Sunday 28 October 2012

Thought Picnic: There Really Was A Country

Of lives and wars
This is one of those spontaneous blogs that started from an exchange on Twitter that moved to Facebook where I for the first time abused the etiquette of leaving a status to write a treatise.
It revolves around how a friend and I were affected by the Nigerian Civil War, his was by reason of experience, and mine was by reason of the effect of pictures on an impressionable young mind. We both found there was a story to be told from our perspectives all the more after the publication of Chinua Achebe’s There Was A Country.
The Facebook thread appears here and below you will find the comment I posted and because I have more scope on a blog, I will allow myself the latitude of more detail.
I walked into Blackwells on Charing Cross Road this evening and there were 5 books prominently displayed near the enquiries desk. Foyles when I went there just over a week ago had sold out and had 23 on order.
When we returned
My parents observed the events that changed Nigeria radically from the UK, I was born a few years before the war but I remember clearly how keen my parents were to return to help rebuild Nigeria. So keen, it was a few months after my dad had qualified as an accountant, winning prizes in the process but he also had to be cleared for travel after having gone for an operation hours after he completed his examinations.
The last picture we took before leaving England had me nestled in the trunks of the legs of the adults that came to bid us farewell, my mother a good 7 to 8 months pregnant with my sister, I am still surprised she was allowed to travel.
Up North, an amazing Nigeria
We arrived in Nigeria and after the hometown and village visits that still have my parents recalling my amazing precocity we were headed up North, first to Kaduna where my parents were lecturers at the Kaduna Polytechnic and then to Jos where I witnessed the many times Yakubu Gowon came home with Gnassingbe Eyadema, he had to drive past my primary school - I have the fondest memories of childhood, Nigeria and the North from those times.
[In the past few years, my heart just breaks when I hear of the indigene-settler conflicts of Jos and the Boko Haram bombings in Kaduna – I remember the neighbourhoods affected quite vividly.]
My visions of the war
The war, our house was full of books but there was one I could not miss, it was Peter Obe's photographic documentary of the war, [Nigeria: A Decade of Crises in Pictures, Peter Obe] I was sat down by my parents and we leafed through every page and for many years afterwards, the horrors of war were imprinted on my seriously impressionable mind.
I must however say, for a long time, I found no scholarly records of the Nigerian Civil War through primary and secondary school, I was a voracious reader of history and by 8 I had devoured all I could learn of American history from our school library, was teaching myself French at 9 and then read up on World War II in secondary school - the World Wars remain some of the material I still find too engaging to drop.
Rekindled interest
I will eventually read Chinua Achebe's book, but it was for good reason that I knew and listed on Twitter at least five names on my Social Network that I really wanted to review that book, Pa Ikhide R. Ikheloa being the most prominent of them all.
I see each time that we are missing complex and informed narratives of the Nigerian Civil War and this especially is lacking amongst our present day youth. I hope they can divorce themselves from the sentimentality of their affinities and allegiances to devour this tome as objectively as their minds will allow them.
My Nigeria
I lived in a Nigeria that once really did seem to work and even more so, my childhood experiences make me feel Nigerian first before any other thing. We left the North in the late 70s but I retain a good deal of the Hausa I learnt in my childhood and since this is about amazing mothers, the pride I have in mine is even more exemplified in the fact that she can pass for Hausa or Igbo just as much as she is Yoruba and the greater feat she achieved was learning to speak Igbo fluently without first setting foot in Igboland which she did decades later.
My regret is having never learnt more Nigerian languages apart from passing conversation in Berom and greetings in Edo.
The story needs to be told and we will do ourselves the greatest justice by dispassionately reviewing all the good material we can find.
I still believe mobility around Nigeria culminating in residency and imbibing the language, traditions and customs of the people in our surroundings is key to Nigerian integration and necessary for the cohesion that will make the entity called Nigeria grow as one united nation and the identity Nigerian mean more to us than where we are from. That challenge falls to our youth today, the generation before mine did live in Nigeria as a whole.

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