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Ndaeyo Uko: Narrative journalism, Biafran war and the humanitarian angle

Several intriguing reports and books have been written about the Nigerian civil war by some of the main protagonists, observers and journalists who have given different perspectives and insights to the secessionist attempt, the impact and how it affected the then Southern Eastern region of the country.

The war, which lasted between 1967 and 1970, was principally about the sharing of resources in a multi-ethnic country aided by the structural imbalance with the fear of domination being one of the remote causes.

More of the civil war reports are still being written and with the internet as well a new approach to investigative and narrative journalism, the Biafran story is being retold.

This latest story is being handled by Ndaeyo Uko, a master storyteller and a leading light in narrative journalism in this part of the world.

“It is about the Biafran war but with a humanitarian angle,’’ he said in an exclusive interview adding that he had to give up his position in a foreign university as a lecturer to devote more time and energy to the Biafran book project.

“I am able to find out things that should not be found, a story nobody can tell, I have been in Biafra and Nigeria to tell a story that is international, telling an African story by an African who is accepted outside the African continent,’’ he said.

“I grew up in Lutheran High School in the present day Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State and befriended Red Cross workers from around the world,’’ he said.

“As I was researching the book,I thought it was going to be short, I had to let go of my tenure, I have discovered that it is all consuming.

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“I have spent more than 15 years researching the book, adding that there is still work to be done because I like to find out what nobody else has done.

“I am actually challenging everything that is known about the humanitarian situation of the Biafran war,” he said.

According to him, he has travelled to many parts of the world to interview those who were involved in the humanitarian airlift during the civil war that saw children dying of starvation and the involvement of many international organisations offering humanitarian assistance which turned out to be a “a commercial enterprise.’’

He maintains that “since journalism cannot interrogate reality because it does not have what it takes, as journalism is a story told in a hurry, he had to go a step further to dig deeper to find out that what was not known during the civil war adding even “though many children starved to death during the civil war, there was a big story behind starving children.’’

“As a narrative journalist, I am researching to find out whether the information that was given during the war was correct and practically everything we know about the starving children during the Biafran war is false,” he said.

“There are no loose ends any more, everything I have suspected, I have evidence and it is true, that explains why the book had to take a pretty long time to come out. There is no human on this planet earth who is able to tell the story that I am writing,’’ he said.

Explaining that journalism in its pure sense is feeble because it cannot provide all the details needed by the consumers of media products, he said he had to turn to narrative journalism which he said is formidable in storytelling.

He gave an example of a narrative style of writing which he did while covering an incident of a car crash in Europe, adding that when he got to the scene of the accident, the first thing he did was to look at the wrist watch of the deceased victim of the car crash.

According to him, from the contacts he made and the observation, he wrote a series of reports from the car crash incident using the narrative technique in which the editor told him he never knew a report of an accident could be so engaging. Indeed, a big, intriguing story in the works.

Ndaeyo Uko, no doubt has made a name in journalism, published books and won many awards. He has worked in newsrooms Nigeria, the United States, the United Kingdom. He ran the journalism programme at the University of Virgin Islands and until recently was teaching Journalism at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia and speaks regularly at narrative journalism conferences in many parts of the world. His books include The Rock ‘N’ rule Years” A satirist View of Nigeria’s Military Presidency (1992) and ‘Romancing the Gun: The Press as a Promoter of Military Rule (2004)’, among others.

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