Countries do not necessarily fail on account of losing territories during wars or conflicts. They fail first in the hearts and minds of its citizens. Nigeria is gradually falling into that trap. It is possible that the greatest singular favour you can do for some, probably a majority of young Nigerians, is to offer them a one-way ticket out of this country- to anywhere else in the world. Japa (Yoruba for running away) did not become a craze word for nothing. It is also in that regard that the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea have in the last 10 years or more become graveyards for many Nigerians desperate to flee from the country. The desperation to run away is not limited to the unskilled or to the forsaken. Medical professionals including coveted consultants in rare fields of health care, bank workers, business owners, lawyers, journalists, among others, are sometimes at the head of the queues of those eager to abandon the country. Earlier this year there was a depressing footage on national television of doctors and nurses and midwives, amongst them professors and the students they once taught, scrambling and jostling for places during interview sessions conducted in Abuja by recruitment agents from Saudi Arabia. It is telling that the irony was lost on Nigeria because about 60 years ago, a handful of Middle East leaders frequented Nigeria on medical tourism.
The size of our fall and retrogression is dizzying. As we write, our President, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is in London on medical tourism. Put together he may have spent about 150 days in London on medical trips in the seven years so far of his eight year tenure. Two of the four leading presidential candidates seeking to replace Buhari next year, Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress [APC] and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party [PDP’s] Alhaji Atiku Abubakar reserve bed spaces in hospitals in London, Paris, Dubai and the United States of America. Our President has no faith in the health facilities in the country he is leading and he has not determined it necessary to upgrade the health sector in the almost eight years of his presidency. The other two who are aspiring to succeed Buhari also do not have faith in Nigeria’s health care system. The instructive thing is that their lack of faith in Nigeria is by choice. It is not the same for many other Nigerians especially Nigerians of Igbo extraction who are at the core of this conversation this week. Nigeria, its leaders and institutions have contrived to make the average Igbo person to distrust the system.
About six months ago news broke on the deliberate but callous exclusion of the eligible Igbo from the scholarship programme of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund [PTDF] scholarship scheme. A federal government agency, the PTDF awards scholarships annually to Nigerians for MSc and PhD studies in partner universities in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China and
Malaysia. Usually the selection interviews are conducted in Nigeria’s six geo-political zones and Abuja. But it was not so this year. The south east geo-political zone was excluded. The PTDF said- ‘’We conduct the interviews in the six geopolitical zones of the country but we are doing in five geopolitical zones of the country this year because of the issues of insecurity in the south east’’.
The irony is that at the time the PTDF made this claim, it scheduled Kaduna as one of the venues for the interview. Kaduna is in the north west zone of Nigeria and it is the epicentre of insecurity. in fact, its governor Nasir el-Rufai has since the beginning of this year been warning that he could not guarantee that the 2023 elections and census would hold successfully in Kaduna given pervasive insecurity and the spate of terrorism. Kaduna is not an isolated case.
The whole of the north west has been in the grip of terrorism for years. And yet the PTDF considered Kaduna as a safe haven to conduct its scholarship interview. The same for Bauchi which was selected for the same purpose.
Bauchi is in the north east geo-political zone which is the birthplace of the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency. Bauchi was also considered safe. PTDF’s declaration that the whole of Igbo land was unsafe happened at a time that Nigeria’s most valuable asset, its President, was frequenting Owerri, in the heartland of the south east geo-political zone as a guest of the governor of Imo state, Hope Uzodinma, and then going to Abakaliki to commission infrastructural projects built by the Ebonyi state governor, David Umahi. For every one person killed or kidnapped in the south east during that period it was declared as unsafe by the PTDF, about 200 persons suffered similar fate in Kaduna alone, one of the seven states in the north west zone. Well, the PTDF was acting a script of deliberate exclusion. After all, Gen. Buhari propounded a weird theory of 97 percent versus five percent governing model from the onset of his regime in 2015.
The Igbo exclusion is assuming a new dimension. That of self exclusion. It is not
as if the phenomenon of exclusion is new. In 2006, the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State Biafra [MASSOB] campaigned for the Igbo to shun the headcount. Many heeded the call. The effect is still with the south east up till now. The Indigenous People of Biafra had also in the recent past campaigned for the Igbo to boycott Nigeria’s elections. But now it seems the younger elements of the Igbo nation no longer need encouragement to stay away from Nigerian institutions and agencies including the military and para-military outfits. In the Nigeria Police, Igbo youngsters no longer offer themselves for recruitment. The same applies to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp. The latest in the list of rejections by the Igbo is the Nigerian Army. The Army was actually attempting to recruit hewers of wood and fetchers of water otherwise called tradesmen. Enugu state represents the alarming trend in the south east. In the two recent recruitments into the military, 150 spaces each were allocated to Enugu state. In one exercise only 49 persons took up the offer. 101 spaces were unfilled. The preceding exercise was better because 76 spots of the 150 were taken. The Army lamented that for three years, Enugu state had failed to fill its quota in recruitments into the Nigerian Army.
It is to the credit of thle Army that it felt concerned and set out to find out why Igbo youth are shunning the military. And its findings must be sobering. The fact-finding team despatched by the Chief of Army Staff was told point blank why the Igbo are shunning the military.
The team was told by indigenes and stakeholders in the three senatorial zones that they were no longer interested in joining ‘’as the recruitment process, postings and promotions in the Armed Forces were against Ndigbo.’’ From Nsukka to Awgu and Agbani the story of skewed recruitments and promotions in the army was the same. The respondents insisted that Igbo youth would not volunteer to join the Armed Forces until the military authorities changed their attitude towards the people of the south east zone. To compound the situation, a traditional ruler in Awgu local government area, His Royal Highness, Eze [Wing Commander Rtd] J .O Okeke told a sad story of how he was unjustly denied promotion and the abruptly retired from the military. Eze Okeke said he would never encourage any of his subjects to enlist into the Nigerian Armed Forces because ‘’the discrimination being meted to the south easterners in the military is a major problem. There is no way I will allow my own children or relatives into the military because of my personal experiences in the military. I mentioned that in our final examination I was number three. Except me, the other seven were made Generals in the Air Force. How would they explain that? I was given appointment but within six months they retired me after 22 years in service. I am happy that the Army has realised themselves and are now sending people to go and find us. But they know the reason. Treat everybody equally and people will now embrace the Armed Forces’’.
It will be difficult to persuade Igbo youth to join the military or the paramilitary agencies. They will be like fish out of water. The skewed nature of the leadership of Nigeria’s security outfits is frightening for Ndigbo. Of the more than 20 security agencies none is headed by an Igbo person. Today when the security council meets, the south east is not represented. When service chiefs meet there won’t be any Igbo person among them. The same thing happens whenever members of the Council of State gather to advise the President on critical national issues. There’s no incentive for the Igbo youth to join these institutions where indeed they are not wanted. But by staying away they play into the hands of the Igbo haters. It would appear that head or tail the Igbo ‘’lose”. But may the victory by the victors not turn out to be pyrrhic.