‘’ I believe quite frankly this country is at war…’’ these words, spoken by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka at the unveiling of Port Harcourt as UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 during the 5th Garden City Literary Festival, were re-echoed at the Rainbow Book Club’s January Reading of Chinua Achebe’s ‘There was a Country’. The Reading which held Friday 25th January at the poolside of Le Meridien, Ogeyi Place, Port Harcourt,, was nothing short of explosive! While Prof. Soyinka made his comments in reference to the killings of the ‘Aluu four’ last year, the sentiments at the reading were from 1967-1970, the years of the Nigerian Civil War.
Chinua Achebe goes to great length to put the war into geographical and political context; quoting numerous sources and narrating the events in simple everyday language, thus making his account accessible to a wide audience. This however was all but lost on the book club members who were more concerned with the content than the delivery of it. Some members felt that while Chinua Achebe is entitled to give his personal account of the war, his memoir coming forty two years later, was a bit late, opening old wounds and inciting new ethnic hostilities. On the other hand were those who felt that his book was timely, for, as one member pointed out, ‘Has the war ended?’ referring to the killings by Boko Haram in the north and other parts of Nigeria. Indeed this group felt that the book was precautionary and that our leaders need to be students of history to prevent it from repeating its self.
An ex-biafran soldier, with scars from the war front, amused us with his war tales and kicked the hornet’s nest when he asserted that Ojukwu started the Biafran war. While, in his book, Achebe is careful not to lay the blame squarely on Ojukwu’s shoulders, the ex-soldier, still referring to himself as a Biafran, went on with his own eye witness account, oblivious to the din his statements were causing, and were it not for his constant controversial statements, his was a sobering tale of suffering, famine and death.
‘War is not simple’, said Mrs. Judy Nwanodi, whose stay in Nigeria pre dates Independence. Aunty Judy, who relocated to Nigeria from England with her husband in 1958, encouraged members to read as many accounts of the war as they could, because one person’s account could not adequately capture the numerous complexities of war. She told of how her husband, who was actively involved in the creation of the old Rivers State, had all his law books burnt by the Biafrans and on one occasion, along with others, he had to be imprisoned for his own safety.
The youth, who though were not witnesses to the events in question, were surprisingly well informed on the subject. Debating the issue of meritocracy over the government quota system, the house was once again sharply divided among those who felt that meritocracy was the only way Nigeria would be able to move forward, adding also that meritocracy would remove ‘tribe domination’, however those opposed to this said that it was the responsibility of government to address the social, political and economic inequalities that exist in the country, and that until these were addressed, the quota system remained a necessary evil.
The Reading ended with the announcement of next month’s Reading, February 24th and the book, Fine Boys, the author, Dr Eghosa Imauesen will be in attendance. DANIELLA MENEZOR, RAINBOW BK CLUB