Anger and Memory in the Morning: An Interview with Ifesinachi Nwadike by Chimezie Chika

Ifesinachi Nwadike is a rapper, Essayist, Poet, Playwright, Broadcaster and YouTuber. He holds a BA and an MA in English from Imo State University and University of Ibadan, respectively. His works have appeared in Ake Review, ANA Review, The Sun Review, Praxis Magazine, Ngiga Review, Lunaris Review, Black Boy Review, African Writer, Libretto, Nokoko (Canadian Journal of Pan African Wisdom), Wreaths for a Wayfarer: An Anthology in Honour of Pius Adesanmi, and elsewhere. A 2018 Ebedi International Writer’s Residency Alumni, he is the author of How Morning Remembers the Night (First Runner Up, ANA Poetry Prize 2020). He is the Founding Editor of Ngiga Review and the Co-Facilitator of Ngiga Book Club. He lives and works in Lagos. Hook up with him @

Chimezie Chika holds a degree in English and Literary Studies. His works have appeared in a number of journals, magazines and anthologies including Aerodrome, Brittle Paper, Praxis, The Kalahari Review, The Question Marker, amongst others. He is an alumni of the Writivism Creative Writing Workshop(2015). His children’s book, The Incident of the Dog, is forthcoming from GriotsKids.

Chimezie: Reading your collection, How Morning Remembers the Night, for the second time, I noticed that your poetry seems to be particularly fixated with memory and nostalgia. In other words, yours is poetry as an mnemonic conduit through which you reflect on a number of events like a river ebbing and flowing at will, reminding us why we are where we are in both personal and national terms. You also make this very obvious with the overarching central metaphor of your collection: the persona takes the role of a man who sits on a morning after some terrible event and remembers what has passed through the night before. What is the relationship between memory and your poetry?

Ifesinachi: Memory, for me, is affinal to the very essence of my poetry. I do not think I am the only poet fascinated by the introspective power of memory: Esiaba Irobi’s Cotyledons; Ezenwa Ohaeto’s The Voice of the Night Masquerade;  Remi Raji’s Webs of Remembrances; Jumoke Verissimo’s I am Memory; Hyginus Ekwuazi’s That Other Country; Tade Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testaments; etc., are some instances of the artistic manifestation of the perspectivization of memory and they tell, elegantly, the democratic implications of choice and what to remember. 

We live in a world that is seemingly forgetful, maybe by choice or due to the rapidity of events that handicap us. I am an Igbo person. As such, my culture teaches me the need to look backwards in my attempt to look forward, as found in the maxim that he who does not know where the rain began to beat him can hardly tell where he dried his body. Hence, I opted to employ the underlying motif of memory to express grief, anguish and national dilemma, given that successive governments in Africa and even around the world, choose who to call a hero, based on the narrative that suits their politics of intrigues.

In this collection, however, I chose to differ, from calling their heroes my heroes. I chose my heroes from the unknown places; the slums in Africa and the world. I chose to pay homage to deserving characters whose stories are useful for the validation of a true national imperative–heroes who, in a counter-Shakespearean narrative, fall short of bourgeoisie expectations.

Chimezie: In paying homage to the masses of characters who are unsung heroes in the scheme of things in Nigeria, you clearly take the route of memory yet again. You regurgitate the sad forgotten chapters of events that have shaped this nation in so many ways. From plane crashes to the demise of friends and personal acquaintances.

You seem vehement in forcibly bringing these events to the fore. The first part of the collection, as its title suggests, dwells on sorrow. In poem after poem sorrow takes different shapes, colours, and particular significances which resonate with the aware reader. I found that these have implications that add up to the travails of our embattled nationhood. Take the poem,  “Where Coffins Fly”, for instance: you remember the major plane crashes that have rocked the nation in the recent past. In a particularly striking metaphor, you call these rickety, poorly maintained planes “joy for pallbearers”. It’s sad that even today Africa has hardly learnt from these sad events in its past. If anything, more crashes have occurred whose causes were traced to mechanical faults or simply that some of these airplanes were so ramshackle that they shouldn’t have been put to use. Forgetfulness is a human frailty, yet something about it seems more persistent in our continent. What do you think is the cause of this and why does your poetry insist on regurgitating memory? Again, do you feel that sad memories/events that shape a nation should be immortalized, perhaps that way they will never be forgotten?

Ifesinachi: You’re quite right in noting that “forgetfulness is a human frailty”, even more apt in implying that it is “more persistent in our continent”. Nothing could be truer as it is evident that our lifestyle revolves around forgetfulness even at the risk of repeating the same mistakes due to our inability to learn from history, a “sickness” Wole Soyinka refers to as “the recurrent cycle of human stupidity”.

Recall that I pointed out earlier that this could be as a result of the rapidity of quotidian events and the unending striving to make ends meet in a continent where the leaders misused the gains of independence from colonization. In as much as I do not arrogate to myself the mouthpiece of conscience and social consciousness, I feel that certain things, certain events and certain people are worthy of remembering; there are people who deserve sincere homage from us due to the enormity of their sacrifices in the cause of national growth.

Recently, the federal government of Nigeria immortalized some past leaders of this country by naming some newly constructed monuments after them, these are the same men that kept us where we are today. To the FG, these men are their heroes. And they feel obliged to do it so that when they leave office, the new ones would immortalize them too. Now these men, if you would agree with me, are only heroes to their bank accounts and immediate families and as such, I do not ascribe to the FG’s choice of heroes. One would have expected to see such names as Dr Stella Adadevoh, the Ebola heroine. And there are so many other worthy heroes whom they left out because they neither wield Brooms nor Umbrellas. You now see the resonance of Isidore Diala’s assertion that “true demonstration of madness is not merely the lunatic’s delusion of normalcy but indeed of superiority to sane people”. The political class in Nigeria has always  sought ways to distort history to suit them; so in order not to be bamboozled by their habitual revisionism, one must have to be practical about Chinụa Achebe’s injunction of telling our stories by ourselves.

So you see why I have to choose my own heroes and pay homage to them in a manner I deem appropriate?  And I am pleased and thankful for the gift of poetry, for those monuments may fall, but, as Shakespeare made us understand, books are immortal and anyone positively documented in them has achieved everlasting remembrance.

To answer you appropriately, I’d say that my poems insist on the regurgitation of memory because those whom we entrusted the power for the documentation of our national memory are making a mess of it despite their claim to patriotism–“spurious patriotism”, to use Achebe’s words, and so I am drawing a parallel, a counternarrative and a reordering of their inconsistent lies. And, in that way, my work achieves a protest of some sort. And yes, sad memories, and even happy ones should be documented by anyone who can, through any medium they feel appropriate, in order to retain them in our memorial archives and at the same time honour those who deserve it.

Chimezie: Your reply confirms one fact that is stringently obvious in your work: politics. The highly political bent of your poetry seems to me to be a manifestation of a kind of mass anger that is resultant of the kind of grief and anguish detailed in the first part of your collection. In fact, going through the poems, there is a gradual accretion of sorrow and anger rising like a dark pall from the different instances of the deterioration of moral, economic and political values in the country. Take the issue of bad roads in “Bang, Bang, Bang”,  a poem which chronicles the bloody scourge of IMSU Junction in Owerri, a place all too familiar to those of us who attended the nearby university and have witnessed one or two fatal accidents there, a place where,  as you wrote, “death is an ever present presence”. What is important is your highlighting of how ordinary lives are maimed by the extraordinary negligence of the state.

Of course this is not the only issue that draws your attention, you place your compass on other instances of bloodshed which have combined to bring this nation to its current moral and political coma. In “In Blood Day Light” you do not spare those brand of humans who engage in jungle justice, snuffing out human life in the twinkle of an eye. You speak angrily of them in atavistic terms:

Those who obey their gods;

The hates in their heart

Stones of hate

Inhuman sticks, sadistic tyres…

Or we may look at your chronicle of the ascendant issue of rape and rapists, an issue that has hardly been addressed by a largely indifferent government: In the sorrowful poem dedicated to the late Ochanya, you chronicle the rape and abuse “from high he-goats/tethered to the bamboo poles of your thighs”. In the poem “Purple is the Colour of Mourning”, it is the same story. A harrowing stanza cries in ghastly imagery:

I sing of backs with suppurating furrows

Of purple wheals and permanent scabs

Of bottoms where the tip of the bulala

Must have dug the umpteenth time

Clearly these ghastly events that go unaddressed by the government have shaped the consciousness of the nation and the people in unpleasant ways. More crimes still take place. More abuse, rape, road accidents and others. They continue to happen. And little has been addressed, baring some protests.

I am interested in why you as a poet writing today has chosen to be very blatant about railing against these events. You have a unique place among younger emerging Nigerian poets in that your trenchancy against the socio-politics of the day does not dress itself up in colorful garbs, it is blunt and direct. In contrast many younger poets have been accused by the older generation of a certain fixation with confusing language, private metaphors and even private subject matter. Even though I disagree with such accusations, as it is perceived, I will hazard that many are not so blunt as you. In any case there is a running stream of anger, frustration, sorrow, and disillusionment in your poetry. What do you have to say about this trend in your poetry as well as your well-known politics? Achebe has once famously stated in an attempt to foreground the importance of the political in African literature, in a rough translation of a popular Igbo proverb, that any writer who ignores the big political events of Africa will be irrelevant like the man whose house is on fire but chooses to chase rats fleeing from the fire. Do you think such blatant political poetry, even as our forebears tried it, will achieve more against the powers that be or is there something else?

Ifesinachi: Except you’re a member of the privileged political class in Nigeria, there’s no way you can be a Nigerian in Nigeria without being frustrated, angry and even depressed. You might be deluding yourself with shallow gentility upon your contact with a seemingly cool and well dressed Nigerian until you scratch the surface of his or her temperament. The intensity of the backlash you might receive could be comparable to a volcanic eruption. This is as a result of the innumerable national wrongs and wounds consciously inflicted on the common man by the ruling class in Nigeria that continue to fester, the result of which is the evolution of the common Nigerian into a perpetually angry being. Some quarters delude themselves with our constant fixation with comedy and other laughter-provoking activities; they erroneously term us “the happiest people in the world” but I stand to be corrected that that “happiness” is not a genuine one. It is like laughter in the time of war; like “shuffering and shmiling”, to quote Fela. I am a common Nigerian and I am affected by all these.

So your reference to Achebe’s declaration might as well be an underlying inspiration for what you’ve termed my “blunt or blatant political poetry”. But you have to understand that poets have been talking, deploying sometimes far-fetched metaphors and imageries to pass a message that would have benefitted from a direct projection. Not direct in the sense of being simplistic but in the sense of using simple imagery that suggests the obvious. I wouldn’t for anything toe the Okigbo-Soyinka lane of hard rock codification and intentional esotericism that leaves even a strong poet grappling to make meaning out of it. I fall into the category of poets who write in the tradition of post-war and post military liberalization of poetry championed by the likes of Niyi Osundare and Esiaba Irobi (my two  idols, so to speak).

To your question of why I feel obliged to confront politics the way I’ve done in the collection, I’d respond that I cannot continue to look away in pretence that all is well. I agree with Achebe that “anybody who can say that corruption in Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or does not live in this country”. I am neither a fool nor a crook and I live in this country hence my attempt to confront the multifaceted dimensions of corruption in this country made worse by the common Nigerian’s disgusting habit of renaming it “connection” when it benefits them. I wrote to satisfy my conscience, to populate the  number of voices that spoke truth to power, to have it on record that I was never a coward in my lifetime and to pay homage to the fallen voices of men who looked evil in the eye, who confronted tyrants and who made enormous sacrifices for humanity, reason why you could readily come across many known and relatively unknown names in and outside Africa, from Esiaba Irobi to Ezenwa Ohaeto to Dambudzo Marechera to Patrice Lumumba to Leopold Jean Dominique of  Haiti to Captains David Brown and Carl Gustav von Rosen to Dr Stella Adadevoh, the Aluu 4, Leah Sharibu, Ochanya Ogbanje among others.

Chimezie: That’s a bold statement. Clearly, you are in the league of poet-activists who have refused to keep silent in the face of tyranny–“a miner in the cave of silence”, to use your own words. The second section of your collection pokes fun and lampoons the misdeeds of the political class.

I am particularly drawn to the humour of poems like “Vision Infinity” and “Who Says We Are Corrupt?” Your iconoclastic forays in poetry reach their apogee in these poems. They are both powerful blends of humour, political criticism and craft. Very delightful.

Take “Vision Infinity”, for instance, which outlays the poor significance of empty promises and agendas within the Nigerian body politick. We live in a political system that thrives on these attempts to hold the hope of the people in thrall, as if great developmental leaps are about to take place, when later one finds out that nothing actually happens and the years have gone by unnoticeably and without event. Thus we see the progressive accretion of rudderless promises in each of the stanzas signifying decades of projected economic development. The first goes:

Vision 1960:

“Independence for everyone.”

“Freedom for everyone”

In the middle we get:

Vision 2000:

“Health for everyone,

one hospital for one citizen.”

Towards the end, the humour increases as the despair increases:

Vision 2020:

“Patience for everyone.”

“Understanding for everyone.”

This is so emblematic of the system we live in. A look at “Who Says We Are Corrupt?” reveals another way of using poetic humour to raise these troubling issues. One stanza goes:

Who says we are corrupt?

Is it when contracts are awarded to

Incompetent acquaintances?

Haba! That is called “empowering local contractors”.

Another one says:

Who says we are corrupt?

Is it when doctors house unfortunate  girls

For baby making and selling?

Shii! That is called “charity organization”

One is bound to respond to these poems first with a knowing smile before thinking seriously on what they say. The latter poem’s central thesis is that all aspects of the Nigerian society is full of corrupt practices. Why do you think this is the case, even when some people seem to deny the existence of corruption? And what was your particular purpose in writing these poems?

Ifesinachi: Thank you, for your kind adulation of those poems.

They were crafted at a point when my anger over the situation of things rose to breaking point. I was in the middle of in-depth research about the Nigerian journey to nationhood and my discoveries heightened my disgust. Being in my creative best then, I would have written poorly without the application of humour. It is important to note at this point that the poems in the three sections were written at different times, so if the first section could be accused of being moody, sorrowful and mournful, it is pertinent to lighten the reader up in the following section which was exactly what I did by deploying the mechanism of laughter in my treatment of serious national issues. We live in a society that constantly brews laughter even in the face of  severe suffering and anguish and that’s exactly what I did.

Laughter, they say, sweetens the cheeks, so I am guilty of following the territorial mappings of Osundare’s Waiting Laughters, Remi Raji’s A Harvest of Laughter, etc, where laughter is deployed as a therapeutic tool, as a motif towards a headlong confrontation of a nation’s sad stories which are capable of negatively affecting the psychological well-being of the reader. Laughter, according to Solomon Olaniyan, “is instrumental in the restoration of humanity”, hence, my conscious use of it to restore my reader’s sense of humour and taste, after a tormenting first section.

On a lesser note, maybe it is me being a comedian, which is one talent of mine that I don’t take seriously. Maybe it is me using my gift of the comic to write a poem that hitherto should have been an angry one.

Away from laughter now, I do not ascribe to being tagged a “poet-activist” as you’ve done. When I was much younger, I would have loved the tag but over time, some of my expectations of what poetry could achieve have changed. Even though my writings may not be totally free from ideological underpinnings, I do not intend that people should finish reading my work and take to the streets. If it happens, alleluia, but I’d prefer that my work is read as the poems they are. I saw a literary blog that referred to me as a “street activist” based on the editor’s knowledge of my activities during my student-days in Imo State University where I even fought publicly in defense of the helpless, but I do not want my work to be read as an extension of my fist-fighting days with words.

The poems in that second section were written to see, first hand, what it feels like to be a Nigerian politician, what it feels like being an unsure, or perhaps, cunning leader who keeps postponing the timeline for the delivery of basic amenities; what it feels like to create excuses for failure and most importantly, what it feels like to lie to the populace that the amenities have been delivered. That is the abiding implication of most of the poems, especially “Vision Infinity” which I think is even more apt now, given that the present government has recently launched a committee for “Vision 2050” having failed to deliver the promises of “Vision 2020” which they created after their inability to implement “Vision 2010”.

“Who Says We Are Corrupt?” is more encompassing in the sense that it extends to embrace even those in the markets, schools, churches, hospitals and other places where leaders are found. It exposes our collective hypocrisy and our continuous attempt to create alibis for our stinking corrupt practices by giving such acts some funny names that attempt to trivialize their enormity.

I am aware that a lot of people deny the presence of corruption in our institutions and quotidian activities, but they are living a conscious lie, and are perhaps, beneficiaries of that nefariousness. No one offers receipt for bribery, as Achebe would say but the indices and signposts of corruption are there for the blind to see and I am particularly pained that this present government came to power through the highway of incorruptibility, only to turn out worse. So my purpose of writing the poems is simply to register my displeasure and whether or not they make an impact is none of my business.

Chimezie: I find it interesting when you express a pointed desire to be seen as simply a poet, to be appreciated for the aesthetics of your poetry, and not be seen merely as some kind of hyphenated activist. Surely, many artists prefer to be considered first for the simple beauty of their craft before anything else. That is understandable. I am certainly in that league.

However, as Africans, we have always been surrounded by volatility and momentous events. And the artist’s eye and consciousness certainly cannot help noticing the abrasions around him. Apart from government politics, there are so many issues that have come under the lenses of contemporary African poetry. There is the immigration issue of which Warsan Shire has written so admirably about. There’s the refugee question which Gbenga Adesina also wrote about with such poetic insight. There’s also the gender question which most young poets seem fixated on these days. The issues are endless. So a poet, especially one operating in these times, sometimes cannot help being presented with tags. Being black and African is enough political identity even. Such an identity comes with many burdens, horrors, suffering, and being condemned to operate in the lower rungs of the world. Don’t you agree?

Ifesinachi: I totally agree with you and in fact, your position lends credence to Hyginus Ekwuazi’s thesis  that the postcolonial condition we’ve found ourselves in has invariably turned every Nigerian to a poet, you only need to scratch a little deeper to see the subdued songs.

And of course, you’re aware that Ngugi has always been quoted as saying that “no writer writes in a vacuum”. Nardine Godimer, Akachi Ezeigbo Adimora, Achilles Mbembe, Isidore Diala, Pius Adesanmi, Nduka Otiono, Aderemi Oyelade Raji, Jasper Onuekwusi, Oyeniyi Okunoye, Ogaga Okuyade, Sule Egya, Ismail Bala, Ezechi Onyerionwu, Ndubuisi Martins, etc, have all written essays testifying to what Tejumola Olaniyan and Ato Quayson refer to as the “postcolonial incredible” and how speaking truth to arrant power dresses these writers with the garb of dissidents.

Even Okigbo may not accept the tag of a poet-prophet but he was. And just like Irobi believed that “there is a thief in all of us”, I’d like to rephrase that bitter truth thus: there is a poet in all of us and as long as the corridors of power keeps shortchanging the masses, as long as global politics keeps getting intriguing, as long as ASUU still goes on strike and as long as somebody could just get raped because she’s a woman in Nigeria, poets would keep lamenting.

I am no different, only that I do not love tags, I may not write those kind of poems tomorrow if my muse decides to change cause. I must not wear the mask of an activist before I am identified as one, it is like insisting that one must be a chorister on earth to be able to make heaven where singing is the order of the day, according to what we were made to believe.

Chimezie:   For sure, yours is a volatile and eclectic poetic temperament. One discovers however that there are other areas of your poetry that evoke a certain secularism and emotion laden with experience. These soft touches seem like autobiographical riffs and somewhat anguished regurgitations of past experiences or a righteous condemnation of misguided religion and a defence of age-old symbols of culture and traditional mores which are being destroyed by ignorant religious zealots, as we see in the poem “Denuded, Agwa Sits Supine”.

With deft strokes you mourn the death of a great cultural monument like Afo Obeama:

‘In Jesus name’

We let them uproot you.


You caved in and a curse

Blurted out from your bang

In a wider context one sees that such a poem also mourns the destruction of African traditions by modern mores as well such momentous events as the wholesale theft of ancient African artifacts by European colonial powers who make millions from them today in their elite foreign museums and galleries. One thinks of the ongoing clamorous petitions by Africans for the return of these artifacts. What inspired this poem and what are your wider views on its subject?

Ifesinachi:  “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart”.

I am sure you remember this conversation towards the end of Chapter 20 of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart between Obierika and Okonkwo. In the exchange, which centres on various occurences that have manifested since the arrival of the colonialists, Obierika appears to voice Achebe’s own views on colonialism. Angered by the fact that the white men have come and totally dislodged the Igbo idea of justice, Obierika points out the impossibility of the colonialists understanding anything about Umuofia people without speaking their language. He points out the ludicrousness of denigrating unfamiliar customs.

But the sad reality here is that Umuofia and, by extension, the entire Africans of that epoch played a role in the disorganization of their culture and tradition. The sadder reality again, is that the current African feels empty and damned without professing this alien faith and lifestyle and the saddest is that a larger percentage of the new Africans still do not see anything wrong in/with what happened during the time of our forebears, reason why you see the current charismatically and pentecostally insane Christians up and about African/Igbo communities, burning valuable artefacts, sacred shrines and trees and other items of anthropological importance in the name of Jesus Christ. This is even as we have a heartbreaking catalogue of Nollywood films where Dibias and shrines are overpowered and torched through the abracadabra of an oversized-coat-wearing pastor who wields a larger than life bible and a spray bottle of an illusionary holy water. These instances are neocolonial continuations of cultural self-denigrations, no longer perpetrated by white men, but by our own kiths and kin: men with Black Skins and White Masks, as Frantz Fanon rightly called them; the Devils On Our New Cross, to paraphrase Ngugi.

Let me tell you why I am particularly pained about the uprooting of that Afọ Obeama tree in my village: I came into the world and met that tree, same as my father, same as my father’s father, same as my father’s grandfather and his great grandfather. This means that the tree, with its accompanying smaller ones, outlived many men. It is worthy of note that I am from the lineage of the direct descendant of the founder of Agwa; and the founder, from what I learnt, saw the coming of age of that tree. Legend has it that the famous Oguta Blue Lake formerly extended to the spot where that tree later sprouted, only that a misunderstanding between Ogbuide, the river goddess and guardian of that lake and the then Chief priest who happened to be from my town, led to the departure of that side of the river from my village. Now this sounds like a fable but till date that spot is the only swampy area in the whole of Agwa, the second single largest village in Imo State, after Mbieri. I must mention that presently, Agwa has no river, no lake, no dam, no source of bathing and drinking water. My parents told me that what used to obtain in their time was Omi, a kind of water preservative system that allows water to cluster in a large dugout hole over a period of time till another rainy season. I caught glimpses of it before it totally phased out for wells and manpower pumps to take over and, subsequently, the more mechanized boreholes. So if you go by this fact, you’ll understand the dimension of the verisimilitude of that legend. So the legend has it that the Afọ Obeama tree grew around that spot and the irrigated soil there became instrumental to its gigantic growth over the years. The word “Afọ” is one out of the four Igbo market days. “Obeama” is my mother’s clan where the tree is located. So this means that some of the imposing branches of that tree provided shelter for traders who converted its shade to market stalls. Going further, I learnt that the tree was instrumental to the protection of my people during the war, reason why it provided Ojukwu the safe haven of escape. My village, Agwa, shares boundaries with Oguta and is, in fact, meant to be Agwa/Oguta local government like you have in Ohaji/Egbema LGA among others, until politicians, for whatever reason, struck Agwa out and sold the lie that Agwa is under Oguta LGA. So you now understand why Ojukwu built a bunker at the bank of the lake. And reading the war stories, you’ll note that Oguta, and by extension, Agwa did not fall. That place gave the Nigerian soldiers a hard time. It was the place where Obasanjo received gunshots in his buttocks. So the story was that two hunters found their way on top of the Afọ Obeama tree and snipped the life out of many Nigerian soldiers who didn’t quite understand where the bullets were coming from and had to flee. I must also mention that the root of the smallest of the trees is larger than the size of a three bedroom bungalow, reason why it took the overzealous Christians nearly three months to bring them down. Lastly, my parents told me that there lived a reptile there with a supersonic voice that shook the whole town when it cried. It was called Okpokiri, but was no longer heard immediately after the war. They informed me that each time Okpokiri cried, it meant something ominous was about to happen. So you understand what we lost by that singular act of religious foolishness. A mighty tree that stood as the only natural monument in the whole of Agwa, a tree you could see from neighbouring towns, a tree that lasted generations and didn’t obstruct any communal progress suddenly became a habinger of evil that must be uprooted. Through that poem, you can understand the enormity of my feeling of loss. The lamentations I had to let out when I visited the village after a while and felt naked and incomplete, only for me to behold the fallen trees,  as villagers continued to make roofing planks for their house and trade from its fallen bulk. You can see with my eyes, the history we lost, the artefact, the pride we exchanged for stupidity.

But I am quite assuaged by the level of repercussion that silly act has brought upon them. The erosion in my place now is more ruthless and fierce, the sun bites harder now as their God-given shades have left them by their own ochestration and, for once, I clapped for karma, for being so swift in teaching an errant people how not to be ungrateful to God.

I see this happening everywhere. I’ve seen priests and pastors jubilating and posing for photos in front of a successfully burnt shrine, tree and other cultural artefacts and it hurts me to note that mental redemption is still a pipe dream for these people despite our activisms and campaigns. The mental disorientation is much and would take years to reconstruct. The men and women who do these things are so daft and mentally deranged given the fact that they go abroad, pay and visit museums to see the other versions of stolen African arts and totems that escaped their foolishness. So I sit down and wonder why they think that those stolen ones in the museums are of lesser or no evil at all than the ones they burn back home. This is why I disagree that those stolen items be returned to us. We lack maintenance culture here, the bureaucracies of Nigeria would see to the starvation of the museums from necessary maintenance funds, which may result in their subsequent sell-offs to showbiz pastors for another round of burning and more of these would be lost forever.

The world knows what belongs to us, notwithstanding where it is kept. When Africa reorganizes its values and thinking patterns, we can then lend a voice to the debate.

Chimezie: A most insightful response. Quite fascinating, the story you told about the history of the great tree from ancient times, its economic importance to the people as well as its role in the Biafran War of 1967-70. In fact this directly leads me to a curious observation I have made both in your writing and activism: your desperate disillusionment with the egregious failings of the incumbent Nigerian state (as many today also feel) manifests itself in your nostalgia for the ideals of the Biafran state and what it stands for for many, especially the Igbo and South-Easterners.

In fact, in the light of Nigeria, the achievements of that short-lived state stands in stark contrast to the shabby affair that we have now. The point though is that the raison d’etre of Biafra is still here with us. The Igbo and many Southerners are still grossly marginalised in the current body polity. The atrocities coming before and during that war have been swept under the carpet half a century since. One can no doubt posit reasonably that part of the problem of Nigeria today is its headstrong refusal to come to terms with its violent past (think of the removal of History as a subject in secondary school curriculum, for instance.) Instead an agenda of ethnic division is being pursued with even more vigour. Hence, the problems that have beset the nation’s fragile political, social and economic systems. The rifts in the country today are deep and there seems to be no remedy in sight.

Your fixation with Biafra on both a personal and iconoclastic level is well remarked. I myself am not new to such consciousness, for I have striven in my undergraduate thesis to examine the significance of the trauma of violence during that war. Your poem “Memory is a Crust of Blood” is a rallying cry for renewed conversations on this irredeemable history of ours.

One of the best poems in the collection, you ask thought-provoking questions amidst haunting imageries that tell of carnage, of bloodletting, of deprivation and hidden history: “I remember the exodus and sojourn in jungles”, you write. “A patrol of hunters hovering the murderous sky”; “…houseflies, sucking mucus from the remains of besmirched children”. These are picturesque but gruesome imageries of that history that is being dissimulated today. But “what mortal”, you seem to ask of the ruling class, “can hide the sun in the hollow of his palm?”

Here is a poem that sums of up your entire poetic purpose, a summing up of our harsh realities as Nigerians today and the violent corollary even in its most recent history.

Do you think adding your iconoclastic voice to the Biafra story and that of other legitimate causes will ruffle the iron stance of the political monolith that has striven so hard over the years to suppress their significance on a people and on the nation?

Ifesinachi: In writing the poem, the longest in the collection by the way, I did not intend to ruffle any political iron stance. I simply sought the means of poetry to purge myself of all that I came to know about Biafra, about the preludes to the war, about the dead people and the heartlessness of the men involved. Just like you, my BA thesis, Facts and Fictions in Biafra War Stories, was my way of interrogating history and to see what it was like living in Biafra through the many accounts of authors I consulted. My findings kept me restless for years until I wrote “Memory is a Crust of Blood”; mainly to forgive myself of the sins of knowledge. The war was a terrible thing.

But beyond my research findings, I do not think that there is any Igbo family that was not directly affected by the war. Every Igbo family has their own peculiar experience of the war, just as mine, just as yours. Those of us that were born in the later years had to confront the bitter truth through our parents’ unceasing reliving of such experiences. Notice that when you sit among Igbo elders during a discussion, or when being counseled by any of them, chances are that phrases like “agha ajọka” –war is evil, or “n’oge agha” –during the war, or “mgbe alụchara agha” –after the war, usually serve as preludes to anecdotes that give you an insight into the psychic state of those that experienced the war. So the war stories and experiences were an integral part of our coming of age. We did not see it. But we live in its aftermaths.

The abolishment of history and the demonization of talks about Biafra were among the reasons why I wrote that poem. So it is a protest of sort, in the sense that I dared those who cringe at the mention of Biafra and as such sought legal backings to make it a crime to discuss it. I wanted my readers of now and tomorrow to see and know and feel all that our parents experienced during the war, including the non Igbo, whose box of empathy I hoped to scratch.  I wanted my Igbo readers to remember, to always have it in mind that such thing happened; that a man named Gowon supervised the extermination of three million of their forebears without remorse, because knowing what happened then would inform our understanding of our present predicament, for we look back to look forward.

Does it not worry you that no day is mapped out as a day of national mourning in memory of the war, like other serious nations do. There’s no Federal Government commissioned arcadia, not even for the men massacred in Asaba, to show that, the war notwithstanding, we are one. Does it not worry you that intellectual debate around the war became less demonized in Nigeria after Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun came out? That it took Nnamdi Kanu’s Radio Biafra to enlighten the Igbo Youths and other Nigerians about the hidden stories and emerging facts of that epoch? Does it not worry you that successive Nigerian Governments recognize and even attend war  memorials in Poland, Germany, Israel and nearby Rwanda, but do all they can to shut down calls for the rememberance of the one they perpetrated? It is for this reason that I elected to populate the number of Nigerian writers who have done and are still doing their best to keep the memories of that war alive, so that poem takes a cue from tradition of literary (re)membering of Biafran experiences championed by the likes of Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Gabriel Okara, Flora Nwapa,  Eddie Iroh, I.N.C Aniebo, Alexander Madiebo, Arthur Agwuncha, Friederick Forsyth, Buchi Emecheta, Emma Okocha, Chimamanda Adichie and many others. And I make bold to assert that the endless thematization of the Biafran experiences in the form of films, novels, plays, poems and documentaries can never get hackneyed due to the multiplicity of perspectives that are yet to be tapped into art.

Sometime in April 2019, I was a guest panelist at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan where discussions around memories of the Biafran war were visited. My audience were mostly Yoruba and a little mix of Hausa and Igbo youths, who, as at that time, were almost indifferent to the issues around Biafra, as it does not directly affect them, or so they thought. But I made them understand that their indifference is a disservice, just like the Federal Government’s demonization of Biafran memory, to the memories and sacrifices of Nigerian soldiers who equally lost their lives defending Nigeria. I made them understand that for there to be a national cohesion on the civil war saga, we all must come to the realization that both sides of the divide lost men and women and children, only that Igboland was the hotspot, hence the larger percentage of her casualties.

Finally, no student of history would fail to recognize those ominous signs that were preludes to the civil war from what obtains presently. One need not be a prophet to warn that if something serious is not done, we might as well be on our way back to the battlefield one more time.

Fifty years later, Nigeria continues to prove that those who earlier sought to chart their own cause were right after all. Among many factors, disunity stands tall and I wonder if our borders were cast in iron that makes it difficult to renegotiate this space.

Who in his right senses would be proud to be called a Nigerian?

Chimezie: We all understand what the Nigerian experience entails for us as artists and citizens but surely there’s hope, a characteristic Nigerian feeling, for the future where we are able to pinpoint our problems, recognise them, and chart the way forward, don’t you agree?

Ifesinachi: Until we do away with these fossils, I disagree.

Chimezie: Quite characteristic of your iconoclasm. Indeed I see your reasons. But still we hope for the best. It has been a pleasure talking to you Ifesinachi Nwadike. Thank you for your time.

Ifesinachi: It has been a pleasure too.

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