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  • Nigeria is not yet a nation
  • Igbo-haters, the Arewa ultimatum and our nation
    Fifty years after the civil war ended, Igbos do not
    yet feel a sense of belonging, acceptance or
    safety in the Federation called Nigeria. The sad
    part is that this belief is shared not just by the
    generation that witnessed the war and its deadly
    consequences, but Igbos across all generations,
    including the millennials who have been
    socialized into believing that there is a gap
    between their people and other Nigerians.
    Let us not deceive ourselves about certain plain
    truths. The civil war is perhaps the most
    remarkable incident in Igbo history in the last
    century. The pain, the loss, all about it, is deeply
    imprinted in the Igbo consciousness. Whereas
    the Igbo nation has shown great resourcefulness
    since the war, and its people have proven to be
    enterprising and determined to hold their own in
    every sphere of life, including outstanding
    contributions to the making of the Nigerian state,
    there are Nigerians who still regard and treat the
    Igbo suspiciously.
    Anti-Igbo sentiment may not be so openly
    expressed, but it is usually something beneath
    the surface. There are landlords in many parts of
    Nigeria, for example, who will never rent out
    their property to an Igbo man. The Igbo tenant
    is easily stigmatized. I have heard people
    complain that Igbo tenants are too stubborn or
    that when you rent a room to an Igbo man, he
    will end up sub-letting that one room to all
    kinds of persons from his village, putting
    pressure on the property’s limited facilities.
    Some landlords insist that an Igbo tenant could
    even start eyeing the property, to buy it off the
    landlord, or if it is a shop, the Igbo trader would
    end up renting the entire street, and could turn
    the street into an Igbo neigbourhood. This
    stigma has been a source of agony for many
    Igbos seeking accommodation, particularly in
    Lagos, but it is of course completely baseless
    stereotyping. There are good and bad persons
    from virtually every Nigerian ethnic group.
    The stereotyping of the Igbo person can also be
    found in the political arena. It is assumed by
    some persons, and such statements have been
    made to my hearing, that the only reason an
    Igbo man cannot be President of Nigeria is
    because every Igbo man sees himself as a
    potential President, and should the Presidency
    be zoned to the South East, the struggle for the
    ticket could result in inter-community strife in
    Igboland.
    The name of the group is Igbo, but when other
    Nigerians want to be mischievous, or perhaps
    out of ignorance, they refer to Igbo as Ibo, and
    when you try to correct them, they may insist
    you don’t seem to understand. It is I-Before-
    Others (IBO).
    Igbos have also been held responsible for all
    sorts of things, kidnapping, drug trafficking, child
    trafficking, armed robbery – even when there are
    criminals from virtually every community in
    Nigeria. Meanwhile, they are one of the most
    vertically educated ethnic groups in Nigeria, and
    the most enterprising in all fields.
    A friend once said that if you enter any
    community in Nigeria and you don’t have an
    Igbo man running a small shop there, or
    engaged in some other kind of business, then
    you have no business staying in that
    community. Igbos are also obviously the most
    integrated ethnic group in Nigeria, which is why
    it is ironic that they are also the most vilified.
    I wrote what I considered a harmless piece
    recently in which I referred to the declaration of
    Biafra in 1967 and quoted excerpts from the
    Ahiara Declaration. I got a phone call from a
    friend who declared that I should stop
    encouraging these “Biafrans”. Nothing I said
    made sense to him.
    “You don’t know those people”, he declared.
    “I know people from all parts of Nigeria,” I said.
    “You don’t know Igbos. Has there been any
    problem in this country that you know in which
    Igbos have not been involved? They have
    started again, heating up the polity with threats
    of secession.”
    “It is a sign that all is not well with Nigeria,” I
    retorted.
    “Don’t mind them. I don’t think anybody wants
    to secede. If Igbos really want to secede, you
    think it is Nnamdi Kanu that will be speaking for
    them?”
    “It takes just one illuminated soul to start a
    revolution.”
    “Don’t bring that line. Everything is not
    textbook, this man. Just tell those Igbos not to
    include my people in whatever they are looking
    for. We are their neighbours. They dragged us
    into the civil war. This time around, they’ve
    gone to draw a map, including my people. Biafra
    does not extend to the South-South. We are just
    looking at them.”
    “Biafra is an idea.”
    “I don’t want to hear all these textbook things, I
    have told you. Which idea? See, most Nigerians
    do not support Biafra. They think Igbos are just
    playing games. I’ll send you some other articles
    written by other Nigerians and you’d see what I
    am talking about. People are angry that anybody
    will be talking about secession in 2017!
    Nigerians are fed up with Igbos and their games.
    President Jonathan gave them everything but on
    election day, many of them stayed at home and
    refused to vote. Now, they are talking
    secession.”
    “But Yorubas are also talking about Oduduwa
    Republic.”
    “The Yoruba are not going anywhere. What they
    want is restructuring, fiscal federalism. Which
    Oduduwa Republic?”
    “The people of the Middle Belt are also
    aggrieved.”
    “Anybody can be aggrieved. You can’t please
    Nigerians. And some of these things are
    political. Obasanjo became President, Niger
    Delta carried arms; Jonathan got there, Boko
    Haram kidnapped children, Buhari is there now,
    and all the ghosts of Biafra are frightening
    everybody. But these Igbos, tell them they are
    not going anywhere.”
    “I am surprised you are talking like this.”
    “What is the matter with those people? They are
    all over Nigeria. They are even selling land in
    Lagos. But no outsider is allowed to buy half a
    plot of land in Igboland. You carry Igbo girl sef,
    na problem. Go and check your email. I will
    send you other perspectives on this matter.”
    Before long, I received a mail indeed. The fellow
    had put together a collection of anti-Biafra, anti-
    Igbo articles which he urged me to read, with
    the rider that I should pay particular attention to
    the fact that some of those articles were written
    by Igbos.
    I ignored the rider. Some of those articles could
    have been ghost written. What is clear, however,
    is that all is not well with Nigeria. We are a
    country that needs to be rescued from the
    centripetal forces tearing us apart, and the
    leading forces today would include, as was the
    case before now, ethnicity, religion, the politics
    of hate, and citizen alienation.
    If my review of the stereotyping of Igbos in
    Nigeria and the reported conversation with an
    Igbo-hater does not fully convey the
    seriousness of this situation, then the June 6
    ultimatum issued to all Igbos living in Northern
    Nigeria by a coalition of Northern Arewa youth
    groups should.
    A group called the Northern Emancipation
    Network, comprising 16 Arewa youth groups,
    has asked all Igbos living anywhere in Northern
    Nigeria to pack their bags and baggage and be
    out of the Northern region by October 1, 2017.
    When the 19 Northern Governors met and
    dismissed the threat as misguided, the young
    Arewa Igbo-haters issued a riposte and more or
    less asked the Governors to shut up.
    Their message is that since Igbos no longer
    want to be part of Nigeria, they should get out,
    because they, Arewa youths, do not want belong
    to the same political union with Igbos. They are
    angry that on May 30, the Movement for the
    Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra
    (MASSOB) and the Indigenous Peoples
    Organization of Biafra (IPOB) succeeded in
    shutting down a part of Nigeria to mark the 50th
    anniversary of the declaration of Biafra.
    The arrogance of the Northern youths is
    insufferable. It speaks to virtually everything that
    other Nigerians are uncomfortable with about
    the Fulani North: a born-to-rule, hegemonic
    tendency.
    It is an assault on the Nigerian Constitution, to
    the extent that the Constitution does not grant
    any individual or group, the right or the power
    to determine where any Nigerian may live or
    work or die or acquire property. All Nigerians
    are equal before the law. The Northern youths,
    who do not think so, held a meeting, a press
    conference, and issued statements.
    The Governor of Kaduna state, Nasir el-Rufai
    asked the Nigeria Police to arrest them for
    promoting ethnic hatred. The only response we
    have had from the Police Headquarters so far, is
    from one Jimoh Moshood, described as Police
    Spokesman telling Nigerians that the Arewa
    youths “are not sitting in the market waiting to
    be picked up.”
    Moshood, if you actually said that, then you
    should be relieved of your position forthwith. If
    you are a spokesperson and you have nothing
    intelligent to say, the best option is to remain
    silent, otherwise whatever you say will be used
    against you in the court of public opinion. So,
    the Nigeria police only arrest people when they
    go to the market and wait to be arrested? Is that
    the new police that we now have? The Northern
    Emancipation Network called Igbos all kinds of
    names – “unruly, reckless, insatiable,
    uncultured, confrontational, ungrateful” – and
    since they issued their ultimatum, the polity has
    been heated up, ethnic hate has been promoted,
    the Igbos of Nigeria have been further alienated.
    This was how the civil war of 1967-70 started.
    Nigeria cannot afford another civil war. No
    country survives two civil wars. Already, Igbos
    in the North are reportedly relocating back to the
    South East or elsewhere in Nigeria. Young
    Nigerians from the North, the East and the South
    started the civil war. The politics of ethnicity and
    the rhetoric of hate ignited the fire that
    consumed the nation for three years. The scars
    have not healed because 50 years later, the
    youths of the North and the East are again
    lighting up the fire of hate. On June 6, the
    Northern Emancipation Network also asked
    Northerners in the East, I hope this includes the
    peripatetic herdsmen, to return to the North!
    The Nigerian Government must take this on-
    going febrile conversation between the North and
    the East more seriously than it appears to be
    doing. The security agencies do not have to go
    to the markets to look for what is not there.
    When there is a threat to the state, it is their
    duty to identify the threat and act on it. All
    persons who are working hard and making
    provocative statements to cause a national
    crisis should be monitored and checkmated.
    With all the difficult challenges facing this
    country, at this moment, our security alert
    system should be pushed a notch higher.
    If the security agencies fail to act, particularly on
    the matter of the coalition of Northern youths
    promoting Igbo hatred, the Federal Government
    would have committed a grievous sin, likely to
    be interpreted as aiding and abetting. And there
    would be persons who will legitimately ask: are
    we confronted with a hand of Jacob and voice of
    Esau situation? Who is sponsoring the Arewa
    youths? Who granted them the permission to
    use the platform of Arewa House to spew anti-
    Igbo hate speech? Who is blocking their arrest
    by the security agencies? What those boys have
    done is even worse than the threat of secession
    by Nnamdi Kanu and his supporters.
    But the message is clear: Nigeria is not yet a
    nation. A country where any group or
    association can threaten to expel another group
    is not yet a nation. The common enemy is not
    the secessionists. The common enemies are the
    political leaders, the tribal demagogues, the
    political opportunists, the religious bigots, the
    paid shamanists, who continue to manipulate
    Nigeria’s destiny to suit their own purposes.
    There can be no country except the people love
    the nation and the state.
    By Reuben Abati

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