Here is a wonderful review of ‘The General’s Orderly … An Autobiography of a Biafran Child Soldier’ by Arua Okereke:
Length: 436 Pages
Genre: Non-Fiction / Autobiography
Publisher / Year: LifeRich Publishing / 2018
Trim Size / Format: 5.5” x 8.5” / Perfect Bound Soft-Cover (B/W)
Why I Read It: I was the author’s student and had read two of his previous works which I found quite interesting. Knowing how meticulous Prof. Arua Okereke is, I believed this new book would be even more compelling than the others.
Date Read: September 25, 2018
Reviewed By: Marshal Henry (M.Sc. Eng. Tech)
What attracted my attention first were the media reports. The author’s name was all so familiar. Professor Arua Okereke had been my lecturer during my stint at the University of Calabar, Nigeria. Arua Okereke who also lectures at the Imo State University, Owerri, is a construction engineer by profession and a professor of construction technology and management. He had bagged a doctorate degree in engineering sciences and a master of science in civil engineering from the Higher Institute of Architecture and Civil Engineering in Sofia, Bulgaria in the early 1980s. On the other side, Arua Okereke is most probably a traditionalist; a political activist and community leader. All round, he was a wonderfully dynamic lecturer.
Beyond all these, the Arua Okereke I knew was gifted in the art of writing; The General’s Orderly I believe is his seventh book, and I had read two of his non-fiction books earlier in time.
My appetite was whet so I decided to check the book out. A search on google revealed it had been released by a reputable publisher: LifeRich Publishing, an imprint of the age-long popular Readers Digest. My search further showed that the book, apart from being the autobiography of an exceptional gentleman, exposed more facts than ever, about the Nigerian-Biafran war which occurred from 1967 – 1970, and a history of the Igbo matrilineal cultures that had been subsumed by recent times. That did it. I ordered a copy of the book for $35 (postage inclusive) online and it was delivered by mail to my Enugu address within 96 hours.
Indeed, the book is a reader’s delight any day. Every single page in the seventeen-chapter book is interestingly loaded. I couldn’t help but finish the book within two days since I would hardly put it down amidst my busy weekend schedule. Starting from the book’s acknowledgements to the dedication, and then the introductory pages, I was assured that I was in for a most revealing account of the civil war, Igbo cultural history and the fun-filled, scintillating excitement in travels and romantic adventures.
The writer’s narrative in Chapters 1 and 4, traced his childhood history and family genealogy in the agnatic Ezi Oti, Ukpa Ehugbo; he gave accounts of the traditional initiation into the Ogo cult, the age-grade system, and gave credence to the exclusive matrilineal culture system of the Igboman from “among the ogbo’mu clans of Ohafia, Abam, Abriba, Nkporo, Edda, Afikpo, Amasiri and Akpoha”.
The wartime saga in the book is told, for the first time, from the perspective of “…a private in the Biafran Army and later an orderly to the second-in-command in the Biafran Army, a glorified military name for a servant”. The author was involved in the war directly and indirectly “… As a fresh child recruit with no battle experience, Okereke had no way of knowing the danger he would face. He did not realize how much he needed to prepare for battle emotionally, psychologically, and physically or how the war would continue to affect him long after it ended. Devastated with the outcome of the war, the author had to cope with the dashed hope of a free Biafra as well as the desertion of his hero, the People’s General, Odumegwu Ojukwu”. For the writer, it was not easy to pick up the pieces of that broken life.
Going critical, in my opinion, Arua Okereke revealed of himself, a nature that is to the discerning mind, quite controversial. The narrative showed in his travails at Kameroun, Warri, Bulgaria, Anambra State University of Technology, Imo State University, etc., that he was almost always getting on the wrong side of his employers and hosts. Though he always emerged top of all his classes and won all cases in which he considered himself victimized, one cannot help but wonder why he would always be the one to be picked upon, and why he would always come out the winner.
Professor Arua Okereke in various chapters of The General’s Orderly respected the memories of persons he perceived as having impacted his life. Among these persons apart from members of his immediate and extended families, and a benefactress-lover Grace, is the late Major-General Philip Efiong, the Chief of General Staff of the Biafran army, and the number two man after General Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu. Arua Okereke described General Efiong as a dutiful officer “whose courage and clear headedness in the midst of chaos helped save millions of men and women who would have otherwise lost their lives in the confusion that followed the desertion of General Ojukwu in the last days of the civil war”. In his words, “History will forever remember his bravery, loyalty and total commitment to the Biafra cause”. He also borrowed words from retired General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida’s “great patriot, distinguished officer and gentleman” in describing the late secessionist General. Okereke also praised the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the great Zik of Africa who he remembered with fond memories as a mentor in spite of what others had said about him. He however admitted that Zik abandoned the Biafran cause, but put the blame on Ojukwu whose highhandedness Arua claims, pushed Azikiwe and others like him to give up on the Biafra project. He also appreciated Ojukwu’s sacrifices in the war, noting in details how Ojukwu’s father was the first prominent casualty of the war. Several other notable Nigerians, especially of Igbo extraction were also prominently appreciated in the book for their contributions to humanity.
The General’s Orderly also made strong assertions that buttress the rumor mill of an alliance between the Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba tribes to perpetually subjugate their Igbo compatriots. “…Like in the first alliance between Gowon and Awolowo, the main objective of the second alliance between Buhari and Tinubu, remained the continued marginalization and political exclusion of Ndigbo in Nigeria’s governance. For instance, like in the first alliance, which saw Awolowo from the West as Minister of Finance and the Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council headed by Gowon, the present government has a Yoruba as the Vice President and another as the Minister of Finance, with Buhari as President…This was on the mischievous “fatherly” advice from the Foreign Office of Her Majesty Britain, in continuation of the age-long hatred of Ndigbo from the time of anti-colonial struggle championed by an Igbo, Nnamdi Azikiwe”.
The writer believes that achieving a Biafran Republic from Nigeria is far-fetched at the best. It is actually his mindset that the dream will remain a mirage. “…The unholy alliance between the Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba has been made effective by the impact of the weakening of the constituent parts of former Biafra by removing the minority ethnic groups in former Biafra through the creation of states of their own. Any talk of Biafra now must first address the issue of the former minorities in the present 4 states of Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa. These states, having tasted freedom from the Igbo will think twice before choosing to join in the struggle for a new Biafra”. Another factor that may stand in the way of Biafra according to Professor Okereke is the changed psyche of the Igbo “Since after the civil war, Ndigbo have undergone some form of cultural and formative transformation… From a people whose core value depended on hard work as a virtue, Ndigbo have imbibed …the acquisition of wealth as an end that justifies the means and not the other way round”. He more than severally, alluded his conviction of a failed Biafra to the lack of respect for traditional authorities by the average Igboman in present day Nigeria. The book also speaks of the intrigues and betrayals that has become the Igboman’s nature, especially since after the civil war.
Arua Okereke did not disappoint me. In a most characteristic manner, he brought in poetry that got to me. Read him “…such Igbo is like the spirit of a materialistic man whose soul…is weighed down by gross matter. Such a soul can hardly fly back to its maker. It will need …the boom of cannons to shake off the taunting of incubus, in order to soar to high heavens”. He went further than I had expected. Arua Okereke brought in romance, love and happy accounts of an inter-racial family.
Arua Okereke wrote of virtually everything. His book spoke among others of travels and prophesies; of wars and coups, of escapes, surrender; of academics, religion, culture and traditions, work, love, family and homes; of racism, politics and spirituality.
I recommend The General’s Orderly … An Autobiography of a Biafran Child Soldier by Arua Okereke to everyone, especially, anyone who wants to learn more about the relatively hushed facts about the Nigeria-Biafran civil war; the history, nature, capacities, weaknesses and diversity of the Igbo tribal group from south east Nigeria, and the travails-turned-success stories of a gifted yet lucky seven-year old who became a spectacular personality against all odds.
You may also read the review of ‘Ebulue — On Living, Learning and Culture ‘