Let me start by disabusing some minds: I am by the headline above referring to countless colleagues, friends and benefactors of mine who are of Igbo extraction, both females and males. I do not have a single Igbo girlfriend or any girlfriend for that matter. But there are counless Igbo media personalities, both male and female, that I am very, very close to, and I cannot imagine being separated from these personalities of very excellent character, if Nigeria, God forbid, gets balkanised.
In the mid-90s, I worked in Onitsha and can bear testimony to the industry and resilience of the Igbos. From Onitsha, I travelled all over southeastern Nigeria and witnessed the rich cultural heritage of these great compatriots of ours. I cannot imagine needing a visa to visit such great minds as Onuoha Ukeh, Rose Moses, Ray Echebiri, Louis Achi, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, Steve Nwosu, Ken Njoku, Patrick Agbambu and several other Igbo colleagues who I see and appreciate as my brothers and sisters from another mother.
My Igbo friends in the organised private sector are too numerous to recount here. But they are led by two successful businessmen, namely, Dr. Mike Ezeaju of Swisstrade Securities and Chief Gideon Egbuchulam of E.F. Network.
In 2017, when I decided to contest for the post of deputy president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, it was an Igbo man and countless Igbo editors who saved me when virtually everyone that mattered, including many from my Hausa-Fulani tribe, abandoned me. I am talking about the group managing director of Africa Independent Television, Mr. Tony Akiotu, who I regard as my benefactor for life. Though he is a resoundingly successful media personality, Akiotu it was who led in the efforts at ensuring I won that hotly-contested election, even if the victory was by just one unforgettable vote!
Reflecting on the Nigeria we live in today, I nterviewed many Igbo friends and discerned that their main grudge is with President Muhammadu Buhari. I keep telling them that this same Buhari that they accuse of shortchanging them has appointed more Christians and southerners in his government, but they also will always counter by reminding me that there is no single Igbo man heading any of our security and intelligence services.
Now, I know that before the advent of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) that has taken up arms against the Nigerian state, most of the insecurity problems bedevilling the nation were in the North. That most likely informed why most appointees in the security services were from the North. But if that is the case, they have a point now that another frontier of violent agitation has been opened in the South East, though the General Officer Commanding the Enugu-based 82 Division of the Nigerian Army is a full-bloodied Igbo man. But then he doesn’t have ultimate command control.
Whatever it may be, I feel it is terribly wrong to seek to balkanise this country owing to the alleged misdeeds of President Buhari, who is leaving office less than two years away.
Secondly, if we must break up the country, it doesn’t have to be on violent terms, as the Igbohos and Kanus of this world are advocating or already doing.
Many northerners that I know of, who have genuine friends all over Nigeria, feel sad that the push for the dissolution of Nigeria is getting stronger. But those pushing for secession do not also factor the fact that the Igbos in particular own more property than any other tribe all over Nigeria. In Abuja, they own 72 percent. I personally saw the statistics at AGIS. Certainly Abuja has not been envisaged to be a part of Biafra. Even Kanu has not claimed it. So are the Igbo property owners going to uproot the buildings they own and take them to Biafra land?
And one other reality Nnamdi Kanu and agitators are forgetting is that if Nigeria gets divided, none of the major tribes will have its way. The minorities are not fools. Chances are that the nation that is more likely to remain one is the far-north, consisting of at least ten states.
Only last week, Governor Diri of Bayelsa State was saying very categorically yesterday that the Ijaws cannot be part of Biafra as they don’t want secession. Governor Wike has severally said the same thing. Even among the Igbos, the autonomous communities of Imo and other areas will want to be independent. So if we allow anger to drive us into dismembering Nigeria, we are likely to end up with at least fifty or hundreds of small, inconsequential countries that nobody will ever reckon with.
The unfortunate perception out there is that the North represents evil. But those holding on to this sad point of view have forgotten that there are by far more good northerners than the few evil ones, and this, of course, applies to every tribe or region.
Somehow, and sadly so, owing to the relentless insults from the Igbohos and the Nnamdi Kanus and several others, many northerners are now coming to terms with the reality of seccession, and a few are even openly saying the Igbos should be allowed the opportunity to exit Nigeria and form the Biafraland of their dream. But then where all this is wrong is that only very few Igbos truly want to exit Nigeria. All that many of them want is justice and fairplay, in a Federation they perceive rightly or wrongfully as treating them as second class citizens.
I asked my friend Louis Achi why the Igbos feel treated as inferior citizens, reminding him that there was a time in recent past, particularly when Goodluck Jonathan was president, when most levers of government were being controlled by the Igbos, but he reminded me about the fact that the southeast has only five states, as opposed to seven for the northwest and six for all others.
Definitely he has a valid point there. But why should I, a dispassionate northerner, be made to suffer for the ills of IBB and Abacha, who created most of the states by fiat, in the military governments they headed, that also had very many Igbo sons and daughters as key members?
Since the return of this democracy in 1999, not even one local government has been created. The structure we have was bequeathed to us by the military, and one wonders where the present day prominent Igbo sons and daughters were when these things were happening.
A prominent Igbo son was busy truncating the Third Republic by paving the way for the annulment of June 12, while others were busy ammasing wealth through contracts and other privileges. None of them that Nigerians can remember spoke against the acts of injustice against the Igbos because they were integral parts of it and were benefitting hugely from it.
Millions of innocent northerners are pained that today, a blanket condemnation of the region is made, when they played no role whatsoever in bringing about the imbalances being complained about. Every good thing northerners stand for is being desecrated by many southerners, while the northerners see themselves as the most accommodating tribe in Nigeria.
Anyone in doubt could, for example, go to Kano and see a vast, beautiful area in Panisau, called Billionaires Quarters. It is composed of exotic buildings, each worth hundreds of millions of naira, carved out for the Igbos. And they have been living in absolute peace. No one harrases them.
Even the few Igbos reportedly sending their families back home in the East from some parts of the North have no justification doing so, as more influential northern leaders, and even more so the commoners, have vowed to continue to treat and hold them as their true brothers and sisters.
This is inspite of the fact that many northerners are truly being denied opportunities to grow in the East. Whereas in Nigeria of today it is practically difficult for a Muslim northerner to own a shop in Onitsha Main Market, for example, Igbos own most of Sabon Gari Market in Kano, one of the biggest in the country.
It is absurd that the Igbos who own property even in smallest and remotest northern villages are the ones now agitating for balkanisation or supporting the agitators. As noted earlier, some will say not all Igbos support it. But there is hardly any Igbo of note, apart from a few governors, that have come out to disown Nnamadi Kanu. Ohaneze Ndigbo shockingly issued a statement last week expressing support for Kanu who, if the truth must be told, has caused for tens of innocent northerners to be killed.
If the whole issue is truly about Buhari, why don’t we wait until he leaves power less than two years away? And in any case, the statistics have continued to show Buhari is favouring the South to the detriment of the North in his infrastructural projects. So a lot of northerners genuinely wonder where all the noise about marginalisation is coming from.
Definitely the Igbos are the most industrious Nigerians. But I have told my Igbo friends about how taken aback I am that they have allowed an Nnamdi Kanu to lead them by the nose. It was indeed disappointing that many responsible Igbo leaders are afraid to raise a finger against Kanu, though they very much know his approach to secession is a very wrong one, as this country can be dismembered without anyone being killed, as the ESN and the marauding Fulani herdsmen are busy doing.
In contrast, when some northern groups issued a statement serving notice to Igbos to leave the North, the North with one voice condemned their position and rendered it invalid. When the same group set up a security unit called Shege Kafasa for the North, northern governors and other leaders in the region readily condemned it and disowned them. The matter died a natural death since then.
Are the Igbos even sure they would fare better with Igbo leadership? There are two instances to give us a glimpse as to the answer to that poser, one of which is to discern how each of the five governors in the East are administering the states. Sadly, we are too fixated with the federal government to pay any good attention to the terrible misdeeds of most of our governors.
In many Igbo speaking states, many of such imbalances we complain about at the national level exist, but we tend to overlook them for the cheap reason that the perpetrators of that evil are members of our tribe.
The second part is that only very recently in our history, the Igbos held the most influential positions in government. Even when Tafawa Balewa was Nigeria’s Prime Minister in the 60’s, almost all security and intelligence chiefs were Igbos. What have these people done to advance the cause of the Igbos? Let’s not forget that Igbos headed the army, the defence as well as the bureucracy, at a time kidnapoing and armed robbery were the in-things in the region. And this happened only seven years ago.
The simple reality is that looters of our national patrimony do not see themselves as belonging to any tribe. They speak the same religion and language, which are anchored in godlessness and unprecedented greed.
Nnamdi Kanu and all those stealing us blind have dual nationalities and are rich enough to run to other countries at the slightest prompting, as he did when the Nigerian Army swooped on him in 2017. But what of you and me? If anything untoward breaks out, and we pray it never does, those goading us to hate and kill each other will be laughing at us from ther safe havens abroad, while only the extremely-lucky few survive any war or major conflagration.
So in view of these and many other points that have not been enumerated owing to reason of space, it is best for the masses of this country to embrace the fact that living together while working quitely to cement our differences are the best and perhaps the only ways for us to avoid war and survive.
The President Buhari some of us are complaining about will soon leave power. It is therefore up to us, every Nigerian stuck on the lower rungs of the ladder, to unite and choose better leaders with the opportunity 2023 elections are presenting to us.
After all, even the counties we admire today had passed through their deep moments of pain and trials. The difference is they united to cement their differences, and with time, grow to the greatest nations they are, today.