Wana Udobang, writer, poet and OAP with Inspiration FM performs her poems, Love is/Not for Sale
By Amatesiro Dore
This is a sick book about a sick nation, sketched and written by a gifted artist. This is not fantasy fiction like A Games of Thrones by George R. R. Martin where knights and kings wage wars for the Iron Throne with the aid of dragons, magic, swords, and battleships. June 12 1993: Annulment by Abraham Oshoko is real and non-fictional. Nigerian politicians and military men are fighting for Aso Rock with billion naira bribes, revenue embezzlements, fraudulent lies, currency manipulations, character assassinations, and betrayal of friendships. If this is fiction, I would accuse Oshoko of being a very sick man, but these are historical facts, and they are ill.
When copies of this book arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, they were intercepted by men of the State Security Service. The glossy paged graphic novel, designed in a comic book style, received an august reception fit for precious political arts. The SSS delayed distribution and deliberated over “seditious” comments in the book. They withheld five copies for their corporate enlightenment and failed to send us a review, but they permitted Kachifo to take delivery of the remaining copies of June 12. Why? The SSS are right about this: most Nigerians don’t read. The secrets of Aso Rock are safely hidden in the coloured pages of June 12 1993: Annulment; confiscating the book is only going to drum up desired publicity for these classified pages.
Quotes from political pundits and national players peppered the ten chapters of this book. The book covers the annulment days of June 21st -23rd 1993 to the Palace Coup days of November 15th – 18th 1993. It is set in the following mental wards in Nigeria: Aso Rock, Aguda Guest House, MKO Abiola’s private jet and Ikeja mansion, Yar Adua’s compound, the National Assembly, Lagos State Governor’s Office, Dodan Barracks, Babangida’s mansion in Minna, and all other places where Nigeria is decided. June 12, 1993 is the manipulation of the people, by the people, and for the leaders. It is a struggle for federal power, the complicity of our royal fathers, and a record of the cash and carry politics of our political and military leaders. All the saints are villains, and all the bad guys are doing their best for Nigeria.
June 12 is also an economic crisis. The book reveals the seventy kobo fuel price, before the crisis, and the 500% increment to five naira per litre after the June 12 debacle. June 12 is beyond a democratic struggle, the right of every citizen to sell their vote to the highest bidder, and the military hypocrisy about civilian corrupt practises. In Babangida’s speech about the reasons for his annulment of the June 12 elections, he claimed over 2.1 billion naira was spent by both political parties (founded and funded by him), and that he could not swear in a President that had encouraged the campaign of divide and rule…blah blah blah.
The book reveals how the Central Bank of Nigeria was indebted to the bankrupted Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (or verse versa), and the foreign reserve was depleted within weeks after June 12.
Nigerians should read and remember the conspiratorial roles of Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Musa Yar Adua, Anthony Anenih, Ibrahim Babangida, Baba Gana Kingibe, David Mark, Arthur Nzeribe, Uche Chukwumereji, Ibrahim Dasuki, Ernest Shonekan, Sani Abacha, Joshua Dogonyaro, Oladipo Diya, and MKO Abiola, in an event known as June 12, which can be described as the sin of the nation.
JUNE 12 1993: Annulment (Hardback: N4,500)
JUNE 12 1993: Annulment (Paperback: N3,000)
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by Amatesiro Dore
“I met Chinua Achebe for the first time when I was in high school, but I knew him through his works long before that. “Uncle,” as my siblings and I were told to call him, came to our house in Washington, D.C., for a tea time reception my mother had organized. She had just co-written a biography of him for children, inspired in part by my lament that there were few books about the lives of famous Africans.” Uzodinma Iweala.
My mother wrote nothing on Achebe, she hasn’t read Things Fall Apart, but she paid for my copy. I was reading the Financial Times and I saw a 1968 picture of Biafran soldiers standing on a tugboat. I gazed and noticed it was a portrait of an armed soldier sitting on a concrete platform, he wore no uniform and his face was very easily identifiable. In the background, men in mufti, about thirty of them, posed on two tugboats on the river, only two guns were visible. I took away the memory of that picture from William Wallis’s review of Chinua Achebe’s memoir in the FT. I wondered if the armed and unnamed soldier died during that conflict or if he survived the war, and if his heirs were alive.
In Nigeria, it has become an intellectual fad to write a review of Achebe’s Biafran memoir; even by people who haven’t actually read the book. I promise not to write one. I have read too many. But I have gathered some interesting reviews of Achebe’s book and I have quoted them for your reading pleasure.
“There is an eclectic range of insights and fascinating anecdotes buried in there, but this is not a book that will add much to the understanding of the war, nor one that will go down among Achebe’s great works.” William Wallis.
“But many have waited and hoped for a memoir, for his personal take on a contested history. Now at last he has written it. Although it is subtitled ‘A Personal History of Biafra’, There Was A Country is striking for not being very personal in its account of the war. Instead it is a Nigerian nationalist lament for the failure of the giant that never was; Achebe is mourning Nigeria’s failures, the greatest and most devastating of which was Biafra.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I read Noo Saro Wiwa’s review in The Guardian. Her father wrote On the Darkling Plain, a Niger Delta narrative of the Nigerian Civil War.
“No writer is better placed than Chinua Achebe to tell the story of the Nigerian Biafran war from a cultural and political perspective. Yet, apart from an interview with Transition magazine in 1968 and a book of Biafran poems, Nigeria’s most eminent novelist has kept a literary silence about the civil war in which he played a prominent role – until now.”
One question immediately arises but remains unanswered: Why did it take Achebe 42 years to write this book? In the six years immediately preceding the war, he produced three novels, but only one in the forty-two years following. During the war poetry only, and after it, for the most part, only essays.”
“The book could benefit from a closer proofreading and fact-checking process by an informed editor. Irritating errors crop up like “maul over” for “mull over” “deferral” for “federal”, “Iwe Ihorin” for “Iwe Irohin” and St Elizabeth’s Hospital for Queen Elizabeth Hospital, but these do not detract from Achebe’s attempt to present, from his perspective, an account of those dark days. As he says in the book, “My aim is not to provide all the answers but to raise questions and perhaps to cause a few headaches”. It is clear that this is his book, his view and his own particular nostalgic ramble. Ultimately, it is important that he has shared it, warts, unevenness and all. In doing so, Achebe has helped bring the contents of my parents’ brown satchel back into the open.”
“Chinua Achebe’s first book in three years richly rewards his admirers’ patience. It is the work of a master storyteller, able to combine seriousness with lightness of touch, even when writing about the terrifying events of a war that cost the life of one of his best friends, the poet Christopher Okigbo, and the lives of millions of others. There Was a Country is a candid, intimate interrogation of Nigeria.”
In summary, I hope you agree, whatever your misgivings about the book, that there indeed, was a country.
You can buy copies of There Was a Country by Chinua Achebe from Farafina Books by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, visit our store at 253 Herbert Macaulay Way, Alagomeji Yaba or call us on 08077364217.
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by Amatesiro Dore
I met Zaccheus Onumba Dibiaezue in 2009 and I struggled with his name at first sight. He had died in 1975, I knew he was dead but didn’t know he had died before my birth. I had imagined he lived in 196 Awolowo Road Ikoyi. I was wrong. I thought his memorial library was a conscious legacy, like Alfred Nobel, I was wrong. Then I met Ifeoma, she spoke about Zaccheus and I thought it impolite to ask about her father’s height.
The white storey building, with its tree-shaded parking lot and grey gate, was easy to miss. I was driving through Awolowo Road when I sighted “Public Library” in white paint on a square and black sign post. I had passed before the letters registered meaning and I made a mental note to check it out. I had been searching for books listed on the All-TIME 100 best English-language novels. Finding them in Nigeria was like discovering a well in the Sahara. I had searched the bookshops of Ikoyi, Lagos and Victoria Islands, the booksellers under Cele and Ojuelegba bridges, libraries of friends and families, and had found five in a space of four years. Before I met Zaccheus, I had read twenty-five novels on the TIME 100 list, most of which came from London or American bookshops.
Weeks passed before I drove inside the grey gate of the Zaccheus Onumba Dibiaezue Memorial Library (ZODML). The building looked residential and it had tinted windows covering the balcony. It had an arch at the front door; twice, it hit my head when I tried entering from the side. I walked in and felt silence in the air-conditioned atmosphere. I saw rows and rows of shelves of books, and reading furniture surrounded by white walls. I sniffed the pages of desired novels, caressed their spines and prayed heaven delayed until I read them all. I saw Anna Karenina and the monstrosity of its pages shocked me, I didn’t know Ben Hur was a book, and they had Atonement, the novel. A House for Mr Biswas was in Section N and 1984 in Section O. Lord of the Rings, complete series and unabridged, stared at me. And I saw Love in the Time of Cholera. I opened Catch-22 and I read her famous first words: “It was love at first sight.”
At the time the shelves didn’t carry most of the novels on the TIME 100. Still, I saw lots of books to read before death — they felt like a thousand and one books and I needed one hundred years of solitude to read them all. I began to notice other things: the computers with free internet, the movie rental section filled with the best of Hollywood, reference and academic materials, non-fiction classics and poetry collections; adults studying for professional exams, kids reading children literature, teens returning books, and a world separated from the busy Awolowo Road. I forgot about Zaccheus, my attention was focused on the books in his library.
After three years of borrowing books, I met Ifeoma, Zaccheus’ daughter. The library was recommending a list of 100 novels. I was attracted. Bespectacled eyes like her father’s, slim body frame that reduced her age by two decades, a soft spoken voice laced with authority acquired from three decades of legal practise, dainty fingers with a wedding band, eager smiles without makeup, and a gentle gaze studied me; Mrs Ifeoma Lillian Esiri. I had booked an appointment with her to discuss Zaccheus and why 196 Awolowo Road hosted a library when it could yield millions of naira from commercial activities.
Zaccheus was born in the year of the amalgamation, in Ifite-Dunu farming and trading community, on Tuesday 7th of July. His mother had ten mouths to feed and his father’s death stopped his education after St. Stevens Primary School. According to Ifeoma, he worked as a police officer under the British colonial administration and studied in the evenings; he enrolled for the United Kingdom Universities Matriculation Examinations and got admitted into the London School of Economics and Political Science. I pondered about the untold stories of his early years that followed Zaccheus to the grave. He lived in an age where memoirs were not fashionable, in a time where the past was an unspoken secret and bits of academic success were shared with children and nothing more.
In a brief chat with Ifeoma about the ZODML, Zaccheus’ sixty one years of living were distilled striking headlines which came together like one of those novels everyone accepts is great but which few people ever read. Zaccheus studied Economics at the LSE and was admitted into the English Bar before he returned to Nigeria. He was the first Company Secretary of Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Bank, African Continental. He was the Chairman of the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation, a government conglomerate, before the Nigerian Civil War. He was the first Commissioner of Finance, East Central State under the administration of Ukpabi Asika, after which he was appointed Commissioner of Agriculture. In 1975, a brain tumour appeared and the book lover was survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons.
On the twentieth anniversary of Zaccheus’ death, his surviving women decided to do something for Papa’s remembrance. I imagined Mama and Zaccheus’ girls, Dorothy Ngozi and Ifeoma Lillian, discussing a legacy for their father; I was right. Ifeoma had copied Zaccheus: she read law at the LSE, Bachelors and Masters Degrees, and sits on the board of Stanbic-IBTC Bank. Mrs. Dorothy Ngozi Oyekwe opted for Medicine and trained as a Doctor at the Universities of Lagos and London. The troika of Zaccheus women agreed on a library — Papa had loved books. The library was registered in 1998 and began operating in 2000.
Over the years, ZODML has become known in five local government primary schools in Ikoyi, where it funds and operates libraries for pupils from low income families. It began a mobile library of about two thousand books in Ikoyi Prisons in 2012. An online library has been launched, few books have been uploaded and more open materials are been sourced for online readers. The library has provided twenty computers for Ireti Junior High School, Lagos, and Ifeoma spoke of plans for other government secondary schools.
I asked why? Why dream away cash on books and libraries? She smiled and confessed to a satisfaction beyond charity; a mission to recruit new readers and the joy of pursuing her passion. I’m certain Ifeoma is no Mother Theresa, she has an obvious agenda to turn people into bookworms. I saw it in her eyes — that selfishness of readers, that desire to groom literary appreciation in others — and I imagined Zaccheus doing the same.
The ZODML Must-Read-Novels were selected from thirty international lists of acclaimed novels. The ranking system was based on number of appearances on lists such as the 2005 All-TIME 100 English-language Novels, the 2009 UK Guardian 1000 Novels, the 2003 Observer 100 Greatest Novels of All Time, and the 2004 Penguin bucket list of 100 Classics. 1984 by George Orwell topped the ZODML Must-Read-Novels list. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Anthills of the Savannah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun (both published in Nigeria under the Farafina imprint) and Ben Okri’s Famished Road were among the novels on the special shelf. The ZODML 100 Novels are displayed on a separate cabinet and available to members of the library on the road.
To see the full list of ZODML’s Must-Read-Novels, visit their website here.