Dr Ngozi Obi is a clinical pharmacist-turned-author, whose love for writing has resulted in four published works of fiction: Love’s Destiny (2009), When Dreams and Visions Collide (2010), Love’s Legacy (2016), Land of the Rising Sun: A Fictional Tribute to Biafra (2017), and The Women of Purpose Anthology (2018), co-authored with thirty other women. In this interview with Charity Nwakaudu in Abuja, she highlighted the effect of Biafran war on the lives of Igbo people.
You are a pharmacist-turned author. What made you turn to writing?
It was a passion. I had always loved reading books and writing. But we all know that, in the African culture, one is not necessarily seen as accomplished unless you are a lawyer, doctor of some sort or an engineer. I loved Mathematics in school, but Engineering was too technical and Law was too abstract. I was good in the sciences, so I found myself in the medical field as a pharmacist. But when something is really part of your destiny, you naturally gravitate back to it. My journey as a writer began in response to my search for a genre of books with an inspirational message that seamlessly tackle the complexity of life’s concepts with ease. I searched but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for and not as if it was not out there. I just could not find it. I like to say it happened that way to prompt me to start writing. I also found that delving into writing served as an escape and a way to deal with my late mother’s illness and subsequent passing by allowing me to tap into my vivid imagination and create tangible characters that most people could easily relate to. Writing also helped create a work-life balance for me.
You are an American of Nigerian Igbo descent, born after the civil war, and you are the author of Land of the Rising Sun: A Fictional Tribute to Biafra. What inspired you to write the book?
I had always wanted to write a book about Biafra, because I grew up hearing my parents that witnessed the war share their experiences. That might have motivated me to publish the book in 2017 during the 50th anniversary of the war. When I heard there was a renewed agitation for Biafra and all the negative things that were being said about the Igbo people, I used the book to remind the world of Igbo experience during the war, which still happens today in the country. That might have been responsible for increased agitation for self-freedom. I also wanted younger generation to really understand what they were asking for, and, if they were willing to sacrifice for it by reminding them of what their predecessors went through during the war. This is more than carrying placards, walking around and shouting “Give us Biafra”.
The issue of a separate state for Igbo nation has been on the front burner, and your book revisits the stigma of wartime experience. Do you think this will add to the agitation or serve as a warning for Nigerians to avoid another civil war?
My ultimate goal was peace, unity and justice. I am neither for nor against Biafra. I am simply trying to highlight the issues that plagued Nigeria and led to civil war in the 1960s. Most of these issues have remained unresolved. Igbo people should not live as second-class citizens in Nigeria but feel belonged to Nigeria. Government must ensure that Nigeria’s resources are evenly distributed, and justice, equal opportunity given to all. I suggest that, if things cannot be worked out and Biafra is to become a nation, then let it be peaceful transition.
Was it your father who experienced the civil war as a soldier that gave you the historical facts that formed part of the book?
Absolutely. Everyone who was alive during the war bemoaned. These people went through hell and lived to tell the story. Many Igbo people left Nigeria because of the shame of losing the war. The Nigeria Civil War was to Igbo people what the Vietnam War was to Americans. American soldiers came home to great ridicule after the Vietnam War.
How could Igbo people heal the wounds of the past and put Biafra agitation to rest?
It’s simple: the Nigerian government must, first, accept that there was a civil war, and many people lost their lives. It was a brutal experience by those who witnessed and participated in it. Government must engage the Igbo people in a serious dialogue, listen to their complaints and develop a workable plan to fix them, instead of dismissing the agitators as mere thugs.
Obviously, you are a post-Biafra child. When was the first time you heard about Biafra?
I can’t place a date to it, but I could remember vividly my parents talking about their wartime experience. It was always a topic of discussion at home. It picked my curiosity, even at a young age to read more about it. What affected me the most was the kwashiorkor children that became the unlikely faces of the war. Their pictures haunted me, and I often wondered if that would have happened to me had I been born during the Nigeria-Biafra war.
How did you feel writing the book?
Writing Land of the Rising Sun brought out a lot of emotions from me. The subject of war alone is hard enough to write about, couple that I lost my mother years before the book was published. It was a rough emotional journey to say the least. The stories used to craft the fictional portion of the book were actual narrations of her Biafra wartime experience as a young impressionable nurse. I just wrote a back story to tie it all together in a continuous flow. I wish she was alive to read it. She would have been proud of me and might even cry.
Which local or international author inspired you?
I drew my inspiration from people like late Chinua Achebe who wrote Things Fall Apart and Buchi Emecheta, the author of The Bride Price. They inspired me to want to learn more about the Igbo culture. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series of books finally solidified my love for reading.
You are also planning a formal presentation of the book in Nigeria, why not in the US?
I have actually done a few presentations of my book in the United States. But the subject of Biafra is more of a Nigerian issue. My goal in doing a presentation of this book in Nigeria is to start a much-needed healing process for the Igbo nation. I’m not sure if people have heard enough about the book in Nigeria. But I know it is an important subject that requires all attention to create a permanent solution. The book can only be accessed online for now in Nigeria. But we are actively seeking a publisher that we could partner with to print the books in Nigeria and make it readily available to readers.