After reading Dr. Junaid Mohammed, convener of Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academic, Professionals and Businessmen, in his elaborate interview published by Sunday Sun of December 13, 2015, I was wondering where really to place him. Do we classify this man as an agent provocateur, who just wants to ruffle feathers? Or is he an Igbo hater? Or is Mohammed a defender of the North? Or is he a true Nigerian, who would want to call a spade a spade, without minding whose ox is gored? Well, whatever category you would put him, what is obvious is that Mohammed, with what he said in the interview, has muddled the waters for no just cause. He has chosen to put petrol in a raging fire, at a time when what is needed is fire extinguisher or water.
Indeed, in the vexed interview, Mohammed figuratively shot from the hip, as he addressed the things affecting the Igbo with such disdain and arrogance. His position was provocative and insulting. His generalisation and labelling of the Igbo race, using the character and bahaviour of a few individuals as benchmark, makes it most annoying. For the avoidance of doubt, the issue is not that Mohammed said that Igbo could leave Nigeria, if they so wish, as they need Nigeria more than the country needs them. No. It’s not that he said the Igbo are not the only business people in Nigeria, as, according to him, “if it is business, Kano people are also businessmen.” Not at all. It is not about his anger over the pro-Biafra agitation in the South East. No. It’s about his dismissive posture, in a “go to hell, Igbo” manner. Also, his effort to rewrite Nigeria’s history rankles.
To be sure, Mohammed said in the interview: “It will be difficult for Igbo to be satisfied because I don’t believe they have even begun to conceptualise what it means to submit themselves. If they continue like this, I don’t see how we can have an Igbo leader within next 20 years, which means that what we are shying away from confronting now is something we have to confront somewhere down the line. If we don’t confront this agitation now, we will certainly, at some point, have to confront it, so that if they insist they don’t want to be with us, fine, and then we will move on.”
In another breath, Mohammed said: “So, if they (Igbo) continue to be unreasonable, in this case insisting on getting some key positions or telling Buhari how to run the government, then he needs to take the right step by confronting them, especially when they are trying to threaten the country or trying to threaten other people in the country because other Nigerians have to be protected. And if they continue with what they are doing, they should know there would be repercussion because for every one Kano man who lives in far Igbo state, there have been 100,000 Igbo people living among us. We should know that we don’t owe them anything. They tried it in 1966, 1967, when they returned home en mass. If it is business, Kano people are also businessmen. We can run Kano well without them. But I insist they should be heard and be allowed to secede, provided they are peaceful.”
Assessing the competence of Igbo people and their conduct in office, Mohammed said: “In the history of Nigeria, there have been only two Igbo Army Chiefs of Staff. One was General Aguiyi-Ironsi, who was implicated in a tribal coup against other ethnic groups and he was also involved in refusing to try those involved in criminal act of tribal coup in 1966. On the whole, he was the least qualified but was considered by the late Tafawa Balewa for political consideration and balancing. And we knew how he behaved. Incompetence and lack of education contributed greatly to the tragedy, which threw the country into the civil war.
“And then we had a man called General Ihejirika. Ihejirika is the one we will remember vividly because he was the one that came and introduced or reintroduced tribalism in recruitment, training and promotion in the Nigerian Army. Secondly, he was the most corrupt Army chief we have had in the history of this country. And people don’t want to re- member all that. Given these two examples, people are very careful about giving Igbo any position of leadership.”
Still in his warped definition of Igbo, using the conduct of one individual, he said this of Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation: “Now, when Anyim was the SGF, he established a system whereby each time there was a vacancy in any of those places, he made sure that an Igbo man occupied it. I will give you example of National Population Commission. Makama was the last chairman of the commission who came from Plateau. After he left, for whatever reason, somebody called Festus Odimegwu was appointed. Festus was reckless in his language, irresponsible in the way he treated other people, including his own fellow Igbo men. You know he is from Imo State. His case was such that Goodluck Jonathan himself who came from minority had to desert him.
“Another Igbo man was appointed by Anyim and I can give you several other examples. Anyim also made sure that key directors in all the 17 parastatals were Igbo at the expense of other ethnic groups. Showing an open nepotism in what they do is their stock in trade. So, people then say, ‘look we are not going to have these Igbo people as leaders because their nepotism is absolutely unbelievable. Once you give them certain key positions, they believe they have arrived and step on other people’s rights and responsibilities and Nigerians are not going to accept it.’”
Pray, why is Mohammed going out of his way to denigrate Igbo? If he had a problem with one Igbo, would he then use the experience to label everybody? For the sake of argument, let us assume, for instance, that former SGF preferred Igbo for appointment, does this warrant Mohammed’s jaundiced conclusion: “Once you give them certain key positions, they believe they have arrived and step on other people’s rights and responsibilities and Nigerians are not going to accept it”? However, why is he trying to make people believe that it is Anyim that appointed then chairman of the NPC, for instance, when we know that the president, which in this case was Goodluck Jonathan, made appointments, subject to Senate’s confirmation? Why would Mohammed make such generalisation against the Igbo when he only cited the case of just one person?
Most importantly, why is Mohammed trying to rewrite history about the first coup of 1966? He alleged in his interview that General Aguiyi-ironsi was implicated in the January 1966 coup, when we know that the former Head of State only held the office by default. He was not part of the coup and was actually lucky to have been spared. In fact, he had mobilised to foil the coup, after the five majors had killed the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa, and other top government officials. And he assumed the office of the head of state partly because the then Senate President, Nwafor Orizu, invited him to, in the absence of Prime Minister and shaky democracy.
By the way Mohammed talked about Aguiyi- Ironsi, it is clear why northern officers also plotted a coup in July 1966 and murdered the former Head of State and his host, Adekunle Fajuyi. Instead of blaming General Yakubu Gowon, a northerner, who could not, as Head of State, guarantee the safety of Nigerians, at a time when Igbo were being killed in the North, Mohammed is blaming Aguiyi-Ironsi for the crisis, which eventually led to civil war. How convenient it is for Mohammed to blame an innocent man for the conflagration caused by north’s vendetta?
Indeed, the way Mohammed talked about Aguiyiironsi and General Azubuike Ihejirika shows how he and his ilk see Igbo. He dismissed Aguiyi-Ironsi as being incompetent, while Ihejirika is the most corrupt chief of army staff Nigeria had had. How uncharitable can a man be? Mohammed was never a soldier and, therefore, is not in any position to assess Aguiyi-Ironsi. The fault of Aguiyi-Ironsi was that he was trusting. He trusted northerners he surrounded himself with, which caused his death. It was the northerners around him, who conspired and got him killed. For Ihejirika, I am not really surprised that Mohammed does not like him. We are all wit- nesses to the fact that the Mohammeds were angry because the army, which Ihejirika led, fought Boko Haram, in the fight against terrorism. They labelled him anti-northerners for working to rid the country of terrorism and, in fact, threatened to drag him the International Court of Justice. Now the military is pounding Boko Haram and the Mohammeds are not shouting genocide. What has changed?
Mohammed should know that the Igbo are component part of the country. Until his likes know that a people who are hardworking and enterprising cannot be ignored, Nigeria will continue to have is- sues. His Igbophobia is indeed, a disease. The Igbo in Nigeria are not asking for preferential treatment. They demand equity and justice. They demand merit and equal playing field. Let Mohammed and those who think like him press for equal opportunities and merit in Nigeria and then see how the Igbo will fair. (Daily Sun)