PEACE and security, equality and justice, rapid development and prosperity, are presumably what the Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani, the Niger Deltans such as Ijaw and Ogoni, the Bini, Efik-Annang-Ibibio, the Kanuri, Middle-Belt and other masses, yearn for and need from Nigeria.
So, too, the Igbo. Everyone knows that Igbo are a highly egalitarian and democratic race. Thus, abhor injustice in any form. Yes, there were survivals of primitivism, such as the outlawed Osu system and maltreatment of twins that were inconsistent with core Igbo values, but which the Igbo almost entirely fought by themselves, and are today practically living beyond them, while trying to learn some of the archaic manners, such as kowtowing, that would enable them become “good Nigerians”.
Igbo have had millions of their young boys and girls bombed or starved to death to fulfill the ambitions of some Nigerians, and there is yet to be an end to the hate-filled killings. The Igbo sacrifice for Nigeria is complete, the tree of Nigerian existence having been watered by oceans of Igbo blood.
Values of equality and justice
The Igbos having experienced so much of others’ “values”, there should be some sort of reciprocity in Nigerians learning and imbibing the values of equality and justice, which are fundamentals to the Igbo, and especially ingrained in their culture and traditions.
Of course, equality and justice are supposed to be a common value among all mankind, including every Nigerian nationality, and even elevated into a principle in a 1948 Universal Declaration, but, there seem to be doubts in some people whether to treat them in Nigeria as a discretionary, subsidiary pastime to be ignored at will, instead of a cultural and legal requirement for the unity and peaceful development and prosperity of society, and a general natural law that governs the conduct of civilised man, and measurement of their standards of civilisation.
Everyone is complaining, but the Igbo do so above all others because, while most seem to have been cheated one way or the other, the Igbos have all the multiple layers of the Nigerian suffering heaped on them since 1914, above all from 1966. Despite all this, for various reasons, including the lack of eagerness to fight another civil war and have four or more other million Igbo youths and children slaughtered by “patriotic Nigerians”, and maybe Imo and Abia de-Igbonised or declared Abandoned Property to persuade some renegade locals to turn into “independent ethnic nationalities” against other Igbo in the hinterland, it is a more or less general consensus among the Igbo middle class, to try and give Nigeria another chance to be a civilised modern state meeting the international best practices of democratic governance, justice and legality.
The basic condition for Igbo to willingly accept continuing to be in Nigeria, and persuading their young ones to also do so, is that the ethnic cleansing evil should be restituted, the country justly reorganised, with the re-united Igbo once again being equal players from their contiguous homeland to the coast. For any civilised people, this is a very simple and just demand, and the restructuring is urgent and rational for Nigeria.
To survive, Nigeria will certainly be reorganised to meet the needs and aspirations of the members, and secure a stable peace for her development and prosperity. Peace cannot be achieved under a dictatorship, either of “the majority” or minority, a religious group or denomination, a region, state or groups thereof, an individual and his group of tyrants, or a foreign power using any number of domestic compradors. The reorganisation has to be home-grown, to establish a consensual modus operandi for the continuation of the journey imposed upon practically everyone since 1914. We cannot forever bemoan the Amalgamation, and the truism that it served mainly British interests, and those of the Caliphate, which they rightly saw as allies in the suppression of the black continent. Even in the South, to some extent, we permitted ourselves to be humiliated for, while some chiefs, kings and individuals like Jaja, were trying to establish sovereign African polities, others were betraying the cause, and we got what we deserved in return, namely slavery, colonialism, and the undisguised neo-colonialism of today. But, since apparently a lot of us appear to have realised that we ought to be better than what we are today, we must have to lay a good foundation for attaining that goal and, that should start by a proper political restructuring.
Democracy, a hopeless luxury
It hurts greatly that democracy, justice and human rights, which for hundreds of years have been taken for granted in most societies of the world, are still in a twenty-first century and third millennium, a hopeless luxury in a jungle called Nigeria, where one is not sure of anything including his life, and can plan for nothing, except what you see from day to day. Children, except of a few, have no clear and certain future, and complain of parents that have failed them. Nigeria’s future, like the present, is abroad: that is where you find the educational institutions for the children of the “leaders”, the medical services to enable them live eternally to enjoy their ill-gotten wealth, the roads to ply their limousines, the sports and entertainment centres to indulge their passions, the hard currencies for their large-scale shopping needs, banks to save their stolen monies, costly lands to erect their paradises on earth, and convenient venues to conceal themselves and plot how to deploy all the foregoing to continue damaging the country, which they are ready to fight and manoeuvre to survive in, but let others die for.
The Igbos are being done-in, scape-goated, cannon-foddered, impoverished, delayed, and ravaged by this demonic conspiracy to reduce everyone to their knees, pretending that barbarism is civilisation, or backwardness, progress.
Igbos have joined the quest for the restructuring of the Nigerian assemblage, so that instead of demanding for whatever reasons that everyone moves at snail speed, or joins in proclaiming white, black, and yellow, green, those who desire to go forward can go forward, and those that want to return to the ages can do so.
We would still be one country, but, like the Chinese, it would be “one country two systems” or, in our case, possibly one country several systems. Hence, in the restructuring or fundamental change to come, and for those interested in the happiness of the Igbos within a united Nigeria, we draw attention to the following fundamental issues, which are at the heart of the Igbo under-development, and which might bear a summarised repetition:
- Unaddressed Ethnic Cleansing alias Abandoned Property: Those who believe that the ethnic cleansing programme in southern Igboland, code-named Abandoned Property, intended to pronounce the Igbos “landlocked”, would be forgotten by the Igbos are making a mistake. Igbos cannot be forced to separate from their blood brothers and sisters in order to please somebody ’s hatred.
Igbos have absolutely nothing against any of their Eastern and other non-Igbo brothers, who the authors of the ethnic cleansing programme purported to represent, but have consistently rejected that evil at every given opportunity.
At the Oputa Panel, Igbos once again requested for restitution, and reversal of the crime; and till date still doing so. Someone may also declare this as an opening of old wounds, and unnecessary, since we are all one country, and it is immaterial however anyone relates to the land or waters.
But, this is not so, at least because the wounds are still festering, and socio-culturally, politically, and economically hampering the Igbos; and also because relating to the sea, desert, swamps, etc., has implications not only for culture, but one’s contributions to civilisation as such, and to the people’s history and homeland. Since 1967, Igbos are yet to re-start importing and exporting from their coastal cities, and people are told that the war has ended. Igbos want to re-start from where they stopped, their own industrial revolution, for the benefit of everybody, without continuing waiting for when Nigeria will be ready.
To those good Igbos adopting the ethnic cleansing shroud in the form of six geo-political zones, and imagining that an Onitsha inland port or what they call “dry ports” will solve their problems, we advise they withdraw from the suicide. A dry port in Anambra to turn it into a Shanghai, one in Imo to turn it into a Dubai, another in Abia to create a miniature Japan, and such other duplication and miniaturisation of ideas, efforts, resources, and so on and so forth!
What about the economies of scale; through which airspace would the containers be ferried; from which sea ports and ships would the goods be off-loaded or, would it be direct from China, etc?
Can helicopters serving a dry port for trade and commerce, also carry the weighty and massive products necessary for heavy industry that is essential for competitive industrialisation, especially taking into consideration that Onitsha was originally scheduled to be the proper site for Nigeria’s iron and steel industry?
And, how will such dry ports serve the aims of Igboland spearheading the development of the East, as well as the eastern half of Nigeria? On Onitsha river port, that is a pipe dream, to say the least, symptomatic of failure of ideas.
Failure of ideas
Which water will feed the port, when the Kainji dam and other ECOWAS countries have taken it all; what would be the prospective gross tonnage compared to the level of economic activity and, where in the coastline would be the point of entry into and exit from Onitsha?
The main River Niger terminates around Kolo creek near Yenagoa, and the rest is swamp up to the sandy beaches of the narrow Nun river and Nembe-Brass coast, while the other branch terminates at Bomadi, far away from the Ramos estuary.
The Ijaws are beloved close brothers to the Igbos, but some of their extremists would, for whatever reasons, want to relate more with others than the Igbos; so, even if the technical conditions exist for dredging between Onitsha and the coast, where are the political conditions for doing so?
And, is it the Igbos that need the dredging of the Niger most, than the North that, instead of doing so, to link themselves to the high seas through the territorial waters of the South, and becoming effective riparian states, instead, carries on arrogantly with their feudal economics, so long as they feel it harms the Igbos most? Then, once again, the question: why should the Igbos abandon their brothers and sisters, as well as their port cities, just because some people feel inconvenienced by Igbos re-uniting for a worthier purpose?
- Igbos and the Eastern minorities.
Igbos continue to plead to, and make it clear that they greatly need their Eastern and Southern minority brothers and sisters. Misunderstandings must happen in any society of human beings, but unlike other parts of Nigeria, the tribes of the East had at no time in their long history ever been at war with each other, despite tireless efforts by some interested outsiders to make it seem so.
While others were fighting and killing each other, the tribes of the East were generally at peace. The Nigeria-Biafra war was not between them and the Igbos. Their agitators had for long before that war been complaining of either Igbo domination, exploitation or oppression, and the Igbos till today totally deny that blackmail, in the full knowledge that it was mostly Igboland and its resources that were used to sustain them hundreds of years before the relatively recent outbreak of oil prosperity. Some of them had fish and salt which, in any case, the Igbos had in super-abundance, but the divers types of food such as yams, cassava, palm oil and kernels, metal technologies and what have you, needed for prospering a population, all largely came from the Igbos. The soil exhaustion that has entered Igboland is partly because the Igbos were not only catering for themselves, but also exporting to those besides them, as any brothers and sisters would do to their kind. But, as everywhere on earth, the minorities, no matter what, wanted to be on their own and, after unnecessary hesitations, the Igbos now support them in full. Let them have resource control, fiscal federalism, and other elements of self-determination, as much as they desire.
Nigerians should be less greedy towards the Eastern minorities. How can you go on destroying the lands and peoples of a place, and claim that you do so for the sake of a concept called One Nigeria? If they have and control their resources, they have no absorptive capacity to use them all at one time. The surpluses would be kept in the banks, and other Nigerians, including the Igbos, can borrow at low interest rates to develop their regions. It is more economical to allocate resources in this peaceful and rational manner than the brutal and terminal way that our barbarians are doing.
Igbos would nevertheless have loved the Eastern nationalities, namely the Efik-Annang-central Ibibio, Ijaw, Ogoni, Andoni, and the Ogojas, to re-join with them as a solid Regional bloc in a restructured future Nigeria, as in the old Eastern Region, now that everyone seems to have learnt that the Igbos weren’t after all that much evil as their agitating propagandists originally presented them. Igbos would like to brotherly and peacefully benefit, not like the North and West have unilaterally and aggressively been callously doing all these fifty years, from the great oil prosperity of these brothers and sisters, at least as a reciprocal gesture for their great economic reliance upon Igboland before the oil times.
But, in case there are reasons why they would not like to do so, Igbos would continue to appeal to them not to subscribe to the ethnic cleansing programme in southern Igboland, by whatever name called, by which they sought to turn the age-long maritime Igbos into a nation “surrounded on all sides by hostile enemies”. Before and after the arrival and settlement in the East of those concerned, there have been a well-established and stable Igbo homeland, contiguously down to Bonny through Port Harcourt or Igweocha and, from 1869, also down to Opobo. Igbos met not a single hostile tribe, nor hindered by anyone, in their more than 600-year continuous trade and other interactions with divers Europeans since the mid-fifteenth century, and up to the Nigeria-Biafra war. On the contrary, it was Igbos, afterwards followed by those white men that, through trade and related efforts, encouraged the erstwhile wandering bands of all purpose canoe-houses to gradually transform into settled house-rule systems, which enabled them to start participating in and benefitting from the new Igbo and European openings. A strong Igbo nation will continue to be an asset to the Eastern minorities and vice versa, and a strong bulwark for each other against external machinations.
Gowon’s policy, which he used Diete-Spiff and other Ijaw and Ogoni extremists to implement, was to create a “landlocked” Igboland, of which Ijaw and Ogoni extremists, against the will and interests of their masses, would be the coastal and deltaic policemen, with de-Igbonised Rivers Igbo or Mbamiri communities becoming weakened, confused and castrated “independent ethnic nationalities”. Being so de-linked from their hinterland Igbo kith and kin, the Mbamiri were to become isolated and helpless pawns in this unprecedented evil. Not a single true Igboman, not a single civilized human being, has relented in condemning that atrocity. When Gowon himself hinted his intentions towards the Igbo port city of Port Harcourt to the Commonwealth Secretary General, Arnold Smith, imagining he could win the support of the Canadian, the man was noticeably perturbed that such an extremely cruel and primitive idea could find some room in a head of state.
Whereof the civilized white man went to Kaduna to seek a confirmation from no other than previous Nzeogwu ally, Hassan Katsina, if indeed Northerners had such a devilish intention of cleansing the Igbos from their port city, etc. It remains a surprise, but a laudable credit to the very scion of the islamic caliphate to counter a “christian” Gowon, and indicating something like that there could be no Port Harcourt without her Igbos – please, see Arnold Smith (1981). Stitches in time. The Commonwealth in world politics. Ontario: General Publishing Co. Limited. To the dismay of many people, and despite this opposition from Hassan Katsina and, possibly others, Gowon, using Diete-Spiff and others, went ahead with their Abandoned Property, under which cloak, all sorts of unprintable crimes were committed against the Igbos of the Rivers state, as well as Igbos in the hinterland.
Igbos would continue to persuade all other ethnic groups in the East to openly condemn that action, and not seek to build on it any notion of an Igbo landlocking that never existed at anytime. Yes, with a gun in hand, it is not easy to overcome the temptation of capturing what is very dear to someone. The Gowon that forcibly altered the revenue allocation system to destroy the capacity of the Eastern minorities to develop, and signed the Maroua Declaration, had no love for any Eastern minority ethnic group; if anything, all the calamities they are suffering today are traceable to him. He only needed them as unquestioning pawns with which to curtail the Igbos, and the Igbos continue to plead to our Eastern brothers and sisters not to be available. Many Igbos perished, some still missing on their way to re-enter their surviving plantations, homes, farms, factories, ancestral villages and towns in Bonny, Opobo, Okrika, Port Harcourt, and several other communities in the present Rivers state in particular, believing that Gowon’s promised end to the killings was not a coded message to continue his genocidal war by other means.
To the knowledge of many Igbos, all major ethnic groups or nationalities in the South, above all the Igbos, have their own independent and, sometimes almost mutually exclusive accesses to the sea. For more than 600 years of this international maritime history, the Igbos have been leaders, both in slave, oil and other trade, founding and using their own ports in Bonny,
Opobo and Port Harcourt, with no hindrance from anybody. By the ethnic cleansing programme, Gowon and co. were attempting to re-create a Southern history in the way that suited their Igbophobist intentions, and leave the legacy of bitterness and division which they are enjoying today. By turning Southern history upside down, they certainly intended to create an acrimonious new Southern Question atop the National Question, based on which weaker tribes are best suited to be manipulated to enable them govern the sea outlets and their riches on behalf of the Go On With One North policy.
Sympathetic Southern minorities should go on resisting that idea from hell, and continue to maintain the principle and reality of independent access to the sea of every major Southern nationality in all the years of coastal history. That would hurt no one, but actually create further vistas for peace, unity and understanding among the nationalities of the South, especially in relations with those Northern compatriots that are genuinely interested in a properly restructured, stable and civilized Nigeria, accommodating the legitimate interests of all. Even our peace-loving Northern brothers and sisters will benefit immensely from a burgeoning East, helping to develop the Middle Belt, North East and North Central, through a modernized Bonny,
Port Harcourt and Opobo ports, complemented by the Abaka deep sea port, and the Bakassi/Calabar and possible Brass-Nembe ports, with a possible second, third, etc Benue bridges, instead of the costly circumvolving route from Lagos. The Yorubas will also greatly benefit for, the ethnic and transport pressure on Lagos and the West will abate, and the costs of doing business and attracting industrialization into the zone will hugely be reduced for the benefit of the masses.
- Igbos and themselves. There are also those Rivers and other southern Igbos who, seeing the weakened postwar condition of the Igbo nation, and anxious to escape the raging punishments of the Gowon and other federal authorities and their Ijaw-led Rivers clones and, re-enforced by genuine or manufactured grievances, declared themselves “independent ethnic nationalities” – that is, “independent” of their kith and kin in the hinterland, the then East Central State and present five Eastern states. There is no problem there, many having seen through the intentions of those attempting to criminally de-Igbonize them.
- The Igbos in Nigeria remain one nation, contiguously down to the coast, and people should not turn themselves into ethnic reductionists, free to opt in or opt out, as if a nation is a challenge-free social club whence one could turn his coat depending on the terrible or favorable situation. No honest person should use separatism as a means of disrupting the Igbo contiguous homeland to the coast and the status of Port Harcourt, Bonny and Opobo, as major cosmopolitan Igbo port cities, otherwise the idea of “independent ethnic nationality” would be revealed as a ploy to either benefit from, conceal participation in, or escape restitution over the ethnic cleansing programme organized against other Igbos. Incidentally, most Mbamiri have nothing against their hinterland kith and kin; it is some elites, as usual, that are benefiting from the notion of division in Igboland.
All Mbamiri brothers should look across their shouders, listen and hear that Lagos state is now the 5th or 6th largest economy in Africa; and that they are denying themselves this unprecedented prosperity, especially the possibility of the Rivers state being the 3rd or so largest economy in Africa, by closing their hearts and minds to their kith and kin, and not insisting on the full modernization and commercial utilization of the ancient ports of Bonny, Port Harcourt, and Opobo, for a re-continued Igbo homeland import-export trade. The prosperity of our Mbamiri brothers will reflect positively upon the Igbos in the hinterland, once they decide to ignore third-party evil thoughts and act.
The southern Igbos or Mbamiri, being somehow on Igbo “frontiers”, suffered greatly under series of Ijaw rulers who sought to mess them up with the insulting label of Igboids, and required their repentance from Igboness as proof of Rivers patriotism. This is apart from their massacre and pillage under federal troops that used them as cannon-fodder in pursuit of “Igbo heartland”, and some Biafran troops and officials that mistreated some of their leaders on suspicion of treachery and betrayal. They suffered from both sides, and that partly explains the “independent!” some of them now propose.
But, they certainly know that suffering was not their own special preserve, that the desperate, usually semi-literate Biafran troops were mistreating everybody that they misunderstood, from Obollo to Bonny, whereas the general citizenry were greatly accommodative of each other, especially the vast internally displaced persons running from the south to the hinterland and vice versa, according to the trends in the battlefield. Igbos should continue to forgive each other, whether in relation to the war or the Abandoned Property and ethnic cleansing that followed afterwards.
- IGBO RESTRUCTURING OBJECTIVES
Southerners in particular, should continue to ask for restructuring and the attendant resource control, fiscal federalism, and so on; they should really intend it to work, and refrain from building it upon any ethnic cleansing programme against any group. All Southerners and conscientious Northerners should aim at using restructuring to establish a just and viable Nigeria, so that the way nations lived in the past would be the basis for creating a better future for themselves and others. Restructuring in Nigeria should not be a re-codification of the evils we are complaining about if it has to succeed, but a formalization of our peacefully evolved traditions, and their elevation over and above the unjust and oppressive artificiality imposed since 1914 and made worse in 1967.
Therefore, in a restructured polity, all the nationalities in the South that have had a viable maritime tradition, should continue to have their own independent accesses to the sea, unhindered by any sorts of malevolent designs. To this end, the Igbo masses do not fancy either the six geopolitical zones as presently advertized by some Igbo elites and other Southerners, and totally reject in particular, the notion that some parts of Igboland are carved into a South-South, just in order to add to or complete some people’s numbers, have them become a barely tolerated balancing force in others’ internecine troubles, or be a means of evolving a “landlocking” future for the rest of the Igbo nation.
Igbos would want the old Eastern Region restored, together with Igbo and other parts of the present Delta and Edo (Igbanke/Igbo Akiri) areas. That would include the western Ijaws as well, while our beloved Urhobo, Isoko, Bini and Itsekiri brothers can decide to join the East, West, or be on their own. The great sanguinary and historical ties that bind the peoples of the East and the resultant economies of scale will bring enormous prosperity to the Region and beyond, and that is the Igbo objective.
Igbos are not searching for someone to exploit or oppress. All Easterners should think seriously whether the artificially-engineered antagonisms of the past is a better option than coming together, in the face of a relentless feudal North in their needless struggles with the East, West and South. Fairness and good governance by Northern leaders would have solved all their problems, but being incapable of any, they are always on a war footing against everybody. The second choice, just in case anyone has not overcome his old prejudices against the Igbos, is this: The Igbos, Yorubas, Efik-Annang-central Ibibio and Ogoja, Ijaw,
Bini/Edo-Urhobo-Itsekiri-Isoko, Ogoni-Andoni, six in all, would each form their own Region in the South, with independent accesses to the coast, as had been the case before. Six or whatever other Regions would arise from the North and, after possible peacefully negotiated mergers, maybe between four and twelve strong and viable regions would emerge for Nigeria. These are equitable and peaceful options, presented in the full knowledge that only very few might initially bother, and that even before they are considered, some devil-may-care extremists would have ensured that things fall apart, and it shall be “to your tents oh Israel!”.
Prof Obasi Igwe Igwe teaches Political Science at University of Nigeria, Nsukka and can be reached at :obasiigwe2015 @gmail.com