By Oduche Azih
According to Chido Onumah, “Like other Nigerians, Ndi Igbo have sacrificed for, and put a lot into Nigeria to prove their stake in it. They ought not be running away from it.”
I am compelled to tell Chido Onumah and his readers that at this point in time Ndigbo have nothing left to prove. They are by no means running away from Nigeria. However they are STILL being chased away from it by a combination of old and new, subtle and not so subtle methods.
The truth is that the grouse that Ndigbo have with the Nigerian Project is unlike that of any other ethnic group. Referring to the title of his latest book Onumah said, “There are others who have taken me to task, accusing me of trying to dilute the essence of the Biafran experience and struggle, etc.” Truly, the Igbo experience is unique. Onumah said as much in his narrative of the push and pull factors that led to the dispersal of Ndigbo in Nigeria once it became clear that the British had removed all stops in order to prevent the “Pakistanisation” of the nascent federation.
Britain for its own interests was implementing a fiscal balancing act in addition to imposing a post-colonial client state administered by feckless northern surrogates. Professor Ben Nwabueze’s historical excursion along these lines understandably drew the ire of Arewa apologists like the late Ahmadu Abubakar and Paul Unongo among others. Events in the aftermath of Nigeria’s paper independence are still a cause for worry even to this day.
Thanks to the Internet, there is a video, one of many, showing the revered Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello unapologetically telling a British colonial officer about his plans and efforts to checkmate the Igbo, mark you not Southern Christians. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Ahmadu Bello’s belief system if only we had left him alone to implement what he thought right for and on his adoring people. Nkem Ossai, writing in The Guardian twenty years ago had demanded an apology from both Awo and Zik, for not taking Ahmadu Bello at his word that not only was the north not ready for independence but was actually not interested on it. But for Boko Haram, North Korean doctors would still be providing primary health care in parts of the North today. A few were murdered by Boko-Haram for daring to apply the skills of modern medicine.
The archives at Whitehall covering the colonial era are all now fully declassified. This development is now a source of serious concern to those hell bent on sustaining a bastardised version of Nigeria’s history. For specifics one of the colonial Harolds, Harold Smith, recently came weeping and confessing, just before his looming passing, to all the criminal enterprises in which he was, as a matter of duty, personally involved while serving in colonial Nigeria. Will any member of the northern elite boldly step up to try and convince (or at least con) Igbo youths, who normally don’t get their information from the NTA that all this is in the past? These youths unfortunately remember only the Akaluka, Agbahime and similar incidents. Who can dare stake his political future in the north by stating that the Sardauna was wrong? Nobody! Hence we are stuck in a rut.
Yes, the other ethnic groups have their own issues against Nigeria and their immediate neighbours in the present structure. The strangest thing is that most of them proffer a solution framework with Ndigbo entrenched (by force) in it, while at the same time fiercely holding onto the notion of the Igbo Problem. Try as I may, my open-mindedness has failed me in an effort to reconcile this strange ambivalence.
I have always wondered at which point Dr. Chinua Achebe arrived at his much publicised conclusion that the one and only thing all other Nigerians agree on all the time is the Igbo. (The Trouble with Nigeria). The comments that came in response to the recent article by Ken Okomma, WHY ARE THE YORUBAS AFRAID OF BIAFRA? and also to my rejoinder, ARE THE YORUBAS AFRAID OF BIAFRA? are fully indicative of this ambivalence. One of my collaborators wrote in privately to say the following:
“The truth which you (i.e. me) carefully avoided to tell is that the Yoruba are indeed the real opponents of the whole Biafran idea. They do not want to hear anything about it. Not because they believe in Nigerian unity. But because of their hatred for Ndigbo. To them, anything that holds the prospect of being beneficial to Ndigbo should not even be discussed. They recognise the utility of Ndigbo to the Nigeran project and want us to remain in Nigeria but as third class citizens.” This is unedited. I however fail to accept this to represent the majority opinion of enlightened Yorubas. To do so would imply my doubting their much touted education, political sagacity and sophistication.
The above is just a single sample. There are many others. I burst out in laughter when I read an online news site referring to me as a political analyst. Is that all that it takes, I wondered. I have now been hemmed in between the two extremes. We must find common ground. Only the truth, openly declared, will set Nigerians free.
The Place of Ndigbo in the new Improved(?) Nigeria
I often wonder what sort of arrangement my fellow countrymen will conjure up if Ndigbo were to stay away from any venue where the National Question is being discussed, especially since any contribution from them is vigourously opposed and resented. Imagine Ndigbo announcing as follows:
“Whereas it has been agreed by all that Ndigbo and their irrational demands have been highly disruptive of genuine efforts to chart a way forward, we hereby resolve in the National Interest to stay away. We will however accept whatever arrangement the rest of Nigeria will arrive at.”
I guess that there would be consternation and confusion if not in Yorubaland, then in the Niger Delta and the Middle-Belt. Even Christian minorities in the North-East have been crying and pleading that Southerners, Southern Christians and especially Ndigbo should not abandon them. Despite our bloodied heads, this call constitutes a big tug on our collective conscience. What do we do? The answer should be part of what this restructuring talk is all about.
Down south, I cannot understand the crazy rumour currently circulating in the grapevines that the people of the oil producing Niger Delta have a default position. This is to the effect that they cannot remain in Nigeria in the unlikely event that a much reduced Biafra gains independence. What I had expected but did not get, from the Niger Deltans, was a reaction along the lines of “Good riddance to bad Rubbish.” There should have been dancing in the streets at that prospect, even if it is a long shot. Is that then the reason for the strong-arm and scorched earth tactics applied by Buhari and his forces in dealing with non-violent IPOB/Biafra agitators? There is no justification for that. Like I said, it is a rumour, which I read on ONLY one online outlet, not exactly credible.
Does anyone know the current heartfelt sentiments of the Niger Deltans? Can we take Chief Horsefall’s public statements at face value? Or does he and his fellow opinion moulders hobnob with pro-Biafra activists at night? That would be despicable, especially while abandoning Nnamdi Kanu & Co on jail to carry the can! Anyway nothing surprises me again in this country. I hope that the Buhari semi-military administration does not apply enough strain to the breaking point on the creaking national structure in a stupid effort to find out if actually the Niger Deltans support Baifra. That will be a most expensive mistake. Our people say that when a woman has married two husbands, she can now tell if actually the first one was so bad after all.
I have lost count of the number of landlocked nations that abound in Africa and Europe. Lesotho is completely encircled by the Republic of South Africa. On my part, any arrangement outside of slavery whereby I can live out the remainder of my days in peace with a reasonable assurance that my grandchildren will not be hunted as game is ok. It will be interesting to envisage allowing the Niger Delta states to either retain the bulk of their mineral wealth (pre-1965 Constitution), or share same with the north while Igboland is left alone to sink or swim as it pleases WITHOUT FURTHER INTERFERENCE. I am sure that Sokoto State governor Aminu Tambuwal will prefer the later scenario. I had earlier alluded to that in my answer to Buhari’s query WHAT DO NDIGBO WANT? I still stand by my prescriptions, including war reparations, which has been essentially paid but not documented by 45years of exploitation and deprivation.
In my article mentioned above, I had written, “Then again, it is quite possible that the fear of a potential downturn in economic prospects in Yorubaland, especially Lagos, without the LEAVENING VIBRANCY of Igbo participation, is scaring the living daylights out of some segments of Yoruba society.” This statement was deliberately crafted to elicit a proper response from my Yoruba professional compatriots who are day-to-day involved in keeping Lagos and indeed Ogun States humming. I am still waiting for somebody to dispute the claim, brash or not. Again I repeat, only the truth will set us free! It’s also ok, if we deliberately turn our back to the truth, so long as we don’t waste our time subsequently blaming somebody else, say the Americans.
If indeed the rest of Nigeria will fully confront and embrace it’s demons and decide that the presence of Ndigbo in its midst is such a terrible thing, I can live with that. What is not acceptable is this nebulous no-man’s-land that we have willy-nilly occupied for so long. I have grandchildren. I will be loath to bequeath this sorry mess to them. They should not have to live through the dysfunction that my children and I have been through.
Final Word on Ndigbo Elite
Chido Onumah also said, “The attitude of our squirming ex-governor captures the essence of the Igbo elite and their response to the Nigerian conundrum. But what are they afraid of?” This is it. There is this notion that if one is “well-behaved”, then in some nebulous future, there is a fair chance that from among the ranks of these anti-Igbo men of Igbo extraction will be “selected” a President. I may not be able to correctly paraphrase Agunze Azuka Onwuka, but I will try. “Please don’t hold your breath. Statistical evidence shows that it does not work that way. Perhaps Ndigbo may want the Presidency to prove a point, but they do not NEED it to get ahead.”
Most Igbo elite, and I again refer to the monied but not too well educated class, would not even dare articulate my kind of argument in civilized circles. They are afraid of appearing different, not correctly subservient, as they need be, to the standard orthodoxy of what a patriotic Igboman should think or say among his peers. I pity the fire-brand mouse of an ex-governor whom Chido Onumah refused to name in his address.
How many Ndigbo can dare pick up from where I left off in my furious riposte to the late Ahmadu Abubakar or Gov Aminu Masari? These discussions need to proceed apace in the open not just in those rare and hurried environments as in a National Constitutional Conference. Right now, we have on our hands all the time in the world before any formal discussions commence. You do not want to attend a national conclave only to waste valuable time scratching your head. Everybody should take a stand like I have and allow superior argument to carry the day. I am not even a public figure. Those who are, completely discount their potential to influence the move in the right direction. They do not need to be offensive in order to do the right thing. For the frightened Igbo pseudo-intellectuals out there, I have some good or bad news, depending on how they view it. My no holds barred approach has garnered me some followership in the North-East of all places. Some of the people up there have concluded that they can do better. Exactly my argument.
These are my few contributions to the thesis by Chido Onumah. We are not exactly all Biafrans. When we work out the glaring differences, then and only then will we be ALL Biafrans. Most Nigerians do not know that the word Biafra which everybody including Gen Yakubu Gowon now uses lustily was “haram” 45 years ago. The late Agwu Okpanku had the scars to show for it. Biafra was even expunged “gazettically” from our maps and the body of water bearing the same name. We must truly be making progress then, albeit slowly, when a whole Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre and similar venues are expropriated for discussing anything Biafra.
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