It would be anti-intellection to suggest one should do away with opinion. Having an opinion is self-evidence of a thinking mind. However, for opinion to be superior, sensible, and cited, it must be logical and strive for objectivity.
I have a belief that there is a never a victor in war, all sides are losers, some just lose more than the other. In the case of the war that ravaged my home country of Nigeria some forty years ago, I deeply empathize with all sides but more so with the side that felt and still feels it lost the most.
The deeds of that war, I am afraid, can never be told objectively but at minimum, we must scrutinize facts and opinions, endeavor for objectivity, and place things in proper context, in order to have proper account of what indeed happened. This endeavor would serve as an anchor for peaceful and productive co-existence between or among all warred parties.
In light of the new book There Was A Country by the great fictional writer, Chinua Achebe, the wounds of that war seem to have been refreshed by Mr. Achebe’s inelegant, inartful, and illogical opinion attributed to the intentions/motives of Obafemi Awolowo, the finance minister of Nigeria during the Biafra war. Hear Mr. Achebe; “…Obafemi Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition of power, for himself…he Awolowo saw the dominant of Igbo people at the time as the obstacle to his [ambition]…and when the opportunity arose-the Nigeria-Biafra war-his ambition drove him into a frenzy to…hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of [Igbo] significantly through starvation—eliminating over two million people…” This particular opinion, less than one page in the book seems and may be crowding out the point of the whole book and pitting two groups of people against one another.
Due to the credibility of the opinion-maker, Mr. Achebe’s words have added fire to some of my Igbo friends’ long held aspersion of Obafemi Awolowo, over the decision of the late Sage to halt foods that were being sent to the opposing party’s civilians during the Biafra war, which exacerbated the starvation already underway in the Igbo community. All of these vilifications seem to stop dead at the decision in itself without considering the context and the factual reasons behind the decision. Facts make it clear that Igbo civilians were already suffering starvation because Igbo soldiers and leaders deliberately were hijacking and diverting the foods that were meant for Igbo civilians and that Igbo war time leader Odumegwu Ojukwu even rejected foods to be sent to Igbo civilians. Awolowo came to the decision to halt foods when he travelled to the war fronts and discovered the civilians’ omnipresent starvation as a result of Igbo soldiers and leaders diverting and appropriating the foods that were meant for the Igbo civilians. Facts also show the deliberations among the then top Nigerian government officials including Awolowo about only way the war could be brought to a quicker end was to stop sending the foods that opposing Igbo soldiers were already hijacking and diverting. Why not just end the food altogether?
Now let’s take this decision and context altogether and put ourselves in the shoes of Awolowo: What would you have done in the face of a dilemma like this one in which there is no good decision option? In the words of Abraham Lincoln, would you have committed great evil in order to prevent greater evil? Should Awolowo have continued to send the food knowing it was not reaching the destinations, and Igbo solders would continue to fatten themselves and prolong the war while their Igbo civilians continue to starve to death? OR should he have stopped the food, knowing the starvation would continue but casualties would lessen when the war would end more quickly as a result of starvation spreading to the Igbo soldiers themselves?
No one in their right mind among Yoruba folks would deny that Awolowo came up with that decision to halt sending foods—he, Awolowo, admitted to it. However, it is grossly unfair to now input intent to Awolowo’s action and defame his person that the reason he stopped the food was because he was genocidal and in contempt of a whole group of people. This is why a lot of Yoruba feel the need to come to the aid of their great one. The same Awolowo who, postwar, helped the returning Igbo civilians the most by ascertaining that all Igbo real estates in the Yoruba enclave were returned to them. To say this man hated Igbo people because of some superior Igbo ability is completely fact-free, illogic, and emotional.
When you see a Yoruba person defending their demi-god, Awo, it is not because it was Awo per se. It could have been anyone. It is because it is hateful and unfair to say Awolowo was jealous and wanted to exterminate a whole race; this is akin to saying Awolowo is in the same category as Adolf Hitler. How could the great writer Achebe have maligned Awo’s intention? Is Achebe a mind reader? How can he determine without a doubt that Awolowo was hateful and wanted to decimate the numbers of Igbo simply because he, Awolowo was jealous? To utter this opinion in the face of ocean of contrary facts and actions frolics from intellectual rigor attributed to Mr. Achebe hitherto.
Again, Yoruba are not denying that Awo made that decision to stop feeding the opposing warring party, Yoruba are just saying it is unfair to impugn their one leader for starvation that were already underway under the leadership of Igbo war time leaders, a la Ojukwu et al. Awo’s action was to lessen the casualties of the starvation by hatching up a strategy that would quickly end the war. If he hadn’t, the war would have continued longer and the starvation would have claimed more lives than it did.
To have guessed Awo’s intention and arrived at a conclusion that collides with Awo’s actions is intellectual simplicity at best and triumph of emotion over rigorous factual analysis. It wrongfully disparages a leader whom a whole race reveres dearly and further deepens a schism between two ethnic groups of peoples that have much more in common than their differences.