Opinion: Ndigbo: Time to Reengage

By Obiaruko Christie Ndukwe

While I was reflecting on the current challenges facing the nation in the area of insecurity, I got a phone call from a younger friend who wanted my opinion on the happenings in the South East of Nigeria, my nativity. He had set the tone of the conversation with his disgust for the youths who are involved in the insurrection against the Government of the day. He asked why the youths are destroying properties of fellow Igbos and equally engaging in upstaging the socioeconomic progress of the Eastern Region. Yes, he was right but only to the extent that he had limited knowledge of what the real issues were and remain till date.

My friend had concluded that the people of the Igbo tribe have lost it and become enemies of their own and that it may take ages before they could rebuild what they ate fast losing.

Yes, he was totally correct in his assertions as well as his fears, but he also needed additional information on the real causative factors of the self-inflicted crisis which has turned the once-prided commercial stronghold of Nigeria into a theater of war, therefore casting a ghost appearance in Owerri, the hotbed of the shootings.

I didn’t waste time to remind him that what the ‘boys’ are doing is no different from what we witnessed in the days of militancy in Rivers State and its neighborhood. We were confronted during that era, from 2003 to 2007, with massive shootings, kidnapping and killings which forced multinational companies to exit the region. The Igbo youths, some who were also part of that unforgettable experience were under the tutelage of their conscripts who taught them how to engage in vices meant to bring the Government to submission. The question becomes as follows: Did they learn well?

While that phone conversation continued, I took time to school him on some issues he may not be abreast of. Aside from being older than him, I had the privilege of a Father who was a Youth Secretary of the defunct NCNC under Nnamdi Azikiwe. I understand the issues that forced the East to war even though I was not born then. My father was a custodian of history, and he delivered a lot of part of what he knew to us, his children. Notwithstanding that he may also have been sentimental towards his own people, the Igbos who were at the forefront of the struggle to correct the imbalances in Government appointments and allocation of resources.

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Not many, just like my friend, understand the intricate nature of the issues which have gone unresolved since the 1914 Amalgamation of the Southern and Northern regions. The people of these regions had existed independently prior to the coming of the British who in their wisdom thought of a more cohesive country, but subjugated the different ethnic groups under the dominance of a particular tribe, which democracy has struggled to correct this imbalance.

But the issues of the Civil War as led by Emeka Ojukwu and supported by other Eastern elites beyond the core Igbo speaking tribes, are yet to be resolved 51 years after the heroic but suspicious declaration of the “No Victor No Vanquished”. Was it a vague statement to end the ravaging war or was there in earnest, a conscious effort to unbundle the alleged injustices, inequity and inequality that marred the peace and unity of Nigeria? Has there been a sincere, deliberate attempt at ensuring that the drums of secession do not reverberate the length and breadth of the country after that ugly, regrettable encounter? Or is that both sides were lost in the euphoria of end of hostilities and became engrossed in the act of selfish looting of the Nigerian treasury without recourse to addressing the sparks that led to the ravaging war?

More than five decades later, have we as a people ensured that the imbalance in recruitment in the Armed Forces, Judiciary, Civil Service and a lot more have been stemmed? What is the manner at which promotion and appointments into Government offices are conducted? Can a Minister from the Southern part or the Middle Belt Minority group function in his Ministry and run effectively the Agencies under him without paying homage to their Northern Masters?

Yes, I asked my friend if we have gotten to the threshold where a Nwabueze, Wike, Ndukwe, Akpabio, Chukwu, Amaechi or Timipre can aspire for a National office without being subjected to the dictates and endorsement of the Northern power brokers? Not even the Abiolas, Tinubus or Awolowos are innocent of lying prostrate before the kings from the North to aspire for the top job. Nigeria is not a Monarchy yet in truth, it is enmeshed in a system where some sections of the peoples do not have the freedom to aspire without the full approval of another group of people.

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The list is exhaustive but again, there are salient questions which the ‘undermined’ or marginalized East would have to deal with first. While I am not mindful of the fact that most of the elites and successful businessmen struggled to ascend to the top today, after an arduous fight against externally induced poverty, after the Civil War.

The Governors of the Eastern States are not non-natives. They were elected under a Constitution that guarantees them equal rights with their counterparts from other regions. We have over the years had more up to Six Senate Presidents of South East extraction and even a democratically elected President whose people are part of the old Eastern region. If we critically examine their activities while in office, can we truly affirm their sincerity to raise the Igbos from the limitations of injustice? How many can be honoured as true Ambassadors of the Igbo nation based on their achievements, not for themselves but for the people?

I do not want to be inundated with comments on how they were marginalized while in office and the reason is simple: resignation from the job. We saw the Number 2 Citizen, Rear Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe resign from his exalted position when he realized that there was a deliberate plot to emasculate his people albeit through religion. How have the leaders managed the resources under their charge even as Governors? It has been an endless, systematic, deliberate submission to those considered as the power moulders from the North or be prepared to be kicked out!

I went ahead to tell my younger friend who prodded me on how the imbalance could be resolved that it is until the people originally known as Igbos in terms of geographical spread defy every attempt at further division and subjugation using negative narratives, we will remain in this state. I reminded him that when the proponents of the first Civil War were tagged rebels and their people marginalized even in the Civil Service and the Armed Forces, in spite of the shouts of “No Victor No Vanquished”, there has never been a quota system to deliberately reemploy, re-engage and promote the Igbos. They only struggled to be part of Nigeria again and they rose so fast in an area where their enterprising spirit could not be diminished. No doubt, many have excelled in Academia in foreign countries. During the period of the dark seasons, the rest of the regions succeeded in filling up vital positions in the white collar jobs, leaving the blue collar jobs for the returning Easterners. Sadly, very few who refused to the secession agenda were treated like the biblical John the Baptist, who were lone voices in the wilderness. They were sacrificed in the end!

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But it is not enough to continue recounting yesterday’s losses without adequate plans to forestall the continuous self-inflicted injury by Easterners against fellow Easterners. The solution, according to former Senate President Pius Anyim, is not at home but at the Centre. How many of the leading agitators understand the intricacies of the power play at the center? How do you burn down properties of a fellow survivor of this inequity and you claim to be fighting a just cause. The first war was against the North but the brutality was unleashed on Igbo soil. Is there anything different now from the destruction of the past? A struggle for freedom cannot be used as a weapon against fellow citizens whose scars from the past are yet visible.

Therefore, it is time for those involved in pushing the secession agenda to re-engage. The casualties are increasing while the end is not yet in sight. The weapon for a 21st Century liberation is the Personal Voters Card. The success recorded so far in advancing the numbers is good enough to sponsor and win the next elections in the East, as well as negotiate for central power. When we continue to dance to the naked tunes of war songs, the effects would definitely be worse than what we have been through. 

Ndukwe is a socio-political commentator, analyst and columnist based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

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