How come the most peaceful Nigerians are threatened with genocide again and again, whereas the Igbo have never threatened any group or participated in the mass killing of other Nigerians? Other Nigerians should stop hating the Igbo. The government should protect Igbo lives and property. If Nigerians do not want the Igbo, then call a referendum to allow the easterners to restore Biafra.
Since the colonial era, a phobia has been haunting Nigeria: the phobia of Igbo domination. All over Nigeria, there is fear and suspicion by all ethnic groups and they blame it mostly on the Igbo scapegoats while some of the Igbo blame their own leaders. Lamentations for help from the marginalized, exploited and oppressed masses echo all over the land. Sometimes the wailing is disguised as cries of anger against other suffering Nigerians, sometimes they come across as cries of hatred against innocent people who are falsely blamed for all the woes, and sometimes they come across as braggadocio with threats against fellow citizens. There is no mistaking the din from the wailing masses even when it is disguised as a mocking nervous laughter at the presumed foolishness, meanness, or madness of others.
When Arewa youths issued threats to the Igbo to quit the north or risk being ethnically cleansed by force, were they not crying out for help? The northern youth were most likely raised with the supremacist ideology that the rest of Nigeria was conquered by their fathers for them to rule uninterrupted. They obviously see the Igbo as the only group that challenged this mythology of Arewa supremacy through their individual efforts to rise from pogroms and genocides to continue to better themselves without fear. The Igbo are in every nook and cranny of the country helping to provide services that may be hard to access if they were to leave.
The Igbo communities of Kano and Kaduna have already stated that the Igbo were there to stay with the support of the elders of the north, the governors of northern states and the federal government; no matter what some misguided youth groups and individual elders may say. Misadvised governors of the south east states offered to hire luxury buses to evacuate the Igbo from the north as if those who want to target the Igbo could not hunt them down to the east and attack them there as they did before and continue to do in collaboration with youth from the Middle Belt and the western regions and with the sabotage of some south south youth who did not support Biafra.
Arewa youth cry out perhaps because the very people their fathers tell them that they defeated in a genocidal war appear to be dominant in all aspects of life except the presidency of the country and in the armed forces. Arewa youth appear to cry out for help with Igbophobia because they really want to be successful like the Igbo youth with their excellence in academic achievement, illustrious commercial ventures, star performance in sports, literature, music and filmmaking and with the confidence to move to any part of Africa and thrive no matter who is the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Why do Arewa youth continue to perform poorly in education? Why are they disease-ridden and impoverished? Why do the children go about begging for food with which to support their teachers? Why are their sisters forced into marriage as children? And why do waves of terrorist militants kill and main across the north from time to time even while northerners dominate the armed forces and the presidency? Surely, it is not the fault of the Igbo who have not done anything wrong to provoke the terroristic threats of Igbophobia that they continue to face.
Arewa youth presumably want to know how the Igbo could go from losing more than three million lives in 30 months in Biafra, losing all their savings and their buildings in other parts of Nigeria and yet bounce back gallantly in record time despite continuing marginalization of the south east by successive federal governments. When southern politicians like Michael Imoudu, Chinua Achebe, Sam Ikoku, Arthur Nweankwo, Eskor Toyo and Wole Soyinka joined hands to build the Peoples Redemption Party with Malam Aminu Kano, Balarabe Musa, Abubakar Rimi, Balla Muhamad, and Bala Usman to try and answer the cries of Nigerian masses, the inferiority complex of people like Barkin Zuwo scuttled the efforts by accusing the southerners of wanting to ruin ‘our’ northern party.
In the colonial days, northern youth joined hands with southern youth to organize the militant Zikist Movement and this resulted in the first mayor of Enugu being a Fulani man who served from 1952 to 1958 after beating the candidate preferred by Nnamdi Azikiwe. Ojukwu’s uncle, Okonkwo Kano, was also elected to the Northern Regional Legislative Council and Azikiwe was elected to the Western Regional Assembly just as two Igbo legislators were recently elected to represent Lagos in the House of Representatives.
Some northern elites continue to justify their hatred of the Igbo by saying that it was a deserved punishment for the Igbo officers who led the first coup that killed northern leaders but spared Igbo leaders in the first republic. Some of the northern leaders brag that the Igbo have been punished enough for their foolishness but some other leaders warn that the Igbo have not learned their lessons given that they continue to migrate to other parts of the country in large numbers in spite of open threats. Hausa-Fulani also migrate to other parts of the country but other than the misguided proclamation of the Gideon Orkar coup (from north central) against General Babangida, no one has ever issued a threat to any other ethnic group (except the Igbo) to quit the south or face a genocide.
The Igbo admit that it was abominably wrong for four Igbo officers to participate in the killing of the leaders of other regions in the first coup when they claimed that they wanted to bring out Obafemi Awolowo, a Yoruba leader, from prison and make him head of state. Others point out that the coup plotters were mostly from the old western region, that troops from all regions participated in the killings and that it was Igbo officers who foiled the coup and arrested the plotters for trial. Yet the counter coup singled out Igbo officers for massacre and singled out Igbo civilians for genocide. Other coups have since taken place in Nigeria but the ethnic groups from which the coup plotters came were not subjected to genocide the way that innocent Igbo were targeted. The Igbo were already being targeted for genocidal killing even before the first coup in the country. The ongoing Igbo genocide arose due to Igbophobia against alleged Igbo domination that was used by the British colonizers to divide and weaken the struggle for the restoration of independence, which was led mainly by Igbo elites.
A governor from the north east was recently recorded in a telephone conversation with a governor from the south west plotting how to drive the Igbo away from Nigeria or how to drown them in the lagoon. The governor envied the Igbo for owning four out of every six shops in the country and boasted that the north had all the food in the country while the west had developed factories to live on but the easterners could go and drink their oil if that was what they wanted. This echoed the treasonable threat of Arewa youth that they were ready to divide the country along regional lines in their proclamation of Igbophobia.
Leaders of the Indigenous People of Biafra proclaimed their support for the splitting of the country and urged the Igbo in the north to return to their home region as warned to avoid the repeat of the pogrom in the north that led to the declaration of Biafra. The Igbo in the north will remain in the north and prosper there simply because returning to the marginalized east would not safeguard them from the crisis of neocolonialism that grips every part of the country. No matter what they say, come what may, the Igbo have proved that they are everywhere to stay, to paraphrase Linton Kwesi Johnson on black people in England. ‘Them ah tire fe see we face, can’t get we out of the race, and so you play bad card’, as Bob Marley cautioned.
Even if the country is split into two, three, four, five or six regional autonomous countries, the Igbo will continue to travel to other regions in the United States of Africa to trade, study, work, run for office, marry, and serve as they have always done. Thus, the Igbophobic threat for the Igbo to leave the north or the threat by the Oba of Lagos to drown them in the lagoon if they failed to vote a certain way is doomed to failure because the Igbo are all over Africa and all over the world just as people from all over the world are in Igboland. Northerners and westerners are also all over West Africa, including Igboland, and there is no quit notice against them because there is no alternative to multiculturalism in a globalizing world.
Other Nigerians should stop hating the Igbo and join them in venturing outside their own home regions democratically because that is what is expected in a modern society. The genocide against the Igbo before, during and after the declaration of Biafra did not involve only northerners. There is evidence that the genocide was led by Yoruba and Middle Belt military officers and executed by predominantly Christian soldiers. The government should live up to its responsibilities and protect Igbo lives and property against the threats of Igbophobia or the Igbo should bring law suits against the government for reparations and for negligence. If Nigerians do not want the Igbo to be a part of their federation, then call a referendum to allow the easterners to restore Biafra peacefully. Other regions that want to restore their independence could also vote in a referendum to do so but the referendum could also result in a no vote to remain united as was the case in Scotland recently before Britain narrowly voted for Brexit.
The Boko Haram are fighting a war of secession in the north east, the Afrewa youth have called for secession by threatening the Igbo in the north west, Oduduwa Peoples Congress have called for Oduduwa Republic in the south west and the Niger Delta militants fight for resource control. The south east appears to be the only region going about the agitation for self-determination peacefully by, for example, staying home to honour the heroes that they lost during the genocide in Biafra and to commemorate the youth recently killed extra-judicially. How come the most peaceful Nigerians, the Igbo, are the ones being threatened with genocide again and again as a result of Igbophobia, whereas the Igbo have never threatened any group or participated in the mass killing of other Nigerians?
The Nigerian government should issue an apology to the Igbo for the genocide that was visited on them and call for the referendum on self-determination. Other Nigerian groups from the western region and from north central who participated massively in leading the genocide against the Igbo should also render an unconditional apology to the Igbo and vote in the referendum to let the Igbo go if they are unwanted in Nigeria. Before or after the referendum, the Nigerian government and the British and Russian orchestrators of the genocide against the Igbo should offer huge reparations to the Igbo for the losses of millions of lives and property in Biafra and for the continuing marginalization of the South east. Otherwise, the Igbo should sue the foreign governments, the Nigerian government and individual genocidist Nigerians and all should support the Igbo in the spirit of fairness because injustice to some is injustice to all.
The Igbo should also look beyond their own wounds and offer support to those who suffer more than them today. The poor masses of the north who are purposely denied educational opportunities can be offered lessons in academic achievement and in commercial success if they allow the Igbo to do so. The Igbo should raise funds and send relief supplies to the north east and to South Sudan to support those who are facing starvation there the way that foreigners rallied to support the Igbo when ‘starvation was used as a legitimate weapon of war’ in Biafra.
All Nigerians should commend the Igbo for their resilience in the face of genocide and the governors of the south eastern states should pool their resources together to fund a coordinated industrial revolution in the region rather than make the symbolic gesture of hiring buses with unaccountable budgets to evacuate citizens from their own country.
African masses should stop agonizing about their collective marginalization by neocolonial regimes and start organizing for the Peoples Republic of Africa in which undemocratic traditional rulers will be replaced with elected town mayors and town councils; allowing internal borders to wither away for a free movement of people, goods and services.
* BIKO AGOZINO is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA. He blogs here.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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