Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka says the memory of the defunct Biafra cannot be erased because what led to the war has not been solved.
Recall that Soyinka’s efforts towards averting the war landed him in prison. His memoir, ‘The Man Died’, is an exposé of his prison experience. He said so far Biafra lingers in memory, the deliberate removal of history in Nigeria’s education curriculum has been defeated.
He spoke on Sunday at the 24th edition of the Lagos Book and Arts Festival organised by Book Kraft.
Soyinka was quoted by TheCable to have said, “Collective memory is the key because it is that memory which is related to the mechanisms of relating reality to whatever narrative is given to us. It is far more important and it is more dangerous because you can get trapped in it because it is collected as a community activity and some of that I think is happening to us here in Nigeria.
“I’m referring of course to Biafra. The collective memory there is very strong. Even before the war, I warned that this collective memory might remain to plague efforts at nation being and that therefore, everything should be done to avoid that war.
“When I use expressions like, ‘Biafra can never be defeated’, ‘can never be wiped away’, people thought I was talking about just the battlefield.
“I was talking about a notion, a passion which enters the collective memory in active life not just as a past narrative. This is what I was warning against. And we’re seeing it today.
“Governments sometimes think that by undertaking the criminal act of removing history from schools, something which I never believed could ever happen to us. The government actually stopped the teaching of history in schools.
“So naive, so stupid as not to recognise that there is something called memory, collective memory, active memory in the present.
“If the purpose was to obliterate the war or memories of the war, what about events that led up to the war? What about the position, the narrative of existence in relation to the outer world? How do you obliterate for heaven’s sake?
“Yet people sat down and went about their business when they removed history from the curriculum. That’s what I mean by saying that we must always adjudicate the present by history, by the collective memory.
“At the same time, however, we must take care not to become prisoners of that collective memory. That member must be able to use our collective memory in a progressive, productive, creative, and advanced way.”
The Biafran War was fought between 1967 and 1970 in what its leader the Dim Emeka Ojukwu described as the inalienable right of a people to determine their future.
The failure of the people of the defunct Republic to forget about it hinges on some harmful policies meted to them shortly after the war, including the policies of 20 pounds, Abandoned Property and Privatisation of public companies at a time the survivors of the war were still recovering from the gory episode.