Fault Lines: Our Generation Should Look Beyond – By Valentine O. Ogunaka @naijamatta
“Oya were ni”, a Yoruba man had rasped at his daughter, realizing she was dating an ‘Omo Igbo’. Also I have witnessed an Igbo mother mercilessly beat her teenage son because he had invited his ‘ofe manu’ friend to their home. Unconscionable, aren’t they? Yet these scenarios of ethnic fringes play into our daily lives such that it is perceived as ‘haram’ for Chukwudi to marry Fatima.
This piece was actually inspired by the heedless controversies trailing Chinua Achebe’s “There was a Country”. Enough have been written though; this is my first foray into the matter. I muted all the while because I didn’t deem it fit to fault the personal account of someone who was, indeed, part and parcel of the Biafran war. Besides, I believe memories are very subjective owing to how Chimamanda Adichie had put it: “We remember differently…”
Reacting to Achebe’s new book, commentaries have been starkly tendered with bigotry; the ethnic disease of biasness, invectives and intellectual barbarism. You read through them and discover that tribalism has become not only a scourge but an acute embarrassment to our collective struggle for change. I wonder why the authors whom I expect to be dispassionate in their writings—considering their prolific standing and measureless experiences in national business—have further deepened the fault lines.
Of course, the war of words between the Awoists and Acheberians will lead us nowhere. It only replicates the aftermath of the first electoral dispute in Nigeria in February 1941, which is the tribalization of media. I had learnt that Zik’s West African Pilot and the Egbe Omo Oduduwa’s Daily Services fiercely attacked each other. According to Coleman, “at local height of the tension…” the Igbos warned that “all personal attacks on Azikwe would be considered attacks upon the Igbo nation.” This was amidst ongoing press wars.
Just as in the case stated, most commentators, perceivably Yoruba, have lambasted Achebe not essentially on the ground that he inopportunely stirred up the hornets’ nest, but because the octogenarian has in his diatribe memoir, called Awolowo a ‘villain.’
It becomes very unfortunate that our generation is being brainwashed into the unfounded realm of ethnic intolerance. Someone had said the Igbo are greedy and undeserving. Another had bickered that Yoruba is an existential threat to Igbo political interest, referencing the famous 1952 ‘carpet crossing’ incident in the Western House of Assembly. And I couldn’t help but laugh it off when a friend beckoned and whispered to me: “Why are Hausas and Igbos like cats and dogs?”
I did my high school in the north and I think I was the only ‘Igbo boy’ in the class. Did I ever complain of being ostracized? No. My classmates who were mostly Hausas and Fulanis deemed me as they should—just another Nigerian! And till this moment; amid all the crises, bombings and perceived religious provocations, we get in touch. Isn’t that fair? That is because we understand, because we look beyond the fault lines.
Beyond the 1964 hullabaloo, the coup and countercoup of 1966, the pogroms that followed and the Biafran civil war lies a greater future. It is true that we cannot disregard history especially as vital lessons can be drawn from it. In this vein, history for all its quintessence is a direct challenge to futuristic affairs. But it becomes a problem when we deride its lessons and transfer penalties. Of all the legacies handed by our foremost nationalists, I wonder why we choose ethnocracy ahead of patriotism. It makes me think we are sick.
In context, tribal hatred which has snowballed from the past and entrenched in our generation will disinherit us from the good things of life, like peace. I strongly hold that it will continue to be a ferocious challenge to the idea of unity in diversity.
Now do not expect me to ride through the rigmarole of reviewing “There was a Country”. I might vacillate and end up taking sides, involuntarily. But we must understand that the book is a memoir and memoirs do not essentially match up with history books. I can prove they are sometimes oscillated between the line of facts and fiction.
However, to look beyond the fault lines, let our generation embrace logic and destroy the rabid intolerance in tribal character. Chinua Achebe has lived his own life and has told his story. That was his generation. Without doubt he has ruptured old wounds; we have every right not to lick or stitch them. Let the healthy atmosphere we create with our sense of oneness dry them up. I look forward to how we can reintegrate, find a selfless leader and lift this very nation, Nigeria, beyond the fault lines!
Valentine Ogunaka writes from Abuja. Follow him on twitter: @naijamatta