BY RICHARD MADUKU
“Be wary of settling in any town or village in Nigeria where an Igbo person is not found.” Only a few adults in Nigeria would say that they have not heard this saying. And on hearing it for the first time, no well-travelled grown-up in Nigerian would say it is not true. The population of Igbo in most big towns outside their homeland is so huge that some have their own kings and chiefs! No other ethnic group is as widely ingrained into the Nigerian fabric as the Igbo.
Apart from being found in large numbers in every town and village, they also dominate most businesses all over Nigeria. They have even monopolized a few businesses such as the importation and retail of automobile spare parts. In the highbrow areas of all the big cities, most of the eye-arresting mansions are owned by them. They are by far the richest. But despite the hospitality of their hosts that made them to luxuriate like trees by the riverside, some Igbo still grumble that they are hated by other Nigerians.
They started grumbling after the Civil War in 1970 despite how other Nigerians bent over backward to welcome them back. The Igbo harbouring this belief have turned from grumbling into loud agitation. It started not long after the military handed over to a democratically-elected government in 1999.
They formed an organization known as the ‘Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB)’, which simply means secession once again. This time though, after a referendum to determine if it is the wish of the majority. The secessionists have since begun to spread their views through every medium including a pirate radio station. Being so better-off than other ethnic groups, many non-Igbo can hardly believe that some of them are still agitating this way.
The agitation became more virulent about seven years ago when a faction broke away from MASSOB to form the ‘Indigenous people of Biafra’ (IPOB). It is led by one Nmandi Kanu of dual nationality (Nigerian/U.K). He is known for his fiery rhetoric (some bordering on the bizarre) against the rest of Nigeria.
Mr. Kanu, for instance, had accused the Federal Government for aiding the Fulani to subjugate the whole country through terrorism as they had done to Hausa and some other tribes in northern Nigeria. He revealed that the unchecked infiltration into forests of the Southeast and other zones by terrorists masquerading as herdsmen is the first stage of the subjugating agenda of the Fulani.
He was charged for treason and while on bail, the Nigerian Army invaded his family home but he managed to escape to the U.K. From there he went on to create an outfit known as Eastern Security Network (ESN) to flush the Fulani terrorists out of the Southeast forests. Some other states have since created similar outfits solely for the same purpose – a proof that Kanu did not lie on this.
A few years back before his abduction from Kenya and eventual detention in Abuja last year, Kanu’s daily tirade on his pirate radio station and the social media had moved his supporters into demonstrating along Nigerian major roads and streets chanting: ‘We want Biafra! We want Biafra!’ The protesters outside the Southeast were even more in number and more unruly than their brothers back home. They began to cause traffic disruptions in many places. It got to a stage some youth groups in the North could no longer tolerate it and they gave them a three months’ notice to quit their region.
Not all non-Igbo were surprised that the demonstrations abruptly stopped and Igbo leaders everywhere who had not condemned the agitation began to sing reconciliatory tunes. This episode reminded one of a cartoon in the social media with the title ‘What manner of people are these?’
In the first strip of the cartoon, a man on a podium had asked a hall filled with Muslims “Who wants sharia?” All hands had shot up. “Who wants to live in Saudi Arabia or Iran?” the man on the podium went on to ask in the second strip but surprisingly nobody raised his hand! But that was not the end. In the last strip, the man then asked: “Who wants to live in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom?” And like in the first question, all hands went up again!
The quit notice episode is not the only area that makes many non-Igbo to wonder ‘What manner of people are these Biafran agitators?’ The presidency of Nigeria which no Igbo person has held since the return to democratic rule is another area. The secessionists still think an Igbo president is overdue in Nigeria. They believe the presidency had eluded them since the end of the Civil War because other Nigerians had ganged up against them. Many non-Igbo are unsure what the secessionists really want: Biafra or the Presidency?
If it is the Presidency, something has been happening that rubbishes one plank of their agitation. This trending event has been described variously as unprecedented, a phenomenon, a tsunami, a movement or a democratic revolution. Nigerians in their millions across the country want to vote for Mr. Peter Obi, an Igbo man, to become the president in the 2023 presidential election!
The nation-wide yearning for him to become the president began in May this year (2022) when he became the Labour Party presidential candidate. Since then, Nigerians from all walks of life have been rooting for him as they had never done to anybody in history. This is as a result of his eight years’ record as the Governor of Anambra State.
As a governor, he was able to pay all pensioners, workers and contractors until nobody was owed a kobo by the time he left office. He also invested so much in education including ICT that Anambra students began to excel in external examinations and competitions including those that were global. He also bought shares on behalf of the state that are yielding dividends today. He did not borrow to do all this. As if that was not enough, he left billions of naira in three different banks for his successor!
He was able to accomplish all this and more because he drastically cut the cost of governance including denying himself the luxury and pomp associated with his office as a governor. For instance, he shunned long convoy of vehicles when touring and he ensured he paid by himself for fuel bought on the way. He refused to give brown envelopes to dignitaries who paid courtesy calls on him. He sold the state government lodges in Abuja and Lagos because they were costly to maintain. He even refused to build a Presidential lodge. He moved out of his official house for Presdent Olusegun Obasanjo who was to stay for more than one day when he visited the state!
It is all this and more that has endeared him to the hearts of the multitude now pining for him to be the next president. It shows that Nigerians did not hate the Igbo as the Biafran agitators always claim!
* Maduku, a retired Nigerian Army (Infantry) Captain and novelist, lives in Effurun-Otor, Delta State