Historical Context

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The First Governments
Nigeria, a British colony, gained its independence in 1960. Each of Nigeria's regions was the center of one of the major ethnic groups—the Muslim Hausa and Fulani in the north, the Christian Ibo in the southeast, and the Yoruba, who were Muslim or Christian, in the west. The new country's first government was a parliamentary system, with each region represented in the federal government. The northern region, however, with its large population, soon dominated the entire country politically. Friction increased, particularly between the Hausa/Fulani and the Ibo in the southeast. In January 1966, an Ibo-dominated group of eastern army officers, hoping to rid the country of political corruption, led a coup that toppled the government. They handed over control of Nigeria to the commander-in-chief of the army, Maj. Gen. Johnson T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, who abolished the federal constitution and established a military government.

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As Aguiyi-Ironsi attempted to promote national unity by doing away with the traditional regional power structure, political tensions led to tribal conflict. In July 1966, a group of northern army personnel launched another coup, placing Lt. Col. Yakubu Danjuma Gowon in power. He restored the federal system of government in August.

The Civil War
Since the first coup, the Ibo, now living in the north, had experienced violent persecution. Many Ibo were killed, and hundreds of thousands of others fled to their traditional homeland in the south. They began to fear that the July coup was an attempt by the north to gain control of all of Nigeria. These concerns led Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the military governor of eastern Nigeria, to boycott the constitutional talks held in October 1966. He pressed for a loosening of the bonds of the federation. Negotiations broke down, however, and in March 1967, eastern Nigeria announced that it no longer recognized Gowon as its head of government. In May 1967, the Ibo declared their secession and the formation of the Republic of Biafra.

A bloody civil war broke out in July as the federal government attempted to reclaim its territory. The Ibo experienced initial military victories, but soon the momentum was swinging in favor of Nigeria. The Biafran capital of Enugu fell to federal troops in October 1967. By April of the following year, the Nigerian army had reconquered most of the eastern territory. In May 1968, federal forces occupied Port Harcourt, Biafra's last remaining supply link with the outside world. Although the Biafran forces were surrounded, the rebellion continued until January 1970, when they surrendered. Along with heavy military casualties, perhaps as many as one million civilians died during the war, many the result of severe malnutrition.

Post-Civil War Nigeria
Col. Gowon remained in control of the Nigerian government. He initiated a policy of reconciliation with the Biafran rebels and announced his intention to stay in power until 1976, which he set as his target year for the country's return to an elected civilian government. Many Nigerians criticized this six-year plan, worrying that the military would retain power indefinitely. The Gowon regime also was attacked for its widespread, blatant corruption. Graft (illegal or unfair gain, such as in money), bribery, and nepotism were an integral part of all levels of government. In 1973, the federal government established a special anticorruption police force, known as the X-Squad, whose investigations revealed ingenious forms of extortion and fraud among private businesses and professions, as well as in the government and public corporations. Crime also posed a serious threat to internal security. Armed gangs, often composed of former soldiers, roamed the countryside, robbing, extorting, and kidnapping Nigerians. Sometimes the gangs operated with the approval of the local police or included moonlighting soldiers. Although punishment for these crimes was severe, including public executions, the government was unable to curb the crime rate.

In the face of such difficulties, Gowon came to increasingly depend on a small group of advisers. He also backed off from the 1976 date to return to civilian rule, declaring that it would only worsen the nation's plight. Protests staged in May and June brought essential services to a standstill. In July 1975, Go won was deposed in a bloodless military coup, and a new government emerged.

Literary Style

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The setting of ‘‘Civil Peace’’ is Enugu, the former capital of Biafra (eastern Nigeria) and the surrounding countryside. The most important aspects that define both settings are not the physical geography but the human geography. Both settings are populated with official functionaries and neighbors. These two groups provide a sort of economic protection—for the Iwegbu family makes their living from them—but fail to provide any physical protection. In both the countryside and the city, the Iwegbus carry out business dealings. While living in the countryside outside of Enugu, Maria barters with camp officials for needed goods, and Jonathan is able to earn money by taxiing them and their families to the nearest tarred road. Soldiers and other ''lucky people'' are some of the few Nigerians with money, and in Enugu, the family is able to earn money by selling mangoes to the soldiers' wives and homemade food to neighbors ‘‘in a hurry to start life again,’’ and by opening a bar that caters primarily to soldiers.

The Iwegbus live within a community where people know each other but fail to care about its welfare. On the morning after the robbery, the ‘‘neighbours and others assembled to commiserate'' with the family, and Jonathan regards them as his "sympathizers." Still, these people failed to respond to the alarm the night before. Clearly, they heard the commotion, for only hours earlier Jonathan was able to hear ''all the neighbourhood noises die down one after another.'' In their selfish actions, these neighbors define the setting of the Iwegbu's home in Enugu, which is most likely representative of the settings in other communities within the city.

Dialogue and Dialect
Achebe uses dialogue with great discretion in ‘‘Civil Peace.’’ In the early sections of the story, only two phrases of dialogue are presented, both of which support Jonathan's optimism: ‘‘Happy survival!’’ and ‘‘Nothing puzzles God.’’ Much of the scene with the thieves, however, is rendered through dialogue that emphasizes the negative aspects of post-war Nigeria. The verbal exchanges between Jonathan and the thieves, concerning physical threats and demands for money, focus on the potential for violence.

The verbal exchange also starkly contrasts the broken English spoken by the thieves and the proper English spoken by Jonathan. The thieves' mocking of the family's call for help only reinforces these differences. For example, the family cries out, ‘‘We are lost!’’ but in broken English, this plea becomes ‘‘we done loss-o!’’ Achebe employs broken English for three reasons. The differences between these manners of speech implies that Jonathan is better educated than the thieves are. Also, the use of broken English accurately reflects eastern Nigerian society. Lastly, Achebe often used broken English for comedic affect. So in the robbery scene, the thieves' role as an instrument of violence is downplayed, which heightens the tension; despite how ineffectual the thieves may sound, they pose a serious danger.

Point of View
The story is told from the third-person point of view. All the events in the story are filtered through Jonathan's eyes and thoughts. Because of this point of view, the reader is better able to comprehend the unfailing optimism with which Jonathan regards the world and his circumstances. The story's opening line—‘‘Jonathan Iwegbu counted himself extraordinarily lucky’’—also emphasizes this positive frame of mind. This limited point of view, however, does not share how the rest of the Iwegbu family regard their new life and the hard work that it requires. Rather, Maria and the children only exist in the story as an extension of Jonathan, feeling what he feels and valuing what he values.

In Chinua Achebe, C. L. Innes suggested, ‘‘The second half of this story, the account of the robbery, suggests that Achebe might well, if he so wished, prove a dramatist.’’ Innes found that the ‘‘episode mingles fear, suspense and hilariously grim comedy.'' The thieves never appear ''on stage,'' that is, the unfolding of the action remains inside the Iwegbu house at all times; the leader of the thieves becomes an off-stage actor and his band of thieves a ''horrible chorus.’’ This section also relies almost primarily on dialogue. The descriptions that are included are generally auditory. ‘‘Maria and the children sobbed," "Jonathan groaned," "automatic fire rang through the sky’’—these are a few examples of descriptions that most resemble play directions.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 323

Achebe, Chinua, and Charles H. Rowell, ‘‘Chinua Achebe with Charles H. Rowell,’’ in Conversations with Chinua Achebe, edited by Bernth Lindfors, University Press of Mississippi, 1997, pp. 165-84.

Achebe, Chinua, and Eleanor Wachtel, ‘‘Chinua Achebe with Eleanor Wachtel,’’ in Malahat Review, No. 113, December 1995, pp. 53-66.

Innes, C. L., Chinua Achebe, Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Killam, G. D., The Writings of Chinua Achebe, Heinemann, 1977.

Menkiti, I. A., review in Library Journal, May 1, 1973, p. 1507.

Ogungbesan, Kolawole, ‘‘Politics and the African Writer: The Example of Chinua Achebe,’’ in Critical Perspectives on Chinua Achebe, edited by C. L. Innes and Bernth Lindfors, Three Continents Press, 1978, pp. 37–46. Originally published in African Studies Review, Vol. 17, 1974, pp. 43—54.

Review in Choice, October 1973, p. 1203. Review in New Yorker, April 14, 1973, p. 155. Review in Saturday Review, April 1973, p. 95.

Further Reading
Achebe, Chinua, Conversations with Chinua Achebe, edited by Bernth Lindfors, University Press of Mississippi, 1997.

The collected interviews span from 1962 through 1995 and offer a representative sample of Achebe's public views.

Achebe, Chinua, Home and Exile, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Based on three of Achebe's lectures, this work examines the Nigerian culture and Europe's influence on its development.

Achebe, Chinua, Trouble With Nigeria, Heinemann, 1984.

Achebe discusses the problems faced by contemporary Nigeria, including tribalism, political corruption, and prejudice.

Lyons, Robert, and Chinua Achebe, Another Africa, Doubleday, 1998.

This work fuses Lyons' photographs with Achebe's poetry and an essay to create a view of present-day Africa and the issues it faces.

Ohaeto, Ezenwa, Chinua Achebe, Indiana University Press, 1997.

Written by a former student of Achebe's, this biography pays special attention to Nigerian history and Achebe's support of human rights in the country.

Palmer, Eustace, An Introduction to the African Novel, Heinemann, 1972.

Palmer examines the works of twelve African novelists for their literary significance.

Petersen, Kirsten Holst, and Anna Rutherford, eds., Chinua Achebe, Heinemann, 1991.

To honor Achebe's sixtieth birthday, writers and academics from around the world contributed essays to this collection examining his role as a writer, editor, and literary spokesperson.

Compare and Contrast

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1970s: The population, according to the official 1963 Nigerian census (which has many inconsistencies), is about 56 million.

Today: Nigeria's population is about 123 million.

1970s: In 1965, about 152 babies per 1,000 live births in Nigeria die.

Today: In 2000, about 74 babies per 1,000 live births in Nigeria die.

1970s: In 1970, life expectancy averages 40 years in Nigeria.

Today: In 2000, life expectancy averages 52 years in Nigeria.

1970s: A military government retains power in Nigeria.

Today: In 1999, anew constitution is adopted in Nigeria after nearly sixteen years of military rule, and a civilian government begins to be installed.

1960s: Ethnic conflicts lead to the bloody Nigerian civil war, which takes place from 1967 through 1970.

Today: Although ethnic conflict remains in Nigeria, the federal government carefully controls it, bringing a quick end to any serious outbreaks of violence.

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