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« The Great State of Biafra is Strong and Alive | Main | The Month our Hope Lived »

June 11, 2006

The Quest Among the Igbo

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- Since 1999 something has been happening among the people of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria, especially the Igbo. Against the background of marginalization by the superstructure of the Nigerian State, the homegrown and external enemies of my people’s legitimate aspirations and the difficulties of going the extra mile to keep body and soul together just because of whom we are in contemporary Nigeria, there is a persistent and growing quest for Igbo self-identity and self-actualization.

Who are the Igbo in contemporary Nigeria? Forty-six years after independence from the British, thirty-six years after the guns of the Nigerian civil war ceased booming, what is the true state of relations between the former Eastern Region’s components and the rest of Nigeria? Are we still part of the Nigerian project? I wonder if these fundamental concerns are the raison d’e’tre for the existence of Ohaneze and a plethora of other pan-Igbo groups within and outside Nigeria. Many people may regard the activities of MASSOB as those of a lunatic fringe, but love or loathe them; they are a part of the effort at addressing the questions plaguing the heart of the average Igbo today.

I belong to the post civil war generation of the Igbo. I was not even born in Igboland. Though my formative years were in other parts of Nigeria I derive my biological and ancestral roots in Imo State and I live in Anambra State. Thus it is with caution mixed with confidence that I express my views on the contemporary search by the Igbo in present-day Nigeria.

First, other Nigerians and indeed the whole world must know that the Igbo are not beating the drums of war. The average Igbo does not want war. We have been through a war and we know what it is like. We have seen too many of our able and promising men and women butchered in other parts of Nigeria on the flimsiest pretext to torch off a conflagration which will consume more of our rising stars. Many of those who experienced the horrors of 1967 to 1970 are alive and know the facts about the nightmare from which the Igbo, indeed the rest of Nigeria, are yet to recover. But it is imperative the world understands why the new generation is screaming. We rage because we cannot fathom the logic of the so-called Nigerian federation. We are willing to leave the ruins of yesterday but why are we denied opportunities to build on today’s land? Why must we break our backs to have a say where it counts? Why must we be slaughtered simply because we prefer churches to mosques, Bibles to Korans, mmanyi ngwo to burukutu and isiagu to babanriga? Why can’t we freely choose the best and brightest among us to represent us in the various councils of State? Must our destiny be decided without our input and consent? Is it wrong for us to aspire to make meaningful contributions to the development of the Nigerian State? These are the unsettling concerns among my generation.

It is true that we are not the only people who are dissatisfied with Nigeria as she is. Every other people who have the fortune or misfortune of being part of this estate haphazardly built by Lugard in 1914 has one grievance or another with its design. Even those folks whom a good number of other Nigerians wrongly assume benefit most from the Nigerian manor are complaining. But the case of the former Eastern Region is peculiar. We are the only set of Nigerians who made an overt and definite bid for self-preservation and freedom when Nigeria turned on us like a mad lioness that eats her own cubs. Never mind that our well-documented efforts at nurturing this lioness contributed significantly to her strength. We lost the bid. Many would say that we are still paying the price of defeat. But that is not the way to go about building a Nigeria, which would accommodate the supposedly 400 ethnic nationalities. Can Nigeria forge ahead without the Igbo? Ancient prejudices, antagonisms and opinions die hard but I can confidently say that my generation is prepared to battle them to a stand-still through positive action, not mere rhetoric. Across the length and breadth of Nigeria there are Nigerians of all ethnic nationalities who are ready to break free from the barriers of primordial aspirations and retrogression. The future belongs to us but, alas, the present day reality is that champions of the past are in control of Nigeria.

Many non-Eastern Nigerians, especially those who did not experience the civil war, do not understand what Biafra means to Eastern Nigerians. Honestly I doubt if even many post civil war Eastern Nigerians really appreciate the essence of Biafra. At the risk of being accused of historical sentimentality or branded a tribal jingoist, I must declare the ugly truth that such a colossal cataclysmic event of our recent history cannot be buried. Even in the 21st century Americans still make their own civil war (1861-65) a vital reference point of their national life. That war defined American history. Till date there are statues and other monuments to the heroes and heroines of that war, and this includes the Confederates who rebelled against the Union and seceded. Since the war ended with the Union’s victory the former Confederates have not been excluded from participating in all spheres of American life. This does not mean there were no hard feelings after the war ended: no loser, no matter how large hearted, is full of love for his conqueror. Of course the ex-rebels passed through rough times after the war ended. Pick up any text on American history within this period and find out the truth for yourself. But conscious and systematic efforts were made by the Union to ensure that the entire American State outgrew the divisiveness occasioned by the war, and a major step in this regard was respect for the Confederate’s historical roots in the war.

But in Nigeria the planners of our national life act as if Biafra was nothing but an extended war exercise. This should not surprise anyone: many of them oversaw the efforts to send the people of the former Eastern Region, especially the Igbo, into the abyss from 1966-1970. But we cannot forget. Our children throughout Nigeria must know the truth. Apologies must be made where appropriate. Memories, both of the so-called ‘Federalists’ and the ‘rebels’, must be appeased. Why can’t there be a day to remember all who died on both sides during the war? What does July 6, 1967 mean to Nigeria? I am not asking that we focus on stone casting and blame swapping. I am asking that we tell our children and ourselves the truth so that they do not forget, so that they can learn from our mistakes and seek solutions to the challenges of group living in a multiethnic entity like ours.
Many citizens of the former enclave look back to Biafra as the page of history when, despite the horrors of war, famine and disease, they were able to hold their heads high and look the rest of the world in the eye. When they had the opportunity of actualizing their potential. Perhaps the grim fact that contemporary Nigeria deprives them of this opportunity makes many of them hark back to the land of yore. But it need not be. Nigeria can do far better.

Finally, let it be known to all that the average Igbo knows who his true leaders are. He will gladly follow them, even unto death. But most of the marionettes on the Southeastern political stage are unrecognized by us. Quislings call the shots, courtesy of non-Igbo chieftains who have turned our zone into a spoils-gathering ground. The sad truth is that we, to a great extent, bear the brunt of the blame. We seem to have lost our ability to say no to these fifth columnists and their backers, thus portraying our land as a sprouter of lucre-loving political jobbers and clowns. Thus other Nigerians see us through the eyes of remote-controlled godfathers and bloody shrines. But they do not typify the Igbo.

Nigeria’s unity is a lofty goal but it must be on a basis of justice to all components. Let the National Conference begin now.

Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama is
a writer and teacher. He lives in Awka,
Anambra State, Nigeria.

Posted by Administrator at June 11, 2006 01:57 PM


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