Has Nigeria Been Fair To The Igbos?
Warning: I’ll like to use this opportunity to warn my fellow Nigerians or Biafrans who will come here to comment please try and be civil, make your points without insults, name calling and abuses, if you do you’ll be blocked and you won’t ever get the second chance to write anything on my page. So be warned!!! Let’s go…
I remember in the early 2000s my Igbo brethren who thought the region was been marginalised will always point to the fact that there was no international airport in the east. That argument is obsolete now as presently the east can boast of more international airports than any other region in the country. While the west only has Lagos international airport, eastern Nigeria has three international airports: Anambra International Airport, Akanu Ibiam international airport in Enugu, Sam Mbakwe International airport(cargo).
The point I’m trying to make is that in a marginalised country there is no way this could be possible. All those my friends who used to use this as their argument against Nigeria have now turned to saying still there are no ports in the east, I tell them first ask God for a favour, let him give you a sea first, after that you could build a seaport for yourself. Every Igbo person knows what second Niger bridge is, there has been talk about this since 1979 when it was first suggested by President Shehu Shagari, since then governments have come and gone, including the government of Goodluck Jonathan, who made so many promises to the southeast in exchange for their votes. Several roads that have been abandoned by the PDP that Ndigbo voted for are now been reconstructed by this same regime. The museum for Nnamdi Azikiwe was not done by any of the states in the east, neither was it done by Jonathan administration of PDP, it’s still Buhari government that completed it. Despite the fact that southeast didn’t vote for the government of Muhammadu Buhari, yet it is this much hated Fulani man that budgeted for the bridge and it’s now expected to be completed by 2022. That doesn’t look like marginalisation to me. Unfortunately eastern politicians and opportunist keep talking about this pseudo marginalisation as if it’s real, yet it’s not supported by facts on the ground.
I pray that no Nigerian tribe, nationality or ethnic group will experience marginalization. As I am writing this, there are nations in the world that know firsthand what marginalization means in the real sense.
For a student of history, it is difficult to accept the accusation against Nigeria that Nigeria has not been fair to the Biafran nation. As I have said above, the Igbo people and the Biafran people have occupied every political, economic and military position in the Nigerian nation. A fact that should become a thing of pride for Nigeria is that Nigeria was able to assimilate the Igbo nation back into the Nigerian entity faster than most countries in the world who went through civil war.
In most countries where there has been civil war, the vanquished are always oppressed and marginalized for many years after. Usually, these people groups don’t enjoy the privileges of equal citizenship for decades after the civil wars. Even in most of the countries that we look up to as epitomes of democracy today, things did not go smoothly with them after their civil wars.
The country most of us like to refer to the most as our flagship is the United States of America. Their civil war ended over 150 years ago, yet even today when you go to the southern part of America, you still hear them call the northerners names. That is where the name Yankee comes from. That is the abusive name the southerners used to call the northerners. Even today there are still conflicts, arguments and debates about the confederate flags in America 150 years later. Confederacy is what the southern part of America that lost the war was called.
So, integrating a nation after a civil war is a tough process. I have personally been in cities in the southern parts of America where I have been told, northerners are not welcome in their towns and villages. I from Nigeria was welcomed, but they were not ready to allow those from the north to come to their land. Such is the nature of civil wars almost everywhere, integration and reconciliation is always a tough process. The same thing happened after civil wars in Greece, Italy, Austria, Spain, Nicaragua, Germany, Finland, Russia, Mexico, China, India, Great Britain, Argentina, France, etc.
If you study the history of civil wars, you will discover that Nigeria has become one of the most successful countries in integrating back into the nation the secessionists. Can you believe that immediately after the Nigerian civil war finished in 1970, instead of the Federal Government of Nigeria imprisoning or killing by firing squad all the leadership of Biafra, who took the nation to war, they rather forgave them and accepted them back to a United Nigeria? In the words of the then Head of State, there was “no victor no vanquished.” Meaning Nigeria was not going to treat the Igbo people as a defeated enemy, but as brothers and sisters. That was a high level of magnanimosity displayed by the Nigerian nation.
Moreover, all Biafran people were given a twenty pounds stipend to start their lives again. That could be viewed as small or nothing today, but when you study other nations where there had been civil war, you will hardly see or hear of any gesture like that. I recently read an article written by an Igbo man in America. He said 40 years ago the richest Igbo was twenty pounds rich, while today they are prominent in the list of the richest Nigerians. What he was trying to say is that, this is mainly due to the gifts and business acumen of the Igbo people. While that is true, remember what I said earlier, that it is also important to have the right environment. They were only able to attain that height, thanks to the fact that the Nigerian nation allowed it. This is normally not the case in countries where there had been civil wars. When we are loved, we have the tendency to think that it is because we are good, but really it is because those who love us are good.
The Nigerian government did so much to remove any trace of segregation from all Nigerian peoples immediately after the civil war. The Igbo people were quickly absorbed as part of the Federal government of Nigeria. In the western part of Nigeria, the properties of Igbos who left to join Biafra were kept intact and later returned to them. Soon after the civil war, the Igbos benefited immensely from the Udoji award, which was a gesture by the Federal Republic of Nigeria when the newly discovered oil money was used to give Nigerians a financial boost. This provided a huge lift for all Nigerians and the former Biafrans in particular.
Just ten years after the civil war, Nigeria did something that has hardly been recorded in the history of civil wars in the world. The Nigerian state decided to forgive the initiator of the civil war itself, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu less than ten years after the end of the war. He wasn’t just forgiven, he was given political pardon so much that he could now participate in the nation’s political process. He was accepted back as a hero and soon participated by running for political office. That is something unfathomable after civil war. Such individuals were normally assassinated, their relatives and families banned into exile for life, if not for generations to come. Ten years after the civil war, the second most powerful person in Nigeria was an Igbo man, the Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Hardly will you ever find a more tolerant approach in the whole world.
Some of my Biafran friends might say, but since the civil war we have not produced a President, well if we are talking about the Igbo people, that is true. But if I were to take sides with the Biafran agitators who claim that the South-South is part of Biafra we could say it has, because the South-South just produced a President in the person of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Meanwhile Igbo people have occupied some of the highest possible positions in the Nigerian federation even after the civil war; ministers, Vice Presidents, speaker of the house, speakers of the senate, majority leaders, minority leaders, foreign affairs ministers, finance ministers, highest positions in the military, these don’t look like an unfair treatment to me.
Let’s look at the history of the United States of America after their civil war. Even in the so-called most democratic nation of the world, it took another 80 years for the south who were defeated in the war to produce a nationally elected President. This is not counting Andrew Johnson who replaced the assassinated Abraham Lincoln. The first person from the south to be elected nationally was Harry S. Truman 80 years after the war. Of course in Nigeria, I hope it is not going to take so long, but what I am trying to say is that there are processes that have to take place. Nigeria has done beautifully well in comparison to other countries that have gone through civil wars. Hence I won’t buy to the narrative that Igbos are discriminated against in the Nigerian Union, it’s simply not true. To say that Ndigbo are oppressed in Nigeria is to hate the truth and embrace deception. Are there oppressed people among the Igbos in Nigeria, I’ll say yes, but in the same manner as Hausas, Fulanis and other ethnic groups in the country. Are there Igbo people who are discriminated against in Nigeria, yes just as much as there are among all other tribes of the federation. If the truth be told the real people who are discriminated against, oppressed and marginalized in Nigeria are the poor and the weak in our society, these people belong to all ethnicities in the country. Has Nigeria been fair to them, I’ll say no, but has Nigeria been fair to Ndigbo, I’ll say yes.