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Nigeria: Humiliation Of Ndigbo Complete

Nigeria: Humiliation Of Ndigbo Complete June 28, 2021 | EASTERN PILOT   By Idowu Akinlotan If Abuja, the federal capital, is not a part of t...

Nigeria: Humiliation Of Ndigbo Complete

June 28, 2021 | EASTERN PILOT 

By Idowu Akinlotan

If Abuja, the federal capital, is not a part of the North-Central, President Muhammadu Buhari’s establishment of five universities across four geopolitical zones out of six may put the lie to the continuing marginalisation of the Igbo Southeast. The new institutions are to be established in the Southwest, South-South, Northwest, and Northeast. But the Igbo are unlikely to consider the establishment of the institutions fair. In fact, they are more likely to see it as one more proof of the deliberateness of the marginalisation inspired against the Igbo which began before the Buhari presidency but has been remorselessly given fillip since 2015. They see and feel the unfairness against their ethnic group, but by now, other than feeble remonstrations, they are probably paralysed by a sense of frustration and ennui. In the past six years, the more they complain, the more their grievances provoke official intransigence. They campaign for a sixth state for their zone, but the federal government points at the size of the Southeast, the proverbial landlocked dot in the circle, and snub them. They see how since 2015 some of the country’s service chiefs – one of the newly appointed chiefs has proposed one for his state too – site tertiary institutions in their states at public expense, and covet one for their zone. But because they have not produced a service chief since that abominable culture took root, despite being one of Nigeria’s ethnic tripod, they have been left holding the short end of the stick.

In response to what the Igbo described as a long-running and long-standing pattern of marginalisation, Southeast protest groups have roused themselves to challenge their continuing diminution. One of the groups led by Ralph Nwazuruike, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB, Est. 1999), became strident, unorthodox, irreverent and loud. The region’s leading political elite recognised the group as a challenge to their regional dominance. But years of attrition inspired by federal might eventually balkanised the group, birthing the more incendiary Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB, Est. 2012) led by the hysterical Nnamdi Kanu. But whether MASSOB or IPOB, the Southeast elite knew which side their bread was buttered. They opposed Mr Nwazuruike, denounced Mr Kanu, and though they lacked the courage to trigger or even win a frontal confrontation with the two, thereby forcing the elite to pull their punches, they had no illusion about what IPOB and MASSOB represented to their political hold on the region. They knew they would be supplanted should the agitators have the upper hand.

Since IPOB got the upper hand, however, the region’s governors and political elite have run the gauntlet of federal might and Biafra mob. Just like President Buhari – not to talk of a disproportionate number of northern opinion moulders and politicians – who was chary of condemning Boko Haram in its early years, Igbo leaders had engaged in hand-wringing until the president unleashed a string of sanctimonious and bellicose characterisation of the Igbo. They were landlocked, he gloated, as if the core North was not also landlocked. They were a dot in a circle, he growled, mocking the size of their five states and their overwhelming need to exhale into other geopolitical zones. And in any case, he said with a finality that was distinctly unpresidential, excessive, mendacious and provocative, they were well represented in his government. He exaggerates, of course. But that is his distorted view of his administration’s inclusiveness policy, notwithstanding that he comes across as divisive and insular. And when the now linguistically inclined president deadpanned about the violent language he would speak to the Igbo/IPOB – whom he regards as his coterminous enemies – the threat was complete and the humiliation final.

Weeks of militarisation of the region by government security forces, encouraged by weeks of attacks on police stations, INEC offices, and a few other government buildings by alleged agents of IPOB and their Eastern Security Network (ESN) created a siege atmosphere that seemed to prime the region for war. The problem was not beyond dialogue, many Nigerians counseled, since IPOB and other aggrieved people in the region, behaving like symptoms of a disease, were merely responding to hostile conditions engendered by a federal administration unenthusiastic about meeting the Southeast either half way, an administration that continuously baits the region. But finally, the Defence minister, Bashir Magashi, belatedly led a delegation to dialogue with the region’s leadership elite, thus thawing the ice. Wary of indirectly encouraging a war they neither wished for nor assented to, nor were even prepared for, Igbo leaders balked and began speaking effusively about the merits of national unity.

According to Igbo leaders who met in Enugu on June 19: “We condemn in totality the activities of violent and secessionist group in south-east and elsewhere. We firmly proclaim that we do not support them because they do not speak for South East. While we firmly promise to protect everyone either from our region or other regions living in our places, we plead with other regions to please note the threat to our people and please address the threat to our people and protect them. We condemn the killing of security agents, burning of infrastructure facilitate and killing of civilians in South-East and even in other regions. We request our security agencies to discharge their duties with the rules of engagement and law. We request our nation Assembly members from South-East to please support state creation and state police in ongoing constitutional amendment. The impression that Southeast governors are silent over our youths’ agitation and secession is not correct. South-East governors, Ohanaeze President, National Assembly members and notable leaders from South-East had come out publicly in the past to speak against such agitation. In other not to find ourselves in that unfortunate situation, South-East leaders have set up a committee to engage such group and allow the elders to address their fears.”

No self-abnegation can be more mortifying. The Igbo had at first been reticent, some of their analysts say, because there was no corresponding federal denunciation of herdsmen, Northwest bandits, and Northeast Boko Haram in the core North despite the enduring suspicion that all three terrorist groups had received some sort of official or regional connivance. Neither MASSOB nor IPOB/ESN, has engaged in the pillage, rape, land seizure and farm destruction akin to what herdsmen and bandits have carried out without let or hindrance, but it was IPOB that first attracted official terrorist label in 2017 while rampaging herdsmen, some of them foreign based, had and continue to receive official justification. No one has forced the core North political leaders to apologise on behalf of herdsmen, bandits or Boko Haram; but Igbo leaders have had to supplicate the country on behalf of a Southeast group that threatens to supplant them, provoke their overthrow and routinely lather them with abuses and all sorts of deprecation. Yet, in 2017, Igbo governors had declared IPOB illegal.

The Igbo are probably inexpert poker players. Had they been adept at bluffing, they would have known that as uncaring and indifferent to their cause as the federal administration has in these latter years become, there is a limit to which it can speak the violence language it threatened the Southeast. The administration wields the ghoulish symbol of war as a sword of Damocles over the collective head of the Igbo, but the alliances and forces that prosecuted the Nigerian civil war are all obliterated, making it impossible to coax the kind of cooperation that undid the Igbo in 1967. The Igbo have now eaten crow, and at least the spectre of war has seemed considerably diminished. But it will be a mistake to think that because the Southeast leaders have backed down, the seeds of future conflict have been extirpated. The Buhari administration’s constant dithering over restructuring, in the face of what is clearly an untenable and indefensible political structure, is certain to prolong the country’s existential malaise.

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