Lately, I’ve heard a common theme expressed by many seasoned South East political activists bewildered on the depth of hatred for the Igbo by fellow Nigerians. Even as we approach 2023 , knowing fully well that the rest of the zones and major tribes have produced the president at one time or the other yet at the mention of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction , the north and the west cringe. Why? Yes, the Igbo can do stunts that seem politically naive or unpolitical, they can be brash and abrasive, they can also demonstrate extreme republicanism, but the obsession of marginalizing and blocking them from attaining power in Nigeria seems unnatural.
I have over the years watched Nigeria roam in the woods and after deep reflections I came to the conclusion that the spiritual dimension cannot be divorced from the obsession and hatred against the Igbo. It’s not about politics and it’s not about Biafra. It’s spiritual. Otherwise how can a nation conspire to put its progress down for years by hating over 40 million of her population, which of course were among her very best. Check around the world today and you will marvel at Igbo exploits everywhere they are. The world except Nigeria wants the Igbo. Is Nigeria cursed?
Both Nigerian Christians and Muslims need a lesson in forgiveness and reconciliation. The need to appreciate the true meaning of worshiping one true God. The extreme hate against the Igbo is deeply embedded in the story of Biafra. And the story of Biafra and the civil war cannot be told without reference to the event of 15thJanuary 1966. The January 15th coup was executed by a handful of military officers led by Major Ifeajuna, an Igbo from Eastern Nigeria, Major Kaduna Nzeogwu from Midwestern Nigeria and Major Adegboyega from Western Nigeria and two others. There were also junior Northern officers who participated in the coup. The reason for the coup was ostensibly to release from prison Chief Awolowo , a Westerner and the opposition leader and install him as Nigeria’s president. The ambition of the coupists didn’t materialize as it took the intervention of Col. Emeka Ojukwu, an Igbo to foil the coup in the North and another Igbo from the East , General Aguiyi Ironsi to foil the coup in the South. The heroic act of these two Igbo officers didn’t stop the fallacy of characterizing the first coup as an Igbo coup.
Despite the glaring contradiction in the narrative of the first coup as an Igbo coup , the 1966 event triggered chains of event and in particular a genocide that left virtually all Igbo in the North dead. The Times Magazine of October 1966 captured the massacre of the Igbo in its horrific details. “The massacre began at the airport near the Fifth Battalion’s home city of Kano. A Lagos-bound jet had just arrived from London, and as the Kano passengers were escorted into the customs shed a wild-eyed soldier stormed in, brandishing a rifle and demanding ‘Ina Nyamiri?’ – the Hausa translation for ‘Where are the damned Ibos?’.
There were many Igbo among the customs officers, and they dropped their chalk and fled, only to be mauled down in the main terminal by other soldiers. Screaming the blood curses of a Moslem Holy War ‘Allah Akbar’, the Hausa troops turned the airport into shambles, bayonetting Igbo workers in the bar, gunning them down in the corridors, and hauling Igbo passengers off the plane to be lined up and summarily executed. From the airport the troops fanned out through downtown Kano, hunting down Igbo in their homes and on the streets. One contingent drove their Land Rover SUVs to the railroad station where more than 100 Igbo were waiting for a train, and cut them down with automatic weapons.
It was the widespread terrorism against them in 1966 that led to the declaration of the Republic of Biafra and the subsequent civil war that followed. In that war, over two million died largely due to the deliberate policy of starvation as an instrument of war devised and executed by Chief Awolowo – the supposed beneficiary for whom the so-called Igbo coup of 1966 was hatched and executed.
Decades after the war , the pains and scars of the war remain. The tension between Nigeria and the Igbo remains high. The irony is that while the Igbo accepted the war as over and moved back into the Nigerian building and giving back their all, the victorious side never fully accepted reconciliation and cessation of hostility against the Igbo making the hatred and the war an unending one.
It’s a collective shame that as a nation we are unable to rise from the ashes of the war to build an all-inclusive state. Successive leaders have taken turn to unleash divisive policies targeting to limit the advancement of the Igbo thereby restricting the growth and progress of Nigeria. Our narrow minded leaders forgot that whatever that is our collective dream as a nation can only be realized with the full involvement of all sections of the country, and this includes total reconciliation and full reintegration of the Igbo into the mainstream politics.
If you want to see full reconciliation and restoration of Nigeria, it will require you to take personal action and purge yourself of ethnic hate and bias. We need to talk to ourselves rather than shouting at each other. At this time of lawlessness, fear, hopelessness and anger across the country , I am praying for personal and national redemption through the power of repentance and belief in the only one true and merciful God.
I have worked in politics and journalism for over twenty years, and I know now more than ever, these problems that we face as a nation, including corruption and bad governance are beyond political resolution. They are not just problems that can be wished away by either restructuring and separation: We need heaven and divine intervention.
I pray that God in his mercy may preserve this country for the benefit of our children so that they may live in peace to enjoy all that God has endowed our nation. I make this prayer even though I know our hopes of survival with our current crop of leaders are slim . It pains me that the lessons of the civil war didn’t make us better and that we are still unable to resolve our lingering issues; it pains me that our corporate unity for which millions of lives were lost remains in perpetual risk; it pains me that we are unable to take the full advantage of our diversity; it pains me that despite being blessed with the world best resources that we are the poverty capital of the world; it pains that nepotism and bigotry have become the hallmark of governance.
Even in my current sadness about Nigeria, I act with love for country hoping we will learn to forgive one another and unite again. But where reconciliation is impossible, I pray that we do not repeat the mistake of 1966. The hatred for the Igbo is neither politics nor about Biafra , it’s something spiritual that needs to be broken so that Nigeria will prosper.
•Clem can be reached via: 08034747898; Email: [email protected]