It was in far away Washington that I read a moving article – written by a black American – that stirred my conscience and inspired me to take up the gauntlet to lead the struggle for Igbo liberation. The article copiously x-rayed the plights and potentialities of Igbo ethnic group in Nigeria. It traced the integration of Igbo after the Civil War and concluded by advising Igbo to work together if they are to assert themselves more vigorously.
Before I read that article, I used to see the issue of the marginalisation of Igbo as something restricted to Nigeria in scope. It was there and then that I made up my mind to work unremittingly (more than I had done in the past 15 years) for the reassertion of Igbo imprint on our national life. I quickly put calls through to a few associates, and three months after Njiko Igbo (a political pressure group) was formed. We had reasoned that we would make a more impressive and decisive struggle working under a very powerful umbrella, instead of the old-fashioned style of ego-tripping.
Today, Njiko Igbo has grown in size, prominence and acceptability all over the world. There is irrefutable evidence that the group has come to stay, going by the interest and inquiries coming from, even, unusual quarters. Our membership is open to all Igbo from every corner of the universe – irrespective of status, creed, or political and cultural inclination. We are working conscientiously, and steadily too to expose the ideology of our group to the youth of Igbo land that forms the nexus between us and the future.
We are worried that unless we did something tangible our identity could be lost forever. Events preceding the Nigerian Civil War still stand as a sad chapter in our national development. It is needless recounting these events, because I had done so on numerous occasions in this column. One of the most heart-tearing incidents was the massacre of Igbo in the North in the mid 60s. The chronicling of that sordid and barbaric incident had been done by many writers and documentarians. Of particular note has been the perpetuation of inequity against Igbo who went to war for no fault of theirs, but in defence against a plot to annihilate them.
It is, therefore, very worrisome that almost 43 years after the unfortunate war, Igbo are still treated as third class citizens – a vital signal that the war might not yet be over. It is a misnomer, therefore, for anybody to refer to Igbo as Second Class citizens, when in actual fact they are far behind the line reserved for second class citizens. Can anybody point to anything that justifies the use of the terminology ‘second class citizens’ to qualify Igbo? Is it in terms of infrastructure, distribution of national resources and political offices, or what? What is the moral justification for anybody to talk about equality among the major ethnic groups in Nigeria when the burden of neglect the Igbo suffer is crying to heavens for reprieve?
Our resolve to muster support for the entrenchment of Igbo unity was borne out of necessity and a crushing pain in our hearts to release our people from the poverty and penury they now suffer in a nation their forbears spent their lives and resources to found. As people of the same belief and ideology, we had thought that working together to hoist our interest on the national map would attract greater cohesion and draw wider attention to our cause.
This is why we have steadily pursued the goals for which the group was founded without difference to the distractive, repugnant schisms of a few anti-Igbo elements. There is no doubt that some people would naturally feel threatened by our existence, since our society is not given to freedom of expression and association, even though it is enshrined in the constitution. Nevertheless, we are unfazed by these antics.
What we have done in the past one year is to build bridges of friendship and comradeship across the country. As things stand, we have been able to establish links with like-minded organisations and individuals in our effort to erect structures for the actualization of Igbo Presidency in 2015. What probably marks us out from other geo-ethnic groups championing the cause of their people is that ours is a mass movement of people who want freedom achieved through peaceful, just and amenable means. We have never believed that such struggles should be done with bitterness or aggression or belligerency.
After all, we are decent, patriotic and responsible Nigerians who have solid stakes in the Nigerian Project. Many of our members have held top political and managerial positions within and outside the country. This is why our views have been taken seriously by the ‘High and Mighty’ all over the world. Our global presence, nonetheless, does not vitiate the fact that we are a large movement of people of the same creed, vision and mission.
Only recently, we took a trip to London where I addressed the United Kingdom’s House of Commons. By taking our case to the House, we were doing something for which we had already been associated – following due process in fighting our cause. It is not new that our scope of operation spans the length and breadth of the globe, because there is no part of the world in which you will not find an Igbo man or woman.
It was not, therefore, wrong when I referred to Igbo as the most resilient and widely-travelled people in the world during a lecture I delivered at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Dupoint, Washington, United States in 2008, which caused heated debate then. I used to tell my friends abroad that anywhere there is no Igbo man or woman is not fit for human habitation. I make this assertion with every sense of duty and without any equivocation. Check it out yourself and you will understand more deeply the sentiments I am expressing here.
I was marvelled by what I saw during my electioneering for the 2007 presidential election. It was during our trip to Bama in Yobe State. We drove to the remotest part of the state and saw many Igbo settlements there. Some of them had lived in their present abode for over 30 years, contributing meaningfully to the socio-economic development of those places. You can then imagine the bestiality and inhumanity when fundamentalists raise their hands against them in the name of religion or agitation for recognition.
It is preposterous for anybody or group to posit that Igbo are not marginalized. The table below captures in surmised form the insufferable neglect Igbo experience in Nigeria.
How can anybody talk about one Nigeria with what obtains in the table above? In my address at the renowned world Igbo Summit held in Enugu on January 19, 2000, I strongly advocated a stronger unity among Igbo from every part of the world as a way of repositioning them to face the new realities of surviving in a complex and complicated nation as Nigeria. In the address entitled: “Wake up Call for Ndigbo,” I bemoaned and vehemently condemned the lackadaisical and, often, unconscionable attitude of some highly paced Igbo to the pursuit of our collective patrimony. At the end of the speech, the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Hotel, Enugu erupted in thunderous applause. Igbo from all walks of life present in the hall hugged and shook hands with me. They were visibly moved by the speech.
In fact, one of the participants holding a top position in the federal executive council has always called to remind me of the impact that speech made on him. Thirteen years down the line, the lesson of that speech still resonates on Nigeria’s political space. Indeed, the impetus and inspiration to deliver that speech came directly from God. I say so, because immediately after the speech was delivered, the issue of Igbo marginalisation came to the front burner of our national politics more forcefully.
I had prayed to God before we left for Enugu for the summit to give me the courage to drive the struggle for Igbo emancipation to its logical end. What transpired in Enugu showed really that God is with us. Things started happening in quick succession. I threw my hat into the ring in pursuit of what rightly belonged to us: I joined the race for the presidency in the 2007. Our campaign train traversed every nook and cranny of Nigeria – soliciting the support of voters.
Though we had expected to win (forget what some people said then about our non-seriousness), the lessons of that outing are yet to be lost on us. If nothing more, the several trips we made round the country exposed us to the harsh realities of our socio-political life. It is an experience every Nigerian politician should have if he truly wants to appreciate the sufferings of the masses.
Everywhere we visited led us to deeper revelations about the rot in our polity. It is a pity that some of our policymakers have not even visited their own villages in the past 10 years. How then can he objectively appraise the situation in other places?
We have done a survey, which revealed to our consternation that Igbo have their largest investments outside their domains. Tell me any prominent Igbo man that does not have an investment in either Lagos or Abuja or Port Harcourt or Kano. Why have they not invested such resources in their own vicinity? The answer is simple: The Igbo man believes emotionally in the unity and survival of the Nigerian nation. This is why he sees wherever he lives as his home. While other tribes find it hard to invest outside their domains, Igbo have continually settled and developed wherever they live. The abandoned property saga in Port Harcourt is a case in point.
Despite the unpalatable consequence of the Port Harcourt abandoned property, Igbo have continued to invest outside Igbo land. Today, the Trade Fair Complex in Lagos, which is worth billions of naira in investment, houses ASPAMDA (dealers in automobile spare parts). It was ASPAMDA that funded the expansion project. Before their intervention, the complex was overgrown with weeds and served as abode for lunatics and criminals. Imagine what we would have happened if ASPAMDA had taken the huge investment to the South East.
It has never been in doubt that Igbo are liberal-minded, resilient and trustworthy. It is these strengths we plan to harness for the good of our people. Those who paint Igbo in bad light are nothing but armchair critics and ethnic jingoists. That Nigeria has survived till this day is majorly because of the contributions of Igbo. Even the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as President was facilitated by Igbo who threw their support massively behind him. Anybody who disputes this fact also is nothing but a mischievous person.
Forget the war we fought – we did not fight to enthrone any ethnic agenda. We fought to stave off the menacing machetes and spears of those who had planned to wipe us out of the face of this beautiful earth. And who would stand and watch, while his people are being brutally and systematically cut down? Nobody I guess. Look at what is happening in the North today: Boko Haram is waging a “war” on Nigeria for the simple fact that their leader was killed by security forces. How many lives have been wasted in avenging the death of one man? Available records show that the casualty rate from that adventure has been on steady rise – reaching an all-time high of 3000. Which war is greater than that?
The same thing happened in the Niger Delta Region – where militants had waged war on Nigeria for several years until peace was brokered through the amnesty deal. As you read this piece, the nation has spent over N60 billion in the rehabilitation and sustenance of the repentant militants. Now, plans are afoot to extend the same amnesty to members of Boko Haram. The whole thing is turning into a circus show. And for how long are we going to put up with this charade?
The major reason for the agitation by diverse ethnic blocs in Nigeria for self-autonomy is injustice. The Niger Delta people are asking for more resources since they are the geese that lay the golden eggs. To be honest, their agitation is justified.
Fighting for one’s rights is a constitutional matter. The only grouse I have about some of them is the use of force and aggression. Why should any rational person kill in the name of agitation for self-government? It is sheer madness and a crime against humanity.
So, you can now appreciate why Igbo went to war. In our thinking, we believe we can achieve what we have set for ourselves without violence. Those who apply violence to twist the arm of government for recognition are social misfits. Must we destroy Nigeria in order to be heard? If we destroy Nigeria, which other country will we call ours?
It will do Igbo good to key into our vision, so that together we can achieve freedom and work for our greatness. Those sitting on the fence are cowards. They watch while others toil at the risk of their lives to build solid Igbo unity, then turn back to profit from it. It smacks of sabotage for any Igbo not to stand up in support of this struggle. I am happy that the era of ‘selling’ Igbo unity for a pot of portage has passed. We are in an era of change – change that has come to endure. And we must embrace it in order to be free.
As indicated at the outset, we will work with greater vigour in the months ahead to institutionalize the architecture for the realization of a president of Igbo extraction in 2015. That is the major focus of our campaign. We are not averse to any political party or do not bear any grudge against anybody (man or woman). What we do is what we believe is just and fair and is best for our people.
As things stand today, there is no other group that can offer Igbo focused, passionate, reliable and courageous leadership other than Njiko Igbo. We have the charisma, the vision, forthrightness, soundness of mind, intellectuality, candour, and global goodwill to take Igbo to their destination.
We will never relent until this objective is attained, although we appreciate the enormous work that needs to be done – all for the good of our people and the unity of Nigeria.
Let it be made known today: Igbo of Nigeria deserve more than they currently get. It is a matter of right and equity that we get equalization in the number of states, local government councils and constituencies we have at present. That will be the first step to building a solid and united Nigeria. Until this is done, we will keep shouting on top of our voices that our people are serially marginalised. One day, with hard work and perseverance, God will hearken to our voice and redeem us.
The pathetic state of the Igbo nation
Zones No of No of No of Senatorial
states local govt Fed consts district
North West 7 186 92 21
North East 6 112 48 18
North Central 6 115 49 18
South West 6 138 71 18
South South 6 123 55 18
South East 5 95 43 15