By Douglas Anele
The German philosopher, Georg W.F. Hegel developed a dialectical logic that, contrary to the principles of traditional Aristotelian logic, extolled contradictions as an inherent mechanism in the development of reality. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels adapted Hegelian dialectics to formulate the theoretical framework for a philosophy of revolutionary social change called dialectical materialism. An important component of dialectical materialism is the principle of negation of the negation.
According to Hegelian logic, reality develops in three stages, namely, the thesis, the anti-thesis and the synthesis. Depending on the context, the thesis could be an idea, theory or state of affairs; the antithesis stands for the contradictory or negation of the thesis, while the synthesis denotes the blending of aspects of the thesis and the antithesis into a higher level of ideas or reality. Dialectical development, as envisaged by Hegel, is a never-ending process precisely because the synthesis arrived at in one stage becomes the thesis for the next stage of dialectical progression. In Marxist interpretation, negation of the negation is the theoretical side of social change in which the exploitative capitalist system is superseded by a socialist revolution that negates the negation, the very essence of capitalism, namely, exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie.
Now, the logic of negation of the negation applies to the central purpose of this essay – refutation of the argument that Ndigbo committed political suicide especially in the last presidential elections by voting overwhelmingly for President Goodluck Jonathan. In other words, I want to falsify the pessimistic belief in certain quarters that the South East made a mistake by supporting the out-going President and, as a result, has lost out in the political dispensation which would come into effect next Friday, May 29.
Negative interpretations of the electoral choices by Ndigbo in the last elections are based largely on faulty assumptions, inadequate understanding of Igbo experiences in the context of modern Nigerian history from independence to date, and on a superficial appreciation of their genuine needs, hopes and aspirations within the scaffolding of that history. Therefore, a reasoned engagement with the history of post-independent Igboland, the cultural peculiarities of its people and the complex nature of their interactions with compatriots from other ethnic nationalities would throw some light on the near-total support they gave to Goodluck Jonathan both in the 2011 and 2015 presidential elections. It would also explode the myth that Ndigbo voted with their hearts, not with their heads, for the out-going President.
The late icon of African literature, Prof. Chinua Achebe, might have overstated his case when he wrote, in The Trouble with Nigeria, “that Nigerians will probably achieve consensus in no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo.” But he was certainly correct in noting that such irrational resentment exists, a disturbing fact brought home to me recently when some of my non-Igbo critics sent text messages filled with hatred against me and the Igbo, instead of addressing the points raised in my articles on the just concluded elections.
Now, it would require detailed sociological, psychological and historical analyses beyond the scope of this essay to explain fully the phenomenon we are dealing with. However, Prof. Achebe provides an insight into it by observing that Igbo culture, being quite receptive to change, individualistic, and highly competitive, gave the Igbo man unquestioned advantage over his compatriots from other parts of the country in securing credentials for advancement in colonial Nigerian society. Consequently, to a large extent, the emergence of Ndigbo as a force to be reckoned with in post-independent Nigeria, despite the disadvantages of their geographical location, was mainly due to self-confidence engendered by their relatively open society and conviction that no condition is permanent, that human beings are responsible for their destinies (onye kwe, chi ya ekwe).
To a significant extent, the ambitions and social mobility of an average Hausa-Fulani man or woman were hindered by the conservatism of Islamic theocracy with its rigid social stratification based largely on birth and social status, whereas traditional hierarchies hampered a typical Yoruba person from acting in a manner capable of disrupting those hierarchies. From the foregoing, it can be inferred that the preeminent position of the Igbo in the colonial setting with respect to the Federal public service, statutory corporations and senior positions in the military can be attributed to the gregarious, competitive, can-do-it spirit inherent in Igbo culture. Without falling into the errors of over generalisation, more than the cultures of other major ethnic groups in Nigeria, Igbo customs, traditions and worldview foster a strong individualistic ethic that allowed Ndigbo to grasp opportunities for self-advancement and education made possible by British colonial administration.
Before the Biafran war began in 1967, the misperception that the Igbo were unfairly dominating other ethnic groups in public institutions led to a systematic attempt to replace the achievers with individuals from the desired ethnic groups. The absurd response of government at that time engendered steady supplanting of merit by mediocrity and ethnic bigotry, which transformed the federal civil service, corporations and educational institutions into centres for ethnic discrimination and bigotry. Thus, in the tertiary institutions, for example, Professors Eni Njoku and Kenneth Onwuka Dike, vice chancellors of the universities of Lagos and Ibadan respectively, were forced out of office because of their ethnic origin, which made Prof. Dike to remark sadly that “intellectuals were the worst peddlers of tribalism.”
The backlash against the Igbo, based on the false idea that Igbo people were an unnecessarily ambitious group planning to dominate other Nigerians, seems plausible because, as already indicated, there was a preponderance of Ndigbo in the public service nationwide before the civil war. But that achievement was not due to government patronage or secret plan of domination by the Igbo themselves as alleged by some members of the Northern establishment and few self-serving Yoruba politicians. Instead, it was because of the culture of educational excellence that the people absorbed from the British and put to effective use throughout Igboland and in schools located there. Moreover, the Town Union arrangement encouraged healthy competition among different Igbo towns for building schools, markets, infrastructural projects and so on.
To be continued