The historical plight and precarious future of Igbo people – Kalu

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Extracts from a speech delivered by Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State, and coordinator of Njiko Igbo, to the British House of Commons on April 18, 2013.

WHO ARE THE IGBO?
My people are known as the Igbo and our language is Igbo. Igbo people constitute one of the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria – what Nigerian historians have come to term the tribal tripod. The other two are the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani.

The primary Igbo states in Nigeria are Anambra, Abia, Imo, Ebonyi, and Enugu (if justice and equity reigned, there should have been 6 or 7, instead of just 5 states). Due to their mobility, the Igbo constitute between 25% – 60% of the population in some other Nigerian States such as Delta, Rivers, Lagos, Kano, Cross River, Kaduna, Akwa Ibom and Plateau, to mention a few.

Although my people mainly and primarily inhabit the southeastern part of Nigeria, they have, however, spread, like ants in the savannah, to every nook and cranny of Nigeria, Africa and indeed the globe – thriving, building and enriching themselves, their environment and others in all facets of life as they do so.

The veteran American diplomat, Henry Kissinger, hit the nail on the head when he aptly observed: “The Ibos are the wandering Jews of West Africa… gifted, aggressive, Westernized; at best envied and resented, but mostly despised by the mass of their neighbors in the Federation.” – Henry Kissinger, MEMORANDUM FOR THE PRESIDENT, Tuesday, January 28, 1969 [Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Volume E-5, Documents on Africa, 1969-1972].

IGBO AND THE PROVERBIAL RAINFALL
Permit me at this point to invoke an ancient African idiom which has its roots in Igbo wisdom: onye na amaghi ebe mmiri bidoro mawa ya, agaghi ama ebe o kwusiri (He who does not recognise the point at which the rain began to beat him would not recognise when the rain ceases to fall altogether).

For Igbo people in Nigeria, the rainfall ensued in the early 19th century when the British first explored the Lower Niger (I will put aside, for today’s purposes, the preceding hellfire that was black African slavery and the Igbo’s share of hell in it).

The rain began to beat us from January 1914 when Lord Fredrick Lugard completed the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates into Colonial Nigeria and became its first Governor-General. The Igbo did not have a say as to whether they desired to become a part of such a contraption or not.

The clouds lifted ever so briefly and the Igbo enjoyed a brief sunshine in Nigeria in the decade before and a few years after independence. Having embraced Christianity and western education with enthusiasm, they quickly rose to hold sway in the federal civil service, military, academia, commerce and industry – the Jews of West Africa were on the march, toiling, sweating and swinging upwards, to the envy and hatred of their compatriots.

The Igbo in Nigeria became quickly drenched in that awesome rain by way of separate episodes of pogrom: the Jos massacre in 1945, the Kano massacre in 1953 and the September 29, 1966 massacre in which tens of thousands of Igbo men, women and children were slaughtered. This last event led directly to the civil war of 1967-1970, which in turn resulted in mass starvation and deliberate anti-Igbo genocide.

Orji Kalu

Orji Kalu

And the rain has not abated. The bloody rain has continued to beat Igbo people, resulting in organised anti-Igbo massacres in Kano in 1980, Maiduguri in 1982, Yola in 1984, Gombe in 1985, Kaduna in 1986, Bauchi in 1991, Funtua in 1993, Kano in 1994, Damboa in 2000 and the Apo 6 massacre in 2005.

The ongoing nihilistic slaughter of Igbo people by an extremist militant group known as Boko Haram is yet to be documented. But there can be no question that a disproportionate percentage of the thousands of victims, dead or maimed or permanently impoverished, is made up of Igbo people.

The foregoing non-exhaustive examples occurred exclusively in northern Nigeria. They also represent occasions when Igbo people had been massacred by northern Nigerian Muslims who had been provoked not by any direct misconduct by the Igbo but perhaps because the Prophet Mohammed was insulted in Denmark by some European artist or because Allah’s name had been taken in vain in Los Angeles by an American satirist.

There is, therefore, a sense in which by simply being Igbo, Christian and entrepreneurial, the Igboman is adjudged guilty and vengeful punishment is indiscriminately and randomly applied on a recurring basis.

THE COUP THAT CONDEMNED US ALL
On 15 January, 1966, a few young Nigerian army officers led by an Igbo officer, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, carried out Nigeria’s first coup d’état. This resulted in the deaths of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, a prominent northern Nigerian of the Fulani ethnic stock and the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa, also a northern Nigerian Fulani.

Although the coup was foiled primarily by another Igboman, Nigeria’s first Major-General in the Colonial Army, General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, nevertheless, the belief prevailed in northern Nigeria that Hausa leaders were singled out for elimination by Igbo people who had a grand design for political dominance.

This situation gave rise to a retaliatory pogrom in which tens of thousands of Igbo people were murdered in northern Nigeria. This led to the mass flight back to the Eastern Region of as many as two million Igbo people.

It is conceded that the execution of the coup in question resulted in unintended consequences.  The ethnic composition of the putschists, the ethnic origin of the individuals killed, as well as the eventual assumption of power by Gen. Ironsi, himself an Igboman, created the erroneous impression that the coup was an ethnic-biased putsch organised mostly by Igbo officers in furtherance of Igbo hegemonic agenda.

However, I must insist that the coup was purely a military affair and that the civilian Igbo population knew nothing about it and had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Gen. Ironsi himself was not part of either the planning or the execution of the coup. Once the coup plotters lost control of events, General Ironsi was invited to take office as the military Head of State by the circumstance of his position as the most high-ranking military officer and the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army at that time.

There was neither a grand Igbo civilian conspiracy to overthrow a northern-controlled government nor to impose a unitary system of government, the phantom charges for which the Igbo people have paid and continue to pay a terrible price in Nigeria today.

It must also be noted that there have been several military coups in Nigeria since January 15, 1966 and yet the ethnic kinsmen of the perpetrators of such coups were not subjected to mass slaughter or wanton destruction of their property and places of worship.

But above all, on July 29, 1966, the northern officer corps themselves executed a retaliatory counter-coup in which the Head of State, Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi, was killed and over 300 military officers and men of Igbo origin were massacred. Why didn’t matters simply end there?

Eventually, the crisis reached its peak in May 1967 with the secession of the Igbo-dominated Eastern Region from Nigeria. The Republic of Biafra was declared and it was headed by the British public school- and Oxford-educated Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegu-Ojukwu.

Late Igbo Leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu

Late Igbo Leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu

The secession quickly led to a civil war after talks between former army colleagues, Yakubu Gowon and Ojukwu and the Aburi peace deal collapsed.

The Republic of Biafra lasted only until January 1970 after a campaign of starvation by the Nigerian Army with the support of Egypt, Sudan and the United Kingdom led to a decisive victory for the Nigerian side.

NEGATIVE DISCRIMINATION BY LAW
The Igbo in Nigeria have become the receptacle of anger, hatred, envy and frustration oozing out of their fellow compatriots. But this is on the level of the transactions between private citizens. How about the place of the Igbo in respect of the manner in which public affairs are conducted by the Nigerian federal government and its agencies?

The simple answer is that the rain has continued to beat the Igbo. To demonstrate this, I have composed a narrow but blunt table below:

The above table does not represent an opinion or a hypothesis. It represents the blatant reality of the third rate status forced upon the Igbo in the political space in Nigeria.

We, the Igbo have strived but thus far failed to persuade the Nigerian establishment about the hurt and humiliation and deprivation that come with the idea that we as a people are legally condemned to third rate status in our own country, as amply demonstrated by the above table.

The implications of this calculated fraud against my people are so massive and go entirely untold: unequal allocation of resources, unequal voice at the Federal Executive Council, unequal representation at the National Assembly (the gravest of all), unequal juridic participation in the administration of justice in the federation, unequal participation in the federal civil service and adjunct bodies, unequal representation in the armed forces and para-military organisations, unequal representation in the diplomatic corps ensuring incapacity in showcasing the Igbo culture as part of a pan-Nigerian culture in our foreign missions and embassies, fewer primary, secondary and higher education opportunities for our children, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

These structural disparities are constitutionally entrenched (please see the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999), thus their grave implications for Ndigbo are beyond the primary questions of inequity and marginalization.

The histories of nations are replete with evidence of existential threat to any group whose marginalization is made a subject matter of constitutional enshrinement.

With unequal voice in the Federal Executive Council, in the National Assembly, on the federal judicial benches and a vast array of other fora in which the Igbo suffer sub-parity representation, the strength of the advocacy of our problems and priorities is thus diminished. Little wonder, then, that the South-East Zone, the area inhabited by the Igbo, still manifests the physical characteristics of a conquered and occupied land, 43 years after the civil war.

Quite apart from the psychological assault it represents for Igbo people, the practical issues of unequal representation and unequal allocation of resources are calculated to retard the development of our region and our people. The massive difference which the resources and human empowerment that we are denied might have made in our society is something that calls not just for a sober reflection but a gritty resolve to bring about their speedy resolution.

The Igbo tenacity, drive and relentless optimism to pursue life’s enduring dreams of family, faith and success and to overcome life’s challenges will see them through. But the world must listen to them whenever they cry out. For they have long suffered and endured in silence, as the rain continues to beat them.

Njiko Igbo
Another  blunt table will demonstrate why Njiko Igbo was brought into existence:
A citizen of Igbo extraction has occupied the presidency or premiership or Head of Government of Nigeria for just 6 months and 13 days in the nearly 53 years of Nigerian independence. Again, this is a historical fact and not a conjecture.

The presidency of the Nigerian nation has not eluded the Igbo by accident or by an act of divinity but by human design; and it is through human pressure that we can attain it.

Njiko Igbo is the catalyst and conduit for our collective action. We trust that you recognise, as we do, that power concedes nothing without a demand.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, in a paper entitled, ‘Ndigbo: An Integral Part of the Nigerian Project,’ says that the aim of the Nigerian project “…is to develop and sustain a nation in which all the constituent parts and citizens are able to pursue their self-fulfilment, and to enjoy as high a quality of life as possible; a nation that would be a source of pride to its citizens, to Africa and to peoples of African descent all over the world.” It is in this spirit that we have, therefore, decided to set up Njiko Igbo (Igbo Unity), which is a movement dedicated to changing the power formula in Nigeria in order to obtain justice and fairness for all Nigerians. As Chief Anyaoku further said, “There are so many Igbo names in the pantheon of our country’s pioneer educationists, professionals in medicine, law, engineering, journalism, and in private business.” So, why then can’t an Igbo man or woman become president of Nigeria?

Njiko Igbo is an organisation dedicated to the struggle for the ascent of a citizen of Igbo extraction to the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2015.

We are fully committed to the security and peace of our nation, and to the comradeship of a common justice and equality for all Nigerians.

We are neither supportive of nor opposed to any political party or the aspirations of any individual politician. Our primary mission is to enlighten and mobilise the Igbo population, both at home and in the diaspora, to stand firm and united in the pursuit of our collective goal. Our secondary duty is to connect with and persuade the rest of the Nigerian population about the justice of our cause.

Njiko Igbo is waging this struggle precisely because there is an irrefutable evidence of blatant anti-Igbo bias in the manner in which the political architecture of this federation is constructed.

Gross injustice is the ultimate outcome of that deliberate discrimination. And every man or woman possessed of conscience has a duty to take a moral stand against injustice whenever and wherever it is manifest. This expression of conscience forms the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people.

The impulse to demand justice and the instinctive revolt against injustice constitute the most essential ingredients of humanity. If we recognize this philosophical essence of what truly defines our sentient nature, then we must accept that this struggle is not only inevitable but mandatory.

Our strategic operations are two-pronged: (a) an intensive drive to build and foster a united front at home and, (b) an energetic national mobilization campaign to marshal public opinion and secure the solidarity and support of a majority of Nigerians.

Our methods will be conciliatory, unaggressive, solicitous and flexible but without being amenable to the old easy compromises and defensiveness that reinforced prejudicial assumptions about us as a people.

We shall seek to accomplish our mission in a manner and style deferential to elders, respectful of the sensibilities of other tribal groups and faiths, attentive to criticisms and open to disputations.

We are embarked on a big and noble dream borne out of the necessities of our history and the imperatives of justice, equity and fair-play. While our history is a proud, large and significant imprint in Nigeria, the reality of our contemporary existence has been rendered small by the politics of the Nigerian republic. These times call for self-assertion and Igbo people must rise and answer the challenges with one voice.

We are not pursuing the orthodox argument connected with the zoning of the presidency. This is, instead, a struggle for justice and equality of opportunity through the instrumentalities of persuasion, mobilization, projection of a creative vision for a stronger and successful federation.

No one should be in any doubt that the political struggles and strifes raging in this country today, and which will rage for at least another generation, represent the struggles to assert group identity and legitimacy, expressed through the mechanics of politics. Igbo people can ill-afford to take a passive stance in this maelstrom.

Conclusion
Former President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Chief Raph Uwechue says of the Igbo, in a paper entitled ‘Igbo are nation builders:’

“To the Nigerian project, the Igbo have given a great deal yesterday, are still doing so today, and have a lot more in store for a much greater tomorrow.”

It is time for the bloody rain to stop. Igbo people are already drenched and soaked to the point of suffocation. It is not only in the best interests of the Igbo but also in the best interests of the Nigerian people for the sun to rise and shine on us all.

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