Achebe and the Myth of Nigerian Exceptionalism

Professor Chinua Achebe

It has been only a few weeks since the prolific and renowned author, Professor Chinua Achebe’s personal account of the 1967 Nigerian Civil War, “There Was a Country” was published, yet the firestorm it has generated in the Nigerian public sphere still rages on. Admittedly, many, including yours truly haven’t read the book, but the little we have gleaned of it, from the book’s synopsis in the UK Guardian, has driven many into a frenzy and is further straining Nigeria’s fractious unity.

My intention here is neither to review nor critique the book, as others have done a better job of critiquing, deconstructing and disputing some of Achebe’s alleged inaccurate depiction of events and personalities of the Nigerian Civil War. Max Siollun a Nigerian historian questions Achebe’s claims of non-integration of Igbos in Nigeria, Ibraheem A. Waziri disputes Achebe’s jihadist colouration of events, Jumoke Verissimo writing for African Arguments points out the ethnocentric slant to Achebe’s book, Chris Ngwodo analyses the disconnect between Achebe’s generation and the “post-civil war generation” and many others have written or cited credible evidence to dispute a number of Achebe’s claims and one-sided portrayal of events.

However, my particular grouse with Achebe’s latest treatise is that it disappointingly feeds into an increasingly disturbing trend in public discourse on national issues in Nigeria, of a perceived Nigerian exceptionalism, and the deployment of such to excuse the failures of nation-building, socio-economic development and social cohesion in Nigeria.

Proponents of this view of Nigerian exceptionalism (defined as the perception that a country or society is unusual or extraordinary in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles) believe Nigeria occupies a unique place in the world stage because it is an artificial British creation, from an amalgamation of the Northern and Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria for administrative purposes in 1914. This artificial creation is chiefly responsible for the present dysfunction of the Nigerian state, according to this view, and thus, social cohesion and national unity will forever remain elusive as Nigerians are “not one”.

The advocates of this view also assert that certain events in Nigeria’s immediate post-colonial history, especially the 1967 Civil War, its intrigues and aftermath of creating a unitary-federalism have and are still holding Nigeria back, and therefore, it’s necessary to regularly exhume the debris and the horror of these events, as Achebe has done. Thus, we are now in 2012 inundated daily with news clippings of the 1960s Nigeria-Biafra War, sad pictures of emaciated starving children in Biafra over four decades ago and many other horror stories, because the war according to this view was a monochrome event between the forces of “good” and “evil” and nothing else in-between.

These two historical events according to proponents of this view, mostly but not exclusively account for why Nigeria is so “different” from other countries in the world and for its continuous dysfunction.

Sir Frederick Lord Lugard. British colonial administrator and Governor-General of Nigeria. He oversaw the 1914 Amalgamation which created Nigeria. The “culprit”? Image courtesy: Wikipedia

On closer examination though, Nigeria is certainly not different and this perception of exceptionalism for all intents and purposes smacks of intellectual escapism of shying away from Nigeria’s most pressing problems, shirking away from complicity in Nigeria’s present challenges and the otherness syndrome that characterizes who we blame for Nigeria’s development challenges. It’s the 1914 Amalgamation, the post-independence elites, key instigators and participants of the Civil War many of whom are now deceased, or as Achebe has recently done, its everyone else’s fault in Nigeria for marginalizing his own ethnic group.  It doesn’t matter who it is, so long as it is someone else, the finger always points away somewhere.

Looking at the basis of this “uniqueness”, Nigeria is obviously not the only “artificial” colonial creation based on arbitrary drawing-up of boundaries. The boundaries of much of Africa, with the exception of countries like Ethiopia and Liberia were artificially created by Britain, France, Germany, and other European colonial powers. The case of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is particularly appalling as it was not just a colony, but at some point, it was the personal property of King Leopold II of Belgium.

Most countries that make up today’s Middle East and North Africa were carved out of the defunct Ottoman Empire from the 1920s by Britain and France after the latter’s defeat in World War I. It’s the same story in much of South America and South-East Asia and most of these countries are till date grappling with their own nation-building challenges. Take for example, the case of the Kurds in Iraq who have for years, been agitating for their own sovereignty.

Similarly, Nigeria is not the only country in the world to experience a terrible Civil War. Many countries, even the “developed” ones have gone through particularly bloody civil wars at some point. The American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 between the American federal government and the secessionist southern states (ring any bells?) led to the death of over 750,000 soldiers and yet to be determined civilian casualties; Britain, Spain and France had their shares of bloody civil wars and in the developing world, much of South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia have gone through tumultuous wars with the particularly bloody ones including but not limited to China, Russia, Cambodia, Burma, Yugoslavia, Sudan, DRC, Liberia and Sierra Leone with in most cases, millions of lives lost. These wars significantly scarred each of these countries, though I doubt the stirring up events of the past is a key task those which are now more politically stable frequently embark upon.

Since Nigeria is not the only “artificial creation” neither is it the only country to have experienced a civil war, one wonders why some of our “intellectuals” thrive on exhuming buried sentiments of decades past and why they obstinately insist on invoking demons of a traumatizing past of which no side can claim to be wholly innocent or wholly guilty. Why are they fixated on distracting Nigerians from more relevant issues of the present with direct bearing on the future? Well, Achebe states that his “aim” of rousing such emotions “…is not to provide all the answers but to raise questions and perhaps to cause a few headaches”.

One truly wonders if this is really a “headache” Nigeria needs at this juncture when many parts of Nigeria still lack electricity, quality healthcare and education, and other basic infrastructure that many countries have for long overcome; when Nigerian youths are having a crisis of self-discovery in the absence of sufficient jobs, economic opportunities and worthy role models and when none of these ills discriminate among Nigerians on the basis of religion or ethnicity. Yet Achebe’s contribution is to pitch young Nigerians against one another as we squabble over events we neither witnessed nor participated in, and which we cannot change.

The faces of the Nigerian Civil War

The truth is people like Achebe greatly traumatized by a painful past have been perpetually subjected to view the world through a two-dimensional lens of black and white, preventing them from realizing that Nigeria has considerably evolved with all shades of grey in between. When Achebe claimed for instance that his Igbo ethnic group “…were not and continue not to be reintegrated into Nigeria…” and haughtily refers to this marginalization, as the primary source of Nigeria’s backwardness, one wonders if the American-based Professor has in the last two decades or so, been to the section of Kaduna Central Market where Igbo women selling crayfish and the finest palm oil are comfortably nestled close to the Hausa butchers. One wonders if Achebe has ever wandered around Park road in Zaria or Ahmadu Bello Way in Kaduna where hundreds of Igbo dealers sell a vast array of Japanese, Taiwanese and lately Chinese manufactured electronics; curtains, cooking gas, furniture and apparel. Max Siollun provides further evidence of Igbo “integration” in politics and the economics in Nigeria.

So far Nigeria is not unique for having these problems but will attain an “exceptional” status when she gets her act together, becomes a strong nation built on the richness of her diversity, has a robust middle class riding on the back of a roaring industrializing economy, provides moral and socio-economic leadership and well-springs of business opportunities to Sub-Saharan Africa and indeed the black race, and provides equal opportunity for her citizens irrespective of religion and ethnicity. Then Nigeria will truly become exceptional, not when she lacks basic infrastructure, when almost 70% of the population wallow in abject poverty in the face of stupendous wealth of the mostly decadent few, when monumental corruption persists, and the mostly young citizenry are further polarized and engaged in futile squabbles stoked-up by intellectuals like Achebe who should otherwise be beacons of social cohesion. Then Nigeria remains another African country that just can’t get it right.

After all is said and done, Achebe is entitled to his opinion, no matter how prejudiced or ethnocentric it may seem. One hopes that Nigerians and foreigners alike remember that this remains a personal opinion, and just one piece of the intricate puzzle of Nigerian historical dynamics. Importantly, Achebe’s is one side of a story, that of Biafra and for those interested in the complete story, the Nigerian side deserves attention as fundamentally, there are two sides to every story just as there are two belligerents in every war.

50 thoughts on “Achebe and the Myth of Nigerian Exceptionalism

  1. Another critical opinion of happenings in Nigeria. Stirring up the hornet’s nest as the Prof has done is not what we need at the moment. Like you rightly pointed out, ours is not an exception. There are other countries who had been in our shoes and have moved on to rise from the bickering of regional divides. We should dissipate our energies on issues that unite us rather than engage in telling bitter tales of war that ended over forty years ago. There are more pressing challenges that are bedeviling us as a people and efforts should be geared towards surmounting them.

    A beautiful critique Zainab!

  2. I was fortunate to read Achebe’s book and it is very ethnocentric largely slanted towards telling us of the uniqueness and innovativeness of the Ibo tribe and how Nigeria’s inability to tap into these attributes continues to be one of the reasons why the country has not been able to attain the promise of being one of the great nations on the African continent. I mus admit that I was disappointed by the book but upon further reflection realised that he could only have written the book from his own viewpoint. This was a story of a lived experience that left a significant mark on how he perceives the world.
    While I agree on the fact that so much emphasis is put on the artificialness of Nigeria, I believe it is not something to be disregarded. When we talk of these artificial borders most people do not go beyond that, however it is important to note that Nigeria was in all sense and purposes three distinct regions up until 1960 and that is where lies the problem. The divisions and administrative differences ensured that Nigeria developed along two very different trajectories. These trajectories were further widened with the administrative restructuring of the country that has gone on since the 1967 12 state creation.
    We can argue that we must move away from looking at Nigeria as a country that is unique making it difficult to overcome some of its problems, but we must remember that memories of the past are very important in sharply divided countries like Nigeria and until we reach a point where some sense of national identity is created we will continue to remain ‘exceptional’. The dominant narrative must be that of a united country and not one of a fragmented one which books like Achebe’s continue to promote.

    1. A balanced response from @Balaliman. May be we should begin to seek for that sense of sense national identity. Like I have said in many fora and commented on numerous blogs, attentions should shift towards proffering solutions. Many commentators focus mainly on myriads of problems leaving no trace of possible solutions. Even a primary school child can fill up his exercise book writing up Nigeria’s problems. This is why I fault the timing of Achebe’s book. .

      1. @Bashir: I agree with you, on the need for a shift from problem-outlining-oriented analyses of Nigeria’s challenges to solution-oriented analyses. This is a point I made in a post a few weeks ago.

      2. The problem is, we hate the solution, because it is against our interest. But dividing Nigeria is the one and only solution. If unity hasn’t worked from 1960 to 2012, then it will never work from now until 2062, check the clock again and move to another age. Until the end of the world Nigeria will not unite, and the division will not allow the country to move forward. So the solution is what we don’t like or hate, divide.
        NB: I am Fulani tribe from Kano.

      3. Well done, Zainab. Very useful exchanges. Bashir is also spot on in urging the country to embark on a problem solving route. However, permit me to simply add that a solution tree usually builds on the output of a problem tree which emerges from detailed causality analyses where immediate, structural and underlying causes are painstakingly examined. Truth hurts but it also heals.

  3. Another attempt to tip the equi-poise State Nigeria is at at the moment by a supposed custodian of History……my initial opinion on reading excerpts from the book was that of “intuitive repulsion”……God Bless One Nigeria (even if fragmented )


  4. I disagree respectfully.. His view while correct remains incomplete as most things are but he merely restated the view held by many people including Prof. Soyinka and this humble reader.. Nonetheless, Nigeria still has hope.. Also, Achebe has castigated and spoken out against corruption on many occasions and even refused National honours on two occasions as a result..

  5. Brilliant write-up as usual Zainab and an excellent point of view from Bala Liman i must add. The difficulty in reconciling the different trajectories lies in the fact that grievances about the Civil War have still not been addressed. These emotions must be shared on an honest National platform in other to attain any sense of National Identity.

  6. Zainab. No! It is high time Nigerians took off the veil of rhetoric and façade and face the truth. While I do not agree with the narratives and views of Chinua Achebe about the civil war, the essence of his message should not be lost. Nigeria is a divided nation.

    Zainab, Nigeria is not made up of 2-3 tribes, we are a nation of many tribes and that should be acknowledged. We are a nation of strange bed fellows. Whether we accept that truth or not, the reality on ground and the events from the past corroborate that truth. There is a struggle for political and economic relevance and dominance among the distinct ethnic groups in the country. ‘The North’ and ‘the South’ have become the most common words in our lexicon particularly among politicians. Any mention of the words ‘national dialogue’ is followed with deluge of shouts of accusation of succession which are profoundly unfounded.The monster of tribalism has eaten deeply into the fabric of our national consciousness, that even among educated, informed and exposed Nigerians, the ethnic sentiments and prejudices stick out like a sore thumb.

    You cited instances of traders from tribes in southern Nigeria vending their goods beside traders from the North but you failed to cite cases of sectarian crisis which has engulfed parts of Nigeria that have led to the exodus of these traders.

    Claiming that there are several nations with similar or worse situation than Nigeria seems to beg the issue as there are also nations with same pedigree and character as Nigeria either in population size, number of tribes, or granted independence during same period but are economically prosperous and more developed than Nigeria. India, Malaysia, Indonesia and even China which was invaded by Japan during Second World War are typical examples. Many nations have made huge progress, leaving Nigeria trailing and crawling.

    Must we have a war resulting in massive bloodshed before we discuss our differences as a nation and a people? Must we have ‘the troubles’ like Northern Ireland or go to war like old Yugoslavia? Is Nigeria becoming a Sudan,or an Ivory Coast which transitioned from one of the most peaceful country in west Africa to a war ridden country bedevilled by tribal wars? Must we become the old India colony that was partitioned into Pakistan, Bangladesh and modern India after a series of bloody tribal/religious battles which rage on specifically between India and Pakistan (albeit technically) till this day? Have we forgotten Rwanda and Congo (Zaire) so soon?

    There is going to be no end to the tribal and ethnic divide except a new Nigeria evolve where all tribes and people are equal and each citizen has a right and freedom to live and pursue his/her dreams without discrimination on whatever basis including tribe and religion.

    Nigerians know and understand the problem but are held hostage by the widespread and prevalent ‘culture’ which promotes ethnicity above ‘nationhood’. Unfortunately, the beneficiaries of this culture are a hand full of elites who pose as ethnic jingoists to satisfy their selfish interest.

    Zainab, I still recall your tweets about crude oil, in response to the comments made by Chief Clark.

    1. Very valid points you’ve raised. The problem now is this, even in terms of discussing “the issues” in a national-dialogue sort of setting, will Nigerians even agree to what the problems are? Take this Civil War for instance, with so many versions of events coming up, there is no consensus on which version is closer to the truth.

      1. Kuzak and Zainab, I really believe the kind of conversations taking place on the blog are really what Nigeria as a whole needs; respectful, honest discussions. I agree with Zainab’s analysis that what is happening to Nigeria isn’t totally unique, but Kuzak’s point on a true dialogue should be taken seriously, because irrespective of the historical similarities with other nations, that lack of a sincere national dialogue in the form of a confab, treaty, etc, is what keeps Nigeria separate from the rest. If a divorce warrants 2 people sitting together to discuss terms, what more a remarriage? Post-civil war leaders by selling the ‘Nigeria is non-negotiable’ mantra, hence no tete-a-tete allowed; have done us no good. I wouldn’t need a crystal ball to tell me when a true leader mounts the political scene. Anyone who gets into Aso rock or Apo village and pushes for all the peoples of Nigeria to sit down and finally pry-out a sincere constitution that will secure the rights of everyone of us, by way of molding our various uniquenesses into a national feeling of belonging; that would be the person who puts the icing on the cake. Till then comments like those in Achebe’s book should be a way of helping us appreciate the other person’s views, if it brings up counter opinions then a conversation has begun. I am Yoruba, and for me the arguments that have arisen from the book cast more light on what the mistakes and great deeds of the major players, like my beloved Awo, were. We the next generation should learn from them and seek to respect one another the more. There is strength in our diversity and we can talk on ways to make it count more.

  7. My own perspective is that untreated wounds continue to fester… and no amount of cover-up will heal it. Whether Achebe is right or wrong is not the bone of contention but that Justice for past occurrences is always a requirement for peace for the future.
    There can never be peace in Nigeria without Justice and Law & Order. Justice for events in the Past. Law and Order for the present and Future.
    And as for comparing Nigeria with other countries that have had Civil Wars, did they learn from it and ensured that they set up structures and institutions to ensure those mistakes don’t repeat again or like Nigeria we just cover it up.

  8. A wonderful write up there Zainab. I only hav few questions to ask. If truly d Igbos are marginalised as claimed by Prof. Achebe I still be all the 5 South Eastern states tht make up d core Biafra collects the monthly allocation from the federal government what have they done in their respective states to prove tht lack of integration into Nigeria is d cause of our underdevelopment. Sincerely, we are the most unfortunate set of youth in this world bcoz our leaders refuse to be the role models to emulate. God bless Nigeria

  9. This is one of the long waited analysis of what I call, “Chinua Achebe and the Biafran Saga”. I must start by saying that this write-up raises many important questions yet to be answered on the Master Piece of Achebe.
    However, I am also among those who have always thought that there is a need to have a book of the kind. It was just last month, that I was telling a friend that why Nigerian has failed to move on as a nation is because there are many citizens with “unhealed covered wounds”. Let me buttress my point with few facts. Have we ever asked ourselves why majority of Igbos hardly have confidence on the Hausas, and vice-versa? Let’s not shy away from this fact! (I beg the indulgence of the reader of this comment to follow my argument with a non biased mind). Before I continue, let me air my position in the “one Nigeria saga”. I am among those who strongly believe that what made Europe what it is today is because they are United, so Nigerian progress depends on our unity.
    I think I am privileged not only because I have passed some of my formation period in the Northern and the Eastern parts of Nigeria, but also because I have been, for more than eight years now, in an Institution that brings together not only Nigerians (from different parts of the Country) but also non Nigerians and people from war devastated Countries. Anyone who knows the History of Sri-Lanka, Indian, Rwandan and Pakistan might understand better what I mean.
    From my observations these years, in Nigeria, even among the so called people of the same faith, you hardly see any sign of trust among people of these two regions. All you observe is name callings and back-biting. I am surely not trying to generalize the issue. Outside the Police and other military and para-military sections of our society, how many Nigerians occupy very important positions in the other regions outside theirs? You might not be surprised that even in the religious spheres, outside private churches for example, you find out the same situations.
    Do we ask ourselves why in many countries, political games are organized by the interest of the political Party, whereas in Nigeria, it is the contrary? We are only interested in the regional affairs. Do we ask ourselves why whenever, the North is mentioned, many easterners see it in religious points of view and the vice-versa? How many Igbos are disturbed when a Northerner is kidnapped in the East and how many Northerner are in pain when an Easterner is killed by the Boko haram?
    What I am really trying to say is that Nigeria as a Nation overlooked the Biafran-Nigerian war as if it did not cause a psychological trauma and division among different tribes in Nigeria. Zainab, you who is a “crisis strategist” know quite well that one of those important tactics in a post war confidence building is reconciliation.
    All the same, I think I should state that when I say reconciliation, I mean a balanced analysis of what happened during the war period. so, I do not mean an ethnocentric analysis but “un moment de verité” as the French calls it. Though I am very poor in history, what I did not learn is that there was a moment of reconciliation after the war that nearly brought the Nigeria we know today to a once historical nation.
    Nigerians, not just the Igbos, swallowed the war period history without masticating it. What we have avoided for forty-two good years is telling ourselves the plain truth about what happened. Surely, not looking for who is right or wrong but just sitting down together to tell ourselves that the war did not help us. We would have drawn our lessons from the errors of the past.
    Lastly, my take on the fact is that, even if Achebe’s book is just sectional, even if it is ethnocentrically conceived, even if it does not relate the truth of what happened during the war, I am just happy that it reminds Nigerians (you and I) that their is a dark part of our history that still hunts us. And that if we eventually redress this issue, we might begin to think as a Nation and not just as groups of individuals under one Coat of arm. Thanks Zainab!

  10. Just read “Gowons reintegration efforts after the War” in Tribune Newspaper of Monday 15/10/12 (available online and in print), by Haruna Poloma, pp. 42 – 43.

    That should put all arguments to rest.

  11. First of all, everyone has the right to his/her own opinion. Chinua Achebe has aired his own view about the Nigeria’s Civil war. However, I strongly believe that if he had talk about the other side of the story, he could at least have a non biased write up. Obviously, considering one side of a story without the other, could result to skewed research. Anyway, I am entitled to my own opinion. Thanks Zainab.

  12. Considering you have not read the book, it appears your judgement is based on the synopsis of the book, by others who have based their synopsis of the book, either from others, or, from the UK Guardian synopsis of the book.

    First of all, there is no point in comparing Nigeria’s civil war of 1960, to that of the U.S.A – something that happened in the 1860s. Whereas ours is still fresh in our memories and we need constant reminders like this work of Achebe, to aid us in the healing process.

    Secondly, and it is quite interesting how criticism to Achebe’s work has taken ethnic undertones, with the Yoruba’s quickly defending their semi-god: Awolowo and whatever roles he may or may not have played during the saga; the Igbos are quick to play the roles of the victims (and, some would argue, rightly so, seeing as the war was fought in their backyard and they had the most casualty), the Hausa’s are quick to defend their kinsman, Gowon, who was the Head of State, in his action, Prior, during and post the civil war (as evident in this article by Haruna Poloma )… This is no act of an integrated Nation.

    You have claimed Nigeria to be dealing with the issue of integration of the Igbos well, yet, it is a known fact that in any sectarian crisis in the North, i.e. pre-Boko Haram, the Igbos in the North, were always the victims. This got to a head, until a point where the Igbo leaders, decided to put a stop to it, and, taking the bull by the horn, armed “their people” to be able to defend themselves, in crisis situation. We claim to be handling integration well, yet it is evident that except you are from a particular tribe, you CANNOT hold a certain position in this country (this is not peculiar to the Igbos).

    To say this Nation is NOT divided is to deny inner truths… Achebe’s work has served its purpose, like it or hate it. We are a divided nation. Even current political situations show this, whereby, the President, given his poor performance, he is still keenly supported by the Ijaws, whose only argument of supporting him is that “He is our son!”

    I have come across so many criticism of Achebe’s work (and even more sadly, his person), in expressing what his belief about the outcome of the civil war, and how he affected him personally. These are his beliefs, and he is entitled to them. Same way I have my religious beliefs and I would not/be expected to be questioned on those beliefs, not to mention being insulted about them. I have read about Achebe being so bitter about the outcome of the war, which is why he has refused the National Honours he has been offered severally. I have even read of him being called a “bitter old man”….

    What many of these critics fail to realise is they WILL NEVER achieve a tenth of what Achebe has achieved in his lifetime. If you have issues with Achebe’s personal account of how the civil war affected him, why not write your own account of what the true position of things are?

    This whole argument can be likened to a woman who claims to have been taken advantage of, and got raped, by a man she had a drink with, and how she is now psychologically affected, probably, why she can’t trust men (or date a man, or even conceive). Instead of the man in question to, in his defence, give his own version of the event, he goes around town calling the woman all sorts of name.

    As you pointed out, for every story, there are 2 sides. In the story of the Civil war, there are 2 sides, as well, the Biafrans, and Nigeria (Federal Govt). Achebe falls on the side of the Biafrans and he has presented his own version (one of millions on the sides of the Biafrans, who witnessed the war) of the events as they unfolded. He is entitled to his opinion, however we decide to look at it. Giving him insults for this is very very wrong…

    1. “As you pointed out, for every story, there are 2 sides. In the story of the Civil war, there are 2 sides, as well, the Biafrans, and Nigeria (Federal Govt). Achebe falls on the side of the Biafrans and he has presented his own version (one of millions on the sides of the Biafrans, who witnessed the war) of the events as they unfolded. He is entitled to his opinion, however we decide to look at it. Giving him insults for this is very very wrong…”

      Those are my exact same views on the matter. The reactions to his book just portrays how very divided we are as a nation.

    2. Well said.

      This isn’t the first thought Zainab has espoused concerning this book – A BOOK SHE HASN’T EVEN READ. Her writings tell us more about her and her World view than about “why Achebe is wrong”.

      There is nothing wrong with Zainab or myself, we are both proof that the Nigerian project is failing – and failing very badly. There is no shared empathy, no shared idea of what it means to be Nigerian and very little willingness to listen to others.

      Think about it, the NYSC and Unity Schools – institutions designed to foster a sense of common nationhood among the youth are floundering. The result is a new generation of very sectional Nigerians – I belong to that generation.

      2 million people died in Nigeria and I am supposed to forget they died? There is no memorial, no record and it isn’t taught in schools. Am I supposed to “let it pass”? Granted they were Igbo and some were my relatives – does that make me a “tribalist”? Am I supposed to shut up?

      Let Achebe’s book lead to a proper accounting for evil deeds done during the Civil War, both by the Federal side and the Biafran side.

      But please, for the love of God, read the freaking book!!


        Despite all of the “Grammar”, I guess that we are all Really Divided deep Down

        The thing that Annoyed me most is when I looked at her Twitter.
        She Hypercritically Re-tweeted and Endorsed some Tribalistic Reply Article that can only be Described as an Exercise in Ad-Hominem


      2. I agree. I’ve never been a Fan of Achebe and I normally like Zainab’s writing, but this Article is Dreadful.

        Not only has she not Read the Book (Taking time to Write such a Lengthy Counter Argument to a Book you have not even Read yet, show how strong her own Sentiments are), but she Casually downplay the Death of Millions, Imply it was Justified, fails to Acknowledge the Context of other Countries’ examples vs Decades of our Reality

        The Thing that I Realize the more that I Grow Older is that Education is not a Guaranteed for Enlightenment. It Simply just Amplifies what is Already there

        So Despite the Amount of Grammar used or Degrees had by Writers, Bloggers or those with Opinions have, we are all still “Ethnic Champions” deep Down (and in some ways rightly so)

        But in the Long Run I guess the Sentiments even each other Out with the Perspective Individual Championing their out Teams and Causes in Overt or Covert Manners 😦


      3. @Augustus: actually, I not only “tweeted” the article you mentioned, I made reference to it in my piece above. The article offers another perspective on the war and disputes some of prejudiced Achebe’s claims. You claim it is “tribalistic”, many others in several other online forums claim it (rightly) challenges Achebe’s ethnocentric coloration of events.

        In the end, everyone is shouting “this is biased” “that is prejudiced” “we have been marginalized” “we have been wronged” etc. Which goes back to the point I made in the article, is this what we need right now in Nigeria? Nigerians can’t even agreeon what really happened during the war or who did what, when and how. Every group has its own version of events. Should Nigerian youths be engaged in such a futile squabble? To what end?

      4. @Anonymous:

        “So Despite the Amount of Grammar used or Degrees had by Writers, Bloggers or those with Opinions have, we are all still “Ethnic Champions” deep Down (and in some ways rightly so)”

        Interesting how you try to justify and rationalize the fact that you are an “ethnic champion” by generalizing and placing all Nigerians in the same category. Just because you are one, doesn’t mean all Nigerians are like that. Nigeria has a lot of problems, Nigerians are quite divided along ethno-religious lines, but many many Nigerians are still relatively detribalized. Try and make friends or acquaintances with such relatively detribalized people, it’d do wonders to your worldview

      5. I see that @zainab Deleted my Last reply and ignored/side-stepped the most important points that I made:

        “Not only has she not Read the Book (Taking time to Write such a Lengthy Counter Argument to a Book you have not even Read yet, show how strong her own Sentiments are), but she Casually downplays the Death of Millions, Imply it was Justified, and then fails to Acknowledge the Context of a few isolated countries as examples vs Decades of our own stark Reality”

        You have shown that Education and intellect ≠ Enlightenment or even being Unbiased, which lead me to Conclude that People just Support their chosen “teams” regardless. But I suppose it should not a Surprise, afterall there are those with Professorships that are Deny the Holocaust and there those with Doctorates that Downplay slavery, so this is relatively minor.

      6. @Augustus: I didn’t delete any of your replies. You don’t have to go down that route to make a point. The comments section on this blog are very open and unrestricted, and I removed all restrictions for a purpose, because this is meant to be an avenue for constructive engagement. I have received far more scathing criticisms on other write ups, yours is child’s play in comparison. Comments are posted immediately they are typed without requiring my (the administrator’s prior approval). Its unfortunate that you see it necessary to accuse me of blocking comments just to make what point exactly? Stick to the issue please. These diversionary tactics are absolutely unnecessary.

    3. Adeyemo Alade, my name is Haruna Poloma, and I claim the honour of writing the article to which you alluded in paragraph 3 above.

      If Achebe is entitled to express his views on the war, why should others (myself included) not be eligible to the same liberty of expressing views? Does his literary stature translate into an exclusive priviledge to comment on a subject on which others cannot proffer opinions?

      You may also wish to note, as a matter of historical fact, that General Yakubu Gowon is not Hausa/Fulani or Muslim. He is ANGAS or NGAS by tribe from Lur in Pankshin LGA of Plateau State, and a Christian by faith from his birth to date.

      For me, a greater tragedy is the haste with which individuals rush to comment on issues that they know very little about and appear too lazy to make effort in updating their knowledge before commenting in public.


  13. I’ll leave you with one message: the prophet pbuh said “regarding hassabiyah, leave it, it’s not good for you”
    Hassabiyah is an Arabic word that encompasses all shallow thinking group affiliations eg racism, nepotism, tribalism, nationalism, patriotism etc. All these create nothing but human divide and have resulted to countless conflicts and bloodshed.
    Racism is the parent motivation of Germany in ww2. Nationalism is the problem in the middle east (the jew,palestinian and Arab trillema) ours is even more primal, tribalism and nepotism. It’s such a shallow and selfish concept of thinking that I am better than anyone else and deserve better by mere virtue of things no one can decide ie birth. Assuming superiority or worthiness by mere looking like me, or speaking like me.
    The world over needs to come to an enlightened thought not just a deep one, we are humans beyond affiliations with what land we are born into like sea turtles, or localizing our territories like agama lizards. We have been blessed with sophisticated brains.

    Finally, I leave you with the verse of the qur’an that says “O Mankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other. The noblest among you in God’s sight is that one of you who best performs his duty. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (The Qur’an , 49:13)”

  14. I do have several things to say, but the majority are recounting the problems we always kept on saying and saying, without touching the probable solution. I laugh so much when ever I hear someone says speaking about secession is a “Treasonable Offence” for God’s sake!!! Where in the world will secession movement become a treasonable offence? Perhaps we (Northerners) are afraid we may no longer pay salaries when we are separated with the oil rich south?

    Come on… Where is all our religion? Where is our faith? Where is the belief that God provides for everyone? We are trying to keep our religion/faith under the carpet just to justify a so called “Unity” that is not working? If we are really sincere, and we care about our future generations, then having a country of our own is the only solution (Arewa Republic or whatever name it is). I have been reasoning this all along, but believe me there is no shortcut to Unity in Nigeria, we will just keep going up and down for the rest of the world’s existence, if it is not militants in the Deltas, it will be insurgency in the North.

    Do you even have any idea why the likes of IBB, Gowon, etc will die to keep the country one? Because they knew, if Nigeria no longer exists, and all the emerged countries started seeing overwhelmingly positive changes, people will now start to look back at them so called heros of the 60s and say why the heck didn’t they separate Nigeria since then? If I continue my keyboard may start to smoke, abeg let us separate this country. I have a million reasons why I am supporting separation. So you should keep on this unity thing aside and start thinking of the “best” ways to separate Nigeria. We are in the 21st century, we are no longer in the dark ages where one will be slated for speaking ill of the King. Let us rise up and take our own destiny on our hands.

    Hausa speaking Fulani man from Kano

    1. The major reason I prefer Nigeria is because the alternatives will be a lot much worse.

      Before you start talking about secession, please consider the facts. There is no state in the North, zero, zilch, none that has a strong economic base. If the North cannot support itself and has to depend on oil money in a time of peace, will it be able to do so in a time of war?

      Think deeply and carefully.


    Achebe is indeed right. Lets be Honest. The Igbos, through their relatively Liberal Culture were indeed at the Forefornt of Achievment in Nigeria (through Merit) and were therefore accused of “Dominating”

    Indeed Today, When you Look at the the Achievements of these Individuals in their Chosen fields around the World and Compare it what the Northerners done, both inside and outside of Nigeria, and especially after Hijacking the Government for Decades, you Realize that some Men are Indeed more Equal than Others.

    Listening to Old Interviews on Youtube and Reading Quotes from the like of Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello has also already Confirmed the Jealously and Hatred toward Southerners (and Igbos specifically).

    Zainab, you should spend less time Deflecting, Defending, Downplaying and Justifying the Northerners (especially in respect to their Overwhelming contribution to the Failure of NIgeria) and spend more time accepting it and trying to Change them. (For Example if you had an Igbo Husband/Boyfriend, the Issue of Furthering you Education with a Doctorate would be Encouraged and Supported as the Norm rather than Questioned and seen Doubted)

    I blame NZEOGWU for all this catastrophe. I hope he burns in Hell for the Rest of Eternity.. His Madness gave the Northerners an excuse to Attack Igbos (as they had done previously in Jos and Kano in 1945 and 1953 respectively). This time they not only Purged Innocent military Officers, they also Mass Murdered Civil Servants, Businessmen, Landlords and anyone else they could Find.

    His actions Lead to the Least Capable of People HIjacking leadership and Dooming the Futures of not only the Most Capable, but also everybody else including themselves. The Majority of the Biggest Problems of Nigeria are a result of Policies championed by Northerners. From fake censuses, Fuel Subsidy Policy, Structural Adjustment Programme, Re-domination of Naira in 80s, Corruption Levels by IBB, to State Creation, to Lack of Fiscal Federalism/Allocation, No resource Control, Militancy (through the KIlling of Saro Wiwa),Federal Character, Zoning, Quota, Military-made Constitution, Boko Haram.


  16. i can feel achebe’s pain. i’m sure after having witnessed the potential of his people in the past and comparing it to where we are now, decades later, it must seem like the devil had a hand in that war and indeed did not want your people to be great. but dont forget that it was gowon and his fellow northerners that “hijacked” ( as 123456 said) the government and made the decisions.

    even though i am not igbo, i feel his pain but take solace in the fact that with the multitude of problems in the northerners land, one can say they are indeed atoning for all their crimes of the past (boko haram, lowest educated, routine ethic and religious mass killings, highest poverty, lowest levels of healthcare, highest infant mortality rates, lowest levels of investments, economic retrogression and lowest future prospects etc). their chickens are coming home to roost.

    even without a drop of oil or a single natural resource, the south will still far outperform the northerners on the basis of the quality and quantity of human capital we have worldwide and in every proffession.

    we benin people also feel the same way, sir. we are all praying that the northerners go their own way and create a country that reflects their own culture and character and leave us in peace to do the same, but with mass violence/killings being their characteristic trump card..we will just have to wait this “mistake of 1914” (in ahmadu bello’s words) to be over.

  17. In your article you say referring to addressing a countries past problems as “stirring” things up and how it does not contribute to progress. But in truth it does.

    When crimes of the past are talked about, analysed, acknowledged and condemned, it is all for a purpose. and there is a direct correlation that affects future progress.

    It is done to imprint the events into national psyche so that the behaviour can be prevented from happening ever again.

    It is done so what lead to the crimes and how to deal with it in advance with appropriate laws and protocols

    It is not done for fun.

    I can understand that your sense of pride for your people leads you to be sentimental and defensive. but you are not helping anybody. it is actually because of your kind of attitude that is destructive to nigeria more than anything.

    It is that “sweep” things under the carpet that has lead to a nigeria being a country where crimes are not only forgotten, but also go unpunished for the sake of convenience and stirring things up (from the mass corruption to the mass killings).

    since the first massacres of southerners in 1945 and 1953, till today with boko haram. nobody has been charged and nothing investigated for the sake of “stirring things up” and nigeria will continue to suffer for it

    the societies of america and germany have advanced so far because they chose to address their issues (slavery and the holocaust) instead of sweeping them under the carpet and not wanting to “stir things up”. and in germany it is indeed a crime to deny or downplay the events that occurred.

  18. In your article you say referring to addressing a countries past problems as “stirring” things up and how it does not contribute to progress. But in truth it does.

    When crimes of the past are talked about, analysed, acknowledged and condemned, it is all for a purpose. and there is a direct correlation that affects future progress.

    It is done to imprint the events into national psyche so that the behaviour can be prevented from happening ever again.

    It is done so what lead to the crimes and how to deal with it in advance with appropriate laws and protocols

    It is not done for fun.

    I can understand that your sense of pride for your people leads you to be sentimental and defensive. but you are not helping anybody. it is actually because of your kind of attitude that is destructive to nigeria more than anything.

    It is that “sweep” things under the carpet that has lead to a nigeria being a country where crimes are not only forgotten, but also go unpunished for the sake of convenience and stirring things up (from the mass corruption to the mass killings).

    since the first massacres of southerners in 1945 and 1953, till today with boko haram. nobody has been charged and nothing investigated for the sake of “stirring things up” and nigeria will continue to suffer for it

    the societies of america and germany have advanced so far because they chose to address their issues (slavery and the holocaust) instead of sweeping them under the carpet and not wanting to “stir things up”.

    infact, what you are doing is a serious crime in some countries such germany and even france, where people are convicted for denying or even downplaying the events that occurred.

  19. I tend to find your articles interesting or something worthwhile to read even if I don’t agree, but this articles was awful by all points and if you had turned it as an assignment it would have been given an F without question.

    How does one critique a book without actually reading it? In many of the articles you cited they all seem to have authors who based their opinions around excerpts of the book. How do you write about a book when exposed to 3 pages of it? A 300+ page book has been truncated to a few snippets and you see nothing wrong with that? So when you were given book report assignments, was it okay for you to sit down and write about the book without reading it yourself?

    Next, its very clear you are biased from the beginning. Maybe you didn’t notice or might have not cared but the fact that you can only find sources that disagree with Achebe when there are just as many that support Achebe, with Wole Soyinka himself approving the book. It calls in to question your integrity and level of objectivity. Your Gowon source itself has been pointed out to be riddled with inaccuracies, one being the fact that Gowon claimed Achebe was not in Nigeria during the war.when Achebe was present for much of the war.
    At least be balanced and portray the discussion as one with many viewpoints and not one where its Achebe against the world when its not.

    My next point is that you have horribly misconstrued Achebe’s views on Nigeria. Excuse me and my basic no name US University education, but even I can say that the whole premise of your argument is a straw man. Achebe doesn’t believe Nigeria is unique or some case study separate from other African nations or even other countries. His point is that Nigeria is a product of colonialism and as such there are challenges that stem from this legacy. Achebe notes that in Nigeria’s case that legacy is compounded further due to its size, resources, the fact that there are 3 major ethnic groups (each with vastly different philosophies on life and etc.), and many other factors. In essence Nigeria’s colonial heritage is not unique but there are things unique to the Nigerian experience precolonial/colonial/post independence.

    Or are you saying that India and Nigeria, both colonized by the British, are the same in experience?

    My final and most important point is the fact that you think that the Nigerian Civil War is not related in anyway the reason why Nigeria is the way it is today. The corruption that plagues Nigeria today was there at independence, and exacerbated by the introduction of oil. Boko Haram, MASSOB, MEND, etc are all intertwined with the aftermath of the war. The unitary system of Nigeria that has governors and other official feeding at the trough of “oyel money” is a product of the war. The long line of military rulers from the North, yet the poverty in the North remains endemic is a product of the war (and even to the time colonialism). So far Nigeria has maintained collective amnesia of the war, how has it worked out? Is Nigeria any better for it? Can Emeka born and raised in Kano run for the state’s governorship? Can a Tunde win in Anambra? Or a Lamido in Ogun?

    What would honestly happen if Nigeria takes its head out of the sand and talk about things? Will Nigeria burst into flames? Rwanda and Sierra Leone haven’t (and in Rwanda’s case moving ahead further than Nigeria can claim to). Acknowledge that everyone got a raw deal in this war and pledge from that point on things will not be the status quo. Because Igbo traders are in Kano that means that everything is in the past? Yoruba workers in Anambra mean all is well? So Boko Haram is a sign of good things to come, or the fact that some Northern governors have actually come out and pleaded for people to not leave (Igbo and Christians in particular)…progress to you.

    The problem with your examples of countries that had wars and in your opinion “moved on” is that its not true. Up and down the Eastern seaboard are monuments to the civil war, the constitution itself is a living testimony of that war and its after effects (13 and 14 Amendments and etc.), holidays in remembrance, a full acknowledgement of the horrors of slavery, and on and on and on.

    Does Nigeria do 1/10th of this at all?

    The irony of this is that Achebe wrote his book for people like you in mind. The “we have better things to focus on” folks who don’t realize that a 3 year war with millions of lives lost doesn’t have any effect on a country or people (not just Igbo people even).

    Anyway that’s my own. I’m not choosing sides but I find it quite troubling that one book (one many have not even read) can have so many mouths moving and fingers typing. If Nigeria has truly moved on why such the 5 alarm response?

  20. We were honoured to learn about the scholar who once said he had one thousand proofs for the existence of God and when that news got to the ear of a lay woman, she said “but that will mean he had one thousand doubts about God”. Of course it makes sense what this woman said but far away where this scholar was, he probably acquired many students who all of a sudden have found a fountain of wisdom.

    It is sad that the majority people ‘in my opinion’ that have spoken ‘more’ truth are the ones that have been rude in their response to you and most of the times in most of your postings that I have read. And then those that will always accuse you of being biased like the commenter above just because you belong to one side and the book in question is from the other side. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of the ‘broken window fallacy’ perhaps you have, and its interesting why it is called a fallacy but I won’t get into that – but really it’s just a fancy way of saying every cause has an effect. Often the unseen effect is never perceived. Now let me back track a little. You had a disclaimer which most people missed (again like the commenter above), that you didn’t read the book and your article was based around the idea that because some of us, and the author of the book included believes that an amalgamation is the root of our problems thus, we can’t move forward – because then to move forward the solution will be separation which really isn’t moving forward. Am I making any sense? The point is I and many do understand that you were not critiquing the book but a notion in the book.

    America didn’t abhor secession because it was wrong, they insisted on staying together because it was the logical thing to do. Logic according to the part that won the war. On each side there were equally respectable and intelligent people at the top and it all came down to principles. Like someone said back then “we all prayed to God to give us victory over the other side”. Well it lead to the abolishment of Slavery so of course the slaves will agree the good side won. But it wasn’t really all about the slaves. No way near that. It’s logical to agree that if a husband and wife do not like each other, they should both part ways, it is logical to agree that our Arab leaders that are wanted no more should step down and let the wanted one govern, it is logical that south Sudan feels it has suffered the brunt of being under the majority of the powerful North so they should part ways for prosperity.. Why then does it sound extreme for people to be logical when they suggest parting ways in our country rather than keeping up appearances in an arranged (forced) relationship? So far the country that won on this example is America for staying together and making the relationship work forcefully.

    Nigeria is indeed a different case. The people are different and will never see eye to eye. Who did you vote? If your answer is Buhari & not Jonathan, to me it might make sense because Buhari has a good record and Jonathan up until that point had none and just his act of going against his party rules meant he was not one from the Gentleman’s club. That too is open to interpretation. The issue is and will always be from now, to vote the one that is from my side. I didn’t vote because I traveled briefly only five days before the presidential vote but I would have voted for Buhari, because up until re election I thought Jonathan will do the gentleman thing. In Australia, the current prime minister Gillard challenged a seat and won and that gave her automatic power but then the opposing party said she didn’t win fairly and within months she called for national election and narrowly won. Narrowly isn’t important. She did the honourable thing and won, that’s what was important. Not only that, the ousted Prime Minister challenged the her seat within the party and failed miserably. Jonathan within months could have done the same and I would have voted for him if he had shown such humility but the power monger in him came out. Those are reasons as far as I am concerned but it doesn’t matter why I will vote for Buhari to many others, I would have been just voting for my own which again plays to the idea of perceived bias.

    Today if anyone runs for office, I will support the one that I believe at the time will work best, lesser of two evils. I was born in late 70’s and to this day I don’t know of problems Nigeria used to have that isn’t around anymore. Everywhere I go people tell me about Nigerians and Nigeria they know that is so far from the Nigeria around me, the songs, the movies or the football or even the fraudulent scams. I am judged on the colour of my passport and only those that take little time to know me finally say but you are different from the Nigerians I know. Yes my friend, I am from the North! And I don’t know if the southern Nigerians hear this too but that’s good reason for me to part ways. I suffer the action of some that don’t come from where I come from. Is it to say my people haven’t done the same? No! We were forced into an arranged marriage and no one is enjoying it. And by earlier logic then we should part ways. The north has food, the south has oil, lets trade. But the north hinders as much progress for the south as much as the south does for the north. And the only way both can move forward and have direct accountability from their leaders is if we all govern ourselves individually. Achebe only reiterates what everyone is thinking and no one is saying.

    His memory or that of his contributors can not be trusted scientifically and so we can disregard the much of who was right and the who was victim apart from what was or is apparent. It’s the notion of the present that counts, the idea of what went wrong and what the solution should be. And if IBB will wear a uniform to fight for unity like he claims, I will be one on the other side (side that advocates separation) that will go and respectfully slap him back into his seat. Didn’t he join a northern alliance to select a candidate from the north against one from the south? Why are people so hypocritical in their action and in their speech? We are all deceiving ourselves, what Jonathan has done thus far is only going to make me and many others from the north distant ourselves from the idea of a southern leader. It is not to claim that northern leaders have any good records but the devil close to home is better than the devil far out which again is the same feeling on the other side. It is a feeling that northerners have always had and acknowledged that the leaders on the other side do more for their people than ours do for us. That’s points for them and none for us. Yet still the issue here is neither of them do much for us. During the time we had Sardauna yes he did a lot for the region he headed and it is because of that effort today the north is even able to stand on par with the south. That’s one long lasting effort if you ask me.

    In my last few words I said them, I said us. The Us vs The Them. That’s what is keeping us divided. I don’t know that many Hausa policemen are on the streets of the south as you see theirs here in the north. There is more prejudice in the south for a northerner to succeed than there is for a southerner here in the north. We all know that. There is nowhere in the north where you won’t find very very large thriving communities of southerners that have been living for generations. That is not true of northerners in the south and with the kind of prosperity the southerners enjoy. Then also we have the disease of indigenes in every state which further divides everyone. I am calling a spade a spade and from what I understand that is what Achebe did ‘with that notion’. It is bitter to say these things but it is true. We have few intermarriages that were mostly bitterly done and highly discouraged so what do we really share or agree on?

    JFK once said “the mere absence of war is not peace”. An Igbo lady in Lagos once said during a lengthy conversation we had that before her colleagues convinced her to go to Kano for a short holiday, all she knew of Kano is Igbo people were seen, stopped and killed. So I asked if she still had that notion to which she said she still doesn’t believe the people we claim to be Igbos are actually full blooded Igbos otherwise they would have had the sense to leave. That was her notion of the north. We can comfortably say even in this climate of unrest out of every ten people that migrate around the country, nine are headed north and one is headed south.

    To wrap up what I must apologise being a very lengthy comment, intellect is making sense of a context within a certain context that conforms to norms and beliefs. Darwin or Hawking might be hailed as some of the greatest intellects in the world but if they deny the existence of God, to me the intellect has failed them. My ancestors didn’t evolve from animals but we might have evolved from savages to civil people with savage tendencies. I do believe there could have been a Big Bang when God created earth or the entire universe but not the theory of a self creating universe that had a bang!

    Here is my disclaimer, my opinion is mine and I do recognise that it might be too one sided and narrow at that. Because, I am not an intellect, I know computers and that’s all, even that, it’s not the programming aspect of it, at gun point I can’t name you more than seven governors in this country nor five federal ministers. I can go a month without hearing a piece of news unless it comes up in a conversation. I am really the least up to date person on current affairs, I used to buy newspapers when I visited the mechanic, now I don’t have a car, so when I buy one, I end up passing it to my father. So yes like the lay woman on the street that heard about the scholar, I too might just be to simple in my analysis or too deep as each person may conclude depending on how I am perceived.

  21. this is one of the first review of this book that is not tribally or religiously sentimental. unlike that of Waziri Ibraheem and the rest. this is an excellent and objective review, good work Zainab

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