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By Adebayo Adegbite

A Comparative Analysis of Uche Nwokedi’s “A Shred of Fear” and Emmanuel Iduma’s “I am Still with You”

In the fifty-four years since the guns fell silent in the Nigeria-Biafra war, several fictional and non-fictional narratives have emerged, especially from the Biafra side of the divide. A common characteristic of those stories has been the villainy of the Yakubu Gowon-led Federal side. Even though in several of the stories, villainy is shown rather than told, there is no doubt that the authors want their readers to see the war in black and white, to choose between the federal side and the innocent civilians (including women and children) that they bombed and starved to death.

However, as the generation that experienced the war has started to pass away and a new generation that has no experience of the brutalities and battles has started to emerge into prominence, a new narrative is emerging where the focus is no longer on the war but on the effects of it at an individual and societal level. The two memoirs being analyzed are Uche Nwokedi’s A Shred of Fear and Emmanuel Iduma’s I Am Still With You.

One theme that flows between the two works is the theme of memory. The novelist Seffi Atta, describes A Shred of Fear, as “an open invitation (by the author) to consider his boyhood memories of the Biafran war told from his perspective as a man who bore witness to its antecedents and aftermath. This is an inspiring book that is sure to mend bridges”

Chigozie Obioma sees in I am Still With You “a lyrical investigation into the nature of being, history, and the collective memory of Biafra—a dark chapter in world history.”

Thus, for the two authors, unlike stories like Elechi Amadi’s Sunset in Biafra, Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country, or Rosina Umelo’s Surviving Biafra, the war itself is relegated to the background; it is the memories of war rather than the war itself that are presented. In Nwokedi’s case, his memories are mostly his own, while in Iduma’s case, the memories are his own and those of his family members.

However, memory, for both authors, is not just a remembrance of events; it is an investigation of the politics of identity. Both men have little or nothing to remember of the actual fighting because of how they were shielded from it (Nwokedi by virtue of not only being a child but also being the son of a relatively well-off Biafran ambassador, and Iduma by virtue of being born about a decade and a half after the war and outside Igboland for that matter).

For them, the war was not a matter of “who is right, but who is left (to appropriate the age-old maxim). It is therefore unsurprising that both men turn to the nearest thing that could help them make sense of their memories of the war (or the lack of any in Iduma’s case): family.

Thus, family plays a pivotal role for the authors of the two memoirs. It is to family they turn, to help make sense of their own memories. And as such, it is family members who become the base on which both authors build their narratives. Emmanuel Iduma’s search and examination of Biafra is out of a desire to find answers to the mystery of the uncle that he is named after, who disappeared during the war and was never found.

Uche Nwokedi’s explorations, in the same vein, are because he seeks “to make the intimations for his children, Chuba, Olisa, and Adaiba,” in the hopes that it will help them gain some clarity about their Igbo and Nigerian identities”.

It is important to note that in the discussion on family, there are two women who are prominent in both authors’ examinations of their memories: “Mama” (Martha Nwokedi, Uche’s mother) in A Shred of Fear and “Ayobami” (Ayobami Adebayo, Emmanuel’s wife) in I am Still with You. On the surface, both women have little in common beyond their gender, but a deeper examination reveals points of similarity. Neither of them is a typical workaday Igbo woman often depicted in Biafra narratives. (Perhaps a person from another Biafra war memoir that would come close to Mama, at least, is Rosina Umelo in Surviving Biafra: A Nigerwife Story.) But even she was differentiated by virtue of her social status during the war. Mama may have been Igbo, but she was also cosmopolitan, having been brought up in Northern Nigeria and being able to speak Hausa fluently; Ayobami is Yoruba; and her only connection to Igbo culture was her marriage to Emmanuel. Interestingly, it is the authors’ relationship with both women that pushes the desire to examine their own identity as Igbo men to the forefront of their minds. The incident, for example, where Mama saves the author’s father from being shot by Hausa soldiers at a checkpoint by identifying as Hausa (and her subsequently constantly reminding him that it was her Hausa identity that saved his life), presumably makes the author rethink the notion of the Igbo ethnic identity. Similarly, Emmanuel’s marriage to Ayobami surely plays a role in his reluctance to engage in the violence of Igbo nationalism and makes him, as he describes it, “remain the backwaters of ambivalence.”

It is perhaps in this ambivalence that both authors are united, and their memoirs both show the emergence of another Igbo identity. For so long, civil war narratives (from both sides of the divide) have pushed the “us versus them” narrative, where every Igbo person was and should be on the “Biafran side” and every non-Igbo person is on the other side. However, memoirs like Iduma’s and Nwokedi’s raise the question of another category of Igbos. The question is: does Emmanuel Iduma’s circumstances of being born outside the southeast and also marrying a Yoruba woman have any impact on his identity as an Igbo man and thus his status as a voice in the discussion of the war? Does Uche Nwokedi’s privileged father, his Hausa-speaking mother, and his circumstances of having spent most of his school and working life outside the southeast make him (and others like him) any less Igbo? 

At the risk of trying to minimize the sufferings that the Igbo underwent during the war, it still remains one of the worst desecrations of human rights in Nigeria’s history, but it is obvious that with the current dynamics of Nigeria’s existence, it is unlikely that there will be another civil war in the near future. However, this is not to say that the Nigerian identity will not be negotiated, but rather than the bitter, furious nationalism that was expressed in the immediate aftermath of the war, it is peaceful coexistence through the upholding of human rights and the equitable access to justice and human development that will inevitably solve the problems that a three-year war would not solve. With a shred of fear, I am still with you. Uche Nwokedi and Emmanuel Iduma have put themselves at the forefront of the conversation by virtue of both of them being relative outsiders who seek to understand their identity by virtue of their displacement.

Both A Shred of Fear and I am Still With You might be explorations of individual memories of the war, where the war is much more of a backdrop than the main event, but they are still powerful explorations of what it means to be Igbo, especially in the aftermath of a five-decade-old war that is pretty much a distant memory for all but a few people.

Adegbite is a copywriter and content creator with a background in English Language and Communication, “I have a keen eye for detail and a passion for crafting compelling messages that engage and inspire audiences”. This is his first contribution for BookArtville.com

 

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