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USAfrica Exclusive: Chiebuka, from long nights in Biafra to Boko Haram’s Cattle Cake. By Success Akpojotor

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Chiebuka, from long nights in Biafra to Boko Haram Cattle Cake

By Success Akpojotor, contributor of short stories and features to USAfrica magazine and USAfricaonline.com

It was a grim cockcrow on Ash Wednesday of February 11, 1970. The geopolitical space of defunct Biafra smelled like musty mortal blood. Its wasteland earth was blanketed with gore and the vestiges of bangs and cannonballs.

“Nothing is civil about a civil war,” Chiebuka remarked, rested her head on her husband’s bosom as her eyes ousted brackish drops.

Shrieking swishes bolted from the chafing of the bus’ tyres which burnished the blood-tarnished roads. Cadavers instead of shrubs made an apparent movement. 

Obi managed to suppress his tears as he palmed his wife’s left shoulder and effaced the ash stains that her forehead had rubbed off on the lapel of his long-sleeved white shirt.

“The Blessed Virgin Mary will see us through,” Obi muttered.

The swarm of rubbernecked passengers, whose foreheads had the cross insignia engraved on them with ash, overlooked their own pain and goggled at the scraggy couple who, notwithstanding their frailty, demonstrated vigor.

An aging woman with concealed gray hair who sat across the aisle attempted to bolster her. “We’ve all lost loved ones in this civil war and–”

“With all due respect,” Chiebuka butted in, “there’s nothing civil about a civil war and none on earth can be more bereaved than me.”

Chiebuka’s husband stroked her shoulder again.

Obi’s touch was the elixir that was needed to quieten her. His touch transmitted an enigmatic strength which wafted through her nerves like a drop of cold water on a skin in a hellhole.

The scruffy, flea-infested seats coupled with diesel smell did not get to the commuters. All that stayed on their minds was arriving Maiduguri, the capital city of the North-Eastern State of Nigeria, in one piece.

For Chiebuka and Obi, who feared and ran for their lives from Maiduguri during the pogroms of 1966, an ocean had run through their forest.

Chiebuka and her husband, both medics in the North-Eastern State, could not bring themselves to the truth that all they had laboured for in the pre-war years had varnished like burning charcoal in harmattan. They had lost their two beautiful daughters to hunger and malnutrition during the war. No wonder the scene where they lowered their daughters beneath earth’s covering and buried flowers over them in an Enugu burial ground continued to bother her.

*

On the third day of their journey, they had reached Maiduguri.

Pangs of wistfulness cloaked Chiebuka. Tepid tears cascaded down her cheekbone. Her nostrils slobbered colourless rheum. She wished for a return of the days when she would wake her two daughters from sleep, bathe, prepare and take them to school.

Her husband was her foil. He held a bemused countenance though his eyes seemed lifeless and teary. One could not discern that he had gone through uncountable rounds of angst.

However, Chiebuka and her husband whispered silent prayers for their property to still be intact. They had worked their fingers to the bone in order to be successful. If God still loved them he would answer their prayers. Her name ‘Chiebuka’ reinforced her faith in the Supreme Being.

God is greater!

*

Dusk saw the couple at the entrance of their residence which was sophisticated than Lord Frederick Lugard’s apartment near the Confluence in Lokoja. The gatekeeper would not allow them in. In a moment the new occupant of the house joined them.

“I hear noises for inside, thats is why I am here na. Who you are?” said the new occupant.

“I built this edifice,” Obi said looking at his property that had been turned into a cowshed. “It cost me a whooping sum…you can’t turn it into a barn of cows.”

The new resident laughed, “You speakings grammars. This house is abandons frofati.”

“I did not abandon my property.” Obi declared as he forced his way in, only to be halted by a rifle which sniped bullets in the air.

You fifu runs leavings houses and gofmet say abandons frofati.” The new occupant was furious.

“Can I take my car?” Obi said, pointing at the directional headlights of a blue Citroën DS Pallas parked in the compound, and cattle gallivanted around it.

Abadon frofati,” The livid Northern Nigerian chap echoed, “gets aways prom hia.”

Chiebuka took her husband’s left arm. This was a signal. She had passed a message across to him to drop it. They walked away, resentful.

*

Like a snail, the earth crawled away from the sun into darkness. The parched gale walloped the greenery in their twigs. Crickets shrieked. Snakes hissed. Owls hooted. White dwarfs struggled to shine.

The couple settled in a dilapidated bus park which was the abode of a pinched face man whose hairs were daubed gold brown with dust from years of irrationality. He was stark-naked and gnawed food which he had gathered from gibberish.

Chiebuka bickered her husband’s decision that they share the almost small cubicle with a madman. Obi made her au fait with the fact that they had walked for hours hoping to find a shade with no success except for the madman’s home. After exhibiting reluctance, she agreed that they pass the night with the crackbrained.

For the whole hours of obscurity, Chiebuka’s eyes were never shut. She stayed awake and kept watch over her husband who, without any care in the world, got out like a light.

*

It was sunup. The yellow sun burgled through the hazy tissues. Obi and his wife prayed the rosary as they walked to the bank.

For the first time in the twosome’s life, they regretted their return to Nigeria from the Diaspora. They bemoaned the end of the civil war. They knew the civil war was brutal, gory, gruesome, sordid and unimaginable but the aftermath. The upshot was dreadful because the victory of the Nigerian forces over the Biafran enclave left a carnage, pestilence and abject poverty in its wake, for the Biafrans in particular.

While they wailed, Obi reminded Chiebuka of their last hope–their money in the bank. While Chiebuka had saved sixty-four thousand pounds sterling, Obi her husband had saved a hundred and seventy-one thousand pounds sterling in the period leading to when Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu announced the independence of the Republic of Biafra from Nigeria.

At the bank, they joined the countless number of fellow Igbos who had a similar predicament and irrespective of the amount they had kept in trust with the bank before the civil war, each Igbo was given twenty pounds sterling.

They shouted. They cursed. They protested

“This is a deliberate ploy by the government to hold back the Igbo middle class.” Obi protested.

A fair complexioned woman trader declared “First, they bequeath our houses to cows, now they are leaving us with little resources to expand our business interest.”

A corpulent man followed. “They forget that we the Igbos are headstrong. We are like iron that cannot be bent. Yes, they have won the battle but we have won the war. In three years we proved to the world that we could be independent and attain development in all ramifications, within the shortest of time and without external help. Indeed, there was a country the world will never forget.”

Another sinewy woman contributed. “We are not a defeated people because we refuse to accept defeat. Chukwu has endowed the Igbos and in no time we will dominate this country’s economy. With this twenty pounds, we shall establish businesses, send our children to the best schools in the world, build mansions and do many exploits.”

They all said “Amen”.

Chiebuka and Obi walked away. Despair. Disbelief.

*

Chiebuka and Obi had lost all hope. Hope eluded them the more when fellow Igbos who were ‘fit’ ambushed them and collected their forty pounds sterling.

“How the mighty falls!” Chiebuka remarked with anguish in her throat.

Obi patted her shoulders. 

As they perambulated, they noticed a signpost which publicized a vacancy. They followed the direction of the marker which led them to a building almost like an estate. After they knocked on the entrance gate, an army officer emerged. He wielded a Sterling L2A3 (Mark 4) submachine gun, or SMG.

“Good day.” The couple stuttered with concurrence.

What we want?” Asked the army officer.

Obi guzzled spittle at the horrible sight and terrifying voice of the officer. “We saw the vacancy.”

Come my way,” he gestured at the couple to enter after he had rummaged them.

With all the fear in the world inside Chiebuka and Obi, they entered and met an Alhaja and a bevy of other women who sat in the garden and husked melon seeds.

Asalamu Alaykum.” The Alhaja said to them as she beckoned on the army officer and the other women to leave.

“We’re here because of the vacancy.” They sputtered with simultaneity.

“Yes I know,” the Alhaja smiled. “Allah is great. Isn’t He?” She said with her beautiful Hausa accent.

The couple’s answer was a dumbfounded look.

Alhaja smiled. “We were in dire need of two teachers who would teach the English Language. A male to teach my sons, and a female to teach my mates, daughters, and sisters, and Allah brought the needed vessels. Isn’t He great?” She sniggered.

“Yes.” The couple gave a weak nod.

Insha Allah, I shall pay two hundred pounds every week.”

“When are we to start?” The couple faltered.

“Tomorrow,” the Alhaja replied, “one more thing,” she hesitated “both of you have to stay with us. For security reasons we can’t let you smell the outside of these walls until the termination of your appointment.”

To the couple, this was a blessing because they had no roof over their heads.

Then the Alhaja added, “I know you’re not Muslims. Before you would be allowed to commence, you must submit to Allah.”

“But ma” Chiebuka interrupted with vehemence “we’re–”

The Alhaja smiled as she countered. “You have from now until tomorrow morning to think about it and make a decision.” She beckoned on the army officer who hurried to her “Take them to the place where they would be until morning while they make up their minds. Make them welcome. Treat them as inhabitants.”

The army officer put them in separate apartments.

Chiebuka protested, “I want to be with my husband.”

Husband kwo!” the army officer retorted.

“Yes, she is my wife.” Obi stretched forth his left arm for the army officer to see the ring on his fourth finger.

The army officer did not understand. “Alhaja will be made decide.” 

He went into the main house to inquire.

Chiebuka went back into nostalgia. Obi patted her on the back as she buried her face in his bosom stained with the ash.

Minutes later, the army officer returned and granted their request, “Alhaja is made decide. You can sleeps in one places.”

They were acquainted with the apartment by the army officer. After doing his duty, he let them their privacy.

Chiebuka and Obi had their baths and were served tuwo shinkafa and kundirimo. This was their first special treat after thirty months of eating leaves, grasses, paper, and imbibing their urine.

*

Night had crept into the earth but sleep eluded Chiebuka and Obi.

“I can’t imagine myself becoming a Muslim. Betraying my Marian faith because of employment?” Chiebuka whispered, fearing that the walls may have ears.

“Me neither,” Obi muttered.

“So you agree with me that we tell the so called power lordess to go to hell.” She declared.

“Pardon!” Obi pretended.

She sat upright, “We are not taking this job. First thing tomorrow morning we’re leaving this place for Enugu. We should never have come here. I told you so.”

He replied, “Yes, and I’m sorry. I did not know that the government’s policy of declaring our belongings abandoned property wasn’t a rumour.”

“We should never have returned from England. We were a king and a queen in the city. Now in the jungle where cows are preferred, we are subhumans.” She sobbed.

Obi patted her left shoulder. “And even going back now would be difficult.”

“So what do we do? Becoming a Muslim is no option.” Chiebuka was vexed.

Obi cuddled her, “When the desired is not available, the available becomes the desired.”

Chiebuka retrieved herself from Obi’s embrace, “Don’t tell me you’re accepting defeat.” She retorted.

“No.” Obi held her arms, “We are creative and improvising.”

Chiebuka removed herself from Obi’s reach. “Creative? By selling our souls? To those people who have turned us to cattle cake?”

“We’re not selling our souls.”

“Then what are we doing?”

“God will understand,” Obi explained, “we would each earn two hundred pounds on a weekly basis. If we work with them for two months, we would save three thousand and two hundred pounds. With that, we can travel back to Enugu and start anew, start a business and–“ 

“Our faith is more important,” Chiebuka belabored. “God won’t find it funny–”

“Who knows if this is God’s way of re-establishing us?” Obi sneezed. “He works in mysterious ways.”

“There’s nothing mysterious about you not knowing that you’re breaking the first commandment and–”

“Listen to me,” Obi raised his voice “I’m the man and your duty is to be submissive. That was the vow you took before the priest.”

“Not when it soils my relationship with God,” Chiebuka replied. “I can’t be a Muslim. I won’t be caught dead in a hijab.”

“I’m sorry,” Obi mellowed as he held Chiebuka’s arms again. “I’m sorry. All I’m saying is that we become Muslims for two months, save enough money; and then return to Enugu where we’d join our fellow Biafrans and –”

Chiebuka removed herself from Obi’s grip again. “Shall we continue in sin because grace abounds? Shall we throw things in God’s face because He’s merciful? You forget He also is a consuming fire. Sins are mistakes. An intentional wrong is not sin. God forgives sins, not intentional wrongs.”

Obi sighed. “Chi–”

“I’ll not be a party to that. Not in my back yard. Tomorrow we’re telling that veiled autocratess to save her two hundred pounds. Good night!” She climbed the bed adorned with blue sheets, covered herself in the ash blanket while Obi stood, bewildered.

*

It was the crack of dawn.

The Athan woke Chiebuka. Her eyes, in their deep sockets, opened; as her mouth expelled carbon dioxide. Her heart missed a beat when she saw the blurry image of a man by the table on which sat the black transistor, the antenna looking to the roof.

“Good morning,” Obi said with a teary tone.

A minute went by before Chiebuka could process in her head that Obi had been standing there all night.

“You didn’t sleep,” she said almost a question.

“Why should I sleep?” Tears rolled down his jawline. “Why should I sleep when we will be sent out this morning?”

Chiebuka jumped from the bed and wiped her husband’s tears. “If you cry, what do you expect of me?” She embraced him. “I hate to see men cry.”

“Then do what is necessary.” Tears kept gushing out of his eyes and wet Chiebuka’s shoulder.

Chiebuka felt the warmth of Obi’s tears. “By becoming a Muslim!” She mouthed.

“Becoming Muslims on our sleeves and Christians at heart,” Obi replied with a sob.

“Alright!” Chiebuka said, empathetic. “Will you stop crying now?”

“Thank you!” Obi said with a sigh of relief as he squeezed his wife’s body against his.

*

The sun glowed in all her glory.

Chiebuka and her husband had their baths. For the first time after the war and bloodbath, it dawned on them that the civil war had taken a lot from them. They became aware of how gaunt they were. In fact, they were bags of bones. Their eyes deepened in their sockets. The holes around their scapulae could hold more than a handful of water. Their hairs were off-black.

In spite of the fact that things were bleak, they believed in a silver lining. They considered themselves partakers of the experiences of the Biblical Job.

They were served Kunun-Gyada with Kundirimo for breakfast.

*

Alhaja and her husband, Mohammed, met with the couple in their apartment.

“Good morning,” said the couple.

Barka ka dai,” replied Alhaja and her husband.

Chiebuka and her husband gave a staggered look.

“It means ‘good morning'” Alhaja told them.

“We speak Ibo and English,” Chiebuka announced.

“I know” Alhaja smiled, “Are you ready to revert?”

“No,” Chiebuka paused and sighed. “We have made the decision to be Muslims.”

Subhan Allah.” The Alhaja smiled as she hugged Chiebuka while Mohammed shook hands with Obi.

“Now you must know,” The Alhaja sighed. “Islam is not a new religion.”

“Mmmmm.” Chiebuka interrupted.

“Yes, it is a belief system which Allah revealed to Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus, and the Prophet Mohammed long ago. Islam is all about believing that Allah is the one and only God and that the Prophet Mohammed is the last messenger of God.”

The couple sighed relief.

 “I will come in now,” said Mohammed, “repeat after me.” He said and swallowed spittle “Ash-hadu alla ilaha ill Allah-wa.”

Ash-hadu alla ilaha ill Allah-wa.” the couple recited.

Alhaja smiled.

Ash-hadu anna Mohammedan.” Mohammed paused.

Ash-hadu anna Mohammedan.” The couple repeated.

Abduhu wa Rasulullah.” Mohammed said.

The couple echoed. “Abduhu wa Rasulullah.”

“You are Muslims now and your names are Aminu and Amina,” Mohammed said “You just testified that there is no other God besides Allah, and that Mohammed is His messenger. Now you must purify yourselves. Washing yourselves is a symbolic act of washing away your pasts and being purified. You both have been created afresh. Go wash yourselves.”

“You mean we should take our baths again?”

“No,” Mohammed smiled, “You’re purifying yourselves. It is a spiritual bath to wash away your pasts, and after which you become slaves of Allah.”

 “We will be back to present you your Koran and by two o’ clock this afternoon you shall offer your first prayer to Allah,” Mohammed said and left with his wife, the Alhaja.

Obi shut the door and returned to his wife and hugged her, “We are still Christians no matter what. God still loves us. Jesus died for our sins, including the ones we are yet to commit.”

She removed herself from her husband’s embrace. “Let’s go purify ourselves,” she said as tears glided down her maxillae.

*

Two P.M.

The couple joined them, though they did not blend in, and looked like lambs among sheep.

After the prayer, masa and kuli-kuli were served for lunch. 

After lunch, they were introduced to everyone in the ‘estate’. Then it came to their knowing that Mohammed had married Alhaja and three other women.

Chiebuka was given an abaya and three hijabs while Obi, a Koran, and two jellabas.

*

The first week went by and the couple was paid. Alhaja was pleased because her mates, sisters and the children were learning so fast.

Chiebuka and Obi became so lovable.

Though they had found a new life, Chiebuka, now Amina, still wished for the good old days when her two daughters were alive. Alhaja had noticed the burden in her eyes and they talked about it over a plate of kundirimo. She was touched and moved by Chiebuka’s story.

“They died innocent children. They are with Allah in heaven.” Alhaja had consoled her.

Obi, now Aminu, and the army officer became more than acquaintances. They had shared few evenings together. He expressed sincere sympathy over Obi’s loss. He confided in Obi that he regretted fighting in the Nigerian Civil War. He apologized on behalf of the Nigerian army for the millions of Igbos that had kicked the bucket.

We soldiers is understanding only wars. Peaces is confuses us.” He said to Obi in his defense. He promised to make it up to Obi someday if the need arose.

*

Tonight was a nox horribilis for Obi. He was thrown into shock by his wife’s brashness.

Before their purification on the day they became Muslims, they promised each other they were going to pray the rosary every night before sleep. They had agreed upon this so as to soothe their consciences, a self-imposed penance to their Christian God.

“I don’t think I‘ll ever pray the rosary again,” she declared.

Shocked, Obi moved closer to her, “Are you sleepwalking?”

“I’m in my right senses.” 

“So what do you mean by you’ll never pray the rosary?”

“Because I’m now really a Muslim. I’ve reverted to my natural, original self that Allah wishes me to.”

Obi fixed the back of his palm against his wife’s neck to check her body temperature, “Chi–”

“I’m alright,” she cut in, “You think I’m having a fever? No, I’m not.”

“Then tell me it’s a joke.”

“It’s not,” she moved closer to her husband “Allah works in mysterious manners.”

“Allah?!” Obi whispered, flabbergasted.

“Yes. Allah,” she reiterated “Allah brought us to embrace Islam the true religion.

“Islam is, on the whole, about prayer and being close to Allah the one and only true God.”

Obi hit Chiebuka. “You’re bewitched.”

“Allah will touch you soon,” she replied.

“Goodness knows what only four weeks in this place have done to you. First thing tomorrow we’re leaving.”

“I’m not leaving with you.” She blubbered “This place has given me a peaceful and satisfying way to worship God. Islam made me know that I never fit into Christianity. Each time I received the communion wafer I never felt God because–”

“It is not communion wafer but the body of Christ.” Obi cut in. “Chiebuka what is come over you?”

“I’m Amina, “Chiebuka snapped, “and you’re Aminu. Very soon you’d come to accept the truth that Chiebuka and Obi are gone. You’re Aminu and I’m Amina.” she belabored.

“You’ve been bewitched.”

“I’ve not been bewitched,” she wiped her tears, “Islam has brought me a feeling of love, warmth, and gratitude that I had never felt since my born days.”

“It’s all my fault,” Obi remarked “I should have listened to you that fateful night. We should have told Alhaja to shove it.”

“Allah used you to keep me so I’d find the truth–”

“We’re leaving tomorrow morning.”

“No Aminu,” Chiebuka knelt before her husband “I’m not leaving. I like it here. I’ve found the true p–”

*

Obi made his way to the gate but the army officer refused to let him through because Alhaja had made it clear to him that nobody should be allowed outside the walls behind her back. He sucked in air, deeply. His heart beat so fast that he could feel it in his neck, and the army officer smelled a rat but could not place his fingers on it. Obi knelt and blackmailed the army officer. He reminded him of his promise to make it up to him any day the need arose.

The blackmail pulled through and Obi was let out.

The army officer was going to tell a lie: Obi had hit him on the head with a stick. And the Alhaja was going to believe because he had never lied to her before. At least none that she had detected!

*

Obi’s journey back to his Enugu home town suffered five days. He was not himself. He wished for the ground to open in two and swallow him.

He was overwhelmed by the emptiness and loneliness of his family home. He feared he was going to lose his mind if his wife’s shade should show up.

He settled and did some clearing to weed the bushes that had formed a small forest in the surroundings.

In the evening, he received guest–the village youths and some elders who had asked after his wife. He told them he had put her away because she changed religion. They praised him and assured him of their support.

“Abomination!” One of the village elders spat on the ground.

Tufia!” Another followed. “How can a Biafran embrace Islam?”

They promised Obi that Chiebuka had no place in their community anymore unless she re-converted.

They guzzled fresh palm wine and expressed their regrets over the capitulation of the Republic of Biafra.

Prayers were said. Libations were poured. They wanted God to re–empower Ikemba or send another.

Darkness visited this part of the earth before they bade one another “Good night!”

*

A woman silhouetted against the moon chased after Obi with a pestle.

He jumped off the spring bed. His conscience was still nagging him. He was convinced that Chiebuka’s ghost was haunting him.

*

Obi needed to purge himself and clear his conscience at first light.

He trekked to St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church and made his way to the confessional where a pinched woman just rounded off her confession and took leave.

He entered the wooden cubicle where a green curtain demarcated the priest and penitent and knelt.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

Father Benedict, an American missionary, on the other side of the demarcation stopped fingering his violet stole which hung over his shoulders. He sensed fear, grief, terror, and torture in the confessant’s voice. “Yes, child of God,” he said, “speak on.”

“It’s been donkey years since my last confession.”

“Donkey?”

“Yes, before the Nigeria-Biafra war.”

“Go on, child of God!”

“These are my sins.

“I stopped praying the rosary during the civil war. Yesterday I joined my kinsmen in pouring libations. For all I have said and have forgotten to say, I beg pardon from God and you.”

“Is that all?”

The confessant’s answer was silence.

“Be reminded that it’s a sin against the Holy Spirit to willfully conceal anything at confession.”

“Yes, father.”

“Then, go on, child of God.” Father Benedict insisted.

Obi became lost in thoughts for almost two minutes.

“Are you there, child of God?”

“Yes.”

“Anymore?”

“I. Hit. Her. Twice.” Obi said.

“Her?”

“My wife,” Obi swallowed spittle. “We denounced Christianity for Islam almost three weeks ago,” Obi whispered.

“We?”

“I and my wife,”

“Why did you denounce Christianity?”

“It was part of our employer’s terms and condition.”

“Did you enjoy Islam?”

“No,” Obi’s tone now teary “but my wife did and affirmed it her path to God.”

“Where is she now?”

She didn’t want to return with me. She–” Obi paused.

“She what?” Father Benedict investigated.

“I suffocated her. She died and I ran for my life and freedom.” Obi confessed and cried.

The confessor paused, sighed and went mum for a minute.

“Father, are you there?”

“Yes.” He cleared his throat. “You understand that pouring libations and denouncing your faith breaks the first commandment.” He said almost a question.

“Yes, Father.”

“Killing your wife flouted the fifth commandment. You understand that, don’t you?”

“Yes, Father.”

“For your penance say the Our Father, twenty-five times, Hail Mary, twenty times, and the Apostles Creed, thrice.”

“Yes, Father.”

“And as regards your wife’s murder, you must go report yourself to the police.”

“Police?” Obi said.

“Yes, fear not them who can imprison your body in a confinement forged by mortar. Rather fear He who can imprison both body and soul in an extraordinary fiery furnace.

“Say the Act of Contrition.”

*

Chiebuka at the behest of Alhaja had journeyed from Maiduguri to her husband’s family home, only to be greeted by gloom.

She found her husband’s kinsmen and kinswomen in mourning.

They expressed their disappointment at her decision of changing religion. They drove home their points about why she should not have embraced Islam.

They gave her the opportunity to renege her decision.

She declined!

Her kinswomen sat her on the ground, removed her hijab and scraped every hair strand from her head.

“What have I done? Why are you doing this to me?” Chiebuka cried. “Is it because I’m a Muslim?”

“No,” a kinswoman volunteered. “Your husband has gone to the great beyond. You put otapiapia in his food. That was why you did not return with him. Witch!”

None knew what had killed Obi. He had slumped right in the confessional after reciting the Act of Contrition. If a post mortem was carried out on his corpse, it would have come to their knowledge that he had suffered and died from high blood pressure. He could not imagine turning himself in for the supposed murder of his wife.

He had died from a guilty conscience. He took Chiebuka for dead because her body seemed lifeless seconds after he let go of her throat.

She survived, unknown to him, and Chiebuka termed it Allah’s miracle.

*

Next in line was for the now bald Chiebuka to drink the bath water of her deceased husband. There was no way on earth she would acquiesce. She grabbed her hijab and ran, escaping through thick bushes.

Her kinswomen organized the village youth to hunt her.

That witch must prove to us that she did not kill our brother.

She gave him slow poison!

*

It was a damned morning on Easter Sundayof March 29, 1970.

It did not look like Jesus Christ had risen from the dead on this Easter as it marked the third day Chiebuka had been missing.

She was found by a hunter. Found dead in a hijab. Perhaps, the evil spirits of the forest or a wild animal had snuffed her out.

Mayhap, the hunter sniped his arrow after he mistook her for bush meat.


Success Akpojotor, contributor to USAfricaonline.com, born in Benin City, writes poetry, prose and theatre. A graduate of the University of Benin’s Department of History and International Studies, his works have appeared in Saraba Magazine, Kalahari Review, African Writer, The Nigerian Observer, Poets Reading The News, Heavy Feather Review, among others. He can be contacted on Twitter @sadavidia

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USAfrica: 60 years since masterpiece, Things Fall Apart, ACHEBE Lives on. By Chido Nwangwu

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60 years since masterpiece, Things Fall Apart, ACHEBE Lives on

By Chido Nwangwu

Chinua Achebe, prophet and great writer, who was born on November 16, 1930, will be remembered forever for what he did in 1958. 

In 1958, Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart, was released and he told the conflicted story of Okonkwo, communal life, clash of faiths, dynamics of the clash of cultures and more, set in pre-colonial and colonial Umuofia, of the Igbo nation.

In the assessment of U.S former President Barack Obama, it is “A true classic of world literature… a masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.”

Since 1958, with the masterpiece work, Things Fall Apart, five important historical benchmarks became evident:

First, Achebe laid the foundation for the modern African literature. Whereby the stories and narratives about Africa and Africans hold our perspectives and values amidst the realities of a global market. 

Princeton University’s professor of philosophy, Kwame Anthony Appiah, hit the proverbial nail on its head when he said that “In every English and non-English speaking country on the planet, if you ask a student to name just one African novel, it is most likely to be Things Fall Apart by Achebe. It is the beginning of the African canon. it is difficult to think of anything else without it.” Like him, I believe Achebe’s works are rich fountains of knowledge for credible and engaging understanding of African pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history and realities.

On February 18, 2002, a distinguished jury of scholars and critics (from 13 countries of African life and literature) selected Achebe as the writer of the Best book, ‘Things Fall Apart.’

Second, he firmed up the prologue for taking on the litany of Euro-Caucasian racist “scholars” who “objectified” Africa and African lives.

In Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and other works, the centrality of Chi (God) attains an additional clarity in the Igbo cosmology. I’ve studied, lived and tried to better understand, essentially, the towering moral certainties which Achebe have employed in most of his works.

Also, it is a world which prefers a quasi-capitalistic business attitude to life while taking due cognizance of the usefulness of the whole, the community. .

Bottomline: in the Achebe accurate and contextual depiction of pre-colonial Igbo life, the rewards for hardwork/farming are wealth and family! 

Third, in an era of grammatical overload, obscurantism and verbosity, he entered the arena with what I commend as the yet unmatched, uniquely Achebesque style and structure of simplicity, clarity, accessibility and organic lucidity. Achebe is good!

Prof. Achebe, Africa’s most acclaimed and fluent writer of the English Language, our pathfinder, the intellectual godfather of millions of Africans and lovers of the fine art of good writing, was only 28 years when he wrote the classic, Things Fall Apart, in 1958, long before I was born. 

Fourth, between 1958 and 2013, amidst a body of first rate works, he will be remembered as one of history’s great witnesses and chroniclers. Other than ‘Things Fall Apart’ (1958), some of Achebe’s other major books are ‘No Longer at Ease’ (1960), ‘Arrow of God’ (1964; rev. 1974); In 1983, Achebe wrote the often quoted pamphlet, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria.’ In the latter, he cited the litany of failures of the leaders and pointed the way forward; ‘Anthills of the Savannah’ (1987) and his notes and memoir on Biafra titled ‘There Was a Country’ (2012). Those works and his civic, moral conscience placed him on a pedestal which I characterize as the power and permanence of Chinua Achebe! Consequently, he lives in our hearts and minds as an immortal writer!

Fifth, on the critical questions regarding why Achebe become a writer; and why he wrote Things Fall Apart? He revealed: “In the end, I began to understand there is such a thing as absolute power over narrative. Those who secure this privilege for themselves can arrange stories about others pretty much where, and as, they like.”

For him, there’s an organic relationship between writing as education and the building of a better society. Recall that the prolific Achebe wrote in 1975 in his work ‘Morning Yet on Creation Day’ that “The writer cannot be excused from the task of re-education and regeneration that must be done.”

I recall flying back to the U.S. (from South Africa to New York) to attend Prof. Achebe’s 70th birthday at the historic Bard College (November 3-4, 2000) and its related conference titled, ‘Home and Exile: Achebe at 70″. Achebe was in the midst of his friends and some of the best writers in the world. He mentioned “how everyone has spoken so nicely of me, this evening….” Then, came his one sentence punchline commentary on the gross grandiosity of African leaders: “If I were a military dictator, these two days of November would have been declared national holidays!” He burst into laughter. That’s vintage Achebean sarcasm.

By the year 2020, USAfrica projects Achebe’s magnum opus, Things Fall Apart, would have been translated into 75 languages, and sold almost 25 million copies and listed among the world’s best 50 novels. 

In the full, honest context of the litany of calamities, catastrophes and crimes across Nigeria, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and many communities, may I conclude with the poem written in 1919 titled The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) — from where Achebe gave the  title for his 1958 novel: 

    “Turning and turning in the widening gyre

    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity”

Long live Chinua Achebe, the Eagle on the Iroko!

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Dr. Chido Nwangwu, analyst on CNN & SKY news,  moderator of the Achebe Colloquium (Governance, Security, and Peace in Africa) December 7-8, 2012 at Brown University in Rhode Island and former adviser on Africa business to the Mayor of Houston, is the Founder & Publisher of Houston-based USAfrica multimedia networks since 1993, first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper published on the internet USAfricaonline.com

Chido is completing the 2019 book titled MLK, MANDELA & ACHEBE: Power, Leadership and Identity.  E-mail: Chido@USAfricaonline.com

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Gabon President Ali Bongo recovering from an undisclosed illness in Saudi Arabia

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Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba is recovering from an undisclosed illness in Saudi Arabia and still performing his duties, according to a statement released on Sunday amid mounting speculation about his health.

The issue is a particularly sensitive one in the Central African nation. When Bongo’s father died in 2009 after more than four decades in power, Gabonese officials angrily denied French media reports of his death for almost a day, and shut down the internet in the country for several hours.

The statement said that Ali Bongo was suffering dizziness at his hotel in Riyad, Saudi Arabia on Oct. 24 when he sought medical care at King Faysal Hospital.

The information about the president’s health is “extremely reassuring” and the president “continues to perform his duties,” the presidency said.

The communique came amid a swirl of rumors over the president’s health back home in the Central African nation. Some media reports suggested that Bongo had suffered a stroke, though government spokesman Ike Ngouoni cautioned people about “fake news”.

“It would be in his interest entirely to make his presence. I think they’re not putting him in front of the cameras intentionally,” said Douglas A. Yates, a Paris-based Gabon expert.

One of the world’s largest producers of oil, Gabon’s wealth is far from evenly distributed. About a third of the population, estimated to be below 2 million people, live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

The elder Bongo, who ruled the oil-rich nation from 1967 until his 2009 death, was viewed by many as the father of the nation. His time in power, though, was dogged by allegations of corruption and the use of oil profits for personal luxuries, including properties in several European and American cities, and lavish trips abroad.

Ali Bongo won a special presidential election that was held a few months after his father’s death. The opposition claimed it was rigged.

In 2016, protesters took to the streets of the capital, Libreville, and the Parliament building was burned after Bongo’s opponent, Jean Ping, accused Bongo of vote-rigging. The European Union, the United States, and France also expressed concerns about some of the results. Gabon’s constitutional court later upheld Bongo’s victory. AP

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Gunmen abduct Catholic priests in southern Nigeria

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President-Buhari-of-Nigeria-contemplative-pix
“They were abducted on their way to Ekpoma, Edo state, from Delta for an event,” he added, saying police and local security were hunting for the gunmen.

A source at the Warri Catholic diocese in Delta State confirmed the incident, which comes less than three weeks after five Catholic nuns were kidnapped in Delta State.

The nuns were released two weeks later, and a suspect was in custody, said Aniamaka. He would not say if a ransom had been paid.

Several sources confirm that the nuns had been returning from a burial ceremony in the southeast Nigeria when they were abducted by gunmen who opened fire on their vehicles, injuring two other nuns.

In January, Nigeria’s bishops denounced a wave of kidnappings for ransom in the country.

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