MARGINALIZATION IN THE US AS IN NIGERIA (1)
Need we repeat the obvious? That Nigeria and America have a lot in common. One is the greatest British creation in Africa; the other equally, is a British super creation but in North America.
While the United States prides itself as the melting pot of ethnic variegation (the supplanting and subjugation of the Ameri-Indians notwithstanding), Nigeria has more than 300 ethnic nationalities, each struggling to survive in the face of stiff internally generated competition (IGC) to submerge the other. The US was the master of slave trade and went to war against itself, ostensibly to abolish it. Nigeria supplied most of the slaves that worked on the American plantations of yore.
The result is that today, outside Nigeria; America has the world's largest black population - most, relics of the abominable slave history. Nigeria too has fought its own civil war, which, like the US, nobody was declared a winner or a loser, although, the world knows which side actually won.
Marginalization in the US as in Nigeria is a shifting conundrum. Today, it is of the Jews, blacks, Latinos, gays, women and people of color in the US by the majority, equally stranger element whites who lay claim to America. Today, in Nigeria, it is essentially against the Igbo.
By the way, looks like it is the Igbo that hold the records as longest marginalized people in history, from 1967 till date. But other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, as usual jealous of the Igbo, are now claiming marginalization like a trophy. Do not mind them if you're Igbo. They are just playing catch up. Some of them think that the appellation is a sport laurel from the Olympics. Now, the Yoruba and the Hausa-Fulani are shouting marginalization because they are no more directing the levers of political powers in Nigeria. For a short while. Imagine!
Truth be told, if the Igbo controlled the establishment before 1967 and mounted political saddle proper for six months after the Nzeogwu coup, they no doubt marginalized peoples from fringe ethnic tribes. They even tried to marginalize the Hausa Fulani and their cousin by religion, the Yoruba. The civil service then was theirs. The military then was theirs. The academia, as well as the Foreign Service, was also theirs. Let's face it, Igbo truly once marginalized others! When it was the turn of the Hausa Fulani to rule (unbroken 38 years), using the military plus Balewa, Shagari and Yar'Adua minus OBJ's first coming, they kept all the juicy trappings of power to themselves. In retaliation, they marginalized the rest, especially the Igbo.
They behaved as if Nigeria was theirs to keep. Like it was their war trophy. When the Yoruba mounted the saddle, it was something else. Every foreign investment must first be in Yorubaland before considering any other ethnic group. A type of fashion statement (fila asiko - a type of cap that is delicately slanted towards the earlobe on the head of the male wearer) was even made then. Appropriately, it was known as Power Shift. And every Nigerian who the cap fit wore it - slanted towards the earlobe! That was how Ondo became part of Niger Delta Development Commission's catchment area. That was how road development and rehabilitation in the SW areas of the country got a major boost while monies set aside for road rehabilitation and development in other parts, ended up swelling the war chest of a certain political party. That was how all the juicy appointments in the land became Yoruba's. It was super marginalization - in motion!
Now, a minority in the person of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is in power. What have we been noticing? Most sensitive ministries such as Petroleum Resources, Internal Affairs, Aviation and Finance have been put under the control of sons and daughters from the Niger Delta. I meant to say daughters. So much that a study recently released by a certain non-governmental agency backed with information from the Federal Office of Statistics, says that Jonathan's investments and expenditures since he came to power has been eighty-five percent in the direction of his ethnic region of origin. Ahiazuwa. Jimanze. Oh Jimanze!
Aso Rock has refuted it, saying that those investments were initiated by Alhaji Shehu Musa Yar'Adua. Who do you blame for all this? If America did it and is still doing it, why shouldn't it be accepted as a thriving norm? If Tafawa Balewa did it and Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi did it and IBB did it and Gowon did it and even Buhari and Abdulsalami practiced marginalization towards others in furtherance of the interests of their own ethnic nationalities, why not GEJ? If J.F. Kennedy had to appoint his sibling Robert, as the Attorney General of the US, why shouldn't David Mark's younger brother be the Adjutant General of the Nigerian Army?
I was in the US; last week to notice that the old order has not changed. Predominantly black populated DC and its peoples are still groaning under the weight of marginalization. So, I take back my earlier statement that the Igbo are the world's longest reigning recipient of marginalization. That record goes to the people of Washington DC who are not adequately represented in the US Congress. But how did Washingtonians, who are predominantly black (some say predominantly Igbo) and fiercely Democrat get into this category? It started a long time ago. History has it that it stretches to the time, shortly before and following the Emancipation Proclamation of the mid 19th century America. It was during the American civil war, when (as Gowon would copy in future when he created states in Nigeria), Abraham Lincoln, issued the proclamation, which was a master stroke that put an everlasting schism in the ranks of the confederates.
Then, the area known as Washington DC was a safe haven for those blacks who ran away from their masters in the cotton fields of America's Deep South and headed the way of the highly liberal north-east, especially the Washington DC area. There they settled to find servitude jobs in the homes and factories of the highly polished and liberal but capitalist, industrialist-folks of Washington DC. There at least, they found jobs as house helps, servants, gardeners and errand boys and girls of all shapes. To be free and reign in hell (the bourgeoning industrial north east) to them was better than serve in heaven – the buoyant cotton fields of the south. And so as time went by, the jobless, illiterate, unskilled population of freed slaves, surged up north to the consternation and enduring embarrassment of their new masters, who, though mostly pro-emancipation, were still leery of the presence of the black man with his peculiar nuances and ways of life.
They at least tolerated the migrating blacks. You can't live in Washington as an enlightened overlord and be seen to kick against what the new climate in the USA preached: Emancipation, liberation, freedom and the right of the pursuit of eternal happiness for every citizen irrespective of color, sex, race and creed. Repeat. I was in Washington DC last week. On a stroll downtown DC, I ran into a horde of demonstrators and hunger strikers who were questioning the continued marginalization of the People of DC – their lack of adequate representation of the people of DC at the United Congress. It reminded me quickly of when President Bill Clinton (Democrat) was to leave office. He did something uniquely whimsical. On one of the presidential limousines that were now to be used by the incoming new president, George Bush (Republican), he changed its tag number to read 'taxation without representation.' He did so to embarrass or annoy George Bush who had just defeated Al Gore in the now historic year 2000 presidential elections.
This was the same Bill Clinton, who had looked the other way as Washingtonians (ninety-nine percent Democrats) pleaded with Congress to give the People of DC a befitting representation in the Congress. Remember, Bill Clinton promoted himself, as the first black president that lived in the White House. During his eight years of unbroken two-term rule, Bill Clinton was at the White House when the people of DC (supposedly his people) argued, pleaded, and demonstrated, in vain that their city, the capital of the US, be properly represented in the US legislature. He did not do it. He did not do anything visible to advance that cause. It was typical of the American race-conscious white establishment.
Why should Washingtonians who are likely to elect a black senator have the right to have a voting right in the almighty US Congress? To have a true black man rub shoulders with the exclusive 100- all white members of the US Senate, is always seen as an anathema, no, an aberration – by the white super class. It must not be a norm. It must not be institutionalized, at least not by any conscious driven legislation. So, the whole of America, it appeared, conspired to keep Washingtonians down.
Offoaro writes from Havensgate Owerri.