By Collins Onuegbu
My friends who are not from the East where the Igbo come from often ask me why there is so much anger in the East and among the Igbo. Some wonder why, despite the famed ‘Igbo wealth’ and enterprise, all over Nigeria, the people still complain that Nigeria is unfair to them.
Some even insinuate that the anger comes from the loss of the 2015 election by Jonathan who the Igbo heavily backed.
And why is it that the generation of Igbo are so angry as to contemplate pulling out of the country, with lots following Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB with his secessionist message. Those not following may despise his antics and rhetoric but are sympathetic to his underlying message? And what is that message? That the Igbo don’t feel wanted in Nigeria. That decades of official marginalisation and discrimination should be stopped or they would be ready to take their chances in a new nation.
First, for those who think this is all about President Goodluck Jonathan’s loss or President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory. It is not. The Igbo were disappointed that Jonathan did not win. But those whose candidates lost lick their wounds. It is allowed. It happens when your candidate loses election. Why did the Igbo invest so much emotions in Jonathan, a non-Igbo Ijaw? It was more because of the fear of their experience in the past 50 years. Nigeria has placed an embargo on any Igbo man becoming Nigerian president. Jonathan was the next best thing. Other parts of Nigeria have supported their sons to the presidency. Some have bombed Nigeria into submission to get their son to Aso Rock. The Igbo have little capacity to blackmail Nigeria to the presidency. They chose Jonathan as their “Igbo”.
But that’s not to say that they are angry enough because he lost to contemplate going to war on his behalf. Jonathan was not really the model of a president you would go to war for. And his Ijaw people have accepted his loss. So?
Igbo anger has been building up in Nigeria since I was a kid in the 70s. As kids, we made choices in our school years based on the narrative of the Igbo place in Nigeria. We knew of the glass ceiling against us before we were out of puberty. After the civil war, despite the “No winner, no vanquished” declaration, Nigeria placed glass ceilings and no-go areas for the Igbo. The war reconstruction program was observed more in the breach. There was the “abandoned” property programme that was introduced to drive a wedge between components of the former South-East Nigeria. While the country was too embarrassed to put the discrimination programme down in an official gazette, it was there for anyone who cared to look. It was evident in the Igbo police officer who stayed in one position while less qualified juniors progressed to become his bosses. It was evident when no Igbo qualified to become the Inspector General of Police, or leader of any division in the armed forces. It was there when no Igbo was appointed to a ministerial post in nine years after the war until President Shehu Shagari came to power. It was there when “sensitive” or “lucrative” positions were shared in Nigeria and the Igbo were conspicuously absent. It was there when Gen. Sani Abacha refused to include any Igbo officer in his ruling council until Chief Gani Fawehinmi sued him over that.
It was there when the Igbo were only fit enough to be made Minister of Information until Obasanjo came to power. And even recently, it was there when Buhari appointed 47 people to man the critical roles in his government and no one from the South East was there. Any time there is a federal appointment, it’s usually the East that shouts. It was there from Buhari’s first term to his second term and anyone in-between.
The Igbo elite called it marginalisation. Other Nigerians countered by saying no part of Nigeria was getting enough. Marginalisation was universal. But they forgot something. The Igbo cry of marginalization was official policy. It was expected. It was programmed. And occasionally, key government officials let it slip that the Igbo should not complain. After all, they fought a war with Nigeria. Talk about ‘No Victor, No Vanquished’. There was a Victor alright. And they were reminded of that at every turn, every appointment, every national project. Nigeria was only pretending.
The Igbo licked their wounds and complained and the rest of Nigeria was too busy to notice.
Go to the South-East today. Since the 70s and the oil boom, Nigeria has invested in commercial industries across the country. None has been sited in the South East. None. Refineries, steel plants, cement firms. Any Industry, even when two of the states are among the eight oil-producing states. The South East was systematically de-industrialised. Even when it was the best location for any industry, there was always a reason it should not be sited there. What this means was that any Igbo man that wanted to work in a commercial federal establishment had to leave the east. Add this to the indigenization policy of the early 70s that pushed the Igbo out of private companies. It meant that international companies also avoided expansion into the south east. The Nigerian Breweries, the Dunlop and other such firms sited their plants outside the East and only set up distribution centres to sell in the region. This is one of the main reasons for the exodus of the Igbo from the zone accelerated after the war and continues to this day despite the hostility they face in certain parts of Nigeria. And why most became traders and commercial businessmen. Because access to organised work either in the government, government commercial institutions and even commercial institutions were deliberately schemed against them.
The industrial enterprises in the East are built by Easterners; Nnewi, Aba, Onitsha. These are Igbo indigenous industrial cities. This has been the practice since the end of the war.
In addition, the Federal Government has systematically made it difficult for Easterners to do commercial business even in the East. The federal roads in the East are some of the worst in Nigeria. The Eastern seaports have been made ineffective. It was war to get the Enugu Airport upgraded to an International Airport. The former Finance Minister shed tears on the day the first International Flight landed in Enugu. Yes, Okonjo-Iwealla cried! And to square up on that, the aviation minister that made Enugu possible, is believed to have been removed because of that the government yielding to pressure.
Recently, it was only the South East that was conspicuously missing in the New Railway Plan of the Federal Government. Nigeria has six regions. And one was missing in a national railway plan. Incidentally, the Igbo who reside here are the most itinerant in the country and would benefit most from a national transport plan. Even our president changed the plan to include his village but a zone of the country was not included.
When you go to the East, despite the lack of federal presence, the presence of police all over the east tells a story. They mount road blocks and make it difficult to have commercial activity. Recently, Customs has joined. And lastly, the Army. It is an occupied territory. They extort money. They intimate. They recently have started killing. Nigeria has made the East unlivable. Purposely. Carefully.
Onuegbu is Founder, SIGNAL ALLIANCE