More than a month after The Guardian of London published an excerpt from Professor Chinua Achebe’s latest book, There Was a country, the book has continued to generate heated debates and acrimonious reactions due to the controversial issues it throws up. The backlash that the book sparked did not come as a surprise, considering the sensitive nature of its subject matter and the actors involved.
This is very unfortunate because the book whose publication is supposed to make publishing history, were it not for its controversial nature, has further polarised the country along ethnic lines.
Achebe stirred the hornet’s nest when, while trying to give his own account of the Nigerian civil war, makes some disparaging remarks about the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, accusing him not only of being driven by an overriding ambition to decimate the Igbo so that the Yoruba could advance but also of being the arrowhead of the plot to use starvation as a weapon of war against the Igbo during the war.
While many consider Achebe’s unflattering remarks about Awolowo as arrant distortion of facts, others believe there is veracity in what he says. In advanced democratic societies such differences of opinions are welcome for they are the bases upon which free, egalitarian societies are built.
However, unfortunately it is not so in Nigeria. The brusque way and parochial manner such differences of opinions are expressed, leave much to be desired. A new war of words, different from- and more lethal than- the civil war is already being waged. And if we are not careful, it is capable of completely destroying this country.
It is time for us to sheathe our words. This is no time to dwell on things that divide us. We should emphasize those things that unite rather than divide us. Nigerians are already rattled enough by a weak economy, rising inflation, unemployment, rising cost of fuel, poverty, flooding and the Boko Haram massacres.
And the only way to surmount these challenges is that Nigerians, regardless of ethnic, religious or political affiliation should join hands to build a free, egalitarian and peaceful nation.
Now that we have survived the war, let’s do everything possible to survive the peace. And we cannot do this if we continue to evoke bitter memories, whip up sentiments and pander to parochial tendencies. Now is the time to heal our land; now is the time to forgive one another.