Some days ago, a very good egbon argued that the Igbos have been mindlessly marginalised in Nigeria. After reading the post, I asked him to explain how the Igbos are marginalised. I am well aware we have many who binge on elite conspiracies which are just mere grand design to pollute the waters for personal advantage. With an open mind, I asked my good egbon to educate me on how the Igbos have been marginalised because I really want to know. Let me say I am still waiting to be well schooled on how badly Nigeria has treated Igbos.
For decades, many people, including the media have perpetuated wrong narratives in this country because of the way falsehoods have been mainstreamed. There is no part of Nigerian history from 1958 when we had the first all Nigerian cabinet headed by a Nigerian elected Prime Minister, preparatory to independence in 1960, that supports the false narrative of marginalisation of Igbos.
For those who may not know, the first indigenous Federal Permanent Secretary even before independence was an Igbo man, Mr. Francis Nwokedi. Mr. Nwokedi and Dr. S.O Wey, who later in 1961 became the first Secretary to the Government of the Federation, were the first two indigenous Federal Permanent Secretaries in the colonial government. The two men were the doyen of Nigerian civil service. Mr. Nwokedi was promoted as Permanent Secretary about two weeks ahead of Dr. Wey.
To make Agustin Ironsi the General Officer Commanding of Nigerian Army, Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa broke rank with his Northern People Congress colleagues and Sir Ahmadu Bello. NPC and Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Northern Region wanted a Northerner as the GOC. The last British General Officer Commanding of Nigerian Army, Major-General Christopher Welby-Everard in his recommendation to the Prime Minister raised a number of issues against the then Brigadier Aguiyi Ironsi who at the time was the most Senior Nigerian Army Officer and concluded Brigadier Ironsi was unfit to lead the Army of a brand new country. For fairness and to preserve the tradition of seniority in the Army, Balewa ignored General Welby-Everard’s recommendation. He appointed Ironsi as the first indigenous General Officer Commanding of Nigerian Army. A stubborn fact of history is that the Igbos dominated the top echelon of the Army and Federal Civil/Public Service for many years from 1958. Till date, Abia, Anambra and Imo State have largest number of indigenes in Federal Civil Service.
If we all agree our country has historical animus we must, therefore, be honest to acknowledge them and confront them. If it is about trading blame of who did or caused what in Nigeria, no tribe or group will smell like roses. In confronting our demons, we must also reject this persecution mentality many Igbos have carried for far too long. It is distorted version of history that is fueling anger in Igboland since the civil war broke. However we choose to dice it, Nigeria has been good to all tribes. Each tribe can only complain of not having enough but no one can honestly complain of having the short end of the stick. Like other countries, our union is not perfect. It remains a work in progress.
Let’s go back to our history and let history guide us. There is no strong argument to support the marginalisation of Igbos in Nigeria beyond what exists in the imagination of those who constantly mine the Biafra franchise to amass private wealth from brainwashed people and politicians who use same for political bargain. I can conveniently say that Igbos have had the best of Nigeria more than any other tribe. Blackmailing the country with victim mentality is not a strategy. Today, many Southern politicians and so-called activists built their public credentials on constant agitation for restructuring of Nigeria. If indeed there is anything wrong with the current political structure of the country, the blame should be more on Igbos. Who promulgated the Decree 34 that abolished 1963 Federal Constitution and unitarised the Federal structure? It was Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi as Military Head of State. With scant regard to other tribes, Igbos dominated the security agencies and the Federal civil service in the first Republic. Professor Ben Nwabueze who is now the chief priest of restructuring drafted the unification decree as Legal Counsel to General Ironsi. Igbos who literally ran the Federal Government then executed the unitary arrangement for domination and ethnic advantage. Who plotted first coup that decimated South West and Northern political establishment? The fallout of that misadventure led to the civil war in 1967. The mainly Igbo officers who masterminded the coup didn’t kill any political leader from their tribe. Some Igbo leaders talk about the Civil War as if Nigeria started the war against them. Colonel Emeka Ojukwu started the war not Major-General Yakubu Gowon. Gowon had a duty to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nigeria.
Even with all the noise about all that is supposedly wrong with Nigeria, who are the biggest beneficiaries of Nigeria’s diversity today? It is still igbos. Every part of this country welcomes them. They prosper more across the country outside their ancestral homeland. Igbos are probably the biggest real estate owners among all Nigerian tribes. In fact records show they own more than 60% of houses, Plazas, hotels and housing estates in Abuja. They play big in Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, and Port Harcourt – every part of Nigeria. I need someone to tell me the number of Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Ijaw, Kanuri, Tiv man or woman etc that currently have lands, houses or any business that can employ 50 people in any part of South Eastern Nigeria the same way Igbos do in South West, South South and in the North. Do they sell land to non-Igbos in South East same way they freely buy land and own properties in other parts of Nigeria?
Under President Jonathan, the government they seem to have invested heavy emotions more than Jonathan’s own Ijaw tribe, Igbos got key federal appointments through Senator Pius Anyim as Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Did other tribes bitterly complain the way Igbos now do over appointments? In any case, which statutory appointments have they been denied by current government despite rejecting President Muhammadu Buhari and his party in 4 elections? Let’s get real here. Igbos really want to get all top appointments in a government they rejected and have shown unimaginable hostility despite the government offering them the best deal in Nigeria in terms of real development no administration offered them since 1960. It is on record Buhari, in two presidential contests, made top Igbo politicians his running mate. Let’s face it. Which government in Nigeria has taken on the quantum of Federal government-funded infrastructural projects that are going on in the South East than this current FG since 1960? If we analyse the Federal Budget from 2016 when President Buhari presented his first budget, the current FG has possibly spent more money developing SE in 6 years than it has done in Buhari’s own North West if we consider FG’s spend on Infrastructure per region.
It will appear Igbo elites prefer appointments that only benefit individuals and their hangers-on more than real development that benefits majority of citizens of that region. They covet appointment of an Igbo person as Chief of Army Staff more than Second Niger Bridge, Enugu-Port Harcourt Express, Awka-Enugu Express, Owerri-Port Harcourt Express, Port Harcourt-Aba and other dead Federal highways that are being reconstructed across the region. For all the special intervention supports by Federal Government to all States of the Federation, I am not aware President Buhari denied South Eastern States what is due to them because Igbos didn’t vote for him. Question: how did all the appointments held by Igbos before the Buhari administration including Chief of Army Staff, Comptroller General of Immigration, Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Inspector General of Police, Minister of Aviation, Director-General of Pension Commission, Executive Chairman of National Electricity Regulatory Commission, Minister of Power etc improve the lives of Igbo people. Stella Oduah and Osita Chidoka as Ministers of Aviation couldn’t even fix Enugu Airport in 5 years or did Dr. Sam Amadi, Professor Bath Nnaji and Professor Chinedu Nebo who superintended over the power sector for 6 years supply more electricity to Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi? Having Igbo sons leading the power sector for 6years could not even resolve the legal logjam between Emeka Offor’s, Enugu Distribution Company and Geometric Power owned by another Igbo man to supply regular electricity to Aba. Whereas a Federal government being led by a man they rejected in every election since 2003 has done, in 6 years, what the Igbo adopted political party could not do for them in 16 years. It was Buhari that gave Ariaria Market, the biggest market in the region uninterrupted electricity supply.
The main point here is the fact that Igbos cannot continue to claim they are the only good people or tribe in Nigeria while others are the evil people holding them down. Certainly, hate and insulting other tribes can’t be a strategy for engagement in addressing any grievances if at all there are genuine ones. Even though the Nigerian constitution does not allow for referendum, let the Federal Government allow it to see if majority of Igbo people will vote to leave Nigeria. I am sure majority wants to remain citizens of Nigeria because they know Nigeria serves them better. If the Nigerian government won’t allow a referendum, can the South East governors agree and fund an informal referendum to even give us a scientific basis to know if the Igbos want to live as citizens of Biafra, after all, Lagos State, in 2003 or so, conducted its own census independent of the Federal Government.
The Igbo elites must summon courage to counter the IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu’s hate mongering. Igbo elites have tolerated Kanu too much without considering their own hard work, sweat and investments in Nigeria. Whatever our country is today is what we all made of it. If we now need to press the reset button it should be done in a manner we all can listen to ourselves. We must not yield the space to the mad man and his specialists in IPOB.
- Ajayi writes through his Facebook handle, @ajayi.carter