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Opinions of Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Columnist: Olukorede Yishau

The consequences of war

Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho, Yoruba activist Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho, Yoruba activist

Sunday Igboho is in a Cotonou cell battling to get out so that he can escape to Germany with his wife Ropo. Nnamdi Kanu is held in the cell of the Department of State Services (DSS), unable to wriggle out of its tight grip. His supporters looked forward to seeing him in court Monday last week, but the DSS gave a spurious reason for not providing him. The court refused to proceed with a trial in absentia. October is now his next time in court.

As these two separatists fight for their freedom, their men and women are screaming ‘we no go gree o’ and the government is shouting ‘we too no go gree o’.

For me, we must avoid war at all cost. Many a work of fiction has depicted in scary details the consequences of war. Maaza Mengiste’s ‘Shadow King’ fictionally captures this beautifully in this historical work which shows the futility of war.

Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian emperor, had to go on exile at a point in the battle with Italy. His army chief Kidane felt horrified about this development. He, however, devised a way to make the enemy and the Ethiopians believe the emperor has returned by creating a shadow emperor in a man whose name meant nothing.

Chukwuemeka Ike’s ‘Sunset at Dawn’, which I read recently, also succinctly shows the consequences of war. In wars, women suffer, children go through hell and men become lambs to be sacrificed. Women and girls are forced to be sex slaves, the masses bear more of the brunt and the top hierarchy still enjoys a lot of the spoils. Both books about wars that truly happened unveil the bowels of this futile creation of man.

David Diop, a Senegalese novelist and the reigning International Booker Prize winner, shows the consequences of war in a grimly light in his novel ‘At night all blood is black’. In the work, Alfa Ndiaye and Mademba Diop are not blood related but their relationship is so deep that they consider each other more than siblings. Alfa’s mother is the last of his father’s wives. She disappears one day and this marks the beginning of a tight relationship between Alfa and Mademba. In fact, Alfa receives the blessing of his father to move in with Mademba and his family after the unexpected disappearance of his mother. They have their differences, including a girl choosing one over the other but their bond triumphs over all human frailties.

The two of them are the main characters in Diop’s World War 1 novel originally written in French and later translated to English by Anna Moschovakis. The two boys are drafted into the war to fight in a battle they know nothing about, to defend the interest of a colonial authority, with little or no respect for their humanity. France is fighting Germany and the duo are part of the French colonies commandeered to help defeat the German forces.

When Mademba is attacked in no-man’s-land and in pains with his guts out of his open belly, he begs his childhood friend to slit his throat and hasten his death. Ndiaye finds this difficult to do and he will live to regret not honouring his friend with a less painful death.

After Mademba’s death, Alfa, who is also the main narrator of the story, becomes a beast and seeks revenge in a way his fellow combatants will soon stop hailing and in no time confine him and subject him to a mental evaluation. His colleagues are so afraid of him that even the one who interpretes the French spoken by their commander starts every sentence in such a way that it is clear they are not his words but those of the commander, and when his colleagues are asked to search through his things for evidence of his supposed insanity, fear will not let them dare.

Mademba’s death makes Alfa nostalgic, he remembers home, he remembers his parents, he remembers Fary Thiam whose warmth he has known and he remembers the heroes maimed, disfigured and eviscerated by war. His childhood friend’s demise also makes him feel like a betrayer and he constantly seeks his forgiveness, even in frightening dimensions.

Diop’s narrative is filled with bullets, bombs, blood, sorrow, tears and deaths. There are also elements of black magic. They are all deployed seamlessly to tell an important story, ask important questions and dazzle us even when almost every single page drips with blood, blood that should never have been shed.

Diop’s second novel ignores the big angles from which other novels on the war have focused. He delves into the effect of the war on people who ordinarily should have nothing to do with the war, and he hides under two friends who see each other as more-than-brothers to examine this important angle. With this seemingly simple but relegated angle, he tells a devastating story that speaks above a whisper about the futility of war, especially wars being fought for others and for reasons alien to the combatants.

Mengiste, Ike, Diop and other works on war are more than just fiction, they are meant to pick our consciences and make us act right. Of recent, our nation has been bedevilled with incidents capable of precipitating a civil war: In the Southeast, police stations are attacked and razed, private properties are set on fire and human beings are felled like fowls. In the Southwest, herdsmen and kidnappers are on the prowl, ethnic champions are singing Oduduwa instead of Hallelujah, and some elders are chorusing to your tent oh Israel. Terrorists-cum-bandits-cum-kidnappers have turned the North into their haven, their territory where they do and undo. Everywhere is on fire and no one is calling 911 because the fire service lacks the water to quench the fire.

My final take: Aside from the activities of secessionists, there is one major failure of government capable of precipitating unrest. It is the army of unemployed in the land. Graduates cannot even get employed. Thousands of graduates roam the streets every day looking for jobs, man-know-man dictates the pace and we are yet to rid our society of the bribery-to-receive-favour syndrome.