By Edmund E. E. Obikwere
Your “letter to my country” was a wonderful article. Our history will show that the famous Bishop Ajayi Crowther was 12 when he “was captured, with his mother, toddler brother and other family members, along with his entire village, by Fulani Muslim slave raiders in 1821.” And this phenomenon still persists to date. Since the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, it is estimated that up to 30 million Igbo lives have been lost through religious riots, the 1967 pogrom in the North and the Nigeria/Biafra war of 1967-1970.
Because in January 1966, one Kaduna-born Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, along with other army officers, carried out a military coup that toppled the civilian government of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the northern army officers, in a reprisal coup, killed majority of Igbo military officers, including the Head of State, Aguiyi Ironsi, along with hundreds of thousands of Igbo people in the North. The Igbo, as a people, were in no way privy to the actions of their officers in the Nigerian army just as they have not mandated the IPOB to seek for Biafra. To stave off further massacre of the Igbo, the people advised Ojukwu to insist on the accord reached at Aburi, Ghana, that the regions stay apart for some time to allow tempers to cool. Realising that the Eastern Region was unarmed, the Federal Military government declared war on the people who had adopted the name Biafra to enable them seek international intervention for peace.
Nigeria pushed out the Igbo and in the process people numbering up to five million were killed and the whole Igboland destroyed before the end of the brutal war. The most sordid was the Asaba genocide of October 7, 1967 carried out by the 2nd Division of the Nigerian Army on civilians. In January 1970, at the end of the war, one would hear the start of hate song in Nigeria. The Nigerian soldiers sang during early morning road walk exercise, thus: “Nyamiri, ya mutu ya kari” meaning, “the Igbo have been completely decimated.” It was thought Nigeria would put the civil war behind her, but in 1975, a military coup toppled Gen. Gowon’s government to stop him from handing over to civilians. Eventually in 1979, a civilian government was set up to begin rebuilding Nigeria on the part of peaceful co-existence. And Nigeria was re-integrating well until the December 1983 military coup removed Alhaji Shehu Shagari because he had allowed the Igbo the freedom to participate in governance as free citizens.
The period of 1984 to 1985 was the time of retro-active laws to criminalise non-criminal actions, so as to shoot the targeted victims to death. Some Igbo youths returning to their country from overseas were shot for allegedly carrying foreign currencies, a hitherto non-criminal offence. This way Igbo were being killed until the removal of Buhari/Idiagbon military regime. The long period of military rule up to 1999 made Nigerians lose track of democratic practices, and everything became the army way, where the leadership is above the law. In this philosophy of the “king can do no wrong,” General Buhari won the presidential election in 2015, an election, if he had lost, would have ushered in the flow of blood in the streets.
This situation of quelling agitations by force of arms is no longer modern. Would the president unite the dead Igbo into his Nigeria? Nigerian history is filled with blood, as if bloodletting is the only way to unity. This pursuit of one race Nigeria is wrong. Boko Haram was killing Christians, on one side; the armed “soldier” herdsmen are killing and dispossessing southerners of their land, while the military are also killing unarmed people in South eastern states. Because the president is not doing anything to stop these atrocities, people think he approved the actions.
Continuous killing of other tribesmen, as is done in Nigeria, is what is called ethnic cleansing. A leader must listen to the people and must rule according to law, instead of using the army to enforce his personal thinking. Nigerians are saying that the 1999 constitution was the handwork of one man, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, which he tilted, in favour of the North and which he had made difficult to amend unless the North agrees. The contradictions caused by inserting the Shariah court system in the constitution and yet asserting that Nigeria is a Secular state, is incomprehensible. Shariah courts promote Islam. This is the reason for the Boko Haram insurgency and the Zak-Zakky and other Islamic sectarian uprisings. The present position of the Federal Government of using the army to kill and intimidate agitators is untenable. Love of country, as patriotism, stems from security of life and property for all citizens because suppression does not promote patriotism. Only demagogues will love the empty space called Nigeria whereas real patriots love the diverse people of the land. If the military is really protecting the integrity of Nigeria why are the armed Fulani herdsmen from other West African countries allowed to roam this country killing non-Fulanis in their homesteads?
The integrity of Nigeria should be its diverse people and culture. It is time to stop this idea of ONE RACE NIGERIA/ONE FAITH NIGERIA pursuit in this our pluralistic society. Gen. Buhari confessed that he is a dictator and even thought of asking for emergency powers. We may thank him for efforts to recover looted funds but to avoid senseless wasting of human lives he should not be given a second term. He has no role in a democracy. Let us revert to the 1963 Nigerian Constitution, dropping also the present Nigerian anthem that sings the ADORATION of the military regime. Our soldiers in the past destroyed Nigeria and caused all our problems in their lust for political powers. Our real heroes are our fathers that brought us independence without shedding blood; and we must be grateful to Britain for their magnanimity in giving us the freedom; while our own compatriots now use majority force for oppression. This Boko Haram war is the only patriotic sacrificial undertaking by the army, as they did not cause it themselves. The old National Anthem makes Nigerians really understand and accommodate one another. Dialogue is peace and that’s the only right track.
• Igwe Obikwere, Ikeoha 1 of Umunwaoha Ofo-Ise, wrote in from Owerri West L.A, Imo State; 08037675911.