In New Memoir, CUNY SPS Business Faculty Reflects Back on Nigerian Civil War

Cover of Dr. Egbe book "Elephants, The Grass, and a Teacher"

The CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) is pleased to announce that Dr. Chinyere Emmanuel Egbe, a consortia faculty member in the School's online business programs, has published the memoir Elephants, The Grass, and a Teacher: Recollections and Reflections on the Nigeria / Biafra War. This gripping and provocative book chronicles Dr. Egbe’s personal and family experiences and reflections upon the Nigerian civil war from 1967 to 1970.

In this Q&A, Dr. Egbe sat down with CUNY SPS to discuss his memoir, future plans, and what he hopes his students might learn from his experiences.

Q: What led you to write your memoir?

A: I was motivated to write this book because I have told my story to friends and acquaintances, and they have found my experiences interesting—enough that many of them have suggested that I publish these experiences. At other times, I have been engaged in discussions and debates about different aspects of the war. But the catalyst was that I began to read the writings of ordinary people who documented their experiences. In adding documentation of my experiences to the literature on Biafra, I am expanding for posterity a collection of stories that will add to a more complete documentation of events.

Equally important, this book is also written for the sake of my younger siblings, who experienced the events but were too young to recollect or document any details. Finally, I am writing this book as a tribute to my father, Mr. Pliny Igwe Abel Egbe, an educational pioneer whose energies and intellect mitigated the hardships arising from the war and whose personal influence shielded the family from annihilation during the war.

Q: Please tell us a bit about what the book is about.

In the book, I chronicle the harrowing experiences of my family and several close calls with annihilation within a complex context of the suffering of the people. I describe the anguish of the popular masses and admonish that war does not do anyone any good but only benefits the political, military, and ruling establishments. For this reason, the book is a lamentation of sorts and begins with a rueful soliloquy as I limp home on a lonely road, the day after the war. In my opening, I state that anyone who causes a war to start in their lifetime should, along with their family, be the ones to go into the trenches and suffer deprivation and hardship and dodge bullets but not send other people’s children to fight and to die.

Q: Can you describe your approach to writing your memoir? What makes this different from other accounts of the conflict you’ve read?

A: This book is not just about my experiences and the experiences of my family during the Nigerian Civil War (July 1967–January 1970) but also a reflection on the issues surrounding the war. More importantly, it is about my thesis regarding the war: the motives and behaviors of the ruling establishments on both sides that led to the war and the suffering of the masses of ordinary people. I take issue with the personalities, especially the secessionist leader and the ruling establishment on both sides, and I also express opinions about the organizational flaws of the warlord on the Biafran side as well as some military analysis of one or more of the commanders.

Many books have been written about the civil war in the form of memoirs and historical documentation. However, a lot of the writings—not all—have been characterized by selective memories. Writers have been one-sided either by design or because they have limited information. Even on a personal level, if I had written this book twenty-five years ago, it would have been different. I would not have had the wealth of information that I have now, and my perspective might have been different. Accordingly, I questioned several of the points that authors and spokespersons (on both sides of the conflict) have made.

Q: How long have you been teaching in the business department at CUNY SPS? What classes do you teach?

A: I have been teaching in the CUNY SPS online business programs for four years (since the summer of 2018) and have taught business mathematics and macroeconomics classes. I have also developed and/or reviewed courses in business statistics and research methods. Though I am a professor of business and economics, I am an avid student of the history of human conflict, especially military history. For me, this book will also make contributions to military history.

Q: Have you written any other books? Or do you have plans for a future book that you'd like to mention?

A: I have no plans to write another book soon. However, I am working on publishing one or two journal articles out of the book. The article(s) will focus on the flaws in strategic economic managerial decision-making underlying certain military actions.

Q: How do you think your story might inspire your students (or any reader)?

A: My purpose for writing this book is to inspire discussion of the evils of war, the issues at stake during this war, and to shock the human conscience against war. I would like to inform my students, if they read the book, about war and the motives of ruling establishments in initiating such conflict.

In this regard, I would like to quote the ancient Roman poet, Mesterius Plutarchus, who questioned military and political leaders thus: "...The commanders [are] guilty of a ridiculous error, when, at the head of their armies, they exhorted the common soldiers to fight for their sepulchers and altars; when not any amongst so many…is possessed of either altar or monument, neither have they any houses of their own or hearths of their ancestors to defend...The men who bear arms and expose their lives for the safety of their country, enjoy in the meantime nothing more in it but air and the light; and having no houses or settlements of their own, are constrained to wander from place to place with their wives and children....They fought indeed and were slain, but it was to maintain the wealth and the luxury of other men."

Elephants, The Grass, and a Teacher is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, and Abebooks.

About the CUNY SPS Online Business Programs

The BS in Business online degree program provides students with a fundamental background in business functions and principles that can be used to build or advance their careers. Through the examination of case studies, global business models, and analytical tools, students gain a strong understanding of where they would make the greatest impacts within an organization. Additionally, the attention devoted to ethical decision-making, corporate responsibility, and team collaboration helps students develop the practical managerial skills needed to thrive in a range of business areas.

The BPS in Applied Management and Entrepreneurship will also allow AAS degree holders in career preparatory fields such as accounting, graphic design, marketing, computer information systems and network technologies, hospitality management, and other vocational or technical programs to acquire skills, knowledge, and credential needed to progress in their current career or open their own business. Similar to other CUNY SPS programs, the BPS in Applied Management and Entrepreneurship will be offered fully online.

The MS in Business Management and Leadership online degree program inspires working professionals to become innovators, influencers, and decision-makers across all areas of business. With an emphasis on maintaining corporate ethical practices in a global environment, the program examines case studies and organizational models to help students solve timely issues related to diversity, sustainability, and consumer trust. Unlike the MBA, the MS degree provides versatility and flexibility to all students as they learn the core business functions in addition to the emerging industry areas. The program grounds itself in the ability to help students analyze numerical and non-numerical data alike so they can become better at explaining and justifying their decisions.

About the CUNY School of Professional Studies

As New York’s leader in online education since 2006, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) offers the most online bachelor’s and master’s degree options at the City University of New York, and serves as the University’s only undergraduate all-transfer college. With 26 degrees and numerous other non-degree and grant-funded workplace learning programs, CUNY SPS meets the needs of adults who wish to finish a bachelor’s degree, progress from an associate’s degree, earn a master’s degree or certificate in a specialized field, and advance in the workplace or change careers. Consistently ranked highly by U.S. News & World Report for its online offerings, and noted for its soaring growth and enrollment, CUNY SPS has emerged as a nationwide leader in online education. The School’s renowned and affordable online programs—which offer in-state tuition to all students regardless of where they live—ensure that busy working adults may fulfill their educational goals on their own time and schedule.

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