A very foolish separatist call
Anyone with even a modicum of historical knowledge of Nigeria’s evolution would readily agree that no other ethnic nationality has contributed as much as the Igbo tribe in the making and sustenance of an independent Nigeria. Those contributions cannot bear tabulating in this short article, but it suffices to remind us all that when the independence of Nigeria had verged on suffering a still-birth in 1959 it was the selfless disposition of the Igbo leader of the southeastern region, Nnamdi Azikiwe, that saved the Nigerian project.
The importance of that southeastern singular concession to the northern region in the emergence of an independent Nigeria in 1960 cannot be over emphasized. Again, short six years following political independence, when the Nigerian project had verged on disintegration, it was a young Igbo army officer who had initiated the revolutionary movement that pulled Nigeria from the brink. That Nigerian spirit of the Igbo tribe has also been discerned in her bold footprints in commerce and industry across the six geopolitical zones of modern Nigeria. No other tribe matches that entrepreneurial audacity.
The greatest Igbo leader of all time, the late Owelle of Onitsha, must have been fully seized of those invaluable contributions of his tribe to the Nigerian project when he dreamed of his new Nigerian, a personality that would be comprised of the best attributes of the various tribes in Nigeria. The inimitable political philosopher had dedicated newspaper articles and speeches to that theme: The Renaissance Nigerian. The grand old man couldn’t see his Igbo tribe outside the bounds of Nigeria. The great orator not only talked his lofty dreams but he also matched his words with actions. His children were given Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba first names.
At the outbreak of the January 1966 revolutionary movement, Nnamdi Azikiwe, the then ceremonial president of Nigeria, was outside the country while his Yoruba contemporary, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was in prison (two legs of the Nigerian political tripod was missing at such a defining political moment!!). Regrettably, the revolution miscarried. Less-than-competent military leaders eventually assumed the reins of power; and half-expectedly, terribly mismanaged the damage they had inherited from the revolutionaries.
The most senior military officer in Nigeria at the time invariably became head of state. His name was Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, a major-general – another Igbo man. But that coincidence would prove to be the general’s waterloo in short six months, because a section of the northern elite mischievously put forward the propaganda that since the revolutionary officers were led by an Igbo officer, the new head of state must be complicit in the January 15 coup d’etat. The propaganda aggressively grew and quickly assumed a life of its own. The brutal assassination of the new head of state; the sadistic pogrom that followed; and the 1967-70 civil war were its culmination.
When war eventually broke out in mid 1967, the Great Zik, ever the nationalist, was said to have flown from his overseas base to Biafra, to remind her ardent leadership that Nigeria is still “one nation with one destiny;” the Biafran struggle for sovereignty was therefore bound to end in futility. Though his best endeavours evidently fell on deaf ears, but the sage was vindicated by January 1970, when the republic of Biafra capitulated. Biafra had been a child of circumstance, devoid of philosophical parentage; under-nutrition-induced death had been as assured as dawn follows dusk. (I had elaborated on this in a previous article on these pages: “Biafra: a creation of northern elite.”)
Many leaders of thought have suggested that the young Biafran leader, Emeka Ojukwu, was foolish in refusing to be “shielded by the umbrella of old,” as the good old K.O. Mbadiwe would put it. I’m inclined to agree with that school of thought. And here’s the thing: having regard to Ndi Igbo’s unparalleled investments in the Nigerian project, the “Biafran struggle” would have focused on restoring Ndi igbo’s security and dignity in the Nigerian union, rather than aspire to secede from it. And since the civil war had been provoked by mere cheap propaganda: the Igbo was plotting to exterminate the leaderships of the other major ethnic nationalities, employing the statistics of the January 15, 1966 coup d’etat as evidence. The Igbo formidable intelligentsia would have issued copious and unassailable anti-theses to the global community to counter that propaganda. This would have at once attracted wider global sympathy and provided sound philosophical foundation for the Igbo cause.
Rather than do the needed act, the intellectuals around Ojukwu took their gaze off the ball, and focused their dreamy eyes on some imaginary kingdom. They subsequently goaded Ojukwu into believing that he was some kind of latter day Moses, descended from Mount Sinai, to liberate the black race from centuries of Anglo-Russian and Arabic colonialisms!!! The infamous Ahiara Declaration was the apogee of that delusion. There is not a chance in a million that a fledgling nation would survive long issuing ideological threats to the world’s economic powers and champions of its two leading religions. That was Ahiara Declaration’s big blunder.
That blunder becomes a mystery when we recall that Ojukwu was a graduate of history; yet he failed to see the inherent disaster in Ahiara Declaration. Perhaps the gods denied him discernment because he pursued the wrong cause. Ahiara Declaration was broadcast on the 2nd Anniversary (mid 1969) of Biafran Republic; the latter collapsed barely six month after. Ojukwu’s evident poor judgment has cut an enduring burdensome image for Ndi Igbo.
To this day, other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria still harbour the notion that the January 1966 coup d’etat had an Igbo agenda. If truth be told, this is the nemesis of Ndi igbo in the Nigerian project – other ethnic group nationalities regard Ndi Igbo with latent suspicion; and perception is reality. Therefore, countering that dangerous notion ought to be the most urgent project of Ndi Igbo; and what a better time to so do than in this season of “restructuring.”
Ndi Igbo must of necessity re-invent herself within the Nigerian union; all those opportunistic characters calling for the actualisation of the Biafran state are utterly foolish, to say mildly. Their utter foolishness might be mitigated if they constantly reminded themselves that their intellectually superior predecessor, had thankfully acknowledged the unbecoming youthful exuberance of his 1967-70 adventure.
• Nkemdiche, a consulting engineer, lives in Abuja.