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Violence In Emeka Otagburuagu’s Echoes Of Violence – A Review

By Akwu Sunday Victor
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Otaguruagu, Emeka. Echoes of Violence. Enugu: Benak Publishers, 2004. Pp 141.

The cover page of the novel shows a faceless military man in fatigue with a gun raised above his left shoulder. On the back cover, a portrait of a military van loaded with soldiers armed with assorted guns is crested. Split into eight chapters, the novel captures the adventure of Onyekwere, the central character as he tries to come to grip with life in a country that is fast disintegrating as a result of civil war.

Although the specter of war and devastation loomed, the novel captures intrigues and conflicts at interpersonal level. The dominant characters in the novel are the assertive Omerenma, the wife of Azuka who controls her husband using diabolical means, Chief Akoma, Azka and Onyekwere father and a community leader, and Ogoeze, Onyekwere’s mother. Indubitably, the novel is set in a fictional country, Alaoma, “the land of the rising sun” which goes into war with its neighbor because, people from Alaoma are being killed in a pogrom by their neighbours: “They had ben humiliated, provoked beyond words and exposed to great torture by their neighbours with whom they had shared common interest and destiny.” (1) The elders meet and decided to secede, thus declaring war on their neigbours: “The declaration of the war meant that Alaoma, the land of the rising sun had seceded and was therefore fighting to maintain sovereignty.” (5)

There is enthusiasm in the people as they all engaged in the execution of the war. The use of propaganda is ripe and it fires the spirit of nationalism in the people as they give all they have in the struggle to free their land and themselves from bondage. It is imperative to note that, the novel is but fictionalization of history. The novelist presents the Nigeria – Biafra civil war of 1967 – 1970 in a novel form. However, the novelist does not betray the fact that the novel a portrayal of history in fictional mold as he uses the name of historical sites or theatres of war and faint images of the war’s protagonists. For instance, it is pointed that, “Two young military officers in the rank of Colonel led each group. Each officer was determined to have his way” (2). The officers are Colonel Yakubu Gowon and Emeka Ojukwu. Gowon led Nigeria while Ojokwu led Biafra. In the novel, the leaders met and signed, “Akuri Accord,” while in history, the met and signed the Aburi Accord in Ghana which wasn’t respected by the two parties. To put the record straight, the land of the rising sun or Alaoma is but Biafra or Eastern Nigeria.

As the war wages on, Onyekwere goes to Port Harcourt to live with his stepbrother, Azuka. Omerenma frames him up and Azuka sends him packing. He returns to the village and witnesses series of trials. In Port Harcourt, he witnesses the devastation of war on life and property. Young men are cut down in their primes and life becomes hopeless and miserable. However, the leaders of thought insist that they are winning the war. Young men are conscripted into the army to fight with bare hands against powerful and well coordinated firepower.

Onyekwere sources for money to set up his own business but his effort is sabotaged by his trade master, Amadi. Amadi frames him and he is forcefully conscripted into the army. His father uses his influence to buy him freedom. However, Amadi is framed up by Chief Akoma and is executed by the Alaoma soldiers. The novel’s thrust dwells on the irony of life. It is on this that Onyekwere keeps reflecting upon. First and foremost, he abhors joining the army and fighting in at the war front. In all ramifications, he sees the war as senseless, because, “people should not engage in a war which they cannot win.” Thus, even Biafru admonishes him to stay away from the military. Nevertheless, he joins the Red Cross and sets up his own Refugee Camp. He is doing well but his efforts were thwarted by the ever jealous Emerenma who sets him up by asking her husband to secure a job for Onyekwere with the ministry of commerce. He is posted to a town near the war zone to be killed, but luck followed him as his friend Ikechi who has connections with the military secured a five million pounds contract for them. They become millionaires.

The reflections of Onyekwere on the condition of society constitute the philosophical aspect of the novel. Living in a degenerate society and in a time when morality is hurled into the whirlwind, he is sensitive to what goes on and tries to live his life conscious of the existing social codes of conduct before the society plunged into darkiness as a result of the fruitless civil war. Thus, in the novel, “Onyekwere laments on the effect of violence on Alaoma and its people. He bemoans the institutionalization of looting, terrorism and corruption as a way of life.” Alaoma, a society built upon the philosophy of egalitarianism as espoused in the documents written by the leaders of thought of Alaoma titled, “The Ahiara Declaration,” in the course of the war, those ideals were thrown to the dogs as bestiality, man’s inhumanity to fellow man, violence, terrorism, dehumanization, bribery and corruption take centre stage.

The Alaoma society is dichotomized into two. The poor are raided and their farm produce looted and plundered by the freedom fighters. The word freedom in Alaoma becomes a mockery of its denotation. Those who are to defend the newly acquired freedom have turned into vampires, sucking the blood of their own people, denying the people freedom. The children of the poor are forcefully conscripted into the army and sent to the war front to die for a futile and useless war. On the other hand, some become enriched selling information to the enemy or trading with them. Those who are wealthy removed their children from harm’s way by sending them abroad to study or as migrants. “those who did not have Abraham for a godfather, got enlisted in the army where they had slim chances ofg survival in the face of sophisticated artillery weapons which their neighbours used against them” (5). It is Biafru who explains the real nature of injustice and fraud called war of liberation: “He narrated his experience at the war front and advised Onyekwere not to join the army. He told him that the children of the poor were those exposed to fight at the fronts while the rich hid their sons in offices or flew them overseas” (37).

As the war rages on, we see devastation, desolation and death. Mary sees an albino and thought it was a white machinery, reports the situation to Chief Akoma who calls on the army. After long search, it was discovered that the person she saw was the village albino. Chief Akoma is to be taken into custody for false alarm when Onyekwere asks the soldiers to take him in place of his father. He and Ubani are taken away and brutalized, dehumanized and subjected to all forms of torture. This exemplifies the level at which those who are to protect become predators inflicting unimaginable pains on their own specie. In Alaoma, the soldiers and the civilians “were dehumanized and torn to shreds.” Apart from the bestiality of the enemies, who bomb and devastate without precision, who blockaded the whole country without minding the presence of women and children, we see cannibalism at its grim disposition as the people turned against themselves in the battle of survival. Ogugbuaja for instance is assisted by chief Akoma when he returns from the warfront. He is given some money and twenty tubers of yams but he asks for Chief Akoma’s bicycle to enable him travel to a nearby village for proper medication, but he sells the bicycle and abscond with the money: Thus, biting the finger that fed him. The society of the novel is one that is battered, shattered and the people grope in darkness as they try to outwit one another in the battle of fittest.

The war ended leaving behind devastation and battered spirits. Onyekwere concludes his philosophical musing on the note that: “The story of the vanquished is forever gloomy and the echoes of violence interred with their bones. […] War can lead to freedom or servitude.” (140) above all, he says, “never fight a war that you will not win.” To fight a futile war is thus madness but evading and avoiding soiling one’s hands in blood is the ultimate wisdom which Onyekwere employed to his own advantage.

Azuka and Omerenma couldn’t survive the war and they were bombed. On his journey back home from detention, “they passed many shallow graves where war casualties had been buried” (133). He sees, “mounds of aborted and ruined talents.” Above all, he indicted the soldiers, he sees them as “dastardly villains who had deceived the populace into believing that the war would soon end in their favour.” (134)

In the Achebean mold, the novelist employs oral narrative form, proverbs and local imageries in couching a novel that is gripping, and vivid. Otagburuagu has sculpted a novel that is neither fictional, historical, psychological nor philosophical, but it is all of them and none of them in particular. It is one of the most unsentimental novels about the Nigeria – Biafra war which condemn war in its entity. There was no sentiment in the tone or mood of the narrative voice as the narrator condemns war and all it stands for. No wonder on the blurb it is written Echoes of Violence advocates that people should not engage in a war which they cannot win.

The freedom fighters in the world which Onyekwere represents faced the challenges of their times but lost the war because of sabotage and corruption. The soldiers and the civilians were dehumanized and torn to shreds.” The novelist has detached himself from romanticizing the war to critiquing the hypocrisy that ensured the dehumanization of a part of society. However, the novel has its shortcomings.

The novelist hijacked the story and keeps telling without allowing the story to show itself to us. The attempt to use stream of consciousness technique by the writer failed because of the poor pagination and typographical layout, thus the reader becomes confused in determining where the character’s conscious stops and the narration begin. The absence of paragraphing stripped the novel of semantic diffusion as ideas flow without breakage. The novel requires massive editorial upheaval in the next edition.

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