It was Socrates who said that writers of contemporary times have nothing new to contribute because all they can ever write has been written by the classics. Many writers have written about the Nigerian Civil War, yet Uche Ezeh is an important addition. The dimension he introduces is one which acts as the cleric in the matrimony of fact and fiction.
Through the journalistic acumen of Ian Whitehead, it comes to the fore that the carnage that takes place in eastern Nigeria (the seceding Biafra) is sponsored by the British Prime Minister and his cabinet. It is a crime against humanity, same crime for which Britain is guilty of finger-pointing. While on a compulsive vacation, Ian makes his way down to Biafra. There, he sees things for himself. He encounters the key players. He partakes in the dialectics of love for Biafra and love for self. He lusts after evidence. Everyone craves to be the hero of the war. At the end, no hero emerges, not even the crafty Captain Udo or Dr Wise, the wizard of Biafra army. Captain Udo is a coward, ‘wise’ but at the same time foolish. Dr Wise is a selfish patriot. What a paradox! The real heroes are the humanitarian workers.
It cannot be overemphasised that everyone in life listens to WIIFM—“What’s In it For Me?” War is a vehicle for the confirmation of the fact that the human demeanour is like flames that cannot be hidden. Humans are inherently selfish. One gets to grasp this when almost at the end of the novel, a price is placed on the head of Dr Wise. All the characters fight for personal interest. A highpoint is the depiction of the fact that whites like Whitehead, whom blacks idolise, are in no way better.
Perchance as a result of the fact that most nations are governed by selfish human beings, almost all nations of the world listen to WIIFM. Britain, creatively, may be described as the mother of Nigeria, howbeit neo-colonial. Till the time Biafra expressed her desire to secede, Biafra was still Nigeria. Later, Biafra was supposed to become Britain’s step-child. Hence, the manner in which Britain turns against her step-child to favour Nigeria ruin Britain’s mother figure. Yet here is a note of caution:
“Stop blaming someone else for your troubles here. If you are looking for whom to blame, look in the mirror. Because you are all the architect of your own misfortune. Grow up like real men and stop dodging your own bullets. Own up to your faults and stop blaming the white man for everything that’s ugly and backward …”
Uche Ezeh Al and his debut novel, Jungle Drumbeat, are some of the unsung heroes of African literature. Ezeh deserves to be celebrated on national and international scenes. Yes, he deserves it! Jungle Drumbeat is a thriller, not just a novel, but one that has the potential of an evergreen. A read will convince you.