By Kelechi Eme, The Guardian
The title of this piece is an adaptation of an article I read over fifteen years ago. The article was written by the erudite Adebayo Williams in one of the national news magazines. It was captioned “The Road to Kigali” and illustrated succinctly, the consequence of inactions on the part of policy makers and individuals. He aptly drew a parallel on the activities of two distinguished Nigerians on the political terrain after exiting public service at an unusual young age. This was during the turbulent military regime of the 90s that emboldened all manner of pro-democracy agitators (including nation wreckers and ethnic bigots who masqueraded as liberators of the masses). The country was at a dangerous curve and the possibility of full blown ethnic war loomed larger since the end of the Biafran war.
The objects of the writer were the late Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and Gen. T. Y. Danjuma that retired with the first coming of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo on October 1st, 1979. He praised the former for abandoning his comfort zone in pursuit of better governance for Nigerians and castigated the later for his aloofness on good governance and human right matters. His conclusion was that silence in the face of injustice and atrocities breeds radicalism, extremism, ethnic cleansing and call to arms (emphasis mine). The reluctance to speak up was what led to the genocide in Rwanda. This he aptly captured as “The Road to Kigali” in his piece. In the past one year we have witnessed the elevation of terrorism as a means of fighting social and economic injustice by MEND and Boko Haram. These are horrible crimes that every well-meaning Nigerian must condemn. Our collective failures as citizens of Nigeria bred the terrorist groups we appear unable to confront today. Did we tackle the residual issues that threw these monsters at us? This is the question our leaders and policy makers must answer.
It is on this premise that I have decided to bring the ticking time bomb in the South East before Nigerians. The present state of the region is a clear manifestation of man’s inhumanity to man. You will wonder if you were in a different republic. Yes, it is part of Nigeria. Yes, the people are Nigerians. However, the bitter truth is that of a zone systematically neglected and wickedly destroyed for reasons that are ingloriously archaic, incurable hatred and misplaced fears by the ruling class. I have in earlier notes expressed my disgust on the actions of a section of Igbo leaders, but the problem is purely beyond them. Some Nigerians might live under the illusion that the South East problem is not theirs, yet history has shown that ambivalence over the agony of your neighbour might consume you. Two recent developments in our national psyche thoroughly brought this assertion into perspective. The first was the activities of MEND and other Niger Delta groups that were active within their geographical location. Bombs exploded in Warri, Yenogoa, etc without any iota of concern by non-Niger Deltans. The failure to immediately seek for a holistic solution to the decadence in oil producing areas brought the bombs to Lagos (NNPC facility) and Abuja(Independence day bombings). Boko Haram then took the center stage. Their religious agenda which tilted towards social issues were well known and nothing was done to nip it in the bud. I do not really understand what they are demanding in a multi ethnic and religious society. It was a case of misguided elements that were misrepresenting Islam by indoctrinating young and vulnerable youths to batter modernization for medieval existence. They recorded significant success because the youths were disgruntled and unemployed. They killed hundreds in Maiduguri and we pretended nothing was happening. Now we have a national emergency on our hands because they arrived Abuja and targeted the flagship of our civilian protection.
I raised the issue of systematic “decapitation” of the Igbos because there are facts to support that. I am concerned because I have seen the frustration on the faces of young Igbos who have almost lost hope on the Nigerian enterprise. The leaders and policy makers should remember the saying that “he that is down need fear no fall.” The first aberration was committed by the policy of 20pounds handed out to Igbos irrespective of the amount previously deposited in the bank. Even this paltry amount was handed out under the condition that the account was not operated during the war. The economic team of the federal government went a step further to indigenize foreign corporations like UAC, Lever Brothers, Cadbury, PZ, SCOA, the banks, etc. The Igbos had no money to buy shares in these companies and this led to a section of the country having absolute control over the nation’s corporate world. Yet, some Nigerians flaunt hard work before the Igbos. I must commend Gen. Ibrahim Babangida for introducing NERFUND which at least ameliorated the pains of the Igbos. It was through this agency that a company like Emzor Pharmaceutical was established. The harsh post war economic policy immediately converted Igbo businessmen into street hustlers. Those in the corporate world lost their positions and had to begin new professional careers. Importation of stock fish was banned to deny Igbos their only means of protein after the war (Remember that most livestock were lost during the war). This was followed by the problem of abandoned property implemented mainly by the old Rivers state. Nigerians must be reminded that The Distinguished President of the Senate, David Bonaventure Mark actually chaired and rationalized the properties of Igbos in the old Rivers state. A “statesman” like Chief Edwin Clarke was a major beneficiary of the abandoned property.
While the two issues above could be set aside as a watershed in our national evolution, how can one describe the neglect of educational institutions since the end of the civil war? The scare of the war is written all over the institutions. The example of Okigwe Grammar school is a typical example. To make matters worse, The South East was not considered for a new university during the boom of the 70s that led to the proliferation of conventional universities in Nigeria. The situation remained the same until the establishment of Federal universities of technology by the Shagari administration. This resulted in South East students “forcefully” seeking university education outside their homeland. This syndrome contributed to the increased migration of young Igbo intellectuals outside their home states. Prior to the creation of Abia state, the old Imo state accounted for 25% of JAMB applicants. How many of them were admitted considering the presence of only two federal universities in the zone (FUTO had very low admission capacity at the time) and the catchment area policy of JAMB and National Universities Commission)?
The greatest problem is the zero economic activity in the southeast. This is occasioned by the preponderance of zero businesses infrastructure in the zone. All the federal roads are in bad shape and there is not a single strategic national asset located in the region. How many Nigerians still remember that the garden city of Port Harcourt use to be under Owerri province? The city of Port Harcourt deserves more than its present stage of development, why is Owerri stagnant? The systematic neglect has even been extended to harm the economic interest of our dear country Nigeria. Why is the huge Hydro carbon in the South East designated as strategic reserve while oil in other zones is being exploited? The exploitation of this huge resource will create jobs for the teeming youths who might be used by the lunatic fringe elements in the society to ferment trouble. One of the largest Natural Gas reserve in the world is under the belly of Atani-Osamala-Ozubulu corridor and extends to Oguta. There is also the huge oil reserve along the Ohi-Ubomiri-Mbieri-Iho corridor. This oil reserve is under “locks and keys” for reasons known only to the federal government. What about the Aguleri-Umuleri deposit? A situation in which Akwa Ibom received N204.5billion in 2008 from the federation account (largely due to derivation) and the entire south eastern states got N176.2billion justifies the urgent need to commence the Hydro Carbon exploitation of the zone. The need for development of the region is so overwhelming that delay will not be in Nigeria’s interest. The migration of young Igbo men and women can only be curtailed through economic development of the zone.
I want to conclude with the quote by Dr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria: “Having said that, this nation must realise that Igbos have more than paid for their foolishness. They have been defeated in war, rendered paupers by monetary policy fiat, their properties declared abandoned and confiscated, kept out of strategic public sector appointments and deprived of public services. The rest of the country forced them to remain in Nigeria and has continued to deny them equity.
The Northern Bourgeoisie and the Yoruba Bourgeoisie have conspired to keep the Igbo out of the scheme of things. In the recent transition when the Igbo solidly supported the PDP in the hope of an Ekwueme presidency, the North and South-West treated this as a Biafra agenda. Every rule set for the primaries, every gentleman´s agreement was set aside to ensure that Obasanjo, not Ekwueme emerged as the candidate. Things went as far as getting the Federal Government to hurriedly gazette a pardon. Now, with this government, the marginalistion of the Igbo is more complete than ever before. The Igbos have taken all these quietly because, they reason, they brought it upon themselves. But the nation is sitting on a time-bomb.
After the First World War, the victors treated Germany with the same contempt Nigeria is treating Igbos. Two decades later, there was a Second World War, far costlier than the first. Germany was again defeated, but this time, they won a more honourable peace. Our present political leaders have no sense of History. There is a new Igbo man, who was not born in 1966 and neither knows nor cares about Nzeogwu and Ojukwu. There are Igbo men on the street who were never Biafrans. They were born Nigerians, are Nigerians, but suffer because of actions of earlier generations. They will soon decide that it is better to fight their own war, and may be find an honourable peace, than to remain in this contemptible state in perpetuity.”
We have uprising in Niger Delta and the Boko Haram challenge to deal with. These challenges are all pointing to “THE ROAD TO BIAFRA”. A proactive approach to the problem of the South East will make this road a closed alley. A replication of the activities of the two aforementioned groups in any part of the country might unwittingly take us to that road to Biafra. “The Road to Biafra” is a metaphor for agitation for self-determination by any section of the country. This is the time for nationalist to rise and put all hands on deck in steering our country out of this dangerous slide.