Lack of Return in Nigeria-Biafra Civil War Literature

A Case for a TRC?

In: Matatu


When the Nigeria-Biafra civil war ended in July 1970, the Commander in Chief of the Federal Army, General Yakubu Gowon, declared that there was “no victor no vanquished” and, consequently, drew an iron curtain on a painful historical moment. This closure foreclosed further engagements with the events of the war in a manner that imposed a “code of silence” on its historiography. However, in the face of this silence and the silencing of public remembrances, private remembrances have continued to bloom. And in recent times, these remembrance(s) have fertilized a virulent demand for secession. I argue that literary accounts of the conflict question its ‘closure’ through what I call ‘lack of return.’ Relying on Van der Merwe and Gobodo-Madikizela’s conception of narratives as spaces of healing, I engage in a close reading of one fictional account—Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy—and two memoirs—Achebe’s There Was a Country and Chukwurah’s The Last Train to Biafra—to examine how narratives of Biafra call attention to the persistent freshness of the wounds and trauma of the war by creating stories that lack denouement. I find that in these texts, the silencing of ordnance doesn’t herald a return home—whether spatially or mentally. Consequently, these stories could be read as palimpsests that reveal a need for spaces of narrative engagements, abreaction, and healing.

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