IGBO RACE AND POLITICAL HAWKS
On numerous occasions, especially during my tenure as governor of Abia State, South-East Nigeria, I was invited by several groups and organizations to speak on the place of Igbo in Nigeria's socio-political development. The most remarkable of these many lectures and speeches was, Wake-up Call for Ndigbo, delivered at the Igbo Summit held in Enugu on January 19, 2001. That speech aroused the consciousness of Igbo and set a new political agenda for it. In all the speeches, I did not mince words in eulogizing the role the Igbo have played in the development and stability of our fatherland, even at the risk of their own survival. The responses from these speeches were also very heart-warming, encouraging and richly rewarding.
Short of sounding immodest, I wish to unequivocally state that the speeches I made in the eight years I was governor changed my orientation about the politics of Nigeria and brought me closer to the realities of our collective existence as a people.
In any case, the purpose of this piece is not to recount the juiciness of these speeches, but to draw attention to the orchestrated designs by some devious and mischievous persons to discredit the Igbo and imperil their existence in corporate Nigeria. My attention has been drawn to the recent coordinated verbal and physical attacks on Igbo across the country, particularly in the North in recent times. The Adazi-Nnukwu 12 and others of their ilk, who were murdered in cold blood, readily come to mind. The Christmas Day massacre of some worshippers at St. Theresa's Catholic Church, Madalla in Niger State, in which over 43 persons - mainly Igbo - were sent to their early graves, tells a story of the peril the Igbo face in corporate Nigeria.
I will have to give it to the Igbo: through them God has kept this country together. The Great Zik of Africa did not play ethnic politics as his co-forbears did. Rather, he chose the path of a foremost nationalist, by working selflessly for the enthronement of justice, law and order that have seen the country through its most trying times. For those who did not know, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, like Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, left his well-paid job in the United States to take up the independence struggle back home. He knew quite well the enormous sacrifices involved, including the risk to his personal security, when he opted to fight for the independence of Nigeria. He worked in concert with other nationalists at great costs to win independence for the country on October 1, 1960.
The freedom we enjoy today is attributable to the personal sacrifices these renowned nationalists made. It is, therefore, very worrisome that some armchair critics and political turncoats would be deliberately fanning the embers of hate and ethno-religious sentiments against Igbo, going by the way they talk. I have painfully read a few reports in the media in which some highly placed Nigerians made scathing remarks about Igbo. These utterances, as malicious and provocative as they seemed, have not yielded any positive feedback from Nigerians. Instead they have attracted to them negative press and animosity. There is no right-thinking Nigerian that has not recognized the detribalized role the Igbo have played in the social, economic and political growth of our great country. From east to west, north to south, Igbo are found in large numbers, contributing their quota to commerce and industry.
It is not contestable that Igbo are republican in nature and have never shied away from making their presence felt wherever they live. Their commitment to any cause they are involved in is unparalleled. In fact, one of the reasons they are so maligned and denigrated is because of their unfathomable desire to assert their presence in whatever they do. All over Europe, America and Asia, Igbo are respected and honoured. Whether they are so equally loved is another kettle of fish.
Probably, the marginalization of Igbo can be attributed to their seeming quiet mien and unobtrusive nature. This is definitely what those that chastise them capitalize on. Unknown to some persons, Igbo have whatever it takes to make them known and respected. They have got the population, intellect, candour, energy, wisdom and resources to fight their cause in a lawful and legitimate manner. I have heard some persons advocate that Igbo should take their destiny in their hands and fight for what is rightly theirs. As much as I tend to agree with this viewpoint, it does not detract from the fact that such a pursuit should be done with the interest of the nation at heart. Those that promote division have suddenly forgotten that Igbo had once seceded, when their collective existence was in danger. Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, in his wisdom and courage, decided to lead Biafra to war. Though the war cost enormous human and materials losses, it was just and inevitable. No reasonable person will watch while his house is being set on fire and not fight back. Igbo were pushed to the wall, when the pogrom started, and decided to fight back in self-defence. It is true that millions of precious lives were lost in the conflict that followed, but that war corrected certain impressions erroneously held about Igbo. It also elevated their self-worth and integrated them into the mainstream of the nation's social, economic and political life.
It may no longer be fashionable to talk about the Nigerian Civil War. Nonetheless, the import of that war is not totally lost on the stakeholders of the Nigerian nation. What many, however, have failed to appreciate is that the war reunited the nation and increased the space for further negotiation. Those killing, maiming and the denigrating Igbo should bear in mind that no amount of intimidation or provocation will make Igbo resort to war again. There are many ways to fight for a cause without necessarily taking up arms. They include; subtle diplomacy, negotiation, and building strong platforms to project your ideas and vision.
What Igbo have done since the war ended is to build bridges of friendship across tribes, religions, and races. They have continued to absorb the heat that the system throws up without allowing themselves to be consumed or harmed. They have done this wisely and diligently, bearing one thing in mind: their overall interests.
Nonetheless, I am worried by the effrontery of some social critics who regale themselves in tarnishing the image of Igbo and bringing them into disrepute. What rationale was behind the recent upscale in the criticism of Igbo. That these unwarranted criticisms are coming from unusual quarters makes the whole thing unsettling. In any case, the consoling angle to these criticisms is that those that engage in them have never denied the pivotal role Igbo have played in keeping Nigeria united. It has never been in dispute that Igbo love the Nigerian nation tremendously. This can be seen in their huge investments all over the country. And they have consistently done this over the years. The contentious issue of Abandoned Property did not dissuade them from investing in the development of other parts of Nigeria.
The beneficiaries of these gargantuan investments are the north and south-west. Take for instance, Mubi in Adamawa State: the town was completely developed by Igbo. In fact, the St. Andrew's Catholic Church, Mubi was built and furnished by the sons and daughters of Adazi-Nnukwu resident there, and named after their home parish. This tells an enduring story about the love Igbo have for where they are resident. One could then imagine the agony of the families that lost their dear ones in the massacre that took place in Mubi – allegedly carried out by the dreaded Boko Haram sect. I know that the perpetrators of the heinous crime must be regretting ever exerting such a heavy burden on the families of the bereaved who have, since the unfortunate incident, wept and refused to be consoled. I have made several unsuccessful efforts to unravel the main reason behind the killings. The more I think about it, the more pained and confused I become.
From what is happening all over Nigeria, it is certain the Igbo are an endangered species. The hawks among the political elite have, in recent times, made inflammatory statements in the media to cause discontentment and impugn the integrity of Igbo. This is a deliberate ploy to create disquiet among Igbo resident in the North and by that way achieve their self-centred agenda. What other reason can anybody adduce for these wicked and undesirable vituperations against an innocent people, whose only crime is that they found themselves in a complex and marginally polarised nation.
It is not my intention to create any state of uncertainty with this article. My main objective is to put the records straight and in the process call to order those who have vowed to be enemies of Igbo. Sincerely speaking, I am sorry for these people, because they will fail in the end. They should learn a bitter lesson from those that tried in the past and failed in their plot to destroy the Igbo race. They should also know that a cow that has no tail, it is God chases away the flies that torment it. This is true of Igbo. Even during the war, the machinations of saboteurs could not stop Biafra from fighting courageously to defend themselves.
As a person, I have worked for the peace and unity of this country, and therefore believe strongly in the inseparability of its peoples. Our tongues, religions and races may differ, but we share a common heritage. Nigeria is bigger than any person. But unfortunately, some persons see themselves as either above the law or too myopic to see and believe the truth. I can withstand anything, tolerate anything, but can't withstand any kind of insult on my people. As a people, we deserve some respect and consideration. The situation becomes hedgy when some persons gang up to demean and demonize Igbo. Those who speak ill of Igbo have no single plausible reason for such an action or thought.
I am sure that Igbo are gradually learning from the mistakes of the past and are geared toward making amends wherever necessary. It will amount to a tragedy of astonishing proportion should they allow themselves to be fooled or cajoled again too soon. For 30 months they fought a war to stay alive in a nation their forefathers shed their blood to nurture. Which tribe in Nigeria can boast of having contributed more visibly to the advancement of the economic, social or political life of Nigeria than Igbo? The records are there for all to see about the indelible contributions of Igbo to the conceptualization and growth of the Nigerian nationhood. Those who pretend not to see these contributions are nothing other than charlatans and hagiographers. They come in different shades: social critics, politicians, seers, patriots, statesmen, and with one agenda: destroy the Igbo. In the name of the God I serve, they are bound to fail.
These pretenders, who parade themselves as social critics, hate Igbo with morbidity. They wine and dine with some of our sons and daughters in the open, pretending they love them, but deep inside they nurse ulterior motives. Their sins will find them out someday, and they will regret the day they were born. The same thing will happen to those who kill Igbo for no justifiable reason. It is unfortunate that the consequences of all the riots in the north have been majorly borne by Igbo. At the slightest provocation, they are massacred. Instead of revenging they choose to remain silent - allowing God to avenge for them. Maybe that is why God has continued to spare them from the wicked plots of their enemies. Like the Israelites, Igbo are also surrounded by adversaries in their everyday activities, but God has remained their shield and buckler. He will never fail to protect them.
I have heard some people say in the open that the Igbo would not smell the Presidency in 2015. Who told them that? When did they become God who orders our steps? They forget that it is only God that can determine what happens tomorrow; it is not within the purview of man to decide. The difference between God and man is that while God knows the end from the beginning, man knows the beginning from the end. Where Igbo will be in 2015's political odyssey has already been determined by God. So, let no man arrogate to himself what belongs exclusively to God.
Let me use this opportunity to warn the political hawks who are planning to destabilize the Igbo nation and sow seed of discord, to turn a new leaf and shun evil. If they failed to repent, then they should be ready for God's wrath, which usually comes when one least expects it.
I urge Igbo to close ranks and work as a people. They must shun divisive tendencies and cooperate with the present administration to enthrone a more egalitarian nation where peace, order and love will reign. They should not be intimidated by anybody because their future lies in God's hands.