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Igbo plan to leave Nigeria - Part 1


| by Osita Ebiem

This is the first part of this essay. It is divided into two parts and derives its title from the argument that Ojo Maduekwe presented in response to Vin Otuonye who wanted Maduekwe to clear the concern of Igbo masses that some Igbo elite seem unfazed by the plight of this and coming generations of their people in Nigeria. The current generation of Igbo believes that there is no prospect for them and their children by remaining part of the Nigerian union. They are convinced that their interests and those of their subsequent generations will be better served only in a state that is separate and independent of the Nigerian state. For this reason the masses of the people are progressively feeling betrayed by their leaders who they think should be at the forefront of the struggle to liberate them from one Nigeria. They think that some of their leaders of thought like Ojo Maduekwe, Obi Nwakanma who is an intellectual genius and others like them, for the sake of some temporary personal considerations, have sold out and mortgaged their people’s future to a hopeless project that is one Nigeria by insisting on the continued existence of Igbo people as part of it. Vin Otuonye called out particularly to Maduekwe to respond to this accusation by Igbo people. Maduekwe in his characteristic articulate haute sense of responsibility was courageous and humble enough to respond. We salute his boldness. We encourage readers to read in full Ojo Maduekwe’s intelligent presentation in order to get a better perspective of the points made in this article. Maduekwe’s piece will be reproduced below this. We consistently and deliberately avoid using titles to address individuals when discussing Igbo matters because we are conscious of the very negative effect those have had on the general psyche of our people. Thank you for reading.

( August 19, 2013, New York City, Sri Lanka Guardian) In the past few years, due to increased cases of agitations by several groups within and outside the country for the division of Nigeria, some people are genuinely asking why Igbo people and other Biafrans want to be free from Nigeria. Some Igbo people have also asked for reasons to convince them to join forces with pro-freedom movements and organizations which are agitating to separate Igbo and other Biafrans from the oppressive unity of one Nigeria. A few Igbo people like Ojo Maduekwe that oppose separation of Igbo from the Nigerian union argue that because “Igbo economy exceeds Igbo geography” therefore Igbo should remain in Nigeria, no matter what, to take advantage that the bigger size and population present.

Ojo Maduekwe though had fought as a Biafran soldier during the Biafra-Nigeria war years but today he can afford to see things differently from, perhaps, the way he did in the 1960s while the war raged. Maduekwe is both brilliant and articulate but most importantly, he is a beneficiary of and participant in the current Nigerian dysfunctional state of affairs. He has served Nigeria quite capably in different capacities, including federal ministerial and ambassadorial positions. He has consistently proved to be an innovative and efficient Nigerian civil servant. He is therefore qualified to comment on the issue of Nigeria’s disintegration and Igbo’s proposed exit from the country.

Before we go any further, let’s quickly provide what we consider to be a simple and adequate answer to the group that wants to know why Igbo people are anxious to exit the one Nigerian debacle and put the nightmare of a forced “national unity” behind them. (Other answers will come in the second segment of this essay). Some separation advocates like the internationally acclaimed scholar Herbert Ekwe-ekwe believe that Igbo people do not have to give any reason for choosing to want to be free from Nigeria. The people in this school of thought argue that wanting to be free just for the sake of it is reason enough. To the people in this group, freedom for the sake of freedom is good enough reason for them and anyone else that may care to know. In their opinion freedom is just as fundamental to human beings everywhere as breathing and eating. For this reason, the separationists believe that no one should feel ashamed or embarrassed for wanting to be free and stay apart from other people just for the sake of it. In this case Igbo people have expressed their desire to be separate from Yoruba, Hausa and Fulani peoples as members of the same country.

It has been argued that the desire for freedom and the ability to choose are basic human instincts and therefore among our fundamental human and peoples’ rights. On that basis, no one needs give any explanations on wanting to exercise these rights. So, the desire of Igbo people to want to be free from Nigeria does not have to make much sense to those who do not share the same feeling. In the existing Nigerian arrangement Igbo people as well as others who are conscripted into it were never given the opportunity to choose to be Nigerians or not. For the Igbo and others in Nigeria today it is citizenship by compulsion. The real essence of freedom is the ability to freely choose who one wants to associate or live with. The current arrangement of one Nigeria is a choice made by another for the Igbo and others without due considerations or consultations. Colonial Britain made that arbitrary choice for the indigenous peoples some one hundred years ago. Hence, separation advocates are asking for a referendum to afford the peoples the opportunity to choose who they want to associate and live with as fellow citizens of a country.

Because it seems that people like Ojo Maduekwe are sincere we will try to respond to their argument about economic consideration as basis for Igbo membership of Nigerian union. No doubt, the economic state of any people, Igbo’s inclusive, should be considered as a top priority when making decisions that will affect both their present and coming generations. But as a people and society evolve further away from the basic animal instinct of mere survival (or subsistence) level, they begin to realize that freedom, liberty, dignity and prestige actually take precedence over economic considerations. And it is in the light of this that the economic argument pales and becomes even embarrassing when Maduekwe and others like him sincerely think that Igbo people should remain part of the Nigerian union even at the risk of total annihilation of their population and or undignified ethnic/religious discrimination, unfounded fear and hatred and inhuman subjugation of Igbo people by Nigeria so as to have a wider geography for trade and economic activities.

Admittedly, when Maduekwe eloquently came up with the phrase of “Igbo economy exceeding Igbo geography” he must have been satisfied with himself. Who wouldn’t be? After all isn’t it an art to be able to find plausible and persuasively sounding words or phrases for any debates. There are usually two types of debaters. One group wants to persuade their audience by respecting their sense of reasoning so they try to present to them honest and realistic reasons and facts. On another hand, the second group thinks that all they need to win is to excite and satiate the sentiments and emotions of their listeners enough with high sounding phrases; the people do not really have to think, they believe.

We agree that such eloquence as Maduekwe’s and those like him when laced with seemingly harmless phrases like “Igbo economy exceeds Igbo geography” is sure to sweep any unwary audience off their feet to deafening applause and ovation any day. Many times debates have been won not by the reasonableness or truthfulness of the winner’s points but by the plausibleness, emotional excitement and contrived manipulation of the believing audience through some craftily and deftly delivered self-serving phrases.

For those who have observed Maduekwe’s activities and utterances and those of the other Igbo elites on the other side of the debate it is not difficult to see that they are knowledgeable and some of them make excellent Nigerian civil servants and they have the overall interests of Igbo people at heart. There is no one that participated in the self-determination efforts of Biafra as Maduekwe did that does not remain a patriot forever. Yet experience has shown that some Biafran veterans especially those who have gone on to serve or benefited from Nigeria tend to suffer from what can be described as battle fatigue or defeat syndrome. They seem to find it difficult to get over the awe and bewilderment that the victor elicits in the vanquished. This experience can be compared to the fears that the painted devil elicits in the eyes of the child. So, we wish to put out this caveat; it does not always matter how smart the one Nigerian advocates sound or act, they still come short or become smart by half because of the effect of the aforementioned syndrome. Without knowing it they try hard to keep faith with a kind of injunction that says, “Love your enemies more than yourself and treat others better than you would like to be treated”.

At the end of the day, if this debate will be won on the basis of catchy phrases only then we must admit that our little candle may not stand the dazzling light of those of Ojo Maduekwe, Obi Nwakanma and others like them. These are seemingly unrepentant one Nigerian apologists and admittedly, matchless wordsmiths and expert phrase makers. In this piece we may never be able to come up with a better sounding phrase than that of Ojo Maduekwe; ‘“Igbo economy exceeds Igbo geography” – ‘so Igbo should endure dishonor and ultimately perish seeking for food in one Nigeria.” By the argument of these people it is alright for Igbo people to continue to endure genocides, ethnic/religious cleansing, remain directionless and hopeless in one Nigeria as long as they can trade and accumulate pennies within the Nigerian geography. Though we readily concede our inability to match Maduekwe’s phrases with better ones or any that is just as plausible but we wish to try to appeal to the reader’s honest and good judgment, nevertheless.

“Igbo economy exceeds Igbo geography” sounds as attractive and catchy as can be but we ask the people that really feel the pain of one Nigeria and their sympathizers to try and subject this phrase to further scrutiny based on the realities of the situation that are obtainable on the ground. We are confident of one thing; we are convinced that any honest seeker after the truth who is patient enough to consider even for a moment Maduekwe’s phrase in the context of one Nigeria’s utter darkness and hopeless prospect for Igbo people in it is sure to experience that inescapable aha moment of every true seeker. We believe that as they reach that point of honesty- and sincerity-induced epiphany they will see Maduekwe’s fancy phrase as no more than mere catchy phrase. We know that in the heat of their “righteous anger” the people will see Maduekwe and others like him as peddlers of feel-happy but very dangerous phrases who knowingly refuse to walk in the light that clearly shows the impossibilities of one Nigeria for Igbo and other Biafrans.

Inevitably, when the reader runs their mind through times and places and events that shaped and placed peoples and societies in the positions of economic and political powers they are in at any given time, the reader is compelled to agree that Maduekwe and others who think like him are wrong about Igbo and one Nigeria. The truth is that no successful group of people or individual has ever limited the scope of their economic businesses within the limit of their political/physical geography. This is why nation states establish the diplomatic arm of governments that deals with their international business relations. Successful global business conglomerates have always spread their tentacles beyond the geographical confines of the sovereign states where they have their operational headquarters. These so-called multi-national businesses do not need to bring into a unitary sovereign state each country in which they do business. Such practice would be colonialism. Under such practice you colonize every new people and sovereignty that one does business with and subject them to the rules and customs of the home government of the conqueror for effective control and exploitation. This is the practice that got Igbo people and others into the nightmare of one Nigeria, in the first place.

For Igbo people to remain in Nigeria and run a secured and successful economy as Maduekwe and a few others like him are suggesting then they must colonize the other peoples and bring them under total subjugation. They will have to defeat Boko Haram and stop them from establishing their own separate Islamic sharia state which is what they are fighting for. If that sounds utterly stupid and untenable which we think it is, then Igbo people in one Nigeria are bound to continue to experience the overwhelming jealousy, hatred, genocides, ethnic/religious cleansing, fear and discrimination as it is today. But once the people elect to solve the problem they will have to accept the fact that Igbo people’s business, social and political relationship with Yoruba, Hausa and Fulani peoples will become better when they relate with one another as citizens of different countries. Then there will be no more need for the prevailing unhealthy rivalries where each tribe is in constant fear, distrust and loathing of one another.

Please expect the second part of this article. Thanks

Here below is Ojo Maduekwe’s response to Vin Otuonye which is where the line, “Igbo economy exceeds Igbo geography” is taken from. We owe our thanks to Maduekwe for the brilliant coinage.

Dear Vin,

I will take the calculated risk of engaging further on this issue possibly for the last time. I feel drawn in because you wonder how much we Igbos in positions of authority raise our voices against Injustice against our people and you charitably reminded all about my constraints as an Ambassador of the Federal Republic that represents all and not just Igbos. The truth of the matter Vin is that if we keep silence in the face of manifest injustice against Igbos while in Government then we cannot truly claim to be the sons of our fathers! Another truth is that when we do so it will be unethical and may even amount to infringement of constitutional oath of office if we came out in the open bragging about what we do for our people. Any public officer doing so does not deserve to be there in the first place and will not last sufficiently to do the good he is obliged to do for his people. The other truth is for such advocacy on injustice to be credible and effective one must also be on record to do right and be just for other groups even to the occasional irritation of one's people. So it is not really that one's public office prevents one for fighting for one’s people. It is about timing, venue, platform, context and choreography. It is about strategic thinking

Yet there is public record to show that some of us even while in high public office have spoken the way you are writing when you refer to the sacrifices of Ndigbo. The point of departure with some of us who were grown up enough to fight the civil war (since you refer to MASSOB's option of nonviolence) is that rather than acquiescing to a permanent victim mindset that is not getting other Nigerians ' attention we are looking for a response befitting a great and big nationality as the Igbos. In the hurly burly real world no one wants to hand over a platform to a group that keeps drawing attention to its victim status if that group cannot compel attention in other persuasive ways. I am worried whether current approaches factor in Rollo May's wry observation that "powerlessness corrupts and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.” So how we manage our pain and articulate it without scaring everyone else may well hold the key to our breakthrough. Yet as I said earlier, I have spoken, even in high public office on the terrible Igbo price for national unity. Sample: As Transport Minister and leader of Igbo members of Obasanjo Administration in a speech delivered on the occasion of Remembrance Day of Ndigbo who lost their lives during the Nigerian Civil War held at the Michael Okpara Square Enugu 29 September 2000------".

As we rightfully remember the Biafran dead on this historic site dedicated to the matchless memory of Michael Okpara, let us solemnly resolve to live up to, those ideas of free society for which our men and women paid the supreme sacrifice. Let us not forget that Biafra at its best, was an indictment of the injustice and corruption which Nigeria in 1967 represented. We honour best our dead by supporting the forces of democracy in order to confront that degree of injustice and abuse of power which inevitably flows from the lethal combination of rampant ethnicity and unbridled corruption......

Our Igboness will find its most positive opportunities for excellence through the reconstruction and reconciliation of a Nigeria that will be sensitive to the Biafran concerns for justice, neighborhood values and meritocracy. We must be part of a growing national coalition that is ready and determined to create a new Nigeria. Even as our people died between 1966 and 1970, and as they have died in other carnages since then, it had always been sadly true that the Igbo economy exceeds Igbo geography. Our best tribute to our dead will be to find creative routes towards harmonizing that reality with the promise with the promise of a new Nigeria where lives and property will be secure; where citizenship will be marked by residence, and not by tribe and tongue; and where the enterprising qualities of our people will have the widest possible platform to flourish. Again at the Word Igbo Congress held in Houston from 29th August to 1st September200 I said "Other ethnic groups naturally came to perceive with considerable admiration, Ndigbo as the quintessential Nigerians who had voted with their feet more than any other group for a mobile, liberal society of equal citizenship rights......We Igbos have therefore been at our best when we refused to follow the narrow enclave preoccupation of other groups; when we have seen Nigeria and indeed all of Africa as available for our restless genius; and when we have encouraged our sons and daughters to bear the brunt of national integration. Of course there was always a price to pay for all this, some of which were extreme to say the least. But on the balance we are not such pathetic losers in the Nigeria Project. We have been strong, resilient, resourceful and justifiably proud. What is required is a new Zikean impetus that can push our interest in a more integrative, more inclusive and less threatening language; an approach that celebrates an interface and reconciliation of Igbo aspirations with the Nigerian dream, and by so doing, place at the service of the leading African nation the talents of some of the best and brightest who combine local relevance with world class instinct in an increasingly globalised community. We have the capacity to do this. Why accept less, especially in a knowledge economy based on the primacy of the market and the consequential retreat of governments from the centre - stage?" Do you need more evidence that some of us have not been silent concerning the Igbo Question within the wider Nigerian Question even while in Government or are seen as part of the establishment.

Best Wishes!
Ojo Maduekwe
( Osita Ebiem is a Biafran citizen and the Sri Lanka Guardian's special correspondent on Nigeria. He can be reached at ositaebiem@yahoo.com )
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