A lot is happening in the Nigerian space at the same time these days. No dull moment. We hear that a big reservoir of crude oil may be found in the Lake Chad area (which some of us knew has always been there anyway) by December – just a few weeks away. All of a sudden, Boko Haram has slowed down, and we hope they stay that way. There is always more than the eye can see in Nigerian matters. Story for another day.
In the South-East, there have been massive demonstrations by people who claim they want their own republic. Their ‘Director’, one racist psychopath called Nnamdi Kanu, who for years spewed a lot of intertribal and interracial hate from his Radio Biafra (based in Dublin, Ireland), was picked up and locked up by Nigerian security agents upon a recent visit to Nigeria on a routine expedition to incite some more hate in the country which he calls a ‘zoo’. He had enjoyed free passage – and indeed tacit support – under President Jonathan. He remains locked up in the jailhouse as I type, as no responsible Igbo man or woman has stepped up to put up his bail bond.
Yet this new Biafra agitation is something that should be discussed. Never ignored. Gradually, Nigeria edges to the point of real governance. True governance is when political leaders takes notice of the activities, feelings, responses, grievances, even the joys and triumphs of people within a space, and respond in ways that advances the people. All this while, governance in Nigeria has been defined by a romance with failed projects, most of which have little bearing on the lives of the people. Development has hardly been about the people in these parts. It is always about the need to borrow money from some ‘foreign investors’ to build infrastructure which fan the egos of the high and mighty. Yet it is possible, and it is a must, that we refocus on the people.
Regarding Biafra, when literally tens of thousands of people spill onto the streets from Port Harcourt to Asaba, and in almost every state capital in our South-East, there is a need to interrogate what may be going on, and indeed to pry into the minds of the agitators. Who are they? What do they say they want? What exactly is their problem? There will usually be a vast difference, between what they think or say they want, and what exactly is biting them.
After careful consideration of the new Biafran agitation, a clear picture emerges thus:
North, East, West or South of Nigeria, the Igbos are the most financially successful. There is a reason for that. Apart from a ‘republican’ ethos which emphasises individualism, there is also the corollary of work ethic. Igbos are the ones known to keep their businesses open all-year round, even when others close for several ceremonial reasons. The Igbo man is the intrepid businessman who can be found in every nook and cranny of Nigeria and beyond, doing business, often providing essential commodities – at a profit of course – to locals. This is a vast field of endeavour that has been filled by these illustrious people and from which – at least within Nigerian context – they can hardly be dislodged. In every corner of Nigeria, the Igbos occupy markets where even those who consider themselves indigenes, now feel excluded and marginalised. The Igbos – through trading – undoubtedly have the largest stash of liquid cash in the Nigerian space – perhaps all over Africa. The Yoruba people have a saying that translates into “when you have a job, you will feed yourself, but when you have a TRADE, you will become wealthy”. The average Igbo man also times and gauges his spending. He hardly involves in weekly sprees, but his December holidays are usually grand.
The Igbo woman is strong and highly connected to modernity. She is bold, sassy and an achiever. She cannot be held down. Irrepressible is her second name. In the workplace, she is often the hard-worker; driven, focused, ambitious, often beautiful, attention-catching, stylish. They often rise to the top very easily wherever they find themselves. Many people believe Igbos ‘love’ money. Maybe they do. It would be silly for anyone not to – though there are moral limits – or how else does one become responsible and meet one’s increasing obligations to self, family and even the society?
In sports and entertainment, Igbo dominance is almost an embarrassment for the rest of Nigeria. A look at the squad of the recently-concluded Under-17 Football tournament, wherein Nigeria got the gold, speaks volumes. At least 15 out of a squad of 21 are of Igbo extraction. I once read an old American book where the desirability of slaves from Igbo extraction was extolled. They were reputed for their sturdiness. Perhaps that is still at play in our sporting arena today. In academia too – because of the early exposure to education in the USA (the real hub of modern-day intellectualism), the Igbos are now arguably sitting on top of the pack. We are having more Igbos excelling in different fields of endeavour, not only in trading. At least WAEC/NECO/JAMB results for the past five years have shown Anambra and Imo States at the top of the list.
A book, The Triple Package, written by a Chinese-American, Amy Chua, and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld listed the Igbos alongside the Chinese, among the most successful immigrants in the United States. The Igbo prowess is well-acknowledged, home and abroad.
So what is the Biafrans’ problem? If Nigeria has acknowledged you – as evidenced by the prominence you have achieved – why would you want out of Nigeria? In the same way, the world has acknowledged you. Do you also want out of the world? So it is apt that we do a proper psychoanalysis of the problem on our laps. Is it hubris? Some sense of inferiority among some Igbos – which manifests as superiority – in spite of all the achievements? Some missing chips in some people’s brains that inhibits living in harmony with other people? Or some self-destruct gene that gets activated when one feels he/she has achieved everything achievable and it is now time to destroy it all and hopefully start again? Nnamdi Kanu has said so many times, that the Igbos were more superior to every other ‘race’ within Nigeria and probably beyond. But I know many Igbos who feel so embarrassed by such inane claims. A superior person is one who never speaks about it. As a matter of fact, true superiority, according to Ernest Hemingway – and also in the Holy Books – lies in being superior to your former self!
But the Igbos have become a global phenomenon. And they insert themselves in every conversation, in any society where they are found. For every great deed, I have also seen many embarrassing situations involving the Igbos in far-flung countries away from Nigeria. Problems with drug-dealing and other crimes. Unruliness by Igbo traders. I have seen Igbos destroy two Nigerian embassies, slap and beat up an Ambassador Umaru in Thailand, without any consequence under Jonathan.
The same type of Igbo people display little regard for other people’s cultures and go around crowning themselves as sovereigns in other people’s lands. After seeing what they did to Nigerian embassies and ambassador, no local community would want to give Igbos a chance to do the same to the institutions that are traditionally dear to them. This happened recently in my hometown, Akure in Ondo State.
All said, we have three broad categories of Igbo people who support the new ‘Biafra’. We have some educated Igbos who feel left out of the financial good fortunes of and by their own people. They blame it on the whole of Nigeria. I am from South-West Nigeria. This country has NEVER given me anything on a platter. Where I am from, you struggle for any and everything you get or achieve. But I don’t begrudge Nigeria.
Then we have Igbos who live abroad and are stuck with a romantic view of the old Biafra, but are unable to come to terms with new realities – especially now of Nigeria’s indivisibility – or at least that Igbos have the most to gain from our unity. These ‘diaspora’ guys too, many of them are coming to terms with the regimented life of credit cards and backbreaking work that their sojourn has become. They blame Nigeria the ‘zoo’ for that. Lastly, we have unenlightened Igbos, who are also financially disenfranchised. Every Igbo miscreant is in this Biafra group. Dropouts – from school AND trade apprenticeship, deviant folk, drug addicts; this new talk of war and destruction excites them. They are what Yorubas call “Da bi mo se da”, for they would rather drag everyone else down to where they are – down in the pits of hell! The focus on individual success means there is really no space for unsuccessful Igbo people. I have witnessed a few Decembers down in the South-East and wow! if you’re an ‘efulefu’ you’d wish the ground opened and swallowed you alive!
And so because the Igbos are used to being heard, what we have on our hand is actually an intra-Igbo insurgency in the making. This is the reason why well-to-do, and right-thinking Igbos cannot speak up against Kanu and the likes – who have already branded some of their own people as saboteurs and marked them for summary death. Not all right-thinking Igbos are rich, but anyone that still has hope, cannot join Kanu’s nonsense. Kanu’s Biafra is a coalition of the hopeless and the insane in short. Add to all the troubles at hand, the tight economic policies of the Buhari government, which has squeezed all and sundry to a tight corner, but which could have a greater effect on Igbos who run the importation business. These policies will benefit Nigerians in the long run, but many of these agitators don’t have ‘long run’ in their dictionary.
Finally, we can only remind warmongers that this is not 1967. Yes, both the new Biafrans and Nigeria as a sovereign state can acquire weapons of mass destruction and mutually annihilate. Many Lords of War – weapons dealers – will be too happy to supply us some, even on credit. That is why one thinks that Nnamdi is an agent of a greater evil, because the cause he is pursuing could totally lay Nigeria – and especially the South East with its beautiful mansions – to waste. I went to Enugu last year and was totally impressed. Two weeks later, I went to Abeokuta and the place looked like it was stuck in a terrible time warp. Those browned out corrugated iron sheets that are all over Yorubaland are missing in the South-East. I wrote then, that we Yorubas, need new money.
But since Igbos are very familiar with the USA, those baying for blood should ask themselves why the US fights all its recent wars abroad. And they should open their eyes and see what has become of Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria and other countries that have fallen victim to modern warfare. Nnamdi should not be the agent of those who want to throw Africa back into the Stone Age.
Well, like they say, God never gives people everything. Even for the most endowed, he holds something back. And for any people, there will be their own retards, criminals, misfits and their own fair bunch of the insane. Nnamdi seeks self-destruction for the Igbos, not self-determination.
‘Tope Fasua, an economist, consultant, CEO of Global Analytics Consulting, published this opinion in The Sun