The Igbo question in Nigeria’s federation and the successful resolution of the national question evokes passionate, emotional, objective/subjective as well as painful memories and commentators depending on which side of the divide one belongs to. Some people are quick to reach a hasty conclusion while others are slow to empathize or rationalize their conclusion or opinion based on partisan political interest or stereotypes,.
Given the Nigeria’s diversity in cultures molded by several years of cultural intermarriage or fight for cultural relativity and supremacy, there seems to be a common ground for perceived suspicion particularly against the Igbos particularly in Eastern region in the fierce struggle for political and social -economic competition for national resources allocation and resource sharing. This perceived fear of domination have manifested in well- grounded and well known national stereotypes and prejudices against the Igbos and Eastern minority by other dominant ethnic nationalities.
It is not uncommon to hear other Nigerians ridicule or disparage the Igbos by insinuations and derogatory name calling like “ ayamiri, unege, omon-igbo, okoro, isuma ,Igboman sense, this deep suspicion has gained ground has become deeply rooted in the national discourse.
This background historical prejudice reinforces the clarion call by several Igbo leaders to seriously address “the Igbo Eastern Question” vis-à-vis the issues of the Igbos and their place in the Nigerian federation as means to assuage their fears, restore their confidence and acceptability within the federation. When against this backdrop certain governmental policies are analyzed, it becomes too apparent and justifies the fears expressed by late Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu in 1966 when the pogrom happened in the Northern Region where the Igbos were slaughtered as a reprisal for the !966 military coup that killed several leaders in Nigeria. History has shown and revealed that the original plotted of the coups which was attributed to Igbos are actually not Igbos of the Eastern Nigeria their names had a semblance of Iboness, but they, the majority of the originally coup plotters of the 1966 military coups were actually from the Md-Western region, but today and then, the Igbos paid and are still paying the ultimate price today . The Igbos have canvassed for their right to self determination and or restructuring of the current Nigeria federal structure to allay their fears or marginalization and denial of the benefits of resource sharing and allocation.
In most countries, particularly in countries where civil wars were fought to keep united federal or confederate country like the United States of America and Canada, the right to exercising self determination is well respected and appreciated. In these aforementioned countries, Particularly in the United States, the federal government does not assume the posture of an all conquering army of occupation, instead, policies are implemented to integrate the south with the rest of the America, memorials and histories of the civil war are encouraged to be studied to teach future generation, and to prevent the events that led to the war to ever happen again. For example, Canadian government, granted the Quebec the right to a plebiscite to determine their willingness to be independent. In both instances, there are civil war memorials and commemorative decorations after the war and well documented and impartial records are keep and made compulsory as part of their history curriculum in schools such that the average American knows why the war was fought and the issues that was at stake and how the war ended and what both sides did, this way every one is well- informed to prevent reprisal action in future against each other and provides need to move ahead. The unfortunate trend in Nigeria is that, Nigerians born after the war are made to understand that the issues of the war centered on the ambition and greed of the”dominant” Igbos military offices,who wanted are “nepotistic” and nursed the ambition to secede fiat! shamefully, the media still refers to Ojukwu as “Ex rebel” or “secessionist leader,”, “Biafrian warlord”and in most times his eligibility to contest for any office in his supposed father land was questioned based on that fact.While the war atrocities of the all-conquering Federal troops have never been addressed nor publicly documented to heal and reconcile the trauma effect of the civil war on families and on the national psyche.
Simply put, it indicates that the issues of the 1966 pogrom are still evident or at best not healed. I remembered being asked by my neighbors in Lagos if I was not going to leave for my home state of origin shortly after the “alaye Boys” attacked the Igbos during the June 12 1993.The issue of abandoned property has never been addressed, the issue of war-time starvation of the Igbos still remain lingering , the absence of Federal infrastructure in Igbo land , the designation of the 82 Military barrack as a “mere” division and not a command just like those in Kaduna, Jos or Ibadan
There is also the selective building of seaports, airports in the entire Eastern States, currently, the Igbos have been craftily removed as a Majority ethnic group within the south Eastern region through splitting the entire region and giving the Igbos lesser states and reduced their allocation and resources from the federal reserve. Whether it is by sheer coincidence or deliberate, the Igbos have never had an Inspector of Police or key decision making cabinet position.
The issue of addressing the evaded definition of citizenship has further exacerbated the problem more than resolve them. There is absolutely nothing erroneous in diversity or in accepting the multi-ethnic composition and diversity as well as difference in history of origins of our multi-ethnic nationality called Nigeria. If Nigerians define who is a Nigerian citizen, then it will put to rest the vexatious issue of abandoned property, genocidal attacks on certain ethnic nationals in other parts of the country who coincidentally are object of attack by their neighbors to the happy cheers of the controlling law enforcement authorities, it will eliminate the peg put on the military careers of Nigerians from a certain regional zone or ethnic nationalities.
Many Igbos believe based on the perceive denial of national resources and resource allocation, including the structural imbalance that makes the emergence of an Igbo president almost impossible as part of a gang up against the Igbos, which has resulted in their in their poor socio- economic base since 1966. The Igbos traverse the length and breathe of Nigeria contributing albeit more to national diversity spread than any single ethnic nationalities, yet they are usually the first victim of ethnic genocide in any part of the country. When there is a religious riot in the north, the victims are largely of eastern origin, protest rally in the west end up attacking the industrious Igbos to whom misguided anger are vented upon, this has become part of our documented national parody.
All this points to the inherent suspicion and ridicule to which other nationalities hold against the Igbos. From being a majority ethnic group in the country, the Igbos, through a careful orchestrated plan been dismembered to becoming a minority within their region. The old eastern region, “before Gowon’s state creation, has further been divided to make this swift change possible.
Appointment through the use of the federal character system assumes different standard when it affects those from the eastern region. The position of vice president or legislative arms “traditionally” have become the highest position the Igbos could aspire to, past examples suffices to buttress this trend examples; speakers of the Federal House of Representatives like Chief Ume-Ezeoke in 1979 and the Pius Ayim, Evan Enwerem, Okadigbo and controversial Floridian magic elected present senate president, shows what the geo-political equation in Nigeria is vis a-vis the Igbos.
Methinks it is still strange in modern day Nigeria to read or hear of first Igbos Air Vice Marshal or Naval Vice Admiral or even Lieutenant General in the army or Assistant Inspector General of Police or First Igbo Minister of Defense or First Igbo this or that! The fear of marginalization by the Igbos is not imaginary but real in the face of actual realities of our country. It is still sad to note that only one Igbos state have an airport except that airport built by Imo State indigenes. After 30 years of civil war, the call to dredge Oguta Lake is still a pipe dream, even after Julius Berger tendered feasibility and viability preparedness for the job. The Onitsha River port is still moribund and doomed from inception, the only hope of restoration would be, that bridge be converted into a drawbridge.
There is the near dearth of federal government presence in any of the eastern states, the roads are deplorable and, most social infrastructure are provided by local communal efforts to supplement the shortcoming of the powerful but ineffective federal government. The only airport of note is the archaic Enugu airport, there is no international airport within the closest proximity, and even the Port Harcourt airport does not qualify as an international airport. Statistical survey across the country indicates the spread of airports with international facilities are albeit lopsided.
The imo airport is which was build by a state government still need total upgrade and is unimaginable to understand why it is the only airport without same amenities like others and without access to telephone communication!!! Cry my beloved country! The truth must be told regardless of where it comes from. The Eastern states represent an untold story of neglect and marginalization from the top. This sorry state has continued unabated in a country that professes federalism, yet we continue to pretend why there is growing demand for the convocation of a sovereign national conference to discuss the future of the country. Now there is a campaign slogan for restructuring and how that will be accomplished is still doubtful.
If Nigerians accept to break up, it should cause no goose pimples on any one, rather, solutions and understanding the rationale for this must be found why some people choose or agitate to break up from the federation. The only conceivable reason could be that there are not guaranteed equality, fairness and justice in a country that they call their own.
As long as their are no genuine polices and fairness, there will forever be the ever presence of fear of marginalization and of domination since ethnic quest for domination configure Nigeria’s basic geo-political survival as it stands. The solution demands round table conference of ethnic composition and interest groups who sincerely and patriotically believe in one Nigeria, not in name, by in principle. Every Nigerian must feel free to live, earn a living where ever they decide and the issue of non-indigene be expunged from our mentality. An indigene should necessarily be anyone who resides or born from within whatever geographical entity he or she resides and pay taxes. Statism or state of origin does not address the fear of marginalization but it exacerbates, compounds and elevates the problems itself.
Although proponent of states creation harps on even development and removal of fear of domination as the key point for states creation, yet the rhetorical question is how much development has the easterners witnessed since the balkanization of the old imo and Anambra states, nor has there been a phenomenal development in splitting old Bendel states or Rivers states or how has it solved the Itsekir/warri or urhobo and ika Ibo issue in delta state or the Kogi, Benue idoma issues or Ijaws problems in rivers and baylesa or even Annang/Ibibio feud in Akwa Ibom states the list is endless. The pivotal reason for these states creation is to give the peoples a false sense of accomplishing their fear of unfair treatment by their country, which will disappear over a period of time once there is the sense of justice, public accountability, equality and introduction of merit system and a feeling of belonging and equal stakes in the country.
It is necessary that issues of national unity and integration should be devoid of political maneuver and ulterior nepotism aimed at favoring one ethnic group over the other. Once there is national interest and equity in revenue allocation and sharing, uniform standards in federal assistance, provision of security equally to all, including the safe guarding of lives and property of all Nigerian regardless of where they reside, a departure of what happened in earlier cases like the Zango-Kataf, Kano riot, Bauchi, Isoko-Umuede, OPC war, Ogoni genocide, Warri-Itsekiri, and Ijaws extermination, and issues that gave eminence to the introduction of the notorious operation Python dance in some eastern states, then and only then can there be a country, called and truly called Nigeria. The belief in one nation and one Nigeria should be a fact rather than a pious hope for a country they call their own. There is so much to be done, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. It is time to right the injustices prevalent and all oppressed Nigerian not only felt by the Igbos, but also t by all sections of the country. After all the popular Miranda law that is universal both in the United States and else where started in a little township. Our hopes rest squarely on a vibrant, impartial judiciary and law enforcement system. Nigeria is on the march again ,waiting for Mister president, and our leaders….who is the messiah to address these national questions?
Ritchie Ejiofor .,
A commentator on national issues, resides in the US