Indeed, There Was a Country

I have just finished reading my copy of Chinua Achebe’s controversial book and civil war memoir, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra. I honestly fail to understand the hullabaloo generated by a very minor section of the book where the old professor accused the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nigeria’s war-time Federal Commissioner of Finance and Deputy Chairman of General Gowon’s Federal Executive Council, of masterminding what he termed the diabolical policy of starvation during the hostilities in order to reduce Igbo population in his (Awolowo’s) “overriding ambition for power” and the “advancement of his Yoruba people”.
Achebe did not mince words as he quoted Awolowo as saying: “All is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight us harder.”
It is not my intention to join in the debate over the impropriety or otherwise of Achebe’s venom on the late Asiwaju Omo Oodua. I think there is more to Achebe’s book than the political and ethnic colouration his critics have tried to ascribe to it. Besides, no one principal actor of the war can claim to be blameless in the carnage that killed over three million Nigerians mostly women and children in thirty months. Not Gowon, not Ojukwu, not Awo and certainly not Chinua Achebe himself. Chinua Achebe’s opinion remains exactly what it is; an opinion. Period.

Nevertheless, the book was quite interesting. It reinforced Achebe’s place as one of the most vital literary and moral voices of our age.
Now, I think the import of Achebe’s message will be lost on all of us as a people if we continue to dwell on such a minute part of the book. I believe the author and elder statesman actually tried to underscore how Nigerian leaders have wasted the abundant human and natural resources the Country is endowed with.
Achebe goes beyond the war to when the civilian regime of then President Olusegun Obasanjo took sides with criminals to kidnap the governor and burn down government buildings in his native Anambra State prompting him to publicly reject the national honour of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) awarded him. He tackles the issues of corruption and indiscipline, state failure and the rise of terrorism, state resuscitation and recovery. He sees Nelson Mandela as the shining example for every African and indeed all mankind at large.

His message was that Nigeria is suffering from leadership failure and this has affected all spheres of our country – including the shipping sector. Yes there was a Country and I dare say there was a sector. There was a maritime sector that worked effectively and created jobs for millions of Nigerians but one that is now deteriorating because of bad leadership. There was a maritime sector where Nigerians owned ships that were gainfully employed; a sector where appointment into key positions in government agencies was based on merit as against ethnic affiliations as we see today.
There was a sector which has now been ruined by bad leadership; the same way the Country has been destroyed by bad leadership as pointed out by Chinua Achebe.
And two more things…

This is a new column where I intend to share my thoughts on the shipping sector with our esteemed readers every week. Readers of course have a right of reply only through the telephone number and email address stated above.
I think the extension of contract of the three service providers under the Destination Inspection scheme has exposed the chasm between the Nigeria Customs Service and its supervising ministry, the Federal Ministry of Finance. Otherwise, how come management of the Service was not aware that the Ministry would be extending the contracts of the service providers by six months? Did the Comptroller General of Customs, Mr. Dikko Abdullahi, inform, or seek the permission of, his supervising Ministry before introducing the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), which signposts a major change in Nigeria’s import risk management regime; replacing the Risk Assessment Report (RAR) issued by the service providers? My hunch is that he did not otherwise his supervising Minister would have asked him to hold on for another six months. How much has Customs “wasted” on the PAAR project before it was hurriedly called off two days after the Ministry of Finance announced the extension of the service providers’ contracts? I think something is not right somewhere over this whole affair.

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