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A Tragedy for the World

Jonathan E. Ifeanyi Author Interview

Jonathan E. Ifeanyi Author Interview

Black Nation is a fictionalized account of the real and deadly West African Genocide and a Nigerian youth who struggled through it. What was the inspiration that made you want to write this story?

This story, as you rightly said, is a fictionalized account of the real and deadly West African Genocide and a Nigerian youth who struggled through it. In Nigeria, youth corps members are young men and women—not boys and girls—fresh graduates. After graduation, you will be called to serve the nation for a year. Well, I was, like the Protagonist, once a youth corps member myself and I think I got the inspiration when I served Nigeria as a youth corps member. The inspiration or rather “inspirations” behind the story came from many sources but chiefly from my personal experience of the upheavals in Nigeria. To be precise, I served Nigeria as a youth corps member at the very period Boko Haram menace started. We conducted the general elections. I saw the irregularities. I saw the rigging of the election and struggled in vain against it. I even appeared in a law court to testify against the riggers (I mean the ruling party then) but saw there how the monster-judges do turn justice upside down! It was a terrible experience. I don’t like remembering or talking about it!

Chinedu is an interesting and well-developed character. What were some ideas you wanted to capture with his character?

Well the main idea is that Black is evil. People in the Western world do refer to Africans as “Black people”—and many Africans are indeed proud of that! But intelligent Africans—like the Protagonist—believe that such a categorisation is an insult, indeed a blatant one—although they also believe that there are indeed many ugly things here that keep making the continent to look “black”. If you read the book, you will learn more.

This novel does a great job of showing how a country’s politics and government can affect average people throughout the country. What were some themes you wanted to capture in your story?

The number one theme is CORRUPTION and the damage it can cause. It is a cankerworm that has eaten very deep into the fabrics of Nigeria. If you visit Nigeria now, you will from time to time hear politicians boasting of dealing with (or having dealt with) some “corrupt people” or “criminals” or “cultists” out there. But, as someone pointed out recently, it is always laughable when Nigerian politicians declare endless “war” against criminals and cultists, considering that there is a nexus between “do-or-die” politics and organised crime in our country. Over the years, many violent cults and criminal gangs owed their origins to political campaign organisations. It is also a fact that many of the notorious criminals in Nigeria usually graduate from motor parks to political thuggery before eventually venturing into the more “lucrative” business of armed robbery.

At every election cycle in Nigeria, there is often space for thugs, hoodlums and cultists. Wraps of Indian hemp and other dangerous substances are almost always freely distributed among the waiting “army” of violent men that take over campaign trains, brandishing machetes, clubs and other weapons. When the illustrious “guest” finally arrives at the scene, the entire wagon of these street urchins is usually herded into vehicles that move to the campaign grounds for the usual show of strength with their opponents.

Yes, it is not an overstatement to say that Nigerian politicians—and their followers—are criminals. These people keep disfiguring the face of the African continent; they keep painting the continent black—they keep demonising her!

There are other themes I do not wish to comment on but I must also mention Islamic Jihad. Of course, usually, nobody likes to talk about this. Yet, it has caused—and continues to cause—the deaths of thousands of people in different countries of the world in recent times. In Nigeria, over twenty thousand people were murdered within six years or so after the emergence of Boko Haram and today people are still dying in the hands of jihadists in the country; yet, no one cares to protest—certainly because here the majority of those in government—certainly over 75 percent—are Muslims. There is also usually no international outrage against these killings—certainly because it is happening in a “dark” continent. It is a tragedy for the nation; a tragedy for the world.

I thought your book was thought-provoking and informative. What do you hope readers take away from your book?

Ha-ha! Well, I can’t really say. As you know, human beings are diverse in their behaviours and our judgements are always clouded with emotions and prejudices. If what I want readers to take away is, for instance, that Islamic terrorism is evil, you will still see millions of people out there who will disagree with you and believe that Islamic terrorism is, in fact, a virtue! Many people will not understand you even if you utter a million words, while others will understand you even when you haven’t said anything.

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Chino returns from the University of Nigeria and prepares for his journey to Negro State in northern Nigeria where he has just been posted for the National Youth Service Corps. The next day, he goes to the North with a patriotic zeal to serve his fatherland even though his parents, out of fear, object to his mission. Months later comes the time for the general elections. Youth corps members are employed by the Independent National Electoral Commission as ad hoc staff members but then, the election is being rigged in favour of the ruling party. Chino faces the challenge of defying and resisting the riggers but realises his loneliness. The opposition he encounters, from the riggers and even from his very colleagues, terrifies him and changes his political mentality altogether. Then it dawns on him that the world of politics is a world driven by propaganda, in which public perception is king, and what we perceive to be reality may be radically different from what “the people” perceive and the truth may be stranger than fiction. Now, at the end, following the rigging of the presidential election in favour of President Taminobi’s ruling party, the brutal slaughtering of his colleagues and innocent citizens by both the angry thug-supporters of the opposition party presidential candidate—Mohammadu Dauda—and the terrorists named Kokoko, a genocide never before seen in the nation’s history apart from the Biafra saga, as well as his unjust imprisonment, leaves him sorrowful, devastated, and a changed man.

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Black Nation: The Deadliest West African Genocide

Imagine being young again and feeling sure of yourself, heading into the world with your beliefs in place and determined to change the world. Now imagine that you’re finishing college and about to take a job that you’re excited about but of which your family disapproves. Life isn’t easy, but you’re young and have a strong mind made stronger by your education–things will be fine. What if the leaders in your country have other ideas? This is where Chino finds himself. He is torn. He is disappointed, and he is devastated. As quickly as he begins his new life, he is faced with the terror of what politics can do to a nation and its people.

Black Nation: The Deadliest West African Genocide, by Jonathan E. Ifeanyi, is based on actual events and follows the journey of young Chinedu as he watches things crumble around him during his service in the National Youth Service Corps. He is both young and eager which makes this story all the more tragic whether it’s based on real events or entirely fiction. The innocence of youth and the grand expectations they have is tragic when juxtaposed with the corruption of government. Chinedu is certainly no exception to this rule.

The author does an excellent job of expressing his main character’s distress and despair regarding the way in which the world he expected changes so rapidly. Chinedu is relatable, and readers will find themselves easily understanding how he can change his own stance and political leanings. As differently as Chinedu was raised and as far-removed as his own culture is from that of many readers, his experience is an excellent testament to the damage done by political parties and the horrific consequences dealt citizens when politics go awry.

Loss plays a huge part in Chinedu’s experience. Whether readers can easily relate to the culture in Nigeria or not, they will sympathize with Chinedu as he copes with multiple losses and finds a way to deal with the carnage around him. Watching a young man, fresh from college become so quickly jaded is not easy, but it is relatable.

I found the writing style and organization to be rather scattered overall. I felt that it was difficult to follow the events and visualize them in order. Some parts of the writing seem to have been written with more authentic dialogue while others have a more standard feel. Authentic dialogue is, by no means, a drawback. In fact, this is what gives the book a genuine feel. I wish, however, there was more consistency with the narrative overall.

While it gives a riveting account of true events in Nigeria, I had to reread some sections looking for clarity. I would recommend this book to readers seeking more information about the atrocities of genocide in Nigeria. Jonathan E. Ifeanyi gives readers food for thought as he relates a tale that needs so desperately to be told and heard.

Pages: 445

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