The Ndigbo question!
For today’s purpose, I would like to re-introduce myself. My name once again is Abraham Obomeyoma Ogbodo. Kindly note the middle name, which says it all. In spite of the geo-ethnic echo of my last name, I am not from Nsukka in Enugu State. I am a proud Urhobo man. In fact, my name used to be AMOS Abraham. It was one overzealous school teacher at the point of my entry into secondary school in 1975 that told me that: “My friend, we don’t answer such names here! Will you give me a better name now?”
I substituted my father’s first name with his middle name and that was how OGBODO came to be, which cannot be clearly placed in Urhobo notations, except the explanation by my father that he was born on the same day Ogbodo, a great warrior and community leader in Abbi, a neighbouring community in Ndokwa West local government area of Delta State was killed by British forces and it was suggested by one visitor that came to see mother and child that the great warrior had re-incarnated in the new born baby in Oghara Agbarha-Otor.
This little piece of history is absolutely necessary in view of my topic today-the marginalization of Igbo in Nigeria. I do not want to be (mis)interpreted in the context of my surname. Let me also say that it is not only the Igbo that are marginalized in Nigeria. The true position is that everybody is marginalized in Nigeria. Perhaps, a better way to put it to avoid hurting other quarters is: why are Igbo feeling marginalized in Nigeria? I say this because there are so many people who genuinely think it is Ndigbo that are marginalizing others in Nigeria. Such people would tell how non-Ndigbo cannot survive in the Southeast the same way Ndigbo survive in zones outside the Southeast. It is because none can withstand the competitive spirit of Ndigbo. They have capacity to conquer all the way especially in trade.
For working hard to put his environment under conquest, the Igbo man is accused of marginalizing others. It poses a deeper problem if hard work ceases to be a positive measurement. I think people are just falling short of clear articulation. Maybe they are trying to say that in doing business, Ndigbo create their own rules and do not respect the general rules of engagement. Thus, the manifest advantage the Ndigbo enjoy in trade is seen as not so much a function of superior acumen as it is a manifestation of some sort of mercantile Machiavellianism that persistently promotes the end over the means. Others, who fall on the receiving end of this approach, find this offensive.
Even so, I shall try to be objective here. Who sets and enforces the rules? Let it be said that not too many human spirits are selfless. It is in the nature of man to run on the id (base instincts) and at best the ego (self consciousness) both of which fire him towards self aggrandizement and not self fulfillment. In fact, the super ego, which moderates and spreads consideration in the natural world is totally lacking in man, yet it is what is required to make a distinction between the human society and the jungle. And so, the super ego has to be invented somehow through the establishment of law and order to enforce moderation and consideration on the part of man.
It is fine if Ndigbo excel and conquer within law and order. The responsibility is also not theirs to remain within bounds. There shall be no order if laws are merely created without enforcement. I shall paint a scenario to underscore the point. The Ladipo auto parts market in Lagos is a typical example of the Ndigbo mercantile spirit running in conflict with law and order. The market has spilled to take up the stretch of the service lane of the Oshodi /Apapa Expressway that runs parallel to it. It has actually spilled beyond the service lane to take up part of the expressway. On a bad day, it takes the best part of an hour to roll through the less than 200 metres distance between Ladipo Street junction and Rutam House.
This failure has nothing to do with Ndigbo. It has everything to do with the Lagos State government, which has failed to enforce law and order. The beauty out there in Europe and America is not necessarily because those areas are populated by better human beings but the presence of a stronger official will to ensure law and order. The Ndigbo and indeed all other groups within the polity and the economy must play by the rules. The fear that enforcement of the rule in some places could be misconstrued as anti-Ndigbo is irrational and a correctness that detracts from leadership. It is this same absence of enforcement of law and order that is sustaining the carnage of Fulani herdsmen.
That said, it must be noted that it is the underlying sincerity of purpose that gives any official policy instant public acclaim. This is the lacuna that makes Ndigbo to be defensive and suspicious. In recent history, specifically after the civil war in 1970, the Nigerian State has done little or nothing to create the circumstances for the survival of Ndigbo. The post-war proclamation of no victor, no vanquished by General Yakubu Gowon was empty sound. So also was the over sung Federal Government policy of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation (3Rs) after the physical and psychological devastation suffered by Ndigbo during the war.
If anything, Ndigbo were thoroughly vanquished. As it were, every Igbo man was awarded a B.A (Begin Again) with just 20 pounds. A phrase called “abandoned property” was introduced into government business to rob Ndigbo of their pre-war choice properties in cities across the country. All of these only deepened the humiliation of defeat in them. While still struggling to make meaningful livelihood out of 20 pounds, the Indigenization Decree was promulgated in 1972 to dilute the grip of multinationals on the economy and create the leeway for Nigerians to launch themselves into the ownership of hitherto foreign companies through equity participation.
Thus, instead of 3Rs as promised by the Federal Government, Ndigbo suffered further economic pummeling after the war. Castrated, they became mere onlookers in the equity bazaar that followed the indigenization processes. The economy had been redrawn and handed over to some people. Government was a no-go-area for them. The only window of survival opened was petty trading, which was, more or less, self-help. They put their all in it and helped themselves to survive the harsh terms of the peace.
In a nutshell, this is the context of the Ndigbo marginalization. They are highly suspicious of the Nigerian state and any official move at even creating order, but which hurts the Southeast in the short-run, is interpreted by a large segment of Ndigbo as continuation of the age-long victimization. It is a complex that has developed with the refusal of the central authorities to fully implement the 3Rs, almost 50 years after the end of the civil war.
Yet the state, either by design or default, is doing little to offer assurances. For instance, a Northeast Commission with big money to spend was recently okayed by the National Assembly to develop the Northeast after the devastation of the Boko Haram insurgency. But when a Southeast commission was proposed, it was promptly rejected in the lower chamber. Tell me, which commission has been empowered since the end of the civil war to develop the Southeast? This is the Ndigbo question, which must be answered if the shadows of Biafra must fade away. Meanwhile, I still remain your proud Urhobo man.