An audacious account of the Biafran War

Posted by News Express | 11 September 2022 | 443 times

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Book Review


Title: Elephants, The Grass & A Teacher: Recollections & Reflections on The Nigeria/Biafra War

Author: Chinyere E. Egbe, PhD.

Publisher: Anewpress (2022)

About fifty years after the guns fell silent in Biafra, a new generation of writers has emerged to review the events of Africa’s most tragic civil war. Some were minor actors in the war. Others were too young to fight. Yet others were born after the hostilities and relied on what they heard or read from other sources. They have one thing in common: They offer more dispassionate and more objective perspectives on the complex issues and events of that war.

Dr. Chinyere Emmanuel Egbe belongs to this newer generation of writers. Currently a tenured professor at Medgar Evers College of City University of New York (CUNY) and Consortia faculty of the CUNY School of Professional Studies, Egbe was in his teens when the war broke out in May 1967. Although he did not initially enlist in the Biafran war effort, he had an older brother who signed up early. Young Chinyere eventually left the "comfort" of hiding in the bushes with women and children to operate on the fringes of battle when he got older towards the end of the conflict.

These life-transforming experiences are at the heart of his new book, now available in major online bookstores in ebook and paperback. Elephants, The Grass and a Teacher... chronicles in fine detail the horrors and heartaches of a brutal war. And the chilling retrospect that it was all in vain and could have been avoided – if the leaders of Biafra and Nigeria were less self-serving and more mature.

Egbe recaptures the tragedy of Biafra with vivid simplicity. He tells stories of suffering, hunger, dislocation, anxiety and death away from the battlefields. He takes you back in time, into private and family lives, to feel the pain and anguish of everyday living in the shadows of war. The eventual loss of his older brother, the frequent separation of family members and the family’s close call with execution in the hands of federal soldiers all left indelible marks in the mind of the author.

He makes the point that wars are not only fought in battlefields but in the hearts and households of every victim. So, it is not just the soldiers and statesmen who bear the brunt of war. The common folks bear an equal burden, he suggests. Not only because they too are killed and maimed by flying bullets and bombs, but also because they have loved ones fighting in the trenches with whom they share inseparable bonds. Morestill, because they (the common folks) are helpless victims with no hand in either the making of war or in its outcome.

The author goes out of his way to review extant literature on the Nigerian civil war. He fearlessly points out the fables, misjudgements and deliberate mischief in some of the claims and narratives - especially by major actors who sought to justify their roles or defend their sides in the conflict. He backs his arguments with painstaking research, sometimes delving into ancient military history and other relevant disciplines.

Across over 400 pages, Egbe repeatedly turns in a guilty verdict on the leaders of both sides, perhaps saving his most stinging criticism for the leaders of Biafra. In his view, they failed to make sensible military preparations, paid scant attention to internal and international diplomacy, and relied too much on propaganda.

As an intellectual, Egbe acquits himself quite well in this book. As a professor of Business Mathematics and Economics, he deserves praise for cross-disciplinary accomplishments in a field he embraces purely as a matter of private interest. This book will go down as an audacious contribution to the historiography of the Nigerian civil war. Not to mention a crash program in military history. Here, his detailed rebuttal of Brigadier Alabi's claim that the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage was the first time elephants were used in battle, comes to mind.

For younger Nigerians, born after the war, and wondering why their fathers and grandfathers seem fixated on the events of 1967 - 1970, this book serves as an immersion in virtual reality. If they come away in anguish and tears, Egbe would have successfully delivered his message in this literary labor of love: That in war, everyone is a loser. Perhaps even moreso in the Nigeria-Biafra War.

Source: News Express

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