By Chiedu Uche Okoye
Nigeria is an immensely blessed country, what with its abundant human and material resources. For example, beneath our vast land mass lie such natural resources as bauxite, tin-ore, limestone, crude-oil, and others. And, one out of every five black persons on earth is a Nigerian. Today, Nigeria ranks as one of the most populous countries in the world.
A country with very humongous population, Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic and linguistic groups. Some of the ethnic and tribal groups that inhabit the geographical space called Nigeria are Efik, Gwari, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Bini, Nupe, Ibibio, Ijaw, and many others. So, nobody can gainsay or controvert the fact that Nigeria is an ethnically diverse nation- state.
However, unlike Switzerland and America, which have harnessed and utilized their racial diversities to achieve national development, Nigeria has been bedeviled by ethnic animosity since its inception in 1914. Nigerians owe their loyalty to their ethnic groups rather than to their country, Nigeria. Nigerians’ identification with their diverse ethnic groups is the driving force behind the rise of ethnic nationalism and chauvinism in Nigeria. And our disposition and attitudes to issues affecting Nigeria have continued to weaken our national unity and cohesion.
Now, in Nigeria, people who belong to the Igbo ethnic group stereotype the Yoruba people as foxy people, who are not dependable. And other Nigerians perceive the Igbo people as cut throat knaves, who strive to make money at any cost. More so, the Hausa/Fulani people feel that when an Igbo man is entrusted with the presidency of Nigeria, he will use the immense political powers at his disposal to cause the disintegration of Nigeria.
A country where people(s) from diverse ethnic backgrounds view one another with utter suspicion cannot achieve national unity, which is a sin qua non for the development of a country. Because we are distrustful of one another, we have been unable to make Nigeria an organic whole (a nation), which will guarantee us peace and unity.
The events of 1966 buttress and lend credence to the fact that Nigerians are very suspicious of the deeds and utterances of one another. When the January 15, 1966 coup happened, Aguiyi Ironsi became the Head of state of Nigeria. However, the coup that brought him to power was tagged an Igbo coup. Consequently, he was brutally killed in the July 1966 counter-coup. Not surprisingly, Nigeria descended into a civil war with the South-east (Igbos) pitted against the rest of the country. The two warring sides were unevenly matched. Consequently, the Igbo people lost the war.
But have the Igbos been truly forgiven for fighting that secessionist war? Have they been truly re-integrated into the Nigerian society? The answer to this question is a categorical no. Till now, the Igbo people and their properties are targets for attacks and destruction when sectarian violence erupts in the north, which has gained notoriety as the epicenter of religious conflicts in Nigeria. I do vividly remember one Akaluka, who was decapitated, and his head hoisted on a pole for allegedly desecrating the Koran.
More so, the Igbo people are being marginalized in the scheme of things in Nigeria. They are being discriminated against when it comes to recruitment of personnel for federal establishments. The educational policies regarding admission of pupils into unity schools in the country are tilted and designed to favour northern people at the expense of the Igbo people. While the federal roads that dot the northern landscape are speedily constructed and rehabilitated, the federal government shillyshallies and dilly-dallies on doing the ones in the southeast.
It is these series of wrongs, which the Igbo people have been suffering that incensed the Igbo youths and constituted the impulses, which drove them to join secessionist groups. Now, the secessionist rhetoric and sentiments, which are mouthed by the rabble-rouser, Nnamdi Kanu, have found resonance among them. Perhaps, the Igbo agitators for the creation of the sovereign state of Biafra do not really want a geographical space called Biafra. It is likely that they are calling global attention to the marginalization and ill-treatment to which the Igbo people have subjected since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1970. They want the Igbo folks to be truly re-admitted and re-integrated into the Nigerian Society.
That’s why Mamman Daura’s call for the jettisoning of the unwritten principle of rotational presidency ruffled some feathers and generated intellectual debate in the media. To abandon the unwritten principle of rotational presidency at this political juncture in our national life is to court trouble and rob the Igbo people of their deserved right to produce a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023. An idiom says this: What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Since the inception of the fourth republic, two out of the three major ethnic groups that constitute the tripod on which Nigeria stands have taken turns to produce Nigeria’s presidents at different times. But no Igbo person has become the president of Nigeria.
The agitation for the emergence of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction has reached a crescendo level. And millions of Igbo people are sympathetic to this noble cause. Even well-meaning non-Igbo people, who have active restrictive mechanism, have acquiesced into the Igbo people’s demand for the presidential seat.
But have the Igbo people held a meeting and reached consensus on the issue of political power at the centre being ceded to the southeast in 2023? The utterances and doings of certain top Igbo politicians and billionaire business men lend credence to the belief that fifth columnists are trying to undermine the efforts of the Igbo people to produce a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023.
The discordant note and dissenting opinion emerging from them portray the Igbo people as a disunited people, who have not agreed that they truly want presidential power in 2023. However, it is obvious to us that those fifth columnists of Igbo origins are striving to please their Hausa/Fulani masters so as to save their political careers and sources of livelihoods. But the selfish interests of a few Igbo people cannot subvert the collective will of a majority of people, who want Nigeria to become an egalitarian nation-state where peace and unity, justice, fairness, and equity shall continue to reign forever.
Chiedu Uche Okoye writes from Uruowulu-Obosi, Anambra State.