MYTH is a widely held but false belief and misrepresentation. In furtherance of ethnic-nationalism, SouthEast Caucus of the National Assembly and Ohanaeze Ndigbo stated, in different fora, that the only way to end Biafra separatist agitations is to stop “Igbo marginalisation”; and restructure Nigeria. This message became ascendant as Biafra separatism gained momentum. Of all issues currently featuring in national discourse – “Igbo marginalisation” is the most formidable message. Is it myth or reality?
With this widely held but false belief and misrepresentation of the truth – the central message has been that Ndigbo are deliberately being kept out of key roles in central government. The commonest gibes, tritely, are: “Igbos have a dry thirst for money”; “Igbos price acquisition of money higher than life and death”; “If you want to know whether an Igbo man is dead, shake any currency paper money or coins near his ‘cadaver.’ “
Reality-check: there is no evidence of deliberate policy of exclusion. There is no deliberate strategy of denial against Igbos. The political aspiration(s) of Ndigbo in Nigeria’s political space is in their hands. However, with naiveté, clannishness, disunity and inexperience in national politics, Ndigbo continue to squander it on wrong political choices. The principles of merit and competition are supplemented by nebulous and retrogressive policies: “State of Origin”, “Federal Character” and “Quota System” but they are not directed at Ndigbo.
The concept “Igbo marginalisation” was conceived during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). Nigeria changed currency and Igbos lost over £50,000,000.00 in foreign exchange; Awolowo’s starvation policy created kwashiorkor; pauperising Igbo middle class with a £20 ex gratis award to all bank accounts irrespective of lodgments before the war.
Routing Igbos from the commanding heights of Nigeria’s economy by introducing the indigenisation decree at a time Igbos had no money; declaring Igbo property “abandoned property”; refusal to re-absorb Igbo cadres who attained high positions in the armed forces and federal public service. Reality-check: Igbo challenged Nigeria’s unity, seceded, fought a war against Nigeria and were defeated.
The dominance of politics by Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba has seen them controlling the levers of power. It took the intervening period (1960-1970) for forces of ethnic particularism artificially repressed during the colonial period to burst forth and gather momentum.
I traced the predicament of Ndigbo to 1967. Ojukwu, calculating that Gowon, a ‘Middle-Belt Christian’, will not fight ‘Eastern Christians’, declared Biafra. Reality-check: wrong calculation – Gowon declared war on Biafra. The war set Igbos on the path to self-deception, creating ‘the myth of Igbo marginalisation’.
Marginalisation was seen in creation of States. In 1967, it was a political master-stroke by Gowon to scatter the solidarity of the eastern region; to severe the Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Ijaw, Ogoni and other minorities from the Igbos in order to destabilise their common resolve to fight war. Reality-check: it worked.
After the war, the levers of power fell into the hands of the war victors and they determined the composition of the highest echelons of power. Are there salient indicators of deliberate marginalisation against Igbos? – political emasculation (not true), politics of State creation (not true), discrimination in federal appointments (can be adjusted), military neutralisation (Igbo man would rather trade than join the army), selective development (since 1970, a remarkable Igbo economic and commercial élan).
John Odigie-Oyegun told Igbos to join the APC to overcome marginalisation, saying it is the pathway to Igbo Presidency. Ken Nnamani declared: “. . .on. . . marginalisation. . .do not stay under the rain. . .and start crying because nobody will observe. Unless you go into the ruling party and make meaningful contributions. . .moral standing to ask ‘why don’t we have this or that’?”. Governor Rochas Okorocha concluded, rightly, that the Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba don’t need Igbo to win elections anymore.
In answer to a question on his plans for inclusive governance in 2015, President Buhari stated: “. . .The constituents, for example, gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%.” While Hausa-Fulani/Yoruba had realigned political forces, Igbos had voted clannishly for Igbo forenames: “Ebele and Azikiwe”.
Reality-check: President Jonathan didn’t construct one kilometre of road in Igboland. Team Jonathan produced petty rewards for few Igbo apparatchiks and rolled back the schedule for Igbo Presidency. Biggest failure of Igbo elite is incapacity to play the political game. That’s reason losers seek “new Biafra” – where the failed Igbo elite can exercise control unchallenged.
The American Civil War (1861-1865) occasioned the defeated Southerners tarred by the brush of secession, destroying Southern influence for a century. Victorious Northern electorate were extremely reluctant to cast a ballot for Southerners, making them unelectable. Nigeria’s SouthEasterners are also tarred by the brush of secession.
US South couldn’t dominate American political system like it did during the antebellum era. Igbos couldn’t dominate Nigerian politics like they did before the Nigerian Civil War. “Marginalisation” is a phenomenon prevalent in Igbo socio-political life. Igbos are not marginalised in Nigeria but going through a process of integration after war. The ramifications of all wars are similar – for losers.
After the American Civil War, it took 98 years for the defeated South to produce a US President – Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969). Since the end of the Nigerian Civil War, it’ll take decades for the defeated East to produce an Igbo President. Trust and confidence must be rebuilt. Nonetheless, Ndigbo rebuilt the SouthEast. Igbo is the richest ethnic group in Africa with properties/investments, inside/outside Igboland, totaling a net worth in excess of US $1trillion.
Igbo intelligentsia developed a marginalisation thesis, Igbo lumpen proletariat assimilated it, but it’s a ploy concealing contrived defeatism, as Igbo bourgeoisie accelerated expansionist monopolist-trade cartels across Nigeria and Igbo diaspora. Even under concerted efforts to marginalise, no ethnic group can amass such stupendous wealth in a decade after a military defeat. Reality-check: “Igbo Marginalisation is a Myth”.