By SKC OGBONNIA
The early part of June 2017 saw Arewa Youths issue a “Quit Notice” to the Igbo living in Northern Nigeria. This followed the 50-year anniversary of the Biafran war where both friends and foes of Biafra took turns to tell their stories with objective emphasis on the Igbo. After a careful analysis, it has been easy to dismiss the entire anniversary exercise as orchestrated by the politicians as busy doing something very close to nothing. Thus, I am prompted to ask: Did the Igbo Kill Jesus?
The Igbo people need no introduction. Though their population is unknown, the Igbo are everywhere. Definitely well known are their ingenuity, resilience and, of course, overflowing technological and scientific acumen. This informs the famous quotation by the then US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, that the Igbo are as “the wandering Jews of West Africa – gifted, aggressive, westernized…” These attributes are more than enough to enable the Igbo to enjoy steady political power and development in Nigeria. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
Much of the blame at the anniversary was heaped on the loss of the Biafran war. Yes, the Igbo have endured all sorts of discrimination because of the war. But to continue to drum the linear excuse 50 years after the war only goes to fortify the rationale for the fetid question: Did the Igbo Kill Jesus? Did the Igbo kill Jesus not to even remember where the heaviest of the rain started and how it is beating them?
Let me resist the temptation of harping on the missed opportunities before the war when Nnamdi Azikiwe and his Igbo intelligentsia had a commanding influence in national politics—both in prestige and ideology. Now in the post-war, it is not impolitic to suggest that the Igbo have seen a fair share of political positions throughout the post-war democratic dispensations beginning from the regime of Shehu Shagari to that of Goodluck Jonathan. The tragedy, regrettably, is that there is no tangible development in the East besides primitive accumulation of wealth by the individual politicians themselves.
To sustain the unhindered looting of development projects in the zone, the Southeast leaders in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) perfected one of the most blatant political perfidies in recent memory. Though they were keenly aware that the PDP would rationally zone its presidency to the North in 2019, the Igbo leaders deceived their people with the false premise that uniting with the South-South zone to support President Jonathan in the 2015 election would guarantee a presidency of Southeast extraction in 2019. It was not surprising, therefore, that Muhammadu Buhari’s eventual triumph over Jonathan was generally seen as a rude coup d’état in the East.
This development, coupled with the abject lack of development in Igboland, plus President Buhari’s infamous 95 percent/5percent outburst, heightened the renewed call for Biafra by innocent youths. Notably, the agitators retained the natural map of Biafra and added parts of North-Central zone.
The more troubling, however, is the mindboggling hypocrisy being exhibited by the Igbo politicians ever since. Outwardly, they (particularly those in PDP) appear to fan the agitation. Inwardly, these political merchants know that the innocent youths are merely being exploited as usual. After all, the same politicians who are continuing to deploy the proceeds from looted development projects in Igboland to acquire choice properties in Abuja and Lagos would resist any plan to leave Nigeria.
This explains why the Igbo PDP leaders craftily deflated the agitation and its exigent cause. For instance, instead of capitalizing on the undeniable natural bond between Southeast and South-South or the seeming sense of unity among the two zones following the 2015 elections to launch Eastern Caucus at the National Assembly or emulate the North to create Eastern Governors Forum, the “wise” men from the East succumbed to making the cause of Biafra solely an Igbo-Southeast affair.
What the looters did was to simply embrace the age-long state bandwagon to distort the Biafran history to the Igbo disadvantage. The so-called Igbo leaders or any sensible elite for that matter cannot claim ignorance of the fact that natural Igbo territory is beyond the Southeast. Moreover, Biafra is not even an Igbo word to begin with. In fact, it was Frank Opigo, an Ijaw—not Igbo—who christened the new nation at the time of its birth in May 1967. How can they forget that the last Head of State of Biafra, Phillip Effiong, was not from the Southeast? What does it take to remind them that the former Secretary-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, a Biafran war commander, and current Secretary-General of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Joe Achuzia, is not from the Southeast? What curse would make them to join to act as though Chukwuma Nzeogwu, who led the coup commonly blamed for the civil war, was not an Igbo from the South-South? What does it take to acknowledge that a good number of influential figures from the South-South subscribes to the Biafran cause? Even if Biafra has suddenly become an exclusive Igbo agenda, how can any reasonable Igbo elite circumvent the knowledge of natural Igbo settlements in the South-South and North-Central zones?
Obviously, there are crises of leadership in Igboland as there are excuses. As my father, Ilogebe Ogbonnia, the Ikeoha, would always say, “a habit of excuses is the best friend of failure.” The latest excuse is the term “restructuring”, whatever that means. The loudest perspective is that the Igbo will witness the desired development once the country is restructured along tribal lines—as if the local governments and states in Igboland are headed by the Hausas or Yorubas. The political racketeers now want us to believe that the over $100 billion in federal money that entered the Southeast zone since May 1999, for example, was looted by the non-Igbo.
Make no mistake about it, the benefits of restructuring or independent states can be profound. But, could lack of restructuring suddenly be responsible for the failure of Ndigbo to use the occasion of the 50-year anniversary of the Biafran war to chart a clear roadmap for the future? Is lack of restructuring truly to blame for the failure of Ndigbo and the South-South to emulate the North in creating concrete unifying agendas in the East 50 years after the war? Further, is lack of restructuring responsible for the perpetual failures of South East Governors Forum or Igbo umbrella groups, such as World Igbo Congress and Ohaneze Ndigbo, towards unity of purpose? Not long ago, 1991 to be exact, the Igbo people of Awka and Onitsha Divisions witnessed a form of restructuring in new Anambra State for rapid development.
Ogbonnia writes from Houston, Texas.