By Abdul-Rahoof A. Bello
In all honesty, There Was A Country has made it difficult to convince non-Igbo Nigerians that if any member of the ethnic nationality is given a chance to rule this country, he/she would not pervert his/her mandate and allegiance to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in preference for revenge and vengeance over the unfortunate civil war. For how long shall we continue to nurse an old wound of a war that ended 40 years ago on the note of No Victor, No Vanquished in utmost good faith? Apart from the policy of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation ‘3Rs’ embarked upon immediately after the war by General Yakubu Gowon, President Shehu Shagari granted a state pardon to Dim Chukuemeka Odumegu Ojukwu in 1982 and he was allowed to contest election into the Senate. However, why the former Biafran leader had to lose that election in only one of the Senatorial Districts in his former territory, is puzzling and shall continue to remain in the realms of political conjectures.
The policy of reconciliation has been sustained and religiously pursued by successive administrations either military or civilian in Nigeria, in order that the sad event should be consigned into the dustbin of history so that the Nigerian nation could move forward. That explains why an Igbo Chief Alex Ekwueme became a Vice-President (1979-1983; Senate President (1999-2007); Chief Charles Soludo was Central Bank Governor; Chief Emeka Anyaoku was Nigeria’s Ambassador extra-ordinaire and plenipotentiary to the Commonwealth of Nations; Drs. Ngozi Okonjo-Eweala and Obiageili Ezekwesili are proud Igbo indigenes in Nigeria’s economic power house; Profs. Eme Awa; Humphrey Nwosu and Maurice Iwu were former anchormen in the nation’s electoral and democratic processes; Mike Okiro and Ogbonna Onovo were former Inspectors-General of the Nigeria Police and to cap it all, an Igbo indigene Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika now serving the Nigerian nation as the Chief of Army Staff. For all intent and purposes, it is advisable that the Igbo intelligentsias (political, educated, business and religion) should not only be cautious in their utterances but also quickly set a damage-control mechanism in motion to pacify the Middle-Belt and the Yoruba, if genuinely the ethnic group is gunning for the Nigerian Presidency come 2015. For this ambition to be realised, Igbo nation needs to sustain the bridge of unity and understanding and consolidate on the spirit of camaraderie already built by some Igbo leaders who have actually warmed themselves into the hearts of Nigerians for their roles during the ‘June 12’ struggle. Notwithstanding the ignoble role played by an Igbo indigene, Chief Francis Arthur Nzeribe through his notorious Association for Better Nigeria, which provided the judicial alibi for the ‘evil genius’ to create the political logjam, some Ndigbo of good conscience such as Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Rear-Admiral Ndubisi Kanu, Dr. Arthur Nnwankwo, Alhaji Abdulazeez Ude and a few others, joined hands with fellow Nigerians from the Middle-Belt and Northern radicals notably the Emeritus Kaduna State Governors, Alhaji Balarabe Musa and Col. Abubakar Umar, to defend what seemed to be a Yoruba cause.
In the light of truth, the acerbic and caustic penmanship against the duo of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and General Yakubu Gowon over the unfortunate Nigerian civil war were nothing but a fly in the beautiful ointment of the Igbo nation. Ironically, it is trite the saying that the first lesson from history is that man does not learn from history. It is beating one hollow, why the author of such a historical account would fail to examine both the remote and immediate causes of the unfortunate incident, which could even be traced to the 1914 amalgamation.
The book in contention is most likely going to impact negatively on the chances of the Igbo nation to clinch the Presidency in 2015 unless there are urgent fence mending measures by respected leaders led by Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Senator Ken Nnamani, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and Chief Alex Ekwueme. Not to be left out are the families of the late Chief Phillip Umeadi, Chief Mrs Oyibo Odinamadu and the late Chief S. G. Ikoku and those members of Chief Michael Okpara’s faction of the NCNC in UPGA who were political allies of the West during the period of political topsy-turvy preceding the collapse of the First Republic. Also to be included are the members of the Action Congress of Nigeria who are Igbo indigenes, to be led by Mr. Joe Igbokwe, the party’s spokesman for Lagos State. Their task is to put a halt to the raging diatribes that may widen the gulf between the West and the East on the one hand and between the East and the Middle Belt on the other.
Without being immodest, it is doubtful whether Igbo nation could realize their political goal of producing the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without the support of these two power blocs in the Nigerian contemporary politics. This proposition is pertinent, not only because of the strength of voting population in the two regions but also because of their progressive bent and traditional alliances they have in the far-north and south-south that they could deploy.
Historically, Igbo nation is an egalitarian society, which makes it difficult to reach a consensus on some issues of national interest. It is therefore, logical for the political elite to understand that they should not allow the ugly incidence of the civil war to deter them from reaching out to fellow Nigerians across the Niger with sincerity of purpose. This point brings into focus the manifestations of internal disunity among Igbos, which could be seen from the prism of the ‘Republican’ nature of Igbo society. At the inception of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, the Presidency of the Nigerian Senate was zoned to the Southeast but Nigerians were worried at the alarming rate at which they got removed from office. Perhaps, only Igbos could explain why there was instability in the Senate leading to successive impeachment of the Presidents except one. From Evan(s) Enwerem, followed by Chuba Okadigbo; from Adulphus Wabara to Anyim Pius Anyim and finally, to Ken Nnammani, who could be regarded as the Biblical Joshua of our time, who successfully led the Third Session of the Nigerian Senate (1999-2007) to the Promised Land. It must be stressed that he escaped from the proverbial banana peel not because the ‘Lord’ was his Shepherd but simply because he built his political fortress on the rock of Gibraltar outside his ethic enclave – the insect that eats the vegetable lives in it, so goes an African adage.
Another instance of ‘roforofo fight’ (gratitude to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti) amongst Igbo was the case of Abia State that expelled fellow Igbos (from Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States) from the State’s Civil Service. The circular Ref: HAS/S.0071/II/13 dated August 25, 2011, issued by the Head of Service, Mr. G.C. Adiele. It directed heads of Ministries, Departments, Agencies and Local Government Service Commission “to submit the names of all non-indigenes in their employ on or before September 1, 2011, failure of which or any connivance thereto shall attract strict sanctions by government”. Apart from the breach of Sec. 42(1-3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the policy is certainly going to obliterate the unity and brotherliness among Ndigbo and by extension, it would affect their political behavior in the larger Nigerian society. The question therefore, is: Do we also blame it on the Yoruba or Awolowo when this internal weakness of Ndigbo robs the race of the opportunity to clinch the Presidency in the nearest future? Finally, let Ndigbo put the ugly past behind and move forward on the premise of ‘No victor, No vanquished’. This House SHALL NOT FALL.
•Bello is of the Political Science Department, School of Arts & Social Sciences, National Open University of Nigeria.