The restructuring discourse and debate has now been on-going in Nigeria for about a decade. The issue for me in this article isn’t about the propriety or germaneness, or even the benefits of restructuring for Nigeria. I really couldn’t care less for what’s good or bad for Nigeria; that’s for non-Igbo Nigerians, as far as I’m concerned, to worry about, not for any genuinely Igbo person.
Here in this piece, I simply want to argue that it’s in the best interest of Nigeria, and of Igbos, broadly defined to include “peripheral Igbos” or “fringe Igbos”, to carve out of Nigeria an independent, sovereign nation for all Igbos and only Igbos, and to do this peacefully.
The reason such a nation should be created is to solve the Igbo Problem and Paradox. What then is the Igbo Problem and Paradox? It’s the fact that Igbos have been extremely unjustly treated, or, if you prefer, marginalized, and continue to be so treated or marginalized in Nigeria, and, that they’re visibly dominant in all spheres, except perhaps where the Federal Government artificially curtails their access.
I don’t want to waste time here trying to prove that it’s true, that the Igbos indeed have and are being marginalized. I simply assume it to be a fact, and yes, without proof. Axioms don’t need proof, being self-evidently true. Igbo marginalization is self-evidently true, and its rehash is now hackneyed. But if you still want proof, do please talk to Mr ex-President Gowon, Mr ex-Emir Sanusi, Mr Balarabe Musa, and my dear friend Mr Fani Kayode (the friendship is for now one-sided as he’s yet to make my acquaintance).
Now, it’s easy to see why this ‘animal’ is a problem. Nobody likes to be marginalized, and certainly the Igbos don’t. But why does this ‘animal’ leave us at the same time a paradox? Well, isn’t the domination by a marginalized people a paradox? Of course, it is. The domination part, real or imagined, is a problem for non-Igbo Nigerians; the marginalization part is obviously a frustration for the Igbo. Thus, the marriage of the Igbo and the non-Igbo of Nigeria is obviously a very unhappy one, for both parties.
I’ll now begin to marshal my arguments as to why there should be a divorce, preferably a peaceful, even amicable, one.
2. Restructuring of a superficial kind can’t bring entente
Yes, restructuring has been a most topical issue in Nigeria for over a decade now. True, the Igbo business and political elite want it. But the ‘owners’ of Nigeria don’t. I apologize for my being annoyingly cynical. No, the ‘natural’ rulers of Nigeria don’t. Okay, that was only a sop; it didn’t work. Now, more forthrightly: The Hausa-Fulani (ruling) elite don’t want to hear of restructuring. And they happen to hold all the aces, thanks to the Constitution they hoodwinked the ‘smart’ Southerners and Middlebelters into accepting.
As precious time ebbs away, the clamor for it becomes more vociferous and the conveying voice more strident, while at the same time the obduracy of the refusal to grant it hardens. So, gavel-to-gavel, the tension will mount, with the debate, if one can in truth call it that, producing more heat than light, until there’s a Krakatoan explosion, and the resulting conflagration engulfs the hapless country. But who cares?! The house I’ve always wanted to pull down shall have caught fire on its own accord.
I’m probably wrong: someone or some people might care. The elite are always smart, selfishly so. They’ve too much stake in the current dispensation to carry on the dangerous game until cataclysm. So, they’d probably settle. But since the rapport de force is in favor of the Hausa-Fulani, the equilibrium all parties would end up accepting would be highly sub-optimal for the Igbo. Rather than risk losing all the shiny mansions in Abuja and elsewhere in the country, especially in Lagos, all the fancy cars, and for some of them the jets, the cozy sinecures and perquisites of office, and, of course the prestige and envy of the rest of us, and maybe even their lives, they’ll settle at a sub-optimal equilibrium point. At that point only sops will be granted, with a few relatively unimportant mandates removed from the Constitution’s Exclusive List reserved, in essence, for the President. There’d be no thorough-going reforms of the inter-governmental arrangement. Brief, in essence, the status quo will remain, only bearing the marks of some tinkering.
Now, this outcome, the best we can expect, given the conjoncture I’ve just sketched, will sustain Igbo marginalization, but because Igbos are en verite virtually irrepressible, Igbo domination won’t end. At least the cry against it won’t. So, the marriage remains a very unhappy, mutually frustrating one, even if the elites of the North and the South continue to enjoy the largesse from the Federal Government. The “spin-off” will, of course, be an economy that remains in the doldrums, in the backwaters of the global economy, with the dangerously high unemployment still on the rise, and the dehumanizing and pervasive poverty on a deadly march forward, with heightening tempo and temper.
3. Restructuring that results in a true federal system won’t resolve the Igbo Problem and Paradox
But let’s suppose, in the interest of this discourse, that by an act of Providence good sense and reason prevails, in favor of non-members of the Hausa-Fulani elite, the currently oppressed, and the equilibrium reached is one that brings about true federalism. Problem solved?
No. Read on. True, the national economy will expand, unemployment will reverse and begin a downward journey, crime, mostly the violent type, will be curtailed, and the North-South tension would ease. So, what then could be a cause for gripe?
Well, now, with most of the obstacles deliberately placed on their path gone, the Igbo tremendous entrepreneurial energy, creativity, innovativeness, and implacable drive to be ahead of every other ethnic nationality would gain so much fillip that the Igbo in a few short years, say ten, would overrun – organically! — the entire economy and socio-economy of Nigeria. Igbo domination would be back — in force! But, I must here warn that such dominance isn’t the result of any group action, any collusion, to overrun any theatre in which the Igbo operate. It’s the natural resultant of hundreds of thousands of individual initiatives.
If you doubt that such capabilities inhere in the Igbo, I’d ask you to consider the following:
· By the 1940s, must Igbo communities didn’t have any primary schools, let alone secondary schools, and, of course, there wasn’t a single institution of tertiary education anywhere then in Igboland, but by the 1960s Igbo student population in the University of Ibadan matched, at least, that of the Yourbas, and just in a few short years later on an Igbo man had become the first African Vice Chancellor of that University — in the heartland of the Yorubas!, and that another Igbo man had also become the first African Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos in a city and region where the population was overwhelmingly Yoruba.
· By the 1940s most Igbo men in Lagos or Ibadan were there as servants or petty traders, but by the 1950s, the Igbo presence in business in those cities had become significant, and that an Igbo man, Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu, had not only become wealthy but that he’d become Africa’s first millionaire.
And a similar pattern was emerging and solidifying all over Nigeria, especially in the North in such cities as Kano, Kaduna, Jos, and Zengeru. By 1965, Igbos were clearly dominant in the bureaucracy, the foreign service, and the parastatals, especially the Railway Service, and, chai, the Military. By this time, Igbos had built up Port Harcourt into the country’s most beautiful city, the Garden City, as it was then known, and its second most developed city, after Lagos, and owned virtually all landed properties there. This, let me stress it, was done in less than 20 years.
Now, I’d also ask you to consider that, although the whole of Igboland was completely destroyed during the war which ended in 1970, but by 1975 there was hardly any visible sign of the war, this without a kobo from the purse that Yakubu Gowon controlled. Also, consider that in 1970 Igboland was by far the poorest region in the world, Igbo property owners having had their property sequestrated all over the country outside of Igboland, especially in Port Harcourt where the confiscation was total, and that then the richest Igbo man didn’t have more than 20 Nigerian pounds – thanks to Gowon’s and Awolowo’s anti-Igbo monetary policy fiat, but by the late 1970s, Igbos were again dominant in trade and commerce and in artisanal manufacturing, and that Onitsha and Aba had regained their status of the commercial Mecca of West Africa — all this without an iota of support from government, in fact despite the many anti-Igbo economic policies of the era, notably the indigenization policy that saw majority shares of foreign companies sold to Nigerians when hardly any Igbo was in a position to buy.
Then consider too that before Abuja took off as the capital city, parcels of land were allocated, virtually without charge, to the top brass in the military and the bureaucracy which almost had no Igbo representation at the time, but by 2010 Igbos were said to own over 60 percent of all landed property in the city – all bought and developed with hard-earned money by these Igbos.
For want of time and space, I’ll not bore you with the story of Igbo technological achievements during the Biafra war. I suppose they’re already very well known. Nor need I tell you that no African people have ever in modern history created and grown a global industrial value chain all by themselves and which they control, except the Igbos. That value chain industry is Nollywood. Just within 20 years of taking off it became the second largest film-making industry in the world. And to drive home my point, the industry was created by semi-illiterate Igbos working only with hand-held cameras. Again, not a kobo from government went into this effort.
Back now to where we were before the diversion. So, the predictable event of the coming of a new wave of Igbo domination, thanks to the new truly federal structure and merit-based governance in the Federal Government, the cry against it would begin and gain strength, stridency, and dangerous traction. And since prime-age Igbos are loud-mouthed and love to blow their own horn out there on the streets, the envy of non-Igbo Nigerians will be back in a vengeance.
Then, there’d with time be a call and political pressure to curtail the “excesses of federalism”, with the Hausa-Fulani elite as the champions. This might trigger a new round of anti-Igbo genocide. But even if this doesn’t happen, most non-Igbo States or Regions, with the Northern ones taking the lead, would make anti-Igbo policies and have their parliaments pass anti-Igbo laws to, ostensibly, preserve or promote federal character, especially regarding employment, school and university admissions, and the awarding of government contracts. Discrimination against the Igbos and their marginalization would be back, and over time agitation for Biafra would resume, even with the Igbo still economically and socio-economically, if not politically, dominant. Nigeria would be back to square one, pretty much the highly undesirable situation we currently are in, with the essence of true federalism having been whittled away. So the Igbo Problem and Paradox essentially remains.
Anyone can now see that there’s no truly mutually beneficial way for the Igbo nation to remain part of Nigeria. It’d always be a source of permanent tension in the polity, unless the Igbo would stop being Igbo, by emptying themselves of their tremendous entrepreneurial energy, venturesomeness, and implacable drive to always be and remain No.1. But this would be their total emasculation and even death, as it were – a price they cannot afford to pay for Nigeria’s peace and prosperity, a sort of self-immolation, not in protest, but in surrender. Why would Nigeria really want that?
Even a multi-ethnic Biafra would still be sub-optimal for the Igbo, for the same reasons. The non-Igbo ethnic groups in such a Biafran entity would all be minorities, and all with a laid-back culture and attitude toward material progress. They’d almost in an instant be overrun. Igbos in such a multi-ethnic Biafra would always have the vulnerability of being continually accused of domination. And because they’re weak minorities, Igbos would forever be negotiating compromises with them before any major national initiatives could be taken, thus settling always for less than the best for themselves. It wouldn’t even matter much if the inter-governmental arrangement was a Confederacy, and the ethnic minorities in question enjoyed a level of autonomy commensurate with a purely confederal arrangement, unless, of course, the Confederal Constitution barred Igbos from employment and doing business in their region. But, surely, such a prohibition would fly in the face of the very idea of nationhood and nation-building.
The way I see it then, the only solution to the Igbo Problem and Paradox is an exclusively Igbo-ethnic, independent, sovereign State. Such a State could then explore the possibility of cooperation with other countries, including what’s left of Nigeria, within a supra-national framework such as the European Union or even a much more loose arrangement.
Any other arrangement would leave the Igbo Problem and Paradox unsolved, unresolved, and therefore would always be an ever present cause of instability in the Nigerian polity.
Short of an independent, sovereign country for all Igbo-speaking people, and for the Igbo only, Nigeria may never know peace or prosperity.
Let no one forget that the Igbo Problem was the reason Western Cameroon elected to leave Nigeria; they wanted to be free from Igbo domination, and yet, the Igbos weren’t even in control of the government in the Cameroons. Even now, the Igbo Problem is there in the Republic of Benin, in Ghana, in Ivory Coast, even in Cameroon. Igbos tend to dominate wherever they are unless severe peremptory government action is taken to hinder them. Even so, they still manage to come on top.
No country should allow the Igbo to constitute a significant portion of its population, unless it wants to create the problem of Igbo domination and its ‘corollary’ of Igbo marginalization or repression, and thereby sustain the Igbo paradox of a “marginalized, dominant people”. I don’t see why a reasonable country would want that. Curiously, this seems to be what Nigeria wants, but Nigeria’s main headache is the Igbo ethnic nationality.
And now, I repeat for effect the following as my parting words: Another Igbo paradox is that the Igbo never, ever, want to dominate any people, never scheme, never collude to plan to do so. Their domination happens nonetheless, organically, through decisions made at the individual level to succeed, and to succeed spectacularly.