Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
At independence in 1960, Nigeria was said to stand on a tripod of East, West and North. The civil war ensured that the North in alliance with the West defeated the East. The oppressed minorities of course took sides with the victors. That is a simple historical fact, and any other embellishments only exist to serve expedience.
According to Michael Crowder in The Story of Nigeria, “When the British occupied Nigeria they had almost no contact with the large Ibo and Ibibio population of the East, whilst already many Yoruba had received English education and provided a small intellectual elite in Lagos.
Population pressures and land hunger in the East forced many Ibo and Ibibio to migrate to the cities of the West and North, where they proved remarkably successful as clerks, railway workers and storekeepers.”
In The Trouble with Nigeria Chinua Achebe writes: “Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo… The origin of the national resentment of the Igbo is as old as Nigeria and quite as complicated.
But it can be summarized thus: The Igbo culture being receptive to change, individualistic and highly competitive, gave the Igbo man an unquestioned advantage over his compatriots in securing credentials for advancement in Nigerian colonial society. Unlike the Hausa/Fulani, he was unhindered by a wary religion and unlike the Yoruba unhampered by traditional hierarchies.
This kind of creature, fearing neither god nor man, was custom-made to grasp the opportunities, such as they were, of the white man’s dispensation. And the Igbo did so with both hands. Although the Yoruba had a huge historical and geographical head-start the Igbo wiped out their handicap in one fantastic burst of energy in the twenty years between 1930 and 1950.”
The fear of the other tribes could not have been assuaged by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s statement, to wit: “It would appear that the God of Africa has created the Ibo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of the ages…” When Majors Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Patrick Nzeogwu struck to end the wobbling First Republic, the coup was tagged an “Igbo Coup” even though the plotters had planned, according to them, to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo from prison and compel him to rule the country.
On why the coup-makers wanted Awolowo as the leader of the country, Major Ifeajuna wrote in his unpublished manuscript: “Chief Awolowo launched forth his party on a platform of tribalism, and for his parochial and partisan approach to national issues, he got deserving blame.
But probably in the later Awolowo of after the 1959 Federal election that began the fiasco, our people saw for a second time an image of honesty, courage and discipline… In time he came to win the respect and admiration of even his greatest detractors, and what was more, he came to represent a rallying point for the young and the intellectual, for all that sought progress and nationhood for our country.”
Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi who took over after the failed coup announced the Unification Decree, which took the fear of Igbo domination to a fever pitch. Thousands of hapless Igbo were massacred in the North during the pogroms of 1966 until Ironsi himself was killed and toppled in the revenge coup of the Northern officers.
After taking over power, Gowon had prepared a speech to announce the dissolution of the Nigerian Federation on August 1, 1966 and the secession (araba) of the North until he was prevailed upon to change his mind by the British High Commissioner in Lagos, Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce.
As the British did not want Nigeria dissolved, enormous support was given to the Federal forces, with the help of then Soviet Union, to defeat secessionist Biafra led by Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Historically, the British had faith in the government of the feudal emirs of the North and the highly organized if decadent kings of the West as opposed to the rebellious and almost ungovernable Igbo and minority republics of the East.
There was talk after the war by Gowon of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation, but progress on all fronts is neither here nor there. The contradictions of Nigeria are staring back at the nation. The truth that cannot be dodged remains that unless the other leg of the tripod is fully reintegrated into the country, Nigeria can only at best be living on wobbly legs and borrowed time.
The danger has risen to dangerous levels given President Muhammadu Buhari’s lopsided government which has somewhat completely excluded the third leg of the tripod. Old fears such as the spirited agitation for the revival of Biafra have come to haunt the land.
When Buhari initially talked of giving more appointments to those who gave him 97 percent votes as opposed to those that gave him a paltry five percent vote many thought he would eventually see reason and reverse himself.
President Buhari’s actions have been very divisive and one cannot but fear for the future of our benighted country. A tripod without one of its legs cannot truly stand.
Uzoatu writes from Lagos