It is difficult to believe that it is over fifty years since the end of Nigeria Civil War, what with the scars and the wounds that seem to fester and become more malignant and the ensuing cold war that has refused to abate. This is because at the end of the war in 1970, the Nigerian government rather than follow the part of genuine reconciliation had adopted crude punitive retribution and recrimination measures against the war-weary ndi-Igbo thereby weakening the unity of the country in the process. In a very subtle and cruel manner the Igbo man has been attacked, ridiculed and demonized so much so that it is stigmatizing and burdensome to be called an Igbo man in Nigeria.
Although the war ended on a no-victor-no-vanquished note and a promise of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation as pronounced by the Gowon-led Federal Government, yet the real war continued in a more insidious and sinister manner. Apart from the initial punitive measures immediately after the war there has been series of obnoxious measures to stymie development in the South East inhabited by mostly ndi-Igbo. There is no visible Federal Government presence in Igbo heartland. Every successive government follows the same repressive pattern except for the brief periods when IBB and GEJ were in power. That is the main reason why the two pan-Nigerian leaders are hated by those who feel Nigeria belongs to them and that Igbo deserve no fair deal in the Nigeria project. A good government is the one that is revanchist and swingeing in its policies against ndi-Igbo. Those who persecute ndi-Igbo are profiled as heroes and achievers.
Thus, ndi-Igbo have continued to experience insufferable marginalization. Every geopolitical zone in the country has at least six states, only South East, the Igbo strong hold has five. The South East has the fewest number of local government areas and is least represented in the National Assembly and in the government. Over 70% of travelers and over 70% of importers in the country are Igbo yet the seaports in the East and the geographically contiguous South-South region are made not to function. There is no international airport in the East. The only one built by GEJ has been tactically closed down for almost one year now. They are made very vulnerable by their ubiquity in every city and every nook and cranny of the country; a clandestine design by those in power since the end of the war.
Apart from the government sphere, the war also continued in the most unusual place—in the press—that is supposed to be the bastion of truth. The Nigerian Press in particular has been most unfair to ndi-Igbo in its reportage, analysis and interpretation of events and in gate-keeping functions. Igbo are not in power yet they are blamed for all the woes of the nation. Hard work is mischievously misinterpreted to mean love for money. It is fashionable to attack the Igbo man and many revel in doing it. When you attack an Igbo man, it is normal, a fact, and the bitter truth but when he makes a riposte, it becomes hate speech. Some think Igbo has no right to complain about their pitiable situation and that they should be grateful to Nigerians. The press war is meant to brutalise the Igbo psyche; a little wonder some renegade Igbo men think that denigrating ndi-Igbo is a sure way to become relevant and be seen as a nationalist or a detribalized person and even the Igbo elite and the intelligentsia has been brow beaten into submission. They live like dependant characters out to mollify the feelings of others.
Ndi-Igbo have continued to live like endangered species in Nigeria. They bear the brunt of every religious and politically instigated disturbance in the country. It is disheartening that in the post civil war Nigeria ndi-Igbo have continued to lose thousands of its own through organized and systemic riots, sometimes for inane reasons like the February, 2006 attack over a cartoon about Mohammed in a Danish newspaper and the November, 2002 Kaduna riot over Miss World Beauty pageant in Abuja. And yet no one is arrested or tried for any of these.
At the risk of being termed an alarmist, I must state that the hatred for the Igbo man is ineffably worrisome, ingrained, baseless and asphyxiating. Some even among the Igbo believe it does not exist but it is a palpable reality. Nigerians are united in their hatred for the Igbo man as the vintage Achebe piquantly puts it in his book: There was a country. The hatred for the Igbo man is sustained by the press war and ignorant public that believe in stereotypes. The attack on ndi-Igbo is fueled by those who live in perpetual fear of the Igbo nation, the supplanters who feel the only way they can dominate and continue to parasite on the others is when the Igbo nation is subjugated or out of the way. Thus, fifty years after the end of the fratricidal war there is no respite for the Igbo man as he is oppressed and harangued from all fronts—the government, the press, the alimajiri, and the area boys among others.
The exact cause of the war has been misinterpreted and manipulated by the obscurantist and suppressionists to justify the pogrom, genocide and crime against humanity committed and to justify the continued obnoxious policies against ndi-Igbo in Nigeria. The popular opinion is that ndi-Igbo planned coup against Nigeria and took up arms against Nigeria. But the truth suppressed is that Ndi-Igbo did not fight Nigeria. They acted in self defence.
The coup of January 1966 was the misdemeanor of a few ideologically misguided young military officers who were goaded by false notion of patriotism. They were influenced by the ideology of the Eastern Bloc that was the rave of the 60s and incited by the Nigerian Press that were in sympathy with the Action Group (AG) and its leaders jailed for plotting to violently overthrow Tafawa Belewa government. They putschists confessed that their intention was to release Awolowo the leader of AG, whom they felt was wrongfully accused and jailed for treasonable felony in 1963 and whom they believed had ideological inclination towards the left, from prison and install him as head of state. It was a sympathy coup. This is the part of the coup narrative that has been willfully suppressed.
Although the bulk of the officers that planned the coup were of Igbo extraction, yet officers from other ethnic groups were also involved. The leader of the coup was Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu. He was born and bred in Kaduna. His middle name was Kaduna. He was more Hausa than Igbo. He came from Okpanam, a place he rarely visited when he was alive, in present day Delta State. How could it have been Igbo coup when the planners did not have the approval of ndi-Igbo and did not have Igbo agenda before embarking on their felo-de-se mission?
The obscurantist would not tell us that those who frustrated the-said Igbo coup were Igbo officers. General Ironsi quelled the mutiny in Lagos while Lt. Col. Ojukwu who was the garrison commander in Kano stopped the revolt in the North. Lt. Col. Arthur Unegbe an Igbo officer who was the Quartermaster-General of the Army then was killed by the mutineers for refusing to hand in the key to the armoury. Zik of Africa was out of the country on medical treatment as at the time of the coup and could not have been killed in absentia. The mutineers did not operate in Enugu because apparently they did not want create diplomatic row as Okpara was hosting the Prime Minister of Seychelles Island in Enugu. Akintola was killed because he resisted the coup plotters when they came for him. The same people that killed Akintola spared Remi Fani-Kayode, drove him to Lagos and released him.
The misinterpretation of the January 1966 Coup was what led to the counter coup of July, 1966 and the consequent pogrom and genocide in the North. As I have noted in another piece, the genocide of 1966 was organized with the insidious collaboration of the state; the army and the police, not just spontaneous street riot. The promises of protection from the government did not stop the pogrom. At four different occasions: in May 29th, July 29th, September 29th and October 29th, 1966, over fifty thousand Igbo were butchered and hundreds of thousands of others raped, maimed, robbed, displaced and dehumanized in the most horrendous circumstances and till date no person or group has been queried for that. It is also worthy to note that the organized attack on Igbo predates the January, 1966 coup. In 1945, there was attack on Ndi-Igbo in Jos and in May, 1953 there was attack on Igbo in Kano over a harmless motion for self rule moved by Enahoro on the floor of the Federal House.
Thus, the federal government refusal to protect ndi-Igbo during the genocide of 1966 and 1967 and the flagrant refusal to implement the Aburi Accord was what led the civil war.
Clearly, the effects of trying to marginalize the South East the abode of Ndigbo in Nigeria is unimaginable. The potentials of the Igbo nation known for their industry and hard work have not been properly harnessed due to the adverse socio-political climate in Nigeria. Nigeria has a lot to gain from the Igbo nation. The Igbo man believes that: ebe onye bi ka o na wachi: meaning that one should identify with one’s place of abode. The reason he feels at home any where he finds himself. He contributes actively to the development of any environment he finds himself. He is intelligent, creative, innovative, hardworking and liberal in his views. He is patriotic not clannish; he does not show senseless solidarity. He believes in equity, justice, fairness and meritocracy.
The problem of Nigeria today is poverty, corruption and bad leadership and none of these is the making of the Igbo man. Igbo man has not been at helm of affairs since 1966 to date and yet when their traducers want to pass blame they call the Igbo man. Why would Nigerians spare the buttocks that fart and give knock to the head that has done nothing wrong? Why are Nigerians venting their frustration on the hapless Igbo man when those who brought us to this sorry state of affairs are prancing around? Since the end of the war, they have not been in government meaning they are not the cause of the problem ravaging the land. In fact, among the few people that have acquitted themselves creditably in public office since the current democratic dispensation are people of Igbo extraction: Akunyili, Ezekwesili, Okonjo-Iweala, Soludo, Peter Obi…
Nigerians should know that the injustice that led to the civil war is still staring us menacingly in the face today, indicating that that those who claim to be leaders in this beleaguered nation are suffering from acute learning disorder. Fifty years after the Nigeria fratricidal war, there is no glimmer of hope of unity and national cohesion. There is no sense of nationhood.
When Martin Luther King (Jr.) said in his famous speech that he had a dream, there were discrimination, racism and white supremacists in America but he was optimistic because those who rule America were intelligent statesmen, nationalists and patriots. Nobody can say that in the present day Nigeria except hypocrites and those suffering from self-delusion. Those who rule Nigeria are kakistocrats and anarchists, people with unbridled bulimic tendencies. I am not a pessimist, in fact those who know me from close quarters know that I am an incurable optimist and a realist, but in Nigeria case it will take more than a millennium to attain nationhood except there is an upheaval. The leaders in Nigeria are people that would instead of empowering their people prefer to leave them perpetually blind as alimajiri and area boys so that they could continue to use and exploit them for their selfish political gains. Nigeria system is wicked, oppressive and superannuated and it is sustained by the violence and barbarism from a section, hypocrisy and arrogance from another, foolishness and ignorance of others and apathy of the greater majority. Nigeria will benefit more from integration yet the drones that control the state affairs want the status quo sustained for parochial reasons. Nigeria should restructure along the recommendations of the Aburi Accord or split peacefully. Other nations have done so in the past. Our so-called unity is not cast on stone. It is indeed negotiable!
By Gozie Irogboli…
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