By Joseph Okonkwor, Sahara Reporters
The article to which this is a rejoinder should not have been thought of in the first place. But the fact that it was thought of is enough reason for it to be written and published so that we ‘Nigerians’ understand how we see each other. I was expecting that the mistakes of our forefathers would have been a deterrent for us in making certain insinuations that is capable of psychologically alienating us all the more from the Nigerian project considering our gift of hind sight. This author just succeeded in standing history on the head just to exculpate people who were practically selfish. This rejoinder is not an effort at exculpating the Igbos, but to let other ethnies in Nigeria understand how we actually think. Please don’t tell us how to think. It will also go a long way to explain the reason Nigeria is as it is today and shall remain so until the truth prevails.
Being a student of philosophy, I will as much as possible sound academical and factual and in places where facts are not evident, I will use inferences. This idea of standing history in the head and castigation of the Igbos is not just for this author but for most people in Nigeria considering the commentaries I have read so far. Our three sectional leaders Zik, Awo and the Sadurna I must say were individually good people, but politically and administratively selfish and their selfishness and myopism was what informed Ladipo’s unprovoked outburst. Their selfishness would have benefited Nigeria though if they had the same political and national philosophy. But their disagreements were their undoing and it has been transferred to us including Ladipo. The Sadurna knew that the North was administratively not ready for civil governance and wanted either a separate government for the north or delayed independence. But Zik and Awo believing that they were educated, requested for independence in the view that through education they would lead Nigeria and dominate the North. But even Zik and Awo, had differing philosophies. Zik because of his sojourn in the United States dreamt of how Nigeria would be as powerful as America in Africa. In fact Zik wanted Pan Africanism against Awo’s view that each nation in Nigeria should develop along their culture. A United Nigeria would be a stepping stone to that. But this does not mean that Awo does not want Pan Africanism, but rightly and which I still propose today, he wanted autonomous self-determination alongside such unity.
The problem with Nigeria today is the unresolved discrepancies between these three national leaders in Nigeria and the tone of this article shows that that we have not actually overgrown such backwardness. In fairness to Zik, he was cosmopolitan in Nigeria being born in the East, bred in the North and living and having properties in the west. In fact it would be wrong to say that Zik is an Igbo man politically, Zik was a Nigerian and he behaved as such. He was selfishly seeking to rule Nigeria. Granted that if other national leaders listened to his view, Nigeria would have been better today, but considering the circumstances, the views of Awo and sadurna were more apt at the time for mutual trust and growth in Nigeria. But we must know also that their reasons for sectional politics were different too. While Sadurna’s reasons were to safeguard the corruption of the Islamic religion by the southern ‘infedels’, Awo’s reason was because of the incompatibility of culture between the myriads of nations that make up Nigeria. These leaders proved their selfish nature when they left themselves to be played against each other by the departing British colonisers.
As far back as 1946, Awo has mapped out the road Nigeria would have taken to become a great state in his work ‘The Path to Nigeria Freedom’. I don’t want to call these leaders names but we should critically analyse their actions so that we learn from their mistakes in our present politics and eschew such hatred as Ladipo champions. Why would Awo propose true federalism hinged on autonomous self determination of Nigerian national groups and still spurn the only opportunity that shows itself for him to grab it? According to Mbazulike’s latest interview, Awo was negotiating both with NCNC and NPC at the same time (this may not be true but Mbazulike said it was the reason Zik formed alliance with the North against Awo with whom the East had more cultural similarity). This is one score against Awo and one score too against Zik who did not seek to understand from Awo why he behaved as he did. In fact this may not be the only reason Zik decided to go with the North. To me Zik believed that the North had the population and yet uneducated. His becoming president was more predicated with the North than the West, but Zik was to understand that the North were to raise a politics of federal character in order to meet up with the southern educational and developmental lift. Zik was also to pay Awo back for the cross carpeting.
While on cross carpeting, let me say here that the Action of Awo was in line with his philosophy. An Igbo man should not leave the East and go to the West to become the premier. Awo was in support of local politics and his rejection of Zik as the western premier is understandable. But his rejection of such regional politics as proposed by Ojukwu was totally against his philosophy. It is either he accepted federal Nigeria where Zik should not occupy sit in the West or he support Ojukwu’s request for federalism. Even Zik himself when the cross carpeting killed his ambition in the west, he went to the East and relieved Eyo Eta of his post. Although Mbazulike were explaining it out in his former interview, Ziks actions then were the cause of the rift between the Igbos and the South South which later made them to sabotage the Igbo secession. Now Zik and Awo have committed the same sin. If not for selfish and temporary glory, both of them had opportunities to prove their philosophy in practice but they failed woefully. Just like Awo, Zik had the opportunity to lure Eyo Eta to the NCNC without fooling them into resigning so as to promote his one Nigerian stance. NO his one Nigeria holds only when he is at the helm. Even After the fake election of 1964 and 65 both in the West and Central, Zik should have withheld his accent until things were done properly, but to be ceremonial ‘what am yet to understand’, he let it pass and things continued to deteriorate.
Whenever the actions of Awo, Zik and the Sadurna are interpreted as Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa actions, I get annoyed because those who think so are still very far in understanding Nigerian politics. These people are individuals and whichever of their actions not debated in a constituted parliament are their personal selfish stands. That is why Ojukwu today remain unfailingly the most important person in Igboland. Ojukwu did not lead the Igbo people into war. Nigerian state took war to the Easterners. Ojukwu and the Easterners had no option than to leave Nigeria. They championed one Nigeria when the promise was there, but when it became evident that Nigeria can never be one as a nation especially when the person at the centre have access to regional politics, he opted for a true federalism, such that what brought about the first military coup would never repeat itself.
What caused the First Coup? Corruption in the high places! But two events were very conspicuous. Balewa believed that the North was short-changed in development and his government had to use federal xter to balance the equation. According to Toyin Falola, professional southerners found themselves under uneducated and unqualified Northerners in government ministries where they knew nothing of how to move things forward. In fact that is where mediocrity in Nigeria started to take precedence over professionalism. The Tiv and the Middle belt were the first to revolt saying that the core north saw them as brothers only in number for election but not in appointment. While Nigeria was still dealing with this, Balewa’s NPC with impunity rigged the western regional house election in favour of the unpopular Akintola. In a supposed federation, Balewa was not supposed to have such powers. Even in 1961/62 when problem started between Akintola and Awo, Zik was already realising that the North were not ready for equitable development and thus was looking for other Northern allies. In the same way Balewa was looking for other Southern allies. Akintola presented himself (since) as he told Awo that he was tired of remaining in opposition. Let me Give Awo that credit, he stood firm in the opposition but Akintola warmed up to Balewa. With little problem that ensued, Balewa declared Western Region a state of emergency. But in a supposed federation, such federal inroads into regional politics should not have obtained, but that was the Greek gift we received from the departing Colonial masters. When Balewa succeeded in dissolving the western house for 6 months, Awo was tried for God’s know charges and imprisoned while Akintola was allowed back as the government leader in the west through the back door of a new party. The type of rigging sponsored by NPC in the West in support of Akintola and the imprisonment of the person who replaced Awo hitherto in prison caused adrenaline to boil over. Thus Nigeria has got two problems against the same people in power from the Middle belt and from the West. The coup of 15 January 1966 was not an Igbo agenda. It was a military agenda and that is why they had no one among them to become the head of state after the coup. Supporters of Awo and indeed all Southerners praised that coup. I must have to submit here that it is curious that important Igbo leaders were not killed, but as is evident none of them was pointed at in the planning of that coup. Even Ojukwu was among those who botched the coup and was trusted enough to be made the Governor of Eastern region. When he became the governor, a counter coup took place. What is the reason for this coup which targeted the Igbos alone?
Understandably the North retaliated but then they took it too far. Common ordinary Igbos on the streets who knew nothing about government were killed in cold blood. This was a conspicuous show of hatred. They should have restricted it to politics. Igbo soldiers were led to the field and shot. Araba! The same Araba has not left Nigerian scene considering the tone of Ladipo’s article. For those who think the Igbos complains too much, who would not complain in the face of this type of genocide. The story of Biafra most of us read was written by the conquerors and you can imagine how truths were forever buried. Even the British press, who never set foot in Biafra during the war, reported Biafra as propaganda but of recent academic has proved it otherwise. But how many of us have sought the independent truth. Such press conspiracies were raised against Saddan Hussein, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan but shall we ever know the truth? One conspicuous consequence of it is the recession and economic meltdown and continued war among humanity. And Nigeria having been built on top of such falsehood, may have to reverse itself to find peace? Rather Hatred runs in veins of many Ladipo’s we have in Nigeria.
Once it became evident that Nigeria as it was composed was not to be to any bodies benefit, Ojukwu opted for a strong federalism or confederation. Till today many people have not asked what actually transpired in Aburi Ghana. One commentator wanted us to believe that it was Ojukwu who went against the Aburi Accord. He read the history written by the conquerors. But why has Nigerian government failed to make Nigerian Political History one of the courses in Nigerian secondary schools? Is it because, inverted truths cannot stand academic rigours, the type read by that commentator. The government told us what to believe, and we did, yet the major thing Ojukwu asked for in that meeting was strong federalism which unfortunately those who were sleeping then are asking for now. People accused Ojukwu of trying the corner the oil in the Deltas. But was that the reason other regional governments failed to see that Nigeria was unworkable as it was? Was the oil then the reason we have one Nigeria and was the oil to be to the benefit of the easterners alone a true federation? If the middle belt were to be truthful, breakers were already in their ranks with the north and the imprisonment of the Awo was supposed to cause the breakers between the west and north. I am therefore still surprised at the conspiracy that made other regional leaders not to at least agree to Ojukwu’s federal proposal. It was not too much to ask at least to stem the impunity with which NPC influenced the outcome of western election from happening in other regions. In fact in our present ‘one Nigeria’, The thieves we have as state governors were just Abuja products and a perpetual repeat of unfortunate history which Ojuwku was to prevent. I take it more personally with Western regional leaders; Awo included not the Yoruba commoners for not supporting the request of Ojukwu’s federalism. Awo may be excused because he was in prison, but when he came out, his policies of starvation stood his philosophy of self-determination and local government on the head. I would not have wanted him to join in the war and fight Gowon who released him (after all Zik was part of the problem he went to prison), but to have joined in the fight was standing his policies on the head and stinks of lack of strong personal philosophy.
Even after the Aburi accord, the meeting of 12 August dispersed amidst another outbreak of massacring Igbos, solders and civilians, a tide which Gowon was unable to abate. For those who think Igbos complain and blame, what is the function of government? If the government of Gowon in place could not ensure the Igbo security of life and property, Igbos would have been fools to remain in Nigeria. Ojukwu did not declare Biafra, the Eastern regional parliament did and that parliament had more representative of other minorities combined than Igbos. Ojukwu was just there as the leader and he did so not on his personal capacity otherwise Igbos would become sheepish followers which the writer will agree with they are not. The Eastern regional parliament had to find alternative to their insecure citizens. At least the facts can prove that Igbos were for one Nigeria and was ready to take anywhere as home until they were rejected, killed, maimed just because of actions of few soldiers. These people who killed, maimed and raped them are the same people that were supposed to be co nationals. If we understand the meaning of ‘nation’- go and find the meaning in a dictionary. It has psychological undertone and is based on faith and trust. That psychological belief in a shared past that should have made Nigeria a nation never existed and the little that was built was shattered by the politics of the first republic and the Military coup and counter coup. The only option available to Nigeria then was strong federalism with option of secession if the central government meddles in local politics.
The decision to declare Biafra was the only available option since federalism was not assured. Saro wiwa was to find out very late that the promise of Rivers state was just a bait to support the massacre of his supposed brothers. If he told himself the truth, he should have known that if Ojukwu did not get it when he had more power in a constituted parliament, the Niger delta may get what resembles federalism but not federalism. Today the person at the centre still has inroad into local politics in Nigeria just as it was during Balewa time. How miserable Wiwa also met his waterloo. The Yoruba saint who was supposed to promote self determination in Nigeria supported the war against the only people who mastered the courage to determine themselves. As Finance minister he saw nothing wrong for children who knew nothing of government to be starved to death in Biafra, children who were even unknowingly living out his best political philosophy of self-determination. But he chose to starve them with food blockade. He posited that such is one of the weapons of war. Now he has succeeded in killing some of those children and at the end of the day brought them to one Nigeria where their life remains worthless and hopeless. How happy he is in his grave now!
The Igbophbia found among the rest of Nigeria is just that they have been courageous to fight for what others could not fight for although unsuccessfully. A commentator thinks that Igbos are jealous of Yorubas. How sheepish we think. I don’t know why any ethnic group would envy others in the Nigeria I know today. Because neither the Igbo nation nor Hausa nor Yoruba won. Mediocrity won and rules in Nigeria otherwise can anyone define for me the type of political system we are running with the 1999 constitution. Now we have one Nigeria, can anyone here stand up and tell me that it is an achievement. Is it not better fragmented Nigeria where I am educationally secure than one Nigeria where I find myself schooling in London? One Nigeria where every other person including this writer wants to migrate to another country? One Nigeria as we have seen today, the frustrations I read from those who post here means that one Nigeria is in fact a regret. Even today some misguided former solders still pride themselves that they fought for one Nigeria, when what they fought for was in fact not worth it. Igbos are back to the fold, but I wonder why the hatred continues. Please can someone stop this Araba in disguise or allow my people to go!!!
This writer flew to the umbrella of Okey Ndibe who wrote about kidnapping to continue the genocide that started in 1966 although now without guns. Okey pointed out that the war in Igboland now is more than the one fought with guns back in the sixties. This was not supposed to be an indictment of Igbos. But this writer may need more studies in literature to understand how to pass important information without disturbing adrenaline. In fact what did Okey hide in that article? Can someone go and read it again? Okey’s article was an indictment on the FG. Why? One Nigeria means one Police force, One INEC chairman, One PDP and one everything. Just like Akintola those who ‘win’ elections in Igboland are not Igbo Awolowos, but Igbo??? (Think you will get the name) and you have seen the result. In one Nigeria as you want to have it, the police is controlled from Abuja and they close their eyes to things their paymasters want them to close eyes to. So Okey’s article should be understood as a vindication of Biafran struggle. We said that we want to leave alone and govern ourselves in order to provide security for and feed ourselves. You said no, that you want us to come and live with you, that you can give us security, food, and employment to feed ourselves. We still refused, but you dragged us against our wish. The least Nigeria should have done is to provide that security and employment. But no, you did not. In fact hunger, insecurity and unemployment became worse than it was. Even in our 36 highly fragmented states, local leaders are appointed at Abuja. The Yoruba guy who wrote this knew that even Obasanjo was foisted on the Yoruba from Abuja. Please give us our own Awolowo not his unpopular rival. TAKE IWU, TAKE CHIMAROKE, TAKE AWAY ALL THEM. Don’t you see to give us reasonable people who can protect us? As long as Nigeria remains as it is, there is nothing any one can do locally to put things in order until it is settled at the centre and until then why won’t Igbos blame others for their situation. Ben Nwabueze has proposed revolution despite how out of place it is, others rejected it and thus the status quo continues.
Let me also advise writers to eschew collective condemnation. I cannot come here and condemn all Yoruba people, when I know that majority of them has no hand in whatever evil that befalls Nigeria. Even now, my greatest investment in Nigeria is being handled by a Yoruba while I am in UK and I trust him. Igbos worship money! Are you sure or is it the bad name given to the do in order to hang it? Those who you call Igbos who worship money are the people appointed or selected from Abuja. True Igbo man works for and earns his own money and if working hard means worshipping money, any wonder some section of this country depend on government to live. Today Igbos have virtually nothing save individual businesses, yet most of them will accept Biafra because they can work hard. Even as illiterate as I am in Marine technology, I have in my head what I can do with River Niger to accept big ships since those who should have done so are not interested. A governor is now building Cargo Airport in Igboland. And that is the only Governor who was locally elected. Are you still surprised? But those who don’t want to work hard as an excuse for not worshipping money, why are they jittery once Niger Delta wants to take back their oil? After the Purported ‘no victor no vanquished’, Igboland was left unattended to. Look at the second Niger Bridge which has been awarded many times. This time it read a little less than 68Billion and only 7 billion is in the 2010 budget for it while 10billion will be used to celebrate the same one Nigeria that failed both the ‘no conqueror and no vanquished’. But if working hard to rebuild it ourselves means worshipping money, then I better take that stereotype. Let me beg the common fellow Nigerians; while we all in our local areas bear the onslaught of the Vagabonds in Power(VIP) we have in Nigeria, let those who are commoners help each other in bearing the onslaught instead of adding salt to injury as Ladipo just did.
Joseph Okonkwor is a PhD student in Philosophy