ONE Tuesday, former President Olusegun Obasanjo made a case for the South east to also be given a chance to produce the next president of Nigeria. In canvassing this view which he said was personal to him, he noted that most of the other zones in the country- the North, South West and even the minority south South had all produced the nation’s president at one point or the other and it would only be fair if the south east was also allowed to produce Nigeria’s president in the not too distant future.
Indeed, the iconic former president seems to have spoken the mind of most of us who still believe in fairness, justice and equity as way of stemming the agitation from that part of the country.
Within a few days of the ex-president’s statement, there have been reactions from some Nigerians,though mostly of the South east extraction. While some are in support of the former president’s statement, a few remain skeptical believing that Obasanjo’s statement came because he saw that the agitation of South east ethnic nationalities such as Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) have grown more strident. Notwithstanding the messenger, the question is whether there is any substance in the message and whether it is or should be a reality worth pursuing?
For someone who has always believed in fairness, equity, Obasanjo’s message resonates with me. If Nigerians have not been thinking in this direction, it is time to start looking that way.
It is not in doubt that the South east has contributed immensely, like any other zone to the development of this country. One would even believe an average South easterner to be more nationalistic than any other, among the different zones in the country. And why would I say this? It is only an Igboman who feels comfortable in any and every part of Nigeria. There is hardly a state or town in Nigeria today where you would not find an Igboman. He either has a business running or is found offering different services to the host community. He builds his house in that community and feels comfortable there. He sees himself as part of the community. There is a saying in the Southwest, especially among the Oyo-speaking Yoruba that if you got to a town and you could not locate an Ogbomoso person, it would be better for you to run from the place. The implication being that the inhabitants are inhospitable. Ogbomoso people in those days are traders who ply their trade in far-flung places, far from their home.
I think the same applies to the Igbo race. If you ventured into any town or village and you could not locate an Igboman, you would do yourself a world of good by running away from the place. The Igbo is an irrepressible race. Prior to the civil war period, they were everywhere in the country. They were the railway engineers and great merchants while majority were also seen as intellectual giants. With the civil war, majority went back home. But less than five decades after the war, they are every where in Nigeria, trading and contributing to the economy of the host community. If that is not a good example in nationalism, I wonder what is. Their attitude is the trait of a race that still believes in the oneness of the country, despite what some people would say to the contrary.
To the agitation by MASSOB and IPOB, one tends to ask whether it reflects the postulation of nationalism. To answer the question, it is important to understand the genesis of the agitation.
Today, the Igboman is protesting through its two major ethnic agitators to be granted autonomy. The reason is simply because he sees himself marginalized in the arrangement called Nigeria and he feels the only way he can actualize himself is through a separation and autonomy. If the barriers of marginalization is removed, if the whole country decides to come together to produce a president from the south east, some of these agitations would die a natural death. Why should the country not give that chance to the Igbo. An average Igboman is actually a suitable candidate for the presidency of this country. It is a race that is always quick to forgive or forget a wrong done to it. It is a race of creative adventurers. Some of us were still young during the civil war period, but we read different history books about what took place. We read about the killings of the Igbos before the war, we read about the mass movement of Igbos back home from northern Nigeria. But today, there is hardly a part of the north that you would go that you would not find an Igboman. To him, the past is firmly in the past. That is the way of the Igboman. Even the state of Israel cannot be said to be as forgiving. Israel is still hunting those who took part in the Second World War pogrom, leading to the death of millions of Jews.
Let’s again go back to the civil war period, that era brought out the best of the Igboman. With limited resources, the Igbos were able to sustain the war against the rest of Nigeria. But that is the past.The war has been over since about 47 years ago. But the feeling of marginalization by the Igboman still persists.
This is how Wikipedia described the genesis. “The Igbos felt that they had been deliberately displaced from government positions, because their pre-war posts were now occupied by other Nigerians (mostly Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani). When Igbo civil servants left to join similar posts in Biafra, their positions had been replaced; and when the war was over the government did not feel that it should sack their replacements, preferring to regard the previous incumbents as having resigned. This, however, has led to a feeling of an injustice. Further feelings of injustice were caused by Nigeria, during the war, changing its currency so that Biafran supplies of pre-war Nigerian currency were no longer honored and then, at the end of the war, offering only £20 to Easterners in exchange of their Biafran currency. This was seen as a deliberate policy to hold back the Igbo middle class, leaving them with little wealth to expand their business interests”.
That is the reality. The marginalization is still there in one form or the other. It is why it is still difficult for some Igbos to trust other ethnic nationalities.
But the past is in the past and should be left there. The Igbos should open its arms wider to accommodate and align with those who would best serve their interest. Bridges of political alignment and realignment should be built. It is when this is done that the path to a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction is possible. It is a right. The time is right. It is realizable. All men of good conscience should support it. That is when we shall have real equity. That is when the Igboman would also see himself as part of the nation called Nigeria.