By Douglas Anele
For a sizeable number of the Igbo, President Muhammadu Buhari has confirmed further his ingrained pro-Fulani attitude and dislike for the Igbo by his different responses to vicious land-grabbing Fulani herdsmen and peaceful IPOB members agitating for Biafra restoration. Accordingly, whereas the federal government has been bending over backwards with some bizarre proposals to appease murderous Fulani herdsmen terrorising north-central states and some communities in the south-east, IPOB was hastily declared a terrorist organisation and an obnoxious military expedition codenamed Operation Python Dance was dispatched to Igboland to intimidate, maim and kill peaceful protesters mostly armed with Biafran flags and leaflets only.
As if that was not enough, the President humiliated Ndigbo once again recently when he was quoted as saying, while campaigning for re-election somewhere in the east, that he did not appoint an Igbo as a top security chief because he did not find anyone who merited such a position. From an unbiased point of view, any ethnic nationality that has been treated disdainfully the way Ndigbo has been treated by Buhari’s government can make a valid case of marginalisation and internal colonisation. The occasional half-hearted gestures by President Buhari, his media aides and a handful of bulimic bootlickers pretending to be Igbo leaders to placate Ndigbo are mere tokenisms that cannot make a typical Igbo change his or her mind on the issue of Buhari’s insensitive attitude towards Igboland.
Consequently, a vast majority of Igbo people who might ignore IPOB’s election boycott order will not vote for Buhari in February 16 because, aside from his poor performance in over three and half years, they believe that he just does not like Ndigbo. And since the outcome of the 2015 presidential election has shown that one can be elected President without getting up to 10 percent of total votes in the south-east, Buhari and his APC henchmen are actually campaigning there to fulfil all righteousness.
It must be pointed out that although the quest for the resuscitation of the sovereign state of Biafra has been in fits and starts since 1999, it gained momentum after Muhammadu Buhari became President due to his nepotic unprecedented anti-Igbo approach to governance. A growing number of Igbo youths are disillusioned with Nigeria. They feel, with good reasons, that the country has been deliberately disfigured since 1967 by the northern military cum political establishment to dominate the south, particularly the Igbo, in furtherance of late Ahmadu Bello’s vision of Nigeria as a colony of the Fulani. As we adumbrated earlier, for a typical Igbo the incumbent President has taken the core north’s anti-Igbo mentality to the “next level,” and the increasing influx of northerners into Igbo heartland has fuelled suspicion of covert Islamisation agenda by the Fulani ruling power block supported by the Bola Tinubu faction of the Yoruba establishment and a handful of greedy unintelligent Igbo politicians bereft of historical insight.
All the same, it is a big mistake for the Igbo to continuously blame northerners and their lackeys from other ethnic nationalities without acknowledging that Ndigbo themselves are also partly responsible for the sorry condition of Igboland today. This very problem started even before independence. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was so obsessed with the concept of Pan-Nigeriana that he ignored the ringing caliphate colonialist signals from leading prominent northern politicians of the First Republic and the dangers of unitarism for Nigeria as a fractious, multiply plural, colonial amalgam. A point often neglected by commentators on Nigerian history is that despite his political sagacity, Dr. Azikiwe exaggerated the capacity of Ndigbo to thrive in a highly unified Nigerian state. Moreover, he did not foresee the radioactive consequences of envy or jealousy directed against the “uppity” Igbo by members of other ethnic nationalities who saw the pre-eminent position of Ndigbo in the top echelons of the military, federal civil service and informal economy nationwide after independence as proof of Igbo plot to dominate other Nigerians.
Later, when northern soldiers led by Lt. Col. Yakubu took over power on July 29, 1966 – which coincided with the period when export of petroleum domiciled in the eastern and mid-western regions had virtually supplanted agriculture as the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy – the military government seized the opportunity to further consolidate and expand the system already established by the British colonial administration through which resources from the south were deployed to develop the north. Successive military administrations dominated by northerners cleverly used the Unification Decree 34 and subsequent ones promulgated by Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Ibrahim Babangida, and Sani Abacha as a pretext to reconstitute Nigeria’s geopolitical architectonic in a format that entrenched northern grip on political power at the centre and increased the flow of economic resources northwards from the south.
Although to the best of my knowledge a completely accurate record of the disproportionate percentage of revenue derivation from and distribution to northern and southern Nigeria from 1966 to date is unavailable, there is no doubt that the north is getting much more than it is contributing to the country’s treasury. This point becomes more obvious when one considers that export of crude oil since 1970 contributes between 70 to 85 percent of Nigeria’s foreign revenue, and the remainder is almost completely sourced from Custom duties and (more recently) value added tax (VAT) collected mainly from the south, whereas the criteria for sharing the collected revenue, namely, land mass, equality of states, population, and number of local government areas, are all deliberately configured or designed to favour northern Nigeria.
It follows that the north which contributes less than ten percent of the federal revenue probably receives over fifty percent of it from the central government. Expectedly, the case of south-east is worse, because during and after the war, successive governments excised several oil-bearing Igbo communities from Igbo heartland where they originally belonged and ceded them to other states dominated by non-Igbo speaking peoples, thereby reducing drastically the quantum of money accruing to Igboland from the principle of derivation.
Some prominent northerners led by Prof. Ango Abdullahi invent fallacious arguments and fake “facts” ad nauseam in a futile attempt to obscure the obvious fact that the dominant segment of the northern establishment is averse to fiscal federalism because the present grotesque arrangement is beneficial to members of the oppressive northern elite. These northerners forget that the current political economy is unfair, unjust and grossly inefficient. Moreover, most northern leaders are lazy and have no incentive to develop the enormous potentials in their region due to the bad habit of over reliance on handouts from the federal government.
Now, because a significant number of Ndigbo think that the northern ruling establishment and their southern collaborators (including, sadly, a handful of efulefu Igbo) have not been fair to Igboland, they have joined the call for restructuring or, in the extreme, for the resuscitation of Biafra. Based on media reports, majority of the Igbo elite tend to favour the first option, while the youths tend to prefer the second. It is within this broad context that one can understand the appeal of Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB across Igboland.
In a previous essay, I argued that the federal government’s insensitive handling of the IPOB agitation is responsible for the transformation of a relatively unknown Nnamdi Kanu to the status of a genuine freedom fighter and liberating force in the eyes of his admirers across Igboland and beyond. Millions of Ndigbo are now convinced that the irascible crush-them attitude of this government towards Kanu and his group stems from the President’s anti-Igbo mindset. Buhari’s pro-Boko Haram statements in a programme aired by Liberty Radio in 2013 and the appeasement of so-called Fulani herdsmen also lends credence to that conviction.
Aside from Buhari’s anti-Igbo outlook, there is no other reason why, if his government has negotiated with a terrorist group like Boko Haram the same opportunity was not offered to IPOB. So, why should only Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB be blamed for their negative attitude towards Nigeria as presently constituted and governed? What would the President lose if he calls Kanu as a father would a rebellious son and discuss with him sincerely and with an open mind and good heart to arrive at a satisfactory compromise? Correct answers to those two questions will throw some light on the intractable National Question and the related issue of whether for the Igbo labouring under all manner of obstacles placed on their path by the state the Nigerian project is worth sustaining.
Clearly, Nnamdi Kanu is one of the millions of Ndigbo disillusioned by the current degraded status of his people in Nigeria despite their unequalled contributions to national development, and is passionate about doing something to change the situation.