IT was in the days that followed the January 1, 1966 coup that the young officers that took the reins of leadership started making some slogans popular. These slogans included: “No Nepotism”, “No corruption”, “No ethnicity “. All types of “isms” filled speeches from these young military leaders, and thus, ethnicity became one of the major problems of Nigeria.
Is ethnicity the problem of Nigeria, or is it Nigerians that chose to abuse ethnicity for their individual and group selfish interests? The period after Nigeria’s independence in 1960 saw a very healthy competition between the major tribes in Nigeria, with cocoa leading in the economic growth in South West, groundnut and cereals in the North, with palm produce and root crops in the South East.
Ethnicity was an instrument of development until someone used it to garner votes for political and economic gains of one of the zones, the South West, following which, the military elevated the abuse of ethnicity to an unimaginable level.
A mistake in the execution of the 1966 coup was viewed with a mind full of vengeance, and desire to take over the ruler ship and dominium of Nigeria by some military officers from the Northern zone, such that they launched a counter-coup, followed by genocide against the Igbos in the North, leading the country to a 30-month civil war. But these officers kept blaming ethnicity as their reason.
Ever since the ‘Araba’ of 1966 in the North of Nigeria, the life of an Igbo man means very little to an average Northerner till date. That is why the Igbos could be killed in the North and nothing is done; foreigners would be killed there and nothing is done.
Thus, they continued to the stage we are now where the only post a Northerner wants in any election is to fill the presidential flag bearer slot, be it in PDP, APC or PDM. This is why the deportation of Igbos by any state becomes very infuriating, because it is based in ethnic hatred.
They kill you without provocation, and say if they are not made president, they will kill even more; Then they deport your weak ones, and if you cry foul, you will be reminded that you are the ethnic jingoist, you peddle trouble, you want to drag them back, or remind them of things they have forgotten. Yet, they have manifested more ethnic bias in all they do!
There is nothing wrong with ethnicity. It can make and create avenues for healthy competition in economic development and growth, as it did in times past. It can be used to enhance the fair and even distribution of the gains of good governance.
It can be used to build a great, virile and prosperous nation state. The problem lies not in the nature of ethnicity, but in the minds and hearts of those who use and abuse ethnicity for their own selfish gains. The Bible declares that as a man thinks, so he is, thus as we have used ethnicity in Nigeria. That is how we ended up in this rigmarole of failures, and wickedness.
You just asked how? The knife and axe were invented by man, to help him survive his environment as a hunter, but one bad man started by killing his own relation with the knife, and so, when a bad man handles a knife, his environment becomes dangerous for any one near him.
You cannot blame the knife. The aeroplane was invented to improve man’s transportation on earth, but one bad man decided to use the aeroplane as a weapon of mass destruction. Do you blame the plane or the man piloting it?
After the Dayton shoot out in the USA, where 18 children were brutally killed, the Gun Association in defense of the gun, came out with this slogan: “A gun in the hand of a good man can save the society”. You can’t blame the gun; it is the man carrying the gun who makes it a dangerous weapon.
Ethnicity has been used to fill the Federal Civil Service with officers who lacked merit and performance. An officer would be transferred from any Northern state to the Federal Service, he was quickly promoted, and is moved ahead of his seniors in the system from the other zones, especially the South East.
The result is mediocrity, darkness, bad roads, poor health facilities, terrible education system, poor Prison Service. We import oil with no refineries, high unemployment, and list goes on. In most Federal Government departments, you often find a man with just a collection of training course certificates from the North bossing men from the South East, or other zones, with Master’s Degree and longer service years, all because the boss is from the North. Everyone is benefiting from ethnicity yet blame ethnicity.
There are disputes, conflicts, and issues within each zone in Nigeria, be it Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo, yet you still hear ethnically biased people say that the Igbo man cannot become President, because Igbos are not united. No zone is more united than the Igbo people. Their problem is that they have not learnt to play the Nigerian ethnic game.
Yorubas have two major seaports, and airports. The North has two major international airports, while the Igbo zone had none at all. Only yesterday, Ethiopian Airlines announced flights to Enugu, 43 years after the civil war.
Not one single seaport, yet over 40 percent of seaport users in Nigeria are Igbo men! Prof. Chinua Achebe rejected national honours on two occasions to protest the gang-up politics by others against the people of Anambra State.
Thus, we hope that the parameters and standards used in the recent Ondo and Edo states’ gubernatorial elections will be applied in Anambra State, come November. There is no problem with ethnicity per se, the problem is with the mind and hands that are holding ethnicity as their instrument of oppression in the country.
Mr. CLEMENT UDEGBE, a lawyer, wrote from Lagos.