President Buhari, Ndigbo and the Biafra agitation: Matters arising by Arthur Nwankwo


Arthur Nwankwo
Arthur Nwankwo

You will agree with me that so much has been said and written in recent times concerning President Buhari’s attitude to Ndigbo that further commentary on it may seem like beating a dead horse. On this occasion, I tend to differ; essentially because it is in presenting the precarious situation of Ndigbo in Nigeria especially under this administration before the court of public opinion (both domestic and international) that the truth can be deciphered. This truth is both historical and empirical.

In the African narrative tradition, the bridging of time and space is a common reality essentially because individuals and groups of people tend to retrieve salient facts from their historical past in order to know where they are coming from; where they are and where they are most likely going to be in future.

For instance, among the Akan tribe of Ghana, the proverb of “sankofa”,(in Igbo: “cheta nyaa” or remember yesterday) harps on the importance of getting from the past the wisdom and guidance therein that may have been forgotten and which is needed to navigate the present and plan for the future. Cheta nyaa is a clarion call to remember the lessons of yesterday; to rediscover the Igbo spirit of patriotism; to reawaken the pure, sublime, noble and stoic spirit of our forebears in order to restore and make whole again that which have been severed and fragmented.

Thus, when the Igbo want to speak to a person, especially a stiff-necked person, the discussion is usually encoded in proverbs. For Ndigbo, proverbs are a form of folklore, which are often used during the exchange of formal and informal conversations, story-telling or stating a point of emphasis. The concise structure and the poetic quality of the Igbo proverbs make it a popular and appealing form of oral literature. Thus, Chinua Achebe’s assertion that in Igbo conversations, ‘proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten’ becomes trite. In Igbo cosmology, the profundity and intensity of Cheta nyaa transcend time and space. In situating our position in Nigeria, Ndigbo are guided by this philosophy.

It is for this reason that I have chosen to speak to you in proverbs. As our people say, to whom a proverb is spoken to and explained, the dowry paid on his /her mother’s head amount to a waste. A stubborn fowl always ends up in the old woman’s soup pot, goes a popular Igbo proverb. That President Muhammadu Buhari has a deep-seated disdain for Ndigbo is not in doubt the kind of hubris that birthed anti-Semitism against the Jews. But history is emphatic on the fact that such ingrained hatred for a group of people almost always comes with huge costs and consequences.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Ndigbo have borne the brunt of the Nigerian tragedy for no other reason than they tend to survive where others have failed. This tendency by Ndigbo to weather the odds and make a success of a seemingly impossible situation has excited the jealousy and hatred of less endowed groups in Nigeria. For nearly half a century, the core part of northern Nigeria have not hidden their intense hatred of Ndigbo and, on the slightest excuse; have physically demonstrated their intention to wipe out the Igbo race. It is a historical fact that even under the colonial rule, several outbreaks of violence occurred in the north with Ndigbo as the marked target of destruction. The intentional massacre of Ndigbo in Jos in 1945 is a case in point, and what is, even more, curious is that the colonial authorities at that time never instituted an inquiry into the gruesome massacre of the Igbos.

This orgy of the massacre of Ndigbo was played out again in 1953 in Kano. Given the intensity of this renewed wave of wanton destruction of the lives and property of Ndigbo in Kano at that time, the British colonial government ordered an inquiry. The report of that inquiry produced incontestable evidence of intention, deliberation and organization on the part of the authorities of northern Nigeria to exterminate the Igbo.

Given the intense hatred against Ndigbo in the north and the consequent externalization of this hatred by the northern establishment, the Atrocities Tribunal was set up to identify the cause of this hatred and document the atrocity against Ndigbo in the north. On page 133-135 of the tribunals report, it was stated that the Northern Nigerian authorities along with their collaborators have devised a seven-point agenda aimed at wiping out Ndigbo living in the Northern Region and another part of the country.

In March 1964, during a debate in the Northern Regional House of Assembly, the prevailing bitterness of the North against Ndigbo was publicly proclaimed and their physical elimination was officially announced. Contributions from members such as Mallam Bashari Umaru, Megida Lawan, Alhaji Yusuf Bayero, Alhaji Usman Liman (Sarkin Musawa) Alhaji Mustafa Ismaila Zanna Dujuna (then Federal Minster of Establishment and Training)and Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gashash (then Minister of Land and Survey) confirmed a deep seated bitterness and hatred against Ndigbo and hinted on their physical elimination. So the military coup of 1966 and its interpretation as an Igbo coup merely provided the widow for the implementation of the northern agenda for the decimation of Ndigbo in Nigeria.

In the early days of the Nigerian Civil War, radio broadcast from Kaduna confirmed the foregoing program. To the glory of God, our people bravely resisted the genocidal pogrom orchestrated by the Nigerian establishment and today we are still in the mortal battle to save our skins from death.

I recall that during the war, Radio Nigeria based in Lagos would always broadcast a war song in Hausa (before and after news broadcast), which translate thus: “let us go and crush them! We will pillage their property; ravish their womenfolk, murder their menfolk and complete what we started in 1966”. This was the philosophy with which Nigeria prosecuted the war against Ndigbo. For instance, Ganiyu Sodeinde was of the Nigerian Army attached to the Nigerian Army Weapon Training Depot. His service number is NA/38611. In one of his entries in his war diary, he told his men that it may be difficult to subjugate Ndigbo in the war but even if such prospect was feasible in the war, his fear was that another generation of Ndigbo would wake up one day and pick up the struggle. To forestall that kind of situation, he ordered his men to kill any Igbo person they saw.

That Muhammadu Buhari as a young military officer internalized this anti-Igbo sentiment in the North is not in doubt. That Buhari was part of this plot to exterminate the Igbo race during the civil war is stating the obvious. That that hatred against Ndigbo is still ingrained in him even till date is glaring. That Buhari is today the president of Nigeria does not retract from the fact that Ndigbo disgusts him. The leopard never changes its color no matter the weather.

If the Igbo view Buhari with suspicion, it is because they are aware that he played an active part in the genocidal atrocities committed against them during the war. For instance, it is on record that he was the person who led the federal military campaigns against Ndigbo at Nsukka, Abagana, Nkpor, Abakaliki and Ogoja. Under his instructions, soldiers under his command torched all the villages around which were occupied by harmless, starved and starving Igbo children, women and the sickly. At the point of the massacre, the soldiers began to jubilate; chanting “Nnewi is next”.

If the Igbo view Buhari presidency with reservation or accused it of implementing an Hausa-Fulani agenda, it is because they are not unaware of the mindset of many of the core northern heavyweights that masterminded the emergence of Buhari. Just listen to Aliyu Gwarzo’s comments in 2014:

“When I say that the presidency most come to the north next year, I am referring to the Hausa-Fulani core north and not any northern Christian or Muslim minority tribe. The Christians in the north…and all the others are nothing; and the Muslim minorities in the north know that when we are talking about leadership in the north and in Nigeria, Allah has given it to us, the Hausa–Fulani. They can grumble moan and groan as much as they want but each time they go into their bedroom to meet their wives and each time they get on their prayer mat to begin their prayer, it is we the Fulani they think of, that they fear, that they bow to and that they pray for. Some of them are even ready to give us their wives and daughters for one night sport and pleasure. They owe us everything. This is because we gave them Islam through the great jihad waged by Sheik Usman Dan Fodio. We also captured Ilorin, killed their local king and installed our Fulani Emir. We took that ancient town from the Yoruba and their filthy pagan gods. We liberated all these places and the entire people by imposing Islam on them by force. It was either the Koran or the sword and most of them chose the Koran. In return for the good works of our forefathers, Allah, through the British, gave us Nigeria to rule and to do as we please. Since 1960, we have been doing that and we intend to continue”. It is this kind of mindset that creates anarchy; breeds hate and births bloodshed.

In 2014, when Buhari indicated his interest to contest for the presidency again, he was asked how he hoped to woo Igbo voters considering his role during the war. Fielding the question on BBC Hausa Service monitored in Kaduna, he noted that “the Igbos hate him for what happened during the Biafra war’. He went further to say, “I don’t have any regret, and at such do not owe any apology to them. In fact if there is a repeat of the civil war again, I will kill more Igbo’s to save the country”.

It is indeed a shame that some of our leaders could speak in this manner. But the truth is that Nigeria cannot be saved merely by killing of Ndigbo. And that brings me to the question asked by Buhari during his recent media chat on Wednesday, December 30, 2015: “What do the Igbo want?” Whereas the present federal government may close its eyes to the plight of Ndigbo in Nigeria and ask such sarcastic or rather sardonic questions, it does not diminish the truth that Ndigbo have made enormous sacrifices for the good and development of this country.

For anybody and especially President Buhari to ask such rhetorical question begs the issue. What do the Igbo want? I think the answer is fairly straight forward! We want justice. We want equity. We want fairness. We want inclusion. We want a democratic space that will afford our people the unfettered externalization of their creative ingenuity; where they can feather their industry and where they can be protected from the vermin of genocide occasioned by hatred and religious fundamentalism or bigotry.

Is it not obvious that Nigeria is a complex simultaneous equation; an admixture of water and oil. Among mathematicians, there is a formula known as “almighty formula” for solving such complex equations; and those who read chemistry will always tell you that for water and oil to mix there must be an emulsifying agent. Nigeria’s “almighty formula” or emulsifying agent does not lie in the massacre of Ndigbo; neither does it lie in voicing or implementing primordial streams of bitterness and hatred against Ndigbo. It lies on a round table dialogue.

Boko Haram, for instance, is not a chance occurrence; it is rather a signification of the determination of the fundamentalist Islamic north for the creation of a political space that will guarantee them unfettered implementation of Sharia and a pure Islamic state. Thus, if the youths in Niger-Delta suddenly rise up in arms  against the Nigerian state, it is because they desire an equitable, just and fair Nigerian society where they would reap the benefit of the resources domiciled in their area. If the Yoruba nation, under the aegis of OPC or Afenifere, desires an Oduduwa republic it is because they are minded to know that the events of June 12 signify a lopsided federation where one group is intent on lording it over others. if the Berom in Plateau is constantly engaged in fratricidal strife against the Hausa community in Jos, it is because the Nigerian federation is a deficit on the questions of citizenship and indigeneity. Hence, if MASSOB or the Zionist Movement of Biafra or the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) embark on a peaceful protest to ask for a renegotiated Nigeria, they are only echoing the sentiments of the north, west and south. They are not derailing it in any way, and the government should listen to their demand. While many Biafra agitators may be slaughtered in cold blood by the Nigerian state, the spirit of Biafra will not die basically because the contradictions that spawn Boko Haram, militancy, and ethnic nationalism are as incandescent and virulent as ever.

Therefore, Ndigbo cannot be made the scapegoat of the Nigerian conundrum. Ndigbo lives!

This is why I have always maintained that Nigerian’s only safety valve lies in a roundtable discussion to fashion out a framework for the continued existence of Nigeria as a corporate entity. The best we have gotten close to the Republican constitution of 1963 was the outcome of the 2005 National Political Reform Conference and the last one convoked by former President Jonathan. What Buhari owes Nigeria is the political will to implement the recommendations of those constitutional conferences. Any other way leads to doom and self-destruction. And I dare to ask: do we have any other escape route to this impending implosion? I doubt!


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