Healing The Wounds Of The Past
Sometime ago, former Abia State governor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, addressed the British Parliament. Undaunted, and standing there before the full House, he highlighted the marginalization of Ndigbo in the scheme of things in Nigeria. He practically lectured the Parliamentarians on the insider-stuff of what was going on in Nigeria. In a sombre sense, he gave moral fibre to the last book Professor Chinua Achebe wrote before his transition, titled 'There was a Country'.
Thank goodness, the controversy that hounded that book publication had mellowed down before the man made his exit. Many Nigerians had expressed their concern that a man in Achebe's position could have distanced himself from fanning the embers of hostility and rather find a way to heal the wounds inflicted on both sides of the divide during the 30-month fratricidal war that engulfed Nigeria between 1967 and 1970. In a way, they were right. But then, what wound can be healed if it continues to be corroded with acidic applications every day? Those who are inflicted with the wound may endure, but the pain will certainly persist.
Before the civil war that erupted in 1967, Igbo people were the commercial backbone of Nigeria's economy. A huge percentage of all the residential houses, hotels, clubs, shops, private schools and commercial vehicles in practically all the big cities in Nigeria, from Enugu in the East, to Kano and Kaduna in the North, and from Port Harcourt to Lagos, Abeokuta and Ibadan in the West, were owned by the Igbo. The Igbo were all over Nigeria as teachers, bankers, farmers, technicians, entertainers and business tycoons. In a nutshell, the Igbo dominated the national economy. They were to Nigeria then what the Asians are today to the British.
Generally, the Igbo believed that the plan of the British Government in 1914 to amalgamate the various regional groups into one huge country through the dictates of the then Governor-General, Lord Fredrick Luggard, was not a mistake after all because the huge size of a country can also offer its citizens the opportunity to wield their human and material resources together to make that country truly great. So, they concentrated their wealth and efforts in developing any part of the country that favoured them, settling mostly in the West and in the North.
Come to think of it today. How many Hausa or Yoruba have rentable houses, private schools, shops and hotels in Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo or Rivers states? How many have commercial vehicles in these Eastern States? They can be counted on the fingertips.
In comparison, how many Igbo have commercial houses, shops, hotels, commercial vehicles and other business outfits in Kano, Kaduna, Adamawa, Bauchi, Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan and other cities of the Western and Northern states? As a result, over the years, the Igbo have had to be the ones to make all the sacrifice to keep Nigeria one. This is partly because they had, and still have, huge investments in all manner of places in the country.
Before the civil war, the Igbo were highly regarded by most of the other Nigerians. Despite the negative impression of being domineering, which some Northern leaders had about them, most Nigerians trusted them. If an Igbo told another Nigerian 'this is black or white', and that Nigerian turned it over and over, it couldn't be different. Hausas who were usually impressed would reciprocate 'to-o-o-o' which meant, 'it is so, indeed.'
The fact that they were trusted by the other Nigerians made the Igbo proud of themselves and that pride strengthened their sense of patriotism all the more.
However, somehow, the Igbo fell short of expectation during the war. The story was that an Igbo who pretended to be dead would jump to his feet on hearing the clatter of coins. This was interpreted by other Nigerians to mean that the Igbo loved money even more than their lives. Once their greedy love for money became somewhat established by the other Nigerians, political manipulators took advantage of their 'weakness' to deal them a devastating and sustained blow from which they have never recovered.
Most Igbo who fought on the side of Biafra lost their properties and their lives' savings to the war. Dispossessed, the Igbo became the very opposite of what they had been in Nigeria before the war. Where were they now to begin from? But they were not daunted. Characteristically, they moved out again after the war. In their enterprising spirit they began to put back their shattered lives together. They soon began to amass wealth. But because their pride and their ego had once been punctured, things were no longer going to remain the same again.
It is a sad commentary that since the end of the civil war some 44 years ago, the Igbo have continued to fiddle with their destiny as a people. For one reason, their much touted greed for money appears to have caught up with them. Today, a people who only one generation ago was the proud showcase of African dexterity have turned out to become cowardly ritualists, kidnappers, highway and bank robbers, assassins and what have you?
After the military incursions into the democratic process, Nigerian leaders tried to settle the Igbo by giving them the opportunity of becoming Senate President. It was hoped that from that advantageous legislative angle, they would be able to effect the necessary changes that would keep Nigeria firmly united and bring the Igbo back on their feet. But they missed out on those opportunities. Only Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who later became a ceremonial President and Prince Nwafor Orizu who occupied that Number Three position during the First Republic, from 1960 to 1966 can be exonerated from any blame in this regard because they were there ever before the military came into the scene.
When the military went back to barracks, even if temporarily, Dr Joseph Wayas, from Obubra in Cross River State, was elected the first Senate President in the Second Republic. He presided for three years, from 1979 to 1982.
Dr Iyorcha Ayu, a Tivi, who was born in Gboko, Benue State was the next Senate President. He presided from for only one year, from 1992 to 1993. In November 1993, he was impeached by the Senate because of his vehement opposition to the Interim National Government (of Chief Ernest Shonekan) established after Bashorun Moshood K. Abiola was barred from taking up the Presidency.
Elder Statesman, Ameh Ebute, another Idoma citizen from Benue State took over. He presided in 1993 for less than one year.
Between 1993 and 1998, there was no Senate President in Nigeria. The military was 'on official duty!'
After this period came the era of Igbo Presidency. Evan Enwerem who hailed from Imo State became the first Senate President of the Fourth Republic. But he did not hold the post for long. A Senate committee investigated him for fraud, part of the allegation being that he falsified his name. He was removed from office on November 18, 1999.
Then came the Presidency of Dr Chuba Okadigbo, another Igbo man from Anambra State. Okadigbo was relieved of that office in less than one year, on August 8, 2000. He was accused of fraud and misappropriation of funds.
He was succeeded by Pius Anyim, yet another Igbo man from Ebonyi State. Anyim presided over the Senate from 2000 to 2003.
In 2003, another Igbo man from Abia State, Adolphus Wabara, took over. Wabara was there for two years from 2003 to 2005.
He gave way Ken Nnamani, yet another Igbo man from Enugu State. Ken presided for two years from 2005 to 2007 when the Presidency went outside Igbo Land, and back to the Middle Belt. In other words, the Igbo had five clear chances of directly influencing the socio-political direction the nation was to go, but each time, they bungled their opportunity.
The incumbent President, David Mark was elected on June 6 , 2007. He completed his tenure of FOUR years and was re-elected in April 2011 for another four-year term, which is as it should be.
The Igbo had to make do with second positions as Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives because they could not hold their ground. So, who is to blame?
To put it mildly, it is so saddening. And it means that the Igbo themselves need to look inwardly this time. They need to address their own problems. They need to ask themselves pertinent questions. They need a change of attitude, if they must be accepted back into the fold and trusted again as they once were because they are too important for the survival of the country for Nigerians to want to lose them.
It can be argued that perhaps it was the attitude of the other Nigerians that drove the Igbo to the wall when they realised that they had not only lost the war, they had also lost the peace. More significantly was the fact that as a result of those earlier poor leaderships after the war, the Igbo also lost their sense of unity. Today they still dance the discordant tune of 'each man for himself, God for us all!' The Igbo of today will be ready to betray each other because of money. Only a generation ago, it was unheard of. It was taboo. So, when Achebe wrote "There was a Country", it was in a sense, a painful remembrance of the ordeals his Igbo kith and kin have passed through over these past four decades. And this is what Dr Kalu talked about. As the saying goes, only the man who is wearing the shoe knows where it pinches.
Over these decades, the Pharaohs who never knew Joseph have taken their turns in Aso Rock, and Joseph continues to remain the dreamer. The result is that our society continues to enthrone mediocrity in public offices and the tendency to breed rogue governments is almost becoming a compulsion. No wonder Nigerians were recently ranked among the saddest people in the world by Forbes magazine. It was a fairly accurate assessment of the true state of affairs in the country. The people no longer feel safe in their own homeland anymore: everywhere one goes, broad day-light terrorists, kidnappers, armed robbers and assassins are on the prowl. The nation's infrastructure is obsolete and inadequate: no clean drinking water, epileptic electricity supply, no good roads, poorly equipped hospitals and sub-standard schools. At practically every level, corrupt and lawless leaders and law enforcement agencies connive with criminals to unleash terror in the land. Youths are terribly disoriented because there is no employment for them. The generation before them lacks the moral authority to guide and mentor them properly. The rich are getting richer by the day and the poor barely exist.
All these ugly developments only point to one destination: a need to reverse the trend.
The Igbo must again put their manpower and financial resources together to take their rightful place in Nigeria. No other people can do this for them. They must discard all the numerous 'unions' each aspiring 'Igbo leader' has formed and concentrate on a democratic union which will bring ALL Igbo under one umbrella with the aim of keeping Nigeria together. In doing this, they must realise the need to campaign vigorously against regionalising the country. In other words, every citizen of the country must be free to live, work and help develop the city or town of his residence in any state of the country. There will be no issue of 'I am an Igbo, a Yoruba or an Hausa.' The only declaration should be: 'I am a Nigerian'.
This is not going to be an easy task, given the literacy level in some Nigerian states and the position of some ruling families in both the Northern and Western states. But it is not going to be an impossible task either. Igbo governors of the East and Igbo leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives must summon courage now, tie their loincloths firmly, and be ready for another sustained battle.
To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be accomplished. Nigerians must hope for the best from our people. They deserve it. And the Igbo must now be ready to give them that hope. They must look inwards first. Then look out. They must be ready to offer Nigeria that true, unadulterated leadership that they will trust and say 'to-o-o-o-o!'
It is the only way the wounds of the past can be healed.
Sir Emeka Asinugo is editor of London-based Trumpet Newspaper.