management of resources, ethnic clashes, religious intolerance, unemployment, and nepotism among others.
“All peace loving Nigerians should talk with restraints, trying to find solutions to our problems and ignore if truly he had said all those things.”