Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Forms of War in Nigerian Literature

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Forms of War in Nigerian Literature

Article excerpt


In the Nigerian context, every mention of war (as a word in the Nigerian past or present) automatically takes one back to the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War (1967-1970). While reference to this war is an integral part of this study, this paper examines the different faces of war in Nigeria and literary responses to them. Beyond armed conflict, gender positionings and configurations, political manipulations and intrigues, corruption issues, economic, ethnic and religious-inspired uprisings are wars Nigeria has been, and is still, contending with. From the novels of Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, Chukwuemeka Ike, Isidore Okpewho, Festus Iyayi, Femi Osofisan, Okey Ndibe, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Abubakar Gimba, Tanure Ojaide, Afam Belolisa, Kaine Agary; to the poetry of Wole Soyinka, J. P. Clark, Mabel Segun, Pol Ndu, Peter Onwudinjo, Joe Ushie, Catherine Acholonu, Cecilia Kato, Ibiwari Ikiriko, Sophia Obi; to the drama of J. P. Clark, Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, Arnold Udoka, among others, it is evident that these wars have provided impetus to the Nigerian literary artists. These writers have examined the different facets, phases, implications and prospects of these wars. The underlying lesson, in all, is that the liberative undertone of every/any war must never be abused and/or compromised for selfish purposes or unattainable goals.

Key words: War; Literature; Nigerian


War is an action that emanates from a perceived wrong. It is evidence of an inability of parties to agree on terms that could be of mutual benefit to all parties involved. Wars could be fought with arms, especially when the conflict or disagreement or argument degenerates, and this could lead to destruction of both lives and property. For example, the Nigerian-Biafran war or the crisis in the Nigerian Niger Delta. War could also be ideological (fought through writing or verbally) as in gender or political positioning. The use of the term war in this paper, is in both cases - as involving armed conflict and as in ideological differences, among others.

In literary history all over the world, crisis or wars (of different magnitudes) have been veritable tools in the creative enterprise. For instance, the writings of Leo Tolstoy of Russia; the hypocrisy of the European ruling oligarchy that produced George Orwell's Animal Farm and Nineteen-Ninety Four; the Harlem Renaissance that fuelled back consciousness and black outpouring of Black American writings; the apartheid system in South Africa and the literary harvest that has been as a result of that obnoxious system; among others. Darah (2011), may, therefore, not be wrong when he notes that "classical traditions of world literature are fostered by environments where there are intensive struggles against great evils for the restoration of human dignity" (p.2).

In Nigeria, colonialism (in all its manifestations), the civil war, failure of independence and inept leadership, gender positioning and configurations, and ethnic/ economic/ecological crisis in the Niger Delta are wars that have been at the centre of literary creativity.


It is a well-known fact that the Nigerian-Biafran civil war has produced literary inspiration more than any other event in Nigeria (Amuta, 1988). Nwahunanya (2011) did a somewhat comprehensive study of the literature that emanated from this war. To go through these works one by one here will be to overburden an already, seemingly, overburdened issue. Some of the prose works include Amadi's Sunset in Biafra (1973), Nwapa's Never Again (1976), Ike's Sunset at Dawn (1976), Iroh's Forty-Eight Guns for the General (1976), Ekwensi's Divided We Stand (1980), Emecheta's Destination Biafra (1981) and, one of the most recent, Belolisa's Torn Asunder: A Nigerian Civil War Odyssey (2012).

One of the works which have not had critical attention is Belolisa's novel. Torn Asunder... reminiscences the events of the civil war from one who was too young to participate in the war but who was not too naive to understand the psychological implications of a war of hate and attrition. …

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