The enduring success of Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart is that the classic not only anticipates this conqueror’s predilection but it subverts the triumphalism of the latter’s Pyrrhic victory. Despite the District Commissioner’s bombastically-captioned anthropological treatise at the end of the novel, heralding the latest European “possession and control” of another region of Africa, this time Igboland, the future direction of history here neither lies with the administrator nor his evolving occupation regime – nor indeed with his conquering capital back home in Europe!
To locate the source for change and transformation in Igboland, subsequently, we need to examine, carefully, the import and circumstance of historian Obierika’s address to the administrator on the life and times of his friend and people’s hero, Okonkwo, who had recently committed suicide. We are reminded that as he speaks, two full sentences into a third, Obierika’s voice “trembled and choked his words”, trailing off into gasps and silences of deep contemplation. It is precisely within the context of these kaleidoscopic frames of Obierika’s recalls and introspection that we discern the sowing of the Igbo nation’s regenerative seeds of resistance and quest for the restoration of lost sovereignty. It is therefore not surprising that Okonkwo’s grandchildren would spearhead the freeing of Nigeria, to which Igboland had since been arbitrarily incorporated by the conquest, from the British occupation – beginning in the 1930s, just 30 years after the so-called formal inauguration of the conquest.
Abolish the sun now!(George Russell Sextet, “Ezzthetic” [Russell, piano; Don Ellis, trumpet; Dave Baker, trombone; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone; Steve Swallow, bass; Joe Hunt, drums; recorded: Riverside Records, New York, 8 May 1961])
At the time, a British military advisor to the junta, who was out dining with a senior member of the council in Lagos, unwittingly compared Igbo national consciousness and tenacity with that of the Poles. The advisor, who had studied modern history at university and was a great admirer of the exceptional endurance of Polish people in history, stated that the Igbo had demonstrated similar courage in the latter’s defence of Biafra and that the “rebirth of Biafra is a distinct possibility in my lifetime” – this was unlike the 123 (one hundred and twenty-three) years it took the Polish state to re-appear in history after its disappearance from the world map! The advisor was then in his early 30s and the obvious implications of his Igbo-Polish analysis were not lost on his host. The junta member co-diner was understandably most outraged by the advisor’s crass insensitivity on the subject which he readily shared with his junta colleagues. Predictably, the immediate consequence of the hapless advisor’s impudence was an early recall home to Britain.
There were other bouts of farcical treats on display in Nigeria during the period aimed at erasing the memory of the Igbo genocide. Junta and other state publications and those of their sympathisers would print the name Biafra, a proper noun, with a lower case “b” or box the name in quotes or even invert the “b” to read “p”, such was the intensity of the schizophrenia that wracked the minds of the members of the council over the all important subject of the historic imprint of Igbo resistance and survival.
3.1 million Igbo or a quarter of this nation’s population were murdered in the genocide between 29 May 1966 and 12 January 1970. This is the foundational and most gruesome genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. Despite the catastrophic stretch of slaughter in 44 months, it was business-as-usual, or so it appeared, for the genocidists on the morrow of the conclusion of phase-III of the murder on 12 January 1970. Lest we forget, the new phase was pursued with utmost vengeance, with the added highly prized fiscal and capital assets sequestrated by the genocidists – namely, the pillaging of the multibillion(US)dollar-Igbo economy at home and those located in Nigeria, particularly in the Lagos/greater Lagos industrial-commercial region. Many operatives who worked as advisors, at varying layers of the genocidist command and control infrastructure, went to, or returned to universities and colleges as professors and researchers, some became university administrators, bureaucrats, media editors and executives, company chief executives and directors, ministers of state, ministers of religion, businesspeople; many of the commanders and commandants became generals and admirals and marshals, and state legislators, administrators and the like; some even sought the highest office of state – head of regime (Obafemi Awolowo, variously, without success; Olusegun Obasanjo, three times successful; Muhammadu Buhari, once successful; Ibrahim Babangida, once successful; Sanni Abacha, once successful; Abdulsalami Abubakar, once successful).
The Igbo are probably the only people in the world who were convinced that they would survive. And when they did, the aftermath was electrifying. In spontaneous celebration, the Igbo prefaced their exchange of greetings with each other, for quite a while, with the exaltation, “Happy Survival”! Igbo survival, at the end, does represent the stunning triumph of the human spirit over the savage forces unleashed by Nigeria and its allies that had tried determinably, for four years, to destroy it.
Forty-two years on, first and second generations removed from their parents and grandparents, respectively, who freed British-occupied Nigeria in 1960 and survived the follow-up genocide, Okonkwo’s progeny are once again tasked and poised to restore Igbo lost sovereignty and track of progress and transformation. Everyone knows of their firm resolve and ability to achieve this goal. The Igbo can feel it; they indeed feel it; the rest of the world feels it. Surely, the successful outcome of this endeavour is one of the most eagerly awaited news developments in contemporary Africa.
*****Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe’s 2192-word essay on Chinua Achebe’s all-important memoir, Another Country, London: Allen Lane, 2012, is published in Literary Encyclopedia, 4 October 2012,