FEATURE ARTICLE

Friday, September 20, 2019
foborji@hotmail.com
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)
IGBO CULTURE OF DISPERSAL AUTHORITY AND CHALLENGE OF STATEHOOD

t is fitting to preface our present article with the following verses from Prophet Ezekiel:

"Yes, I have sent them far away among the nations and I have dispersed them to foreign countries; and for a while I have been a sanctuary for them in the country to which they have gone. So, tell them, 'The Lord Yahweh says this': I shall gather them back from peoples, I shall bring them all back from the countries they have been scattered, and I shall give them the land of Israel." - (Ezekiel 11: 16-18).

Ezekiel was one Prophet whose ministry and experience with his people of Israel has a lot to teach us in the present circumstance of renewed agitation for statehood for Ndigbo and others in the former Eastern region of Nigeria, otherwise called Biafra. As delicate and controversial this topic may seem, what is increasingly becoming clear is that the Biafra question will never go away unless is sincerely and dispassionately addressed! 'Conscience, they say, is an open wound, and only truth can heal it!'

Like Jeremiah, yet in his own way, Ezekiel initiates a tradition of unworldly spirituality persisting through Judaism and emerging in the New Testament of the worship 'in spirit' which Ezekiel had preached. Jesus is the Good Shepherd foretold by Ezekiel, and the founder of the worship 'in spirit' which Ezekiel preached. Ezekiel, therefore, though having much in common with his predecessors, breaks new ground. This is also true of his doctrine. He makes no appeal to the past history of his people, but reinterprets the historical yearning of his people in the light of the coming 'Good Shepherd' and 'New Nation, by calling for conversion of heart.' (See Ezekiel 16:3ff).

Here lies the significance of Ezekiel's prophetic vocation to Nigeria, that is, with regard to the Biafra question. It is a prophecy that calls for conversion of heart to hear the cry of the masses on the part of the gatekeepers of Nigerian state. All along, Nigerian state has refused to show an 'open and converted heart' to the Biafra question. However, this is time to listen to the cry of the aggrieved and dialogue sincerely with them!

It is another way of asking those in corridors of power in Nigeria today, to please, begin to show good faith on the lingering Biafra question. Because, no matter how much the government tries to suppress and intimidate with military brutality and recklessness, imprisonment and torture, whoever raises this issue on the public domain, the fact on the ground shows that the agitation for Biafra is not going to slow down or be killed with guns and bullets. "Only 'Truth' can heal the wound of Biafra!"

Unless something urgent is done now to resolve the Biafra question without intimidation or use of military strength and bully, the Biafra question will continue to be the biggest burden on the conscience of Nigeria and the world, as well as whosoever cares to know. Unless something urgent is done, in truth, and with justice and civility, the Biafra question will continue to burden the conscience of Nigeria and the world.

With the prevailing culture of 'lies and denial narrative' on this most important issue, the progress and development of Nigeria will continue to be elusive. Not only that, but the much touted Nigerian 'unity, peace and progress' will remain Utopia - something on a paper, or simply as mere symbol of Nigeria's "Coat-of-arm.' There can never be peace where there is no freedom, justice and fair-play for all!

Therefore, the government culture of intimidation and military response to the Biafra question has to stop, so that Nigeria's diverse peoples could find a better modus operandi of living together or even separately, as neighbors, on basis of shared equality, justice and freedom. Until this is done, Nigeria's slogan for 'peace, unity and progress', as well as all its 'preaching' on national economic development and anti-corruption mantra, will continue to be elusive.

This brings us to the primary aim of our present article. It is to show that the Igbo dispersal culture, cosmopolitan, and Disaporal-migratory dispositions in today's globalized world is not antithetical to the ongoing clamor for self-determination, regional autonomy or statehood in South Eastern Nigeria.

Recently, in a paper titled, "Ndigbo Worldwide - The Reality of a Virtual nation in the Diaspora", Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, former governor of Enugu State, described Ndigbo as a people of a 'virtual nation in the Diaspora", whose heartbeat as people is outside Igboland.' He therefore, advised that instead of pursuing the clamor for self-determination or restoration of the defunct Republic of Biafra as a sovereign state on its own right, Ndigbo should rather, continue to accept their present reality, and stay put in Nigeria, because of their dispersal and diasporal-migratory dispositions.

Our present article intends to review Senator Nnamani's submission. Our argument is that instead of being an obstacle, the Igbo culture of dispersal pattern of societal organization, and their diasporal migratory dispositions in today's globalized world, are indeed the strongest points in favor of the clamor for self-determination or an independent state. Otherwise, it would mean that as a people, Ndigbo have no right to self-determination, an independent state they could call their own.

Even wondering populations, such as the 'nomads', have rights to self-determination and separate state of their own, if they so desired. What of Ndigbo, who are neither 'nomads' nor 'wondering' people', but normal human beings like the rest of other ethnic-nationalities all over Africa and the world? Why should they be denied the right to self-determination, if they so desired? Why should they also accept the situation that reduces them to position of non-participants - mere spectators in the political leadership of Nigerian state? This is the crux of the matter - the bone of contention of our present article!

It is a discussion about the Igbo dispersal pattern of societal organization vis--vis the ongoing debate for Biafra statehood in South Eastern Nigeria. This is because while Ndigbo have dispersal pattern of societal organization (that is, authority at the hands of many), other two major ethnic groups, Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba, have a centralized pattern of societal organization (that is, monarchical authority).

NB: We shall in our next article expatiate on the characteristics and differences between these two patterns of traditional African societal organizations, centralized and dispersal authorities.

Be it as it may, our aim in the present article is not about devolution of the state. It is not also about restructuring, as touted nowadays in some quarters. Even though, one does not oppose any of those suggestions, provided however, they are done through dialogue and referendum. So that, at long run, it would be the people themselves who decide what type of government, political structure or system they want for themselves as a people. This is what democracy and self-determination is all about!

Our aim in this article is to raise the question, no matter how troubling it may seem. It is high time we discuss dispassionately, in truth and honesty, the Biafra question. Our main argument is that the Biafra question needs an honest and sincere response on the part of Nigerian government and its foreign friends. This is to avert further bloodshed and genocide in the country. It is to address the continued mistrust and chronic mutual hostility and hatred, which have become like second nature of Nigerian people since independence in 1960. The mutual hostility among Nigerians is sustained, primarily by bad leadership - abuse of divisive elements in culture, ethnicity, and religion for political gain or personal interest.

We should be courageous enough to discuss our problems, even if they seem troubling. Frantz Fanon, a great advocate of black consciousness, in his epic book "Wretched of the Earth", pens down the following immortal words:

"The future will have no pity for those men who, possessing the exceptional privilege of being able to speak words of truth to their oppressors, have instead, taken refuge in an attitude of passivity, of mute indifference, and sometimes, of cold complicity. We are nothing on earth if we are not slaves to a cause, the cause of the people and the cause of justice, liberty and free ideas that are made available to all. Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it." - Frantz Fanon.

The Problem

The Biafra question or rather problem, is well described in the following words by President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in his address to the African heads of States, on April 1968 at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:

"Surely, when a whole people is rejected by the majority of the state in which they live, they must have the life to live under a different kind of arrangement which does secure their existence. States are made to serve the people. Governments are established to protect the citizens of a state against external enemies and internal wrong-doers, but when the government which is supposed to protect the people turns around to decimate the same people they supposed to protect, then the people have no other option than to reject the government." - (President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, addressing members of heads of States of Organization of African Unity (now African Union (AU), at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on April 1968).

This brings us to Senator Chimaroke Nnamani's paper, where he questioned the usefulness of the ongoing clamor for a separate statehood for Ndigbo and their neighbors in South Eastern Nigeria.

Nnamani writes:

"The process of slavery and dispersal of Ndigbo have continued through search for better occupation, better livelihood and also continued voluntary servitude. The Igbo nation has therefore become a nation exercising perpetual and cultural migratory shift, thus in dispersal with heartbeat outside the boundaries of the South-Eastern states which have now become a mere symbolic home for Nidigbo Global or Ndigbo Worldwide." - (Chimaroke Nnamani "Ndigbo Worldwide - The Reality of A Virtual nation in the Diaspora").

Continuing, Nnamani said:

"With this social mutation, the Igbo has to face the reality that the search for a sovereign ethnic state outside the boundaries of the official Nigeria has become untenable, elusive, and an infinite national romanticism of the sovereign nature. The dispersal was impelled by the conditions that have made the Igbo homestead inhospitable - poor infrastructure, lack of basic amenities and the abysmal lack of federal presence in the region decades after the much-touted post-civil war reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation." - (ibid. (NB. Emphasis mine).

In addition, Nnamani said that, the "Ndigbo Global or Ndigbo Worldwide with majority still in South-Eastern Nigeria have unfettered access to the global basket of fortunes and limitless dreams." According to him, "The dreams of the Igbo Worldwide are not therefore inhibited by socio-political conspiracies that have confined them to an engineered artificial minority status within the Nigerian state."

In conclusion, he advised the Igbo nation to accept whatever condition or status they have been reduced to in the Nigerian state as presently constituted, and live with it as their new reality, unchallenged. According to him:

"The new Igbo is therefore the Ndigbo Global or the Ndigbo Worldwide. What he or she wants could, in reality, be outside political power because the leverage for achieving political power are no longer there because of the inter-ethnic conspiracy that produced a hostile and neglected environment within her homestead. Thus confirming her minority status in the Nigeria of today."

A Critical Look at Senator Nnamani's paper:

Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, author of the above paper under review, was former governor of Enugu State for eight years, after which, he became senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Therefore, one could understand him defending the dysfunctional structure and system of Nigerian state he represents, and upon which his livelihood as a politician serving the corrupt system, depends.

However, one thing no right thinking person can deny today is the continued existence of those conditions of Ndigbo in Nigeria, which brought about the declaration of sovereign state of Biafra in 1967, as articulated in the address of President Nyerere of Tanzania cited earlier on. Any Igbo politician or leader, who denies this fact, may be serving a different agenda other than that of his people.

The fact is that someone whose other competitors in a contest, for example, have schemed out of the game through crooks and deceit of the devil, does not sit down and accept it as his fate. No. A right-thinking person will pick-up his mantle of power and fight for his rights and freedom. This is what the struggle for self-determination for independence and freedom is all about.

This is why it is necessary that we review here the implications of Senator Nnamani's paper to the survival of Igbo nation in Nigeria today. This because, the distinguished Senator's paper reveals the suspicion of many today: the mindset of an average serving Igbo politician in the present dispensation. In other words, the Senator is not alone in his thought, which many view as a defeatist thought, reminiscence of those who have already succumbed to 'colonial' subjugation of their own people and fatherland.

That would amount to accepting the superiority of your enemy over your own people. When we do that, we forget that in our post-colonial - neo-colonial Africa, the fight today is that of struggle for 'second independence' from the domineering 'ethnic-group.' In our own case, it is struggle for 'second independence' from the much more favored 'militant' and domineering ethno-religious group, in the British contraption, called Nigeria.

In fact, since majority of what we have now as political leaders in Igboland have been recruited, and sustained for the neo-colonial project of Nigeria's ruling Oligarchy and foreign sponsors, it is not surprising that a former governor and senator from South-Eastern region thinks this way. Otherwise, as a political leader from the Southeast, someone, people still look up to, the distinguished Senator could have been more circumspect in his total repudiation of his people's clamor for greater autonomy or statehood. This is all the more necessary, when even he himself, had in his paper, acknowledged the second class status of Ndigbo in the present-day Nigeria, and how their lack of political power or rather exclusion from it, had created an inhospitable environment in their homeland. Thus, their being rendered redundant and irrelevance as a people, in the scheme of things in present-day Nigeria.

In this case, one major thing remains to be acknowledged, condemned vehemently, without mincing words: That is, the unjust reality of exclusion, neglect and marginalization of South Eastern region by successive Nigerian governments since after the Nigeria-Biafra War, which has been the lot of Ndigbo ever since. This alone, is enough reason to justify the clamor for self-determination and statehood by Ndigbo and their neighbors in South Eastern Nigeria.

The Ndigbo clamor for self-determination and statehood is not misplaced. It is, indeed, the right thing to do! To drop it and succumb to the state of servitude in the Nigerian state, may be very catastrophic in the near future for Ndigbo and their neighbors in South Eastern Nigeria.

Again, to accept the theory that Ndigbo as dispersal and Diasporal-migratory population, do not need a statehood or sovereign homeland of their own, as Senator Nnamani has suggested, is to accept your oppressor's narrative, intimidation, and stereotypes propaganda. It means to accept his intimidation that as subjugated people, you will never be free, or be allowed to have your own independent state and self-determination.

The consequence of which could be devastating. Since it entails, a gradually eclipse of Igbo nation and their homeland from the face of the earth. This is what the ongoing struggle and clamor for referendum for self-determination, been championed by pro-Biafran youth movements, is all about. It is about averting the looming calamity that may, if not stopped now, befall Ndigbo in Nigeria in no distance future!

One could have expected the distinguished Senator, that instead of picking holes with the pro-Biafra Igbo youth movements clamoring for self-determination of their people in South Eastern Nigeria, he should have rather, canvassed for a just and egalitarian society - an inclusive Nigerian state, that is home to all its citizens, irrespective of one's own ethnic, religious or philosophical persuasion. That is, canvass for a Nigerian state where all the citizens have equal rights. A nation state where every citizen's right is guaranteed; where all the citizens, irrespective of your ethnicity or religion, have equal rights in national politics and economics dividends, pursuit of their businesses and professions anywhere in the country, unhindered.

That is, a nation state where no particular religion is favored over and above the others, a nation state where no ethnic-group claims superiority over and above other ethnic groups. A Nigerian state, for instance, where it would be anathema for an elected President of the country (governor or legislator, or whoever), to enthrone lopsided government like what we have in the present dispensation at the federal government level. These are the things driving the current clamor for self-determination and statehood in South Eastern Nigeria.

What people want is a nation state where everyone is treated equally; where every citizen's right is respected, be it freedom of worship, freedom of expression, assembly, mobility, access to labor (employment), basic education, health-care, and so forth. In fact, what needs be canvassed for by our political office holders is security of lives and property, as well as welfare of the people. These are basic services of the state for its citizens, but which unfortunately, today, are virtually non-existent in Nigeria under the present dispensation.

In fact, what is driving the clamor for Biafra independence is the absence and abuse of basic human rights of Ndigbo, and their neighbors in South Eastern Nigeria. This is what is driving the agitations and protests for referendum for self-determination. Unless these issues are resolved, the agitations are not likely going to stop in the nearest possible future. Rather, they may likely take on more corrosive dimension. God forbid!

All this implies that the same points the Senator raised as reasons for the non-tenability of sovereign statehood of Biafra, are, on the contrary, the strongest reasons that justify the ongoing clamor for self-determination and independence of the state of Biafra. Because any delay in looking into their demands, may portend danger not only for Ndigbo as a people, but especially, for the Nigerian state itself. This is true when we know that Nigeria is already a 'failed' nation state in the eye of the civilized world. We should not wait until greater calamity descends on the nation before we begin to speak up or do something to stop it.

Another revealing thing is the fact that the Senator's paper does not negate the underdog status and servitude Ndigbo (home and abroad) have been subjected to by the Nigerian state all these years. His submission however, is that Ndigbo, all things being equally, should accept to live under such situation of injustice, whether in their fatherland, Nigeria, or in Diasporas.

The fact that Ndigbo are being discriminated against in the present-day Nigeria, simply because of their ethnicity, religion and cultural values, are sufficient reasons to justify their right for self-determination and separate sovereign state. This is also considering the fact that their homeland, for the same reason of discrimination, have been turned into an unfavorable environment for the teeming Igbo youth and population as well as their thriving ingenuity, republicanism, and progressive mind. That today, true patriotic Igbo men and women who vie for elective political offices in Nigeria and within the Igbo states are frustrated, and rigged out during elections. Many a time, only those Igbo men and women who agreed to play to the gallery are rigged into various political and elective offices at both federal and state levels.

This situation is painful and unbearable, especially, when one remembers how the forebears of today's Ndigbo, e.g, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe - the Great Zik of Africa and co., were in the forefront for Nigeria's political independence from Great Britain. There is no Nigerian, living or death, who had championed the concept and birth of one Nigeria more than Zik himself and his Igbo people. To promote one Nigeria and ensure the equality, as well as security of lives and property of all, Zik, a founding Father of Pan-Africanism and Father of African political independence from colonial rule, relinquished the post of Prime Minister in the First Republic to a Northerner.

Zik relinquished the office of head of government of the new nation Nigeria at independence in 1960. He became mere ceremonial Head of State of the First Republic. This is because, as a Pan-Africanist, he believed in the concept of one Nigeria, and therefore wanted to carry others along with him, on basis of equality and shared mutual trust. But Zik had to pay the price as an Igbo for his magnanimous gesture. Because that single act alone, caused 'diminishing return' of his towering 'status' among his other colleagues - founding fathers of independent African states, who became heads of governments in their respective countries: e.g., Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, to mention but a few.

That is the level of sacrifice, the Igbo made for one Nigeria to come into existence at independence in 1960. This is in spite of the fact that Northern politicians never participated in the struggle for Nigeria's political independence, nor believed ab initio, in the concept of one, united Nigeria! Yet, Zik showed them magnanimity, brought them into the center of the government of the newly independent Nigeria, just to ensure that everybody feel belonged, as liberated Africans and as equal citizens.

Not only Nnamdi Azikiwe, but indeed, Ndigbo in general embraced the concept of one Nigeria with full force. This made them to establish their businesses and residential houses in other parts of Nigeria immediately after independence, while people from other major ethnic groups have each, kept to their own region and people. Only the Igbo decided to reach out and embrace other Nigerians in their respective regions - North, West, Middle Belt, etc. Unfortunately, this magnanimous spirit, Pan-Africanism, and Republicanism as well as cultural adaptability, and open-mindedness of Ndigbo, came to be interpreted by other Nigerians as greed, pride, arrogance, etc. Thus, the way was paved for Igbo resentment, envy, jealousy and hate, among other Nigerians. That was the situation, which eventually, snowballed into the Biafran pogroms in Northern Nigeria, and the concomitant Nigeria-Biafra war.

The inability of the Nigerian government to protect Ndigbo - provide them with security of lives and property during the 1966/67 pogroms in Northern Nigeria and other parts of the country, taught Ndigbo one major lesson: It revealed the deep-rooted Igbo phobia (hatred) and resentment within the ruling Oligarchy and among other major ethnic groups in Nigeria. This 'pathological Igbo-hate' in Nigeria is still there and is not about to go away. Chinua Achebe paints it more poignantly, as follows:

"Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo. , Modern Nigerian history has been marked by sporadic eruptions of anti-Igbo feeling of more or less serious import; but it was not until 1966-7 when it swept through Northern Nigeria like "a flood of deadly hate" that the Igbo first questioned the concept of Nigeria which they have embraced with much greater fervor than the Yoruba or the Hausa/Fulani." - Chinua Achebe, "The Trouble with Nigeria", 45 (1983).

Thus, since the end of Nigeria-Biafra war in 1970, the same Ndigbo, who made sacrifices more than any other ethnic-nationality for one Nigeria, have been reduced to second-class status in the Nigerian state. Today, Ndigbo feel like non-entities - personae non-grata, in a country their forebears had labored more than any other, died for its political independence from Britain. This is part of the pain of an average Igbo in Nigeria today.

This implies that all those who blame the pro-Biafra Igbo youths for clamoring for self-determination and statehood should have recognized, the fact that absence of an enabling environment in Igboland today, their exclusion as a people from the political and economic super-power structures of Nigeria, etc., are the major driving forces for the modern migratory diasporan Igbo population. Ndigbo are not migrating to other parts of the world, simply, because there are better economic opportunities there.

No. Rather, the unbearable and inhospitable environment created in their homestead, the unjust system put in place by the Nigerian state, have reduced Igboland to an unfavorable condition, and subjugated Ndigbo to live like orphans, whether at home or abroad. This is the major driving factor for the modern migration of Ndigbo to other parts of the world.

Who wants to live under servitude in a foreign land if he has an enabling and hospitable environment at home? If you have a functional state and government that is home welcoming, a government which puts the welfare of all its citizens first, Nigerians, would not be receiving the type of hostile treatment - all kinds of insult and abuse they do receive nowadays in various countries of the world where they reside!

These are sufficient reasons to justify why the migratory Igbo youth population, are championing today's clamor for Biafra self-determination and statehood. Because, in the first place, they are the first victims and targets of the prevailing unjust situation and reality of Ndigbo in Nigeria.

Any Igbo politician, true to his name, should recognize this and, therefore, champion the cause to promote the common interest of his people. This is irrespective of whether one is elected president, vice-president, state governor, legislator at state and federal levels, or whatever. The fact is that as things are today, the average Igbo person feels alienated from the Nigerian state. Majority of Ndigbo no longer feel any emotional link with the government in power and the Nigerian state.

This is very serious! It is the reason why most of Ndigbo, especially youths, are running away from their homeland and Nigeria. Because, often those who are installed as governors or legislators from Igboland are merely there to serve the whims and caprices of the ruling Oligarchy at the center. The general interest of Ndigbo are secondary in the political priority of most of the serving Igbo politicians in the present dispensation.

All these go to justify the ongoing clamor for self-determination and statehood of Ndigbo through referendum. They also justify the call in some quarters today for restructuring - a return to the founding political system of true federalism and regionalism, Nigeria inherited from Britain at political independence in 1960.

Conclusion

There is no way a country can make any tangible and endurable progress or development, when the long-term policy of the federal government is to suppress, render irrelevant and redundant, an important component group of its federating units because of their ethnicity, culture and religion. Nigerian government continued narrative of lies and denial of the Biafran question is only a distraction, because lies do not have long duration and consistency. As the saying goes, "a liar has no memory."

Therefore, until Nigerian government comes clean on this matter, begin to address the Biafra question, the nation will continue to be the basket case of the world in the areas of poverty, hunger, disease, bad governance, election rigging, corruption, impunity, lawlessness, and so forth. The current high level of 'brain-drain' through legal and illegal migrations of Nigeria's teeming youths to other countries, will multiple unabated. The loss of world respect Nigeria has notoriously earned - the ongoing maltreatment of Nigerian nationals across the Globe, the feeling of hopelessness, homelessness (or rather stateless) that characterize lives of many Nigerians, home and abroad, and other vices, all go to show that it is high time the leaders of the country do something about the Biafra question.

Because we would be deceiving ourselves as a nation state if we do not link the situation of Nigeria today with the lingering Biafra question. The fact is that no modern nation state worth its name will ever thrive or make any progress, while an important component of its federating units is kept under a kind of permanent situation of state induced injustice and marginalization. Worse still, whenever the oppressed people lament or cry, the state responds with guns and bullets. But we forget that state response through military brutality, impunity and recklessness in a matter of this kind, is only an effort in futility. Because, as Victor Hugo (1802-1885), once said, "No army can stop an idea whose time has come."

In the midst of all these, methinks it is high time Nigerian government begins to listen to the demands of those who are requesting for a sincere and dispassionate dialogue on the Biafra question. That is, to dialogue with the right people - those whom the international community and majority of Ndigbo have come to recognize as front-liners in the present renewed clamor for Biafra independence and self-determination.

Labeling the pro-Biafra youth movement, a 'terrorist' group is a waste of time and making a caricature of Nigeria in the eye of the world. Because international community and ordinary Nigerians, know they are not terrorists. We know who Nigerian terrorists are. Certainly, not the pro-Biafran agitators, whose approach and style have always remained non-violent.

Therefore, a roundtable dialogue with the aggrieved regions, groups or parties in Nigeria, I think is a better option than the current use of guns and bullets against civil protesters and agitators. A Stitch in Time saves nine!

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