Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Soyinka: BIAFRA suffered genocide during the civil war

For weeks, many people have wondered where Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka stands on the accusation of genocide against Igbos by the Nigerian Government during the 1967-70 civil war leveled by Prof. Chinua Achebe in his war memoir, There Was A Country.

Well, Soyinka has finally spoken his mind and, interestingly, he agrees with Achebe that Biafrans, the bulk of whom were Igbos, were victims of genocide during the war.

In an interview he granted Britain’s authoritative Telegraph, the Nobel Prize winner described Biafrans as “people who’d been abused, who’d undergone genocide, and who felt completely rejected by the rest of the community, and therefore decided to break away and form a nation of its own.”

In the interview published last Friday, the interviewer Peter Godwin asked: “Professor Soyinka, you’re not an ivory-tower kind of writer. You are not a stranger to danger, and in fact you’ve been imprisoned on at least two occasions, once in solitary confinement. Can you tell me what that was like?”

Soyinka’s reply: “Writing in certain environments carries with it an occupational risk. When I was imprisoned, without trial, it was as a result of a position I took as a citizen. Of course I used my weapon, which was writing, to express my disapproval of the (Biafran) civil war into which we were about to enter.

These were people who’d been abused, who’d undergone genocide, and who felt completely rejected by the rest of the community, and therefore decided to break away and form a nation of its own. Unfortunately, the nature of my imprisonment meant that I couldn’t practise my trade because I was in solitary confinement for 22 months out of the 27, and I was deprived of writing material.

So I had to somehow break through the barriers, smuggle in toilet paper, cigarette paper, scribble a few poems, pass messages outside. I was able to undertake exercises to make sure that I emerged from prison intact mentally.”

The interview, which centred of Soyinka’s speech delivered last week at the Hay Festival in Mexico, was entitled “If religion was taken away I’d be happy”. In it, Soyinka condemned religious militancy and declared that now is the time to tackle Boko Haram, the Islamic militants who have been fomenting trouble in Nigeria.

It would be recalled that Prof. Achebe in his war memoirs subtitled ‘A Personal History of Biafra’ accused wartime Head of State Gen. Yakubu Gown and his Vice-Chairman and Finance Minister, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, of carrying out genocide against Igbos. The claim has been generating a lot of controversy, with many Yoruba commentators accusing Achebe of twisting history.

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