The Igbo’s: Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart

The title of this article was inspired from the lyrics of a popular song titled “Only A Fool” made popular by Mighty Sparrow, the Trinidanian Calypso King of the World. If I may paraphrase some of the lyrics, it goes as follows. ‘Why do I keep fooling myself when I know you love someone else. I pretend I don’t see. I have to admit it that even though you hurt me so, I still can’t forget it and if I were a man, I will let you go. It’s no use trying to hang on to a love already gone. Hence only a fool breaks his own heart.”

The lyrics of this song appropriately epitomize the situation the Igbo’s have found themselves in present day Nigeria. As much as I am not advocating for secession, it is my considered opinion that it is high time the Igbo’s come to fully realize that it is a complete waste of time trying to please people who do not wish them well.

Trying so hard to get other ethnic groups to hug and embrace them as an important component of Nigeria. Is it not ironic that 46 years since the end of the Nigerian civil war in which they lost, the Igbo’s are still striving to be fully readmitted into the country and accorded their place as citizens with all the benefits of full citizenship?

There are some who keep asking the question, what do the Igbo’s want? The answer is simple. They are not asking for too much. They only ask to be treated fairly and not like second class citizens in a country where they were at the forefront in its fight for Independence. They ask to be given a chance to aspire for the highest office of the land and not schemed out of contention each time the opportunity comes up. We all know what happened to Dr. Ekwueme after he had worked so hard for the formation of the PDP.

The truth whether we like to admit it or not is that there are some in this country who will do everything possible, including forming incompatible political alliances just to deny the Igbo’s that chance. No one has to take my word for it . All I ask is that those who doubt my contention, go read the comments by no less a person than the present Emir of Kano, Alhaji Lamido Sanusi who in his speech during the 1999 Constitutional Conference, said as follows, “ There is a new Igbo man who was not born in 1966 and neither knows or cares about Nzeogwu and Ojukwu.

There are Igbo men on the street who were never Biafrans, but were born Nigerians but suffer because of the actions of earlier generations. They will soon decide it is better to fight their own war and may find honorable peace than to remain in this contemptible state of perpetuity.” He went further to say, “The Northern bourgeoisie and the Yoruba bourgeoisie have exacted their pound of flesh from the Igbo’s.” Then he warned that, “if this issue is not resolved immediately, no conference will solve Nigeria’s problems.”

Still on his speech, he went further to say the following, “The Igbo’s have more than paid for their foolishness in fighting a war. They have been defeated in war, rendered paupers by monetary fiat, their properties declared abandoned and confiscated, kept out of public sector appointments, deprived of public services and forced to remain in a Nigeria that denies them equity”. Do I say more? This did not come from a highly placed Igbo man or a nobody like me.

Those comments were made by a Northern and Muslim aristocrat. I don’t know if the Emir still stands by those assertions but it is instructive to know that the noble prize laureate Wole Soyinka recently echoed similar sentiments. Yet despite those assertions, to most Nigerians if you are an Igbo man complaining of marginalization, you are a loser and hater. The Igbo’s have been described as a people who are always whining, lamenting and complaining. What they fail to acknowledge is that their whining is born out of good reason. All you need to do is to look at the federal appointments presently being made by this administration, the systemic purge of senior Igbo military and Police officers on trumped up charges of past political sympathies or association, or the on-going changes at the NNPC, Customs and Excise, and Immigration.

Some have criticized and belittled the legitimate concerns of the Niger Delta people yet look at the recent appointments in the NNPC. Their son Mr Kachikwu was demoted and reduced to a powerless inconsequential Board Chairman while retaining his equally insignificant position as Petroleum Minister of State. They have only one other representation in the board while 6 came from the North, including Abba Kyari, the President’s chief of Staff who I guess does not have much on his plate as Chief of Staff to the President to take up an added responsibility at NNPC.

Meanwhile most of the people who own oil blocks are not Niger Deltans but mostly from the North. Are they right in blowing up oil installations? No. But the fact remains that they have legitimate complaints that just cannot be dismissed by calling them terrorists. So when the Igbo’s voice a growing concern and despair over what they perceive as unequal treatment, we cannot just disregard their concerns and call them trouble makers.The fact is that in our hearts we know these complaints to be true with some validity. They’ve been true for a long time and those who deny its continued existence are not only denying reality but doing this country a great disservice. Some have experienced it in their personal lives. Some have practiced or felt it in their hearts. Some have thought of it and heard prejudice in their heads.

Just recently I read a dubious article by one Joe Igbokwe, an Igbo irredentist who pleaded with the Igbo’s to stop hating other groups as if the Igbo’s as an ethnic group is synonymous with hate. Ironically this is a man I understand was ostracized by his Nnewi community for activities bordering on criminality and have since then never ceased writing spurious articles against the Igbo’s so as to please his Lagos state employers. But he failed to acknowledge that the Igbo’s are the only ethnic group who can be found in the most remote village in every part of Nigeria supposedly living amongst the people they hate. Anyone who has visited the South East will tell you the Igbo’s are the most welcoming group to strangers in their midst. As I once mentioned in a previous article, ‘those who have experienced the most, have suffered so much have no time to hate”. Hate is more for those with a slightly guilty conscience and who by chewing an old hate in times of peace wish to demonstrate how great they were during the war. I submit that they Igbo’s having suffered so much alienation have ceased to hate while those who have continued to hate them do so out of guilty conscience. The Igbo’s resent the way they are treated and marginalized rather than hate. Mr Igbokwe may be right in saying the Igbo’s have found it difficult to forgive and forget what happened to them. But the question is how can you forget when no effort is being made by the offender to help you forget? So Mr Igbokwe should have directed his hate blame to the appropriate quarters. Be that as it may I join all like- minded folks in Igboland to desist from the habit of demonizing the President on social media but be free to criticize him objectively and without rancor or abuse when the need arises, while reminding them also as in the words of the late U.S President Ritchard Nixon who said as follows during his resignation speech, “Others may hate you. But those who hate you may not win until you hate them back and then you destroy yourself”.

It is always good to give credit to whom credit is due and in so doing I give immense credit to the Obasanjo regime who gave the Igbo’s a fair shot in his administration. He did not only recognize their worth but accorded them fair representation in his cabinet and in his administration. I must also not fail to acknowledge the altruism as much as it is hardly mentioned of the Yoruba’s who after the civil war preserved and returned all the Igbo properties in the South West to their rightful owners and hardly participated in the abandoned property game. Say what you may about Jonathan he too could be said not to be a nativist as it is with the present administration, which has failed woefully in addressing the systemic issues that have perpetuated the divisions in Nigeria. Nigeria’s nascent democracy has never been about reasonable people coming together to engage in rational argument and develop polite win-win solutions. Rather it has been structured to accommodate the clashing and contesting of people with diverse and fractious interests and opinions. Take the issue of the implementation of the recommendations of the National Conference. While a section of the country is all for it as a panacea for the problems that ail the country, another section of the country is against it because it does not suit their interest or purposes. For them the Unitary system as practiced works just fine. Recently while on a one day working visit to commission a 75 kilometer road in Wanke, Bornu state, the President said his administration will deal decisively with any security threat in the country, obviously referring to the Niger Delta militants, Boko Haram and IPOB. I doubt if he also had the herdsmen in mind, since despite all their killings and massacres none has ever been arrested or their automatic weapons taken away since they are not Nigerians as the Sultan of Sokoto claimed. Instead of finding peaceful solutions to national problems, all we do is issue threats forgetting that a man who finds a fly perched on his scrotum does not use a sledgehammer to kill it, rather you handle it with care or you hurt yourself. As with any malady, the right treatment hinges on the correct diagnosis. You don’t recommend better diet and exercise for a patient with a snake bite. We may just continue to ignore the full implementation of the National confab recommendations, peaceful resolution of our problems, understanding and appreciating of the concerns of all agitators and other well thought out solutions to our peril.

As I write this essay I expect the usual suspect groups to respond with vitriol, denial and abuses. But like drug addicts they continue to live in denial about their ailment which is their inability or reluctance to accept the truth about the Igbo’s, about Nigeria’s inherent problems and about themselves. All the same in my vulnerability, I continue to see the place of the Igbo’s in Nigeria without the instagrammed filter of breezy certainties, perfectible moments or rosy future, hence it is time for them to look inwards. The Igbo’s are a people who have survived and prospered despite so many odds. For a people who were pauperized after the civil war by giving them only 20 pounds irrespective of how much money they had in their bank accounts before the war. For a race who were denied the chance to participate in the indigenization policy of the 70’s or fully rehabilitated after the civil war. For a people who have been denied the chance to rule the country in its 56 year old history despite their contributions to the country, they have come a long way to become captains of industry, the foremost importers and traders in the country and are gradually turning the South East into the industrial and manufacturing hub of the country. They now manufacture cars, aircraft spare parts, pharmaceuticals etc, all without the assistance or input of the federal government. Educationally they continue to beat all comers in the West African School certificate exams as well as turning out the most college graduates in the country.

This is what a Yoruba man Mr Adesanya in a rare moment of introspection and self- awareness said about the Igbo’s on social media, “The Igbo’s are a very prestigious people. When I look at great Africans, I see the Igbo’s. In the Igbo’s I see the future of Africa, sadly they have been treated as rams in Nigeria. These people are very innovative, very creative, endowed with business ideas. They are kind of cocky (no tribe is perfect), but their togetherness is what bewilders me the most. The people are capable of boosting the economy of Nigeria if invested on, but sadly they have been slaughtered daily but they have the enduring spirit”. That many Nigerians will not agree with these comments is expected and understandable, but that does not invalidate the comments. As one white mother here in the United States, Ms Rachel Garlinghouse who is raising 3 adopted black kids wrote in a recent article in reaction to recent demonstrations on ‘black lives matter’, she said and I quote, “when someone is hurting no matter how that hurt is expressed (usually through anger, anxiety, depression, or aversion) just ask yourself, when has it ever been helpful or uplifting to tell a person they shouldn’t feel as they do”?. That’s exactly what we do in Nigeria. We constantly question the right of the Igbo’s or the Niger Deltans to feel the way they do. We demonize them and say they should be content with what they have been given and stop asking for more. But we sometimes miss the point, for it is not always about what they want but how they have been treated. There is a saying, “ultimately people will forget what you said or what you did, but they will not forget how you made them feel”.

In my opinion the Igbo’s should be able to do more for themselves by investing more in the South East instead of far flung places where they are disliked, vilified and not fully appreciated. Their company headquarters in the banking, shipping, manufacturing industries should be relocated to their home states, thereby providing more job opportunities for their teeming jobless youths. This has become necessary since all you read on Facebook pages and on social media is the clamor for the Igbo’s to go back home and to stop being a nuisance. One commentator on Facebook even described Igbo’s in the North and South West as economic jobless migrant refugees who are a nuisance and asked the question , do you see the Yoruba’s and the Northerners investing in the South East? Which is of course a true assertion. There are millions of South Westerners who have never ventured past the Niger River and do not care to. You can hardly find a Northerner investing in the South East, except their cattle rearers. Those Igbo’s who build expensive mansions in Lagos, Kano, Abuja , Kaduna etc, should do well to first build such mansions in their villages or home states, hence there must be lessons to learn when their properties were declared abandoned in some parts of the country at the end of the civil war. For those who are small scale traders, I am not advocating that they pack up and leave wherever they are, but rather to be alert and cognizant of their surroundings and what is happening around them, because they never know when they can be descended on for the most flimsy excuse. Neither am I advocating that the Igbo’s isolate themselves and desist from interacting with the rest of the country or other ethnic groups.

They have earned their place in Nigeria and must continue to contribute to its development when offered the opportunity. So also must they recognize their place and know that they are not universally loved or appreciated which to me is the beginning of wisdom. In my opinion the Igbo’s should stop obsessing about federal appointments and of being marginalized or trying to secede unless there is a referendum to that effect. In which case it must be peaceful and amicable. This is because they can do better by themselves while continuing to exhibit a commitment to excellence. They must remember their history and what they have gone through as a people, knowing that what they cannot do for themselves no one else will do it for them. They must continue to encourage, mentor and assist younger Igbo generations to excel and not climb the ladder of opportunity and success and then kick down the ladder. They must learn to live peacefully, progress and help each other together as brothers or die together as fools.

They have the manpower, the smarts, the ingenuity and the ability to turn the South East into the japan of Africa. All they lack is selfless and tested leadership, since some if not most of their present leaders are dubious, selfish and self- centered to say the least. Most are not in the mode of Dr Azikiwe, Okpara or Ojukwu, all of blessed memory. Their Governors steal from their own people while a majority of other looters steal from the National treasury which in itself is just as bad. They forget that power is ephemeral. That it is here today, gone tomorrow. That every banana stem will one day become dry leaves and that their youthfulness, vibrancy and good health will also fade away someday and all they will be remembered for will be their good or bad deeds when they governed. Most Igbo Politicians to a large degree have become a Machiavellian scheming group with a shameless lack of principle. As shrewd maneuvers of confidence, they have become adept at switching parties, political alliances and allegiances as a pragmatic exercise in the freedom of association, hence there is a need for new crop of leaders. Leaders who see themselves as Igbo’s first and Nigerians second as other ethnic groups have been doing and stop sucking up to other groups in search of approval and acceptance. Seeing themselves as Igbo’s first may not sound like wise counsel, but truth be told, that’s how some other groups see themselves, so much so that for some their religion comes first before ethnic loyalties or citizenship. Why then must the Igbo’s therefore be the exception to the norm.? It most certainly must not be this way but that’s the reality of the Nigerian experience today until better times and selfless leadership emerges.

For all the non- Igbo’s, I say stop hating the Igbos and vice-versa, rather try to put yourselves in their shoes and you will understand how they feel, why they whine, the extent of their grief and their difficulty in forgetting the past because the past keeps repeating itself with no end in sight. There is no doubt for some not all, their resentment is borne out of envy for the continued progress and resilience of the Igbo’s. My advice is, just deal with it and accept it for what it is. Instead of despising them try and borrow their ideas and emulate their entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of stereotyping them from a distance, make an effort to visit or spend time anywhere in the South East and get to understand them, and get to understand them. Be aware that the Igbo’s have survived and thrived because they have come to realize that in suffering there is glory and that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character and character hope. The Igbo’s should also do the same, bearing in mind that not all the people from other tribes are bad or hateful. The must also be willing to accept their short comings as a people, asking themselves, what is it about us people dislike? Are we overbearing, overly aggressive, selfish and controlling? If the answer is yes, then it is obligatory on us to change those things individually and collectively that do not portray us in a more favorable light. But like the title of this essay connotes, we must refuse to be the fool who breaks his own heart by trying to please someone or hang on to a love that is already gone. Again that does not mean secession, all it means is self –awareness, self- realization and self- reliance. Like an American will say,” I can do bad all by myself”.

The question now is, how do can we as a nation and as Nigerians get past this problem? Can we open our hearts to each other? Can we see each other as simply human beings without regards to ethnicity, language or religion? Can our politicians guard against the reckless and hateful language we see and read in the newspapers? Can we as in the words of the United States president, “ get past the heated rhetoric that reduces whole categories of Americans (and in this case Nigerians) to enemies?

Is it possible that we can just for a moment find common ground and lit the candles of shared disgust at the hateful atmosphere in the country today and the inescapable truth that the country is being pulled further apart by its leaders, its politicians and its people? In the end, the solution is not about finding policies that work, but forging consensus and fighting the scourge of cynicism, hatred, prejudice and the will to change. We must open our hearts and develop a new spirit. With an open heart we can learn to step into the shoes of those who feel marginalized and left out and look at their despair through their eyes. Only then can we abandon our stereotypes.

Nnanna Ijomah , BSc , M.A is a Political Science lecturer and Former Special Assistant to the late Ikemba, Chief Emeka Ojukwu, resident in New York City.

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Articles by Nnanna Ijomah