By John Iyene Owobokiri
I had not planned to do a sequel to the article that was published under this title by the Vanguard on Saturday, March 16 but I have read comments made by our Yoruba brothers that cannot be left unanswered, not to defend, justify or fortify the positions I had attached my name to but to clarify. Let us get the identity matter out of the way first.
I am an Ijaw man from Rivers State. I am not Igbo but I feel no sense of outrage or shame, only pride in my identification, that is, the identification of my people by a few ignorant and mischievous people as “Omo Ibo.” Some would ask what my business is in this matter and I would respond that it concerns me in every way.
Whatever afflicts any part of the human family afflicts all and that is why continental Africans, the comity of nations and men of goodwill all over the world and even in the United States of America fought against racism in America, against Jim Crow in the Southern states of America and why the Northern states of the United States fought a civil war against their Southern brothers who held on to slavery as a means of production. That is why Nigeria and the defunct Organisation of African Unity invested human lives and huge financial resources in the fight against Apartheid in South Africa.
Racial relations all over the world are still in a state of flux and men of goodwill all over the world must continue to speak against discrimination based on race, colour and ethnicity; indeed against all forms of discrimination. Again, a man who stands by while his neighbour’s home is consumed by flames should expect to fight alone when his own home goes up in flames.
How can any sane person defend and justify the attempt to exclude Igbos from participating in the politics of Lagos? Are they excluded from paying tax to the Nigerian state and the authorities of Lagos? Do the policies and actions of the Nigerian president and the governor of Lagos not affect their lives and businesses? How do Africans of one nation, bound by the same laws, facing the same challenges from nature, irresponsible governance and an insecure society, justify the exclusion of their fellows from the debate to achieve better living conditions only on the basis that they speak a different tongue from theirs?
Is Nigerian federalism structured in such lines that indigenous people of the North East can only participate in the politics of the North East? What kind of shameless impunity permits us the enjoyment of the oil and gas resources of Igbo people and suffer them disenfranchisement in our states? How can you stop Igbos from voting in Lagos when your kin in Igbo states freely vote candidates of their choice?
And now the big question: how indeed does the exercise of franchise imbue ownership rights over land on a people? Did Obama, a first generation American from Kenya take or get even a square inch of free land by becoming president of the United States? But we all know that the events of Okota/Isolo were not inspired by the fear of domination or the loss of real estate as some would have us believe.
Let us stop the pretense and tell ourselves the truth as to what Okota/Isolo was all about. As my friend, a Yoruba engineer in Port Harcourt said to me, a section of the Yoruba political class had decided to support Muhammadu Buhari in order to come into the presidency in 2023 and who knows, maybe along the way to 2023, the “Yar’Adua phenomenon” might occur to benefit Prof. Osinbajo. The vice president had himself exhorted his Yoruba compatriots to vote the APC in order for them to enjoy a nice home run into Aso Rock come 2023, depriving their Igbo compatriots who by all interpretations of Nigerian political logic should have a go at the presidency in 2023. It is okay that those plotting to scuttle the Igbo chance feel no shame and feel justified to do so. It is also okay that the few Yoruba who seek to supplant the Igbo in their rightful bid to produce the president of Nigeria in 2023 are also attempting to do so by suppressing the franchise of Ndi Igbo and deploying the unconvincing subterfuge of losing land to Igbos in Lagos.
These plotters feel convinced that the folk they plot against lack the sophistry to see through their plans. They are terribly mistaken. There are only a pocket of Igbo leaders that are genuinely interested in the Nigerian presidency.
Having suffered huge human casualties in the Nigerian civil war, lost businesses, homes as “abandoned” properties, sadly to my own people, and political discrimination in the hands of the political elite of Nigeria, the Igbo of Eastern Nigeria are mostly focused on a single project: working assiduously to develop and fortify their businesses and careers.Anyone who imagines that losing the Nigerian presidency in 2023 would give them sleepless nights does not appreciate the motivating force that propels these ingenious natives of our country.
From creating multi-billion naira businesses out of twenty pound wallets, from constructing multi-storey hotels all over the country after losing single-storey houses and cottages to the immoral and ugly Abandoned Property saga of Rivers State and from moving from seeming pawns on the chess board of Nigerian society to kings and queens, the Igbos of Nigeria have established the immutable fact that they are dynamic, resilient and irrepressible.
So it is vain you will cast your
Charmed political snares in their path,
They are Ndi Igbo surmounting
For the first and several repeated times
Must they weep for Okota and Isolo?
For the presidency, burnt votes or Jimmy Agbaje?
Offices and stratagems do not develop
The means to restrain an Igboman
In these words adapted from the classic “Abiku” poem of Elder Wole Soyinka, Nigerians can find and accept the wisdom that it takes much more than burning their votes, suppressing their franchise or chanting meaningless slogans about their return to their states of origin, to curtail and contain the Igbo. There are valid and practical choices open to Nigeria and the ethnic nationalities that have shamelessly cheated Igbos and their South South brothers [yes, their brothers who were offered the Greek gift of statehood and fake independence in 1967 from the Eastern Region and trickily denuded of the “independence” in 1969 of proprietary rights and dignity by the dispossessing Petroleum Decree].
The paths of honour for Nigeria and Nigerians are either to allow the Igbo and their brethren thrive as equals in the Nigerian enterprise and deploy the opportunity of their closeness to clone the technology of their uncommon feats of success or allow them develop their original territories outside the strictures of a stifling constitution and a hostile environment driven by hate, fear and open envy.
- John Iyene Owubokiri, legal practitioner, wrote in from Port Harcourt