A local newspaper, Emergency Digest, recently carried an interview with one Dr. Abdullah Gadon Kaya, who raised the alarm over the emergence of an exclusive Igbo “highbrow” area in Zungeru Road behind the Kano Airport.
I am taking Kaya to task over his assertion: “Government should not allow such to be happening when we cannot go to Onitsha, Aba or Enugu and create an exclusive place for Northerners like that”… In the first part of this article published last week, I analysed how Northerners are not known to build much outside their core Arewa cities.
They were given a place in Lokpanta, Abia State by former Abia Governor, Orji Kalu in 2001. To the absolute chagrin of their host community, they have taken with impunity more than ten times the size of land that Orji had initially given them, trading in livestock and food stuff. There is no decent building in that sprawling commune, only makeshift shacks.
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There are places in Enugu and Umuahia called “Gariki”, which is Hausa word for “cattle colony”. The natives even allowed the Hausa name the visitors gave to stand. But, in the North, the areas allocated to strangers to keep them away from the inner Islamic cities are called “Sabon Gari”. Even in places like Owerri, Aba and Iguocha (Port Harcourt) Northerners live in communes called “Ama Awusa”. This torpedoes Kaya’s claim (which is regularly bruited around by Northerners) that there are no places given to Northerners in the East. Since I was born I have always seen “Hausa people” in the East, doing what they do best – dealing in animal-related merchandise, selling foodstuff, working as butchers, mobile cobblers, Suya sellers, menial labourers and of course, beggars. Nobody disturbs or has any reason whatsoever to envy them.
To a much lesser extent, the same can be said of our Southern neighbours, the Yoruba. For some reasons unknown to me, they have also refrained from investing their enormous wealth in areas outside the Western Region as the Igbo have done. Long before I was born, the Yoruba had a huge presence in the Port Harcourt area. In the middle 1970s they also had noticeable presence in Aba and Onitsha peddling their speciality in the lace fabric trade. Late highlife legend, Victor Olaiya’s dad, was a tailor in Owerri. He spoke Igbo like an elder.
Also, in Enugu, the Yoruba professional class still maintains a tangible presence. But in all these cities, you can hardly point at much in terms of their physical contributions. The situation is a little better in the North, but you cannot compare what they have there with what the Igbo have. I do not think the Yoruba have enough in the far North to be blackmailed by the self-styled defenders of “Northern interests”. But they have overwhelming presence in their home region, the South West, which is traditionally the most massively urbanised region of Nigeria. In Lagos, they are the landlords not just in ethnic ownership but also in political and economic dominance.
The impression we get from the attitudes of the North and West is that if you find yourself outside your place of ethnic origin, never forget that you are a visitor. Exploit and send home like the Lebanese and Indians. “No matter where you go, remember the code that will take you home”, as popular South African singer, Master KG, warns. It is only the Igbo that do not heed this warning. Once they feel at home and have the money, they start building like lunatics. Meanwhile, back home in the East, they also build mansions that are of no use to anyone for most of the year but mere ego trips and painted sepulchres that create jobs only for village burglars.
Meanwhile, the people you are helping their economies, paying taxes to and giving employment to their people have nothing but contempt, envy and hostility for you. They blackmail you and wait for the slightest opportunity to strike you down. If it is not disenfranchisement and regular market fires as in Lagos, it will be “blasphemy” murders, pogroms, destruction of goods by Muslim Sharia law enforcers and “quit notices” as in the North.
Igbo people do not learn from their own painful history, so they repeat it. In spite of undisguised hostility stoked by the Buhari regime against them, some comedians only the other day announced themselves as a “new tribe” called “Igbos of Arewa”! Yoruba people have lived far longer than Igbo in the North. Kwara and Kogi, which are parts of the old Northern Region have substantial Yoruba populations. Up to 50 per cent of Yoruba people are Muslims compared to the Igbo which have a population of less than one per cent Muslims. Yet, Yoruba people in Kogi and Kwara see themselves as South Westerners, which they are.
Igbo people never want to understand the kind of people they are sharing a country with. Out of over 300 ethnic groups, you are the only one building in other people’s lands in a manner as to alarm them and constantly put your life at risk. Is that wisdom? Is that even common sense? Igbo people think Nigeria is like America where anybody from any part of the world can come and live the American dream whereby a second generation African, Barack Obama, can become president.
Those self-styled “Igbos of the North” better be warned that the march to freedom has gathered pace. Freedom within a restructured equitable Nigeria in which all of us will have a sense of belong, or freedom in Biafra. The Igbo youth of today will no longer look back because of “our brothers in the North”. If you see fire and you put your hand in it, it will burn you. It is your hand, and your pain. Termites, keep on building.