By Douglas Anele
Most Nigerians do not know that at independence and before Alhaji Tafawa Balewa’s government began implementing the merit-destroying northernisation policy Igbo people also dominated the officer corps of the Nigerian army whereas northerners populated the junior ranks and Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) cadres.
The historian, Max Siollun, in his book Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976), corroborates this when he reports that “in the ethnic stratification of the officer corps, between 65-70% of the army majors were Igbo.”
Expectedly the northernisation programme led to a steep drop in the quality of new intakes into the army as northern leaders insisted on an ethnic quota system of recruitment. As a result 60% was given to the north, 15% each to the eastern and western regions, while the remaining 10% went to the mid-west.
That is not all: the British colonial administration ensured that the bulk of critical military infrastructure and installations were located in the northern region, which consolidated the military advantage of northern Nigeria over the south. Alexander Madiebo, in his highly informative work, The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War, draws attention to the potential dangers of citing most military installations in one region.
He also informs that “in the name of ‘ethnic balance’ military hospitals were staffed with doctors trained in Kano for about three years in preference to doctors of southern Nigeria origin with internationally recognised diplomas.”
The warning by Madiebo about the lopsided military installations in the north played out with deadly effect during the civil war as the newly formed Republic of Biafra under Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu from the very beginning could not muster up to one-tenth of the military resources available to the Nigerian side.
After the war, successive northern military dictators reinforced the policy of exclusion against Ndigbo in the army which ensured that the Igbo never returned to the enviable position they occupied before the quota system of recruitment was introduced.
Northern consolidation of its stranglehold on the military, including the exclusionary attitude of post-war military governments towards Igbo people,is understandable. One of the proximate consequences of armed conflictis that extremists amongst the victors always insist on treating the defeated side with negative triumphalist impunity in order to exact maximum revenge, a situation that encourages animosity and lays the psychological foundation for future conflict.
At any rate, it is not surprising that a sizeable number of Ndigbo still bear grudges against northerners and the Yoruba for the genocidal Biafran war whereas most Igbo-haters are convinced that the Igbo deserve whatever ill treatment they have been getting for the same reason, all of which are inimical to the growth of genuine national consciousness and feeling of oneness in the country. In my opinion, for Igbo people generally the deep psychological wounds of the civil war have not completely healed more than fifty-one years after it ended.
An important point Igbophobes and Igbo-haters often overlook when accusing Ndigbo of dominating everywhere in the 1950s and 1960s before the second military coup is that the Igbo got their preeminent positions largely on merit.
In other words, it was not the outcome of an arbitrary quota system implemented to favour Igbo people in particular. That is why there is no documented evidence of a discriminatory arrangement or quota system which gave them undue advantage over members of other ethnic groups, unlike the northernisation policy we talked about earlier which was deliberately and decidedly pro-north.
Let me say it without equivocation: Ndigbo as a group have a reputation for industry, hard work and hunger (some say obsession) for individual success rooted in self-confidence and can-do attitude.Any non-Igbo reading this will probably dismiss my claim as prejudice arising from ethnic chauvinism.
But the facts are there and the truth should not be concealed or coated with politically correct platitudes to create a false impression of belief in One Nigeria or just because those who dislike Ndigbo for no good reason might not be comfortable with it.
More than members of any other ethnic group in Nigeria Ndigbo are everywhere contributing substantially to the development of their places of domicile. In most major towns and cities outside Igboland, after the indigenes Igbo people come second demographically and in terms of building meaningful lives for themselves and others living in the same area.
If you do not believe what I just said then ask yourself this question: What would Abuja, Ibadan, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos and other prominent towns across Nigeria have been without the Igbo? The honest answer is that those cities would be emaciated shadows of what they are right now.
That is the main reason why Prof. Tekena Tamuno, the noted historian, describes Ndigbo as the makers of modern Nigeria. To reiterate: generally the Igbo, sometimes referred to as the Jews of Africa, are the most industrious, success-driven, ambitious and resilient people in Nigeria.
Of course, this does not mean that every Igbo has the right combination of these qualities or that the attributes in question are non-existent in the Fulani, Hausa, Kanuri, Nupe and so on. There are industrious and lazy people in all ethnic groups, but Igbo culture seems to be more radioactive to indolence or persistent laziness in individuals than the rest.
But what is responsible for the Igbo character, that is, the ensemble of attributes that made Ndigbo stand out and succeed acrossNigeria despite daunting challenges? Prof. Chinua Achebe provides an insight into the issue when he explains that aside from their numerical strength “Igbo culture, individualistic and highly competitive, gave the Igbo man an unquestioned advantage over his compatriots in securing credentials for advancement in Nigerian colonial society.
Unlike the Hausa [and the] Fulani he was unhindered by a wary religion, and unlike the Yoruba he was unhampered by traditional hierarchies. This kind of creature, fearing no god or man, was custom-made to grasp opportunities, such as they were, of the white man’s dispensations.”
What Achebe is describing here can be rendered in more prosaic terms as the behavioural and psychological advantage a typical Igbo derives from the social character of Igbo peoplein general or, in other words, the essential core of the character structure of majority of Ndigbo which emerged from the basic experiences and mode of life common to the people themselves.
Without any iota of doubt there are many Igbo with a different character structure from what was referred to a moment ago as the Igbo character. Still, the personal character of such a deviantis a variation of the essential general character traits and arises from the accidental variables of birth and life experiences as they differ from one individual to another. The same thing, that is, the phenomenon of deviancy, applies mutatis mutandis to members of other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
Notwithstanding the intellectual and psychological advantage Igbo culture confers on the individual which promotes the drive for success and achievement, a serious weakness in the Igbo character which sometimes threaten to overshadow the positive attributes deserves serious attention.
Experts in the relevant disciplines affirm that there is a natural inclination for successful human beings to be arrogant, condescending to the less successful, unduly overbearing, and blind to their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities employed in the north.
As we observed earlier, after the Biafran war members of the dominant faction of the northern conservative military-civilian establishment in the corridors of power continued the Sardauna’s apartheid policy against the Igbo.
For them, Ndigbo are lower class citizens that should ingratiate themselves before Fulani caliphate colonialists in order to make any headway economically and politically at the federal level, and the obnoxious quota system was a readymade tool for that.
Apparently without lowering standards it would have been virtually impossible for northernersto compete and outperform Ndigbo in various aspects of human endeavour that depend on individual initiative, creativity, industriousness and self-reliance.
This is very evident especially in the education sector where cut-off marks for admission at various levels of formal education are deliberately lowered to accommodate underperforming northern candidates whereas Igbo candidates with far better scores are denied admission.
In the informal sector Ndigbo have continued to play the role of primus inter paresin the economic development of prominent northern towns and cities in spite of obnoxious crippling policies together with periodic violence or pogrom targeted against them.
On the other hand aside from recent increase in the number of cattle dealers in the south-east due to opportunities provided by selfish bulimic factotums of the Fulani oligarchy like Orji Uzor Kalu, Hope Izodinma and Dave Umahi majority of northerners in Igboland are barely managing to survive as beggars, low-grade artisans, gatemen, petty traders, okadariders and kekeoperators who mostly live in very squalid conditions.
Consequently if all the northerners in Igboland were to pack and go to their respective states, it would make a tiny mark, not a dent, in the lives of the people whereas if people of Igbo extraction had left the northen massesome time ago as ordered by a rag-tag collection of irascible northern youths, the negative economic impact on the north would have been serious.
This claim will irritate northern Igbophobes and Igbo-haters who often shamelessly and falsely claim that Igbo people put insurmountable obstacles that prevent members of other ethnic groups from establishing and progressing in Igboland.
They conveniently forget that Ndigbo face even greater obstacles than the ones they are referring to and, yet, they continue to soldier on because of two main reasons: one, their indefatigable can-do attitude and, two, they take the concept of One Nigeria seriously.
That said, with the decades-olddivisive policy of Igbo exclusion by the northern ruling cabal and their acolytes from the south epitomised in the odious nepotism of President Muhammadu Buhari, it is time for Igbo people to begin a critical re-examination ofwhat it really means to be an Igbo in Nigeria.
To be continued…