Ejike, after our phone conversation the other day and your pointing out that you are reading Chinua Achebe’s “There was a country”, and mentioning what he said regarding the Nigerian Air force killing hundreds of market women in our Afo Umuohiagu market in February, 1969, I decided to reread the book. I began at page 212 (where he talked about the killing in our town) and read to the end, including the appendixes and then from page one to page 212. In other words, I read the entire book.
I must tell you that performing this exercise (it kept me awake all night long until I had read all 333 pages of the book) has led me to understand Mr. Achebe a little better and change my former negative appraisal of him to positive appraisal.
My attitude towards Mr. Achebe is ones of those things in a man’s life that he cannot satisfactorily explain. Until now I had visceral hatred of the man. I loathed him. I am not quite sure why I had this violent hatred of the man.
Objectively, I ought to be proud of him, for, after all, he is one of the few of our people to have made their mark in the word of letters (I like Cyprian Ekwensi with as much irrational fervor as I approach Achebe with irrational disdain).
I had tried to understand the root of my violent hatred of Mr. Achebe and honestly could not wrap my hands on the causal factor. I am, however, supposing that it is rooted in my hatred of Africans who tend to blame Africa’s issues on other people?
When I was at graduate school I recognized that African-Americans have a serious problem: they tend to have what psychologists call external locus of control/authority; such persons tend to emphasize what the external environment did to make their lives difficult and minimize what they do to contribute to their fate. At that point in my life, I had the illusion that the individual totally was in charge of his life.
Oh, I was aware that we live in a system where everything is affected by everything else; in our universe every behavior by any part of it affects other parts of it and they respond accordingly. That is to say that I was not blind to the reality of our mutual influence on each other. Yet, at the individual level I resented black folks always speaking about what white folks did to them.
Folks like Walter Rodney (How Europe Underdeveloped Africa) and Chinwezi (The West and the rest of us) marshaled arguments delineating how Europeans held us down (slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism).
To me, these folks seemed like Goethe’s Mephistopheles. They were my sworn eternal enemy; for I believed that they were part of the atavistic force that kept Africa backward. I believed that Africans are, in W. W. Whyte and David Riesman’s sociological category, other-dependent and too quickly blamed other persons for their issues and that as long as they did so they would not take the bull by the horn and do what they had to do to improve their lives. As I looked at the world I saw that those who tended to have the good life are those who did what they had to-do to improve their lives.
In graduate school, I was a disciple of Ayn Rand (I remember that when I visited Nigeria you saw me reading her books, especially The Fountain Head, Atlas Shrugged etc.). Her philosophy is called objectivism; it states that the individual is on his own and should do what he has to do to make his way in the world and should not depend on other persons, certainly not on the government to serve his needs.
Libertarian (political ideology) tends to embrace extreme individualism (John Locke and Edmund Burke’s limited government conservatism accepts some positive albeit limited role for government in our lives; libertarians tend to resent government altogether; they tend to border on anarchism! I now believe that libertarianism is a juvenile philosophy, for obviously we live in society where there are dangerous people and therefore need governments to rein people in. I now believe that government should perform certain functions in society, including national defense, provision of free education to all from kindergarten to university, and health insurance for all (in American political categories I am a progressive liberal, in European terms a social democrat).
Nevertheless, if you depend on the government to do anything, since governments generally do not do anything well, you are asking for shoddy products from bureaucrats...it takes ten government bureaucrats to change one light bulb! As Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations) pointed out, the free enterprise system is the most efficient economy. The nanny state is dangerous for our health.
Rand’s philosophy resonated with me in my early twenties (graduate student years) because it encapsulated my then life style. Think about my amazing behavior after the war. The war ended and a week later I, just a teenage boy, was at Enugu Teaching Hospital, and from Enugu I went to Lagos to receive proper treatment for my medical issues. The corrupt doctors at Igbobi hospital demanded money before they could even talk to me. I returned to our village and asked father to sell our truck (tipper) at a giveaway price (it was bought new in 1967 so it was not old). He sold it and gave me the money the doctors demanded and I returned to Lagos (he used the balance to return to work at Lagos). The doctors operated on me.
Upon discharge from the hospital I marched straight to secondary school and in two years did my school cert and two years later the high school and GCE Advance Level (and cleared them with As...I had only one B). While in school I applied to universities in the USA and three of them admitted me. After my examination, without waiting for the results to come out, I was already at Eugene, Oregon (University of Oregon) and moved right into the dormitory. I did all these still a boy and without relying on any one to help me (Father and mother did their best to help pay my first year fees; God bless their souls; Igbos had no money to pay American college school fees right after the end of the war. I received financial aid from the university.)
In three years I bulldozed my way through undergraduate school and applied for graduate schools and was admitted by eleven of them, including the Ivy Leagues in the East Coast...I chose the University of California (which was then ranked higher than some of the Ivy Leagues) because it offered me teaching fellowship and paid my tuition.
My philosophy was simple: the individual is on his own; he should not rely on other persons to do anything for him and should not blame other persons for how his life turned out. I believe that it was this individualistic and can do frame of mind that led me to see Achebe (he complained too much) as an enemy; I perceived him to be one of those misguided Africans that blamed the white man for all that is wrong with Africa. (His book, Things Fall Apart gave me nightmares when I read it at age eleven; I am talking about the part where his primitive people killed the adorable child I identified with, Ikemefuna; I have not forgiven Achebe for having that innocent and likeable child killed by the paranoid personality called Okonkwo.)
In so far that I had a need to explain what was wrong with Africa it was to blame us. I asked why our ancestors did not evolve writing (Achebe talks a lot about what seems our local writing called Nsibidi; it was evolved in the 1700s and by non-Igbos), why did they not invent the wheel or large scale social, political organization?
As an undergraduate student, every summer I travelled. I used to buy what was called Euro Rail pass for three months and simply flew to a European city, say, Frankfort, Germany and enter the train and travelled all over Western Europe (I slept in Pensions, Student Hostels). This way I visited most European cities (Rome, Athens, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Geneva, Florence, Milan, Munich, Vienna, Venice etc.; I did the same for American cities and essentially visited most major American cities). I saw how Europeans and Americans lived. I marveled at the magnificent mansions and castles of their rich folk. I wondered why our ancestors did not have such grand constructions.
I was not in any kind of mood to blame white folks for our apparent backwardness. I simply accepted that for some reasons (see Jared Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs and Steel for an acceptable explanation of our backwardness) Africans remained primitive and resolved to help bulldoze them into the modern world. I believed that science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy and Geology) and technology was the means to push Africans into the modern world.
Science thrives in certain conditions and I knew that those conditions are not yet in Africa. (I am not at all interested in Africa’s cultures; I am interested in what I call scientific culture, not in returning to some primitive ideas of how to live. Give me science and classical music, especially Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden and my beloved Handel and that is all I ask from life.)
Africans, to the present, approach phenomena from a mythopoeic perspective whereas science requires one to want to explain the world with pure reason, not with God or poetry, and embracing the scientific method that accept only what is observable, verifiable and so on. Well, I did not see past Africa as scientific and resolved that we ought to make Africa scientific. Therefore, to see those who blamed Africa’s backwardness on Europeans annoyed me. I believed that they did not take into consideration the conditions that led to progress, conditions that did not exist in Africa.
Talking about the African condition, I used to ask why Africans captured and sold their people into slavery. Given my take responsibility philosophy I resented those who blamed white men for slavery. As you know, we have a lot of former slaves in our town, indeed a whole village, Amuga, is devoted to former slaves. During the war when we were forced to take refuge in our village, I used to visit the part of town where Umuosu lived. My defiant nature led me to make friends with some of the Osu boys despite our grandparents warning that I desist from doing so...I even invited one of them, Jeremiah to visit our house; grandmother could not stand that; she told me that umudialla do not associate with Umuosu and forbade an osu boy in our compound.
The point is that our people had domestic slaves; I could study it, and I did. Our ancestors captured and or bought slaves from Nkwerre area. They used those slaves to do their farm work. The priestly families, such as ours, had their farm work done for them by slaves, so that they were left to do other things (this probably accounted for our family members tendency to be Mbari artists, and intellectuals in general; our farm work was done for us by slaves leaving us the time to use our minds to do productive work).
Grandfather Osuji told me that in the late nineteenth century (when he was born) villages used to go to war with other villages to capture slaves and those slaves were matched to Owere market and sold into slavery. They also sold criminals into slavery (that way they did not have jails and prisons for they simply sold lawbreakers into slavery). Above all, Aro people, clever rogues, were stationed in our village, as well as in other Alaigbo villages, persuading folks to take their quarrels to Arochukwu for their settlement; losers in those cases were marched into the tunnel of Long Juju of Arochukwu, and slave catchers at the other end caught them and sold them to Efik, Calaba people who then resold them to the Portuguese and later other Europeans coming to Calaba to buy slaves; this criminal trafficking lasted from the 1500s to 1902 when finally Frederick Lugard stormed and destroyed the Long juju. (Everything in me wants to whip the ass of Aro folk; I want them punished, enslaved, really, for participating in the enslavement of their fellow Igbos. I am not a forgiving person.)
The point to all these are that our people were culprit in the dreadful business of slavery. I was, therefore, pissed by Africans who blamed only Europeans for the existence of slavery.
We practiced slavery before the Portuguese came to our area in the mid-1400s (the Trans-Atlantic slavery began around 1500 when the Portuguese bought West African slaves to work in their new American colony of Brazil). Simply stated, it made me see red to see Africans always blaming the white man for slavery (we had been selling our people as long ago as Roman times...Romans bought black folks and used them as gladiators, to kill themselves to entertain their sadism...these days huge black folks bang their brains out in American football and boxing to entertain white folks insistence on sadistic pleasure).
We sold our people to Arabs. We sold our people to Europeans. If that is the case where did we get off blaming only white men for our existential crime of selling our people? I could not stand any African who blames white men for our issues.
This is not to say that I did not see that Europeans did us wrong in buying African slaves. I am very clear eyed and could see that the white man is by nature sociopathic; he has no conscience, no sense of guilt or remorse and if you allowed him would use your labor for free for his own good at your expense. He does this to nonwhites as well as to his fellow white folks. In America, a handful of rich super psychopaths own most of the wealth of the land and the majority of the people, the so-called middle class, eke out miserable living.
The white man’s society is organized for the few to lord it over the many; it has been that way since Greece and Rome, and in the more recent Germanic states of France, England and North America. I do not have any illusion that the white man can be a loving person; I see him as psychologically, if not biologically, incapable of love; I accept him as he is and deal with him objectively, no sentimentality there.
What was of concern to me is the behavior of black men? I believed that other people’s exploitation of us cannot be stopped until we accepted that we are in charge of our lives. In this light, I hated any African that told us that other people made us who we are (remember the famous passage in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “the fault is not in the stars that we are who we are but in us” or something to that effect).
I believe that somehow I logged Achebe into the class of Africans that see us as white men’s Victims and blame white folks for all our problems. I therefore hated him with venom. I so hated the man that I would not have wanted to see him in the same room with me. (My view is that as long as Africans blame others for their shiftlessness they cannot mount a civilization; they will always mess up and find easy scapegoats to blame; see, right now each tribe blames others instead of working for the good of the country. Igbos blame Yorubas and Hausas and vice versa. One has to say: damn it, I am responsible for my life; I am accountable for my behavior regardless of other folks influence on me.)
I am quite capable of enormous hate; I do bear grievances and seek revenge for perceived wrongs done to me. If you wronged me I would come after you with whatever I have in vengeance. I do not allow my enemies to get away scot free. If necessary, I would follow them into their mothers’ vaginas to get even with them. No one toys with Ozodiobi Nwa Osuji-Njoku and get away with it.
Here is an example of what I mean. When I was eight years old and lived with our grandparents (father had sent me home to go learn Igbo; he did not like his children speaking Yoruba as their main language). I attended the village elementary school and one of the teachers tried to flog me. No human being is allowed to do such a thing to me. I went to war with him and practically destroyed the entire school. Grandmother intervened and insisted that the teacher be transferred to another school and the bugger was sent away. I have our ancestors’ warrior spirit and no one offends me and gets away with it (No white man ever looks down on me and I allow him to get away with it...actually, I seldom accept supervision from white sons of bitches).
It is that unforgiving spirit that I brought to bear on Africa’s so-called scholars who talked what seemed to me rubbish about what white men did to hold us back. I lumped Achebe into that category and hated him with every fiber of my being.
I took the time to say the above to let you know that my mind was biased; I was prejudiced against Achebe. It did not help that he came from Anambra. I must confess that I have a private war against non-Owerri Igbos. To me, only Owerri folk are real Igbos, the rest of the folk that call themselves Igbos are false Igbos. By Owerri I mean those that speak our lovely Owerri dialect...those from Owerri city, Nnaze, Urata, Egbu, Emekeukwu, Emi, Obiangwu, Logara, Nnorie, Umuohiagu, Iheta, Umukabi, Iheagwa, Nnekede, Egbema, Imerienwe, Ntu, Ngor, Umuowere, Umuowa, Obube, Mbutu Okohia, Okpala and others). I love our Owerri people; there is nothing any of them can do to make me hate them. We are a civilized people; notice that none of our people engage in the various Igbo thieveries, such as 419 scams. My vendetta has always been for non-Owerri Igbo (if truth is told, I tend not to like non-Owerrians; I am always defensive around these folks for they steal too much).
Anyway, there was nothing the brother from Ogidi did that ever impressed me. I simply dismissed him as a nincompoop, a chipmunk, really, and did not take him seriously. It was in that frame of mind that when his latest book came out, I bought it and speed read it. I deliberately decided to write a negative review of it! I wrote a very nasty review of the book.
I wish that I had not done that. However, it is very difficult to take back what one had written; I am just gonna have to eat my words! I made a mistake; rereading his book has given me a clearer picture of the man.
Let me summarize the book. The book gave us a brief history of Achebe’s background. He was born at Ogidi in 1930. His father was an elementary school teacher and Anglican (CMS) catechist. His mother was also educated (elementary school level). He attended his village’s elementary school and completed his elementary schooling at what he called “Nekede” (he did not spell that name correctly, he removed one of the ns; it should be spelled Nnekede, as Owerri folk spell it). Upon completing his elementary schooling in 1944 he went to Aba and took the common entrance examination to attend secondary school. He passed and was admitted by Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha (an Anglican school) and the recently established Government College, Umuahia (built in 1929...when did they build the government college in our Owerri...please do let me know). He chose to attend Government College, Umuahia.
He was, apparently, a very good student and jumped classes (he did class one and two in one year). Upon completing his secondary schooling and passing with distinction what was then called Cambridge Secondary School Examination ("Cantab", folks in our area called it); he applied to enter the recently established University College Ibadan (as the pioneer class). He was either first or second in the entrance examination to the university and was admitted to study medicine.
Midway into his studies he changed majors and went for English, history and theology. He graduated at the top of his class. His fellow alumni of Ibadan read like the list of who is who of Nigeria’s intellectual leaders (including the brilliant and eccentric Wole Soyinka and the versatile and unstable poet, Chris Okigbo).
After teaching for four months at a secondary school at Oba, near his home town, he was hired by Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Service (Radio) and thereafter was hired by Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He worked at NBC until the upheavals of 1966.
Like most Igbos, the travails following the first and second (counter) military coups forced him to flee to the East for safety. In 1967 the recalcitrant Emeka Ojukwu dragged Igbos to war.
Achebe seems to attribute the war to the struggles of Ojukwu and Gowon’s egos. Ojukwu did not recognize Gowon as the leader of Nigeria and Gowon wanted to maintain one Nigeria; he did not want Nigeria to splinter during his watch (I would do the same).
Achebe narrated the various efforts to reconcile those two big egos and how the failure of those efforts (such as Aburi conference) led Ojukwu to secede from Nigeria and Gowon launching “police action” to keep the country one. Achebe provided the reader with an acceptable history of the progression of the civil war.
He told us what he did during the war (working for Ojukwu in writing capacities, such as helping to draft the famous Ahiara Declaration in which Ojukwu declared his war objectives and his philosophy). Later, Ojukwu, the narcissistic exploiter (the man used people to serve his interests and discarded them when they were no longer useful to him; he felt like he was the most important man on earth and sought attention and admiration from all around him and felt angry when his pompous ass was pricked), exploited Achebe’s budding international reputation as a writer of note and sent him overseas to help make his case for other nations to support Biafra. As it were, Achebe became a roving Biafran ambassador and visited many African, European and American capitals. He marketed the Biafran course (or is it cause, as he spelled the word; to cause is to make something to happen; course, on the other hand, means path?).
Achebe gave us useful information on the war, especially on how Biafran soldiers fled from one city to another until their back was against the wall at Owerri; they fled because they did not have the right military equipment; Biafran soldiers often shared one rifle, and each would be given no more than ten bullets; compare and contrast that sad situation with Nigerian soldiers who were armed with the most modern military hardware...I know something about the effectiveness of Nigerians weapons; when the Nigerians entered Owerri and fought their way to our area folks fled, I returned and stayed in our house; I could not sleep from the noise of rifle and other guns fired by the Nigerians right in our backyard; their firing literally mowed down the bush as if folks had consciously cut down the forest! That experience of sneaking back into our village when every person had run away was something that one cannot explain; there was eerie silence before the Nigerians start shooting. How I was able to do such a fearless thing is incredible; I simply assumed that if the Nigerians came in and wanted to kill me that they are free to do so; at least, I would die in Osuji’s compound. I have a daredevil, or should we say, I do not care if I died right now trait in me. I remember walking about in the village as Nigerian jet fighters flew overhead, so low that I thought that I could touch them. As it were, I dared them to kill me, as they killed our brother, Chukwuemeka, Eugene. (They didn’t call the boy me agu, tiger, for nothing, I suppose.)
Achebe told us about the various efforts made by Ojukwu and his ambassador plenipotentiaries like him to obtain foreign support for their course (cause?). In the end no major European nation supported Biafra (France seemed to have toyed with supporting Biafra but not because of its love for Igbos but because it wanted to speed up the demise of Nigeria, hence reduce British power in the area, so as to increase French influence in West Africa).
Britain and its Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, apparently, were not persuaded to support Igbos despite the fact that Igbos are Christians and Hausas are Muslims (they figured that their economic interest is best served if less well informed Africans ruled Nigeria).
The Americans, as usual, talked the talk but did not walk their talk. At present the feckless Barack Obama is talking shop but will not do anything as over 60,000 Syrians are killed by Assad’s boy.
The Soviet Union wanted to gain some influence in Africa hence supported Nigeria by selling to her jet fighters and jet bombers.
Haiti, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Tanzania recognized Biafra. South Africa seemed to have also leaned towards Biafra (imagine that, apartheid, racist Afrikaners supporting Ojukwu; that must have been interesting!).
Portugal, apparently, allowed Biafrans to use its island of Sao Tome, off the coast of Nigeria, to fly relief planes to Uli Airport in Biafra.
Achebe talked with justifiable anger about Nigeria’s policy of starvation, the prevention of food getting to Biafrans. He said that over three million, mostly children, Biafrans died as a result of that policy. He cited alleged statements by Colonel Benjamin Adekunle as to why Biafrans should be allowed to starve to death. The most galling of it all, if it is true, is what Obafemi Awolowo is said to have said on the subject. Achebe implied that Awolowo wanted Igbos starved to death so s to reduce the population of Igbos and thus placing them at a disadvantage in competing with Yorubas. I do not know if Achebe is projecting what he thinks that Awo thought to Awo, for one cannot imagine Awo having such diabolical thought?
Another issue that rattled Achebe is the question of Igbos abandoned properties in some parts of Nigeria, especially at Port Harcourt. Gowon disavowed knowledge of Nigerian state governments claiming Igbos properties and to the extent that it happened wanted the implicated governments to pay Igbos the market value of their properties (the law of eminent domain allows governments to acquire folk’s properties and pay them their market value). This issue seems overblown for in the Lagos that I grew up at not too many Igbos had houses (and those who had them reclaimed their houses after the war...our maternal cousin. Mr. Diala of Umuowa had many houses at Lagos, and reclaimed them at the end of the war).
Achebe talked about how he and his wife and their children, as Biafran towns fell to advancing Nigerian soldiers, fled from one town to another, at one point living in Owerri area (he probably was also in our village since, for some reasons, the Biafrans concentrated their military assets in our town: 63 Infantry Brigade, and in surrounding villages the 14th division of the Biafran Army; a military training camp, a military hospital; indeed, in our village, Umuorisha, the Biafrans had their Research and production unit (responsible for manufacturing the famous Ogbunigwe), a makeshift oil refinery...this concentration of military facilities in our little town was probably why the Nigerian Air Force almost always visited us daily, sometimes flying at roof top, spraying bullets at any one who moved, killing folks, including our senior brother and hurting our mother on her leg when they killed hundreds of women in our market, Afo Umuohiagu).
I thank Achebe for reminding me of these events that transpired in my town, events that my mind compartmentalized, placed on the back burner and chose not to think about them. Achebe’s book brought back our folks suffering to the front burner of my mind.
Still, I choose not to be angry at Nigerians; I choose to love them despite what they did to us. I do so not out of cowardice, this Osuji fears no man born of woman, but because I know that love is the only thing that gives our empty lives the only meaning it has.
Achebe, however, managed to make it seem like he was not in the loop, in the cabal that helped Ojukwu rule his fiefdom. The cynical part of me doubts his veracity. He appeared to have been caught unawares when Ojukwu fled to the Ivory Coast and left General Effiong to surrender to Nigeria’s Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo at Owerri on January 15, 1970. For a man who was a roving ambassador for Ojukwu he was not convincing in making it seem like he was not part of Ojukwu’s gang, an unelected clique (Nnewi Clique is what Owerri folk called them) that foisted their despotic will on Igbos (Ojukwu even called himself Eze Gburugburu of Igbos; imagine that, an Nnewi rat pretending to be our Owerri folks king; that was travesty of the first order; at any rate we know no king and were not about to allow a coxcomb from different parts of Alaigbo to pretend to be our king!).
Achebe talked about his stay at Oguta, then Owerri (at Shell Camp) and in other Owerri villages. He was in one of those villages when Biafra surrendered. He and his family were driven by their driver in his still functioning Jaguar back to his Ogidi town (his other car, a government assigned car went missing and Achebe assumed that the driver absconded with it). Like most Igbos he began the struggle to live afresh (perhaps with the twenty pounds that Igbos complain that Nigerians gave Igbos, regardless of whatever money they had in the banks).
The man gave a credible history of the civil war. Where I have issues with him is his rendition of the precursors of the civil war. He seemed to minimize Major Nzeogwu killing Hausa leaders. Nzeogwu should not have killed Ahmadu Bello, Abubaka Tafawa Belewa and Samuel Akintola and spared the lives of Igbo leaders such as Michael Okpara, Dennis Osadebe and Nnamdi Azikiwe.
If you are going to kill someone, and you should not kill elected officials, you should kill all of them regardless of their ethnicity. By sparing Igbo leaders Nzeogwu clearly made his coup d’état seem a tribal affair against other tribes. There is no getting around this sad fact.
Igbo leaders were as corrupt as the Nigerian leaders that Nzeogwu and his coconspirators killed, so if corruption was his excuse for been a murderer why didn’t he murder corrupt Igbo leaders? Selective murdering of politicians is not justified. If I was a Hausa man I would have burned with the spirit of vengeance and seized every opportunity I got to murder Igbo leaders, for what is good for the goose must be good for the gander (the drunk, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi apparently did not expect Hausas to murder him, what a mindless clown; you kill a group’s leaders and expect them to accept you; the most natural thing is for them to cut your freaking throat; Ironsi should have been more careful, even been paranoid for in such circumstances paranoia serves the useful purpose of anticipating harm and defending against it; for Christ sake, the man should not have surrounded himself with Hausa soldiers, such as Theophilus Danjuma!).
Achebe has not grasped the enormity of the crime of killing other folks leaders; instead, he talked jazz about how Igbos were everywhere in the prewar civil service, how they were competitive and were recruited on merit because they were smart.
Igbos are not smarter than Hausas and other Nigerians. The accidence of colonialism (missionaries built schools in the South but barely in the North) and certain attributes of Igbo culture made it possible for Igbos to seem to do better than Hausas. What needed to have been done is to help Hausas to go to school so that they would catch up with Igbos.
I am an Africanist and would never take the side of one tribe over other tribes. We must develop all African ethnic groups rather than boast about the excellence of our so-called ethnic group.
Achebe, like most Igbos, seem very proud of his Igbo folk’s competitiveness and believed that jobs should be obtained on merit in which case he has the illusion that Igbos would have shined. The man is naïve.
Are jobs given on merit in the USA? White folks are hired because they are whites. Black folks are discriminated against because they are black, not because they lack the ability to do the job. Among whites those of English origin have advantage over those from Eastern Europe (Slavic persons are seldom given top jobs in America...until recently they were considered less intelligent than the English, French and Germans, the real white Americans).
America made a pact with the devil that says that only those willing to sell their souls to its political ideology would be given good jobs. Nobody gets a good job in America who is not investigated to see if he buys into its vulture capitalism. If a man has independent mind I doubt that he would have a good job in America; the gatekeepers of the evil system would screen him out. The fact that Achebe is allowed to teach at one of America’s elite colleges means that his politics is deemed subservient to the political system; he is a trusted nigger boy. If he does not know this much about America and keeps talking about it as if it is heaven he is really benighted and hopeless!
There is nowhere in the world that pure merit rules employment practices (Max Weber notwithstanding). In England the upper classes dominate everything. In this light it was annoying for Achebe to harp on merit as the basis of his Igbo dominated Nigeria.
Of course, I would like folks to be employed on merit but the fact is that in the real world all sorts of factors are taken into consideration in deciding what Harold Lasswell calls “who gets what, when and why” (this is his definition of politics and power). Whoever told you that there is justice in this world is kidding you. Real politics entails accepting ugly realism and making the most of it rather than dreaming of a fantasy, ideal world that exist nowhere on planet earth.
Igbos tend to be unsophisticated when it comes to the world of politics; this is largely because they did not develop beyond village level politics; they are not schooled in Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Napoleon, Metternich, Bismarck, Pareto, Joseph Schumpeter, Edward Carr, Henry Kissinger etc. ( real politics).
Real politics is a brutal struggle where the powerful stick it to the weak while presenting the image of themselves as innocent to the gullible world to consume.
Achebe knows diddlysquat about real politics; he tends to be emotional on this subject; unfortunately, he takes his sentimentality to stand for reason. It is probably better that he is left doing what he does best: write stories for children to read; he seems lost in the adult world.
On the personal level, Achebe conveyed a picture of a very humble man. The image of him that he conveyed (contrived or real) is of a humble and honest man. He did not exhibit that arrogance that we see in Igbos (Igbos narcissism, boastfulness and insulting behaviors makes me go to war with them; I am motivated to slap them down, humble them and heal them of the sin of pride and vanity).
I actually like the Achebe that I read in this book. However, my perception of him as a simple storyteller stands. He, in fact, sees himself as a storyteller. I am glad that he has this honest self-assessment. He is not sophisticated at all. He is not even thoughtful. One can even call him a simpleton!
Achebe is probably above average in intelligence and, as such, is incapable of the complicated thinking seen in gifted persons (such as Wole Soyinka). Worse, he does not understand that there are those who do not find meaning in life (such as existentialists...Sartre, Camus, Heidegger, and Jasper) and he, like a simple minded country boy, makes fun of them.
Even in elementary school, for example, I found no meaning in life. To me, life is totally pointless, meaningless and purposeless. I saw body as nothing.
Flesh is composed of matter and energy (protons, neutrons, electrons held together by chemical bonds, covalent and or ionic bond). As a composed thing body must die and become decomposed. We are born and begin dying from the moment we are born. As the thoughtful Gautama Buddha observed, life is characterized by suffering and pain and then we die. We die, rot and smell like feces.
So, what is the point of living, I remember asking our parish priest at age nine. I could not praise the priest’s God for creating me, for I asked, creating what? Since my body is unimportant, a God that created it did not create anything important and therefore should not be worshipped. If, in fact, God exists I wanted him thoroughly whooped for creating a world of pain.
Would a loving father create a world where his children are born in pain, live in pain and then die and are eaten by worms? Get your goddamned god out of my site, my fourteen years old self would holler at you!
I left the Catholic Church at age 14 and declared myself an atheist. I did not believe in God until age 35 when I revisited him by studying the early church fathers (Origin, Augustine, Ambrose, Athanasius etc.) and then graduated to whole scale study of Gnosticism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism etc.
Reading Western philosophy (Zeno, Plato, Aristotle, Platonus, Epictetus, Seneca, Cicero, Marcus Aureoles, Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Pascal, Voltaire, Hume, Berkeley, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, James, Bergson, Dewey etc.) was the solace of my pained life. I probably would have committed suicide if I had not discovered philosophy during my teenage years. At age 17 I seriously considered killing myself for I saw living in body as a waste of time.
Simple folks like Achebe probably do not understand that what seems to them good to some people is repulsive. Consider food. When I was a kid I used to sit down and ponder the awfulness of eating food. We must kill to eat. We kill animals and eat them; we kill plants and vegetable and eat them. What kind of life is it where living depends on the death of other biological organism? I would go on and on thinking about the subject and for a while refuse to eat until my mother begs me to eat or lese I died (mother said thank God for giving us food, that we must have gratitude to her Christian God; really, thank a God that makes us kill other living things to have food; get that fucking god out of my space).
Or consider sex. I did not have sex in Nigeria (I left that bedlam too early for that sort of thing). I had my first sex encounter when I was at the university. The sexual act was repulsive. One had heard so much hype about the joy of sex so I tried it and it seemed gross, animalistic and ridiculous. Is this what folks claim to enjoy, this rubbish? I tried it with girls from different races to find out if some are better than others and they all are the same, filthy. I concluded that sex is probably tolerable for procreation (until we figure out a way to produce children in test tubes).
Now, is this how your typical person thinks? Can Brother Albert appreciate that there are kids who think along such lines or does he think that every person is his country bumpkin who thinks that life is roses and peace. Every year our best and brightest kids kill themselves because life in body does not make sense to them and marginally intelligent folks like Achebe make fun of them. This is sad.
Achebe talked about Ojukwu with considerable awe. To me Ojukwu seems like a pathological narcissist whose ego ought to be shrunk by a competent psychotherapist. Ojukwu is not a figure that I have even the slightest respect for. Please don’t get me started on the little bedroom Napoleon, a coward who turned tail and fled when his war was lost and left Nigerians to come and kill his people, as he had told them that they would. If he was a courageous person he would have stayed and gotten killed with his people.
The freak begged to be given pension by the Nigerian army at the rank of Lt. Colonel, even though he had masqueraded as a General. The man did not insist that all his soldiers be given pension, too. He did not care for them; he lacked honor and integrity. The foolish boys who listened to the vanity emanating from the narcissist’s foul mouth were maimed and now live as beggars.
Ojukwu was alleged to be rich. If so why didn’t he use that money to fund a foundation to provide technical training for his maimed ex-soldiers? Look, the man was a self-centered piece of shit and we had better not talk about him, okay; talking about him makes me angry.
People come in many guises and Brother Albert does not seem to understand that reality. Well, he is not capable of appreciating the tortured existence of complex minds. He is a village story teller, an African griot, and tells us simple stories about his Igbo people. This is fine.
The man is being himself; what else can you expect from a man? Each of us must be himself and Achebe is himself.
Because I now understand that he is himself when he writes what seems to me claptrap, I take back my earlier criticisms of him. He could not be what I wanted him to be. I must accept people as they are, not as my idealistic personality wants them to be.
I now accept Achebe for who he is, a brother who has made some useful contribution to the literary world (he writes in simple language that even elementary school kids can understand). I acknowledge his contribution to our Igbo culture. I regret that I was inordinately severe in criticizing him.
Ejikemeuwa, I suggest that you disregard my earlier review of Achebe’s current book and review of his other books, for I had done so with a prejudiced mind. I now understand the man a little better and accept him for who he is. He has made our Igbo people proud and that ought to count for something, don’t you think. Despite his flaws the man is a bright spot in a sea of darkness.
February 9, 2012
PS: Please say hi to the members of the Osuji clan around you; I look forward to seeing you in Alaska.