AKO N’UCHE: OF BUHARI, IPOB AND THE SLITHERING PYTHON-AN OPEN LETTER TO NDI IGBO
The times we find ourselves will not permit me to indulge in the protocol of grandiloquent exultation of our kith and kin, to curry their attention and titillate their egos as our tradition demands when words of reason are to be uttered in the village square. Indeed, this is no speech but at once a bold and solemn attempt to prick our consciences and consciousness back to reality for it seems that the eulogies of courtiers and jesters have rhapsodised our psyche into accepting ‘what isn’t as if it is’. The rhythm of the drum beats has changed, the dancers’ steps must reciprocate. As “Alaigbo” recoils from the huge slither marks that the “eke”, that king of serpents leaves as it meanders through the thick crust of the muddy clay in our land, we must begin to ask ourselves crucial penetrating questions, prominent of which is “ozo kwa”(again)? Our people, didn’t we learn anything? Tufiakwa! May thunder not strike twice in the same place!
Pre-emptively, the wise ones of yore had admonished the discerning elder not to stand aloof while the goat tethers during birth. The wisdom of the sages comes with the gloriousness of ageing, however, when a child has washed his hands well, he feeds with elders. For the many within our kin that have acquired discernment, wisdom and knowledge through the tedious application of our grey matter in centres of learning, we have indeed washed our hands well and must at this time jump into the fray as the “ako n’uche”(conscience) of our people, lest it is said that “there, used to lie the abode of a great people”.
I will not embark on a dissection or discussion of the legality of the presence of troops slithering through the streets of Alaigbo and the rascality of the mindless and satanic extrajudicial killings and torture currently being carried out by the meandering lot in the area, for like the French would say le jury a tranché (it is already a settled matter). In the same vein, I will not be distracted by the near psychopathic vituperations of Nnamdi Kanu, whose ‘un-Igbolike’ vitriols in the pursuit of his ambition is the hammer that opened the crack on the wall for the gecko to reside. My aim is to provide insights into some stereotypical foundations upon which the current agitations for a secession by the IPOB is anchored thereby allowing the discerning among us to reflect if this present impasse is in the collective interest of Ndi-Igbo.
It is my considered opinion that at the heart of the present agitations are elite politics and economic interests, I therefore will start by posing some questions and answering them to the best of my understanding of this phenomenon. The following questions will guide this discourse: Is there a state sponsored marginalization of Ndi-Igbo in Nigeria? Are Igbos worse off in Nigeria? Is Nigeria ‘robbing’ Igbos to pay other ethnic groups? Is the Igbo spirit isolationist?
To the first question, I divide Nigeria into two major epochs, namely: the post-war period between 1970-1998 and the current civilian democratic era spanning from 1999 till date. A rigorous historical analysis will not be undertaken but suffice to say that we as Ndi-Igbo lost a war. A needless war that was orchestrated and fought in my opinion, due to the reckless exuberance of youth exhibited by the military leaders of that period,none of whom was above 40 years. If Ndi-Igbo were under the illusion that the after-war slogan of “No Victor, No Vanquished” was sincere, they must have been jolted back to reality with the twenty Pounds compensation and abandoned properties policy of the victorious Nigerian government. The reality is that the Nigerian estate was divided among comrades at arms that won the war. Every structural reform of post-war Nigeria was undertaken to ensure that there was no resurgence of the Biafran spirit that sustained for three years a war that was meant to be a very short one. Within the military hierarchy that ran things during this era, most of whom lost friends and colleagues in the Nzeogwu led coup and during the war, the position was to “teach the Igbo a lesson”. However, it must be stated emphatically that the Nigerian civil public accepted and were more accommodating of returning Igbo citizens than the military brass. This position played out in the subsequent lull in promotions of Igbo officers within the military, the creation of states and local governments by members of the same class(a criteria for the allocation of revenue from the centre), and the location of infrastructures of development in the country, a practice that was clearly biased against the Igbo.
But will this qualify for full-fledged state sponsored marginalization? For the UNESCO, “marginalization occurs when people are systematically excluded from meaningful participation in economic, social, political, cultural and other forms of human activity in their communities and thus are denied the opportunity to fulfil themselves as human beings.” It can be argued that partial aspects of this definition were fulfilled by the military class if viewed within the context that it took the arrival of civilian democracy for Igbo sons to attain the peaks of their careers in military and paramilitary agencies.
It will also be perfidious intellectualism and revisionist if I claim that the deprivations suffered by the Igbo elite within and outside the military class and the neglect of the developmental challenges of present-day South-East by the military class was a mere slap on the wrist within the broad definitions of marginalization. But to insist that a systematic exclusion of the Igbo from economic and social participation was carried out under this epoch will be stretching the debate. For instance, just under 9 years after being defeated in the civil war, an Igbo son was to become Nigeria’s vice president in the Second Republic. No matter the reasons historians will adduce for the emergence of an Igbo son as the number two citizen in the country, this could not have been possible if a deliberate state sanctioned policy of exclusion was being implemented. Again, another Igbo son, Ebitu Ukiwe, was to serve briefly as the number two man in the Armed Forces Ruling Council before differences with the Head of State, Babangida, saw him eased off from Service.
While the military is not particularly known for their due process, several of our sons benefited from the largesse of military era economic empowerment of lackeys of the regime and became overnight billionaires.
The return of civilian democracy witnessed the best moments of Igbo renaissance and mainstreaming. First, our son Dr Alex Ekwueme, not only participated in the PDP primaries but gave fellow aspirant Olusegun Obasanjo a run for his money. I recall that the bedrock of Ekwueme’s appeal was his connection to the old NPN wing of the PDP, a party that was largely a conservative Northern establishment party. But for the disingenuous politics of June 12 played by Igbo politicians which culminated in the Yoruba appropriating a national course, and the military class’ ubiquity in the transition, Ekwueme would have emerged the PDP flag bearer. This is certainly not evidence of a people “systematically excluded” from political participation. Notwithstanding the fact that he was part of the military apparatchik that won the war and implemented a tacit policy of containment of the ambitions of the Igbo elite, Obasanjo is instrumental to embarking on a deliberate policy of inclusion of the Igbo in the political process. Between 1999-2007, which signalled the second epoch, many Igbo sons and daughters assumed prominent positions in Nigeria, such that for the first time since the war, the economic policy thrust of the Nigerian government was effectively under the control of Igbo scions. How well they used their positions to advance Igbo interests is not the focus of this piece but the reality is simple, the conditions to allege marginalization under this epoch were totally non-existent. Of course, the structural imbalances already put in place by the military remained a sour point.
The same conditions of entrusting political positions to the Igbo was rife in the Jonathan administration. Yes, the Buhari administration has shown to all intent and purposes that it intends to punish the Igbo elite for not throwing their support behind him, a sad occurrence given Buhari’s towering credential as one that assumed leadership at an auspicious period in our nation’s history; which ought to have made him more a statesman than a partisan icon or ideologue. But even if Buhari wants to implement exclusionist policies, he is hamstrung by the civil operational space and institutional constraints in a democracy.
Consequently, Buhari cannot in his wildest imaginations, stop allocations to South-East states, neither can he prevent the Igbo from becoming ministers of the Federal Republic for instance. Again, budgetary provisions cannot exclude the South-East though projects may be skewed against them as with the lack of representation of the region in the recently released National Railway Plan. Even when they do, the checks and balance system within the National Assembly serves as a deterrent. So, while I concede that there is underwhelming presence of Igbo scions in the present administration’s top positions in the so-called choice agencies and individuals within a heartbeat or the inner circles of the president, as previously enjoyed, alleging the existence of a systematic policy of exclusion by the state (used broadly to also include other arms of government) for Ndi-Igbo is cantankerous. What, the deputy senate president, CBN governor, and minister of petroleum are all our sons among others. That infrastructures of the federal type in our region where they exist has collapsed is no longer news. This is so in other regions but worse in our zone. The failure of successive governments to live up to their responsibilities is a function of the failure of governance and poor leadership recruitment that has bedevilled the entire country and not really a poster child for marginalization. Of course, there are economic decisions that could have been taken that would benefit our region which were not taken even by so-called pro-Igbo administrations, a pointer to the general maladministration of successive Nigeria governments. The same governments that allowed the industries of Sharada in Kano to pack up have no qualms about letting Aba and Nnewi manufacturing potentials to rot away. Can the Buhari government correct this? It is yet to be seen.
Are Igbos worse off in Nigeria? The truth is: from twenty Pounds, we have conquered Nigeria on the economic front. Our properties, businesses and investments are in every nook and cranny of the Nigerian territory. While many of us adduce this to our sheer industriousness and business acumen, have we paused to think that just maybe other Nigerians have embraced us and patronized our businesses enabling us to “fulfil [ourselves] as human beings.” Yes, I concede that we pay taxes to the governments of states where we reside, thus, also sustaining the provision of services to the indigenous population.
Outside the embrace of Igbo business ventures, there has been appreciable progress in the attempt to recognize and integrate the teeming Igbo population into local politics by some states outside the South-East. In Kano, for instance, Fagge Local Government Area Council concedes the two councillorship positions of the Sabon Gari district to non-indigenes, positions usually won by Igbos during elections. The government of Shekarau even appointed an Igbo man as an adviser. In Lagos, the last general elections in the state proved how powerful the Igbo have become in the state.
Is Nigeria ‘robbing’ Igbos to pay other ethnic groups? The chillingly cold reality is that with the collapse of the First Republic and agro-economy, every part of Nigeria has been leeching on the Niger-Delta, Igbo states inclusive. We may gloat about our markets and huge trading centres but check this point out: in 2016, with just over N49 billion, the South East only surpassed the war ravaged North East in Internally Generated Revenue(IGR) among the six geopolitical zones. However, this year, in the month of May alone, the East received about N41billion naira in allocations, consisting of revenue from Statutory Account, exchange gain, Valued Added Tax(VAT) and other streams. When we consider that 87% of VAT collected in Nigeria is generated from four states (Lagos,Rivers,Kano and Kaduna), none of which is from the East, and adjust for the small oil revenue from Oguta in Imo State, the implication is that either the East is not as viable as being portrayed or the current crop of governors have stolen the region silly and have massively under-declared revenue accruing to the region from within. Whatever the true position is, this is scary. The practical implication is that the East is benefiting from other regions. Of course, the argument will be made that our sons in these regions contribute to the huge VAT collection. Solid argument. But, if the GDP per capita income of states is considered, a figure which many South-East states rank high, the only justification for that, given the low revenue generation in the states would be diaspora remittances. Unofficial figures suggest that there are over 15million Igbos resident outside the South East and with the Igbo spirit of “onye aghala nwanne ya”(don’t abandon your relations) and “aku ruo ulor”(your wealth must get home), the wealth created in these states outside the East is being remitted and repatriated home accounting for the high quality of life and GDP per capita of South East states. Who now is “robbing” Peter to pay Paul?
Is the Igbo spirit isolationist? Many among us will swear that we are part of the lost tribe of Israel even when evidence for this is at best anecdotal. But assuming without conceding that this were true, is the Jewish spirit in us one that preaches total isolation from our would-be neighbours as the IPOB clarion call demands? On the contrary, like the Jews, the Igbo are a highly mobile group, constantly in search of pastures green. While we are renowned for our hospitality and accommodation of others, we are quick to assimilate the way of others and to mingle and interact with our hosts. It is this spirit according to Matthias Mgbeafulu in his book “Migration and the Economy” that ensured that the Igbo were among the first to migrate to different parts of the Protectorates following the introduction of British money circa 1900, and the expansion of Railway networks. The ease at which our kin adapt to other cultures is one of the reasons why Ndi-Igbo speak more Nigerian languages than other tribes can speak ours. Not many people know that the Sharia legal system which was adopted and launched in Zamfara was the brain child of an Igbo son. Indeed, the Zamfara Attorney General who crafted the law and vigorously pushed for the enforcement of the legal system in Zamfara in 2001 has strong Igbo roots. There has also been talk of Igbo Boko Haram followers. Today, in the North and West, there are so-called third generation Igbo-Hausas and Igbo-Yorubas that have never visited the East or speak a line of the Igbo language but are fluent in the languages of their hosts. There is even an Igbo son that is a popular Fuji musician in Yoruba land.
The crux of my argument is not to make an excuse for perceived and real injustices that the structural configuration of Nigeria has foisted on the Igbo, but to assert that they are not enough to allege that a systematic exclusion of our stock from socio-economic and politico-cultural participation in the Nigerian State exists. I also try to foreground that we may have an exaggerated sense of our territory’s economic viability and the social and political will and acceptance of the totality of Ndi-Igbo of the neo-Biafran project. It is my considered opinion that the IPOB approach sets us back by many years especially when we are on the cusp of getting the ultimate political prize. There is a consensus within our country’s political elites that the time has come for Ndi-Igbo to produce the nation’s president, but how can we attain that goal when the likes of IPOB and Kanu indulge in antics that paints every Igbo man in bad light.
Make no mistake about it, IPOB’s message of a revolutionary rebasing of the Nigerian structure resonates with virtually every downtrodden Nigerian but not its message of hate. If we secede under such acrimonious circumstances, with the attendant violence that would be unleashed, Ndi-Igbo would have on their own taken ourselves back another 47 years. Ndi-Igbo have conquered Nigeria , not just economically but also by being the foremost pan-Nigerian ethnic group judging by our presence in every part of the country and adaptation to the environment we find ourselves. I therefore find it ridiculous that our people would now have to learn from those we derisively call street urchins on the streets of the North on how to be tolerant in the face of obvious provocation.
The strength of any nation is partly in her numbers and economic viability. A desolate Alaigbo after a war induced separation will not attract any investments, neither will investors ignore a projected 130 million viable rest of Nigeria to deal with a decimated 30 million Biafra. There are obvious flaws with the Nigerian nation, our task as a people is to be part of those that will fix it and enable Nigeria reach her great potential. Breaking free from Nigeria will not wish away new realities that will emerge in the new state. In fact, Kanu’s adoption of the Supreme Leader appellation is already a problem in the intended new nation that is supposed to be composed of a fiercely Republican population like Ndi-Igbo.
Going forward, let me state that I do not object to the quest for self-determination, a right that is guaranteed under various human rights charter that Nigeria is a signatory to, but I make bold to say that IPOB’s proclaimed mission is a far cry from that noble quest. The intellectual foundations for self-determination, what it entails and its modus operandi has been espoused by Allen Buchanan in his seminal work on the moral underpinnings of International Law contained in the book “Justice,Legitimacy and Self Determination” and secession as clamoured by IPOB is at odds with that noble aspiration. For Buchanan, self-determination movements seize to be that once a demand for secession is made. There are myriads of self-determination groups in South-West Nigeria, not one python slithers through that land. Of course, Kanu’s coarse language may have been emboldened by the fact that worse rhetoric has been adopted by other hate mongering groups in the North without any consequences.
In conclusion, we as Igbos are blessed to now have a revitalized and focused Igbo leadership in the Dr. John Nwodo led Ohaneze, a man that has shown the will and capacity to speak truth to power. Our collective position on what a restructured Nigeria should look like should be channelled through Ohaneze. I therefore call on Ohaneze to immediately convene an all Igbo summit as other groups are currently embarking on to enable the Igbo to speak with one voice. If any positive can be derived from the IPOB saga, it is that the Igbo are capable of coalescing behind an ambition and an agenda. Ka uche anyi gwa anyi okwu. I greet us all.
Dr Chima Amadi