By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Once upon a time, cattle herdsmen sent word home. They had lost men and cattle in Saki, Oyo state. They relayed their distrust and contempt for the police and the state government. Derelict and partisan authorities have trivialized the mass murder of their kin by Yoruba farmers. That was the insinuation. Deep resentment runs against perceived Hausa-Fulani’s sense of entitlement in the south.
Tales of persecution would find credulous ears. Muhammadu Buhari and Buba Marwa put on their Arewa caps and headed to Oyo to confront the state governor. ‘Their people” had been treated savagely. They trusted neither phone calls nor letters. It was tense, they were unsmiling.
The allegations had been exaggerated. Suspects didn’t walk away, hadn’t been ‘amnestied’. The police were preparing charges. That didn’t placate them. Such imperiousness! They left without requiting courtesies extended to them.
They were neither government officials nor civil society activists. Yet they didn’t feel enfeebled. Patriotism didn’t dissuade them. And they were not morally shackled by the impropriety of clannishness by former national leaders. They had no compunction about leading such an ethnic cause. The sort of cause that falls within the job description of Gani Adams. Obasanjo was president.
His being Yoruba didn’t intimidate them. It may have inflamed their overflowing righteous indignation. Don’t even think about Agatu or Enugu yet. They didn’t leave it for political office holders. They went in to challenge the menace. To hold officials with direct responsibility , accountable. Their participation was not secured by the promise of monetary rewards. That is championship.
Igbos sorely lack champions. There is not a country. Were there a country, such championship would be parochialism. And murderers would never go unpunished. And non indigenes everywhere would be protected by the state. Buhari and Marwa would have been despised as petty minded agents of national disunity, ethnic jingoists. But they have retained their claims to patriotism. There is not a country.
For were there one, quota system and federal character would be decidedly retrogressive, divisive and jettisoned. And the Fulani would not need their kith to plead their case in Oyo. If there were a country, those who fly ethnic and religious flags would operate at the fringes of national affairs. And those who have been in the thick of national affairs would abhor narrow ethno religious agitations. But where is the country? So Buhari and Marwa, despite all negative idealistic interpretations, did the right thing.
The industry of Igbos and their entrepreneurial restlessness have ensured not just their flourishing but their dispersal. Spread so widely and rooted so randomly, they are especially endangered in a volatile Nigeria. Particularly northern Nigeria, where non indigenes are perpetually at the mercy of whirlwinds. When trouble rears its head in the north, envy complicates religious extremism.
The Igbo man and his businesses are hunted and burnt. Corpses are shoveled into trucks and smuggled into mass graves at night. Governments too weak to protect lives and property are quick to shroud carnages “in the interest of national unity”. And the Igbo man living in the north develops the psyche of a coward. Because those who should champion his cause have surrendered themselves to timidity. The Igbo ,scarred and victimized , feel especially vulnerable to authorities. It’s one thing to be chronically marginalized and driven into street trading . But it’s another to suffer repeated humiliating victimizations.
The average corrupt policeman on the street, everywhere, sees the Igbo businessman as a one legged prey. But treats the Fulani Alhaji of same social standing with measurable reverence. Second class citizens, can’t fight for rights. So the Igbo routinely buys his peace from bullies in uniform and buys privileges, accesses, contracts, recognitions, everything.
With the indelible history of the 1966 pogrom as a reminder of what can be, ordinary Igbos live with a residual paranoia of particularly the Hausa Fulani. And it’s difficult to say that other groups trust Igbos. Igbos will excel in the Nigerian Defence Academy but are never really good enough to head the Army.
They will not head the DSS or the Supreme court. Igbos occupy sensitive positions in the country only if they pass special loyalty tests. They are potential secessionists. They have to be approved of as ‘trustworthy’, less Igbo than Igbo, psychologically vanquished. When they can speak Hausa, they are more appealing, more patriotic. When they are appointed, they slough off any residual ‘Igboness’ and become committed ‘detribalized’ lackeys. And they become allergic to close contacts with other Igbos to prove continuing loyalty.
Contrast Oyo not with Enugu but with Akaluka. That poor Igbo trader had made Kano his home. His wife stirred a storm when she cleaned up her baby with a paper that had Islamic inscriptions. She was alleged to have desecrated the Koran. Gideon Akaluka left the market for home to settle the matter. He ran into the mob whom his family had evaded. He was rescued by the police and put in protective custody.
The mob reenergized, seized him from police custody, burnt the police station and beheaded him. His head was held aloft a stick and a triumphant procession marched round Kano in broad daylight. That was a message. The sort of message that reinforces paranoia. Were there any arrests made? Even nomads brag about contacts in high places. Igbo leaders, always drenched in timidity, were mute in the interest of national unity.
The set of circumstances that constituted the Enugu herdsmen madness is unhealthy for Igbos. It’s easier for the Tivs to handle Agatu psychologically. And I don’t make light of the unspeakably atrocity that happened there. Enugu was particularly nightmarish because it reawakened ghosts. Authorities watching while people are hunted down and butchered. That pogrom. The authorities should be sensitive. No German plays gas chamber jokes around Jews. That prolonged silence by this presidency after the Enugu incident was provocative and shameful.
Nigeria is a tempestuous polygamous setting. Rabid tribalism has left a shell of country no one primarily identifies with. Igbos need committed ethnic champions. Sold out to the immediate well-being of the race. And I don’t mean anything close to IPOB’s charlatanism. An ethnic champion is neither a bigot nor a secessionist. He is not even an ethnic chauvinist.
Such championship ironically addresses the fears the secessionist preys on. But champions must seek the immediate release of Nnamdi Kanu , the way Gani Adams was released. The championship of the Igbo cause will go beyond a fanatical defence of Igbo political interests , it will involve a promotion of Igbo symbols, values and culture.
Igbo champions will be sober enough to know that political business can be done with the Hausa Fulani as equals. That a peaceful Nigeria founded on equity is in the best interest of Igbos. Igbos can earn the most sensitive positions in government on merit. So Igbos should walk and talk with the sense of entitlement of the Hausa-Fulani. The Igbo should occupy positions not at the mercy of anyone but as a birthright .
And wield authority like a firstborn. The development of Igboland should be the priority of the championship. But vigilantism must start from within.
The Igbo language is threatened by urban migration, emigration and globalization. The Chinese have protected theirs. Ethnic championship is not subject to the demands of third party rationality. Some eccentricity is permitted. Igbos could prioritize marrying fellow Igbos, like the Indians , to protect authenticity , to preserve the race. Igbos need champions because life in diaspora is so diluting, so corrosive.
Igbo champions will develop local remedies for rampant kidnapping that has threatened to sever the link between the homeland and the diaspora. Champions will help reset the value system so that materialism that has become the Igbo deity is dethroned. And since equity must start at home then Osu caste system must be extinguished. Sensitized Igboland will purge itself of corrupt representatives . The ordinary people will be eased out of the clutches of cynicism to subject public officers to intense scrutiny.
Presently, Igbos have no leaders.