by Ifeanyi Okonkwo
The similarities between the Jews and the Igbo are quite remarkable. While the Jews are regarded as one of the most successful races in the world, the Igbo are believed to be one of the most successful tribes in the entire Black community. The Jews are holocaust survivors, while the Igbo are genocide survivors. Importantly, people throw stones at ripe and succulent fruits, not the unripe ones. While the holocaust necessitated the creation of the Israeli State, the Igbo fight to have their nation, a right enshrined in the United Nations charter on equal rights and self-determination of peoples. Will the Igbo someday have their nation like the Jews? Absolutely. Is this the appropriate time for it? Maybe not.
Before Nigeria’s independence and thereafter, the Igbo reportedly dominated the public service, military service, academia, business sector and many were visibly concerned that they were on course to establishing themselves as the master race in Nigeria. The first Vice-Chancellors of the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos in the 1960s were Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike and Professor Eni Njoku respectively. In 1965, Major General Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was the General Officer Commanding ( GOC) of the entire Nigerian Army. Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze who witnessed these developments said the following, “Before the Biafra war, 18 out of the 24 Permanent Secretaries of the Federal Ministries and a large percentage of commissioned officers in the three arms of the Nigerian armed forces were of Igbo extraction. The Igbo people got to that enviable height through merit. Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu was Nigeria’s first black billionaire and the founding president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE)”.
Few years after independence, things went downhill. There was nationwide discontent due to corruption and bad governance which led to the 1966 coup. The coup initially lauded as a patriotic act but later dubbed an Igbo coup sparked reprisal attacks that led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Igbo across the country, a prelude to the brutal civil war. It was to be a 3-year ugly war that would cost about two million precious lives. It is believed that the war was perceived by many as an opportunity to level up the gap with the Igbo or to exterminate them.
After the war, the Igbo were made to forfeit all their deposits in Nigerian banks and each individual was to receive only 20 Pounds irrespective of his financial worth. It was also at this period that the nation implemented the indigenization decree which forced the transfer of ownership of most foreign owned companies to the Nigerian people through shares acquisitions. Many believe that this was perfectly timed to exclude the Igbo who just emerged from the war, having lost their savings and investment from participating in this scramble and partition of the commonwealth, thus forcing them to start from tabula rasa of life.
One could imagine what it cost the Igbo to start from scratch after the war to attain the present level. Today, they seem to be head and shoulder above their counterparts based on several economic, human, and developmental indices. Through their ingenuity, industry, business acumen, family values, community, and social support are believed to be the contributing factors. Presently, Nnewi is reportedly home to the highest number of billionaires of all towns in Nigeria and possibly Africa. Many who visit the South East periodically are stunned by the magnitude and rapidity of developments in the region thanks to individual efforts. In 2007, thirteen years ago, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, the then Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister of Nigeria was quoted as saying that the reason it appears that more Igbo people were affected by the demolitions of property that took place in Abuja was that they own more than half of property in the FCT.
Also, a cursory glance at the staggering numbers of Igbo professionals practicing in the major cities across the world is revealing. There is this joke that any part of the world where you don’t find the Igbo should be abandoned as unsafe.
Fast forward to 2020, Nigeria is no longer working and some reckless Igbo want to offer their heads again for the breaking of the coconut. Ironically, anyone who offers his head for the breaking of the coconut may not be alive when the fruit is shared. One may ask what makes these elements believe they need the Igbo nation more than the other tribes in Nigeria. Why not watch Nigeria collapse naturally like the others? Discretion they say is the better part of valor. You doesn’t cut off your nose to spite your face.
In retrospect, one of the reasons the Biafran war was lost was because Ojukwu’s Eastern region wanted to secede with the present-day oil-rich South-South and neither the Nigerian State nor the Western corporations would allow that. Ironically, today, the present Biafra secessionists want to leave with the South-South.
The fact is that any major structural changes that would be implemented today in Nigeria may be done along the geopolitical zones or states. Biafra with the South-South is a utopian project. The best result that may come out of it is a restructured system. It is foolhardy to invite war, destroy your region and end up with a regional system that most parts of the country want. It takes several decades or even centuries to build a city but only weeks or days to destroy it as seen in Libya, Somalia, and Syria. Currently, it seems that every region in Nigeria is happy that it has a potent or perhaps an armed group that could be used as bargaining power. No agitation or struggle could be sustained without local support.
Many of the South East elites know that Biafra is a pipe dream but some believe that IPOB has a bargaining value. People may gloss over it and say after all that the separatists are not backed by the government but they are heavily supported by the people. The real issue is the fallout that comes with it, as we have seen with Boko Haram. As they say, “Giving a cup to a monkey is usually not the problem but collecting it back is the predicament”. The current Borno state Governor Babagana Zulum was a commissioner when Boko Haram was launched and it was treated with kid gloves. Today his state is at the mercy of Boko Haram and he has narrowly escaped death from the terror group’s attacks on multiple occasions in past few years. Igbos ought to have realized the peculiar nature of their position in Nigeria, and as such should be extremely careful. As witnessed in the past whenever anarchy befalls the country, it is the Igbo that bear the biggest brunt. The nation and the States may obtain loans to fix the system but private businesses bear the repercussions.
Nation founding and freedom struggle are gargantuan projects that require a high level of preparedness, vision, intellectual sophistication, tenacity, and engagement, as demonstrated by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Kwame Nkruma, Dr. Martin Luther Jnr, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and most recently, Dr. John Garang of South Sudan. According to Lawrence Afolabi, many Nigerians mistake eloquent articulation of inferior thoughts as intelligence. Nation founding is a serious project that transcends warlike rhetoric, demagoguery, propaganda, and vituperations directed at people with dissenting views. It is ludicrous to embark on such a project without addressing the most fundamental issues just to escape the status-quo. Bear in mind that many Nigerians in a bid to escape the status-quo ended up with President Buhari.
According to Carl Jung, “The man who promises everything is sure to fulfill nothing and everyone who promises too much is already on the road to perdition”. Basic economics requires that you address essential issues such as what to produce, how to produce them, and for whom before starting any project. At present, the separatists and their leaders are confused about the people and the geographical space referred to as Biafra. That said, many argue that the Igbo should do more in terms of political cohesion, consensus-building, and diplomatic engagement with their counterparts in Nigeria.
Odumegwu Ojukwu would forever be revered and is etched in the hearts of Igbo as a leader who rose to save his people when it mattered most. However, in hindsight as with every individual, he was not unblemished. It is argued that the war could have ended earlier and more lives saved if he had welcomed the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe with dissenting views in the course of the war, instead of shunning them. The war may have been necessitated by self-defense; however, many believe that there were windows of opportunity to shorten the war. One of the medieval war strategies is to call for a truce when faced with an opponent far superior in size, armament, and support, a view espoused by the likes of Azikiwe, who frustratingly flew out of Biafra before the war officially ended.
Similarly, in 1999 when Nigeria transitioned to democracy, 3 major political parties were formed along the ethnic lines. Over the years, the Northern and the South-Western parties waxed stronger while the Igbo party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) died naturally. The All Progressives Congress (APC) we have today is mainly made up of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), a Northern party, and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a South-Western party, and should the APC split today, the two regional parties will reemerge. Should the Igbo also blame the Hausa-Fulani for the near-demise of their party, APGA?
Secondly, when the North and the South West wanted to establish Hisbah and Ametokun, people were not aware until they were formalized and institutionalized. They properly engaged the stakeholders, the relevant arms of government, reached a consensus, and legitimized them. However, on the contrary, for the South-East, it took an outlawed organization and a renegade leader to gather people in the bush by proxy to set up the Eastern Security Network (ESN), without any legal, structural, or institutional backing which may, as a result, attract the wrath of the government.
The opportunity costs of an Igbo nation without the South-South are incalculable. Should the 5 Igbo States leave the Igbo public servants in federal and state ministries outside the South East may be dismissed. Also, the Igbo may lose all their investments located outside the region. The nation would be faced with an influx of dismissed civil servants and mammoth returnees and little or no financial resources to govern the states. This may be an unreasonable choice compared to the present situation where the states receive monthly allocations to govern the States. Many have argued that people should first hold their governors accountable before considering more sinister options like secession. One may ask whether the present and past South-East governors would be able to account for 30% of the total revenues they received from the federal government since 1999.
On the other hand, there seems to be a consensus that the Igbo have “settled” themselves which is disgraceful. It is common to see a 45-year-old unmarried Igbo man overseas laboring to sponsor his five siblings in university to ensure that they have a bright future. This is a classic example of the spirit of “Ndi Igbo” who also seem to have the greatest propensity to delay gratifications. It is completely unacceptable for the country to have the disposition that the Igbo have “settled” themselves and should therefore be excluded from power.
Ideally, politicians rely on the business community to finance their electoral campaigns which is conditional. The Jewish community in America may not be visible politically but they are powerfully courted by the major parties in return for political favors. The atrocious practice whereby Nigerian governors’ empty state coffers to finance electoral campaigns may not continue for long. Expectedly, Nigeria would evolve to a stage where politicians would be chasing business leaders, perhaps the Igbo to finance their campaigns on a conditional basis.
There may be three classes of people in any society, namely, the uneducated people, the educated people capable of critical thinking, and the educated people capable of critical thinking, which are sincere. Sadly, any society with a tiny fraction of the last group, dominated by the first group is in trouble. Unfortunately, they would suffer the consequences like the rest if they don’t speak up when it matters. According to George Santayana, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Also in the words of Amisha Choubey, time reveals everything.
Ifeanyi Okonkwo writes from Toronto Canada