Dissecting Titus Okereke’s Our father’s land (1)
PROFESSOR Titus Okereke has written an excellent book even if at times it is an unhappy book. His own irrepressible personality shines through the book – he is a friendly man, a thoughtful person who is willing at times to follow the consequences of his thinking. Most people think but allow circumstances to dictate their action. Not so Titus. The book is delightful as it takes us through his first thoughts – not of Ajalli but of a two days water trip to Sapele where he grew up.
He later lived in Warri and at Ughelli where he went to Secondary School. He was a flyer, because at age 23 he had finished his first degree from University College, Ibadan and at 26 or so he had his PH.D from the University of Moscow. Prof. Okereke won many literary awards, as he should, and would have been a noted Parasitelogist had history not played havoc with his life.
The book is a travelogue of one friend to another, most of whom he met at Government College, Ughelli. His classmates were nearly all as brilliant; nearly all went to University and got good jobs. He lived in an age when getting a degree was easy and straightforward. Three years at Ibadan.
The book reveals the quality of education and the quality of life in the Universities then – one person to a room; being served food at the refectory (no one called it “canteen”), clothes washed by a washer man, shoes polished etc. Prof. Okereke teases us with a few escapades and picaddillos but like the gentleman he is, tells no tales.
A likeable easy going person during a likeable easy going period. I guess what most so called “Biafrans” miss is this facility – to work where you choose, to move when you choose without let or hindrance because the jobs they do were on merit not on privilege.
It is worth reflecting that when our parents choose which schools we went to, they had also chosen what our character will be. The friends, you keep for the rest of your lives are those you met at school. So if Prof. Okereke says he taught at the University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria Nsukka and University of Benin or read at the School of Tropical medicine, London, or at Cornell University, Ithaca, he met other Nigerians who interacted and affected his life.
Only our politicians and rulers seem to go to school with no classmates, no dates of schooling or some fictitious Toronto Chicago university or some school which has no records. Perhaps it should now be mandatory to name at least five co-students who would testify that indeed they were at school with you. On second thoughts why? Our intrepid politicians will pay five people to testify!!
Now to the meat of the book- Biafra. Titus Okereke is not an ideologue and cannot be. But he felt genuine fears in Ibadan, which made him go to Nsukka where there was little peace as the Igbo heartland shrunk. He worked in military intelligence agency about which he typically tells us little. But the ferocious rumour mill which drove him from Ibadan continue to pursue him through 1967-1970. Rumour fed on rumour: panic resulted.
One of the saving graces of the Nigerian Civil War or the Biafra War of Independence was that it did not, like other civil wars in the world, mean large scale immigration and settlement after settlement. The war was relatively short and many people were able to return to where they worked before or lived before without too much harassment. Prof. Okereke berates General Gowon as insincere in his 3Rs. You may abuse General Gowon for all kinds of things- insincerity is not one of them. The debates about Biafra would not cease easily but books, which merely reaffirm prejudices do an injustice to all of us.
Let’s be clear. There was wide spread pogrom in the North after the death of Sardauna and Tafawa Balewa. It is one of the unhappy fates in life that people will read all kinds of meaning in your action even when you claim that is not what you wanted to do. If all the Premiers and the Prime minister were to be killed then do so.
By sparing Chief Michael Opara and Chief Dennis Osadebey and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe but killing those mentioned above including Chief Festus Okotie Eboh and Chief S.L. Akintola, the 1966 coupists lost their moral basis or at least opened the door for thinking that this was an Ibo coup. Should the North have reacted by slaughtering innocent Ibo in their midst-? No. In fact had they come to the table to discuss the future of Nigeria at that time, the North would have had a higher moral ground.
Prof. Okereke makes much of Aburi. The truth was that in 1966-7 the officers who struck were inexperienced, immature, bloodthirsty charlatans who killed their intellectual and moral and leadership betters. The soldiers of 1966/1967 etc were small men, with puny minds dealing with monumentally large issues.
They were bound to fail. Nigeria is a big nation beyond the comprehension of small men with, as my friend would say, the brains of a lizard. Once the cycle of violence began, it could not be easily stopped as Prof. Okereke tells us in his book.
Those who thought differently from Col. Ojukwu paid the ultimate price: Col. Ijeanuna, Banjo, Sam Agbam, Major Philip Adibe. Prof. Okereke makes much about Awolowo’s statements- he understand the suffering of the Igbo, if they seceded so would the West. All that needs to be said about this was that Col. Ojukwu should have sought greater reliance and action from Chief Obafemi Awolowo and both of them should have declared secession simultaneously.
It is indeed surprising that throughout the mayhem Northerners unleashed on Nigerians, no commander, no leader West or North constantly asked that Igbos should not be killed. Many Yorubas and non-Igbos were also slaughtered. No one went out of his way to reassure all Nigerians that they were safe and should not be subjects of ethnic cleansing and doing something about that. No one was punished for needlessly killing Igbo. During times of horrors, heroes emerge. There were several Hausas and Northerners who hid and saved Igbo and Yorubas. Many Yorubas also saved Ibo. My friend Kunle Oyenuga was told by his neighbour to leave Jos before 6 a.m. otherwise he would kill Kunle. The man fled out of Jos at 3am.
To be continued tomorrow
• Dr. (Ambassador) Patrick Dele Cole (OFR) presented this as review of the book Our Father’s Land, written by Titus Okereke