FEATURE ARTICLE

Monday, July 12, 2021
uokwukwu@yahoo.com

TREATISE ON IGBO NATIONALISM

Introduction to Igbo Nationalism

he Igbo are a homogenous race in Nigeria that speaks one language with variable dialects. They have one culture, value system, norms, ethics and customary law. Found in present day Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia States. They also have the predominant population in Rivers State. In Delta State, they constitute the single unit with the highest number of nine Local Government Areas, LGAs. Edo, Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Benue States all have ethnic Igbos minorities.

Due to economic, infrastructural and geographic circumstances, mainly, deprivations dating back to precolonial days, Ndigbo are scattered outside Igboland. About 75 million Igbos thrive within the Nigerian borders alone. Five million Igbos living in the US alone constitute the single most populated Nigerian group. The combined Diasporan and Nigerian Igbo populations are over a hundred million.

The greater percentage of Ndigbo agrees with the fundamentals, ideals and principles of a mental Biafra, even if not physical, that address the issues of the neglect of Igboland and the Igbo man. What this greater percentage is opposed to is ultra-nationalism akin to what Germans expressed under the Nazi party. Italians and Sudanese also experienced same under Benito Mussolini and the disgraced Omar al-Bashir just before the secession of South South.

The Igbo idea of nationalism is akin to the type of nationalism expressed by Nelson Mandela. Predicated on democracy, rule of law and respect for the rights and feelings of other people, it protects the rest of humanity. In short, the live-and-let-live core belief favoured by Ndigbo is guaranteed to give a human face to democracy. Our definition of Igbo nationalism is: Any nationalism that does not recognize the rights of others to exists is not Igbo nationalism.

Equally so, Ndigbo do not support any nationalism that promotes violence, with reason. Violence against non-Igbos in Igboland will lead to violence against Igbos everywhere. This is not in our best interests as our space is too small. Even if we realize Biafra, Igboland cannot contain our mammoth population. We favour those struggles that will to a large extent provide living space for our people to survive economically and politically.

Internationalization of our struggle.

Struggle for justice, equity and fairness must have international flavor. We must borrow a lot from black South African struggle spearheaded by the African National Congress, ANC. Faced with injustice against them by dominant white minority, the ANC leadership toured the world to explain the ugly reality back home. This won them sympathies from whites and blacks alike.

Igbos must take steps to explain their plight in Nigeria to the outside world. With sympathy on our side, we won't be crushed fighting as we are no longer isolated. In the June 12 Struggle, Yorubas were able to explain to the world that the annulment of the June 12 election result was not a crime against MKO Abiola but democracy, decency and good governance. The world empathized. Ogonis did the same. Ndigbo cannot isolate themselves in their struggle only to be hated back home.

Kanu and Igbo Nationalism

Faced with challenges peculiar to his people, Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and Eastern Security Network, ESN, defined nationalism within the context of agitation for an independent and sovereign Biafran state. His understanding of Biafra is not limited to the Igbo; just as it was under General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu between 1967-1970. Therefore, his definition of nationalism is beyond Igboland. But do we agree with him?

The greater percentage of Igbos does not agree with Kanu. He defines nationalism within the narrow setting of ultra-nationalism. Ndigbo are opposed to that. To cap it all, he allegedly established the ESN that exhibits violent tendencies.

From time immemorial, and world over, ultra-nationalism employs the same methods of falsehood, brainwashing and deception as prelude to bare-knuckled violence. In every environment where ultra-nationalism thrives, there are people who stand to benefit from it. So we must question the real identities and motives of those behind the nascent Igbo ultra-nationalism.

Kanu does not have the mental sophistication, I repeat, to advance ultra-nationalism. It appears there're invisible hands inside and outside Igboland hell bent on politically destroying Ndigbo in the short run, long run and very long run. They advised Kanu to jump bail on ground that his life was threatened in Umuahia. A freed Kanu, regrettably, violated every single condition under which he was granted bail as he continued on the course of ultra-nationalism while abroad.

It appears some political characters have seen Kanu as a mirror through which they can express their perceptions. We saw how he was brought out of prison a hero, feted and chauffeur-driven to many places. Today, he has been re-arrested and abandoned- a terrible denouement.

Boogeyman Kanu

Everything about Kanu's heroism was promoted before the 2019 general elections. Who stands to benefit from this? Certainly not the Federal Government or Ndigbo. The ultimate beneficiaries are some persons who want to use him as a metaphor, an expression, to say, look there's hatred against the Igbo. So Ndigbo must be cautious of ultra-nationalism as we stand to benefit nothing from it.

If Kanu was accepted as he was presented, we would have witnessed a breakdown of law and order since his re-arrest. But there has been no demonstration, not even a peaceful one. What all these mean is that his ultra-nationalism is a plot against our political class. Kanu is the ultimate destabilizing machine in the hands of anti-Igbo agents.

We witnessed with dismay and sadness the assault on one of our best in Germany. This condemnable crime was not carried out by foreigners but our own sons and daughters. I am precisely talking about the criminal incident where Senator Ike Ekweremadu was beaten up and filmed before the full glare of the world. We read the planned attack in Spain on one of our very best, namely, former Rivers State governor and Transportation Minister, Honourable Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.

With our own ears we heard Kanu call for the head of incumbent Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike. Does anyone fathom what the Ikwerre response would be if a hair is missing from Wike's head? We witnessed the destruction of the property and house of Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma. We are aware of the threats against the Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano. The greatest casualties of Kanu's ultra-nationalism are Igbos and their assets.

Today, the police stations destroyed in Igboland are being rebuilt by our town unions. The money channeled into rebuilding them could have been used for other developmental projects. If not properly managed, Kanu's activities would have led to the unseating of Igbo governors in the event of a state of emergency being declared in Igboland. Such drastic measure would have provided window opportunity for non-Igbos to rule Igbo states. This brings us again to the phenomenon of the invisible hand and who stands to benefit from its activities.

Kanu's ultra-nationalism will ultimately destroyed our economy. Trade, transportation and hospitality businesses will all collapse under insecurity. Igbo investments are not in equity shares of companies and transnationals. They are in physical assets and estates; which can be identified and destroyed.

Owerri is the tourism hub of the East, for instance. But today, it is a ghost town. So who stands to benefit from the mayhem in Owerri? And who stands to lose? Outsiders are the ultimate beneficiaries, of course; as the flow of local tourism and capital move from Owerri to elsewhere.

On Kanu's Trial

Now that he has been rearrested, the morality question confronts both the prosecutor and defense. The prosecution must ensure that no harm befalls Kanu. That he is given a fair trial within a reasonable time as justice delayed is justice denied. Kanu should have access to his lawyers to prepare his defense. The prosecution must ensure that he has access to his doctors, the right diets and physical exercise. He must be alive to stand his trial.

The defense must cooperate with the prosecution to end this trial within a reasonable time. It must be firm to offer the accused the best of defense. In other words, the defense must be committed to defending the accused. Criminal jurisprudence requires these ideals from both sides.

Igbos wants to see this trial come to a speedy end, though we know it is a political trial. Behind the scene discussions will go on during and after the trial to ensure that a political solution is found to the Biafran agitation. But the trial must commence to reduce tension in the land as there is a prevailing notion that Kanu was kidnapped, tranquilized and held 40 feet underground to die a slow and painful death.

Taming Violence

Terror and violence cannot be employed as instruments of liberation for an oppressed people. They are only admitted as the last resort when the whole world sympathized with such group. Nelson Mandela and his comrades resorted to terror and violence only after they made several efforts, including making trips to the UK and world capitals, to explain the plight of black South Africans.

In present day Nigeria, we have our representatives in the National Assembly and Houses of Assembly. We can explain our self-determination through them. I urge supporters of Kanu to channel their grievances through our parliamentarians, for now.

The ESN and Ebubeagu must be held fully accountable for the crisis in Igboland. Before the ESN was established Kanu was, at best, an "international speaker" repeatedly accusing the government of wrong doing. But following the establishment of the ESN, there was a disproportionate response from the five South East governors who immediately established the Ebubeagu security outfit. The ESN commander, Ikonso, was killed Saturday, 24th April 2021, and the aggrieved accused the governors of killing him. Igboland imploded.

To reduce tension in Igboland, since neither the ESN nor Ebubeagu has secured security, we must agree that the only solution for now is to disband the two outfits. Our town unions, local governments and state governors must support the Department State Service, DSS, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, the police and other security agencies to protect the lives and property of Ndigbo.

Our boys must be encouraged to join the Boys Scout and Boys Brigade; not necessary to attack people but to enforce local laws. Communities should be encouraged to establish vigilantes to arrest and hand over suspects to the police for prosecution. But we must never allow armed militia; whether the ESN or Ebubeagu. This is because at any given time it is either the ESN is against the governors or the Ebubeagu against the IPOB.

We need peace in Igboland. Our traditional and religious leaders must play a big role in bringing about this peace, law agents aside. The intelligentsia must return to the grassroots to propagate peace.

Illiteracy and Poverty

Research has shown that there is a direct nexus between illiteracy and unemployment; and unemployment and poverty. The definition of illiteracy here does not mean theoretical education. It includes the lack of capacity to think. Lack of skills among able bodied men and women must also be seen as a form of illiteracy.

The Federal Government, through the National Directorate of Employment, NDE, skill acquisition centers, micro finance agencies and banks, should empower Igbos to establish businesses and reduce unemployment in Igboland. If this is done, violence will reduce in Igboland. The geography of Kanu's supporters points to the Fanonian native town peopled by men and women of ill repute. Kanu is the envisioned Messiah for the illiterate, poor and alienated. I plead with all levels of government to create the enabling environment capable of positively transforming an oppressed consciousness.

Igbos need sympathy from their neighbours. Our neighbours must kindly understand what we are passing through in Igboland right now. Therefore, I use this medium to appeal to those Kanu wronged. He stepped on the toes of members of other groups thereby provoking them against peace-loving Igbos. I beg for their forgiveness.

I call on people like Asari Dokubo, who not only have Igbo roots but strong sympathy for Ndigbo, to rally round Ndigbo and use their strong contacts for the liberation of our people. I call on Ijaws, Annangs, Binis, Urhobos, Ibibios, Igalas, Idomas, Ogonis, etc, to bear in mind that there was no time Ndigbo sat together and agreed to annex them. That is not in our character. We appeal to them to appreciate that we are passing through a very difficult time in our own history. Every nation in human history has passed through tough times.

It is in the interests of our immediate neighbours to understand and support our struggle. None must exploit the confusion in Igboland to present Igbos as a people desirous of territorial expansion. We have never had boundary disputes with our neighbours in the past. We will not have it now.

Achilles' Heel of Igbo Nationalism

Progress-prone societies are led by its very best called philosopher-kings; those with so much at stake and better informed than the majority. But it is untenable that the Igbo intelligentsia does not participate in the running of Igboland. Igbo elites must actively participate in the political process that will produce our political leaders. That is the only way Igboland can be healed.

What ruined Igboland is that our best minds are not interested in who rules it. If our best minds were interested, there is no way Kanu, in all honesty, could have secured this huge space and domination. Wherever there is no commitment, someone will rise to fill the space. It is the vacuum dominated by Kanu that has landed us into this problem.

Whether we agree or not, pro-Biafra agitators are not properly led. Some of their leaders do not even understand what is at stake. But led by the best minds, they would have known when to engage and when to disengage. Were IPOB a revolutionary movement, it would have known when to negotiate without endangering the lives and property of your own people.

For instance, I was misunderstood when I warned earlier that the formation of the ESN and Ebubeagu would boomerang. This is because the timing of the formations of these entities was wrong being a period of tension and conflict. Wrong timing reduced the outfits to an ego contest between Kanu and those who don't agree with him. The alleged Fulani killer herdsmen are no longer the victims. It is now Igbos killing Igbos simply because we don't subject our intended actions to critical analysis to understand their implications. That is the bane of our struggle as a people.

Roadmap to Igbo Unity

Igbo unity is that unity that recognizes the peculiar needs and differences of Igbos in the hinterland and outside of it. Ndigbo must recognize these differences and come together to decide what we want. We must define what we want through the contexts of federalism, unitarianism, socialism, confederation and progressive centralist dictatorship. Secession can always be the last option. We support that secession that can come only through collective efforts and unity of purpose. But Ndigbo must not be in the forefront. All groups who want to secede should sit down together and agree on what to do, the timetable and balkanization of Nigeria.

As democrats, we have a deep respect for the rights of others to exist. In truth, it must be mentioned that those who brainwashed young Igbos to embark on violence were desirous of securing space after the 2015 elections. They felt that ultra-nationalism would give them political victory even beyond Igboland. Day by day they explained to our unsuspecting youths that the Igbo's worst enemy was President Muhammadu Buhari. Their target being to employ ultra-nationalism to secure and dominate the political space in 2019 and beyond.

But it is important now to put on record that Buhari is not our enemy. Young Igbos must be informed that under Buhari, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Godwin Emefiele, is an Igbo man. They must be told that the Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Eluonye Onyenuchea (LEO) Irabor, is our own Igbo son. A man who does not like Ndigbo will never hand over the treasury of Nigeria to them. If Buhari detested Ndigbo he would not have handed over the Nigerian Pentagon equivalent to an Igbo general. So we must re-educate Igbo youths and their parents to rally round the Federal Government.

We must support our sons and daughters in government who have demonstrated capacity: The labour dispute has been amicably settled by Dr Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Productivity. Minister of Transportation, Honourable Chubuike Amaechi, has also done well modernizing railway transport across the country. The victory of an Igbo woman, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as Director General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO. is celebrated all over the world today. Buhari nominated and backed her to win that coveted office. Every Igbo must rally round Buhari who has never denied us our due.

We appeal to the government at the center to invest in agriculture and agro allied industries, railway transport, airports and roads in Igboland. Investment in education and refineries will yield monumental dividends. Such measures can reverse the intense feeling of alienation in Igboland.

Equally so, our youths must know that the greatest victims of this violence are Igbos. More Igbos, whether they are IPOB members, police officers or plain civilians, have been killed since 2015 than at any other time in this Fourth Republic. The Inspector General of Police, IGP, said that more police officers have been killed in Igboland than elsewhere; the victims were all Igbos. For instance, ACP Oliver Abbey, a distinguished Bonny man, was killed at Oraifite, Anambra State. His wife, Rita, also a police officer, is from Ogoja. Today, this our sister has been made a widow even though her husband only came to make peace before he was killed. So we must do everything to stem this surge of violence as Igbos are equal victims.

I have said it elsewhere that revolution is a double edged sword: If you don't see who to kill with it you kill yourself. We must allow for negotiation. Political actors and stakeholders must negotiate with the Federal Government to halt this carnage. We need peace in Igboland. Our space is too small. From Port Harcourt to Enugu is only four hours by road. From Enugu to Agbor is less than four hours. From one end of Igboland to another is less than four hours. From the coast to the northern frontier is less than five hours. We don't have the space for trouble as everywhere is jampacked.

We don't want a military occupation of our land. We are a people who rely on hard work to earn a living. We don't want our hard-built economy, built by private persons, to be destroyed. Everything you see in Igboland, from Port Harcourt to Enugu, was built by private persons. We don't want them destroyed. It was only in Igboland that an airport was built by private citizens. The Sam Mbakwe Airport was privately built by us before we handed it over to the Federal Government. We don't want it destroyed. We must do everything necessary to protect our hard-earned infrastructure.

We must allow our leaders to negotiate with government without resorting to any form of violence. Violence will lead to the breakdown of law and order, which will occasion the massacre of our people. Kanu should be allowed to face his trial. Our only prayer is that his trial should end speedily.

Other groups in Nigeria must be made to appreciate the import of our struggle for liberation, and what they stand to benefit. A liberated Igboland will guarantee growth and development. It will also, just like Aba, Port Harcourt and Onitsha, be home for every Nigerian. We must not send signal to outsiders that what we are looking for is to secure a space and expel everybody. That is the bane of the Niger Delta struggle: Internationally, it is believed that these people are asking for oil to chase away everybody including whites who have invested heavily in the oil and gas sector. So Ndigbo must learn and improve. We must avoid pitfalls.

People must borrow a leaf from me, Uche Okwukwu. I have never, ever, removed myself from the mainstream struggle of our people. Whether it is the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, Ikwerre Youth Convention, IYC, Congress for the Liberation of Ikwerre People, COLIP, or the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, I have always involved myself pushing the Igbo agenda forward. You don't sit at home hoping that those going to represent you will do the right thing. Do it yourself.

Conclusion

If the right minds were in the Ohanaeze, there is no way they would have agreed to the establishment of Ebubeagu. If the right minds were heading the IPOB, there is no way that organization could have called for the head of Governor Wike or the burning of police stations or the burning of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu's property in Lagos of all places.

Today, nobody knows where the problem is coming from. Kanu does not even know who was behind his activities and extradition. He cannot tell you whether it was the Federal Government, a third party, the governors, those whose heads he called for or those whose property he burnt. That is the pitfall of localizing your struggle. Any struggle that does not have international flavor will collapse and fizzle out.

We must not allow a breakdown of law and order in Igboland. We don't know for now who our enemies are so that people don't use this problem to destroy all that we have labored for 51 years after the war. I warn, they are ready to do it again if we give them the least excuse.

I thank Igbo youths. I thank IPOB members. I thank our women, the elderly and church leaders. I urge all to tow the path of peace through negotiation. I thank everybody in Igboland for not resorting to violence since Kanu's re-arrest. All that we can do for him is getting him the best of lawyers to defend him. We must engage the Federal Government to ensure it takes practical steps to develop Igboland and convince IPOB and sundry to believe that something good is going on in Igboland. Development will also dissuade our young persons from joining the IPOB.

We need our own modern railway transport. We need it. We need the completion of the Second Niger Bridge, Enugu-Port Harcourt Road and Enugu-Onitsha Road. We cannot continue to be on the path of war while others are on the path of development. Our universities must be developed to the standard of Ahmadu Bello University and University of Ibadan. We need scholarships for Igbo children to go to the best universities in oil-producing Aberdeen in Scotland and Texas in America. Such initiative will qualify our children for recruitment into the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and other oil multinationals.

We cannot continue to fight every day and every decade. There is a time to fight and a time to negotiate. We need development in Igboland.

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