What is the Nigerianness of Ndi Igbo? By Victor Terhemba




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In recent media reports, the governor of Kaduna state, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, was reported to have said the Igbos cannot get the presidency by “insulting everyone and demanding for the presidency”. Sometime last year in 2020, the respected late Isa Funtua while a guest Arise TV Morning Show said that the Igbos should not expect to be given the presidency, that they must participate. What did he mean when he said the Igbos must participate? Because to the best of my knowledge, the Igbos have always participated and are fully involved in Nigerian politics. 
Even the current president toured the entire states of the to for votes and he got votes from that region. That he got few votes doesn’t mean that they didn’t participate by voting for another party or candidates. The Igbos overwhelmingly voted for Late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, a Fulani man from Katsina state, in 2007. 
Since the events of 1966 and the subsequent civil that was not unconnected to the events of 1966, the Igbos in Nigeria have largely been relegated to the fringes by the other two major ethnic groups. Since then, no Igbo man or woman has been considered good enough to lead the country. Some have sworn they will never vote an Igbo man. Some people from have revealed that they were taught to hate the Igbos ethnic groups.

The Igbos have been pilloried at every given opportunity to prove their Nigerianness. At every turn, the Nigerianness of an Igbo person is called to question. Every time, the Igbos have to prove they are Nigerian enough before they can be considered for certain privileges, especially, for political positions. The other two major ethnic groups, the Yorubas and Hausas, have, themselves, not proven to be Nigerian than the Igbos. What is the crime of the Igbos? The coup of January 15, 1966, and the Nigeria – Biafra civil . But are these valid reasons for the discrimination and suppression of the Igbo ? Are these two events justifiable for the victimization and neglect that the Igbos have suffered in Nigeria? Let me try to disprove these notions and make nonsense of those arguments the chronological order of historical events.

To begin , the Nigerianness of Sir Ahamdu Bello, one of Nigeria’s founding fathers, was never called into question despite his own open admittance of his hatred and resentment towards the Igbos who are fellow Nigerians like him. Ahamdu Bello went further to say, as premier of , he would rather “hire an expatriate than hire an Igbo man”. These statements are not Nigerian-like but Ahmadu Bello is considered Nigerian than any Ndi Igbo person.

They say Ndi Igbo cannot be trusted and must always prove their Nigerianness because 54 years ago, the Eastern region tried to secede from Nigeria and form a new independent state of Biafra. But historically, the Igbos were not the first to demand secession from Nigeria, was. After the July coup of 1966 in which many Igbo officers were , including Aguyi-Ironsi who was head of state then, by Northern soldiers, they (Northern soldiers) demanded that secede from Nigeria. History has it that there were chants of “Araba” by the Northern soldiers in Lagos and . As a matter of fact, many of the soldiers and Northerners had already relocated to .
These are two secessionists but hypocritically, it is the Igbos that have to prove their Nigerianness every inch of the way while their northern counterparts are the true Nigerians. After being prevailed upon by senior Northern elites and civil servants to remain a part of Nigeria, the Northern soldiers were rewarded the Head of state position.

Events that preceded the civil birthed the fictitious crimes of the Igbos. The supposed crimes of Ndi Igbo started in January 1966 (although, there has been deep resentment against Igbos even before then) when a bunch of Nigerian soldiers, comprising mostly of Igbos officers, decided to truncate democratic rule in the country by violently removing the democratically elected government they described as corrupt and incompetent through a coup. This adventure led to the of senior Northern political and military leaders such Sir Ahamdu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Zakariya Maimalari, amongst others. History accounts mention that there was some sort of excitement from Nigerians when news of the coup filtered into the society but by the next morning, the coup was tagged as an Igbo coup to eliminate top leaders of the North.
It did not impress those who sold this narrative that Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, a Easterner, was also in the . This fact was totally ignored. It also didn’t matter that even Aguyi Ironsi was marked by the coup plotters but only survived because that night he was away Lagos waters attending a boat party. It also didn’t matter to the disingenuous inventors of this mischief that the coup also had the active participation of Northern soldiers as .
I think it is significant to point out that the coup of January 1966 was nicknamed an “Igbo coup” but the coup of July 1966 was nicknamed a “counter-coup”. The use of words is very powerful, especially when it is deliberate.

How can we ask the Igbos to prove their Nigerianness when it was the Northerners who carried out a murderous pogrom in 1966 to cleanse out Igbos from the North? Igbos were massacred in their large numbers by Northerners who were a rampage killing anyone that was Igbo or suspected to be Igbo. Yet, it is the Igbos who are asked to always prove their Nigerianness. Some of those who partook in the orgy of killings and massacre of senior Igbo officers have been rewarded with the highest positions in Nigeria to the indignation of the Igbos.

Those who claimed that they were fighting to keep Nigeria united by perpetrating massacres, rape, and wanton killings against the Igbos are considered Nigerian than those who were fighting to preserve their lives and free themselves from the stranglehold of oppression and . Many families, till date, live with the effects and scars of the Asaba massacre of 1967 committed by Nigerian soldiers.

We have a Nigerian president whose major trademark, aside from his gross incompetence, inefficient leadership skills, and lack of innovative ideas, has been nepotism. Through his actions, he has unashamedly shown a premium preference for his kinsmen and women cut from the same religious and ethnic cloth. A president who has made Nigerians poorer than he met them in 2015 when he assumed office. He continues to admonish Nigerians to live within their means while he superintends the shrinking of that means. While the country seems to be in the firm grips of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, and other criminals carrying out senseless and avoidable killings, the president feels overwhelmed and can only plead with the criminals to cease further carnage.
This is a president known to have harboured, rewarded, and defended his friends who were known to be corrupt and terrorists’ sympathisers. These are not the actions of a patriotic Nigerian; especially a Nigerian who promised his people economic prosperity and safety. Yet, this president has never been asked to prove his Nigerianness. This president was once rewarded with the Head of State for committing treason in 1983 because he is more Nigerian than those soldiers of January 1966.

It is ironic that those who harboured (and still do) deep resentment against fellow Nigerians are considered more Nigerian than those they hate. Those who enjoyed and participated in the orgy of killing fellow Nigerians because they are Igbos are considered more Nigerian than their victims. It is ironic that those who committed the Asaba massacre of 1967, those who used hunger as a weapon to wipe out fellow Nigerians, are considered more Nigerian than others.

In the absence of truth and justice, we keep glossing over the real issues and continue with the pretentious belief that all is well with Nigeria. I have not known any society that has experienced and development in the absence of truth and justice.
There is nothing sacrosanct nor sanctimonious about the unity of Nigeria. If we harbour deep resentment against each other on the basis of ethnicity or religion, then why do we pretend that we are Nigerians with shared values and objectives?

To the politicians of , it is clear that they are not interested in the collective development of the Ndi Igbo community. To them, it is politics as usual. They hope that by kowtowing and pandering to the whims and caprices of the more Nigerian ethnic groups they will eventually be rewarded with a seat at the Presidency and be finally accepted as Nigerians.

Terhemba writes from FCT, Abuja.
He tweets via @VictorTerhemba