How Did We Get Here by Ezike Kenechukwu

written by The Intellects Mag November 15, 2017

Abstract

This paper argues that when the Social, Political, and especially the Economic well being of a people is being threatened, there is bound to be an outcry, if not addressed leads to revolution. The revolution can be peaceful like peaceful demonstrations, civil disobedience, or it can amount further to violent ones such as riots, terrorism and militancy.

The research analyses the various calls of secession from the South-East from Ojukwu’s era to the recent IPOB and stresses the fact that the calls of secession made by Ojukwu in the past and Nnamdi Kanu’s calls in this present time, though it has the same reasons, it also has its differential.

Introduction

The democratization process in a country implies a devolution of power to “we”, the people, it also begs the question of who the “we” are, opening up opportunities for redefinition of collective identities. Nigeria like any other country in the opening page of its constitution highlights the above claim.

We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

To some extent therefore, democratization lays bare the failures of the Nigeria state to promote national identity and facilitates efforts to traditional communalities or the imagination of new ones.
The people of South-East Nigeria having felt cheated out of the so-called transparent democracy in Nigeria has resulted in the formation of not so much a traditional communities but of various groups within the states (MASSOB, IPOB) that they feel they can identify with as the shared identity they have with other ethnic groups in Nigeria is devoid of any meaning as the government fails to meet their demands and needs as an ethnic group in the country and allay them of their fears of insecurity and victims of attack and oppression from other ethnic groups predominately the Hausa-Fulani.

They have come to see the shared Nigeria identity as an alien one, as their rights as individuals and groups are being alienated from them with impunity on a daily basis. They are being treated as outsiders within the family unit (Nigeria) and are being viewed with utmost suspicion by other ethnic groups with the calls to have their activities especially the economic aspect monitored and checked, and thwarted if need be, when necessary to prevent the members of this ethnic group from attaining success in life even to the extent of preventing them from providing for their daily bread – the least of their needs as human beings.

This paper aims to investigate the reasons behind the emergence of the various groups clamouring for secessionist right from Nigeria with more focus centered on the recent group IPOB. It seeks to show that when people feel alienated from the social, political and economic process of a state that praises itself to practice democracy, secessionist calls is the least of the ways that people tend to solve their problems and have their demands met as there are other means of violent manner like militancy, terrorism, and so forth. It asks the question why the call of secession? Is being made now especially by the IPOB group which have remained adamant and strong to their cause. It shows the distinction between the secessions call and an attempt to it by the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the then military governor of the eastern state from 1967-1970 and the call being made now by Nnamdi Kanu the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

The Call for Secession

Movement For The Actualization Of The Soverign State Of The Biafra(MASSOB)

In the year 1999, twenty-nine years after the end of the Nigeria civil war and the failed attempt by Ojukwu to actualize the sovereign state of Biafra, saw the emergence of a group, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) led by the Indian trained lawyer Ralph Uwazuruike, with its headquarters at Okwe, in the Okigwe district of Imo state.

This group renewed the secessionist call that has been abandoned for the past twenty-nine years, since its first attempt. MASSOB styles itself as a peaceful group, adopting the non-violence strategy of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The group advertise a 25-stage plan to achieve its goal peacefully. There are two arms to the government, the Biafra Government in exile and Biafra Shadow Government. MASSOB agitates for a Republic of Biafra comprising the South-East and South-South regions of Nigeria; though Uwazuruike has stated in interviews that the Niger Deltans can have their own republic.

Uwazuruike has credited the issue of the Igbos being marginalized in the country’s politics as the reason that gave rise to MASSOB. He pointed out that before the newly democratic government of Obasanjo that ushered Nigeria into its fourth Republic, Nigeria had been reduced diplomatically to a Hausa Fulani country, pointing out that all the important foreign mission like those in the United States of America, Germany, China, Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Canada, South Africa, India, Brazil, etc were usually manned by them, and in few instances with a sprinkle of Yoruba people. He complained that Igbo ambassadors were always posted to obscure corners of the globe like Equatorial Guinea or Mali.

Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)

Thirteen(13) years later after the inception of MASSOB, saw the emergence of a new group the indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) in the year 2012 led by Nnamdi Kanu, a United Kingdom based activist. This group has maintained that it has right to self-determination according to UN charter and African Union charter on human and people’s right which clearly states that “Indigenous people have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political strata and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development” which Nigeria state signed and domesticated into local laws. Its purpose is to liberate the people of Biafra forced into unholy unionism with the Nigeria state. The group has recently been calling for Referendum for the people of Biafra and has threatened to boycott Nigeria Elections (with pressing agitations to boycott the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in Anambra state) in all Biafran Territories until Referendum is conducted.

Indigenous people have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political strata and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development

The leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu attributed the malfunctioning of Nigeria and its institutions as the reason for his secessionist demands. He denies the ability of Nigeria to ever function as a nation as he made this know in an interview with AI-Jazeera, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Biafran war on Tuesday May 30, 2017. He went further to denounce the perceived marginalization of the Igbos in Nigeria, a point mentioned earlier by the leader of MASSOB, Raph Uwazuruike. Kanu said the Igbos have be prevented from aspiring to assume important positions in the country such as President, Inspector General of Police, Chief of Army Staff amongst others.

Why Now

The midweek of January 1970 saw an end to the Nigeria civil war, a war that was wage and last for about 30 months with both sides of the warring factions declaring no winner of the war in the ‘No victor, No vanquished’ statement made by General Gown.

Why is it that at the last break of the 20th century between the months of August/September 26, 1999, a renewned call for secession was being made by the newly formed MASSOB after 29 long years of silence? Why is it that the 21st century ushered in a series of calls for secession by various ethnic groups in the country as this was not restricted to Biafra and the South-East alone. In the Niger Delta, various ethnic groups, and tribe, and sub-tribe joined in the call for the secession of the Niger Deltan, many of them adopting violence, and militancy as their chief methoc of actualizing their freedom. The Yoruba land saw the emergence of Oduduwa people’s congress (OPC) as a group agitating for the freedom of the Yoruba ethnic group and its secession from Nigeria.

The people of the middle belt region (spanning from Benue in the east to Jos in the far north) agitating for freedom from oppression at the hands of the Fulani herdsmen who invade their villages, attack their farmlands and grass areas through their nomadic lifestyle, maim, rape, loot, kill and torture innocent villagers who resist the occupation of their land, or those who sought to prohibit or restrict their existence to certain parts of the land. Mostly the crisis in the middle belt always results in the Fulani oppressing and subjugating the other tribes, with the other tribes taking out their resentment and vengeance on the Igbo ethnic groups residing in their area as evident to riots that occurred in Jos between 2003-2005 resulting in the deaths of many Igbos leaving several others wounded, also in parts of Benue.

All these various groups are attributing various ills and grievances as to the reasons behind their agitations for right of secession from Nigeria. Amongst the various mentioned facts, one stands tall above others and permeates very ethnic groups call that have risen in the 21st century to agitate for their secession, as it is seen in almost all the various ethnic group as the chief reason behind their cause, and it is ‘MARGINALIZATION’.

Almost all ethnic groups in Nigeria have cried out against the issue of marginalization of them as an individual ethnic group or collectively as a whole by the Hausa-Fulani hegemony who have ruled with impunity since the dawn of independence to this present era. The people of the Niger Delta feel oppressed, exploited, and marginalized as it is well known that it is the revenue accrued from their vast oil reserve that has been used in creation of Abuja as a capital city and the development of other Northern states at their own expense with little or no development in their sector not even the provision of basic amenities of life such as good water, electricity, good roads which the activities of the oil exploration and multinational companies have constantly aggravated. The Yorubas feel they have not been given appropriate representation at the federal level especially the highest seat at that level being the presidential seat, stating that the two tenures of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba man cannot equal the thirty-three(33) years (1966-1999) of Northern rulers during the military era, and intermittent democratic governments. But the aim of this paper is not to treat the issue of secession and its various reasons from the various ethnic groups agitating for it, rather its being limited to the group IPOB, selected amongst other ethnic group of South-East origin clamouring for the secession of the Igbos and the creation of the Republic of Biafra.

Why Now: Biafra and IPOB

Both MASSOB and IPOB have attributed the marginalization issues of Igbos living in the South-East and other parts of Nigeria as one of the various reasons behind their secessionist calls. IPOB leader Nnamdi KAnu made known the fact that Igbos are not allow to reach the zeniths of their professions in the federal level, both in their home states and in diaspora. He mentioned we have no or in some cases few permanent secretaries of federal government ministries and parastatals of Igbo origin in the whole of Nigeria. In the East we have Northern and Yoruba commissioner of police, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the various military barracks, the federal government attribute the 3R’s (Re-conciliation, Re-construction, Rehabilitation) of the Gowon military administration which saw the creation of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to foster inter-ethnic relations among Nigeria students who graduated from the university after the completion of their various discipline, as the students are termed and viewed as the leaders of tomorrow.

The Gowon military government saw the need of acculturation of various cultures in the NYSC camps and place of posting to foster love and tolerance for one another as each Batch that passes out goes into the wider society to procreate what they have learnt and accumulated to ensure peace, love, and stability in the whole country. This was what led to people of other tribes being posted to regions were they are not indigene in the various federal government institutions to depict the oneness and unity of Nigeria, as the tolerance and acculturation they received, during their youth service would pose no problem to them in their place of duty, as also the issues of tolerance and language barrier, distinguishing and distinct elements in cultures have been addressing in their youth service.

The question now is, why are there no Igbo commissioners of police, GOC of military barracks, in the Northern and Southern states?, why are there no Igbo Director-General of federal government ministries and parastatals, permanent secretaries, the federal road safety corps, Department of state services (DSS), National security and defenses corps (NSDC), amongst many others around the federation?. Igbos are left out in the educational sector, agricultural sector and so many other; all federal government institutions have their headquarters in Abuja, the nation’s capital, with branches and sub-branches in the 36 states of the federation, from head to toe (headquarters-sub-branches) are being filled at the top with people of Hausa and Yoruba origin mostly Hausas. The Igbos are being left out in key positions of government such as the Chief of staff (both Army, Navy, Air force), Chief of Defense, Directors of companies, amongst many others. The South-East, the Igbos is bereft of many key installations industries and factories to leave the sector in perpetual underdevelopment. For example the steel industry which was meant to be located at Enugu, a state rich in coal which is the essential raw material was located in Kogi state. Many calls and promises have been made to dredge the river Niger to make way for the entry of containerships and a commercial harbor is yet to be fulfilled. The Igbos are cheated out in the provision of social amenities residing in the exclusive list; the federal roads is nothing to write home about, restoration of bad bridges is yet to be achieved, the building of new bridges where needed is not be considered at all by the federal government – take for example the second Niger bridge and its government saga. Igbo private businesses are being attack. I would only site two examples:

First, the destabilization of Ibeto group of companies, a leading cement manufacturing company that started its cement operation in 1997 by the federal government to create room for Northern companies to thrive under the guise of breaking the monopolistic power being held currently at that time by Ibeto group of companies. This perpetual and intentional act of the federal government saw the emergence of Aliko Dangote as he rose in power to ‘dominate’ the cement industry. So far so good the federal government in their minds have done justice to the so called monopolistic power and its problems, as it is well known that Dangote cement dominated the cement industry before the inception of Lafarge Holcim, a French industrial company which merge with Holcim a SWISS cement on company on 10 July 2015 which saw the establishment of ‘Unicem’ cement in 2002 and Elphant Supaset in 2015 and Bua group of company, a private organisation that acquired the assets of two government cement factories, one in the North, Sokoto state in the year 1993 and the other in Edo state, Southern Nigeria in 2008.

Secondly, the recent issue of Ifeanyi Ubah of capital oil and the federal government (NNPC) perpetrated through their ever loyal dog the Department of state services (DSS). This was a move to destabilize his company and demoralize him as man which was intended in him quitting the oil business to live it solely in the hands of Northerners to the exclusion of the Igbos.

The Igbos are only allowed to indulge in businesses that are of little or no importance to the federal government. Business that the federal government terms harmless to their own cause, business that in no way involve any of the minerals resources found in the federation; there as many numerous calls made to the federal government to take over the rich salty lakes found in Ebonyi state, a state of Igbo ethnic group to no avail. The federal government fears the fact of establishing an industry (salt) like that in the heart of the Igbo land.

Igbo are allowed to indulge in business that they are competent in or at least the Northerners have accepted to themselves that they have no expertise or of little interest to them. Am talking about the importation business, but this business does not go without its limitations. The Igbos are free to import all what and not save for the strategic ones, for example food. The federal government bans the importation of rice in the reason that it undermines Nigeria locally produced rice and at times limits the number of imported rice into the country. If the Igbos imports rice, their bags of rice are confiscated and destroyed, whereas a Northern Senator or businessman is to do same, the federal government makes excuses for them ranging from;

  • The cost of production of locally produced rice is high, thus the reason for its high cost in the market. It is needed from time to time to inject foreign rice into the country, so that the local ones can compete for price with the foreign ones. It acts to checkmate the local rice and bring about a reduction in its price.
  • The production output of Nigeria rice factory is low and cannot meet the consumption demand of the Nigeria public, so there is need from time to time to bring in rice into the country from outside Nigeria.
  • Then the ridiculous claim that Igbos import substandard rice and the ones imported by the Hausas are of standard and have been proven by NAFDAC and other related agencies to contain the essential minerals, and vitamins in its essential order, with highly nutritious element containing in them.
These acts of marginalization gave rise to the renewned calls for secession now. When people ask why now? They are to be answered marginalization of the Igbos amidst many other factors of oppression, insecurity, and many others.

Why Now: Biafra and IPOB

As October 1st 1960, the day set out by the British government for Nigeria’s Independence and the handing over of constitution power to Nigeria leaders. Many nationalistic leaders though based on regionalism (as political parties those days were formed on regional ties with each competing with the other for legislative seat) triad their various best to out win the other for the highest seat of authority. It was no longer which political party controlled majority seats at the legislative house but rather who gets to produce the first national head, and the party that wins get the bonus of not only appointing cabinet members but also the control of the majority seats at both houses of the parliament.

The failure for any of the three political parties – Northern People Congress (NPC) a dominant party in the North, Action Group (AG) a party in the west dominated majorly by the Yoruba’s and National Council of Nigeria Citizen (NCNC) saw the political alliance between NPC and NCNC to emerge victorious in the federal elections with the NCNC producing the president in the person of Late Nnamdi Azikiwe who was the ceremonies Head of state, and the NPC producing the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Belewa (Late) as the Head of government.

This alliance brought in the Igbo ethnic group into the corridors of power alongside the Hausas. The NPC party members who contested for election won majority of the seats in the parliament, with the Igbos trailing behind, and then the Yorubas. It saw to the appointment of the Igbos as Heads of different government institutions and prestigious bodies.

This was to remain the status quo as the same political alliance of both parties during the 1964 federal elections saw them emerging victorious. The dominance of the Hausas and Igbos at the federal level went unchecked only to be brought to an abrupt end by the January 15 1966, coup which saw the transfer of power from the civilians into the hands of the military. Though alleged to be an Igbo planned coup, the supreme head of state Maj. Gen. Aguiyi J.T.U. Ironsi who was noted to appoint northern military officers in placement of his own tribe to key government offices and post. It can be to an extent said, that the tribal dominance of both ethnic group continued afterwards with a reverse in the case with an Igbo being the head of state and government at the same time with the Hausas filling in key positions in government, but this was brought to a total end with the July 25 counter coup of Lt. Col. Mel. Yakubu Gowon that saw the transfer of power into the hands of the Northerners alone.

This little glimpse at the past serves the sole purpose to show that economically, the Igbos were not challenged nor were they oppressed or marginalized. It shows that the political and economic aspect of the lives were not denied them by the government, neither were they hindered nor prohibited. The issue at hand was their SOCIAL well being.

The coming of power by Lt. Colonel Gowon, saw the outbreak of many riots which were used to stage POGROMS and ATTACKS on the Igbos living in the Northern part of the country. The Igbos were being massacred in large numbers which made them to flee back to the South-East their place of origin because they social life was threatened. Their lives were no longer safe, fearing for their lives they could not go about their economic endeavours anymore neither was the political aspect of their lives assured them of as the Hausa military regime that brought Lt. Colonel Gowon to power was being dominate by the Hausas with little room being left out for the Yoruba’s which they filled in quickly having been left for six (6) years since independence in the dark.

The Igbo refugees returning home told the sad tales of their encounter with their Hausa brothers. This and added to the failure of the federal military government of Gowon to remit to the South-East their share of the federal allocation revenue, with the federal military government refusal to implement the Aburi Accord of 15 January 1967 led to the declaration of the sovereign state of Biafra.

The main factor to be taken note of is the ‘threatened social well being’ of the Igbos; their loss of life and properties saw their exodus to the South-East. They didn’t consider the economic life that much as life is much more valuable than money. The perceived fear that they could no longer live in peace in the Northern part of the country. Their insecurity was also aggravated by Gowon’s failure to remit the past/overdue salaries of civil servants who fled the North and the ones still in service in the Eastern region made them feel unsafe in their region as they thought the Hausas were out to get them and would not leave them in peace.

Perceiving themselves to still being part of Nigeria which they shared no identity with as their sense of identity has been questioned by the actions of the Northerners. They sought a ‘US’ as replacement to the ‘We Nigerian’, Gowon’s economic actions (in the place of his refusal to remit government owed salaries of the South-East) and his inactions- defilement of an international agreement. (that of the Aburi accord) only sped things up as Easterners who came back were already clamouring the creation of a state from the East they can call their own from Ojukwu who was the then military Governor of Eastern Nigeria. Gowons inactions and actions went ahead to lend credence to Igbos beliefs that the North and Nigeria as a while holds nothing for them anymore. While the threatened social life of the Igbos saw the creation of Biafra in the late 1960s, their political and economic lives which are now being threatened as shown earlier on in this work has came to amount to the reasons why calls for secession is being made by Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader.

Evaluation

The identity crisis, an issue that has pervaded itself all through Nigeria’s history has been the cause of many crises in Nigeria. As individuals or groups at times question their existence in a country like Nigeria and asks the question of ‘We Nigerians’ a phrase that opens the Nigerian constitution, a phrase heard all time, what it actually means?. They ask what their stake in the country is? Who are the ‘we’ and who really Nigeria is? Is it the British? Or the Northerners? Does Nigeria belong to us all, the whole ethnic group? Or a selected few (the North, West and East) as envisioned by the British during and after colonizing Nigeria. When this question is not answered and addressed by the appropriate bodies, conflict arises.

Conclusion

When it comes to the creation of wealth and the means of acquiring that wealth, there is no telling the extent a person can go. On the normal, life in itself is valued above wealth, it is also logically for he who is alive, lives to create wealth for the dead cannot do that, but in most cases the reverse is the case, people tend to exalt wealth above health. The pogroms and massacre of 1966 saw the exodus of the Igbos from the North to the East leaving behind their vast wealth amassed there irrespective of the fact that many lives and properties worth millions of naira were destroyed but there were still substantial ones left. The Igbos didn’t bother, for he who is alive can create wealth, they did that before in the North, it could be done in the East. The problem lies in when the government seeks or any person to thwart the economic functions of any man, he would not take it likely added to the fact that he is alive not to talk of a group of persons, talk more of a race. Gowon’s economic sabotage sped up the calls for secessions back then, added to their threatened social life and existence of a race. The Igbos would not take it lying low when the economic aspect of the life is being threatened also. This has also been the reason for the renewned calls for secession in this modern era, economics (creation of wealth), there are many paths to wealth. The Igbos as a race tolerates any social or political discrimination but they cannot tolerate a blow, a constant one to their economic lives.

Take away a man’s freedom; he will be submissive to you. Take away his dignity, he will go ahead to subjugate himself to your entire being, but never take away his bread, then he will fight for with all his got and might.

A man can put himself in the worst conditions of life as far as he can make out a living for himself. This renewned ‘agitations’ for it has exceeded the ward ‘call’ which can be likened to the word ‘implore’ serves as a lesson to be learned by the federal government and a warning that no time in history has any man taken it lying low when the means of his livelihood is being under constant attack talk more of a race. The movement has grown from a call to an agitation which signifies that the masses are no longer imploring the federal government rather they are demanding for their rights and privileges.

It is recorded in history that men have fought hard and have given their lives for their freedom (political and social freedom) but much harder when it comes to their economic freedom.

Evaluation

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Amended). Presented by the Presidency Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), 7th March, 2011.

Uche Grace Ojukwu. “The Niger Delta Crisis and Lasting Stability: A Re-Appraisal of the Amnesty Programme. Journal of Nigerian Government and Politics, Vol. 4 (2012): 122-137.

Indigenous People of Biafra, link (accessed August 28, 2017).

Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, Link (accessed August 28,2017).

Sunnewsonline.com/igbo_marginalization_gave_rise_to_massob_Uwazurike/(accessed August 28, 2017).

Wale Odunsi. Biafra: Why I’m fighting for secession of Igbos from Nieria- Nnamdi Kanu, Daily Post. (accessed August 28, 2017)

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