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We Return to Nigeria

October 6, 2015

From Fraser Ottanelli:

We are finally back in Nigeria, for the first time since spring 2014. At that time, we did a series of focus groups with young women and men to record their opinions on the long-term economic, social and cultural impact of the Asaba massacre on those born after the end of the Civil War – work that adds a valuable new perspective to the ongoing project.

Since our research relies so heavily on community collaboration and the continued accumulation of testimonies, we had made plans to come back a year ago, in early October 2014. However, the outbreak of the Ebola virus epidemic that spread through West Africa forced us to reconsider. The countries most affected were Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone;  even though Nigeria suffered a relatively small outbreak, the country’s medical authorities dealt with it aggressively and efficiently so that by the end of 2014, the World Health Organization declared the country Ebola-free. By then, unfortunately, we had already canceled our trip back to Asaba.

Instead, we made two research trips to archives in the UK. During the first, in early October 2014, we attended a commemoration of the massacre organized by the Asaba community in the UK, and then began to mine the rich collection of sources on the Nigerian Civil War at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. During the second, this year, we spent a few more days at Bodleian before moving to the holdings of the African collection at the School for African and Oriental Studies in London as well as British records at the National Archives in Kew. All the UK archives expanded our understanding of the significance of the Asaba massacre in the broader context of the Civil War. Notably, recently declassified records from the Harold Wilson government helped us better understand not only the complex relationship between British authorities and the Nigerian Federal government but also how the former contributed in shaping the conduct of military operations during the conflict.

Now we are back in the field. Bolstered by fresh new knowledge along with major funding from the American Council of Learned Societies and a book contract from Cambridge University Press, we are ready to fill some gaps in the research, and move our book project ahead.

An ingenious art form - a typical Nigerian bus made from scrap metal, on display in a Lagos gallery

An ingenious art form – a typical Nigerian bus made from scrap metal, on display in a Lagos gallery

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