By Hassan Gimba
The Igbo are a resilient lot, an egalitarian and industrious people. Defined as a meta-ethnicity native and one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, they are predominant in South Eastern and mid-western Nigeria. Though there is a claim by some of them that they descended from Jews, the World Culture Encyclopaedia has it that the Igbo people have no common traditional story of their origins. It said historians have proposed two major theories of Igbo origins. One claims the existence of a core area, or “nuclear Igboland.” The other claims they descended from waves of immigrants from the north and the west who arrived in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Three of such immigrant people are the Nri, Nzam and Anam.
I have known the Igbo since I opened my eyes, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for them. Mrs Nwosu and Ogualili were among my primary school teachers. I went through the hands of Mrs Ogualili in Shehu Garbai Primary School in Maiduguri twice – first in my primary five and then seven when she saw me through my first school leaving certificate examinations.
As a student, I had some of them also in the same class in both my primary and secondary schools. Frank Nweke Jnr, a former minister, was my classmate in primary school. Brilliant chap, he was.
At Government College, Maiduguri, among others, Michael Onyia, Christopher Ononogbu, Boniface Edeh, Joseph Anumudu, Felix Udeh and Peter Achukwu were among my classmates. Michael Onyia, now a PhD and lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was always ahead of the set academically. Peter Achukwu is now a Professor in Medical Laboratory Sciences, specialising in Histopathology/Histochemistry with an LLB, BL to boot. He is also a lecturer at UNN.
People will understand, therefore, when I say I have nothing but respect and admiration for them. The Igbo, on average, can be generous and will do all it takes to build someone into becoming someone responsible. They have the best apprenticeship mentoring system in the world, where the mentor sets up the apprentice after a period of training.
I nearly married one, Uzoamaka, in 1990, but that should be a story for another day. However, I offered my junior sister—same parents—to an Igbo secondary school classmate when I realised he wanted to marry a northerner. He ended up marrying someone from abroad, though.
In the 70s, the civil war was fresh, understandably, but by 1979 and through the 1980s up to 2015, the Igbo had been fully integrated into Nigeria and were (still are) major players.
From 1979 to 1983, they occupied the slot of vice president. Ebitu Ukiwe was President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s deputy before Augustus Aikhomu displaced him. They have had chiefs of staff, especially that of the army, Senate presidents, Senate deputy presidents, deputy Speakers in the House of Representatives, and many more positions. There is no position in Nigeria that the Igbo has not held, including the presidency if Goodluck Ebele Jonathan can be regarded as an Igbo by default.
Therefore, when the Igbo man cries “marginalisation!” I wonder if I knew its meaning.
The North East has not tasted power at the apex since Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, yet they have not cried of being “marginalised” by their North Western brothers who will tell them “One North” but when all come “home”, they always take the larger portion of the cake.
In 1979, the North West knew the North East’s Malam Adamu Ciroma was head and shoulders above all the presidential aspirants of the party that won the presidency that year, but they connived to deny him the ticket. Same with 1992. When they realised he would defeat Umaru Shinkafi at the National Republican Convention’s staggered primary elections, they again conspired to scuttle his journey. After doing him in, they went on and truncated another North Easterner, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe’s presidential drive, denying him victory even as a vice-presidential candidate. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar too has suffered the same fate.
Yet the North East did not lament. They did not threaten to break away. The temptation to blame others for their “woes” did not cross their minds. Cries of marginalisation did not sweep over them. No. They will sit down and re-strategise, then make their brothers an offer they cannot refuse: They will present their best who will hopefully best their best. This is politics. It is what democracy is all about. The business of give-and-take. No hairsplitting or inviting the god of thunder or threatening Armageddon.
Again, if people are backward, unable to witness any development in their areas, as the Igbos cry, they should go to the source and address it. Would it be fair for an Anambra man, for instance, to accuse a Hausa man of under-development in his state? Methinks it will not look nice. Members of the state house of assembly are all Igbos, same for cabinet members and all local government officials. Those representing the state at the national level are all Igbos and the governor who got elected into office by his fellow Igbo is also one of them. Their full allocation comes to them, as well. So, where did someone from another area cause the problem? How did he do them in?
It is too late for Nigeria now to divide into only God knows how many components. Perhaps 1966 was the best time. Yes, maybe. Perchance by now, we would all have been independent nationalities, each with its peculiar problems and prospects. But now? No way, sir! We are all safer in a united Nigeria. None of the six geopolitical zones can survive outside Nigeria. Bandits, insurgents, militants, megalomaniacs, charlatans and all would overwhelm us. Even the Igbo nation cannot stand on its own if left to the whims, arrogance and demagoguery of its self-anointed secessionist leader who Yoweri Museveni will look like a saint when compared to.
But many intelligent Igbo know this. The problem is there is a herd movement towards something that the gullible, used cannon fodder do not even know what it is. To them, it is “freedom”. Sure? Freedom from what? From where? From who? If it happens, which is doubtful, it is then they will recall Nigeria with nostalgia and rue over a Nigerian slang “one chance”. They would realise its real meaning, albeit late in the day. This is assuming various warlords have not emerged to deny everyone peace. And freedom. And therefore I sympathise with my good friends, my brothers across the Niger.
A herd movement like the IPOB has its driving spirit and being populated mainly by society’s dregs with nothing to lose, a certain force with a promise of violence pushes it. The level-headed can easily get intimidated and blackmailed into sheepish silence.
There is nothing the good and visionary can do when demagogues opiate the minds and souls of the gullible herd. Or so it seems. But we should also keep in mind Edmund Burke’s letter to Thomas Mercer, a 19th century Judge. A summary of the letter is: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
But sometimes one gets disappointed in how the situation was left to deteriorate to this level. Of course, we know that once there is no fairness or justice in a land, agitations take over. In 1966 when life was snuffed out of some leading northern military and political leaders, the chant in the North was for “Araba” (separation) because the North felt the military regime then was not fair and just to it.
The only way we can slow down and perhaps reverse the impending doom is for all to feel included and carried along in affairs despite scarce resources. We have a lot to learn from how Quebec and Ireland are being handled by the Canadian and British governments, respectively.
Nnamdi Kanu, who Aisha Yesufu described as a ‘made-in-China Shekau’ and his IPOB and ESM always deny what everyone knows were perpetrated by them. This is unlike the Boko Haram insurgents who are eager to own what they did and didn’t do as long as it was sinister. This means there is still hope that they could be persuaded to return from their fatal journey, a journey that will only cause untold pains to all on both sides. We need not go through what we had gone through before. Even animals learn from experience, sometimes referred to as history.
We that are in Nigeria should not heed the calls of those safely ensconced in the safety and comfort of the lands of the Whiteman to put our house ablaze. Let anyone who loves us and wants to fight for us remain within us, as Gandhi and Mandela did for their people. We shouldn’t put our lives and those of our loved ones, our properties and years of labour and sweat on the line for one brigand in disguise, a charlatan living off our sweat in comfort abroad.
Gimba a renowned columnist sent in the piece from Abuja