On the 18th of July 2021, some students of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, named “Eagle Nest Book Club” as a group, gathered somewhere outside the University premises to have their first book club event. The meeting, themed “An African Perspective of Things”, featured essays by the writer and critic Ikhide Ikheloa on the Biafran genocide and racism, as informed by his experience as an immigrant living in America. The event also featured Igbo classical music and the Nobel lecture on Africa by the British-Zimbabwean writer, Doris Lessing.
After the initial introductions, the co-facilitator of the book club, Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera, spoke briefly about the aim of the movement. According to him, the book club was formed to fill a void which he has felt needed to be filled, since his time as an undergraduate in the school over half a decade ago. “There are so many talented students in this school,” he said, “but they exist in isolation and nobody can do anything great all by themselves. This is why we have come together, so we can grow together as dreamers and thinkers. As young people, our greatest power is that we are thinkers. Every one of us has it in our imagination to be better people than we are ten years from today.
“Things are bad all over the place today. In the country things are getting worse and worse, even in the university here. And everything tries to stifle young people, even the SUG in this school is useless. So we have come together to create a group of people who will try to solve these problems. And the best way to solve a problem is by thinking differently…”
Gerald Eze continued afterwards with a performance of “Bia nuru olu anyi,” a popular music through which Biafrans used to cry for God’s intervention during the genocide. Before he began singing, he said, “This is my way of asking God to be with us.” He performed the song using the Ubo, sitting on a chair and the microphone bent to his mouth. His performance ushered serenity to the event, setting the stage for the book discussions of the day.
The first essay discussed was Ikhide Ikheloa’s There Was a Country: Baying at the Ghost of Biafra. The essay is a commentary by the writer on the numerous ignorant backlashes Achebe’s last book, There was a Country, received in the light of its publication because it was strongly worded in making a case that the Igbo suffered genocide in the war, and because it called out Chief Obafemi Awolowo for his role. The discussion curated by Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera immediately spiraled into a discussion on Genocide and Igbo cultural awakening. Chimezie Chika, a writer who came from Onitsha, reiterated to the house the meaning of genocide. He said, “Genocide is a systematically planned mass murder of a people, usually aimed at exterminating them,” and reflecting the argument of the essay, he went on to add that what happened in 1967-1970 was a genocide, should be referred to as such, not as the Nigeria-Biafra war which it has been documented.
Somtochukwu, a musical artiste and a member of the movement, told the house about the importance of having cultural awareness. His philosophy, as he relayed it, hinged on his self-realization when he read Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country and Emefiena Ezeani’s In Biafra Africa died years ago.
The whole discussion became a catharsis about the Igbo people’s experience during the Biafran genocide, and a discussion on cultural reawakening as it was about Ikhide Ikheloa’s brilliant commentary on Chinua Achebe’s book.
“Notes on My Middle Passage” by Ikhide Ikheloa also spurred a discussion on racism. A highlight on this discussion was the short lecture on the history of the word “Middle Passage” by Chimezie Chika, which enabled the house attach a metaphorical importance to the title of the essay. Then there was a discussion around racism, how it affects black people, and the kind of mindset Africans should adopt in battling its menace. Kingsley the Poet said that trying to stop racism was an exercise in futility. Africans shouldn’t try to stop racism, but should instead build strong institution and a big economy that the white people would have no option but give them their respect.
In-between the book discussions, there were artistic performances which served to keep the atmosphere a little less exhausted. There was the music performance by Gerald Eze Maduabuchi, the first of the day. There was also the spoken word performance which sent the house into fits of ecstasy. There was also Silver Momah’s performance of Omenaala, a song by the Igbo singer, Ife.
One of the aims of the movement is to channel art into practical uses, to broaden the imagination of young people beyond the box that the Nigerian universities and society put them in. And also to awaken cultural awareness. Emmanuel Esomnofu, a music journalist and a member of the organization, echoed this philosophy when he said that as a people we should be very methodical in our use of art.
In the times our immediate society has found itself, a renaissance is sweeping through. There are deeply rooted causes to all of the issues. Sometimes, revolutions fail because asides the emotions which gives rise to them, they lack ideological backbone. This realization is one of the sparks which has ignited the movement. The Idea is to create a community of young people who think differently and who are indoctrinated as early as possible, and who will take over the intellectual mantle. The movement aims to be rebellious, to think critically, to educate and to expand the imagination of young people. According to Mark Anthony Obumneme Osuchukwu, the goal of the movement is “to have a brimming circus of rebels whose ideas are revolutionary especially after understanding that nothing good can come out of political correctness but there is a lot of promise in rebellion.”