By Abayomi A. A.

The nation is currently witnessing a declension in national cohesion with ethno-regionalistic agitations increasing daily. One block which has been very strident on this front is the Igbo, fronted by an equally vociferous Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Until recently, the struggle of the Igbos against perceived injustices from corporate Nigeria could best be described as a resonating undertone against the backdrop of the devastating effects of the Nigerian Civil War. But the emergence of the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and IPOB have injected some energy into the sentiment that the Igbos have been treated as outcasts in post-Civil War Nigeria. At the core of this struggle is the feeling that the vestiges of the bitterly fought civil war still subsist with the victors lording over the vanquished, thus, crystallizing into a deep distrust in the Nigeria project. In addition to civil disturbances including intimidation of fellow Easterners, IPOB through Nnamdi Kanu has scaled up the level of divisive speeches culminating in his imprisonment and the subsequent political bail he was granted. Yet, he has continued to flout the terms of his bail while flirting with treasonable activities. However justifiable or not the feeling of subjugation may seems, it is much more unarguable that the Igbos have more to lose if they allow their collective quest for emancipation to be executed through a trajectory solely driven by an impetuous and mordant temperament.

No nation embarks on violent rhetoric within a diverse structural intercalation as Nigeria without risking internecine feuds. A window to glimpse this was revealed when the equally impulsive Arewa Youth gave the deadline for the Igbos to depart the North. The ultimatum, however irrational it may seem, created panic in an otherwise indulgent Eastern elites, who hitherto had been insouciant to Kanu’s utterances, partly because the activities of MASSOB and IPOB conveniently present them with the escapism needed to avoid taking responsibilities for their failure to galvanize development of their lands despite being part of government for many years. The Arewa Youth ultimatum forced their hands to publicly deny Kanu’s tactics and actions and constrained them to be on the defensive. The panic this cascade of events created in the average Easterner outside the oriental borders was palpable. The average Igbo man who, out of hard work and against the prevailing sense marginalization, has been able to establish a life for himself in the diaspora, where he is more welcomed than in his own lands. He has built a house, own a factory, has a street named after him and can even be voted for to hold a political office and represent a constituency far away from the lands of his forebears. How the Igbos do not see this as progress post-civil war remains a mystery to an outsider. Perhaps this may either be due to an unfulfilled sense of entitlement from the Nigerian state or a feeling of self-denial derived from a “victim mentality” which has more or less coalesced to create the feeling of Easterner being the subjugated archetype and others as the overlord.

It is even more befuddling why the Igbos want to jettison their silent reformism, predicated on their ingenuity and naturally endowed gift of commerce, which have driven an inherent ability to nurture subsistent trading into giant going concerns. An undeniable fact is that the bulk of the assets of Easterners are outside their borders which remain an untapped potential for endless sources of fund to drive the developmental aspirations of their homeland states i.e. to pitch in a token per head into a diaspora fund may seem pedestrian but could serve as the catalyst for a much needed homeland development if judiciously administered. Less arguably, this is a potential which very few ethnic block in Nigeria can boast to have. But the activities and recent utterances of the Biafra activists have revealed the intentions, and perhaps those of their primers, that they do not seek only for secession but want to flirt with territorial annexation of their neighbor expressed by lusting after the fertile plains of the Benue basin and the oil riches of the Delta. Statements such as “they gave me Biafra in prison with only the five Igbo states; I said no, I want Benue and Rivers states inclusive,” by the IPOB leader and that “any part of the country where a large population of Igbos are found and contributes to its development is part of Biafra” by Kingsley Madu of MASSOB could only create intense suspicion as to the true intentions of these contemporaneous Biafra agitators. In one stroke, they have revealed the inner demons driving this renewed thrust for Biafra as primarily an expansionist quest which can only whipped up proportionate anti-Biafra sentiments in their neighours or their Southwestern hosts. Such statements not only push them to a battle they are ill prepared for, but imperil the vast multitudes of their kinsmen in the diaspora who have taken giant strides in every shades of human endeavours. It is foolhardy to open a battlefront on one’s own turf and expect to win, and even if one does it will at best be Pyrrhic.

Storried Nigeria's Search for Emancipation

One may now tend to be tempted to surmise that the persistent mistrust of the Igbos for the Hausa/Fulani is that they have resisted, albeit sometimes by violent retribution, the expansionist tendency of the Igbos. Unlike the South westerners, who in their quasi-liberal dispositions have allowed the Igbo man and his interests to flourish, the North, especially those of the far-right ideology, via their often firebrand religious creed, view an average Igbo man as a “corrupting” influence on their religion and culture and thus are prepared to resist the spread of institutions and traits akin to them like the church and their ebullient dispositions to life. But the irony of this rather stereotypical perspective, is an analogous tendency also innate in an Igbo man, who views the mosque and most other allied matters of the North, as an anathema. In order words, either consciously or inadvertently, it is largely a tu quoque situation. Thus, the law of electromagnetism prevails; similar charges repel. Unfortunately, in this case, the charges and surrounding influences are humans whose lives will be consumed by any violent clash of ideologies. Therefore, it will be dangerous, and near impossible, to attempt the transmutation of the all-conquering Eastern commercial republicanism to territorial acquisitiveness using the Kanu template. When a desire to achieve certain objectives seems to be weighed down by extraneous factors, one must be amenable to exploring alternative options. It is foolhardy to continue with the strategy of Kanu and expect the desired success.

Without gainsaying, an average Igbo trader in the various Easterners dominated commercial clusters in the Southwestern states, for example, has been able stitch more patches on the rended fabric of Nigerian integration than an elite in Abuja from the same region. The success of his commercial venture has resulted in the transformation of the demography of his surroundings to suit his interests while gradually integrating into his new abode. He, along with his kinsmen, has by subtle means, turned indigenously Yoruba towns to a pseudo-eastern enclaves. Accordingly, political patronage and representation of towns such as Alaba, Ojo, Amuwo-Odofin, Ajegunle, to name a few in Lagos, are now largely determined by the sentiments of the Easterners in these towns, some of whom are also landlords. This I feel is a far more successful reintegration drive than the swansong of endless demands for fair share from the Nigerian state which the elites continuously chorus from the comfort of their mansions. While this successful commercial irruption may give credence to the statement of Kingsley Madu, the fact that most of these investments are “immovable properties” must always serve as a reality check that any misguided endeavours could jeopardize the lifetime efforts of their kinsmen in these foreign lands. Sadly, there is always an army of willing but largely misguided minds who are prepared to take these choruses to the streets in mostly violent expression of anger. Though it is given that each individual has the legitimate right to demand for a fair share from a pooled system, rights which have been defined under various national and international instruments, nevertheless, it is illegitimate that the pursuance of such demands should lead to the abridgement of another’s especially when it may result to wanton loss of lives and properties. President Muhammadu Buhari succinctly captured this in his speech after his recent medical vacation, when he said people precipitate trouble only to take to their heels while others are saddled with restoring order which may results to the loss of lives.

At this critical point, Nigerians including the Igbos, must first decentralize their quest for restructuring by first convincing their kindred in the National Assembly and Federal Executive Council to align their thoughts to their leanings. The Igbos, and other agitating bodies, must shift gear from allowing war mongers to be the face of their quest and court alliances of group with similar thoughts to achieve the critical mass needed for national restructuring. To gain the tiara of political stool at the Centre, which every group covets in a diverse country like Nigeria, goes beyond deploring strong arm tactics and the isolated civil disturbances by IPOB and MASSOB. This will only further degrade the already stagnant economic status of such states. The Yoruba’s largely did that, expression of isolated protestations, after the annulment of June 12 and gained nothing!!! Not even the sympathy of the East. The accompanying demonstrations were largely confined to within their borders and pockets of effort by human right activists outside it. More saddening is the conscious denial of the watershed by others outside Yoruba land as none other than some states in the West deem the event worthy enough to even organize a colloquium to commemorate. While op-eds were quick to point to the anointment of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 as the gain from Yoruba agitation aftermath of June 12, the fact remains that he was a choice of convenience to the ruling class then and not a deferment to the June 12 predilection of the Southwest. But eventually, the Yorubas learnt and through the effort of an emergent power block within its fold, forged an alliance strong enough to ride on the prevailing sentiments against a disappointing government and get some semblance of power in the Centre. That the mainstream Yoruba nation was apathetic to Obasanjo’s government, even after his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) captured power from the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the Southwest, tells a lot about how not to be in power even if your kinsman is heading a government. This is in contrast to the present Buhari’s government which they feel in a sense that they are a part of. Whether they will eventually have a good story to tell post Buhari remains to be seen. But what is clear is that where there’s a will to give and take, there will always be a way. The Igbos must glean this fact and embark on politics of inclusiveness rather than isolationism as presently being championed by the likes of Nnamdi Kanu or opportunism as was in President Goodluck Jonathan’s government when the balance of power was largely with them, yet it was not harnessed to change the fortune of the Igbos.

Abayomi teaches at the University of Lagos, Akoka.

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By Abayomi A. A.

The nation is currently witnessing a declension in national cohesion with ethno-regionalistic agitations increasing


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