Sunday, December 23, 2012

Biodun Jeyifo on Chinua Achebe

At last, Oga BJ is tackling this book of the year just a week after his comrade, Edwin Madunagu, cautioned the left against engaging with the book for fear that it could reopen old wounds and make it difficult for the left to reunite in the future. Madunagu's column in the Guardian remained cryptic about atrocities that he said he witnessed during the war and how hostile leftists were to his efforts to re-open debates about the history of the civil war in the past.

Below, BJ has started what promises to be a controversial engagement with the book and already he has offered fresh interpretations: There was a Country refers also to Nigeria (which is increasingly not working like a country) and not only to Biafra; Achebe comes across as a propagandist (and an ethnic one at that) unlike his realist literary personae of the past; Achebe was delusional in presenting the work as an intellectual contribution devoid of tribalism; and Achebe only mentioned the ruling class in the final part of the four-part book.

Let us wait and read every word of Jeyifo's series of commentary on the book before responding to BJ since he is one of the most respected authorities on Achebe as he indicated in his opening paragraph; he has published books and essays on Achebe as one of the greatest realists of the past 100 years worldwide.

However, to say that Achebe is only just emerging as a propagandist is to miss the point that he has always been one given his theory that arts for arts sake was nothing but deodorized dog shit. But Achebe who worked with Aminu Kano in a progressive political formation and lambasted his fellow Igbo leader, Azikiwe, mercilessly in the very propagandist The Trouble with Nigeria, is far from being an ethnic propagandist; Achebe only recognizes the historically-specific fact that the ethnic violence in Nigeria almost always picks on one ethnic group without justification while the intellectual left pretends that only class analysis is valid.

BJ should watch the Leninist danger of not recognizing snow in the real world because it does not look like snow in the textbooks by saying that Achebe only mentioned class at the end of the book. Rather, he should try to read the book from the perspective of ethnic-class-gender articulation as advanced by Stuart Hall or from what is known in Critical Race Theory as the intersectionality perspective for the book dwelt on the educated elite, the religious elite, the expatriate elite, the political class, the military top brass, the business elite and the ruling classes in other countries compared to the masses even when the word, class, was not always used.

Finally, BJ should avoid the temptation to join ethnic war-lords in apportioning blame for genocide equally to the genocidized and the genocidists for as Soyinka pointed out in Of Africa, even if thieves robbed your home because you left a window open at night as they did Achebe's apartment in Enugu during the war, it does not follow that the thieves are not guilty especially if charged with a grave crime as genocide given that the leaders of the war crime went about bragging that all is fair in war. Instead of taking Achebe to task for being a peace ambassador throughout the war or for being a close adviser to Ojukwu, it would be interesting to know what BJ himself was doing during the war.

Hopefully, the progressive in BJ will join the call for reparations to be paid to the survivors of the Biafra genocide that cost us more than 3 million lives, including non-Igbos, instead of joining the wicked to blame the victims and even if a punitive war crimes trial is avoided in the spirit of the African Mbari or Ubuntu that Achebe invoked from beginning to end.

Oga BJ, we look forward to learning from your historical materialist reading of Achebe's truthful book as usual, but I hope that you will not read it like any Truthful Lies from your opus on fictional literature characterized by spiritual escapism in West Africa (echoing your almost identical 'ibeji', Ola Rotimi, The Gods Are Not To Blame) compared to the realism of Southern African variants.

Make we dey check am... To read the first part of Jeyifo's commentary, follow the link below:


Monday, November 19, 2012



By Biko Agozino

This is a proposal for a lasting peace in the Middle East based on the possible application of the principles of federalism that were first outlined by the founding fathers of the US in the famous Federalist Papers. I propose to sample a group of Jewish and Palestinian youth on the applicability of the Federalist Papers to what I choose to call Palesrael, a single state solution for both Jews and Palestinians united in a federal system of government which would respect the autonomy of local governments while guaranteeing the equal protection of all under the federalist constitution. I choose to sample the youth because they will be the future leaders of the country and also because the older population are sufficiently traumatized by the conflict not to be sensitive to any new ways of thinking about innovative solutions. The single capital city for the single state solution will therefore be Jerusalaam or Jerushalom, call it what you may in your own dialect for 'City of Peace'! Seriously.


In the year 2020, I would like to see a Just Jerusalem as the capital city of a federal republic of Palesrael. This proposal assumes that both Jews and Palestinians are Semites with more in common than is apparent from their sibling rivalry. The proposal is for Jerusalaam-Jerushalom to be recognized as the capital city of one state, the state of Palesrael. This is the best political scenario for a city like Jerusalem that is holy to many different faiths and is being claimed by rival faiths: the federal capital city status would enhance the sharing arrangements while federal presence would guarantee equal protection of all.

The conflict in the Middle East has been rightly described as the most intractable conflict of its kind that has bedeviled the world and any solution to that puzzle is likely to contribute to global peace for the benefit of humanity. The area occupied by Jews and Palestinians is arguably the holiest land on earth with Jews, Rastafarians, Christians and Muslims claiming every inch of the land as a special place for their faith. It is ironic that the Holy Land is also the most troubled and conflict-ridden although religious fanatics might see this as logical in the sense that the devil would be working overtime to ensure that the holiest of places is denied the peace that all religious faiths preach but often fail to practice adequately.

The conflict in the Middle East, like most cases of social conflict, is not a religious conflict between God and Satan but a conflict that is man-made and that is open to rational, empathic and creative resolution by human beings no matter what faith they profess or lack of it. The federalist solution as pioneered by Americans is effective because of the clear distanciation between religiosity and the state or attempts to keep religion as a private personal affair while leaving politics as the remit of elected officials and democratic citizens alike. It is true that even Americans continue to redefine the tensions between religion and the state as fundamentalist groups mobilize to threaten aspects of secularism but the US is exemplary in the ways that Native Americans, Christians, Africans, Jews and Muslims, not to mention other faiths, unite to build a strong and democratic federalist polity as a shining example to the rest of the world, the flaws of America especially in international relations and domestic race-class-gender politics not withstanding.

For those who are not familiar with the federalist papers, it is important to clarify that it is a collection of mostly newspaper articles written by some of the American founding fathers as part of the debate that continued after the Pennsylvania constitutional conference. There were some who believed that federalism was bad because the federal government could become imperialist and thereby sabotage the autonomy of local government. They argued for confederation to be maintained on the basis of a friendly association or imperfect union among the willing states as was the case prior to the attempt to engineer a ‘more perfect union’ through the federal constitution.

On the other hand, those who supported federalism argued that the imperfections of confederation were obvious in the fact that some states were using exclusionary measures to protect their own residents from free market competition against residents of other states. States like Delaware and Connecticut were almost about to go to war against the state of New York over such issues as the imposition of import duties on chicken and timber! Moreover, members of state militia were beginning to mobilize and take the laws into their hands to pressure the central government to pay them better remuneration but without a central government capable of defending the union with a collective force or moral leadership.

Those in support of federalism argued that a strong central government was essential for the defense of the polity against foreign invasion while leaving the matters of law and order largely to the local government authorities and to individuals who are granted the right to bear arms (more of a duty in the Middle East). The federalists won the argument and thirteen states initially ratified the new constitution and gave birth to the United States of America. More states later joined the union and the strength of that union was tested by confederates in the civil war when it was proven to be adequately strong especially with the support of hundreds of thousand formerly enslaved Africans who rallied to fight on the side of the union army.

As we watch the rain of missiles in the air and the harvest of the mangled corpses of children, women and men who would rather live in peace and prosperity; as we remember the pitiable image of Jews being dragged off their homes by Jewish soldiers in order to demolish those homes because they were built in occupied territories that had been ceded back to Palestinians or watch Israeli bulldozers demolish the homes of Palestinians or bomb them for one reason or the other and as Palestinians are forced into a ridiculous position of fighting and killing each other in factional battles over the control of crumbs, I wonder if the American founding fathers of God’s own country could lend a light to the Holy Lands by applying the principles of federalism to the conflict.

The two states solution appears to be the compromise being pursued after both sides recognized the right of each other to exist side by side by side but there is doubt about the viability of two states with one splintered and with the capital city still in contention by both sides that are intricately tied together in economic, legal, political and social relations. The idea of a single state solution has been raised occasionally by the Palestinians but the Israelis tend to see that as the worst case scenario for fear that they might lose what some call a Jewish state which Israel is not, being a secular state. I see the single state solution to be a win-win solution to the crisis.

Jews can reside in any state of the federation and Palestinians can reside in any state they choose. To some extent, this is already true in the sense that there are Palestinians living in Israel just as there are Jews in ‘occupied’ territories. Most countries in the world today are multicultural and citizens are free to settle wherever they choose. A federal structure is best suited to do that especially by building settlements and distributing them equitably to those who cannot afford to choose in the free market but without creating urban concentration of poverty ‘projects’.

The federalist solution appears even more feasible given that Jews and Palestinians are one Semitic people whereas America is one of the most multicultural countries in the whole world. If a country as diverse as America could unite under a federalist constitution, there is no reason why a people as homogenous as Semites could not unite under a federalist arrangement that would respect the rights of all citizens to live wherever they could afford to live and practice whatever faith they subscribe to while respecting the rights of their brothers and sisters or else they would attract the might of the federal government which should be equipped to guarantee the equal protection of all.

Since the adult populations of the region have tried and woefully failed to engineer a solution to this conflict despite expensive militarization, terrorization, victimization, assassination, iron domes securitization, nuclearization, and hideous walls of separation, I am inviting young people who are not yet old enough to vote, to apply the legendary ingenuity and originality of young minds to the solution of the problem by borrowing from the mistakes and successes of the American founding fathers but without the prejudice of their oversocialization into exclusionary boundary enforcement and ideological intolerance.

I hypothesize that there are lessons in the Federalist Papers for the resolution of the Middle East crisis between Palestinians and Israelis. I propose to test this hypothesis by randomly sampling one hundred and seventy young people under the age of 18, half being Palestinians and half being Israelis, half male and half female, and assigning one of the Federalist Papers to each to argue for or against the application of the views in each Paper to the Middle East crisis. If Federalist paper number one is randomly assigned to a Palestinian youth to argue for, then the same paper should be randomly assigned to an Israeli youth to argue against and vice versa.

The 85 Palestinian youth and the 85 Israeli youth will then meet at a constitutional conference to draft a youth constitution for the Federal Republic of Palesrael in which Jews and Palestinians will live side by side and happily ever after. The draft constitution could be put to a referendum among young people for a possible youth election and youth model government for Palesrael. In 10 to 20 years, these young people would be the leaders of the new republic and will get the opportunity to implement their peace plan if current leaders of the beloved territory leave it until then. The resulting constitutions for Palesrael and the constitutent states and local governments could include the principles of structural equality by ensuring that half the senators will be Jews and half Arabs, half will be male and half will be female, if necessary.

It is being assumed here that the young people would come to an agreement that there are lessons and support for Palesrael within the Federalist Papers. What if the youth reject the idea and opt to retain the boundaries as they exist or continue expansionist fantasies due to the entrenchment of the socialization of mutual hatred in their upbringing? Then the experiment would end there.

However, because the experiment is designed to solicit views for and against, it is reasonable to hope that the federalist option would appear competitive if not more attractive in the end. Lack of funding for the project is another limitation but a fraction of the funding dedicated to sustaining the current violence would fund this project or we will rely on volunteer youths and NGOs to pull it off.

With a Washington DC model for a Just Jerusalaam-Jerushalom, there will be peace, justice and economic sustainability for all the citizens of the federal republic of Palesrael even if all ills are not cured as is the case with DC today. All the money being wasted currently waging a war without end against brothers and sisters would be poured into human development instead. Everybody wins 200% by gaining the state they cherish plus much more in the whole federation as is the case in America. Only the people could decide how many states to create as members of the new federation. Whereas federalism would not cure all the ills of society, it offers more comprehensive and comprehensible solution that will be sustainable and just.

There is nowhere else the Federalist papers have been debated and adapted for the drafting of the constitution of a new republic that I know of. The American constitution has been remarkably successful in attracting the attention of other nations that try to base their constitutions on that model. Yet, none has based such a decision on a replication of the debates that gave rise to the federal constitution in America. If successful, the project could be a model for the training of youth in political leadership around the world and the model could also be applied to other conflict-ridden regions of the world for global justice, peace and sustainable development.

Dr. Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pushing Obama's Second Term Agenda

By Biko Agozino

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West made compelling arguments in their Democracy Now Interview:

35 out of 36 in child poverty among industrialized countries, only better than Rumania, is a hard statistic to digest with reference to the 'richest country on earth.' I have read The Rich and The Rest of Us and found it hard to see a specific proposal that brothers Tavis and Cornel would like brother Obama to pursue. They say that he should talk more about the problem of poverty and call a White House conference on poverty and they are convening a conference on poverty before the inauguration. All well and good but talk is cheap without strategic proposals.

As a scholar-activist, I have drafted policy proposals for black associations of scholars in the past to address this problem but only Cornel West individually endorsed the proposals and only the African Criminology and Justice Association endorsed them and issued them as press releases. Visit the African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies online to read those press releases or visit my blog for the relevant posts:

The first item has been prophetically validated by the votes in Washington and Colorado states to legalize marijuana. President Obama should ignore the chicken hawks who are egging him on to continue the failed drugs war against poor Americans. He should issue an executive order ending the war on drugs on day one of his second term the way Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation without waiting for a do-nothing congress. That is what it means to be an executive president.

The second item outlines a policy for tackling unemployment and poverty and the third item analyzed the presidential campaign themes with a prediction of an Obama win back in September but with emphasis on the agenda for the second term - jobs, ending the war on drugs, abolition of the death penalty, and reparations for people of African descent.

I agree that we should push bro Obama or any president to get anything significant done but we must be pushing with concrete proposals.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review of Soyinka’s Of Africa

By Biko Agozino.

As a teenage High School student, I was enchanted by The Man Died, the prison memoir of Wole Soyinka in which he took his fellow intellectuals to task for letting the man die in all by keeping silent in the face of the tyranny of Nigeria’s genocidal war against Biafra, including the murder of a radical trade unionist in detention to which the title referred and about which Nigerian left-wing intellectuals kept mum apparently because he was Igbo. I was puzzled by the title – why is it The Man Died and why did it derive from the strange quotation that ‘the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny’? Is that grammatically correct? My High School grammar teacher would have suggested that ‘the men die in all’ and not the man dies in all; by the way, how about women? In any case, did the man simply die or was the man murdered? That is a sophomoric way to read a serious work when mature readers should focus on the grave subject-matter rather than chase grammatical rats to see if the ‘t’ in their tails are meticulously crossed while the African mansion burns. No time for such childish reading of Soyinka’s tantalizing Of Africa; what of Africa? I am tempted to ask.

Back in high school, and even now, I could not understand every word of Soyinka (I still do not need to understand every word) but I really enjoy(ed) the poetic diction and even tried to mimic him by writing with a deliberate determination not to be understood or to be read at many different levels of possible interpretations, all possibly legitimate while what Stuart Hall called the hegemonic interpretation remained to be contested and decoded from the encoding. It was my cousin, now a professor of theatre arts, who cured me of that apparent delusion after we organized a symposium to get the students of the high school where we both taught just after graduating from high school ourselves to take drama seriously and start a drama club. The students cheered me on with shouts of ‘vocab, vocab!’ They later nicknamed me Symposium behind my back!

After my speech, a fellow teacher stood up and asked the first question: He asked if I could please explain what I was saying in plain English because he had no clue what I had just finished saying, maybe because he was a science teacher, he pleaded. The Vice Principal, an English teacher, felt embarrassed for him and volunteered to translate my bombastic Onitsha Market Literature performance of the Bomber Billy variety. As we left the symposium, I was so proud of myself that I boasted to my cousin that I did so well that no one could understand me, not even our fellow teacher! He turned to me and calmly told me that if that was so, then I had failed in my mission, which was to communicate a message. He was absolutely right because the aim of the symposium was to get the students to set up a drama club and I could have achieved it in two or three straight-forward sentences instead of indulging in a post-modern performance that left everyone baffled but produced none of the result that I intended: a drama club!

So that was it then. I resolved to leave Soyinka with his mesmerizing style and develop mine by keeping closer to Achebe’s proverbial clarity but I never stopped admiring Soyinka, as my Oriki or Ode to him on the occasion of his 76th birthday testifies, to the annoyance of some on the internet who carry on as if they are exclusive share-holders in Soyinka and Sons Ltd. As an undergraduate student, I wrote radio plays and a teacher in my town whose name I used in one of my plays started calling me our own Wole Soyinka but I recoiled from that without knowing why. I guess that I wanted to be my own man and not our own WS but it may have had to do with that misadventure with the bombastic symposium for my plays were more Achebesque, peppered with proverbs and plotted around themes of culture conflict than the dictionary-thumping prose of Soyinka.

Nevertheless, I still cannot read enough of Soyinka and will always seek out his new releases which I enjoy reading without reference to any dictionary. I just use the context of the words to make meaning out of his dense compositions that remain music to my ears long after the reading, perhaps because he is always witty and profoundly humorous. It is a bit like reading Jacques Derrida, I may not understand everything he is banging on about but I sure do enjoy his play with words. It is also a bit like listening to Fela’s music, I do not have to understand every new word he coins with ease in order to sway to the beat or even get up and dance. It is more like a telephone conversation (title of one of Soyinka’s clearer poems about racial discrimination); if you ask the caller to repeat what was said and then ask him/her to stay on the line while you check the meaning of a strange word in the dictionary, the phony magic crumbles.

Only a high school student reads Soyinka with a mandatory dictionary in hand. Follow his rich metaphoric Yoruba riddles and you will still have fun even if you do not understand every word. Of course saying that you do not understand what he is trying to say is simply dodgy because he makes sure that the enormity of his political interventions is grasped by all who read him, whether they hide behind the masks of ignorance about this phrase or that word. No one who has commented on Soyinka’s Of Africa has claimed that the meaning of the work is obscured by the choice of difficult words or that a few printer’s devils should compel us to ignore the urgency of his clarion call while genocidal violence rages across Africa.

When a brother announced that he got an advanced copy of Soyinka’s book for review (how I envied him, I wish I could get such gigs myself) but that he did not like it and may not review it for such trivial reasons that there is no index and no references to the abundant sources, I suspected that the brother was reacting ideologically and knew that I would have to get a copy as soon as possible. Thanks to’s clever marketing of ‘those who bought those also bought that’, I did when I bought Achebe’s There Was A Country and I loved Of Africa because of the importance of the argument and because of the beauty of the Soyinkarism as always.

Those who read my review of Achebe’s There Was A Country will know that I read Achebe’s book inter-textually with Soyinka’s and I concluded that both texts complement each other very well. Where Achebe was lucid with a narrower focus on the troubles facing Nigeria, Soyinka was performative with a broader focus on the African predicament. They both argue that if Africa has nothing else to teach the world, the African example of religious tolerance is of immense importance to the modern world and should be studied more carefully for the purpose of resolving peacefully, the troubles that plague us today and since our encounter with Europeans and Arabs. Achebe used the metaphor of Mbari among the Igbo as an example for Nigeria and Soyinka used the symbol of Orisa among the Yoruba as a model for Africa to make the same point of tolerance and accommodation as virtues.

Soyinka presents Of Africa as a long overdue retort to a white supremacist who had challenged him in Germany to admit that Africans are inferior otherwise Europeans and Arabs could not have enslaved them and colonized them for centuries. Soyinka could have responded immediately to such a gangster philosophy which presumes that those ripped off by the mafia are the fall guys while the mafia are the wise guys by telling the German that it is obvious that he felt superior to Soyinka; but he admits that such would not do because he was always seen as an exception to the rule of African inferiority. So he scratched his head to find a suitable response to all such challenges from white supremacists, ancient and modern – science is out of the question today because it is clearly dominated by Eurocentric methods, health is obviously not an area for African pride despite some miraculous cures by herbalists and African doctors, the economy too is dominated by Eurocentric models, ditto for modern education; music could be cited as an area of African mastery in the global popular culture but it is only a matter of taste with white supremacists still swearing by their Beethoven. But when it comes to religious tolerance, there is no doubt that the African model is a shinning example to the whole world, he argued.

However, I do not share Soyinka’s elevation of Orisa above all other African religions as the model for African spirituality but not for the same reason that Eurocentrists attack him. They will always say that Africa is a continent as if they are kindergarten geography teachers and as if Europe is a village that allows them to talk about European religion, or about Asian spirituality, or even about Muslim or Christian or Jewish spirituality as if these are singular monolithic blocks of faith without the diversity of communities of interpretation that is more profound in Africa due to the absence of exclusions, boundary enforcements, proselytization, forced conversions, conquest, colonization and enslavement as tools of evangelization in African religions. Soyinka rightly condemned the fraudulent racket of anointing Orisa adherents in the Diaspora for fees as high as $5,000 in return for useless diplomas when true Orisa priests frown at using their gifts to enrich themselves but he could have extended such critique to certain Christian missions that fleece their flock.

I disagree with Soyinka on Orisacentrism of African spirituality because such a stance contradicts one of his cardinal principles of Orisa faith: Thou shall not proselytize! Thus, Soyinka erred by calling on the world to go to Orisa priests for enlightenment rather than invite them to adopt the democratic tolerance of African spirituality whatever their religious affiliations. Such an error is evident when Soyinka makes the leap from the Orisa, Sango, in Yoruba religion to the priest, Sangoma, in South Africa. He also erred by saying that when Muslim community leaders told him that they had no hand in the cancelation of an opera that featured the severed heads of prophets because they did not protest it and it was eventually rescheduled and went on without an incident, Soyinka called them true adherents of Orisa worldviews. Instead of wishing for the head of an African (read Yoruba) God to be included among the severed heads for the opera, I would have expected Soyinka to radicalize the opera production by replacing the severed heads of prophets with the severed heads of certain notorious heads of state in the international community, if for nothing, to indicate that politics is the new religious orthodoxy around the world.

The danger of ethnocentrism in Soyinka’s Of Africa is also clearly evident when he compares the Yoruba favorably against the Igbo by pointing out that readers of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart will notice allusions to the killing of twins among the Igbo until the missionaries exploited that as an opportunity to recruit their earliest converts (yeah right, how many twins made up the early converts?). The Yoruba, Soyinka gloats, have always venerated twins but he said nothing about the alleged enduring superstitious belief in Awure or the sexual abuse of children by some Yoruba parents under the abominable belief that such would bring them good fortune. For instance, a man from a prominent Yoruba family recently reportedly filed a divorce affidavit stating that his father was sleeping with his wife and there was little or no public outrage, suggesting that incest and ‘money medicine’ might be more common under the influence of authoritarian spiritualism.

Soyinka could have explained that the abandoning of twins and the practice of infanticide were widespread practices in the ancient world, even in Europe, and continues today in many parts of the world long after such practices have ceased among the Igbo. Instead of indulging in a boastful swagger of my ethnic religion is better than yours, Soyinka could have highlighted the more relevant lesson in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: That when the priestess of Agbala told Okonkwo that the spirit of his poor but artistic father, Unoka, was angry with him because he had not sacrificed a goat to his spirit, Okonkwo blasphemously asked the priestess to ask the spirit of the father if he left him a chicken to inherit, how come he was demanding a goat from him? Compare that with the Yoruba veneration of Ogun, a King that they deified and continued to worship even after he led them into war and in a drunken blindness slaughtered both adherents and enemies. Soyinka said that the remorse of Ogun afterwards illustrates the fact that even the Gods are expected to be repentant in Africa but such a sentiment is not exclusively Yoruba given that Moses, the Egyptian, told God to repent of his anger against his people.

Soyinka is right that the African oppositionality to the dictates of oracles is rare in other religions but it is more common among the Igbo than among the monarchical Yoruba and this is entirely understandable in the democratic radical republicanism of the Igbo which Soyinka praised in his Julius Nyerere memorial lecture and which I suggested in my Oriki to Soyinka is a central thread in Soyinka’s opposition to monarchism, tyranny and inequality in all his writings. Also in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, when Okonkwo killed Ikemefuna in obedience to the dictate of the Oracle, the priest of the earth Goddess, Ezulu, rebuked Okonkwo by asking how he could kill a child that called him father. By comparison, read the Wikipedia article on how common infanticide is throughout history (with the exception of ancient Egypt) and it remains common even in many industrialized parts of the world today.

When Soyinka inferred that he does not know what Yoruba people will do today if some migrants from other parts of Nigeria start casting their twins to their death from the top of sacred rocks in Ogun state, he was wrongly suggesting that such a practice is still common in some (Igbo) parts of Nigeria, as the white supremacist colonial anthropologist, G.T. Basden (the teacher of Achebe’s father) wrongly suggested at the turn of the 20th Century. What Soyinka got right is the condemnation of the Osu caste system among the Igbo but he failed to indicate that even this legacy of the slave raids has all but died out the way he observed that India has made progress by electing untouchables to parliament. The legitimate question that Soyinka raises for the Igbo today is whether the Osu would be welcome to the inclusive Mbari of Achebe that accommodates Europeans and that is a question that the Igbo have answered affirmatively, by and large, long after Nnamdi Azikiwe outlawed the practice of Osu Caste.

Finally, while I agree with Soyinka’s vague suggestion that the spiritual unity of Africans in tolerance should be given more respect globally, he could have made his point more clearly by addressing political and economic unity across Africa given that what he analyzed as religious conflicts were really conflicts of empires that used religion as weapons for the conquest of others, the exact point that Karl Marx made when he said that religion is the opiate of the people but on which Soyinka says that Marx was wrong.

In calling for the resolution of the crisis of exclusion introduced by colonialists in Africa, Soyinka should have gone beyond his musings that the colonial boundaries could be overcome in the direction of greater unity and not only in the direction of increased micro nationalism and offered support for the United States of Africa; he should have gone beyond the suggestion that reparations are possible even when the victimized could be said to have been far from blameless and called for reparations for slavery, colonialism and genocide, if only to support Soyinka’s defiant memorial about the ‘Tree of Forgetfulness’ around which captive Africans were forced to march by unscrupulous African collaborators of the Trans Atlantic Slavery before they were shipped to the New World, still fighting.

Soyinka should have directly called for reparations for the genocide against the Igbo in Biafra. Rather, he methodically avoided mentioning Biafra in the book and only did so after a Mexican journalist asked him if there was genocide in Biafra (quite unlike Achebe in There Was A Country) even when it is clear that Soyinka’s critique of what Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe calls the genocidal state in Africa would be incomplete without Biafra for which Soyinka suffered years of solitary confinement and during which (I hypothesize) he developed his cryptic style of writing perhaps to escape detection from the goons of genocidism. Having written testimonies to the Igbo genocide in other key texts (The Man Died, A Shuttle in the Crypt, and Season of Anomy) Soyinka has earned the right not to mention it in every publication.

However, that foundational genocide of modern African history deserves more attention than the divisive issue of religious school uniforms that an education minister in Nigeria tried to impose long before French authorities decided to forcibly unveil Muslim school children. The importance of addressing the religious oppression of women and the honor killing of women is commendable in Of Africa especially because the representation of women in the works of Soyinka has been called to question in the past.

Perhaps the answer that Soyinka was seeking in Of Africa can be found in secularism rather than through the elevation of ‘Thus Spoke Oranmiyan’ as the Nietzschean Oberman with Orisa wisdom for all. Certainly the US model of the separation of religion and the state, largely influenced by the peculiar conditions and the endless brave struggles by people of African descent to advance human dignity without regard to color, gender, religion, physical ability, wealth, origin or sexuality, would be a better model for a United States of Africa. Soyinka’s rallying cry: ‘Come to Orisa’ is bound to be as divisive as any religious evangelism, conversion and imperialism. What we need is a secular democracy that is political, economic and social.

Dr. Biko Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Civil Aletrt Radio Talk Show

I have started a series of radio talks about aspects of my work with Sister Asha of Civil Alert Radio, Atlanta, online radio station that you can access online. If you missed the first episode on Tuesday, October 30, 9:30 -12:00 Midnight, you can go online and listen here:

Peace Biko,

It was good speaking with you.  Elena, the show's co-host/research analyst read your book Counter Colonial Criminology
and suggested that I reach out to you. 

Based on our conversation I see that there are !3! shows to do:

  • A.D.A.M. - Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine with Biko Agozino, A Professor, Healer, Igbo Renaissance Man

  • Control Freak Criminology with Biko Agozino
  • Biko Agozino, Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Virgina Tech University

  • Cloned Behavior. An Inside look at Social Control Strategies with  
  • Biko Agozino, Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Virgina Tech University

I will touch base with you in a few hours.


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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Achebe’s Top Ten Teachable Lessons


By Biko Agozino, 
Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech.

‘… My father and his uncle formed the dialectic that I inherited.’ Achebe stated on page 13 of There Was A Country, his new instant classic. For those who do not know, a dialectic is the negation or contradiction between opposites (the thesis and the anti-thesis, negation or contradiction) that results in a synthesis (or negation of the negation) through a combination of the best in the thesis and the anti-thesis. The synthesis becomes the new thesis to be soon contradicted by a new anti-thesis in endless struggles between ideas (according to Hegel) or struggles between social classes (according to Marx) but the struggles are between cultural traditions in the case of Achebe:

Achebe’s father was raised as a devout Christian by his own uncle who was a titled practitioner of Odinani (Igbo religion). No Christian or Muslim would be tolerant enough to raise a family member in African traditional religion today. Most reviewers of Achebe’s book so far have missed the significance of this foundational thesis of Achebe in There Was A Coutry. Wole Soyinka corroborates this thesis, in Of Africa, where he identified the policies of exclusion and boundary enforcement as major threats to African tolerance and accommodation as exemplified by African religions that have never tried to conquer, enslave, convert or colonize non-believers.

In case readers unfamiliar with the metaphorical Igbo style of Achebe missed this riddle, he repeats the message on pages 18-19 and 56 where he talked about the significance of the celebratory arts of Mbari among the Igbo, the name that he gave to the literary club at the University College of Ibadan that he formed with Soyinka, Okigbo and Ulii Beier. It was in the town of Nekede where he went to live with his elder brother who was a teacher that he was introduced to this cultural performance by which the Igbo community came together, artists and commoners alike, to build a miniature house with every race, gender, class, and ethnicity represented and even with the spirits of the deceased accommodated with models of living generations without any discrimination. Achebe emphasizes that the inclusion of European characters in the sculptures was ‘a great tribute to the virtues of African tolerance and accommodation.’

The above is the central thesis of the whole book and part one of the book is an elaboration of this thesis with the example that the village mad man once walked  up to his elementary school teacher who was giving a lesson about the geography of Britain under a mango tree, took the chalk from the teacher and wiped the black board, then proceeded to give a lesson about the history of the town, Ogidi, which was more relevant to the students. In Europe or North America, the teacher would have called the police to come and arrest the mad man as a threat but the teacher let him have his say as is expected in the radical democratic traditional culture of the Igbo where it is proudly asserted to this day that Ezebuilo or monarchy is enmity. Similarly, when Achebe abandoned his scholarship as a medical student and chose to major in English and theology, many parents today could have disowned him but his elder brother who was an engineer stepped up and paid his fees as an example in tolerance. Indirectly, Soyinka agrees in Of Africa that this is proof that democracy is not alien to Africa contrary to the ideology of dictators suffering from what he called deliberate cataract, who used to say that Africans were not ripe for democracy, as if we were some kind of bananas, according to Abdulrahman Babu.

Parts two and three of the book focus on the Biafra war and represent the counter-thesis or contradiction of the original thesis of tolerance and accommodation as African virtues. Part four of the book presents the synthesis and the example of Nelson Mandela was used in the postscript to underscore this logical structure of the dialectical narrative in the book. Most reviewers glossed over this while presenting mere summaries or simply reacting emotionally to the excerpt in The Guardian condemning the Igbo genocide that cost more than three million lives. Unfortunately, too many people are running their mouths in knee-jerk reactions without even bothering to read the engaging book first with an open mind willing to learn from the great but humble teacher.

Since many of the okirika reviews (Okirika is the Igbo town after which trade in second-hand clothes was named and the trade was banned by the military government soon after the war presumably to crush the restarting of the Igbo commercial dominance in buying-and-selling, but the pretense was that it was demeaning for Nigerians to buy clothing discarded by Europeans, not knowing that even in Europe, lots of people rely on second hand clothes shops provided by charities like Oxfam) have already summarized the story, I will dwell here on the ten teachable lessons that Achebe was challenging our blind sociologists, political scientists and historians to explore further beyond the limitations of his personal history in There Was A Country:

1)   Biafra was the foundational genocide in post-colonial Africa and the script is still playing from time to time across Africa perhaps because we have never really learned the lessons of Biafra as Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe has harped in Biafra Revisited. Genocide is not a part of our culture and the mass killing of millions of people is an absolute abomination that has no justification in any culture. Such atrocities were introduced to Africa following the hundreds of years of the enslavement of Africans by Arabs and then by Europeans before being formalized as gunboat diplomacy during the 100 years of colonialism, before finally being handed over to post-colonial dictatorships that were trained and armed by foreigners and egged on to wage proxy wars against fellow Africans to guarantee access to resources and wealth. Achebe could have made this lesson sharper by directly calling for reparations for slavery, colonialism and the Igbo genocide as Soyinka suggested on page 54 of his new text, Of Africa.

2)   Achebe’s book is delivered in bite-sized passages of text rather than in intimidating long chapters perhaps to attract and keep the attention of the Nollywood (Nigerian films) generation and persuade them to shine their eyes away from media screens and ginger their swagger with valuable history lessons in a country where a democratically elected former military dictator disdainfully banned the teaching of history in schools but no one defied such a bizarre phobia about history lessons particularly following a traumatic bloodbath that would make the teaching of history mandatory. Achebe has come to the rescue and the amazing thing is that quite a few ‘intellectuals’ are feigning annoyance at him for revisiting the national shame and pointing out valuable lessons. For instance, while claiming that he is yet to read the book after glancing at a Kindle copy of his friend, the poet, Odia Ofeimum, reacted emotionally by telling journalists that the leaders of Biafra should be the ones to be tried in Nuremberg-style courts for the genocide that resulted following the policy of ‘starvation as a legitimate weapon of war’ cruelly canvassed by the hero of Ofeimum, Obafemi Awolowo, the then finance minister and vice chairman of the federal executive council. In 1983, Awolowo was reported as defending the same obnoxious policy of ‘all is fair in warfare’ and starvation as a legitimate weapon of war, 13 years after the Biafra war. Today in 2012 the disciples of Awolowo continue to defend his shocking statements instead of learning from the Igbo proverb that says that when a vulture farted and told his children to applaud, they said, Tufiakwa (or Never) because we do not applaud evil but without disowning their father for as Achebe put it in ‘Vultures’, one of the poems that illustrate the book, ‘…in the very germ of that kindred love is lodged the perpetuity of evil’, p. 205. Ofeimum who was the personal secretary of Awolowo had earlier reviewed Achebe’s 1983 The Trouble With Nigeria under the title, ‘The Trouble With Achebe’ and unfairly suggested that Achebe obsessed too much with the Igbo question in Nigeria mainly because of Achebe’s critique of Awolowo which was milder compared to Achebe’s critique of his fellow Igbo, Azikiwe.

3)   There Was a Country develops in cyclical or fractal patterns with self-similarity, infinity, recursion, fractional dimensions, and non-lineal geometry in the sections found in the four parts of the book rather than follow a chronological historical timeline in the structuration of the narratives. This elliptical style is the hallmark of Wole Soyinka (although Achebe delivers with clarity except in the war-time poems that he probably did not want the Biafran Intelligence to understand or he could have risked being arrested, like Professor Ikenna Nzimiro who dared to argue with a police officer and like Achebe’s cousin who unwisely shared his opinion with fellow soldiers that if they did not have the weapons to fight with they should give up. Soyinka probably adopted the cryptic style to conceal his acerbic critique from the moronic goons of the crypt of the title of his prison poems, A Shuttle in the Crypt, a cryptic style that distinguished his pre-detention lucidity in The Lion and the Jewel from his post-detention complexities like Season of Anomy). This elliptical style is consistent with the conclusion in African Fractals by Ron Eglash who saw it as the characteristic of the majority of designs in African culture in contrast to European designs that favor straight grids in conformity with the principles of Rene Descartes for the purposes of easier conquest, control and mastery. In the hands of Achebe, this fractal presentation of the complex story helps the reader to remain alert throughout the book and compels the reader to follow the story non-stop as scenes of chaos are interwoven with hilarious humor, just as the war was experienced with love and laughter and not exclusively with tears and mourning.

4)   The role of intellectuals as war mongers while other intellectuals struggled for hegemony or moral and intellectual leadership was highlighted by Achebe over and over again. Godfrey Chege recently asserted in an essay, ‘Africa’s Murderous Professors’, that educated Africans have played ignoble roles directly or indirectly in supporting genocide across the continent – a point that Soyinka made earlier in his detention memoir, The Man Died - but this is also true of European intellectuals in Africa and in Europe, according to Achebe. There Was A Country commends the bravery of Wole Soyinka who risked his life by opposing the genocidal war and critiques Ali Mazrui for condemning the poet, Chris Okigbo, who gave his life trying to save those that faced the threat of genocide. Achebe also critiqued the cavalier account of Emmanuel Ifeajuna who submitted a manuscript to Achebe and Okigbo for publication during the war in which he appeared to gloat over the assassination of the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, in the first coup that led to the second coup and the pogroms that led to the war. Nevertheless, Achebe gives enough indication that it was regrettable that Ifeajuna and Victor Banjo, among others, were executed by Ojukwu following the distrust brought on by the siege mentality of losing battles without adequate equipments, or simply because Banjo was a poor speech writer. He also deplored the attack on an Italian oilrig in Kwale resulting in the killing of some and the taking of 18 hostages that cost Biafra much of the goodwill it enjoyed internationally. Although Achebe adored Okigbo, he mildly rebuked the poet for being obsessed with food from high school days when he would devise ways to get extra food that was apparently wasted, to his waking up of Achebe’s cook early in the morning to cook a secret recipe according to his specification and to his absent-minded consumption of the special cravings of Achebe’s pregnant wife that he ordered to be sent to his own hotel room instead, causing Achebe’s three year old son to attack him playfully only to later cry, ‘Father, do not let him die’, when news came that Major Okigbo died in the war front near the place that inspired his poetry. Although Achebe did not say so, that much gluttony could have been responsible for the mystery that the gifted poet and star athlete was never a good student academically, according to Obi Nwakanma, in his biography, Okigbo: Thirsting for Sunlight, in which it was reported that the poet used to steal crates of bear from one of the professors during his college days.

5)   Moreover, Achebe expressed disgust at Chief Obafemi Awolowo for repeatedly boasting that he stopped international relief organizations from sending food and medicine to Biafra because ‘All is fair in war and starvation is a legitimate weapon of war.’ As Duro Onabule rightly stated in his column in The Sun Newspaper, Awolowo should not have continued to defend this statement that Achebe rightly dubbed a diabolic policy when neither Gowon nor the other genocidal military dictators that Awolowo served dared to openly canvass such an obnoxious war crime as a justifiable policy. As an intellectual, Awolowo should have known better and could have used his influence in the military government to push for a more humane ending of the war and the rehabilitation of the Igbo. Rather he imposed a vengeful policy of stripping the Igbo of their savings in exchange for a miserly 20 pounds per family head at the end of the war and proceeded to indigenize shares in multinational companies at the same time to exclude the Igbo who were feared as the dominant ethnic group in all aspects of Nigerian economy and society before the war. It is disappointing that some disciples of Awolowo are continuing to defend the same wicked stance today instead of agreeing with Achebe that any policy designed to kill three million Africans by fellow Africans and expropriate their wealth is indeed diabolical and indefensible. It is not too late for the followers of Awolowo to distance themselves from that shameful belligerence against an innocent people who had nothing against them. Without mentioning Biafra, Soyinka supports such dissociation in Of Africa by stating that the admission of sadism on the part of some does not condemn a whole continent as sadists.

6)   Achebe repeatedly described Awolowo as a brilliant leader who united the Yoruba politically and he also described the Sarduana of Sokoto as a brilliant politician who united the Northern region politically. He also expressed admiration for Aminu Kano for not joining Anthony Enahoro in threatening to crush Biafra during the peace talks in Uganda. By contrast, he was almost disdainful towards Azikiwe who never received a direct praise in the book but was slightly ridiculed for telling his supporters that when the British Governor General told him that he wanted to stay on after Nigeria’s independence, Zik told him that he was welcome to stay as long as he wanted. Zik was directly critiqued for saying that Nigeria got independence on a platter of gold and Achebe likened it to the head of John the Baptist. Readers of The Trouble With Nigeria will know that Achebe has a long resentment against Zik for what he called the ‘abandonment syndrome’ of never seeing anything through. Even when the Zik Group of Newspapers was praised for writing in a plain style that the Latin-loving colonial elite ridiculed but the masses loved, a style that Achebe was to adopt in his own writing but which he attributes to his experience drafting radio broadcasts at Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, the praise appeared to be for the editorial board led by Anthony Enahoro rather than for Zik personally. In There Was A Country, Achebe reveals the source of this seething resentment – ‘Azikiwe Withdraws Support For Biafra’ but Achebe makes this appear understandable in the context in which an ‘Aristocrat’ like General Ojukwu did not consult or take advice from Zik of Africa while the formula for peace, reconstruction and rehabilitation that Zik proclaimed at Oxford University was rejected as ‘unworkable’ by Nigeria only to become the model for UN interventions around the world today.

7)   Achebe acknowledged the support of international media which rallied to expose the atrocities imposed on people in Biafra, mentioned an American student who set himself ablaze to attract the attention of a silent UN; Kurt Vonnegut, an American scholar, cried for days after his visit before writing ‘Biafra: A People Betrayed’; Auberon Waugh wrote a book lamenting the complicity of Britain in the genocide following a trip to Biafra and named his newborn baby Biafra Waugh; European missionaries who volunteered to defy the embargo and fly relief to Biafra, the few African countries that formally recognized Biafra and performers like John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix who played tribute concerts to support relief efforts. However, the international community was critiqued for supporting the genocidal war. Britain and The Soviet Union (cold-war enemies) supplied weapons to Nigeria and ensured that more small arms were used against Biafra during the 30 months war than were used in the five years of World War II. Achebe implies that the Nigerian government should take responsibility for allowing this to happen to its people and should endow a huge reparations fund for the survivors of Biafra. The UK and government of Russia (on behalf of the Soviet Union) should equally endow huge reparations funds to help heal the wounds of the Biafra genocide that they helped to engineer. No matter how big the reparations funds turn out to be, they would still be mere tokens of atonement that may help with healing the psychological scars that Nigeria and Africa continue to suffer from. No Nigerian group would be deprived of anything when the wrongs done to the Easterners are recognized and reparations offered as Soyinka has been demanding since the end of the war.

8)   The then British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson of the Labour Party, responded to the accusation that Britain was supporting the genocide being committed by religious fundamentalists by stating that the Nigerian army was 70% Christian just like the predominantly Christian people of Biafra. He also argued that General Gowon, as well as his field commanders, Olusegun Obasanjo (who bragged that he celebrated the shooting down, on his order, of a plane carrying relief supplies for the starving people during the war) and Benjamin Adekunle (who boasted that he did not give a damn if the Igbo got not a single bite of food and that he shot at everything that moved and even at things that did not move), and Theophilius Y. Danjuma, were all Christians. Such dishonesty is startling given that Christians have battled and killed Christians for millennia, just like Muslims. But for those who do not know, religious ‘fundamentalism’ first emerged among self-proclaimed ‘Fundamentalist Christians’ in the US who advanced the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible at a time that they enslaved millions of Africans for hundreds of years and committed genocide against American Indian Natives. One of the leading advocates of the Igbo genocide, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo – a self-professed devout Christian - later claimed that he was a friend of the Igbo despite blocking food supplies to their dying children on the pretext that he did not want the food to go to the Biafran troops.  In contrast, the Igbo have no history of invasions, conquests, massacres, genocides or forced conversion against any other group and despite all the atrocities visited against them, they constantly demonstrate their goodwill by returning to the killing fields across Nigeria to provide essential services to their fellow citizens, name their children after other ethnic groups, adopt their styles of dressing and even teach their children other tongues as a first language. Yet the hatred continues perhaps due to envy over the astounding success of the Igbo, according to Achebe who suggests that Nigerians prefer mediocrity to empowering Igbo excellence for the benefit of the whole country.

9)   Achebe repeatedly praised the roles of women and indigenous technologies in helping the Igbo to survive the genocidal war. Women conjured up food to feed their families and fed the children folktales as Ngugi also reported in Dreams in a Time of War; they took great care of dying kwashiorkor babies as if they were beauty pageant contestants; they took refugees into their homes and charged no rents but offered to cook rice as a delicacy for the family of the teacher (Achebe’s father) who was credited with introducing the town to rice as a staple food; they worked as nurses and organized the control of traffic without being asked; but above all, they organized educational classes during the war while also loving their husbands, making more babies; they also hid even eight year old daughters from drunken Nigerian soldiers who repeatedly massacred thousands of the Igbo males they could find in places like Asaba and Calabar but spared the valuable women as war booties. A Goddess was credited with helping to repel the enemy soldiers from the Oguta hometown of one of the heroines, the novelist Flora Nwapa and the Marxist anthropologist, Ikenna Nzimiro. The Biafran Army also devised Ogbunigwe explosives, built armored fighting vehicles, refined petroleum and flew their own planes to the amazement of neighboring African countries that still believed that only white people could fly planes. The diplomats of Biafra continued seeking a peaceful end to the war and drafted the Ahiara Declaration (modeled after Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration) in line with the African virtues of tolerance and accommodation that Nelson Mandela personified when he came out from unjust imprisonment and avoided a race war and an ethnic war, served only one term as president and handed over to a younger generation.

10)                 Implicitly, Achebe is calling on us to rebuild the African Mbari houses to accommodate all irrespective of race, class, gender or religion. The limitation of his analysis is that it is pitched at the Nigerian national level and not open to the possibilities that Du Bois, Azikiwe, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Fela Kuti and Moumar Gadhafi envisaged – a united republic of all Africans that would make it impossible for any group ever again to rise up and attempt to destroy any ethnic group in Africa. The Biafra war involved African countries as supporters on both sides but the solution was wrongly seen by the OAU as an internal affair of Nigeria. Within the People’s Republic of Africa, such a genocidal war will no longer be tolerated in the future as it has been across Africa. The corruption and ineptitude that Achebe blames for the stunting of the development of Nigeria following the marginalization of the enterprising Igbo would be reduced when all Africans have the right to move to any part of Africa and settle, work, study, marry, trade and contest for office as is the case in the US today. Let us turn the 55 countries in Africa into 55 states or more. The African masses have already voted with their feet by disregarding the fictitious colonial boundaries, it is high time we brought policy in line with the lived experiences and realities on the ground and finally synthesize the contradictions between our past and present theses and counter-theses into deeper democratic traditions that are consistent with African cultural virtues of tolerance and accommodation; Udoka (Peace is greater, in Igbo) or Ubuntu (‘the bundle of humanity’, according to Soyinka, citing Desmond Tutu). Soyinka, in Of Africa, agrees that the resolution of the fiction of exclusivity and boundary enforcement should be pursued in the self-interest of Africans rather than in the interest of those who divided and weakened Africa but not only in the direction of dissolution towards micro-nationalism but more importantly in the direction of greater unity across borders, despite the failure of some tentative experiments in that direction in the past.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Awolowo Was No ‘Friend’ of Ours

By Biko Agozino

I eagerly await the arrival of my copy of Achebe’s personal historiography of Biafra with my mouth salivating in anticipation, given the spoilers already raising storms of debates. The charged debate over Achebe’s book gives Nigeria enough reason to reverse the dumb policy of Obasanjo who banned the teaching of history in Nigerian schools under the excuse that history is a yeye subject that does not lead to employment. Dalu (thank you), Nna anyi (our father) Achebe, you will live life until the endless time! I will wait until I have read every word and reflected on it before I comment on your magnum opus.

Meanwhile ... In response to this welcome addition to the cleansing of the historical conscience of Nigeria by Chinua Achebe, some misguided and misinformed miscreants have dredged up what looks like a fabrication, claiming that Awolowo regarded himself as a friend of the Igbo. The strange document lacks any of the clarity of the sage and digresses from a serious discussion of the haunting responsibility for genocide to the trivial mythology of fish as an astrological sign. That apparent forgery smell foul like a dead fish all right for the following reasons supported by quotations on friendship from Awolowo’s favorite text, the Bible:

1)   Awolowo was an elder, uncle or father of the Yoruba nation and not a friend of the Igbo. But being a beloved elder does not mean that you could never err: Soyinka has a character in Mad Men and Specialists who despite his immense wisdom grossly erred by teaching military officers how to enjoy cannibalism. ‘As soon as he began to reign and was seated on the throne, he killed off Baasha’s whole family. He did not spare a single male, whether relative or friend.’ 1 Kings 16:10-12

2)   To suggest that Awolowo saw himself as a friend is to distance himself from the Igbo as if we are not related, ‘why can’t we be friends’ is a polite turn-down for a jilted lover, as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald dueted. ‘Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” Exodus 32:26-28

3)   If Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo really said what was attributed to him as a justification for the absolutely unjustifiably act of genocide, he must have been reading the book of his angry name-sake too literally: ‘For this is what the LORD says: ‘I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will give all Judah into the hands of the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword.’ Jeremiah 20:3-5
4)   To claim that you are a friend of someone is no argument for mitigation in any court of law especially when the charge is genocide: ‘You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.’ Luke 21:15-17

5)   I have never met any young Nigerian who calls Azikiwe, Balewa, or Awolowo, nor the legends, Kano, Achebe and Soyinka his friend; they were/are more like elders. An old man who goes about saying that he is a friend of starving children but refuses to feed them as punishment for their parents is surely dodgy and dishonest. I doubt if Awolowo stooped that low.

6)   As a statesman, you are not expected to serve only your friends – you serve the whole country whether you love them or hate them. "My life has been a joy to me wherever I may be, for I have learnt to live in peace with either friends or foes." NNAMDI AZIKIWE.

7)   To say that Awolowo is a friend of the Igbo suggests that the Igbo regarded Awolowo as their enemy despite the fact that predominantly Igbo officers led a military coup for the explicit purpose of freeing Awolowo from prison and making him an executive president. As one of the coup plotters, Nwobosi, stated, he supported Awolowo over his next-door neighbor, Azikiwe: ‘Awolowo was our man, our man for the job; I don't think he was even the best friend of the Igbo. He wasn't, but we wanted a job done and we knew that the man who would do it well was Awolowo.’  Odia Ofeimum, the secretary of Awolowo, was quoted as saying that this is true but strange to Nigerians today because they do not know any patriotic Nigerians who would rise above ethnicity. No wonder Odia is yet to publish that book of his.

8)   Gowon was reported as having apologized to Asaba people for the massacre that took place in the town under his watch as Head of State but he claimed that he was ignorant that such atrocities happened. He is yet to apologize to the Igbo for the genocide that he was fully aware of and over which he actively presided. Descendants of Awolowo, Enahoro, Gowon, Danjuma and others still alive should lead in the soul-searching that Achebe has launched and support the call for reparations that Wole Soyinka has been making, lest future generations continue to believe that the genocide of more than 3 million of our compatriots was a heroic thing to be celebrated with honors and rewards.

9)   Starvation as a weapon of war especially after seeing that the prime victims were children is not just a mistake by Awolowo, it is a wicked crime against humanity. Even after the war, did he justify the stripping of Igbo families of all their life savings in exchange for 20 pounds to demonstrate his ‘friendship’? ‘Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? Luke 5:33-35

10)  It is painful to associate the respected sage with such a crime but he allegedly bragged that he saw malnourished children with his own eyes but said that he did continue to starve them because the adults were not also equally bloated with kwashioko and dying to surrender. Did he really say that?

11) He said that the allocation of public funds to a state in Nigeria was a sign of his friendship and expected to be commended for claiming that he did not demand 10% for himself out of the statutory allocation. Now that does not sound like the wise Awolowo. ‘If anyone denounces their friends for reward, the eyes of their children will fail.’ Job 17:4-6

12)  He said that he built schools in Warri but the credit probably belonged to the communities that built their own schools through community effort and he claimed that he saved abandoned properties for the Igbo in Lagos, yet Ojukwu had to go to court in 1985 before recovering his father’s property. If he suggested that Ojukwu was the real enemy of the Igbo, it must have been in the context of the 1983 election when Ojukwu declared for the National Party of Nigeria rather than join the Progressive Parties Alliance of Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria, Azikiwe’s Nigerian People’s Party, and Aminu Kano’s People’s Redemption Party.

13) ‘You are not my friend, my friend.’ That is a style of rhetoric that Nigerians use as a retort whenever an antagonist calls you his friend without meaning it. We are expected to know who our friends are even if we may not know our brothers and sisters from other mothers or fathers. Achebe’s book should be read by all Nigerians and by all Africans to learn how to love one another like brothers and sisters and avoid any excuses to indulge in genocidal rages that have continued to consume the continent since the Igbo genocide as Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe has been documenting. Instead of reacting by defending ethnic icons, let us all demand that the Nigerian government, the British government, Russia and Egypt should atone for this heinous crime that has robbed Nigeria of some of its greatest minds. Reparations for the Igbo genocide will help to heal the open sores of that crime and pave the way for a progressive future for all Africans to enjoy.