As Femi Robinson calls for school ban of Chinua Achebe’s classic Things Fall Apart
The storm generated by excerpts of Professor Chinua Achebe’s memoirs, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, which were published in The Guardian of London of Tuesday, October 2, is yet to abate.
The book, set against the backdrop of the Igbo-born octogenarian’s experiences during the Nigerian Civil War (1967 -1970), also explores roles played by some of the major actors, including deceased Nigerian statesman, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
The revered Yoruba leader was one of the members of General Yakubu Gowon’s cabinet during the dark days of violent internal conflict. However, in Prof. Achebe’s documentation of intricacies and manoeuvrings around the civil war, he fingered Obafemi Awolowo as the mastermind behind a strategic policy of starvation which weakened Biafra’s succession bid, decimated its population and brought the bitter conflict to a quick end.
Long before the release of There Was a Country in September, there had been speculations by some literary enthusiasts that if the new book by the famous writer of Things Fall Apart does not become a bestseller in the country following the differences of opinions it has generated so far, no other book will. While critics abroad have focussed on the literary content, there is nothing short of an outcry against the book in the country.
In the controversial excerpts reproduced from the book, Achebe wrote that: “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 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 Igbo 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.”
However, it was Achebe’s claims that the late revered Yoruba 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.
The contentious excerpts have since spawned passionate debates on the social media, especially on Facebook, Twitter and blogs.
Veteran theatre artiste, Femi Robinson, one of the pioneering cast of Village Headmaster, made his declaration on the new book yesterday where he called on the government to ban Achebe’s book Things Fall Apart in Nigerian schools.
Robinson said he decided to make this call because “it appears that the author of the book had, for years, been selling hate and disunity with the publication of his book and the promotion of the character, Okonkwo, as a role model to Nigerians”. Robinson, who said he had read sections of Achebe’s new book, explained that for many years he had asked himself why the Things Fall Apart came with that title.
“What fell apart and what could not hold?” He asked, saying that it was for this reason he had written a play titled: ‘Things Fall in Place’ “to counter some of what I considered dangerous propaganda by the book”.
Robinson went on to run an excerpt about the character of Okonkwo from his play, which shows him at the point where he returns from exile in Mbata. Robinson argues that Okonkwo was banished at the end of Achebe’s book and wondered if it had been a marketing gimmick to get international acceptance of the book.
“How many Okonkwos did the book breed before the war? How many unrepentant killers have we turned into heroes in all parts of the country? People who believed the centre can no longer hold because only they had the cultural ties that can keep it together.
“I am also a writer and I have always insisted that children should never be forced to buy books. I call on the Members of Senate, Members of the Houses of Representatives and all well-meaning Nigerians to ban this and any other forms of literature from being forced on the curriculum of schools and students”, Robinson said.
Referring to what he described as “Prof. Chinua Achebe’s clannish mindset from the early days”, Robinson said he was surprised the writer has not changed after 52 years of independence.
“Things may have fallen apart when he was young, but the youths today must be made to realise the need for the centre to hold. These days we do not need to go to war to settle our differences”.
However, poet and essayist, Odia Ofeimun, while speaking at the Book Party organised by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) for the 10 writers long-listed in the 2012 Nigeria Prize for Literature on Sunday, said the leaders who took the decision to go to war should now be given a proper trial and that Achebe’s new book will now encourage more writing on the war.
Ofeimun was personal secretary to Obafemi Awolowo who served in the Nigerian government during the war at the same time that Achebe was an ambassador to the Biafran government.
“All the leaders who took the decision that led to the Civil War should now be tried properly. Because the rest of us were angry, we allowed them to mislead us. It is wrong for people to use the falsehood of propaganda during a civil war”, he said.
The poet explained that leaders need to pay for what they did yesterday. “Ojukwu committed genocide against his people and he should not have been allowed to simply walk away. Nzeogwu was the leader of the Biafran army; he told them, we don’t have the guns, we can’t win this war”.
Ofeimun said the story of the Civil War “will now have to be told properly because Achebe has literarily taken the genie out of the bottle. We need somebody to begin to tell us why we were not ready for a war and they went ahead and committed genocide against their people”.
In a review in the London Review of Books, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated that Achebe mourns Biafra, but his anger is directed at the failures of Nigeria. His great disappointment manifests itself in a rare moment of defiance towards the end of the book.
This is not the first time Achebe is being criticised for his work: In 1975, he gave a lecture on racism in “The Heart of Darkness” that caused controversy.
Achebe chronicles the events surrounding the Nigerian Civil War, a three-year battle lasting from 1967-1970 and directly involving the author’s home and family. Already a noted writer at the time, Achebe supported Biafran independence. This book describes the state of the country prior to war, so that readers can understand its potential and carries on through the monstrous violence that took place.
Source: National Mirror