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1.0    Background to the Study

Nigeria as a nation came into existence after the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectoratesin 1914 by the British administration headed in Nigeria by Lord Lugard. This was primarily because of their economic interest, and Nigeria, having a vast territory afforded them the opportunity to loot as much as they wanted.The British had earlier settled in the south and established schools, churches etc. The Yoruba’swere educated home and abroad, and had gotten used to the ways of the colonialists. The north however, posed a greater challenge to the British because they saw the British as bringing a new culture and religion; since they had embraced Islam centuries earlier. As a result, the influence of the new culture could not penetrate easily to the north as it did in the south.

Subsequently,Nigeria gained independence from Britain and inherited a country that was torn along ethnic, cultural and religious lines which was deliberately orchestrated. The northerners felt the British had given them the torch to lead the new nation into the promise land. The south on the other hand believed they were more equipped mentally and educationally to steer the affairs of the newly birthed nation. The tussle for whom to rule gave birth to coups and counter coups which finally hatched a full blown civil war.Odenigbo asserts to the fact that “the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe”(33).Indeed, this created and became a viable weapon in the hands of the colonialists to orchestrate a division that became rife with hatred. Thus, the amalgamationfavoured the British but worked against the country generally because of the divergent tribes and ideologies which could not coexist as a single entity.

Because of the topic under scrutiny, it is essential to relay the brief history as well as thereasons that precipitated the war. The Nigerian civil war was a reality that hit the emerging Nigerian nation from 1967-1970. The three year war brought a lot of catastrophe to a fledglingnation that had just been granted independence. Due to intense population growth and the shortage of work in the east, the Igbo’s started migrating to the northern part of the country that was not too open to the British influence. Job opportunities abounded, and the land provided a fertile footing for those that wanted to veer into agricultural production. Thus, the Igbo’s flourished in trade and business generally.

Since Nigeria had gotten independence in 1960 and subsequently became a republic in 1962, the country began witnessing the perils and challenges that came with it. Ojukwu observes that, successive crises arose, notably the Tiv riots of 1960-1966, the western Nigerian emergency of 1962, the national census controversy of 1962-1963, and the federal crises of 1964-1965 amongst others. (299). Ojukwu notes that, these issues cut across the geopolitical zones and presented an enormous challenge that threatened the existence and survival of the newly formed country. To a large extent, the Igbo’s felt marginalized because the constitution tended to favour the northern part of the country which apportioned them greater power and authority of the federal government. (299). The successive crisis therefore, only served as a rehearsal of the actual crisis that would subsequently culminate into a full fledge war. He further reiterates that, it was impossible to resolve the problems that sprang up owing to gross corruption, selfishness, suspicion, mistrust and an unhealthy rivalry amongst the politicians, the rigging of elections in 1965 only being the ‘last straw’ (299).

The first military coup took place on January 15,1966 under the leadership of Major General AguiyiIronsi. The coup was referred to as the Igbo coup primarily because the key players were from the Igbo speaking ethnic group. The prime minister was killed, the government was taken over, and the Igbo’s were apportioned strategic positions in the new government. Chimamanda captures this coup in a conversation between Odenigbo, Professor Ezeka and other guests thus;

The BBC is calling it an Igbo coup the chin-chin eating guest                                                   said “and they have a point. It was mostly northerners who were                                   in government” Professor Ezeka whispered, his eyebrows                                                   arched, as if he could not believe he had to say what was so                                     obvious.” The BBC should be asking their people who put the                                 northerners in government to dominate everybody. (158).   

The coup thus created and reaffirmed the rivalry that had existed amongst the major ethnic groups. It createdsuspicion that the Igbo’s wanted to dominate the country. Thus, a countercoup was plotted and executed in July 1966 leading to the death of AguiyiIronsi, thereby making General Yakubu Gowon the head of the new military government. This development created a lot of complications; the Igbo’s in the north were killed in numbers thereby forcing a mass exodus since the military government did little to stop it.

This sudden turn of events led to ChukwuemekaOdemeguOjukwu, the military governor of the Eastern region’s declaration of secession, as he pronounced the region an independent republic called Biafra. The secession speech delivered by Ojukwu in 1966 is captured by Adichie (200) thus:

Fellow countrymen and women, you, the people of Eastern Nigeria: conscious of the supreme authority of almighty God over all mankind, of your duty over posterity. Aware that you can no longer be protected in your lives and in your property by any government based outside Eastern  Nigeria;determined to dissolve all political and other ties between you and the former republic of Nigeria;  having mandated me to proclaim on your behalf and in your name that Eastern Nigeria be a sovereign independent republic, now therefore, I do hereby solemnly proclaim that the territory and region knownas and called Eastern Nigeria together with her continentalshelf and territorial waters shall henceforth be an independent sovereign state  of the name and title of The Republic of Biafra.(200).

The act of secession culminated  into a full fledge civil war that began in June 1967 and lasted for three years leading to the massacre of millions of innocent lives mostly civilians. Thus, the war was fought to integrate the seceding faction (bring the Igbo’s back to one Nigeria) who felt marginalized by the domination of the northerners. Also to control the key areas that housed the country’s economic interest some of which were Onitsha and Port Harcourt the hub of commerce and the centre of crude oil. The federal government blocked access to the Biafrans and they could not have access to the outside world.  Food supplies were banned from foreign and outsidesympathizers thereby creating widespread starvation. This became synonymous with the war which eventually got the tag ”war by starvation”.

In 1970, Ojukwu fled the war ravaged area under the disguise of searching for peace. This led to the surrender of the Biafrans to Nigeria which eventually brought the 30 month war to a halt in January 1970.Adichie captures it thus:

His Excellency announced that he was going ahead to search for peace.“In accord with my own frequent affirmations that I would personally go anywhere to secure peace and security for my people I am now travelling out of Nigeria to explore… (489)

The war did not just affect the Igbo’s, it was a Nigerian war that was necessitated out of a burning desire to preserve the British heritage, to glue back the pieces that were delicately knitted, and as well maintain the diverse unity that became somewhat of a pride and an identity.

            It is based on this background that Adichie builds her fictional narrative bringing into focus issues that shaped the war, the events that surrounded it as well as the personalities that played pivotal roles in the entire war itself; and the political, economic socio cultural as well as religious tensions that threatened the unity and survival of the entity called Nigeria. The story recaptures the history, mistakes and failings of our past leaders that created scars and wounds in the hearts of many people and the country in general. She presents this to a new generation of leaders that need to be abreast with what happened in the past life of their mother country. In retelling the story of Nigeria, she takes us down memory lane as far back as the 1960s where she unearths the rift that existed between the Sardauna and the Premier of the western region. (37). The refusal of northern schools to admit Igbo children, (54) as well as successive coups that later gave way to the civil war. (156).

            Chimamanda recreates the past by weaving the Nigerian civil war around the central characters of Odenigbo, Olanna, Richard, kainene and Ugwu. The story begins before the war in the early sixties and ends shortly after it came to an end in the 1970s. The entire story is shaped, told as seen through the eyes of these five characters, their varied experiences forming the kernel and the very core of the story. Her fictional war narrative creates the scenario where characters live and struggle with issues of love, fear, division, death and separation, how a war could change situations and reshape the lives of a people. In the story itself, kainene’s perception of life and people has been greatly altered. The war changed every character’s outlook to life.

            In retelling the story of Nigerian civil war, history is preserved and passed on from one generation to the other, thus exploring the universality of war and the horrors it brings to the lives of ordinary people. Adichie recounts the story of a woman having a calabash with her daughter’s head (186) and draws other similar analogies of repulsion from wars. She mentions ”the German woman who fled Hamburg with charred bodies of their children stuffed in suitcases, the Rwandan women who pocketed tiny parts of their mauled babies” (107). The gruesome murder of aunty Ifeka and her husband; the mindless killings of Nnaemka and other Igbo people at the airport. Scenes that bring to mind the bestiality of the human mind are expressly portrayed. One good example is shown by Abdumalik’s murder of an entire family he has come to know and accept as neighbours.

            Apart from war being a major theme of the novel, that of love and betrayal is essentially important; though it does not becloud that of war in itself. The role of colonialism in post colonial Africa contributes immensely to the war and its very outcome. The story itself is immensely absorbing bringing into play the style and manner in which the author crafts her narrative. The book is structured in four parts made of 37 chapters each divided into the early sixties (parts one and three) and the late sixties (parts two and four) all of which aids and facilitate easy assimilation.

            Adichie’s style of writing is easily comprehensible. She is simple, easy and direct. She brings together the elements of fiction and history by turning on multiple voices that portray divergent perceptions which enable the reader to view one war from the different angles. Her use of language is important in the understanding of the story. She uses language which tends to suit every character at any given occasion. Ugwu’s informal expressions: “his people would say master had spit this child out”  “they say you did not suck your mother’s breast. (124). There is also the use of code switching and code mixing from English to vernacular, as well as mild usage of proverbs. “Keduofagi? What is your name (15). “Nwoke m, are you sure you are not planning to do something with her? (34). Colloquial expressions: ‘‘The white man will poke and poke and poke the women in the dark but they will never marry them”, ‘He who brings kola brings life. You and yours will live, and mine will live; let the eagle perch and let the dove perch and, if either decrees that the other not perch, it will not be well for him”. She also employs a lot of imagery: “The fridge breathed heavily in his ears”, “Even the grass will fight” among others. All these contribute to making the story a good and masterful historical piece that recalls to mind the Nigerian past artfully crafted through the civil war as the underlying theme of the novel.


This research work seeks to project the brutality that ensued during the Nigerian civil war in Half of a Yellow Sun as it takes into account the resultant effect on the lives of Olanna, Odenigbo, Ugwu, Richard and other characters as representing the ordinary innocent people in the society. (How their lives are influenced, affected and shaped by the brutal war). The researcher would bring into focus issues relating to the massacre of millions of innocent Nigerians on the account of uniting a nation that was divided from its very inception.

This problem is important and paramount particularly in this dispensation. It would afford the people of today the luxury of having a fore knowledge about the atrocities unleashed out on innocent civilians, and that the country once passed through a torrid time in a bid to manage and preserve the British heritage that was bequeathed to them. It would also educate the leaders of today in trying to avoid the very mistakes that plunged the country into war.

The consequence of not subjecting this problem to a study will facilitate a false portrayal of the war to a new generation. It may as well lead to the repetition of the same incident that gave birth to the war. The new generation may grow oblivious of the past pertaining to their motherland. This research will also encourage unity amongst the divers ethnicities in order to foster a one united front.


The research work beams its focus on the Nigerian civil war as portrayed in the text Half of a Yellow Sun which is the primary book of study. To a large extent, the central theme of war will come under scrutiny. However, the research will circumnavigate around this sphere taking into consideration the circumstances that surrounded the characters as well as their responses to these problems. Certain events such as the date of the war, areas of conflict as regards to setting and names are actually factual which will be tackled as reflected in the novel and captured by the author.

Apart from the novel being an important source of material, the Nigerian civil war serves as the backbone of the whole research. Issues, materials, events pertaining to the war will be reflective in the research. The research therefore covers the duration of the war but will not however, be touching on events or issues that are not captured by the writer as this may not be important to the topic under study.


This study intends to investigate and examine clearly how the Nigerian civil war otherwise referred to as the Biafran war is portrayed in the book. It will show how the war affected the characters as well as their response in the face of conflict. The research will outline scenes and areas in the book that support this very assertion of the war as crafted and portrayed by the writer through the various characters and situations. The research will also seek to look at the effect of the Nigerian civil war on the lives of the characters that lived through it in the text.

The research will seek to support why Half of a Yellow Sun is a historical narration of the Nigerian past through the lives of some characters as well as places and events that shape setting and plot of the entire story.


This research work will benefit students and also aid the general public in relating and identifying with their country’s past. In that, the history of a country is as important as its present. So much as the past is past, it aids in shaping the future. Therefore, the knowledge of its pains, sufferings and cry’s will help shape a better generation and a greater future.

The research will also serve as a source of advice to our past and present leaders so as not to repeat similar and familiar episodes that caused the civil war- negligence,greed, mistrust, corruption to mention but a few.

The research will also help in presenting the issues raised in the text as it will serve as a point of reference to literature and history students as well as the general public as regarding the Nigerian civil war. This would be done through the presentation of some vital facts as captured and portrayed by the writer.Also, it will add to the existing bodyofknowledge pertaining to literature, history and the Nigerian civil war as a major theme of the text. This will also present a springboard for future studies.


There would be a general study of the text concerned, as well as a brief historical narration of the British preoccupation and issues surrounding the war. It is basically a textual analysis of the bookHalf of a Yellow Sun. No field work is required. It is a library research and the collection and analysis of data will be generated from the primary text as well as the secondary sources which include historical, political and colonial writings so as to facilitate a better understanding of the research in general.

The work is important to this research question because it captures and portrays glaringly the Nigerian civil war. The text in itself is an example of the horrors, pains and sufferings the country went through as a result of the war. This is evidenced throughout the novel. The general study will be carried out incorporating works on the Nigerian civil war. This would include the use of journals, articles, online essays, newspaper articles. Critical reviews on the book and the war in general will be adequately considered.

 Chapter one comprises of the background of the study, statement of the problem, scope/ limitation of the study, purpose of the study, significance of the study, methodology/ research design as well as the theoretical framework. Chapter two will deal with literature review, while chapter three will handle the textual and data analysis. The chapter four: summary and conclusion.