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Still on the Ndigbo question


The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

Last week I ended on a note that the Biafra agitation would not go away if the attitude of the centre towards Ndigbo remained unchanged. I want to add, albeit painfully, that the attitude may not change. I will explain. Somehow, Ndigbo slept on the truth and allowed others to foist a fallacious narrative for a pretty long time. Now, because their prosperity is so manifest, nobody is too eager to accept the position that Ndigbo have not had a fair deal in the national scheme.

In fact, the statistics are compelling. Ndgbo are said to be the richest group in Nigeria. They have the most millionaires per square kilometer. They are among the most educated, talented and creative. How then can a people so endowed in a land of apparent drought complain of marginalization? In other words, it is not enough for Ndigbo to shout marginalization; they must be seen to be marginalized. Nor be so?

In the short run, Ndigbo must put a stop to whatever they do so well that perpetually belies their own claim of marginalization. They should do something or stop to do something to increase the poverty rate in the Southeast to a level where marginalization will show without too much advocacy. For instance, if poverty and other indices of human development such as school enrolment, maternal and infant mortality in the Southeast become as abysmal as the figures in the Northeast, it will be self-evident and Ndigbo will not have to shout on roof tops to make the point about their marginalization.

If for any reason, Ndigbo are not ready to follow this path, then they should look for something else to say or simply shut-up so that they do not provoke to anger other parts of the country that are not as capitalized as the Southeast. Ndigbo are privileged in the scheme of things. They are the envy of many other groups in the country. The other day, Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi lamented the marginalization of his own people and openly wished his people were as privileged as Ndigbo, who from the ashes of war and within 50 years, recapitalized themselves to levels that make others feel marginalized and envious.

On my own, I have tried to establish where Ndigbo got it all wrong and I am pleased to announce my findings. They have refused to play by the dominant rule of free loading in the political economy. They have made it and are still making it outside government patronage. That is not exactly the way to go in a land where the dinner is served free and table manners, perfect freedom. It makes one look like an over sabi, a non conformist, a social and economic deviant who upturns the rules of the game not for any good reason but to prove a point about resilience, prowess, creativity, industry and sustainability.

Let’s get serious. After five decades of steady conditioning in a direction, a generation of Ndigbo has come to accept self-help as normative. Government interventions are packaged and made to seem as privileges, which may or may not come. And so, everyone is up and about and only very few wait to be lifted by a juicy government contract or lucrative oil block. The people just grow to understand that no advantages exist in the competition for survival. Every space is earned and in a hard way too.

For instance, in spite of the disadvantages occasioned by the war, the Ndigbo enclave was branded from the very beginning of the operation of the Federal Character policy as educationally advantaged. In simple language, it means children of Ndigbo are required, more or less by law, to perform extra-ordinary feats without enablements. They must score much higher than others in a common test for enrolment into the so-called unity schools and other federal institutions of learning, including universities and polytechnics. Specifically, if the entry score for a child from any of the core Northern states is 6 over 100 (not over 10), to have an equal chance, the Ndigbo child must hit 70 over 100 and above.

There is every likelihood that a child who grew up under this post-war arrangement would develop into an Nnamdi Kanu who did not witness the civil war, but has lived long enough to witness the harsh conditions of the peace deal. Not all Germans who fought in the Second World War had witnessed first-hand the devastation of the First World War. But all felt the pains of The Treaty of Versailles, which more than any other factor created the nationalist sentiments that Hltler and the Nazi party appropriated and manipulated to mobilize Germany for a second war only 20 years after the end of the first in 1919.

And so, to continue to hold the view that young agitators in the Southeast are so bent because they did not witness the pains of the civil war which, if they did, would have re-conditioned them to think and act differently, is delusional to say the least. It is like denying the reality of Oedipus/Electra complexes in psychoanalysis. The only way of knowing is to be marooned alone in an island with your wife and your infant son. At maturity and if no female shows up, the young man will take his affection for his mother (Oedipus complex) to extreme level and seek to liquidate the father to possess the mother. The reverse (Electra complex) applies in the case of the girl child who will seek to take out the mother to possess her father. It is a psychosocial reality.

This seems the only context in which to understand why a 47-year old Nnamdi Kanu is feeling even more pained by the circumstances of the war than veterans that fought in the war. There must be options and justice vents to create the desired homeostasis that supports nation building. To keep every valve closed and hope for peace and stability is self affliction. Youths in the Southeast genuinely feel they have been marooned in injustice for 50 years and rightly or wrongly they think also that the elders of their land are partly responsible. Going forward, they are prepared at whatever cost to have their freedom. Attempts to refocus them and make them think Biafra did not happen are not working. They have managed to re-connect with Biafra in spite of the removal of the Bight of Biafra from the map of Nigeria, non-teaching of Nigerian history in schools and other deliberate decisions to revise that piece of the national heritage.

I had said previously on this page that Biafra is only a metaphor for injustice in Nigeria. Other groups have been marooned too in injustice and frustrations. The only difference is that Ndigbo, more than others, have shown a capacity to convert their frustrations into oxygen for self-development. They have a lot to teach others about the art of self-preservation.

Where they have failed woefully is in the area of political engagement. That is why the feeling of marginalization still persists among them in spite of their good showing in vital indices. Somehow, the acumen that gives Ndigbo an edge in business is completely lacking in politics. Prof. Ango Abdulahi has said so and even swore that Ndigbo would not overcome marginalization until they learnt a thing or two about good politics from the Hausa-Fulanis. That professor is not a very good source to quote at this point in time. And so, I will simply say in politics, Ndigbo should endevour to read Plato’s Republic and act accordingly.

I am trying to say that Nigeria is far larger than an autonomous community in Igbo land and to take the national centre stage requires better actors and acting than are required in the contest for the traditional stool of an autonomous community in Anambra or elsewhere in the Southeast. Thus, even as we await either restructuring or proclamation of Biafra, Ndigbo should learn to parade their First Eleven in national and regional politics as they do in business. I rest my case. I remain your proud Urhobo man.

In this article:
Abraham OgbodoNdigbo
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