Clearly, the Nigerian Civil War will continue to evoke literary interest. Notable gender expert, award-winning author and university teacher, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo has also joined the discourse. Her narrative is evocative of how war soon turns the tide of love for the worse of human emotions to emerge
Roses and Bullets (Jalaa Writers’ Collective, Lagos; 2011) is the story told from the eyes of a young Igbo schoolgirl, who is caught in the grip of war like all others in the region, while nursing boundless ambition for the future. Ginikanwa is not particularly loved by her stepmother and her father is reserved. She and her only brother, Nwakire, had lost their mother while still young. This fragile family structure soon caves in to the war pressure to widen the fissure.
But Ginikanwa is consoled in her Auntie Chito and Uncle Ray, where she regularly escapes in Enugu to avoid the censorship she receives at home in Mbano. But as the war drums intensify, her father, Ubaka, is left with no option but to take her home. At Mbano, she manages to make sense of her surrounding. But soon, she is taken to Ama-Oyi, her father’s hometown, where she is to stay while the war rages as her father gets posted close to the warfront.
But it is here that she comes in close contact with the man, Eloka Odunze, who would mean the world to her. Much against her father’s advice, she marries him. Her brother, whose university education is disrupted by the war, joins up the Biafran Army to defend the breakaway new nation from Nigeria. Nwakire’s father, Ubaka, is devastated at his son’s action against his wish.
With Ginikanwa leaving home to join Eloka as wife and Nwakire at the warfront, it seems Ubaka’s family is headed for disintegration. Eloka’s father, who evacuated Port Harcourt in the heat of the war, is given a prominent role to play at the local council at Ama-Oyi. He uses his position to ensure that his only son, Eloka, does not get conscripted into the Biafran Army to fight. But after many brushes with the conscripting officers to draft him into the war, and as the war drags on, Eloka, much to his father’s chagrin, enlists to fight. He announces this news to his wife, who weeps her eyes out.
But there is no changing Eloka’s resolve. Even his dotting mother resigns to fate at her son’s going away to the battlefield. While he is away, Ginikanwa is to stay with Eloka’s family to await his return from war. But this is where her will is put to the test. No sooner had her son gone away, than Eloka’s mother confronts Ginikanwa on whether she is pregnant for her son. On Ginikanwa’s response to the contrary, Eloka’s mother descends on her, accusing her as a useless wife who would not give a man going to war a son while he is away as a possible replacement in the event that he did come back alive.
All her entreaties that it was Eloka’s wish for them not to have children while the war raged fell on the older woman’s deaf ears. She could not forgive the ‘barren’ wife for failing her son; Ginikanwa had not been the choice of wife for her son anyway. This charged atmosphere proves Ginikanwa’s undoing. As a means of temporary escape from her mother-in-law, and her father-in-law, whose adultery secrets she just received, she unwillingly attends a party with her colleague, Janet, with whom she works at the refugee camp, at an army base some kilometres away.
By the next morning, Ginikanwa discovers she had been drugged and raped. Not long after, she discovers that the ‘unknown’ soldier had also impregnated her. She is heartbroken and distraught. What will she tell her love, Eloka and his family? What about her own family? After taking Auntie Chito into confidence and enlisting her help, they embark on finding Eloka and to give him the news but this proves dangerous and futile.
When she tells her parents-in-law, she is thrown out as ‘win-the-war-wife’, one of those loose women soldiers regularly patronised. Her father and stepmother also reject her; they had not sanctioned the marriage in the first instance. As the war bites harder with hunger ravaging the civilian populace, Ginikanwa, Auntie Chito and her children and their grandmother experience the utter hopelessness of war. No news also about Auntie Chito’s husband, who had joined the war effort; where he was posted got cut off from the Biafran heartland.
Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets is one more searing account of the Biafran side of the Nigerian Civil War. This is obvious; the entire infant Biafran nation was the theatre of war. It started out as the narrative of a family at the brink of disintegration. Then the echoes of war hasten the disintegration.
Ginikanwa and Eloka’s love is a classic case of perfect love torn to shreds by war. Adimora-Ezeigbo’s controlled narrative is remarkable as she fleshes out the emotions of war in this novel. She takes her readers down to the trenches and back. But more importantly is the horrors the civilian population face in a war situation. Adimora-Ezeigbo writes with candour and humanity and she charts Ginikanwa’s progression from a happy childhood to a disillusioned teenager before the war takes its toll. Eloka returns from war to meet his wilted roses in the garden, just as his love for Ginikanwa wilts on the discovery of her unwitting betrayal.
In the end, only the faith of a foreign teacher on her former student comes to rescue Ginikanwa from a horrible, and from then an upward spiral to the crest of distorted ambition.
Roses and Bullets is a breath-taking and memorable read with its haunting story of love and war. Indeed, Adimora-Ezeigbo has brought the Biafran story alive again even for those who would wish for collective amnesia. Indeed, the story of the Ginikanwas of Biafra has found a voice in this sublime war narrative…