By OBINNA EZUGWU
There is one sure way to achieve fame in Nigeria: Write attack articles against the Igbo. The article doesn’t have to have any truth in it. Just cobble a few paragraphs of propaganda or outright falsehood. Try to blame the Igbo for all the problems that bedevil Nigeria, even those of Boko Haram and banditry, not forgetting the Fulani herdsmen. Many would buy it wholesale and circulate on social media. They would organise themselves into Igbo hate groups and vent their spleen. For that moment, nothing else matters, not even their own miseries. Igbo hate, for many, is a kind of escape from the harsh realities of their own lives and the tragedy of today’s Nigeria.
I have come across a number of the anti Igbo propaganda in the past few days. One, which prompted this intervention, is a certain opinion article titled, “The scam in the Biafra agitation process” written by one Michael Owhoko and published in some national dailies. The article is basically accusing Biafra promoters and indeed the Igbo of trying to force the old Eastern minorities into their “Biafra scam” for the purpose of dominating them. And although not often expressed, stealing their oil.
This baseless propaganda about the Igbo or pro Biafra advocates wanting to annex others is so popular that it’s become one of the easiest ways to divert the attention of those who bear the brunt of Nigeria’s repressive ‘federalism.’
The Igbo are always that boogeyman used to scare people off and put them in check whenever it appears they are becoming conscious of their own miseries. The argument then is simple: it is better to be in today’s Nigeria with all its tragic realities than to risk total annihilation in the hands of the Igbo. It sells like hot ‘akara’ in a cold hamattan morning. It reinforces already held stereotypes and baseless apprehension about a certain Igbo ‘monsters’ waiting to devour their neighbours.
To drive home his point and justify his apprehension, Mr. Owhoko had gone down memory lane to recall the ‘oppression’ of the minorities which gave birth to the Willinks Commission set up to look into those allegations. But if himself, and those who cite the commission as evidence of Igbo oppression of the minorities ever took time to read through its findings, they would have realised that the allegations were mostly found to be baseless. I have shared excerpts from the findings of the commission below.
One would have ignored such lame propaganda but for the fact that it’s being pushed into mainstream national discuss by those who should know better. But who obviously can’t grow beyond pettiness. It’s inconceivable to think that the Igbo want to force anyone into Biafra when themselves never reached a consensus on Biafra. But since the very foundation of the country is shaking on account of escalating frontiers of terrorism, banditry and criminality, and the mass poverty that has left money hopeless. And as restructuring becomes seemingly inevitable, there is need, I imagine, by those desperate to preserve the status quo to create a monster in the Igbo on whose heads the challenges would be ‘resolved.’ There is perhaps no better way to explain the many anti Igbo propaganda flying around these days.
The accusation that the Igbo are forcing other groups into Biafra stems, perhaps, from the fact that the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) led by the brash Nnamdi Kanu is floating a certain ridiculous Biafra map that not only includes the old Eastern minority territories, but also those of ethnic groups in the middle belt and parts of the former old Midwest region. The map is annoying and has been opposed by majority of the Igbo themselves. Apparently, Kanu sees himself as a certain messiah sent to save the trapped constituents of the Nigerian federation. But if he had much knowledge of history, he would have known better. The Igbo are a people many in Nigeria love to hate. The idea of an Igbo wanting to “liberate” others is completely ill-advised. It would only an attempt to repeat a very unpleasant history.
The five majors that were the arrow head of the first military coup of January 1966, consisting of one Yoruba and four Igbo did so for the same would be noble ideas. In his book, “Why We Struck: The Story of the First Nigerian Coup,” Adewale Ademoyega who happens to be the only one of the five majors that lived to tell the story, narrated clearly that their motivation for the coup, among other things, were the brutal military suppression of the middle belt minorities, especially the Tiv by the Tafawa Balewa government and the chaos in the Western Region, the famed operation “Wetie” that resulted from the mindless rigging of the region’s 1962 election, again, by the Balewa government and its allies in the region led by Samuel Akintola.
As Ademoyega inferred in his book, their idea was to install Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was not only rigged out in the said election, but also imprisoned for treason, as prime minister. But in the aftermath, when the push eventually came to shove, nobody cared about such motivations. Everyone saw an opportunity to kill the Igbo who they already held in contempt for their successes in various fields. When the war came, the middle belt joined up with the Balewa’s north to butcher the Igbo. Indeed before then was the massacre of the same Igbo in the region. Who could ever forget the pathetic story of the last train ride to Biafra? Of course, Awolowo’s own Western region also assumed front line role in the attempt to exterminate the Igbo. He justified mass starvation of innocent women and children as a legitimate instrument of war, while the Black Scorpion, Benjamin Adekunle wanted no Caritas and no Red Cross to interfere in his mission to kill every living thing in the Igbo country, including all that moved and those that didn’t move.
But even before the start of hostilities, there was an attempt by Gen. Joseph Arthur Ankrah of Ghana to broker an agreement between the late Biafra leader, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu and the federal side led by Yakubu Gowon in Aburi which resulted in the Aburi Accord, an agreement that prescribed a loose federation which remains the only viable solution to the Nigerian tragedy. But it was reneged upon by the Gowon on the advice of Britain which had own interest in Nigeria, and the Midwest and other minority groups in the civil service. Five decades later, however, many are now asking for the same arrangement they rejected and proceeded to waste an estimated 2.5 souls.
I must also point out that that Ojukwu was quite stubborn and could have saved the day by listening to the advice of the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe and diplomats on the continent who wanted him to shelve the idea of secession in the meantime. But in the event, he insisted – angered understandably by the mass killing of the Igbo in the north and the renege on the Aburi agreement – on secession at a point when Britain and other European allies had decided that the ‘less humans’ they forced together into amorphous nations in Africa must remain together as secession was now a very bad thing.
Ojukwu was stubborn, convinced in the nobility of his ideals and the ‘fairness’ of his Biafra project. But the world works differently. It is not a fair place. And he ought to have taken into cognisance the already existing animosity towards the Igbo in the Eastern region and should have allowed the minorities room to decide their own path. Nnamdi Kanu, convinced, it would seem, by the idea that the entrapped peoples of Nigeria should be liberated, is also stubbornly drawing a ‘Biafra map’ that runs very wide. He is making a big mistake. But then his map is no reason to accuse the Igbo and the advocates of Biafra, falsely, of trying to co-opt the Niger Delta or any other group into Biafra. Apart from this being complete falsehood, the Igbo have no such powers.
The fact again, is that Kanu whose IPOB is drawing the wide map is not asking for Biafra as far as I understand, but a referendum to enable people decide whether they want to be in Nigeria or not. Their map, they say, is where they think the referendum should be held. And indeed, they have always insisted that everyone reserved the right to opt in or out of a Biafra that may emerge as a result of such referendum. However, it’s always very appealing to deliberately distort facts to be able to lash out at the Igbo for cheap recognition by the powers that be in the hope of crumbs from Abuja.
The more important fact again is that not every Igbo buys the idea of Biafra. Indeed, IPOB is just a group that actually has membership, no matter how few, even in the Niger Delta. It is common sense knowledge that their views cannot represent the view of the Igbo nation. But these days, common sense is rarely common. Indeed, many Igbo continue to be at the receiving end of unbridled insult by some of their most radical members who don’t accept that people should have contrary opinions. The Igbo political leadership, including the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the governors whose views approximate the views of the Igbo, are not asking for any Biafra but restructuring. President-general of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo has continued to make his pro restructuring point so eloquently, in agreement with the Afenifere, PANDEF and the Middle Belt Forum. A vast majority of Igbo people want restructuring. It is what represents the Igbo demand in Nigeria, not Biafra.
Yet, those who favour Biafra are in two groups. One, a vast majority of them, are strictly for a homogeneous Igbo nation. The others, mostly the less exposed group are the ones promoting the said wide map. Even they, it bears repeating, insist it’s never by compulsion. It is utter mischief, therefore, to attribute the argument of a few internet champions to the generality of the Igbo. It makes no sense for any reasonable Igbo person to want a Biafra that includes the non Igbo in the Niger Delta or indeed anyone there who doesn’t ask to be included. If anyone is in doubt about the futility of the quest, he should spend a month or two in Port Harcourt or Uyo.
I must also restate the fact that Biafra advocates are simply those who are fed up with the Nigerian system. And more importantly, the marginalisation of the Igbo, real or perceived. It is strange that while many people will agree that Nigeria is not working, they will in another breath malign others who say they want out because the country is not working. This is basically what Biafra advocacy is about. Nigeria is a place where people call white black and black white because they can’t bear to admit the truth.
I believe, however, that Biafra, with its own potential challenges, is not what the Igbo need. I sincerely believe that restructuring, or what we have come to know as true federalism will be best for everyone. Each of the six geopolitical zones in the country should have a measure of autonomy, control its resources and pay tax to the central government.
The current unitary feeding bottle system will only encourage rifts. The unfortunate reality of today’s Nigeria is that while nations tend to compete with one another, the competition is in terms of ethnic group A versus ethnic group B, and Christianity versus Islam. And usually, the ultimate objective of some, particularly those who manage to hold on to power, appear to be to hold others down as if that’s the way to achieve their own growth.
Nigeria as it is clearly not sustainable. If 2 million barrels of crude oil a day could feed 80 million people in 1990, it can barely feed 190 million in 2020, hence the escalating poverty and insecurity. And certainly, it cannot by any stretch, feed 300 million in 2050. To insist on this system, which doesn’t encourage innovation and growth of regional economies, is to insist therefore, on a catastrophic collapse of the Nigerian ‘federation.’ Therefore, instead of dissipating energy and deploying whatever writing skills anyone has to accuse the Igbo falsely of wanting to annex others, such skills should be deployed to advocate for a workable federation.#
I will subsequently address two other propaganda articles currently circulating on social media platforms, particularly on WhatsApp. One, titled: “Igbo Political Leaders and Their Past Misadventures Resulting in Current National Political Problems,” is a very nauseating falsehood written by an apparently depraved soul named George Udom, and promoted by nonentities. The other, a no less nonsensical piece with no known author seeking to blame the Igbo for “handing over Nigeria to the Fulani.” The two are dubiously crafted pieces of pungent falsehoods aimed at putting the blame of Nigeria’s disastrous turn of events on the Igbo and therefore, settling them up for perhaps another round of genocide.
THE FOLLOWING ARE EXCERPTS FROM A THE REPORT OF THE COMMISSION APPOINTED TO “ENQUIRE INTO THE FEARS OF MINORITIES AND THE MEANS OF ALLAYING THEM”, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS “THE WILLINK COMMISSION REPORT OF JULY 1958”
THE HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL BACKGROUND.
1.“More than 98% of people who inhabit this area (the ‘Ibo Plateau’ of the Eastern region) are Ibo and speak one language, though of course with certain differences of dialect. There are nearly five million of them and they are too many for the soil to support: they are vigorous and intelligent and have pushed outward in every direction, seeking a livelihood by trade or in service in the surrounding areas of the Eastern Region, in the Western Region, in the North and outside Nigeria. They are no more popular with their neighbours than is usual in the case of an energetic and expanding people whose neighbours have a more leisurely outlook on life.”
- “Though there has been no great kingdom or indigenous culture in the Eastern Region, the coastal chiefs grew on their trade with the (European merchant) ships and they adopted customs, clothing and housing more advanced than those of the peoples of the interior on whom they had at first preyed for slaves. They came during the 19th Century to regard the people of the interior as backward and ignorant, and it was therefore a blow to their pride, as well as to their pockets, when the Ibos began to push outwards into the surrounding fringe of the country and particularly into the Calabar area, to take up land, to grow rich, to own houses and lorries and occupy posts in public services and in the services of large trading firms.”
“It was among the Ibos, formerly despised by the people of Calabar as source of slaves and as a backward people of the interior, now feared and disliked as energetic and educated, that the first political party formed.”
- “It is important to remember that of this (Ogoja) Province’s 1,082,000 inhabitants, 723,000 are Ibos, almost entirely in Abakaliki and Afikpo (Divisions), while the census classifies 350,000 as “Other Nigerian Tribes.”
- The Rivers Province …includes the two divisions of Brass and Degema, both overwhelmingly Ijaw, and the Ogoni Division. The former Rivers Division also includes over 300,000 Ibos of whom 250,000 are in Ahoada Division and 45,000 in Port Harcourt. Port Harcourt is a town of recent growth and of rapidly increasing importance; it is built on land that blonged originally to an outlying branch of the Ibo tribe, the Diobus, but is largely inhabited by the Ibos from the interior who have come to trade or seek employment….Of the total 747,000 in the Rivers province, 305,000 are Ibos, 240,000 are Ijaws and 156,000 are Ogonis.”
- “The strip to the south of the Ibo block, is physically, divided by a block of Ibo territory, tipped by the important Ibo town of Port Harcourt and tribally divided between the Ijaws and the Ogonis.”
- “In the whole of this non-Ibo area there is present in varying degree some fear of being over-run, commercially and politically, by the Ibos….. if Ahoada and Port Harcourt, which are really Ibo, are considered with the solid centre of Ibo population, there are 54 seats for the Ibo area and 30 for COR (Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers) in (Eastern Regional House of Assembly).”
THE FEARS AND GRIEVANCES OF MINORITIES
- “It was suggested (by non-Ibo petitioners) that it was the deliberate object of the Ibo majority in the Region to fill every post with Ibos (in public post and services).….when, however we came to consider specific complaints about the composition of public bodies, we found them in many cases exaggerated or unreasonable.”
- “The allegation was put forward by counsel (to petitioners) that the Judiciary (when not European) was predominantly Ibo, with the implication that this caused fear among those who are not Ibos. But it was clearly stated in evidence by Dr. Udoma, the leader of UNIP, that no occasion could be adduced of the judiciary acting with partiality. The fact is that the legal profession is largely Ibos and the reasons for this do not seem to be Government action. It is therefore inevitable that there should be an Ibo preponderance among Judges and Magistrates. Further, it is the declared policy of Government that the Judiciary should be federal and this does not indicate a desire to control it. Again, the operation and composition of Public Service Commission here, as in the West, appeared to us in no way open to reproach.”
- “In the Police, which in this region alone is wholly Federal, the number of Ibos in the higher appointments is not out of proportion to the Ibos in the region. The force is now federally controlled and although there are a large number of Ibos in the lower ranks, this is due to the fact that it has for long been a tradition among the Ibos to offer themselves for recruitment in this force in far greater numbers than any other tribe.”
- “we noted that in five years, 1952 – 1957, from a total of 412 secondary scholarships, 216 were awarded to persons living in the COR areas, while the figures for post-secondary scholarships were 211 out of 623. The latter is about the right proportion of one-third, the former considerably in excess. It was suggested that scholarships awarded to non-Ibos were of an inferior kind and that the best scholarships went to Ibos, but we were, unable to see that this claim held any validity. On the evidence before us, we conclude that the allegations of discriminations in the matter of scholarships are unjustified.”
- “It was further suggested that loans by the Eastern Regional Finance Corporation, the Eastern Region Development Board, and the Eastern Region Development Corporation were made with some degree of preference to Ibos. It did appear that most of the loans made by these bodies were to Ibos, but that is not to say that this was necessarily improper. Ibos constitute two thirds of the population of the region and have a bigger share of financial and commercial responsibility than their numbers warrant.”
- “That there should be modern streetlight in Onitsha, and not Calabar, was also quoted as example of discrimination; it proved however that Onitsha Urban District Council had financed this measure from their own resources.”
- “The question of land was repeatedly raised, it being resented by the Efiks and Ibibios that the Ibos should acquire land at all in their territory while the methods by which it was obtained were also questioned. There is no doubt that on the Ibo Plateau there is insufficient land for the people and the Ibos ate thrusting outwards where possible they acquire land and use it either for cultivation or building…..This is a matter which will require legislation sooner or later and it will be delicate to handle, but the economic process is in itself healthy and we had little sympathy with a witness who remarked that there is much undeveloped land in district and he was anxious that it should not fall into the hand of the Ibos….We believe that Governments in Nigeria should be careful not to try to protect minorities by introducing measures that would restrict development.”
- “A group of miscellaneous grievances and charges against the Ibos from Calabar may be treated together; we were told that the Ibos did not observe local customs in the markets….We formed the impression that jealousy of the Ibos successes in the markets was the main factor.”
THE PROPOSAL FOR NEW STATES
- “The Ogoja state proposed to us would include former Ogoja province, whose population of slightly more than One million include more than 700,000 Ibos…the main intention would be separation from the central body of Ibo population, but in which they will still be linked together with as a minority with their Ibo neighbours in Abakaliki and Afikpo…A majority of evidence we heard from Ogoja was direct that they preferred the present situation to any association with Calabar and that they were at least as much afraid of domination by Efiks and Ibibios as by Ibos.”
- “The (Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers or COR) state proposed would consist of Calabar, Rivers and Ogoja provinces excluding the two Ibo Divisions of Abakaliki and Afikpo. The population of this area is 2,649,000 and the following would be the five largest tribes:
As already explained, the small but important Efik tribe of 71,000…The (COR) area is far from homogenous , and many of the other tribes expressed at least as much fear of the Efiks and Ibibios as of the Ibo. It would leave the Ibos of the Ibo Plateau surrounded by a state whose reason for existence was hostility to themselves: the Ibos are an expanding people…”
- “The area claimed for Rivers state consists of the whole of the Rivers province, that is: The Division of Brass, Degema, Ogoni, Port Harcourt and Ahoada, together with the Western Ijaw Division from the western region, and two small sections in the Eastern Region from outside the Rivers Province, Opodo and Andoni being one, Ndoki the other.”
- “Port Harcourt is an Ibo town and it is growing rapidly and the indigenous branch of the Ibos who are original inhabitants are already out-numbered by Ibos from the hinterland.”
- “The people of Ahoada, a Division of which a pan runs down to meet Port Harcourt, appear at one time to have favoured the idea of a Rivers state, but have changed their views and before us expressed themselves as strongly against it. Comparatively few of them live in the low-lying swampy country of the coastal strip and they have voted for the NCNC consistently, they said themselves that a main factor in their change of front had been the inclusion if the Western Ijaws in the proposed state. So long, they said, as the Rivers state was to consist of the River Province only, the Ibos would have been the most numerous tribe within it: but the inclusion of the Western Ijaw Division put them at a numerical disadvantage beside the Ijaws and they therefore preferred to stay out. Whether or not this was a line of reasoning that really had a wide appeal, the fact remain that before us they were opposed to the idea of the state. This is not surprising because their problems are different from those of the ijaws.”
- “To include within a River state Ahoada and Port Harcourt, would, we believe, create a problem as acute as that with which we were asked to deal at present and and would be sharply resented by the Ibos of the central plateau.”
OBINNA EZUGWU: email@example.com