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NIGERIAN PROJECT : THE IGBO QUESTION AND IT’S ALTERNATIVES ~ Enyinnaya Abaribe

The Oasis Reporters

October 13, 2017

Senator Enyinaya Abaribe.

If I fail to say the truth about the existential challenges that we face today in our country Nigeria, and how we believe we should face them, then I would not be true to myself and to the people that sent me to represent them in the red chamber.

From the Past till Date.

1970

We can situate our position today following the end of the civil war in 1970. Igbo’s in 1970 were impoverished having lost an estimated 3 million Igbo souls in the war, with a ruined and destroyed landscape and infrastructure. Every Igbo man/woman with savings in the banks before the outbreak of hostilities were pauperized as the military government decreed that one would only get 20 pounds notwithstanding the amount you had. The indigenization decree was passed in 1972 and no Igbo could participate since all had been reduced to penury.

2017

Today the Igbo have the largest pool of educated Nigerians. In 2007, Imo State had more subscribers to the JAMB UTME exams than the 19 Northern States put together. In 2017, 56% of National Youth Service Corp, NYSC members are from the South East. Our feat in education means that we now have the army to win the war of competition in a market driven economy. Since 1999, the south east states have been the best in all examinations.

The largest group of direct domestic investors in Nigeria are from the south east. Abuja alone probably has more Igbo’s than any other ethnic group. In all parts of Nigeria after the indigenous population, Igbo’s are the next largest group. We are the largest propertied class of all ethnic groups in Nigeria and despite all this confusion, we have grown the most economically since the inception of the current democracy in Nigeria. We are the richest and largest pool of the Nigerian diaspora population.

Taking an example of Lagos state, Igbos are holding the economy of the state. We created the following from nothing;

Computer Village in Ikeja.

Ladipo Spare Parts markets.

Alaba Electronic Markets.

Aspamda market in Festac.

Orile Market for toilet fittings etc

The combined turnover daily of these markets run into billions daily. Lagos state benefits by collecting taxes and now its economy contributes 56% of all VAT collected in Nigeria.

Above scenario is replicated in most big cities in Nigeria. Go to Kano, Benin City, Kaduna, Sokoto, not to talk of Abuja. The economy of Nigeria is in our hands.

The question is why are we not investing in Igbo land likewise? I will return to this.

The ALLURE of BIAFRA

So the question would now be, given all the advantages that we as Ndigbo have in Nigeria, why the clamour by our youths and others for a separate state of Biafra?

The present agitation in the South East for a sovereign state of Biafra seems very tempting under the prevailing circumstance given the manifest nepotistic approach to governance at the center. To some especially the youth and the highly disadvantaged it is the way to go and when viewed critically you cannot help but to agree with the agitators. Of a truth there is an obvious feeling of alienation within the Nigerian state.

But has this always been the case?

History does not bear this out. Given that following the civil war, there seemed to have been a glass ceiling in certain professions in Nigeria where it looked as if Igbo should not aspire to. But we can posit this as the lingering effects of the war where the victor in a war finds it very difficult to fully integrate the other part they fought with into all areas.
In the US for example, it took Clinton and Gore nearly 50 years after to break the stranglehold of the north in favor of the south in the presidency of the US.

But come to think of it, Dr Alex Ekwueme became the Vice President of Nigeria barely 9 years after the civil war. The glass ceiling was on its way to being broken. The military interregnum led by the same Muhammadu Buhari put a hold on this.

Fast forward to the civil rule era starting from 1999. Nobody would accuse Presidents Obasanjo, late Yar’adua, or Jonathan of what seemed like sectionalism as state policy. A look at the pattern of appointments by President Obasanjo evinced the fact of an all inclusive government from all parts of the country. Same as President Yar’adua. President Jonathan took it a step further by appointing the first chief of army staff, first secretary to the federal government, coordinating minister for the economy etc.

in fact, one of the criticisms we face today in Nigeria is why this agitation under President Buhari when it was not done under President Jonathan’s administration?

However, you will recall that when this government came into place, President Buhari went to the US where he made a most unfortunate statement that was widely condemned at that time. He reportedly said that he doesn’t need to bother about the 5% that didn’t vote for him but will rather concern himself with the 97% that voted for him.

I had at the time the statement was made raised concern that such a statement coming from an elected President sounds discriminatory and may create the impression that our elected President Buhari is sending a message to those who didn’t vote for him that he will be partial in his decision making.

Unfortunately, it seems also that the people who are in and around the president didn’t advise him properly. They left him to make appointments and take decisions that gave the impression that there are some parts of the country that are not supposed to be part of Nigeria. Little wonder that our youths feeling left out and not having anything to give them hope in Nigeria, started believing that a separate country would be better. But I say it is not. I will come to this later.

I recall that in November of 2016, after seeing how things were going awry, the South East caucus of the Senate sought for and got an appointment with President Buhari. Our discussion centered on the south East not being part of this administration thereby giving rise to our people feeling disconnected from the government. We pointed out that it should be a cause for concern if a major part of the country is not represented in the security architecture of the country in addition to other critical sectors from the inception of the administration. We were promised that our concerns would be looked into. Sadly, this was not done till today.

The country Nigeria is supposed to be for inclusion; for making sure that everyone makes his or her input into its affairs. Allowing such fairness and equity to prevail in a plural society like ours will make us a bigger and better nation. Today that is not the case. Either as a deliberate act as it seems or a willful omission geared towards achieving a pre-determined goal, Ndigbo were pushed to the fringes of the Nigerian Union in so many ways by the present government. The unfortunate scenario is enough for one to ask the hypothetical question….why am I here?

WHAT ALTERNATIVES

As much as the music of separatism stirs the soul, one must ask the question; Is relapsing into a sovereign state of Biafra the optimum option or is it a restructuring of the state such that all the federating units would have greater autonomy in the mould of a near quasi self determination the better option?

When these two options are posed; a sovereign state of Biafra or restructured Nigeria, the position of most Nigerians as of today is for the latter.

Apart from the problem of even determining the boundaries of the state of Biafra and the multifarious and multifaceted problems a simplistic solution such as Biafra poses, perhaps it makes more sense for those who have tasted war to be a little more discerning when matters affecting their race comes up in Nigeria. Nigeria has been known to come together to use the Igbo head to break coconuts (apologies to late Moshood Abiola).

Despite the problems that befell the Yoruba race following the annulment of the June 12 elections, they didn’t seek to break out of Nigeria despite mouthing Oduduwa country. Our brothers from the Niger Delta have not sought to go away either. Rather we seem to be in the unfortunate position of seeming to drag them into an unwanted Biafra by them. Thus the agitation for Biafra has rather elicited hate and disdain for our people from other ethnic groups notwithstanding that they may have been nursing such tendencies.

The agitation as championed by IPOB somehow gave muscle to traditional traducers of Ndigbo to spew out hate and envious vituperations. This was exemplified by the October 1st quit notice given to Igbos to leave the North by the so-called Arewa youths which persons are yet to be arrested for hate speech and breaching the law. Indeed, other people seem to want to see us fall into the trap for them to use us to solve their own problems with Nigeria.

That notwithstanding we as political leaders from the South East were unequivocal in asserting that the rights of Ndigbo to peaceful and democratic engagements must be respected. On this score we made it clear that no amount of threat will cow Ndigbo from consistently demanding for an equitable, fair and just society within the Nigerian State.

WHY NOT BIAFRA?

We believe that the best way to go given our situation today is to look before we leap. We must not be pushed to abandon our huge contribution to the modern Nigerian state. As we pointed out in the beginning of this paper, Ndigbo have been the single ethnic group that have welded the country Nigeria together given our way of life as sojourners everywhere in Nigeria, West Africa, Africa and the world. I dare say that we make up to 50% or more of Nigerians in the US.

The question is why would we look to confine ourselves to a small landlocked entity when we have the whole of Nigeria to play in?

I have deliberately left out of this discussion the practical impossibility of even getting our brothers from the Niger Delta to go with us in this quest. Not to talk of the Idoma or the Kogi that we insist are part of us.

One thing seems to elude our people when these questions are posed? Our people look at the determination of the present government to treat us dismissively and feel that it is well nigh an impossible task to get our wish but forget to look at the evidence before their very eyes.

When the 97% vs 5% controversy erupted, I told our people that my people the Ngwa says that “Ohu afor abughi ndu ebighi ebi”. Governments come and go. PDP government lost election and quit the stage for this APC government. Who says they cannot also lose? Why are we then acting as if it’s the end of the world?

Restructuring is an idea whose time has come and it will happen.

Biafra should be a last option, only after every other avenue to realize a restructured Nigeria where every component part is allowed a measure of autonomy and self determination fails.

Let me state here that if the dominant views in Nigeria is for restructuring, then that should be the minimum that Ndigbo should demand, so that every component part of this country can substantially harness its resources and develop at its own pace.

Do not forget that the breached Aburi accord was about restructuring and today this call has garnered overwhelming momentum even from quarters that hitherto opposed it. Just recently former President Ibrahim Babangida, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and lately Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and a host of others have joined the fray. Restructuring has become a singsong which we must explore vigorously.

I recall that in August, the Igbo political elite, Ohaneze, Governors, National Assembly Caucus met in Enugu and affirmed that the terms of our marriage in Nigeria is stifling to everybody and therefore we must have another look at it.

That position has not changed but has in fact been reinforced by the agreement by other parts of Nigeria that it is time to look at the matter as evidenced by the South West Political Summit where they endorsed restructuring back to the 1963 constitution.

Mao said……”Let a thousand flowers bloom”….. that’s what we want to happen in Nigeria.

Let the engagements begin. To me the strident calls for a referendum by IPOB should be seen as a legitimate demand to compel the state to see the urgency of having a second look at our marriage, with the ultimate aim of enthroning equity and fairness, where our people will no longer be treated as second class citizens in Nigeria. Though the methods may be misconstrued, the true colour of the agitation would have come out had there been a concerted effort at dialogue. The agitations gives fillip to the Igbo idiom…”Ma Opara emeghi nkpotu, agaghi ilughi ya Nwanyi “. Our people are saying this is stifling us, and we are making a lot of noise so we can find a solution.

The solution I think can be found in a restructured Nigeria. The beauty of it is that while we can enjoy near wholesale autonomy, our people as itinerant business people could have an unrestrained space in a larger market provided by a united Nigeria.

We should not be swayed by what we think is the attraction of an exclusive opportunity to be provided by a sovereign Biafra.
No.
That would box us into a tiny corner which has its own challenges which would prove overwhelming as time goes on.

DIASPORA IGBOS AND US.

One of the problems those of us who attempt to show a direction to our people at home is the near universal disdain that our brother Ndigbo in Diaspora have for our elected representatives at home.

Nowhere is it more accurate than in this matter of Biafra. While our brothers here in the comfort of their homes urge our youths to confront the Nigerian State and promise the gullible that UN, USA, EU, Isreal, Turkey etc would act if they are killed the contrary has proven to be the case. We have been left with the task of intervening to stop the bloodshed and waste of human lives.

Most distressing is the labeling of those who disagree with their postulations as “cowards, saboteurs etc”. This tends to discourage those who genuinely want to lead our people through a very distressing period in our history.

Nnia Nwodo as President of Ohaneze has been vilified for taking a stand for restructuring in Nigeria for Ndigbo, a position agreed by all in the earlier summit I referenced. Governors come for bashing everyday. As for us legislators, we have been called all sorts of names such as ‘legislooters’ etc.

Yet, when it came to taking a stand at ground zero, to bail Kanu; to reject the Federal Government ascribing Terrorism to IPOB we are the people doing so.

We would plead with our internet warriors who stay in their comfort zone here that our Igbo say, “ma Opara nzuzu adighi nwuo, Opara MA izu aga beghi ichi ezi”.

Enyinnaya Abaribe is a senator of the Federal Republic from Ngwa district in Abia State. He was also a deputy Governor of his state at the onset of the second republic in 1999.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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