By Ikechukwu Amaechi
THE usual refrain on the lips of Nigerian leaders, particularly those who successfully prosecuted the brutal civil war against the breakaway Biafran Republic is the indivisibility of the country.
One of them, General Ibrahim Babangida, in an interview with Arise Television on August 7, 2021 to mark his 80th birthday anniversary, put it rather bluntly: “When we were in the military, we talked about certain issues about Nigeria: the unity of Nigeria as far as we were concerned was a settled issue.”
While it would have been good if the unity of Nigeria was a settled issue, happenings in the country tend to suggest otherwise unless the unity Babangida and his ilk talk about is the agreement by those who won the war to exclude those that lost.
Otherwise, what kind of unity is it in a country where a people that constitute a significant percentage of the population are hated and despised not for any crime committed but for simply being who they are – Igbo. Two recent events prompted this reflection.
First, was the shameful conversion of the sacred altar of God by a Catholic priest as a launch pad for his vitriol against Igbo congregants in his parish.
On Sunday, February 6, Rev. Fr. James Anelu, the priest-in-charge of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Ewu-Owa Gberigbe, Ikorodu, Lagos State, abruptly, without provocation, stopped the singing of soul-lifting Igbo choruses and songs during a service he was conducting.
In a video that went viral, the visibly angry clergy pontificated that the excesses of Ndigbo must be curtailed if they are to be kept from “dominating other people in this parish”.
And what was the crime of the Igbo parishioners? They were joyfully singing and dancing to the altar of God during the second collection.
To the embittered and resentful priest, singing Igbo songs in a Catholic church in Yoruba land is an act of domination.
He was so incensed that he uttered a heresy: The spirit of God in any place recognises only languages indigenous to that geographical location.
It is instructive that Fr. Anelu is not Yoruba. If he had enquired about the history of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, he will probably find out that over 65 per cent of the money used in building the church and running it, including feeding him, was contributed by Igbo parishioners.
Barely 24 hours later, an obviously embarrassed Alfred Adewale Martins, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, issued a “disclaimer” directing Anelu to proceed on “an indefinite leave of absence”.
In the suspension letter which he personally signed, Archbishop Martins urged all “Catholic faithful to hold on to the faith and continue in our worship of God as one big family united in love and not separated by language, culture and race”.
I doubt if Anelu, wherever he is now, is penitent. He is simply consumed by hate. He is a victim of prejudice. And we commit a serious error of judgement if we think he is an outlier.
The second incident happened in Yola, Adamawa State. An Igbo businessman, Vincent Umeh, who lives in the state, bought a house from a willing seller, Ismail Mamman. Today, he cannot live in the property not because of any infraction of the law but simply because he is Igbo.
A Deputy Commissioner of Police, DCP, Ibrahim Baba Zango, currently serving in Lagos, says it is an insult for an Igbo to be his neighbour in Yola.
Umeh should reverse the purchase deal or face bitter consequences, including risking his life, DCP Babazango decreed. “We are a homogeneous community, I don’t want you; you can’t be my next door neighbour, I swear. What sort of insult is this? Can any Northerner move now to the South-East, say Onitsha and just bump into any neighbourhood to buy a property; just like that?” DCP Babazango asked Umeh on phone.
Such chutzpa may strike some as bizarre. But it is not. Just like Fr. Anelu, DCP Babazango is also not an outlier.
That is the humiliation Ndigbo are subjected to in their own country every day. From Lagos to Sokoto; from Bayelsa to Kebbi, they are being harassed every day for daring to invest and own properties in their own country.
Most times, some of these harassments are state-sanctioned. For instance, two weeks ago, the Kano State Sharia police, Hisbah, destroyed nearly four million bottles of beer in a crackdown on alcoholic beverages. The bottles were crushed into the ground by bulldozers in front of cheering crowds. After the bulldozers had done the job, Hisbah operatives then lit the crushed remains on fire and allowed the blaze to burn into the night.
“Kano is a sharia state and the sale, consumption and possession of alcoholic substances are prohibited,” the head of the religious police, Haruna Ibn Sina, crowed after supervising the mindless ruining of people’s lives.
Most of these businesses being destroyed are owned by Ndigbo. There is no law in Nigeria banning alcohol. Nigeria is deemed a secular state, yet Sharia law trumps the Constitution when Igbo businesses are involved. Nobody raises a whimper in defence of the right of the people to do legitimate business in their own country.
The irony is that just like Fr. Anelu who is sustained by offerings made by his Igbo parishioners, Hisbah officials are paid with money raised from the Value Added Tax, VAT, paid on the same alcoholic beverages they destroy with glee.
Those who blame Nnamdi Kalu and his Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, mentees for preaching secession ignore the asinine antics of Fr. Anelu and DCP Babazangos of this country, the same way those who blame Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu for declaring an independent Biafran nation in 1967 conveniently gloss over the waves of pogrom that resulted in the killing of thousands of innocent Igbo folks, patriotic Nigerians, most of them born in the North, with no other place to call home until the well-organised slaughter began in 1966.
Between May and October 1966, more than 30,000 Igbos and other Biafrans were killed in Northern Nigeria, and between October 1966 and June 1967 more than 100,000 more were massacred. In some instances pregnant women were killed, unborn babies pulled out of their wombs and murdered as well. Many of the victims were beheaded.
Those who defend that bestiality by invoking the equally condemnable killings in the January 15, 1966 coup conveniently ignore the fact that the Military Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Army, Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, and the cream of the Igbo officer corps were wiped out in the revenge coup of July 29, 1966.
They also forget that long before the January 15, 1966 coup, which was conveniently branded an Igbo putsch by those who had an extermination agenda, pogrom had been the lot of Ndigbo in the North.
A report, “Chronology of recorded killings of Biafrans in Nigeria: From June 22, 1945 to September 28, 2013”, put it this way: “The first incident in which the murder of Igbo people took place in Nigeria was in Jos on June 22, 1945. Hundreds of Ndigbo were murdered by the Hausa-Fulani during the pogrom and tens of thousands of pounds sterling worth of their property either looted or destroyed. No single person was apprehended or charged by the British regime nor an enquiry set to determine the “official” cause of this gruesome act.
“The second mass killing of Igbos and other Biafrans happened in Kano in 1953. In both cases, thousands of Igbo people with their families were brutally murdered and their property looted.”
What those who raise the spectre of Igbo domination simply because Ndigbo are everywhere forget is that the people love adventure. It did not start today and it is very unlikely to end tomorrow. Many Igbo leaders were born outside Igboland. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was born in Zungeru, a town in Niger State, on November 16, 1904, ten years before Nigeria’s birth after the amalgamation in 1914. Odumegwu-Ojukwu was born in the same Zungeru on November 4, 1933.
The fact is that Ndigbo love travelling. They enjoy it. That is who they are. Do they dominate their environments? No. Rather, they help in building up wherever they sojourn. That is a virtue not a vice, which should not call for envy and bad blood.
If all other Nigerians can imbibe that culture, the country will be better for it. Those who don’t want Ndigbo out of Nigeria and yet will not allow them to enjoy their full rights as citizens are the problems of this country, not Ndigbo.