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Monday, May 27, 2024

“WHERE WAS THE WORLD WHEN WE DIED?” – ECHOES FROM CHIMAMANDA’S “HALF OF A YELLOW SUN” By Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji

Describing in a poetic form, the title and content of the book, a young British journalist, Richard (who fell in love with a beautiful, London-educated Biafran, Igbo lady, Kainene (sister of Olanna, had planned to write at the end of the war), in her epic and award-winning novel, “Half Of A Yellow Sun”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, writes as follows: 

“The Book: ‘The World Was Silent When We Died.’ For the epilogue, he writes a poem, modeled after one of Okeoma’s poems. He calls it: 

“WHERE WAS THE WORLD WHEN WE DIED?” 

“Did you see photos in sixty-eight Of children with their hairs becoming rust: Sickly patches nestled on those small heads, Then falling off, like rotten leaves on dust? 

Imagine children with arms like toothpicks, With footballs for bellies and skin stretched thin. It was kwashiorkor – difficult word. A word that was not quite ugly enough, a sin. 

You needn’t imagine. There were photos. Displayed in gloss-filled pages of your Life. Did you see? Did you feel sorry briefly, Then turn round to hold your lover or wife? 

Their skin had turned tawny of weak tea. And showed cobwebs of vein and brittle bone; Naked children laughing, as if the man. Would not take photos and then leave, alone.” 
(See, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Half Of A Yellow Sun,” Anchor Books, New York 2007, p. 470). 

Preamble 

I just heard how one of the public speakers from an Eastern African country, an intellectual giant, most of us respect, speaking on Nigeria’s inability to achieve cohesion as a united, nation-state, and proffering his own solution to that. According to him, what Nigeria needs, is what he calls, the “Unification” of the country”? A term or expression which, for me, sounds like the same exact words or expressions, used by the former British colonial overlord in colonial Nigeria, Mr Frederick Lugard, namely, “Amalgamation of Southern and Northern Protectorates of Nigeria”, which became a reality in 1914. It sounds also like the earlier expression of that same “coins” of words, used by the same British colonial masters in colonial Eastern Nigeria, “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger”. Apologies to Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” 

It leaves much to be desired, in this 21st century, after seeing all the violence, the perennial insecurity, as well as the Biafra Pogroms and Genocides of the 1960s, and counting; in fact, the ethnic cleansings of different indigenous ethnic populations communities and Christian, and others, going on in different parts of Nigeria today, under the watch of the gatekeepers of the Nigerian State, the government and security operatives, some individuals, would still have the conscience to continue to advocate for the so-called “Unification of Nigeria”. That is, of a Nigeria that will remain as one, indivisible, non-negotiable nation-state? 

In fact, if one is not moved in conscience, by the inability of the Nigerian ruling class, since independence in 1960, to the present day, to conduct ordinary political elections in a country, that could be democratic, seen to be fair and credible, and that is violence-free, such a person could, at least be moved by the continued killings and destruction of lives and property of innocent citizens, across the country, a situation that has become like the second nature of the Nigerian State. The same is true with the continued state of hopelessness of the majority of Nigerian citizens today, at home and in the Diasporas. That is to say, it is pointless, for any reasonable person to, still be talking of the “unification of Nigeria” in such a scary and violence-ridden situation, without first of all, considering the countless number of innocent people, the supposed citizens of Nigeria, that are being massacred on daily basis in the country today, sometimes by the Nigerian security operatives, and some other times, by the government-sponsored non-state actors, militias – imported killer-herdsmen a.k.a. bandits, and other Muslim extremists and insurgents, some of whom are used by the politicians during elections for selfish and other undesirable ends. And all these are done, in the name of ‘keeping Nigeria one? Who is deceiving who? 

This is the fate of the different indigenous populations – ethnic nationalities that make up the Nigerian nation-state since the time of the Amalgamation in 1914 to the present day. The most painful thing is the continued manifestations of the incapacity of those we call the political ruling class in Nigeria, to salvage the situation. On top of this, some individuals who are supposed to be on the know, have continued to play to the gallery on a matter of this kind? That is, instead of calling a spade a spade, having seen all that the inhabitants of that geographical space the British named Nigeria, have been passing through all these years, since the Amalgamation in 1914, and precisely, since the flag Independence in 1960, to the present today, and that there is no end in view, unless Nigeria is renegotiated through referendum for self-determination. It is pointless advocating that Nigeria should continue to exist as one, united, indivisible nation-state. That is, with its faulty foundation, fraudulent political structure or system, and its Sharia legal system inspired 1999 Constitution that has not stopped conflicting with the Common Law legal system the Constitution was intended, ab initio, to have been founded. 

The most painful of it all, is the fraudulent way the gatekeepers of the Nigerian State have been trying all these years, to impose the two foreign Jurisprudences of the Western Common Law and the Islamic Arab Sharia Law Systems, and are using them in suppressing the Indigenous Jurisprudences of over 250 Indigenous Ethnic Nationalities or the major geopolitical regions, that make up the Nigerian State. There is no way any modern nation-state that finds itself in such an abnormal situation will ever prosper, and develop, to serve the interest of the majority of its citizens. What of those who rigged or bribed themselves into political offices, and who are today, in charge of running the affairs of the government and political future of the Nigerian State. As a matter of fact, nobody should expect a miracle to happen, that will bring about the Eldorado most people want to see take root in Nigeria. No one gives what he does not have – “Nemo dat quod non habet.” 

Therefore, those advocating for the so-called “Unification of Nigeria” (or rather Unity of Nigeria), under the present dispensation, or even promoting it with the deceitful political slogan, “New Nigeria” (a slogan which some politicians used for campaign during the last elections 2023), is for me, a joke, or rather an insult to our collective intelligence as a Black race, taken too far. If the corrupt Nigerian politicians and their cronies, who benefit and eat from such a rotten and evil system and nation-state, called Nigeria, are the ones making such insensitive suggestions, because they want to sound ‘politically correct’, validate the existing corrupt system and structure, and continue to enrich themselves from it, at least one can understand from where they are coming from. But for some highly respected individuals, who are not only seen as intellectuals but also as commanding some level of moral authority in society and Africa today, to be saying such things, indeed, for me, leaves much to be desired. 

This is why we have chosen to address in the present article, such insensitive utterances coming from some highly respected public commentators and African intellectuals, who have recently made those unfortunate statements on Nigeria, advocating for the continued existence of Nigeria in its present form and structure. Which for me, is absurd. Because, as things are today, everyone knows that Nigeria is a failed state and there is nothing anybody can do to salvage it, other than helping to save the lives of the people trapped in that entity. And this can only be possible by helping or putting in motion, things that will eventually, lead the international community, the United Nations, to be precise, to come and organize a referendum for self-determination among the different major ethnic nationalities or geopolitical regions that make the entity called Nigeria. This is the only way to save the lives of the endangered indigenous populations inhabiting that geographical space, which the British named Nigeria. 

“Pacification” in Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” 

Those who are familiar with Prof. Chinua Achebe’s epic novel, “Things Fall Apart”, will remember vividly how Achebe applied that title or rather expression, “THE PACIFICATION OF THE PRIMITIVE TRIBES OF THE LOWER NIGER”, as the title the British District Commissioner who presided over the British plundering and dispossession of Igbo culture and destruction of the traditional system of political organization of Igbo society, during those inglorious days of the British colonialism in Igboland, had chosen to give to the book the District Commissioner was planning to write. As Achebe put it: “In the book which he (District Commissioner) planned to write he would stress that point. As he walked back to the court he thought about the book. Every day brought him some new material. The story of this man (meaning, Okonkwo), who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: “THE PACIFICATION OF THE PRIMITIVE TRIBES OF THE LOWER NIGER.” – (See, the last paragraph of the last chapter (chapter 25) of Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”.) 

“Where Was the World When We Died?” – Chimamanda’s “Half Of A Yellow Sun” 

In her own novel, “Half Of A Yellow Sun,”, which was published, about fifty years after the publication of Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, takes us to a new dimension of the politics behind the whole choice of titles for the books those who participated or whose ancestors participated in the colonization of Africa, chose to give to the books they write about their adventurous inroad into African reality. The titles they give their books may change, but the language, motive and content, do not. This is the crux of the matter! 

Thus, to appreciate all the more, the significance of those colonial and neo-colonial expressions (e.g., “Pacification” | “Amalgamation” | “Unification”, etc.), and titles, European colonizers and their offspring give the books they write about Africa, it suffices to look at how it was depicted in Chimamanda’s “Half Of A Yellow Sun.” The long-term effects of those colonial expressions, the insidious deceit behind those colonial violence-ridden expressions, hidden in the titles of their books on Africa. Chimamanda’s “Half Of A Yellow Sun”, depicts, and brings out another aspect, or rather the neo-colonial reactions, in a reverse manner of post-colonial choice and type of equally, similar incidents and expressions, about their image of Africa and the continent’s people. “Half Of A Yellow Sun” showcases a grandchild of one of the former British colonial masters, who met his African lady lover of the same age, during the Biafra War in Eastern Nigeria. Both of them, Richard and Kainene, had found themselves confronted with the burden and lasting consequences of European colonialism in post-independent Africa, which ultimately, were judged to be responsible for the empathy the world manifested towards the plights of Biafrans during the war in the 60s’. 

In particular, Chimamanda’s “Half Of A Yellow Sun”, in an excellent way, presents the hidden and secret nuances of those expressions (e.g., “Pacification” | “Amalgamation” | “Unification”, etc.). Although, she did not use those things in her novel, however, they are reflected in a reverse form, in the title of a new book Richard was writing on Biafra, which deals with the near total empathy shown by the international community towards the plights of Biafrans. Again, this grand-child of the colonizers, Richard has now befriended a beautiful Biafran Igbo lady named Kainene in the “Half Of A Yellow Sun”, a novel that is a fiction but a true story of the tragedy of the Biafra War and the things Igbo Biafrans suffered most and had to encounter during the war and thereafter. It is all about the long-term effects of British colonialism in Nigeria and Eastern Nigeria, in particular, judged to be the remote causes of the Biafra-Nigeria War. 

Richard in writing his book about the same people and region of Eastern Nigeria following the tragic Nigeria-Biafra War, has chosen a title for his new book, which invariably did not speak of the colonial “Pacification”, “Amalgamation”, or “Unification”, as such, as the direct cause of the Nigeria-Biafra War. Rather, he chooses a title which resonates with the Western European post-colonial approach and image of Africa. Namely, Africa is a place of anything that is humanly embarrassing; a place of a ‘humanitarian’ tragedy, which was expected to elicit the usual, exotic European moral sense of a ‘Father-Christmas’, kind of “charity”, to save the poor, helpless and dying Africans. It was obvious, Richard was writing for his British people and European audience. And certainly, not for Africans or the Biafrans. Thus, the reason Kainene might have figured out that made her burn the manuscript of Richard’s book. 

However, that notwithstanding, Richard was genuinely, touched by the tragedy of the Biafra War, and couldn’t understand why the World couldn’t act or rather come to the aid of the Biafran people, all through the three years of the British-backed Nigeria war of genocide against the Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria! But the fact that Kainene was not impressed or rather pleased with Richard writing a book about the tragedy of the Biafra War, and knowing that Kainene herself, is equally educated in the same university in London as Richard, shows that she might have figured out some uncomfortable thing in Richard’s manuscript and intention for his proposed book. Namely, the same colonial arrogance and deceit that dominated the book the British District Colonial Commissioner in Eastern Nigeria, Igboland was writing about “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger”, in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, might have, also been found by Kainene to be present in the new book, Richard was writing about her Igbo Biafran people and the war. Again, methinks, that explains why Kainene had to burn the manuscript of Richard’s book, titled, “The World Was Silent When We Died.” 

Chimamanda in her novel, beautifully, describes Kai nene’s anger with Richard over the proposed book: 

“Her [Kainene] face was expressionless. ‘I took your manuscript from the study this morning and I burned it,’ she said. Richard felt a soar in his chest of emotions he could not name. ‘The Basket of Hands’, the collection of pages that he was finally confident could become a book, was gone. He could never duplicate the unbridled energy that had come with words. But it did not matter. What mattered was that by burning his manuscript she had shown him that she would not end the relationship; she would not bother to cause him pain if she was not going to stay. Perhaps he was not a true writer after all. He had read somewhere that, for true writers, nothing was more important than their art, not even love.” – (See, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Half Of A Yellow Sun,” Anchor Books, New York 2007, p. 324). 

Furthermore, what is the content of that thing Richard was writing about Biafra in his burnt book, “The World Was Silent When We Died?” 

“He writes about the world that remained silent while Biafrans died! He argues that Britain inspired this silence. The arms and advice that Britain gave Nigeria shaped other countries. In the United States, Biafra was “under Britain’s sphere of interest.” In Canada, the prime minister quipped. “Where is Biafra?” The Soviet Union sent technicians and planes to Nigeria, thrilled at the chance to influence Africa without offending America or Britain. And from their white supremacist positions, South Africa and Rhodesia gloated at further proof that black-run governments were doomed to failure. 

Communist China denounced Anglo-American imperialism but did little else to support Biafra. The French sold Biafra some arms but did not give the recognition that Biafra most needed. And many Black African countries feared an independent Biafra would trigger other secessions and so supported Nigeria.” – (“Half Of A Yellow Sun”, p. 324.). 

Implications for Nigeria 

The foregoing discussion brings us to the central question posed by our present article. Namely, “Can Nigeria be saved?” If yes, how? If not, what next? And if Nigeria is going to be saved, for what purpose? Put differently, between saving human lives and the Nigerian State, which one needs to be given priority and why? Human lives, or the colonial artificial, arbitrarily created Nigerian nation-state? A nation-state like Nigeria has proven times without number, that it is incapable of providing its citizens with the basic things of the state, namely, the security of lives and welfare of the people. Such a country that could not render to its citizens the basic role of the state no longer deserves to be called a nation-state. In fact, it no longer deserves to exist as a nation-state. This is the stage Nigeria is now as we speak, and every index and data, point to that. 

Therefore, the primary issue before us in this matter is about the endangered lives of the local populations of the different indigenous ethnic groups that were forcefully merged together through a colonial fiat by the British in 1914, and named Nigeria by the same Britain. And the continued existence of that abnormal, colonial-created British contraption, called Nigeria. Between Nigerian State as it is today, and the endangered lives of the indigenous populations that inhabit that geographical space called Nigeria, which one is more important than the other? The struggle for human survival of the indigenous populations, or the continued existence of the fraudulently and arbitrarily, created Nigerian nation-state? Between the human lives of ‘Nigerian citizens’ and the Nigerian State, which one would you choose? 

The fact is that since its flag political Independence from Britain in 1960, to the present day, the Nigerian State has been kept together as one nation-state at ‘gun-point’ by those in the corridors of power. From its flag political Independence to the present day, the Nigerian State and the majority of its citizens have only known history of political turmoil, instability, military coups, wars, conflicts, rigged elections, poverty, and corruption of the highest order by those in positions of leadership of the country. The country and its citizens have been living under a kind of what some have described as a state of ’emergency’, all in the name of ‘keeping Nigeria One.’ 

Some targeted ethnic groups or regions (e-g., the Southeastern geopolitical zone), have remained under military siege and militarization since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War in 1970, to the present day. Such targeted ethnic groups and geopolitical zones have often been visited with violence, which is in most cases, and sometimes, state-sponsored. The people of those regions have continued to experience, what everybody knows is government-sponsored terrorism, bloodbaths, ethnic cleansing, and pogroms against them as a people. In some cases, the Muslim extremists’ terrorism, killer-herdsmen banditry, kidnapping and killings of innocent citizens across the county, have continued to remain like an incurable cankerworm both in the Northern Sharia States and in many other parts of the country. 

In other words, the story of the Nigerian State since its creation by the British in 1914, and especially, since its flag political independence in 1960, is replete with killings, and the shedding of the blood of its own citizens under the watch of the governments and security operatives of the Nigerian State itself. The inhabitants of the Nigerian State, have not only suffered most of these menaces, at the time of the British colonizers, but especially, they have suffered more, and have continued to suffer more of those things, till today in Nigeria, at the hands of their own local agents that succeeded the colonizers in governing Nigeria. 

All these mean that the problem of Nigeria is beyond the so-called “Nigerian Unity is Non-Negotiable”, or the renewed clamour for what some have called, the “Unification of Nigeria.” The problem of Nigeria has also surpassed the calculations of the authors of the 1914 infamous Amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates of Nigeria, which was championed by the British colonial governor-general, Frederick Lugard. The problem with Nigeria, is equally, beyond the current call for the so-called “New Nigeria”, or the clamour for a new Constitution. 

Mind you, there is nothing intrinsically, evil or bad in any of those ideas or terms (e.g., “Pacification” | “Amalgamation” | “Unification”, or “Unity”, etc.). But as things are today, and as history has shown, the problem of Nigeria has surpassed all of them. Moreover, there is no amount of political elections or change of personnel through elections that can save Nigeria. There is no enabling environment either, for any free, fair and credible elections to be conducted in Nigeria today. The last 2023 elections, just like the ones before it, have all confirmed this naked fact. 

The Way-Out 

The only thing that can save the situation today in Nigeria, is a referendum for self-determination of the different major ethnic nationalities or geopolitical regions. So, that each region would decide how they want to be governed, and if they want to still be part of the Nigerian State or not. Those who may opt to separate, to form their own independent sovereign nation-states, should be allowed to do so, without any coercion or military killings of them. 

In this way, we will become good neighbours – good neighbouring nation-states and members of ECOWAS. This will put an end, or at least minimize the bloodshed, and help reduce drastically, the menace of Muslim terrorism, insurgence and herdsmen banditry and killings of the indigenous populations in the entire country as well as in the Sahel region. Because, each person, will from now on, be in charge of their own government and security operatives. They will not allow foreigners to invade their territory and kill their people again. Something that is not possible in Nigeria as it is presently structured and governed. 

After all, nation-states are meant to be organically, and ethnic-based. E.g., practically, all the countries of Western Europe that we call states or nations today, are basically, ethnic-based. For instance, try to put Germany and France together as one nation-state, and you will find out that they will be behaving in exactly the same way we see ourselves performing in Nigeria today. The same will happen, if you put Italy and Greece and Turkey together, or Britain and France and Russia together, and make them one nation-state. In fact, Nigeria will look like a paradise. This is why we need to opt for the renegotiation of the Nigerian State, through a referendum for self-determination, and according to major ethnic lines and natural boundaries. Anything outside this, is inviting more bloodshed, conflicts, terrorism and continued political instability and general insecurity in the country, as well as promoting poverty and a state of hopelessness among the citizenry. 

Conclusion 

As a way of conclusion, it is important to emphasize once more, that the only thing that can save the situation in which the people have found themselves in this contraption, the British had fraudulently and deceitfully coupled together and named Nigeria in 1914, is REFERENDUM FOR SELF-DETERMINATION. Q.E.D. 

Let the international community, precisely, the United Nations, begin to think about it, and very fast too. Organize a referendum for self-determination along ethnic lines, among each of the major ethnic nationalities or geopolitical regions that make up that entity called Nigeria. Anything outside this is like playing in the gallery. A Stitch in Time Saves Nine! 

Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest, is Professor Ordinarius of contextual theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome.

Disclaimer: 

The opinions and views expressed in this write-up are entirely those of the Writer(s). They do not reflect the opinions and views of the Publisher (Nze Ikay’s Blog) or any of its employees. The designations employed in this publication and the presentation of materials herein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the Publisher (Nze Ikay’s Blog) or its employees concerning the legal status of any country, its authority, area or territory or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers. Equally, the sketches, images, pictures and videos are gotten from the public domain.

"Half Of A Yellow Sun", Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the bookstore 2006
“Half Of A Yellow Sun”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the bookstore 2006
NzeIkay
NzeIkayhttps://nzeikayblog.com
Nigeria is an Enigma. The capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of her is undoubtedly God’s endowment to us, her citizens. As a citizen of this lovely nation, I’ve spent decades of my life trying to understand this, Mirage. Hope someday, this Mystery that houses about 250 million blacks will be globally understood, widely accepted, and given the opportunity to play its vital role in the world stage. So, help us God! #NigeriaDeservesBetter #AfricaDeservesBetter

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