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The very idea that the Igbos cannot compete politically even in a crooked Nigeria is absurd. This very attitude has threatened to shackle Ndi Igbo politically, industrially, and their future.
This attitude of political handicap began in the third republic and it was born during the military regime. The Igbos cannot become the whining nation. They have to shed the victim mentality of political passivity, negative thinking, helplessness and pessimism.
‘Oh it is rigged against us. We can’t help it. We are hated. There is no need to try, we cannot not win. They won’t let us be President. And even if we produce the President, he will be their puppet’, this is the current anthem. And the voices of the cynics usually drown out reason and hope. Ndi Igbo are then allowed to gather hopelessness and the people become drunk with despair.
An ethnic group that has flourished better than all other groups in the country cannot stay on the sidelines, moaning perpetually. When they are not crying wolf, they are threatening to upturn the table like sore losers. That can’t be the right attitude. The Igbo are born to compete and win.
Of all the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, the Igbo is the most dispersed and most entrenched in the fabric of the country. The Igbo is perhaps the only ethnic group that has more wealth outside than inside its ancestral territory. If the talk about national unity exists outside sloganeering then its real tangible evidence of existence is in the commercial activities of the Igbo. The most prominent evidence of national unity today are not contraptions like the NYSC and unity schools, but the millions of Igbos setting out and sojourning; settling, living, and owning properties a thousand kilometres away from their homeland.
If these and more constitute the status quo, then why are Ndi Igbo the group most dissatisfied with Nigeria. Why are some Igbos championing the dismemberment of the country?
Of all the ethnic groups in the country, the Igbo isn’t just about the most prosperous. Apart from perhaps the Yorubas, the average Igbo man is more likely to have better education, better health care, better security, better disposable income than the average individual of any other ethnic group. These advantages accrue from the shrewdness and industriousness of the Igbo man and woman which is acknowledged by everybody.
Jaja of Opobo dominated his era. Azikiwe was an African star. Ndi Igbo were in the thick of things before the Independence. Azikiwe and Hebert Macaulay formed NCNC – the political torchbearer of the country.
In the first republic, Ndi Igbo were in a sense dominant. In the first republic, Igbos were satisfied with their hold on the NCNC, their political marriages in the west, and their alliance with the NPC. The Igbo promoted Nigerian nationalism.
In the second republic Azikiwe, Obi wali, Guy Ikokwu, RBK Okafor, Jim Nwobodo, Edwin Onwudiwe, Umezuoke, Echeruo had the NPP with Solomon Lar, Unongo and others. And they won Ikwerre land, Plateau state and parts of Niger.
Igbos – Ekwueme, Okadigbo, Onoh, Sylvester Ugoh, Mbadiwe, and company- were at the heart of the ruling NPN.
In the first and second republics, Ndi Igbo didn’t cry marginalisation like denied children. They immersed themselves in the national political milieu and played the game with dexterity and self-possession.
If political pundits would say that Okpara, K.O. Mbadiwe, Mbazulike Amaechi, Azikiwe, and others were fortunate in the first republic because the civil war brought evil and retrogression upon them, how can anyone explain the second republic? Ndi Igbo had just emerged from the brutal war. The suspicions were rife and untempered by time. But they played the game with purpose and intensity. Neither Azikiwe nor Ojukwu, neither Collins Obi nor C.C. Onoh, neither Mbakwe nor Arthur Nzeribe, neither Obi Wali nor Jaja Wachukwu would have imagined that the politics of the Igbos could recede into playing from the sidelines or throwing sand to disrupt a game they could seize by the scruff of the neck if they deployed half the ingenuity they engaged in owning half of Abuja properties.
What the Igbo nation lacks today is political intelligence and self-belief.
It is true the Nigerian civil war left a scar on the psyche of the Igbos. And because they are the most widely dispersed and consequently the most deeply entrenched group in the country, upheavals and societal ruptures affect them the most. They tremendously haunt them by evoking memories of the pogrom and the war. The pattern is predictable. When ‘wahala’ starts the man who has a shop and the stranger are most vulnerable.
So while the Igbos might be remotely or not even associated with the events leading to chaos, once law and order are upturned, the Igbos bear the brunt disproportionately. Mayhem is visited on the Igbo, the settler, and his shop. Men and women who have put faith in the Nigeria project; who have travelled a thousand kilometres would have to scurry back to the homeland, children on the back, sometimes with one or two body bags. These kinds of events usually graze deep wounds.
But there is more. In many circumstances, Ndi Igbo, despite being the tangible, empirical evidence of national unity, are required to prove their loyalty to the country afresh. Fifty years after the civil war Igbos have occupied the positions of Police Inspector General and Chief of Army staff once each, and for only fleeting moments. They have observed that Igbos are not easily trusted with certain security appointments, they do not therefore move around with the sure-footedness of sons of the soil. It is therefore not inexplicable that the faith of the Ndi Igbo in the Nigerian project might have been dented and continues to be dented.
How these affect the political calculations of the Igbo man is still being examined. What can’t, however, be denied is that they breed apathy and cynicism. So the average Igbo person in Ihiala or Asaba continues to hold the Hausa-Fulani responsible for real and perceived subjugation, as well as continues to view with suspicion any tendency that suggests a Hausa Fulani-hegemony. That is why the recent flares in herdsmen violence have only managed to complicate a delicate political situation.
But the question must be asked: Does the Igbo man suffer a kind of political paranoia?
We can interrogate that by asking another question. Are there any political shackles that Ndi Igbo cannot dismantle by themselves? The answer is obvious.
Alternatively, are Igbos living in bondage in Nigeria? The answer is obvious. No!
Ndi Igbo have only failed to play national politics purposefully. What they need is effective political leadership in the states. And that is in their own hands. And then political nimbleness at the centre to serve their best interests in a fractious multi-ethnic entity like Nigeria where they are the most prosperous and also the most vulnerable group.
It has to be shed by a deliberate pragmatic political engagement with other ethnic nationalities with the Igbo deploying its full weight in population and resources
While the events of the war and their aftermath may have conditioned the political attitude of Ndi Igbo, the Igbo as a group, have been undone by unbridled individualism, resultant unhealthy rivalry and commercialism. It is great to be a tribe of ambitious people among whom rivalry is intense but when insane competition allows a prioritisation of individual attainments above collective group aims in a multi-ethnic primordial society like Nigeria, the group is in clear jeopardy.
There no longer exists any concerted attempt to articulate the group’s interest and there has been no forward-looking, deliberate and coherent strategy to harness the resources and numerical strength, and versatility of the Igbo to enhance the group’s political fortunes.
Do the social injustices in Nigeria affect the Igbo the most?
Reflecting on the dominant injustices that exist in the country, they can categorised as General and Targeted. General social injustices are those that affect all sections of Nigeria almost equally. They are injustices not designed for any section. They are the result of chronic bad leadership and enduring mis-governance. They stretch across poor healthcare and dilapidated educational systems, Joblessness, Insecurity, poor social infrastructure like broken road networks, absent railways, feeble generation and disorderly distribution of power. Many of these result from incompetence, corruption, and theft by political officeholders. And they abound at the dreamland state levels.
These general injustices affect the average Fulani as they affect the man in Aba. They cannot constitute an excuse why the Igbo would become more apathetic or more belligerent than the Urhobo or the Jukun.
There are other kinds of Injustices which we will include in this group. They are injustices that undermine merit and effort. They include the Quota System, Federal Character, Nepotism. While these injustices could mean that a child from Abia is denied a national school admission after performing better than a child from Zamfara, these injustices are not targeted primarily at the Igbo. They affect the Bini and Yorubas as they affect the Igbo.
They cannot objectively constitute a reason any Igbo should champion dismemberment of a country in which the Igbo has evident competitive advantage.
The injustices targeted against Ndi Igbo could include: having less federal infrastructure than other places, the requirement to prove trust more than the Fulani while being considered for a top security appointment. The other, which is the perception of gang-up against the Igbo, is effectively undermined by the fact of Ndi Igbo owning more properties in Abuja, Amuwo Odofin, parts of Kano than even the indigenes.
The main issue with politics in Igbo land is that Ndi Igbo are heavyweight champions fighting like a featherweight. Those who want political power must strategise and assert themselves. They will woo some, browbeat some and ignore others. The sort of marginalisation the Igbo lament loudly about today comes from the failure of Igbo politicians and the failure of Igbo politics. Lopsided appointments, inequity in the distribution of infrastructure and development and poverty.
Good local politics at the state and local government levels will cure poverty substantially and address lapses in education and rural development. Good national politics will bring more amenities, better equity, and the missing sense of belonging
The Igbo is an unexploited vantage position. It has a competitive edge against many of the other groups in human and material resources. Any foreign observer of Nigerian politics could mistake the Igbo for a backward forsaken group, incapable of competing with the other sections of the country, and needing political or economic favors if he listened to lamentations on social media. But he would be wrong
The Igbo must approach politics with clear-eyed objectivity and not unhelpful emotions. Collective interests must be paramount and long-term interest must have priority. Untamed materialism cripples. Beggarliness is shortsightedness. Igbos must hold hands with their neighbors and assert themselves.
Their ultimate interest lies in a truly federalist Nigeria where power is fully devolved to the regions. They must help enthrone a just and equitable Nigeria where every citizen is given an opportunity to maximise his potentials.
Some might ask, why not Biafra?
Ndi Igbo need a bigger playing field. That is why they have fanged out all over West Africa. They need the size of Nigeria. We would even fare better in a United States of Africa. It is not in their interest to recede rather than expand. They have a competitive advantage on the big stage. While there exist some easily surmountable odds against them which they tend to exaggerate in Nigeria they must understand that even Biafra won’t be problem-free. There are no guarantees that there won’t be riven by internecine squabbles once they pull out and their emotions look inwards.
Ndi Igbo clamouring for restructuing will yield immediate symbolic and substantial benefits. It will bring some sense of belonging to soothe chafing youths. It will cure disaffection that has accrued from lopsidedness in appointments and all other kinds of political exclusion. It will, if judiciously utilized, bring more infrastructural development and help reintegration.
But restructuring is not given. Ndi Igbo have to make their best arguments and put their best foot forward. They must not approach it with a sense of entitlement, sense of victimhood, peevishness, or tantrums.
The restructuring project must be led by thinking rather than howling select group. It is good that some folks howl and heckle from the periphery. It will help the negotiations. But howlers and fountains of hate speech cannot be at the center, otherwise, they would estrange other ethnic groups and damage important bridges.
This is not Ohaneze rushing in drunkenly to endorse one political party or aspirant at night. And not IPOB signing a secret M.O.U it is too ashamed to let anyone read. The Igbo will join hands with the Yorubas and make the argument that it is only restructuring that can save the country. Then it will look towards the Yorubas, Ijaws, and other southern groups and persuade them to join hands in the fight for restructuring. It must assume nothing. Nothing will be guaranteed. The Igbo must put their best foot forward and make the most appealing arguments.
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