By Obi Nwakanma
A new development is now taking place in the East of Nigeria: Police and personnel of the Armed Forces are now targeted for execution by an increasingly faceless and ferocious group.
The latest is the example this week of the attack on Charles Solu, Professor of Economics, and former Governor of the Central Bank, and contender under the APGA for the Governorship of Anambra State.
This is dangerous at so many levels. It is true that Easterners have long suffered under the brutality of soldiers and policemen who have become visible symbols of a failed state, targeting them, however, must stop.
Such acts of political vengeance will spiral out of control, and grow into their own beast. But it is important to examine the roots of this growing attack on state institutions.
The current generation of the Igbo is spiritually and emotionally, uncoupled from Nigeria. It is a terrible situation, and indeed a tragic turn of events.
It is more so because the Igbo are the spine of this federation. If you break the spine of the nation, it becomes crippled.
When you go up and down Nigeria, the Igbo constitute the most active economic and cultural force that welds Nigeria.
These people are driven by an independent and free spirit, whom anthropologists have described as “freedom-loving people.”
The real character of the Igbo has very often been mistaken by those who do not understand them, or who hardly study them. They accuse the Igbo of extreme “individualism.” That is a false misreading. The Igbo are driven by what I call the “liberty-impulse.”
That is what their adversaries mistake for “individualism.” There are two connected domains or spaces of the self in the Igbo psyche: there is the “onwe m” – the single autonomous, self-acting agent, and there is “Onwe anyi” – the idea of the “collective self.”
The idea of the “onwe” – self, has roots in the Igbo word, “inwe” – to own. In other words, the “self” in the Igbo conscious articulation of that hermeneutic is an autonomous condition, which cannot be intruded upon by any external force.
The “collective selves” – Onwe anyi – contains a unity of these seamless conditions of autonomous beingness. That is why nobody can claim to speak for the Igbo with absolute authority.
Every Igbo is defined by self-interest which must be fully acknowledged within the larger interest. The Igbo are liberated culturally from the fear of an overwhelming power or authority since traditionally, every Igbo is an authority unto himself/herself.
The Igbo self is the guide to any moral or material aspirations. The Igbo do not make kings. They have consistently told this to the world: “Igbo Enwegh Eze.” The Igbo make no kings. The Igbo have no King.
In spite of some pretenders today who call themselves “Royal Majesties” and “Royal Highnesses,” (a rather witty fellow did add “royal high arses,”) who dress and appear in all kinds of ridiculous masquerade costumes in public, with certificates signed by Local government chairmen making them “Igwe’ or “Eze” or some such aberration over Igbo “Autonomous Communities,” the true Igbo continue to maintain their self-aware and autonomous, and often inviolate independence.
They amuse themselves occasionally by the royal theater of these pseudo-monarchies. But that is all there is to it. Theatre. To the Igbo “Chukwu Wu Eze Ndi Igbo” – only God is King of the Igbo. No human is king to the Igbo. And sometimes, they say, “Oha Wu Eze.” When Igbo people gather, they constitute the Igbo sovereign.
This probably has roots in that very republican idea often mistakenly attributed to the Athenians; or in that Latin conception of people’s power: “Vox Populi, Vox Dei.” The voice of the People is the voice of God.
The Igbo have always known these, and had organized the idea of the Republic, thousands of years before Solon, the founding father of the Athenian state returned to Athens and introduced this system of government, which he learnt from the Egyptians as the practice of a more ancient civilization by people who lived in the lands heading South, towards the rise of the sun in the Atlantean direction.
I have outlined all these to assert two primary conclusions: one, those who have mistaken Igbo sense of freedom and the impulse of liberty for extreme individualism misjudge Igbo capacity for collective action. To the Igbo, the individual self (onwe m) is “primary” but the collective (onwe anyi), once fully constituted, is “prior.”
This Igbo theory and practice of the complimentary selves is what often confuses Igbo adversaries. The individual self very frequently is subsumed into the collective self, after a long, tedious, repetitive, and sometimes mind-twisting process of disputation that often leaves people unfamiliar with Igbo consensus-building impatient and dispirited.
The Igbo are slow to agree on anything and argue over everything under the sun. For every topic, if there are one thousand Igbo in a room, there is bound to be one thousand points of difference and opinions on the same issue.
But that is where people often misunderstand the Igbo. That is where the strength of the Igbo lie. It is that process that allows the Igbo to embark on the difficult process of introspection and self-questioning in order to find a common ground towards collective action.
The Igbo is free to disagree with the rest of the Igbo. But once an agreement is reached in what the Igbo call, “Ikwe ko Rita,” which is by inclusive discussions and negotiations that are tedious and diplomatic, the true Igbo is bound by such agreements.
Once the Igbo raises the call, “Igbo Kwenu! Kwe Zuonu!” through an appointed spokesman who articulates the points of agreement, every Igbo irrespective of title or social standing, becomes bound to the collective will and its objective.
It is here that individual interest becomes inferior to collective interest. It is left then to each household of the Igbo to enforce the Igbo compact, at the risk of ex-communication, at the very least. This is the Igbo way.
Thus far, the general mood in Igbo land is disinterest in the affairs of Nigeria. Every Igbo household accepts this. A vast number of the Igbo are disaffected and alienated from Nigeria, and those Igbo middlemen who go about claiming to speak for the Igbo must tell the Nigerian authorities the truth.
Inside Igbo land today, a debate is raging about the future of the Igbo in Nigeria, and many of these folks have no control over it. They must therefore be careful in laying it all out there because this mood is new and dangerous.
It has been said that some folks met recently in Owerri to “chart the course for an Igbo presidency.” But do the Igbo want the presidency? Clearly, some do. Some don’t. Listen to a man like Mr. Achike Udenwa, for instance, former governor of Imo state.
In his interview recently in the Sun Newspaper. He very clearly said the Igbo are not interested in the presidency. They want a restructuring of Nigeria first. What kind of president would it be, in the current political system? Clearly, two main factions have emerged in Igbo land today as I feared they would: there is the militant separatist movement, whose main arrowhead today is the IPOB.
They are driving a very youthful militant uprising which is creating a political storm in the old East. This neo-Biafra movement rests squarely on unsettled grievances; it began to assume new militant dimensions because of the failed politics of Muhammadu Buhari whose policies and doctrine of nepotism drove a permanent wedge with long-suffering Igbo youth.
The serial acts of misgovernance by this administration only added lint to the fire. There are the “One Nigerianists” – who, though disenchanted with Nigeria, do not see separation as much of a political choice.
Their argument is quite simple: Nigeria is a work in progress; Buhari’s time will come and go; the Igbo have invested too much in Nigeria to allow it to perish; it is therefore in the long term strategic interest of the Igbo and other Nigerian ethnicities to work together and revamp Nigeria to fulfill the terms of its founding as Africa’s super-state.
The separatists think the One-Nigerianists “romantic day-dreamers” who do not yet see how unworkable a contraption Nigeria is, and has become.
What is currently playing out in the East is the exact scenario in Ireland during the era of the troubles, leading to the 1915 Easter Massacres, captured in W.B. Yeats poem, “Easter, 1915,” and leading therefrom to the growth of the armed militancy of the Irish Republican Army against the Unionists.
The IPOB is increasingly like the IRA and may someday, arrive at its organizational network if it continues to evolve, and if its leadership grows the organizational skills and intellectual depth, and the fierce nationalist zeal of the founders of the Irish Republican Army.
The downside of course is that soon, there may be the equivalent of the “troubles” in Igbo land and Nigeria – with all the assassinations, tortures, bombings, and executions that characterized the Irish militant resistance. These things happen and echo each other.
Taking all these into view, what must the Igbo and Nigeria, in general, do now, before it all goes out of hand? That is the question, and I do not know the answer. The little inkling I have is, Igbo youth, like many of their colleagues in Nigeria are frustrated by the Nigerian state.
They have no outlets for self-expression. They have no hopes. They are materially poor. Young folk, many at 35 are still unsettled, without prospects, without income; without companionable relationships, and thus restless.
This is especially so among the Igbo with the highest unemployment rate among a highly educated and skilled population. This is what is driving the separatists – a desire to be free of the burden called “Nigeria.”
These young men, liberated from the intimidations of high authority, and constructed along the principles of self-determination, inside the concept of “onwem” and “onwe anyi” are taking their destiny into their hands.
They have increasingly no regard for their “elders” whom they think, rightly or wrongly, as the core of the “One-Nigerianists” that have betrayed them politically. Thunder can break, writes the poet Okigbo. And when it breaks, the reverberations will not only be heard in Igbo land.
Truth is: the rustle of restless youth in Igbo land, where many folks are already alienated, is a mirror of Buhari’s Nigeria. It spreading like cancer to other regions. It was bad before Buhari was elected. But it is now exponentially worse since he arrived, riding with his four horsemen of the apocalypse.