By Law Mefor
A foremost Nigerian novelist, Professor Chinua Achebe once said: “I have written in my small book entitled The Trouble with Nigeria that Nigerians will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo.” Ndigbo have gone through a lot and still go through a lot in Nigeria since the foundation of the country. Perhaps, it is only the Jews that have gone through this level of hostility and still survived.
Starting from colonial times, the hostilities the Igbo ethnic group has suffered have been widespread and rooted in no justifiable causes. The ultimate should be the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, which wiped out over a million of them. The war was even a culmination of two to three pogroms preceding it in which hundreds of them also died in the north.
The civil war was mainly caused by the first military coup, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, an Igbo man from Okpanam Delta state who was born and raised in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria. Likely, Nzeogwu never visited Okpanam or Igbo land all his life. But the Igbo race had to suffer for the coup he led, which was poorly executed to produce the lopsided killings that were interpreted as his deliberate attempt to enthrone Igbo hegemony.
The war ended on January 10, 1970, after 30 gruesome months. Ndigbo lost everything but their can-do spirit remained intact and started from zero. In less than a decade, they were able to rebuild their destroyed infrastructures – schools, hospitals, markets, roads, and so on. They even produced a Vice President in the person of Dr. Alex Ekwueme within the decade.
Possibly, up to 70% of Ndigbo are outside their states, not really by choice but by the design of policy, which closed up their region and denied them direct access to the outside world by sea, air, and land. The Eastern Railway corridor and Eastern Ports were abandoned and there was no international airport in the South-east for 50 years until a few years ago when Enugu airport was upgraded to international status.
The closure of the South-east is what forced Ndigbo out of their homestead and today, their large concentrations are found in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Jos, and here and there, including the West African coast. That was how Ndigbo became the second-largest population to any indigenous population in Nigeria outside Igbo land.
The world acknowledges that the Igbo ethnic group is very resilient, hardworking, enterprising, and wealth creators. They easily succeed and have thrived in all fields of human endeavor, apart from the dominance they hold in commerce. They are friendly and hospitable and survive everywhere any human being can survive no matter the adversity. It is as if they are a group familiar with suffering because they easily adapt and make something out of virtually nothing against the odds.
Their indomitable spirit and high success rates have now turned out to be a source of concern among other Nigerians, who see them as a threat and are inclined to take over their places. This unfortunate notion is what is playing out in Lagos in the 2023 presidential election, where the Ndigbo are being accused of backing the Governorship Candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in Lagos State, Mr. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, as a way of taking over Lagos.
Rhodes-Vivour is a Lagosian through and through, perhaps more Lagosian than any other Lagos state governor in this dispensation. Ndigbo have seen several skits produced to attack them and the calls on the Yoruba not to allow Ndigbo to take over their state. But the Labour candidate they accuse Ndigbo over is not Igbo but Yoruba. Though one understands Rhodes-Vivour is married to an Ibo woman but she will not be the governor.
If the fear of Rhodes-Vivour is because of the phenomenon called the Obi-dients Movement and the person of Peter Obi who has made the Labour party firebrand, there is nothing anybody can do about it. Peter Obi is Igbo but the Obi-dients Movement, which he inspired, cuts across Nigeria. There are all ethnic groups in it and Yoruba are also at the forefront of the Movement.
It is also important to point out that the Obi-dients Movement is quite different from the Labour party and its members are attached to Labour because their candidate, Peter Obi, is on the party platform and flying its flag. If Obi were in another political party, that is where they would be also.
Rhodes-Vivour is loved for being pro-masses. That is why he took an active part in EndSars protests when he had no governorship aspiration in view while the incumbent governor was calling in the soldiers to quell the protest. The difference between him and Sanwo-Olu and why he is preferred by the masses is as clear as daylight. By the law of probability, Rhodes-Vivour could have been killed like any of those youths felled by the soldiers’ bullets for daring to protest police brutality in their own country.
Ndigbo are development agents and any communities that welcome them always have development as their reward. In Lagos particularly, Ndigbo have contributed most significantly to its development. They got nothing free, not even concessions. They, therefore, earned their lunch in Lagos and cannot be robbed of their rights and earnings in a place where they have contributed their quota. As the Igbos would say, ‘Egbe bere ugo bere… let the kite perch and let the eagle perch…’
It is equally important to note that Igbo investments in Lagos or Abuja do not translate to Igbo investments in Igbo land. The buildings they have erected in Lagos or Abuja cannot be uprooted tomorrow and transplanted into Igbo land. The physical structures belong wherever they are erected outside Igbo land and built for the development of those places and as investments.
Yet, Ndigbo hear in many of these scary videos where they(Igbo) are asked to go to their states to vote. Ndigbo are not asked to go home to be counted during the population census. They are counted as part of the numbers of the host states and communities and form part of the basis for huge revenue allocations to those states such as Lagos, Abuja, Plateau, and Kano where Ndigbo record the highest concentrations outside Igbo land.
More importantly, Ndigbo are asked today to go to Igbo land to vote but to pay their taxes not to their states of origin but to the states where they reside. Their property tax, income tax, and tenements rates as well as business taxes are not paid in their states of origin but in their states of residence. Yet, they are being asked to go home to vote in a country where the Constitution claims to guarantee equality of citizens.
It is also important to interrogate how seriously the federal government takes ethnic hate profiling against Ndigbo, particularly in Lagos in recent times. Recall that Biafra was declared a republic in 1967, essentially because erstwhile Biafrans felt they were no longer safe or needed in Nigeria. It took a genocidal war to force them back to Nigeria. For the sake of unity, one had expected that the individuals who called out Ndigbo and are setting them up for violent attacks should have been cautioned and possibly prosecuted for such hate actions for exemplarity.
What’s more, such inactions of the government give the impression that such ethnic profiling that Ndigbo suffer in such places is receiving tacit approvals from government agencies that should check it.
Let it be put on record, the Yoruba and the Igbo must not be allowed to re-enact the Rwanda genocide in Nigeria. Such is the stage being set against the Igbos by such ethnic profilers who are having a field day with security agencies looking the other way. It should be noted that the Igbo and the Yoruba are huge in populations and well-matched, and can meet each other eyeball to eyeball, and when such elephants fight, the grass will have no place to hide.
This is a democracy and nobody has the right to force Ndigbo or any ethnic group for that matter, to vote for any particular candidate or have a monopoly over the violence that the aggressors openly threaten.
Ndigbo are very peaceful and progressive people. They don’t vote based on ethnicity. Otherwise, they wouldn’t vote for Obasanjo in 1999 and 2003 when the late sage, Emeka Ojukwu, was on the ballot. They wouldn’t vote for Chief MKO Abiola who had another Muslim, Babagana Kingibe, as his running mate and leave the ticket of Bashir Tofa/ Sylvester Ugoh, an Igbo and a former governor of the now defunct central bank of Biafra. Ndigbo vote principle and progressivism otherwise they wouldn’t have twice voted for a Fulani man from Sifawa in Sokoto Caliphate – Mallam Umaru Altine, who in 1952 become elected as the first Mayor of the City of Enugu, the heartland and heartbeat of the Igbo Nation. Altine was Enugu’s Mayor till 1958.
In this election too, a Yoruba young man is running for House Assembly in Abia state under the Labour Party and is primed to win through Igbo votes, not through Yoruba votes.
So, if the Igbos voted for Peter Obi, they did so not because he is Igbo but because he represents the progress his people all crave. After all, there were at least three other Igbo men in the 2023 presidential race, including Professor Philip Umeadi who is the APGA presidential candidate, the so-called Igbo party.
So also, if Ndigbo in Lagos vote for Rhodes-Vivour (or for any candidate for that matter), it will not be because of their sister who is his wife; it will be because they see Rhodes-Vivour or such candidates as more progressive than the rest.
Nigerians must realise that the world has left Nigeria behind. Obama, a black Kenyan man, became President of the almighty United States; Rishi Sunak, an Indian immigrant, is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. That is the kind of Nigeria Ndigbo crave and try to build, and not to take over any state, Lagos inclusive. If such is their mission, the opportunity to do so best presented itself twice – when Commodore Ndubuisi Kanu was Military governor of Lagos(1977 to 1978) and when Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe was Military Governor of Lagos ( 1978 to 1979). Both officers and gentlemen governed Lagos state with fair-mindedness typical of Igbo people.
Nigeria is becoming more and more of an embarrassment in the comity of nations due to the outdated life we chose to live. Nigeria has to grow up and transit from country to nation or allow those who want progress and development to chart a new course.
It gets to a time when enough is enough.
· Dr. Law Mefor is a senior fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; Tel.: +234- 905 642 4375; e-mail: [email protected]; follow me on Twitter :@LawMefor1.