The Last Duty

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The Last Duty

by Isidore Okpewho


A novel set in midwestern Nigeria during the Nigerian civil war (July 1967 to January 1970); published in English in 1976.


A husband and wife from opposing ethnic groups and their small son confront pressures in a Nigerian border town during the civil war.

Events in History at the Time of the Novel

The Novel in Focus

For More Information

Isidore Okpewho was born November 9, 1941, at Agbor in the Midwest region of Nigeria, now Delta State and Edo State. Delta is predominantly Igbo (Ibo) speaking, while Edo is predominantly Urhobo speaking. Okpewho, who has an Igbo-speaking mother and an Urhobo-speaking father, graduated from University College in Ibadan in 1964, then worked for the Federal Ministry of Education, the Ministry of External Affairs, and Longman publishers. He spent eight years at Longman as an editor at its Nigeria office. During this time, before emigrating to pursue a doctorate in English in the United States, Okpewho published his first novel, The Victims (1970), and completed the first draft of his second novel, The Last Duty. He began the latter novel toward the end of 1969 (when the Nigerian civil war was drawing to a close), completing it the following year. The Last Duty has gained renown as one of the finest fictional accounts of the psychological damage done to ordinary citizens by the three-year Nigerian civil war.

Events in History at the Time of the Novel

Colonial legacies

The Last Duty is set at a time when the Nigerian nation was at the brink of disintegration. In precolonial times, the people living in what was to be Nigeria were culturally and linguistically unrelated communities inhabiting a vast area from the Atlantic Ocean in the South to the Sahara Desert in the North. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Great Britain began to annex portions of this area as part of its colonial empire. By the early twentieth century, British colonies had been established in both the South and the North and were designated as protectorates. By what seems like an arbitrary action known in Nigerian history as “The Amalgamation,” Britain brought the southern and northern protectorates under one broad colonial administration, collecting all the peoples in these diverse areas into one country, their cultural and linguistic pluralism notwithstanding. Britain proceeded to send over colonial officers to administer the provinces and districts into which the peoples had been grouped. Nigeria would remain a British colony until it attained independence on October 1, 1960. In the colonial era, Britain made no serious effort to address the cultural, linguistic, and ethnic differences in the country; after independence, these differences would pose the most dire threat to the survival of Nigeria as a sovereign nation. Its peoples continued to relate to one another on the strength of ethnic and linguistic affiliations rather than with any sense of common nationality. Ethnic prejudice, a legacy of the haphazard amalgamation of peoples under colonial rule, has remained a root cause of political instability in Nigeria ever since, breeding rivalries that climaxed in the civil war whose effects pervade The Last Duty.

Postindependence geopolitics

Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria currently contains about 120 million people, who belong to 250 ethnic groups and speak 394 different languages. Random clashes between different ethnic groups have been a fact of life since independence. There have been various attempts to accommodate diverse ethnic interests in government and to achieve equity in power sharing and the distribution of amenities, but ethnic jealousies, rivalries, suspicions, and mistrust still abound.

In addition to ethnic prejudice, corruption has militated against progress since independence. Government officials have at one time or another


Chinua Achebe’s novel A Man of the People (written 1964), captures the temper of the times, showing how corruption was so overwhelming that Nigerians not only resigned themselves to it but even rationalized it:

Let them eat, was the people’s opinion, after all, when the white-man used to do all the eating, did we commit suicide? Of course not. And where is the all-powerful white-man today? He came, he ate and he went. But we are still around…. Besides, if you survive, who knows? It may be your turn to eat tomorrow. Your son may bring home your share.

(Achebe, p. 145)

A Man of the People ends with the army sacking the civilian government through a coup d’état, and hints at a later mutiny in the army and a countercoup. Although written in 1964, the novel was published the first week of January 1966. On January 15,1966, Nigeria actually experienced a coup; soldiers assumed control of the government, abolished all democratic institutions, suspended the constitution, and ruled by decree. And, as predicted in A Man of the People, another coup took place a few months later, which gave rise to military dictatorship in Nigeria. Events degenerated so badly that by July 1967 Nigeria had become deeply embroiled in the ethnic civil war that inspired The Last Duty.

been accused of an assortment of corrupt practices—kickbacks, massive fraud, brazen inflation of contract figures. Aside from stymying national economic growth, this corruption has created mass disillusionment about independence. Within a few years of independence, the country was sliding into misrule, materialism, a betrayal of societal values, and the ruthless silencing of divergent viewpoints. By 1964-65 political violence was rife, especially in the southwest, where private armies were terrorizing citizens and the civilian government seemed powerless to prevent the anarchy.

Military rule and civil war

Army rule in Nigeria actually began with the bloody coup détat of January 15, 1966, which included the assassinations of Prime Minister Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, members of his cabinet, and some prominent politicians—including the cultural and political leader of the North, the Sarduana of Sokoto; the premier of the western region, Chief Lagoke Akintola; and a flamboyant politician from the Midwest, Chief Festus Okotie, the Federal Minister of Finance. Two governors survived the coup, Chief Michael Okpara and Chief Dennis Osadebe, of the East and Midwest regions, respectively; they happened to be of the Igbo ethnic group. After the coup Nigeria’s highest ranking military officer, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, assumed leadership of the country. Ironsi had not participated in the coup, which was the handiwork of young army officers, mostly majors. He in fact ordered their arrest.

Initially the people did not ascribe any ethnic motives to the coup. They welcomed the army’s seizure of the corrupt government. People celebrated in the streets, accepting warmly the new military dispensation. But six months later new interpretations set in and reactions changed. The once-popular coup was tarnished by propaganda and redefined as an ethnically motivated plot to enthrone Igbo leadership in the federal government. In various parts of the country, especially in the Muslim North, the Igbos became victims of violent harassment. A mutiny in the army and a countercoup in July 1966 resulted in Ironsi and several Igbo army officers being assassinated.

The once highly respected national army would never be the same. In a matter of months thousands of Igbos in the northern region of Nigeria were murdered by military officers. There was a mass exodus of the Igbo to the eastern region, their place of origin. Other ethnic groups from the East had members in the North too, and they were forced home as well, although it remains debatable whether their lives were in as grave danger as those of their Igbo counterparts.

The new head of the military government was a young lieutenant colonel from the North, Yakubu Gowon, the most senior officer after the assassinated Ironsi. Gowon’s ascension brought about serious conflicts. The military governor of the East, Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, refused to recognize Gowon’s leadership or take orders from him. A serious rift broke out within the army, only worsening the situation in a country already riven by ethnic feuding.

Ojukwu advised easterners residing elsewhere in the country to make their way back to their home region, as there was no guarantee of their safety elsewhere. Within months the East was teeming with millions of refugees. The massacre continued, raising cries of genocide throughout eastern Nigeria. Attempts at a political solution yielded no positive results. The most far-reaching attempt was made in Ghana at a location called Aburi. At the end of the negotiations, an accord (the so-called “Aburi agreement”) was reached between Ojukwu and Gowon, which enshrined the decision to adopt a system of confederation that made the regions semiautonomous. However, after closer examination of the implications of such a confederation, Gowon refused to abide by the Aburi agreement; Ojukwu demanded full compliance with it. Oil, a major foreign exchange earner for the country (accounting for more than 70 percent of Nigeria’s annual revenue), was found primarily in the East. Prompted by a strong feeling of self-sufficiency, the eastern region, with encouragement from Ojukwu, clamored for the confederation—or for secession. On May 30, 1967, Ojukwu declared the eastern region to be a separate country from Nigeria and named the new nation the Republic of Biafra. Four African nations—Zambia, Tanzania, Gabon, and Ivory Coast—and one outside the continent—Haiti—recognized Biafra. Many Haitians trace their African origins to the Igbos, a heritage exploited by Biafran propagandists, although they apparently neglected to exploit the fact that Olaudah Equiano (see Equiano’s Travels , also covered in African Literature and Its Times) was an Igbo who established roots in Barbados.

On July 30, 1967, Nigeria declared war on Biafra under the slogan: “To keep Nigeria one is a task, which must be done.” (In The Last Duty, this political slogan is echoed in “to keep Zonda one is a task, which must be done,” Zonda being a fictional name for Nigeria.) Thus began the Nigerian civil war, a conflict that would drag on for 30 months. One dilemma on both sides was how to treat families with heritages in both Nigeria and Biafra—for example, a family with spouses who came from different sides. This problem was felt most acutely in border towns where people of different ethnic groups had intermarried and intermingled for decades. Generally families with members of different ethnic groups on different sides of the war had a hard time establishing their unquestionable loyalty, and in the end many of them split up and returned to their individual places of origin rather than live under daily suspicion of their loyalty to a particular side. Some families chose to remain together and show by their deeds that they had no divided loyalties, but such families might be kept under close surveillance. This type of family is at the root of the crisis in The Last Duty.

The novel opens when the civil war has begun and people not born in the territories in which they find themselves are at the mercy of their neighbors, who may trump up allegations of sabotage and collaboration with the enemy. Many innocent lives were in fact lost to such charges, the means, as evident in the novel, by which some malicious people settled old scores.

The Novel in Focus

Plot summary

An interethnic family finds itself caught in the crossfire of the Nigerian civil war. At the center are Mukoro Oshevire, an innocent man detained in prison for allegedly collaborating with the rebel troops during their occupation of a small border town, Urukpe; his wife, Aku, who has migrated from Simba and married into Urukpe; and their four-year-old son, Oghenovo. The family struggles for survival amid the malice of the community, the treachery of the town chief, Toje Onovwakpo, and the idealism of the commander of the federal troops, Major Ali S. Idris. When the novel opens, Oshevire has been in detention for almost three years. From this fact, it can be surmised that the plot takes place in the last quarter of 1969, in the final weeks of the war, which ended in January 1970. The characters take turns narrating the events from their separate perspectives.

Urukpe is at the border between Igabo (in Nigeria) and Simba (fictional name for Biafra). Before the war the neighboring communities of Urukpe and Simba had the best of relationships; they shared common interests, intermarried, and felt at home in each other’s territory. When the war began, the Simbian troops were the first to occupy Urukpe. Later in the war the federal troops retook the town, and confusion descended. Overnight, families found themselves in disarray. Wives born in Simba fled there with their children, leaving husbands among their own kin in Urukpe. Oshevire’s wife, Aku, however, puts her family ahead of everything else, remaining in Urukpe with her husband and their only child, Oghenovo. Her decision does not sit well with the community, as the federal government encourages Urukpe’s citizens to sever all cordial relationships with the Simbians, who are considered agents of rebellion and disunity. This attitude makes any Simbian a target for molestation and murder. Still, Aku refuses to leave Urukpe. While the people of Urukpe resent Aku’s dogged determination to remain, the local chief, Toje Onovwakpo, a prosperous rubber merchant in less fractious times, see in the delicate predicament of the Oshevire household an opportunity for personal gain. Oshevire had joined the rubber business at a time when Toje virtually had a monopoly on it. Oshevire, however, soon outstripped Toje in the business and so earned his hatred. Toje saw himself as the town’s foremost citizen, “one of those few names that mean anything here in Urukpe. Everybody knows that—or should” (Okpewho, The Last Duty, p. 5). To stamp out this rival in the rubber business, Toje alleged that Oshevire had collaborated with enemy soldiers. Because of the gravity of the crime, he was imprisoned without trial at Iddu, the state capital, for about three years.

With Oshevire behind bars, Toje’s business worries seem over, but his vicious schemes are not. His next target is Oshevire’s beautiful wife, Aku, whom he decides to seduce. If nothing else, the seduction, he thinks, will restore his virility; Toje had suddenly become impotent as a result of his indiscretion with prostitutes. “I have not hesitated,” says Toje, “to seek carnal pleasure with [Oshevire’s] forlorn wife now that I feel my manhood flawed, my potency questioned….. And what town is there that can survive if it becomes known that one of its most pre-eminent citizens has no claims to manhood?” (The Last Duty, p. 5).

Tojo times his treachery at Aku’s most vulnerable moment. She is alone with her son without a protective husband to help her face the cruelty and hostility of an entire community. She has been ostracized by Urukpe’s people, who have barred her from buying or selling in their markets, and needs some solace if she and her son are to survive in her resolute determination to safeguard her husband’s house and maintain his honor while he is in detention.

Toje aims not only to put Oshevire out of business but to destroy his family life entirely. To camouflage his plot, Toje uses his nephew, Odibo, a cripple born without one hand who depends on his rich uncle for survival, as a go-between with Aku. Toje showers Aku with gifts of food, clothes, and money—vital items for a woman whose isolation from the community gives her no access to necessities. To shield the affair from his wives and family, and the open eyes of the town, Toje uses his helpless nephew’s residence for his liaisons with Aku. He sends Odibo to Aku’s house to fetch her, then has Odibo stay behind to keep her young son company. Sometimes Odibo spends the night at Aku’s house when her late return makes it impossible for him to venture home. Although Toje succeeds in his advances to Aku and on occasion arouses her physically, his impotence interferes, making it impossible for him to achieve consummation or to satisfy her sexual desires.

Eventually Aku succumbs not to Chief Toje, but to his humiliated, derided nephew, Odibo (Odibo means “a lowly servant”). Aku ascribes her behavior to emotions beyond her control: “Frustration had driven me to the point where I would rather live the fact than the fiction of sin” (The Last Duty, p. 184). In time Chief Toje discovers the love affair between Odibo and Aku and, like a wounded lion, unleashes his fury on Aku. Odibo intervenes to divert Toje’s violence to himself. In the ensuing fight, venting longstanding contempt for each other, the two men exchange deadly machete wounds.

While his family is being torn to shreds at home, Oshevire finally gets his day in court. After about three years, his case comes up for hearing before a military tribunal. Toje thinks he has concocted a foolproof case against Oshevire and that Oshevire is destined for execution:

Yes, I exploited the situation and secretly reported Oshevire to Major Bello, and thereafter Oshevire was whisked off into detention at Iddu. And yes, I later got together a number of trumped up charges, and proceeded to suborn the son of Oshevire’s old enemy to appear in evidence against the man who put the shame on his father only a few years back. Yes, I did all these things … and who is there that can challenge my civic responsibility...?

(The Last Duty, pp. 120-21)

The falsity of the trumped-up charges, however, is shown by inconsistent witnesses. Oshevire is acquitted and discharged, but too late to salvage his shattered family life. Aku’s betrayal is yet unknown to him; he thinks of her as a “very jewel of a wife. A matchless queen, whose courage and nobility demand only equal demonstration of fortitude from me now as always” (The Last Duty, p. 209). It is this belief in her unflinching virtue that will make her betrayal his greatest blow. His confidence in her is wholehearted:

I know what women are, but I also know my woman. My only worry as far as that is concerned, is that if anyone sought to visit any dishonour upon her, she might try to do a desperate thing, perhaps not even short of taking her own life. Every Simba woman that I knew of in Urukpe deserted her family and escaped to save her life at the liberation of our town by federal troops. Now would a woman who stood through all the horrors of that moment, when devil-driven citizens of the town took the law into their hands and tormented the lives of innocent people—would such a woman, who stood through it all just so she would stand beside her man, submit her honour to base desire when things were relatively calm?

(The Last Duty, p. 156)

Before Oshevire can rejoin his family, however, Aku and Oghenovo are taken into protective custody at the army barracks because of the bloody fight between Toje and Odibo. Oshevire grows distraught and apprehensive when he arrives home to find not his wife and son, but a soldier on guard.

Later at the army barracks, bis guilt-ridden wife, instead of welcoming him, breaks down in tears, and Oshevire grows more apprehensive, fearing an impending calamity. The Brigade Commander, Major Ali, breaks the news to him as subtly as possible: “I gave him as much information as either decency or concern for his feelings would allow. An infant would have been able to tell that what brought two men to fight with a machete over a woman was not a decent affair” (The Last Duty, pp. 234-35). Oshevire finds it difficult to believe that his wife has betrayed him. He suspects that she may be pregnant with another man’s child, an eternal disgrace for a man of his strength of character and reputation. “And what man would choose to be alive to face everyday the ill-conceived fruit of shame?” (The Last Duty, p. 238). The humiliation is too much for him to even want to hear her side of the story. He treats her with absolute scorn and silence. At night Oshevire leads his wife and son outside the house and sets it on fire, then flees Urukpe with them. As they make their way through the bush, Oshevire is shot dead by a soldier on guard. His wife ends up on her knees; his son ends up bewildered about the goings-on of the adults in the world around him.

Casualties of war—from Oshevire’s idealism to Aku’s virtue

Two critical actions define Oshevire and Aku in the novel, and help us understand historical realities of the period. The immediate conflict between Oshevire and his community, which charges him with collaborating with the enemy, is prompted by his intervention


One of the most distinctive qualities of The Last Duty is its method of narration. Instead of one narrator, multiple narrators together comprise what Okpewho describes as “the collective evidence technique.” The technique conveys an amalgamation of views and representative personalities perceived by the author to be characteristic of a situation—in this case, events in a border town during the Nigerian civil war.

The story could be said to be told in the first person where every character refers to himself or herself as ’I’ as soon as the reader’s focus is on him…. Each of the major characters is involved unconsciously though, in the story-telling…. The whole story thus becomes the recording of the experiences and utterances of certain important characters in a community who are bound together by the plot. As each character goes over moments of the war in his or her life the reader shares his or her thoughts and becomes a kind of witness to the secrets in the mind of the character. The characters are reliable and judgement is left to the reader.

(Okpewho in Emenyonu and Oguzie, p. 186)

Each character’s speech reflects his or her age and status. Oghenovo’s young mind and age are distinguished from the other characters by putting his speech in lower case with irregular punctuation: “i do not like my father because he will not let me sleep and my mother is crying and my father has set fire to our house” (The Last Duty, p. 241). We are likewise made aware of Odibo’s physical disability, low self-esteem, and slavish dependence on Toje from his plaintive, timid speech: “I know I am nothing. I know I have nothing…. But why does he keep making me feel so bad?” (The Last Duty, p. 6). But later, after a sexual affair with the highly coveted Aku, he speaks with new confidence: “For too long I have felt my body encaged in fear …. Now all that is gone. Gone! (The Last Duty, p. 179).

to rescue a 13-year-old boy from being lynched by people of Urukpe simply because he is Simbian. Blinded by ethnic malice, driven to betray their own ancestral traditions, the adult community no longer cherishes the innocence of childhood, nor does it heed an age-old custom that requires an adult to protect a child fleeing danger. The lynchers perceive the boy they set out to murder not as a human being but as the symbol of a deadly foe. Determined to protect innocence, Oshevire stands alone against the mob, prepared even to lose his life if need be:

I saw that boy as a human being, and that was my only concern. It still is my only concern. I felt deeply moved to see human life in danger. Though that boy’s face had been slightly disfigured I could clearly see that he was too young and I could not bear to watch him fall into the hands of a merciless mob that could have taken his life right there before me. I felt concerned then at the total loss of reason among many people in our town—how several helpless people who could not possibly have been soldiers were hunted down and pitilessly brutalised for no just cause…. I am not ashamed or afraid to have done what I did. I am willing to stand by my action, even if I should die for it.

(The Last Duty, p. 194)

Oshevire’s actions represent a concern for human decency and justice in a world beleaguered by anarchy and hate. Amidst ethnic antagonisms and personal agendas, his is a voice of idealism whose presence the novel acknowledges alongside the negative factors in the devastating civil crisis in Nigeria.

Aku’s emotional crisis climaxes when she drops her defenses against the lecherous Toje, and later amorously submits to a surprised but appreciative Odibo. In the case of Toje, she throws her hesitation and reluctance to the winds, ruminating on the possible consequences: “What would I lose if I did? What wouldn’t I lose if I didn’t?” she asks, realizing she must do everything possible to ensure physical survival for herself and her child (The Last Duty, p. 68). In the case of Odibo, whom she literally seduces, she blames her behavior on loneliness and frustration; her excuses expose the agonies of separation endured by spouses forcibly distanced by the war. During the war, families were separated and scattered; it was not uncommon to find a husband or wife left to fend for himself or herself and their children. Scarcity of food and other necessities often forced women to compromise their virtue to ensure survival. They might attach themselves to soldiers who could afford to support them or perhaps they resorted to covert prostitution. Many marriages were sacrificed at the end of the war when couples could not come to terms with the consequences of their actions. Many of the women caught in such moral quagmires were victims of circumstance, as Aku illustrates through her musings at a critical point in the story:

Loyalty and devotion had been strained beyond all possible endurance, and neither the mind nor the body could any longer fight the overwhelming presence of temptation. The passive resistance of the body could no longer be supported by the will of the mind, until the entire defence came tumbling down, like an unsheltered mud wall under the relentless downsurge of rain.

(The Last Duty, p. 184)


In a 1999 telephone interview, Okpewho revealed the actual event that inspired him to write the novel. He was away from the fighting during the civil war, working in western Nigeria in Ibadan as an editor at Longman Publishers. His family, however, was in the Midwest, a fierce theater of war. After federal troops recaptured the region from Biafran troops late in 1967 he anxiously traveled there to check on the whereabouts of his family. He traveled with a Brigade Major to Asaba, his mother’s natal home, then occupied by the federal soldiers. Although he did not see his uncle, whom he had hoped to find at the family home, he did meet people he knew—but when they saw him in the company of the Brigade Major (a federal soldier) they ran away. Even the priest at the Catholic Mission was reluctant to talk, let alone tell him where his uncle was. While he was in the company of the Brigade Major, people were afraid to identify with him—and yet this was a “liberated’ town. The sense of fear and insecurity in the people Okpe-who met made the experience totally devastating. Later the priest revealed to Okpewho his uncle’s whereabouts and the Brigade Major arranged protection for the family. Okpewho learned that some of his relatives had been killed and others had crossed the border and fled to the East, to the Biafran homeland.

Okpewho continued to tour villages, looking for people he knew, this time accompanied by a close friend, not the Brigade Major. He was stunned by the estrangement that greeted him when he met these people who had been his friends but happened now to be in the so-called federal territories. It was shocking to discover how merely residing on different sides of the war zone could change people’s attitudes, even to their friends. As he observed the people he met and perceived their internal conflicts even in the absence of bombs, guns, and battle, he realized that beyond the physical devastation, the war had done psychological damage. This is what Okpewho refers to when he explains that The Last Duty “is essentially the tragedy of any civil war: lofty political speeches, declarations, etc., take little notice of the lives of the small people involved in the war, yet have far-reaching effects on their fortunes” (Okpewho in Povey, p. 14).

Literary context

The end of the Nigerian civil war gave rise to a multitude of civil war literary works, ranging from opportunistic writings to factual and fictional accounts of the war. Some of the writings approach the level of invaluable historical documents; others reflect conscious or unconscious distortions of reality. To date, many of these writings have been by members of the defunct Republic of Biafra, in particular by members of Igbo origin.

More than any other group, novelists have been the most prolific producers of literary works on the civil war. While it is impractical to identify them all, they include Eddie Iroh, Chukwuemeka Ike, John Munonye, I. N. C. Aniebo, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Elechi Amadi, Okechukwu Mezu, Phanuel Egejuru, Cyprian Ekwensi, Ossie Onuora Enekwe, Kalu Okpi, Kole Omotosho, Kalu Uka, and Ken Saro Wiwa. Of the novels published within ten years of the war, others that achieved an impact on par with Okpe-who’s The Last Duty are Chukwuemeka Ike’s Sunset at Dawn (1976) and Eddie Iroh’s Toads of War (1979). Ike’s Sunset at Dawn explores various dimensions of the war to reinforce the notion that such conflicts are created by the elite whose power plays turn others into innocent victims. Iroh’s Toads of War focuses on the moral decay inside Biafra brought about by greedy millionaires, self-proclaimed messiahs, and prodigals who looted the country. Common to these and other such novels is a focus on the political dimensions of the war and an almost exclusive concern for how and why the Biafran dream failed to materialize. In contrast, The Last Duty explores the psychological damage that any war does to the minds of people, high and low.

Okpewho tries in the novel, to show his readers other aspects of the war rather than the shooting. In the face of fear, violence and corruption, there were individuals who still maintained their self respect and conducted themselves according to the dictates of their conscience by doing what honour and fair play demanded.

(Emenyonu and Oguzie, p. 183)

Physical devastation of life and property are the domains of most of the novels set at the same time and place as The Last Duty. What gives The Last Duty its distinct place is its profound exploration of “the internal conflicts within and among the characters which supply an even greater tension” (Obiechina, p. 270). Aside from the differences in content, there is a difference in setting. While most Nigerian war novels concern



Beware Soul Brother (1972), by Chinua Achebe

Don’t Let Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christopher Okigbo (1978), by Chinua Achebe and Dubem Okafor

Casualties (1970), by J. P. Clark

Songs in a Time of War (1985), by Ken Saro Wiwa

Short Stories

The Insider: Stories of War and Peace from Nigeria (1971), by Chinua Achebe and others.

Girls at War and Other Stories (1972), by Chinua Achebe


No Heaven for the Priest (1971), by Ogali Ogali

The Last Days of Biafra (1973), by Orlando Thomas Iguh

Enough is Enough (1976), by Ene Henshaw

Peppersoup and the Road to Ibadan (1977), by Elechi Amadi

The Prisoners (1985), by Chris Nwamuo


My Command (1980), by Olusegun Obasanjo

The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War (1980), by Alexander Madiebo

Why We Struck (1981), by Adewale Ademoyega

No Place to Hide: Crises and Conflicts Inside Biafra (1985), by Bernard Chukwuemeka Odogwu

the war inside Biafra, The Last Duty focuses on “liberated” areas, where there is no war in the conventional sense and people are supposed to be free and secure—but in fact are not.


In 1972, when The Last Duty was published in manuscript form, it won the U.C.L.A. African Arts Prize for Literature. ’The Last DutyThe Last Duty handled this potentially dangerous subject [the Nigerian civil war] with compassion and skill The structure of the novel is unusual and highly calculated” (Povey, pp. 8, 14). A review in British Book News described the structure as sometimes leading to “self-consciousness” but nonetheless deemed the novel to be “a highly sophisticated and successfully achieved piece of work In its deep moral concern, and in its technical accomplishment, The Last Duty… has earned an honourable place in the development of African Literature” (Pullin, p. 334). Reviewing the novel for the Times Literary Supplement, Adolf Wood complimented the novel’s “collective evidence technique”:

Mr. Okpewho has constructed his story by intercutting his characters’ evocations of what is happening to them. This makes for slow narration because of the constantly alternating viewpoints, but it serves to convey the characters’ lives quite effectively.

(Wood, p. 122)

In Africa, one reviewer complimented the realism achieved by the work: “The reader leaves the novel, The Last Duty with the conviction that he has been to Urukpe, and met its people” (West Africa, p. 1669). Between 1978 and 1983 the novel was reviewed three times in African Literature Today, the leading journal of African literature.

The popularity of the novel in Nigeria was evident by the rapidity with which it was adopted as a reading text in high schools, colleges, and universities. Newspapers in the country carried several reviews of the novel, all positive. In the leading Nigerian newspaper, The Guardian, Bayo Ogunjimi declared that “Okpewho feels the pulses of his age, and prepares [his people’s] souls … for a humane futuristic socioculture” (Ogunjimi, p. 531).

—Ernest N. Emenyonu

For More Information

Achebe, Chinua. A Man of the People. London: Heinemann, 1966.

Emenyonu, Ernest. Studies on the Nigerian Novel. Ibadan: Heinemann, 1991.

Emenyonu, Ernest, and Benaiah E. C. Oguzie. African Literature for Schools and Colleges. Ibadan, Nigeria: University Press, 1989.

Obiechina, Emmanuel. “Isidore Okpewho.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 157. Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996.

Ogunjimi, Bayo. Review of The Last Duty. The Guardian (Lagos), 24 October 1992, p. 531.

Okpewho, Isidore. A Portrait of the Artist as a Scholar. Ibadan: Longman Nigeria, 1990.

_____. The Last Duty. London: Longman, 1976.

Povey, John F., ed. African Arts (winter 1973): 8-12, 14-15, 70-77.

Pullin, Faith. Review of The Last Duty, by Isidore Okpewho. British Book News (April 1977): 334.

Review of The Last Duty. West Africa (London), 8 November 1976, p. 1669.

Wood, Adolph. Review of The Last Duty, by Isidore Okpewho. The Times Literary Supplement, 1 October 1976, p. 1229.