FEATURE ARTICLE

Comrade Ifeanyichukwu MmohTuesday, November 14, 2017
[email protected]
Jos, Nigeria

THE ORIGIN OF IGBO MARGINALIZATION IN NIGERIA


his is the story of how Nd'igbo, through self-marginalization, have found themselves in the pitiable condition that is referred to as 'Igbo Marginalization' in today's Nigeria. Before I continue on this subject, I'd like to run through a brief history of the ibo tribe of Nigeria before and after colonialism with emphasis on certain traditions, mode of governance and way of life all of which were in vogue then. After that, I will proceed to show us how a number of those ways of doing things (particularly the ones that is still been adopted today) has been the ibo man's Achilles Heel in the face of contemporary realities in Nigeria.

Precolonial history of the Ibo tribe

History has it that the White missionaries first got to west africa in the mid-1800. They met the ibo tribe mostly without any constituted form of leadership except for the ibos from Onitsha, Nri and Arochukwu where there existed institutions which was headed by the Obi and the Eze respectively, other ibo settlements had what was called a council of elders or ozo and age grade kind of leadership. The general belief system in the ibo nation then was that igboamaeze. Every man was his own leader or leader of his own household. The value system on the other favored personal achievements, financial clout as well as persons well cultured in the inherent belief system. There was no generally accepted or impositions of religious beliefs. Like leadership every ibo man was free to worship as many chi as he could. However, there was a wholesome belief in a greater god called chukwu.

Because of a value system that favored personal achievements and what have you, there was this mentality of aggression towards life that found expression in hardwork and diligence. Every ibo man needed to be prominent in that society because the alternative was something very unpleasant to contemplate. When a man was without any name, property or achievement attached to his personality, he was more or less a man without a voice among his peers. Moreover, polygamy was a strategy that worked hand-in-hand with hardwork, as the industrious man had a lot of help in his wives and children and, that translated to prosperity and financial clout. But in time however, these values systems started to have a negative impact on the average ibo.

There is also another factor that was very well pronounced and that was a natural reluctance to change. The ibo society back then had a way of resisting anything that was not ka'anyi sieme. Whether those things had any merit in them or not was not necessarily factored in their argument. The white missionaries will tell you how much they had to labor to be accepted in Ibo land. It is possible that like the Northern and Western regions, the colonial government had plans to also institute the indirect rule of government in the eastern region. However, their encounter with a tribe that was not only unwilling but stubbornly opposed to the idea of adjusting to accomodate whatever was foreign to them; the administrators found the unattracive idea of ruling directly the only option that made sense.

Pre-colonial history in Ibo land will not be complete without mention of the justice and the class systems of society that was considered as too exterme for the human sensibility. In a bid to contain crime and to create a healthy society for all, there was always times when boundaries were practically over-stepped. Culprits were atimes banished from their motherland even when their offences was more an act of mistake. On the other hand, the class system that existed in that society - by virtue of being clearly delineated - somehow encouraged discrimination. The Osu system ostracized certain folks who were considered not normal citizens. Suffice it to say that even the burial rites of a priviledged person back then had a high price tag.

In summary therefore, one can conclude that pre-colonial ibo society has a history that was fraught with a number of unpardonable factors if those factors were carried over into an environment where other tribes happen to coexist. Permit me to do a rundown on those factors.

  • Pre-colonial Ibo society recognized no constituted leadership nor a leader figure.

  • The value system in that society favored personal achievements, financial clout as well as ka'anyi sieme.

  • The society was naturally hesitant to change.

  • It accomodated freedom of worship, hard work, a harsh justice system and a discriminatory class system.

  • The Ibo society, Amalgamation and Nigeria

I opened this subject by first presenting to us a brief history of the Ibo society in pre-colonialism. I concluded that section by making a list of the factors that powered that society. We are building from there into where we shall discover how those aforementioned factors having largely powered the society as we now know and have continued to do so even today; gradually turned into the very ingredients that is spoiling the overall color of the ibo ethnic group in Nigeria.

It is interesting to realize that the reasons why colonial administration in eastern nigeria had little to show was because of the difficulties encountered by the Direct rule of government. Colonial government, I must say, did not really care about the people as much as it cared for the things it gained from the people and that therefore meant that even an acrimonous atmosphere among the people was necessary if it furthered colonial business. So, while the ibos fought themselves, the british administrators gained.

While the warrant officers manipulated, spied and betrayed their brethren in a bid to enrich self and satisfy their paymaster; the foreign government gained. No one could blame the colonial government over this because they came to West Africa for business. And in their attempt to organise their empire, they installed their own 'leader figures' since they met none and, that was all that needed to be done in order to disorganize the ibo people. Why? Because the ibo society neither recognizes constituted leadership nor a leader figure!

As time passed, when the need to encourage Nigerian participation in politics arose; when the British government gradually gave up their place to Nigerians, the lack of a 'leader figure' greatly affected the ibos. The regions' Mayor was initially occupied by the Hausas while the ibos struggled for membership in the northern and the western regions. But when Dr. Azikiwe suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of Chief Awolowo when he sort for the Premiership of the Western region, there had to be a sort of rethink on the ibo side.

In the same vein, that humiliation - despite the heavy presence of the ibo speaking people in Lagos - afforded the ibos a firsthand experience of what the nigerian politics would look like. Yet, the memories of that experience lasted only as far as it took Dr. Azikiwe and his followers to return to the east and dislodge Mr. Eyo Ita from the government business of Eastern Nigeria. Like the ibos correctly asserted as to why they had no regard for any generally accepted leader figure, Dr. Azikiwe's politics like the politics of many other ibo leaders who came after him, was characterized by some erractic decisions which - the average ibo would have loved to have a say in were their opinions sort.

The idea of dislodging Mr. Eyo Ita from his position did not portray Dr. Azikiwe as a man who understood regional politics to mean a collective affair bearing in mind that the Eastern region was not composed of only the Ibo speaking tribe neither did it speak well of all those who supported that idea. Therefore beyond the mentality of disregard for a 'leader figure' in the Ibo nation, there was also the case of the quality of the few characters who brought themselves forward to actually lead the ibos in the political sphere.

Amalgamated Nigeria also had to accomodate the ibo tribe's value system which like I said earlier favored personal achievements, financial clout and ka'anyi sieme. One dangerous thing about this value system is that while it worked for the Ibo society of pre-colonial times, it promised very little in Amalgamated Nigeria but the Ibos are as it were, not really prepared to accept any of those realities. Some might be asking: Was anything wrong with the Ibo tribe's value system? As an ibo myself, I'll tell you that everything is wrong with that value system. Why? Here's why.

Personal achievement in Africa is usually thought to be about the individual's net worth. Incidentally, the rest of the world is moving away from that mentality. The world is today concerned about the negative impact of personal achievement since it was discovered that that clause encouraged unhealthy competitiveness and the urge to want to cut corners in a desperate bid to clinch the ultimate trophy which was nothing more than the praise of men.

The do-or-die mentality of the ibo tribe concerning money has made them a subject of resentment in Nigeria. People believe that it was right for folks to work hard and to earn a living but they frown at the idea of doing this as if that was what life was all about. Likewise, many approved of personal gains that comes through honest labor but at the same time frown at the idea of unnecessary showiness. Many believe it was normal to go to eateries and beer salon to refresh but they also frown at folks who for one reason or the other cannot be civil in their manners all because they had money to spend.

In the political sphere, the case of in-fighting and drag-him-down mentality has become a stigma that has defined that value system as rather barbaric and unproductive for the ibo tribe to continue to hold on to more than any other word could ever have done. Hence, you see why some of us are of the opinion that the origin of Igbo marginalization in Nigeria is self-marginalization and that if self-marginalization can be dealt with, the so-called igbo marginalization will fizzle.

Again, financial clout and ka'anyi sieme as integral parts of the said value system has not done any better in projecting the Ibo tribe as a tribe that understood where individualism (republicanism) stopped or where collectivism began. This is because the over-emphasis on financial clout or what I called individualism over and above collective advantage suggested that the ibos are yet to appreciate the reality that they are now in Nigeria and that Nigeria was not an Ibo society but a country that comprised other tribes. Therefore by the principles of diplomacy in relationships, adjustments had long became necessary.

Unfortunately, ibos are really not willing to see this as a thing to do. Instead, they blame the other tribes and accuse them of envy and jealousy. But if they understood that in any polygamous home, every wife adopted whatever strategy that enabled her to get what was needed to take care of herself and her children; perhaps the Ibos would count their teeth with their tongue.

Amalgamated Nigeria equally fused with an Ibo society that naturally reacted very slowly to change. An educated person knows that the only constant thing in life is change but only the enlightened person believes and prepares for this fact. I believe that this explains what the scriptures meant when it said that the race was not for the swift in Ecclesiastes 9:11. Time and chance are perhaps two of the most ignored factors in life. A lot of people tend to be blinded by the fact of who they are and what they had to not appreciate opportunities for change when they come.

Because of the reluctance of the Ibo society to change, the Ibos have normally responded to certain events with a sense of total nonchalance. For example, an average Ibo man who was content with his financial status easily sees nothing to gain when approached for financial contributions by some politician trying to raise campaign funds. He fails to see the opportunity for a relationship that can profit him in the future if he bought into it. He cites examples of the ones he had once keyed into and how they failed; as his good reasons to turn down this one.

Uptil now, the average Ibo's level of political awareness and participation is still very low when compared to the two other major tribes of Nigeria. I heard this story that I'm about to relate to you somewhere in the streets of Abuja a long time ago; I don't how true it was but it has some sense in it. The story goes that back in those days when the Nigeria Police was still in its infancy in the colonial government; that the Ibos had a very low impression of anyone who joined the force. To them it belittled a self-esteem they so guided fiercely. And that was why Chief Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu's entry into the Army (for instance) pitched him against his wealthy father.

It went on to say that a wealthy Ibo man's son's idea of working even in the civil service then was considered as a step calculated to bring the family's good image into disrepute. They believed they had money enough; so why worry about taking up an employment with the government. Some of you must heard this story or even this other one that is like the one I just told. In the third republic, after the victory of Chief M.K.O Abiola in the presidential polls, the story of how positions were negotiated told of how they Ibos felt about the position of SGF.

It is said that word went out that the SGF's office was classless to the point that the SGF's only responsibility was to serve tea to the president! Can you imagine that? But such (if it was true) depicts a level of awareness that is quite illiterate. From my research, there are pockets of evidence that seems to not only strengthen these stories but also confirms the fact that there indeed existed the factor of reluctance to change on the part of Nd'igbo. Even though that exposition to politics in Nigeria was now nothing new to the Ibo tribe, the in-fighting that has persisted till date told more of a people who found it hard to adjust to realities quickly.

The conduct of those politicians - in the first senate of the 4th republic - when leadership passed from Evan Enwerem to Chuba Okadigbo to Adolphus Wabara and unto Pius Anyim; simply portrayed the Ibo speaking tribe as an ethnic group that understood nothing about politics. In the eight years of that presidency in power, 5 senate presidents presided over the senate at different times. It is clear hence, that the so-called Ibo marginalization had more to do with self-marginalization than it did with those people and places that are blamed.

For if the Ibo tribe had that much time to spend changing leadership, then what time was left to attend to those issues of regional concerns? Let's not forget the fact that their presence in the senate of the federal republic of Nigeria was solely for representation. Therefore if issues of regional concerns was not put forward by them, no one else could do it for them.

We move onto the state governors and their respective houses of assembly. Available data from the federal ministry of finance, Abuja Nigeria showed that in the last 15 years of democratic rule in nigeria, not a single month had passed without each of the southeast states receiving their due statutory allocations from the federation account like every other states of the federation. But the indices by which the dividends of democracy are evaluated told a totally different story about the geopolitical zone's level of development. Where was the discrepancies coming from?

Could it be that the data from the finance ministry Abuja told a lie or could it be that the governors that presided then had a better explanation as to where the discrepancies arose from? Dear listener, may be I should give you this homework to do yourself. Find out all you can and be better informed. Perhaps, you will soon join the crusades against secession as sponsored by these people who once had the rare priviledge of representing Nd'igbo in politics but failed to use that chance well.

Nd'igbo before and after the Civil war

If not for the Ahiara Declaration, the Civil war - to me - would've had little or no impression. This is because the war never really understood the nature of what it attempted to establish in protecting the territory once described as Biafra. In any case, when it began to understand the nature of what it sort to defend, that gave birth to the Ahiara Declaration. The Nigeria-Biafra civil war has never been understood from the angle that I'm about to present to you but I make bold to inform that the cause of that war was simply a consequence of those 5 factors that powered the ibo society right from pre-colonialism.

Those aforementioned factors were already creating disharmony for the Ibos wherever they settled outside the eastern region. In the ibo nation, Nd'igbo themselves already despised those for when they looked at the other tribes they met in Nigeria after the Amalgamation of 1914, and saw value systems that were not as harsh and as competitive as theirs; they wished they themselves could have such value systems for their own.

So what did the Ahiara Declaration sought to do? It sought to transplant the Ibo society away from those ideologies that had influenced them before Amalgamation (and which was already cause for frictions after the Amalgamation) to a better ideology; one that fitted well with modern societies anywhere. The truth remains that general principles of social existence can be applied anywhere. And if there was an aberration to this principles in the tiniest form, such a society may never evolve as the general principles of social existence predicts.

What am I saying? I am saying that if the principle said that every normal society usually had its leadership made up of a leader figure and, here comes a society without this; that such society may never evolve as it should be. The moment that declaration was made public, it attracted a very negative reaction from the people. Nd'igbo wanted a Biafra republic that would be structured in the usual pre-colonial style even though contemporary realities that stared them in the face pointed to a modern way.

That finally did the republic in and led to its been abandoned by the people's general. Nd'igbo rejected the document and said it was dictatorial. In fact, it was nicked named one man one plot! because the things the document pointed at were the very same things that Nd'igbo were not prepared to give up on. Interestingly, Nd'igbo only tolerated Chief Chukwuemeka Ojukwu because there was war; chances are that such may not have continued if Biafra successfully pulled out of Nigeria then. It is important we understood this, so that when we hear or see agitations springing here and there; we may maintain our composure.

And I can tell us for a fact that having understood the background of this discussion, what the Ibo tribe needed to do urgently was to adjust to contemporary reality.

What the Ibo tribe should rather do

Nd'igbo must review the aforementioned 5 factors that has been carried over into Amalgamated Nigeria and which has largely influenced them since because every one of those factors put together are the real pillars that has supported the marginalization of self. Take for instance the lack of constituted leadership or recognition of a leader figure in the Ibo ideology. Not a few will agree that such ideology will do more harm than good to any ethnic group especially where there existed other ethnic groups equally competing for relevance.

On the other hand, the presence of those other ethnic groups where there existed the idea of recognition for a leader figure, should have propelled any other forward looking ethnic group to adopt their own too if prevailing realities demanded thus. The structure of Amalgamated Nigeria is such that every other ethnic group needed to have a leader because as there existed a central government; not all the members of any ethnic group was to come forward as the face of the said group. Surely, there was need for a figure to represent at the center.

Unfortunately, Nd'igbo has found it difficult to adjust to this reality and that is why there was so much desperation in a bid to represent every time there was an opening for a leader to emerge. No one thinks the other could do a better job of representing if allowed because everyone believed he was his own leader. Although, there are signs that the present leadership of Ohaneze Nd'igbo was poised to address this anomaly, the failure of leadership in Ibo land is largely due to the wrong leadership conception held by the people. We can see why Nd'igbo are largely behind politically.

Back in pre-colonial times, the ibo society recognized no leader in the true sense of it but they favored the idea of a council of elders as the governing body and no one elder was superior to the other. In today's Nigeria and indeed the rest of the world, a representative is needed at the centre to indicate the existence and the presence of a said ethnic group. As such, what should Nd'igbo have done? The answer is simple, they should rebrand so as to effectively blend with contemporary politics.

The negative trend occassioned by the value systems held by Nd'igbo from pre-colonial times which today's societies frown at is also due for a review because the quest to achieve has turned the average ibo in contemporary Nigeria into an individualistic minded kind of Nigerian who will do all he could to earn the praise of men at all cost. The truth is that there is the feeling that the Ibo in today's Nigeria due to ego, does not understand where individualism stopped or where collectivism began.

Every time an issue of ethnic importance was up for discussions, there was the tendency for one or more groups to fight over whose ideas was to be adopted in the end. And as always, the in-fighting that frequently ensued exposes the tribe's agenda for adulteration by outside forces whose ambitions cannot be said to align with those of Nd'igbo. Then rather than correct self-marginalization, the ibos continued to be miffed at those outside forces without realizing that it was their failure to put their house in order that exposed them to public riddle in the first instance.

Again, let me cite the case of the 4th Republic senate presidency. An important position as this, which every other tribe in Nigeria grabs with both hands was made by Nd'igbo to look like it was of no value. Since the Obasanjo presidency, Nd'igbo has so far seen the great dignity that the other tribes attached to that position. The office of the senate president of the federal republic of Nigeria has been made by the Northcentral geopolitical zone to reflect the power and the aura it carried. Does this not suggest that the origin of ibo marginalization was self-marginalization?

But are any of these troubling Nd'igbo in the sense of to trigger a rebrand in their ideology? The answer to this is NO. It is NO because of another factor - the reluctance to change or adjust. Contemporary ibos can easily excuse themselves by accusing the other members of the Nigerian federation as the brains behind their predicament instead of accepting the reality that there was need to rebrand. Author John C. Maxwell in his book Winning with People says that "We can give no greater gift to others than putting them at ease." This means that being at ease with ourselves helps others be at ease with us.

Today, Ibo marginalization has been fingered as the reason for the agitation by IPOB and MASSOB for a separate country. If Nd'igbo understood what progress was all about; they would have also known that change was a very important part of progress. What is this so-called Ibo marginalization all about? Who can explain it? Where can it be found? Has the Ibo tribe been denied the rights to eat 3 square meals a day? Is there any policy that prohibited polygamy or number of children against Nd'igbo in Nigeria? Is there any federal law that stopped Nd'igbo from giving their children the very best of education in Nigeria?

Is there any policy that stopped Nd'igbo from traveling from state to state in Nigeria for business or for pleasure? Is there any federal policy that insisted that Nd'igbo in politics must fight one another for political positions? Is there any federal law that empowered godfatherism, looting of treasury, or clueless leadership only in Southeast Nigeria? What is this ibo marginalization all about? As a youth, I know that Ndigbo and by extension the Nigeria federation is going through a lot lately especially since the Civil War but to interprete this challenges as personal, to me was likely to achieved the opposite of whatever was intended to be addressed.

The recent IPOB/Army clash that took place in Aba in september 2017 could have triggered another senseless assault against Nd'igbo and put their hard-labored over 44 trillion naira investment in jeopardy. Quite troubling (for me) was the fact that in the midst of the agitation by IPOB and their eventual clash with the Nigerian Army, the Ibos in the North, the West and the Diaspora simply applauded Mr. Nnamdi Kanu without realizing that secession (given the 5 factors earlier mentioned here) was a wrong approach.

I am glad that the Late Ikemba's son, has spoken against that agitation and so has Ohaneze Nd'igbo's leadership. So let me conclude this message by quickly reminding us that the secret to addressing the ibo marginalization was in understanding its origin. Those 5 factors are the ingredients that powered self-marginalization and self-marginalization in turn created the platform for what we called ibo marginalization.

This is why I say that putting the house in order was as necessary for Ndigbo as making the case for a restructured Nigeria federation was for every Nigerian. For when we pluck the log from our eyes, we would be able to see well enough to deal with the speck in our neigbors eyes.

Nd'igbo da'aluu nu and thank you all for listening.

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