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Thursday, October 6, 2016
IGBO EXCEPTIONALISM: THE RESENTMENT OF THE QUEST FOR BIAFRA
- New York, New York, USA
As a young kid during the Nigerian civil war years who experienced first-hand the anguish, deprivations and frustrations occasioned by that war and having had the rare privilege of serving as a Special Assistant to the late Biafran Warlord, the venerable Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Ojukwu in my adult years, my attitude towards the renewed quest for Biafra has been one of ambivalence and somewhat indifference not so much because I oppose or approve the idea of an independent Biafran nation but rather because I doubted and still doubt a universal agreement amongst a majority of the Igbo's on the issue as well as its possible realization under the present political environment and under this President. Now any discerning mind who has examined the views expressed by the President on this issue since his assumption of office, or the social media comments and opinions made by many Nigerians from the two other major ethnic groups, it will not be difficult to understand or agree with the reasons for my ambivalence.
For starters, it is not only regrettable that the President had made and has continued to make a series of unfortunate comments on the issue including a recent one in New York during the just concluded U.N General conference in which he said he will never allow a referendum on the subject, a comment borne out of sheer ignorance of the limits of his executive powers but also the fact that with his comments he has succeeded in setting the tone for the level of opposition and resentment that now prevails on the issue.. Like the saying goes, "the fish rots from the head", which presupposes the reason for the increased level of acrimony, ethnic hatred and divisiveness that has constrained our ability as Nigerians to have a rational discussion and debate on the Biafran issue. Some have questioned the sudden upsurge in the quest for Biafra since the advent of the Buhari administration as opposed to the Jonathan era. And the answer is simple. It is the president who has set the tone for what is happening today by his unbridled comments before and after his election on the subject,, vis-à-vis his actions.
He first set the tone prior to his election by stating during a BBC Hausa service interview that he did not regret killing a lot of Igbos to keep Nigeria one and would do it again if the need arose. He followed it up by also stating that he will not bother with the 5% of Nigerians, referring to the Igbo's who did not vote for him and actually carried out the threat with his choice of federal appointments which was skewed towards the North. He failed to take action on the numerous vicious attacks by Fulani herdsmen on innocent citizens in the middle-belt, Western and Eastern states , condemn the burning of the Sabon Gari market in Kano populated by Igbo traders or restrain soldiers from killing IPOB demonstrators who were exercising their right to public assembly. Not too long ago while addressing a group of Youth Corpers who paid him a courtesy call in his hometown of Daura, the President again sought to resurrect the ghost of the civil war by reminding the Igbo's of what happened to them during the civil war and how millions of them died. A comment who have perceived as a veiled threat. So when people ask to know why the sudden agitation for a Biafran state, they should look back at the aforementioned comments. The truth is that as the President of a country, it is safe to say, words have consequences. It is also a question of judgment and temperament, two key qualities for leadership.
Now should the President shoulder all the blame? Of course not. Nigerians of all tribes in general and the Igbo's to some extent share some of the blame. After 56 years of independence and at a time when one will think we as a nation have achieved a degree of enlightenment, of acceptance of others, we revert back to the dark crevices of our past history. In doing so we have failed to hold tight to the values and advantages of pluralism and diversity, thereby discarding our sense of humanity, acceptance and tolerance. Our social fabric as a nation has consequently been eaten up by the cancer of tribalism with the cancer itself not being as virulent as the metastasis of the disease. We have become so polarized as a nation that it is now acceptable to express both implicitly and explicitly our dislike and distrust for the other and there is abundant evidence that the Igbo's have borne the brunt of such distrust. Amongst some Yoruba's and Hausa's there is a new word for Biafra and those who clamor for it, "Biafraud". For some the agitation for Biafra is akin to acts of criminality which begs the question when did the principle of self- determination which is one of the guiding principles of the United Nations become a crime of the century to generate so much hate, opposition and angst? At a time when countries like Britain, Somalia, and Ethiopia, just to mention a few have resolved their secession issues peacefully through referendums, one wonders why some in Nigeria belief it would take a war for the Igbo's to achieve their desire of self- determination.
The reality is that the quest for Biafra by the Igbo's does not in any way constitute a clear and present danger for the rest of the country, no matter how you slice it. That the president can't help but comment on it from time to time says something about his obsession with the issue, yet he has so far failed to make any effort in assuaging the fears of the Igbo's and their claim of marginalization, or act as a bridge over the nation's troubled waters despair, distrust and disunity.
However when one examines the degree of perceived animosity against the Igbo's and the love lost between them and other ethnic groups, one begins to wonder why the resistance towards letting them go if that's what they desire. It is more like being in a marriage in which both spouses have fallen out of love, distrust each other and the children are grown, yet one spouse will not agree to a divorce. The irreducible truth the Nigerian leadership and indeed most Nigerians are reluctant to admit is the fact that the only thing that binds the nation together right now is the oil in the south. This fact has become more evident with such recent comments credited to this administration and some of the nation's political elite to the effect that the Igbo's would be allowed to secede as long as the Niger Deltans stay back in Nigeria. History informs us that trying to force a people to stay in an unhealthy union has never worked. Neither has it worked in a spousal relationship. If the Niger Deltans decide it is in their best interest to be part of a Biafran nation, it will be a monumental mistake to force them to stay put in Nigeria. This is not to say I am advocating for a breakup of the country or otherwise, all I am saying is that every group on earth is entitled to the right of self- determination as long as their desire does not infringe on the rights and preferences of others.
Now with regards to the Igbo's, they have become the victims of their enormous success and their ability to survive and thrive as a people, despite all the obstacles placed in their way. Their upward mobility have aggravated the longstanding discomfort of haters and flamethrowers from every tribe who see them as undeserving of their achievements. For more than 30 years since the Shagari administration when an Igbo man occupied the Vice-President position the Igbo's in Nigerian politics have embodied what some might call classic interlopers. As interlopers, they are perceived as a people who have constantly challenged and threatened, though unsuccessfully the Presidential entitlement and political statusquo of the North and West. They are the ambitious magnet who are seen as heartless, greedy and venal. Worst of all they are seen as a people who have accepted the fact that they are disliked and whose academic and entrepreneurial bonafides run counter to some of their counterparts, yet have carried on anyway.
On the plus side the Igbo's over the years have shown good faith, yet no matter how much they try to integrate themselves into the fabric of the Nigerian community there is a resistance to a perspective and perception adjustment by some sections of the country .No doubt some of the things they are accused or guilty of can be both unexceptional and necessary such as flexing their intellectual abilities and standing up for their rights. The truth however is that the Igbo's must resist a show of ethnic superiority, a trait that endears them to no one. They must do well to curtail their braggadocios inclinations which has never served them well. Not that doing so will make them more likeable and acceptable to other Nigerians, but it might help generate a modicum of good feelings and relations towards them. They must realize that they are an exceptional group and their exceptionalism has brought them a lot of resentment. They must accept the fact that other groups don't resent their attempt to secede solely because of the loss of their contributions to the economic well- being of the country rather it could be assumed rightly or wrongly that they are jealous of what they anticipate a Biafran nation may turn out to be, as much as some gleefully predict it will be another Southern Sudan which in my opinion is a distinct possibility since the Igbo's no longer have the kind of pre and post- independence leaders they used to have. The truth being that if you look at the dichotomy between the 5 Igbo states, the Igbo's are presently suffering an identity crisis.
My take on this issue is that those who expect the Igbo's to wave the white flag of surrender, may have to wait a long time for that to happen. Even though it could be rightly said that not all Igbo's are in favor of secession including yours truly, the agitation is real and cannot be simply wished away, but can only be resolved by sustained effort to fully give them a sense of belonging and inclusion. Trying to scare them with threats of war will not work, because their agitation is real, not make belief. The President's implied threats have not worked, hence there is no use issuing more threats by some thoughtless comments. There is a rule in politics and governance that goes thus, "when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging". That is to say if an issue, program or an approach to solving a problem is not working as intended, stop pushing it. The President came to power promising he will be a President for all, but right now he is anything but that. Nigeria is blessed with every resource any country will hope for both in human and material resources. Our diversity which should be our strength has been turned into a curse and it all has to do with our leadership. Our leaders over the years have exploited and have continued to exploit our diversity for their benefit and political gain.
When I hear and read such comments like, 'an Igbo man can never be President". when some groups are willing to form incompatible alliances just to achieve that end or when a section of the country took pains to perfect plans of wrecking havoc and mayhem on an ethnic group if their candidate lost the last Presidential elections, it goes to show how dysfunctional and hateful our politics have become. It also proof positive of a Northern political arrogance that dismisses the Presidential aspirations of others as if the Presidency is their birthright, having ruled the country for 47 years. This is not to say the North is alone in this Presidential conspiracy game.All we need to do is to take a look at a comment made in 1999 by the present Emir of kano, Alhaji Sanusi and I paraphrase, "the Northern and Western bourgeoisie have conspired to keep the Igbo's out of power and have no doubt exacted their pound of flesh on them for losing the war'. Whether we acknowledge these truths or not, these are some of the salient issues behind the Biafra agitation. The feeling by the Igbo's that they are considered second class citizens. A few days ago I saw a picture on Facebook of the President and a few of his political associates cutting a cake to commemorate the 57th anniversary of Nigeria's independence and there was not one single Igbo politician present. Rather the President was surrounded by his fellow Northerners and a lonesome Osibanjo. These are issues that need to be resolved, yet there is no attempt to do so as we continue to pay lip service to the notion of national unity. As a country we continue to deny the political dominance of one group and avoid the debate about downplay the ethnic resentment and disunity it engenders.
There is a popular saying, "you don't make peace with your friends rather you make peace with your enemies". Progress is not made nor does it exist in a straight line. There are usually curves and turns. The progress towards healing the divisions in this country must start from the top. That's the existential nature of the Presidency, hence it is incumbent on him to set the tone for healing and it must start with an educational policy that allows for the teaching of the history of the Nigerian Civil War in our schools as there are millions of young people who have no knowledge or experience of what happened in that war, let alone have an appreciation of how a section of the country feels hence it is not a surprise that some of these young adults see the Igbo's as an ethnic group worse than the book of revelations. It must also start with a cessation of comments by the president which are seen to be beyond the bounds of acceptability. His must be healing comments, accommodating and less threating. There must be a policy of inclusion in words and deeds and a deliberate and sustained effort to empathize with those who are victims of discrimination, religious bigotry, hatred and acts of victimization. On the part of the general public, the belief that Igbo's are criminals, greedy and money hungry must be deconstructed. The Igbo's on their part must also deconstruct their believe systems and stereotypes as it relates to other groups.
I will be remiss if I say a Biafran Nation if it becomes reality is going to be an Eldorado of peace, unity, transformational leadership and governance, the answer is no. We the Igbo's are no longer as united as we used to be. The creation of states have created fixtures in our sense of unity and brotherhood. As earlier mentioned we now have a crisis of identity. The Igbo man from Abia state sees himself different from his counterpart from Ebonyi or Enugu state, hence I foresee a struggle for power based on state of origin rather than the desire to serve. Our present crop of Igbo leaders are corrupt, selfish and parochial in their thinking and will be incapable of forging the kind of unity that will be needed for the survival and progress of a new nation. Does this anticipated new nation of Biafra have the potential of becoming an economic and industrial giant of Africa? The answer is yes. But it will take the right leadership to achieve this milestone. Do the Igbo's have a stake in a united, more inclusive and less divisive Nigeria? The answer is yes, but there must be changes as the country is fast becoming a nation separate and unequal. As Nigerians, we continue to deny the obvious and constantly speak over each other. We don't understand reconciliation, rather we just want to win not only for ourselves but also for our ethnic group and in so doing we lose our decency, empathy and humanity. We may need a 'come to Jesus moment", to be able to solve our problem of disunity in this country, if we hope to survive as an united and indivisible country with equal opportunity for all.
THE IGBO RANT
BIBLICAL TRADITIONS OF NDI IGBO BEFORE THE MISSIONARIES CAME TO AFRICA* IGBO 101.
THE IGBO TRIBE AND ITS FEAR OF EXTINCTION
The Igbo: We die for causes, not for personalities
Written by Emeka Maduewesi
~on fb. 28th September, 2016.
The Igbo will never die for anyone. We will not even riot for anyone. But the Igbo will die for any cause they believe in because the Igbo have a true sense of justice and a determination to obtain it.
The Igbo will not riot because one of their own lost an election. Operation Wetie was the Western response to a massively rigged 1965 election. The Yoruba doused fellow Yorubas in petrol and burnt them alife. Properties were burnt with occupants. The Igbo will never do this.
In 1983, the Yoruba went on a rampage again over the massive rigging by NPN. Lifes were lost and properties destroyed. The riots were over personalities.
Contrast that with Anambra State where Chief Emeka Ojukwu was rigged out by his own NPN, who also rigged out Chief Jim Nwobodo. The Igbo did not protest because the goat's head is still in the goat's bag.
In the North, ba muso was the battle cry when Sultan Dasuki was imposed on the Sokoto Caliphate. The riot and protest lasted for days and crippled economic activities.
The Igbo will riot over issues and causes. The Aba Women Riot was over Tax. The Enugu coal mine riot was about conditions of service. The Ekumeku Uprising was over British colonialization.
Those of "Ekumeku" ancestry - Umu Eze Chima and Umu Nri - were at the forefront of the struggles for Nigerian independence, with people like Dr. A A Nwafor Orizu and Chief Osita Agwuna serving prison terms. Any struggles the parents could not conclude is continued by the children by other means.
The Biafran war was a response to the genocide. The war in fact was brought upon us. The battlefield was Eastern Region. The war ended in 1970 but the issues and causes were not resolved. That is where we are today.
The Igbo will also jointly rise to fight evil in their midst. They did it in Onitsha in the 1980's, Owerri in the 90's, and with Bakkassi in the 2000.
The Igbo will not die for any man. But the Igbo will stand by any man who symbolizes their cause and their pursuit of justice. Even if the man dies, the struggle continues, and like the Ekumeku warriors, the children will pick up the baton from their parents.
This is the Igbo I know, the Igbo I am, and the Igbo we are. This is my story. Feel free to tell yours.
RT. HON. DR. NNAMDI AZIKIWE TO DR. CHUBA OKADIGBO (1981)
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