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On Ndigbo in Nigeria : Between Chinua Achebe and Ozodi Osuji

On Ndigbo in Nigeria : Between Chinua Achebe and Ozodi Osuji

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Published by Toyin Adepoju
Contrasting two Igbo writers on the nature and place of Ndigbo, the Nigerian Igbo ethnic group, in Nigeria
Contrasting two Igbo writers on the nature and place of Ndigbo, the Nigerian Igbo ethnic group, in Nigeria

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Published by: Toyin Adepoju on Mar 13, 2013
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On Ndigbo in NigeriaBetween Chinua Achebe and Ozodi OsujiOluwatoyin Vincent AdepojuCompcros Comparative Cognitive Processes and SystemsExploring Every Corner of the Cosmos in Search of KnowledgeTwo Igbo writers who present vastly different perspectives on Ndigbo, Nigeria's Igbo ethnic group,are Chinua Achebe and Ozodi Osuji.Osuji writes across a broad range of subjects, from Western philosophy and contemporary science tothe character of Ndigbo. His writing is done mainly on Nigerian and African centred onlinecommunities, specifically listserves and ChatAfrik, and in his Print on Demand books, some of whichare published by Lulu.Achebe is globally famous as one of the world's great writers for his fiction, particularly his novels,and his essays have also achieved broad appeal.Both writers demonstrate contrastive perspectives on the contemporary history of Ndigbo asmembers of Nigeria which may be profitably compared.One point I have had to concede to Osuji after reading Achebe's last year's Guardian essay andsome of the comments on it by some Igbo who agree with him, was that I saw in Achebe's largelyregrettable comments a problematic sense of Igbo exceptionalism.Osuji claims that is a general problem of Ndigbo but that was my first encounter with it, havingworked with and had friends among Igbo people for years.I also observed in Achebe's stance and that of some of his supporters a manifestation of Osuji'sdescription of a tendency to set oneself up for attack in the name of one's ethnicity for no reason,except that one does not realize that in a community of different peoples, setting oneself up inopposition to others in a way that unnecessarily tries to demean others makes them fight back.Osuji argues that such unproductive ethnic celebration goes together with an uncritical sense of ethnic victimisation.I have seen these attitudes at work in the debates on Biafra, a state where Igbos were at the centre,the failed secession of that state being at the heart of the Nigerian civil war of 1967 -1970.Such counter-productive strategies of ethnic celebration in relation to questionable claims of ethnicvictimisation that rhyme with Osuji's summations I understand as prominent in debates on Biafra.
These attitudes were highlighted by the tenor of Achebe's summation on the war and thecontemporary state of Ndigbo in Nigeria. He ignited a flurry of similar responses mainly fromNdigbo, some of whom see him as an ethnic spokesman.I personally, and I expect, many other Nigerians, am convinced that Ndigbo are striking in theircapacity for trade in various kinds of goods, in their migratory dynamism and adaptability, in theirability to prosper in a broad range of fields, qualities, which, taken together, are most marked andmost visible among Ndigbo as a group, in my limited observation so far of various Nigerianethnicities.The manner in which Ndigbo, centrally, among others, prosecuted the Nigerian Civil War, is mostadmirable, in spite of the many strategic mistakes made by Biafra. I have written on these mistakesin my various essays on Biafra, but, what almost anyone would agree about, is the resilience andcreativity of Biafra in that war. That resilience may be understood as short-sighted and deluded, butit is most admirable as a demonstration of the ability to fight for a belief, however others may seethat belief.The recovery of Ndigbo after the terrible ravages of the war and the challenges they faced as ex-secessionists is most admirable and a testimony to that resilience and creativity I have referred to.It should be possible to recognize all these points, which I think are historical and social facts,without falling into the hole of Igbo exceptionalism, and of refusal to acknowledge one's mistakes orthe questionable character of one's decisions, as with the Biafran leadership bartering the lives otheir starving and dying citizens for global sympathy to enable them keep fighting a losing war,using that sympathy to smuggle in more weapons on food planes to keep fighting as the starvingpeople continued to die and some Ndigbo and their sympathizers later arguing about thatstarvation policy as an attempt at an anti-Igbo genocide in the face of the fact that it is the duty of your opponent in war to make sure you
have food, not vice versa, that being one of the easiestways to end a war with reduced bloodshed, creating the opportunity to exchange surrender forcontinued combat and deaths on both sides.Civilians who choose to ignore or are uniformed about the realities of fundamental military strategyas demonstrated in military history, in a move that I
think the Biafran military head of state,Odumegwu Ojukwu, the commander of the Biafran army Alexander Madiebo or the famous Biafrancommander Joe "Hannibal" Achuzia, or the last military head of state of Biafra, Philip Efiong, evermade, keep insisting on Nigeria apologizing for or paying for a legitimate war strategy.Achebe expands such unrealistic thinking in making a claim that makes little or no sense, of Ndigbonot being integrated into Nigeria 42 years after the war ended in 1970. Hubert Ekwe-Ekwe makesthe odd claim that Igbo land is still occupied by Nigeria, even though only Ndigbo are allowedcentrality in managing states in their region, as is the case in all Nigerian ethnic sectors.Obododimma Oha argues that Nigeria is still fighting with Ndigbo. Another view asserts that thegenocide claim inspires Ndigbo's vision for a new nation, all such, being, in my view, ultimatelyunserious assessments of a war fought both gallantly and cruelly on both sides, with both sidesguilty of atrocities, though more pronounced on the Nigerian side perhaps because they had moreopportunity, being the stronger side.

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