In the past few weeks, I have been on a round the country tour. A lot of it by road. I have spoken with people in all of Nigeria’s geopolitical zones. Lots of people. Let’s just say that attitudes have hardened. Nigeria is in for a really rough ride in the coming months and years.
There will be not much added to the conversation if I talk about Muhammadu Buhari and his government’s absolute failure to manage Nigeria’s diversity. It goes without saying that Buhari’s blatant nepotism and disregard for the rule of law has created precedents that will come to bite us. Whoever succeeds him is likely to do the same as him in terms of narrow appointments to the spoils of office, and in a country as unproductive as ours, the danger is that at some point, someone will simply opt to remain in power, and he will have the support of his “countrymen” to “avoid marginalisation”.
But as I said, this isn’t about Buhari. This is about you who is reading, and me. Two of our greatest failings as a people are our penchant for apportioning collective guilt, and our penchant for absolving those belonging to our tribe of all guilt. This is the reason why when a group of shortsighted boys mutinied in January 1966, and people from the ethnic group of most of those boys got slaughtered in retaliation. It is the reason why when at the start of November 1999 some boys in Bayelsa murdered a few policemen, the army went in and killed almost everyone in the village in which the murders occurred. It is the reason why when a few guys armed with small arms held the country hostage, their entire region was demonised up to a son of the region who accidentally became president of Nigeria. This same laziness is the same reason why an entire ethnic group is being held up for the actions of some of their number.
This is not to absolve the government for its role in making this even worse and to put it bluntly when you have statements from government officials that clearly imply they are taking sides in these quarrels, then no one should be surprised when people start to take the law into their hands, and unfortunately, when such things start to happen, demagogues are given an opportunity to make the situations worse.
On the second part of what I talked about, our inability, or better still, refusal, to hold our “countrymen” to account, we saw a live example yesterday. A story made the rounds on social media that the Nigerian Army launched an attack with helicopter gunships in Orlu, Imo State. The journalist, Nicholas Ibekwe published a tweet in which he said attempted to clarify the situation. Having made calls to people in the area, I can say that Nicholas is correct. Two priests I spoke to were categorical that nothing of the sort was happening. One of them informed me that a raid had happened on Sunday in response to some disturbances.
I think it behoves us, ndị Igbo to ask ourselves some tough questions. What was the military responding to? And why are we allowing, to be very blunt, riffraff to dictate the terms of ani Igbo’s engagement with the rest of the country?
I’m keeping in line with my point of asking ourselves the hard questions about ourselves, why are we, Igbo people, so happy with the unreflective kind of behaviour that will ultimately take us to a sort of mass suicide?
So it won’t be like I’m just complaining, let me try and, very briefly, diagnose the problem.
There are three kinds of Igbo people. There is the Igbo of the homestead, who lives in ani Igbo and doesn’t go out. Has probably never been past Asaba in his life. There is the “Lagos Igbo”, who was either born and brought up in Nigeria but outside of Igboland, and has a cosmopolitan worldview. For the purposes of this discussion, an Igbo person who was born and brought up in ani Igbo but has settled elsewhere in Nigeria most probably fits into this group. Then there is the Diaspora Igbo.
Many of the Diaspora Igbo, out of frustration with Nigeria, dream of a utopia called Biafra. Most of the funding by secessionist groups comes from the Igbo in the diaspora. The “Lagos Igbo” is like most other Nigerians trying to survive and make his way in the world. He goes home regularly, has built a house at home, and has tried to integrate into his area of residence. Unfortunately, and this is not always the case, the Igbo of the homestead has not made it. He is the victim of a lot of bad policies by both the federal government and admittedly terrible state governments. He is mostly poor, and not as successful as the “Lagos Igbo” and this has bred envy.
In discussions I had with people in the Orlu area not two weeks ago, it was very clear to me that a lot of their angst was with their own kin who they felt were not doing enough for them. It is the reason why, and I have talked about it before, many of them turn to groups such as IPOB. This is a problem not just among the Igbo, but in Nigeria as a whole. The levels of poverty have turned people against one another, and a rudderless government has made it worse. Demagogues are rising to fill the gaps.
Our fathers said, “Ofu mkpisiaka luta mmanu oju aka.”
We cannot let the actions of a few disgruntled people bring ruin to all of us. This is why it is important for those of us “Lagos Igbo” to invest back home and create jobs. The time to have started doing that is yesterday. We can’t afford to let our region become the centre of a scorched earth insurrection. We don’t have the land area for that, neither do we have the environment for sustained guerrilla warfare. Those who have ears, let them hear.
Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence
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