On There Was A Country

In Chinua Achebe’s book ‘There was a country’ published shortly before his death, he gives us his own account of what happened in Lagos after the coup and subsequent reprisal attacks on those from Eastern Nigeria.

It also gives us further background information on the article below taken from this Daily Times Newspaper (November 27th 1966) and what prompted him to leave his job and the life he knew, to Eastern Nigeria.

“The weeks after the coup saw easterners attacked both randomly and in an organized fashion. There was a lust for revenge”

“In Lagos, where we lived, soldiers were also used in targeted raids of certain peoples homes, including our own.

It happened that my wife and I had moved recently from Milverton Street to Turnbull Road, after my promotion to director of external broadcasting.

Fortunately the soldiers went to our old house in search of me.

Some may wonder why the soldiers would be after me so fervently. As I mentioned, it happened that I had just written A Man Of The People, which forecasts a military coup that overthrows a corrupt civilian government.

Clearly a case of fact imitating fiction,

Nothing else.

But some military leaders believed that I must have had something to do with the coup and wanted to bring me in for questioning”

“Despite my fictional warning I never expected or wanted the form of violent intervention that became the military coup of January 15th 1966”

It was literally a case of an artist’s imagination clashing with life’s very reality.

“We eventually found refuge in an old friends house – Frank Cawson, the British Council representative in Lagos, whose intervention literally saved our lives.

For about a week, lying hidden in Mr Cawson’s house. I still thought that things had only temporarily gotten out of hand, and that everything would soon be all right.

Soon, I discovered that I had been operating on a false and perhaps naïve basis all along”.

After sending my wife and two children to Eastern Nigeria

“…I decided to sneak back into our Turnbull Road residence and return to work.

People were disappearing right and left… there was a media report of someone from the senior service whose body was found the night before.

At this point the killing had reached the peak figure of hundreds a week.

Victor Badejo, the director general of Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, saw me on the premises, he stopped me, and said, “What are you still doing here?” and then said, “life has no duplicate” and then provided further clarification of the situation. Badejo, confirmed a story I had heard of drunken soldiers who came to my office “wanting to find out which was more powerful, their guns or my pen”

He was quite anxious on my behalf”

I decided the time had come for me to leave and head back to the East.

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