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September 03, 2006

Is Oil Worth a Drop of Blood? - Part 2

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- Oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956 at Oloibri in Bayelsa State. But this was not the beginning of the challenges that bedevil the Niger Delta. However, the oil factor has significantly greased a situation rooted in political quagmires exacerbated by ethnicity, negative inter group relations, and a heartless petro-capitalist system.

Anyone familiar with the Niger Delta knows that it is different from other parts of Nigeria. Its crisscross of creeks mean that its peoples depend on water for their survival, and any government that seeks a better life for them must consider this. Given their numerical inferiority vis-à-vis their closest neighbours-the dry-land dwelling Igbo and Yoruba – and the nature of Nigerian politics, tensions were inevitable. But were these tensions at the root of their problem? Or were they exploited by the alliance of petro-capitalism and a succession of governments dating back to pre-independence?

The peoples of the Niger Delta did not kowtow to colonial masters who grabbed their oil-in this case, palm oil – through a mixture of deception and conquest. The resistance by rulers like Nana the Itsekiri is an example of 19th century resistance to international adventurers by Niger Deltans. But these adventurers improved on their strategies and capitalized on inter group polarizations to achieve their ambitions.

The 1950s witnessed agitations among the minorities in Nigeria. By no means were the minorities solely in the Niger Delta. Many of them are in the Northern part of Nigeria, which is dominated by the mostly Muslim Hausa-Fulani. Those in the Niger Delta had the Igbo and the Yoruba to contend with, the former to the east, the latter to the west. In the bid to succeed the British the major groups got involved in power-juggling exercises that did not pay much attention to the interests of their smaller neighbours, who in some cases, were split by antagonisms. For example, the Urhobo and the Itsekiri of Warri became pawns in the hands of the Yoruba-dominated Action Group, a Nigerian political party of the 1950s and 1960s. But this should not have been the case. If the British did not fashion out a structure to accommodate Nigeria’s different nationalities, couldn’t their indigenous successors do so? The following observations from ‘The Price of Oil’, the 1999 Human Rights Watch report on the Niger Delta are noteworthy: ‘Conflict in the Niger Delta is directly related to the debates, ongoing since before independence, about the structure of the Nigerian polity. It can be assumed that there would have been disputes as to the relationship between the centre and periphery in Nigeria in any economic circumstances, given the complexity of the country and the lack of established nationwide democratic institutions at independence. Yet the addition of oil production and oil wealth to the difficulties already posed by the problem of ruling a country of at least 250 ethnic groups, each with its separate traditions of government, has greatly increased the potential for conflict and the stakes at play in that conflict.’

To assuage the concerns of the minority groups in Nigeria the British set up the 1958 Henry Willink Commission. As Akinyemi put it the Commission declared the Niger Delta ‘a special area which requires special attention.’ There were demands for states in the Niger Delta as a means of protecting the smaller groups from the Igbo-dominated government. West of the Niger Delta was home to a dominant Yoruba presence. Whether the fears of Niger Deltans were justified should be seen within the context of the earlier quote from the Human Rights Watch report.

Evidence indicates that the Commission, while rejecting the demands for state creation, recommended the establishment of regional advisory councils for the minorities and constitutional assurances. It also established a federal board to cater for the interests of the Niger Delta. This board became operational in 1961. It only carried out surveys and made recommendations to the government. It operated from Port Harcourt, a city that though dominated by the Igbo, was contested as part of Niger Delta. The Ijaw, the largest of the Niger Delta peoples, did not find this funny. Many of them demanded that British treaties that yoked them to Nigeria should be revoked.

Militancy reared its head in the Niger Delta for the first time in January 1966. Isaac Boro, an Ijaw, led his fighters to declare a state in the Niger Delta. By this time oil was becoming a factor in the national economy. The political class had designed ethnicity as a badge of Nigeria. Boro’s movement was predominantly Ijaw. Although Boro failed, courtesy of the Ironsi military regime, the dogs of war had had their first taste of blood.

Till date the roles of the Niger Delta peoples during the Nigerian civil war is a sore point. While many other factors propelled the government led by General Yakubu Gowon to end the secessionist enclave called Biafra, the oil factor was significant. By 1967 the oil companies had discovered Nigeria’s potential as a counter weight to the volatile Middle East. Breaking Biafra’s backbone by granting concessions to the minorities was a decisive ploy by the Gowon regime. Were the minorities’ true allies of the Igbo during the civil war? The evidence is a mixed record. Non-Igbo from the Niger Delta also suffered from the mayhem of May-September 1966 which formed the background to the secession. But there were prominent Niger Deltans who believed that secession was wrong. Some even put their lives on the line to prove their belief. The Rivers writer, Elechi Amadi, fought on the Nigerian side. The renowned Ijaw poet, Gabriel Okara, was a staunch believer in the Biafran cause. Isaac Boro died on the battlefield as a Nigerian soldier fighting Biafra. In the words of Sola Odunfa, ‘he was reported as saying he would not swap his Nigerian citizenship for that of a Biafran under domination by Igbo.’ How many people know that a non-Igbo coined the name Biafra?

To be continued.

An award winning writer, Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama
lives in Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria.

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July 31, 2006

Nigerian Women and Indecent Dressing: The other Side of the Coin

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- Recently, sentinels of religion, morality and culture in Nigeria have taken up cudgels to compel our female folk to dress decently. Activists in this campaign include dons, priests and government officials.

Indeed, some of them have taken tough measures to put our women back on the narrow path. Sometime in 2004 there was a newspaper report about a clergyman who refused to officiate at a wedding because the bride was inappropriately dressed. There have been speculations about a proposed law on dressing code in the national assembly. Of course, dressing codes are now the norm in many Nigerian universities.

To an extent these efforts are commendable. Many of our ladies have run amok in the name of freedom and fashion. But every coin has two sides, and I hesitate to join a bandwagon running on the wheels of ignorance and hypocrisy.

Before we condemn our female folk for indecent dressing anywhere in this country, let us get our facts straight. Who and what determine what is decent dressing in Nigeria? If we use so-called cultural norms as a yardstick, do we accept that these are relative, and dynamic? There are parts of Nigeria where the baring of breasts to public gaze is inoffensive. While I do not subscribe to such standards, their owners’ culture influence their dressing, and the only way to check it is to address their culture.

Nigerians are not immune to Western values. Like or loathe them, they have permeated all aspects of our lives. Some of the things we copied from the white man are not the best but why aren’t we facing the challenges of cultural contacts? How many of these campaigners have tried to filter through both cultures and synthesize the good in them?

The religious and moral chieftains who hold sway on this subject should be cautious. At times they give the impression of living in the Victorian era; an era of moral/religious chieftains who hid hideous evils and perversion under the cloak of keeping society to the straight path. It is pertinent to lay some ground rules for the decent dressing campaign. First, what does Christianity and Islam – which are foreign to these parts – say on the matter, both implicitly and explicitly? How do our men of God interpret these principles in contemporary Nigeria? Must a Nigerian woman dress like her sisters in Palestine and Saudi Arabia in the era of the compilation of the Holy Books to qualify for heaven? What if a woman doesn’t subscribe to any of these religions or a particular branch of faith?

True, even atheists have basic moral principles. It is also true that morality is concerned with the general good. Viewed from this perspective, one’s dressing, irrespective of sex, should not unduly assault others’ sensibilities. But then dressing is not just a moral issue: aesthetics, purpose and taste are involved.

How morally equipped are those power-mongers who impose codes on our women? If our legislators are capable of stripping our treasury naked, if our religious leaders are incapable of telling our ruling elite to address those ills that, if the U.S. intelligence report on sub-Saharan Africa is anything to go by, threaten our corporate existence, why then do they pour venom on our women? Maybe they do not know that many of our ladies who dress the way they do want to grab a share of the national treasury by enticing those who stole what is rightfully theirs (the ladies) in the first place.

We should get our sense of right and wrong back on track. This has nothing to do with the twisted type of religion we practise in Nigeria. Picking on our women is no solution to our problem. Yes, their bodies maybe blessed sexual magnets that attract men, but there are many of our men folk who would lay a nun on the floor, if they get the chance. So who is deceiving whom?

Let us move beyond impositions on the women. Let us, irrespective of gender, begin a reorientation that puts the woman in her proper, God-created position as an equal and dignified member of the society. Let us, both individually and collectively, cease promoting our women’s sexuality as their sole asset. Above all, let us accept that this is the 21st century and even a madwoman would not want to go back to the woman-degrading days of our ancestors.

An award winning writer, Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama
lives in Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria.

Posted by Administrator at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2006

The Month our Hope Lived

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- Dear readers, I apologize for delaying the continuation of the article ‘Is oil worth a drop of blood?’ Since the first part was written and published many interesting developments, both in my country, and elsewhere, have captured my attention. Be assured that, God willing, the next installment will appear in subsequent editions of our delightful BNW magazine.

May 2006 was quite an interesting month in Nigeria. Exhilarating and inspiring. But also reflective, and at a time, a month when all Nigerians and her friends held their breaths in deep anxiety. Was the country fast-forwarding back to the dark ages of dictatorship in a month, which has, since 1999, been regarded as the month in which democracy was born again after a long hiatus of military rule?
By now everyone knows what I am talking about. The resounding defeat of the proposed amendment to Nigeria’s constitution which would have extended the tenure of the president for another four years in the Senate Chambers on May 16. Many people have hailed it as a victory for democracy in Nigeria, nay Africa. Stomach-knotting spectres of what might have been if the controversial bill had sailed through, given the entrenched opposition and the equally virulent support among certain members of the political and business powerbrokers, have thankfully been sent back to where they rightly belong. Thank God our nightmares are over. At least for now.

But I do not think the celebratory booze should be drunk to a state of stupor. For me, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a flawed document. It does not meet the aspirations of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, highly complex and sophisticated federation like Nigeria. Given its antecedents this is not surprising. It is a document of necessity, forged by military blacksmiths in a hurry to abandon the overwhelmingly hot workshop of Nigeria’s politics.

Throughout the seven years of Nigeria’s democratic experiment, calls for a national conference to fashion out a generally acceptable arrangement for the federation – which, in my view, is a call for constitutional engineering – show that what Nigerians have is not the best. And the other one hundred and seventeen proposed amendments, which were packaged with tenure elongation are vexatious issues in Nigeria.

But you do not carry out an immediate and major surgery on a fresh accident victim who has not been revived. President Obasanjo and his team, if they did not have other plans, should not have gone for the complex exercise when they did and the manner in which they did it. Why stick to tenure elongation when the president’s mandate is about to expire?

The fight against the third tenure was a fight by strange political bedmates that were thrust together by a common challenge to their aspirations. Now that the amendment is dead, political alignments and realignments have begun. Unfortunately, deep-rooted political-cum-ethnic differences, which seven years of democratic experiment have done little to moderate, are still strong. Hausa-Fulani politicians and ex-military powerbrokers claim the powerful presidency for themselves. Never mind they have held it the most under both civilian and military dispensations since Nigeria’s independence in 1960. The numerically minority groups in the coastal oil-rich South, who have never controlled the job, believe access to it will ameliorate their plight in Nigeria. The Igbo of the East believe that a shot at the numero uno position will be an indication that the tragic secessionist attempt by them from 1967 – 1970 has been fully consigned to the history books. Quite a stiff business. But the key question is: will the democracy, which we all cherish, highly flawed though it is, survive these bickering? As the 2007 elections approach are our institutions capable of assuring Nigerians of a clean break with a sordid past? I sincerely wish the Professor Maurice Iwu – led Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria well. If they can pull off reasonably free and fair elections in 2007 they deserve a medal. For quite a few forces are bent on seeing them fail if that will achieve their ambitions.

I am not one of those commentators who have consigned Olusegun Obasanjo to the garbage heap occupied by men like Idi Amin, Sani Abacha, even Robert Mugabe and ‘mild’ democratic – dictators like Museveni, Meles Zenawi and Paul Biya. Perhaps the man, for all his famed political craftiness – a vital tool for survival in Nigeria’s citadels of power -, came close to making the biggest mistake of his life by assuming that he had all the answers to Nigeria’s hydra headed challenges. But an objective assessment of the road travelled by his government since 1999 would show that he means well. Sadly, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. I do not think it is too late for him to seek for politically ambitious yet technocratic young Nigerians from his circles who share his vision. But in the interest of democracy and the country he claims to love so much he should allow the processes of democracy, even when they are not in his favour, to flourish. Thank God the ruling party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, ate the humble pie.

Finally, a big thank you to all who did all they could to keep Nigeria’s democratic hope alive. Maybe May 29 should not be Nigeria’s Democracy day; maybe June 12 – in remembrance of Nigeria’s best election, which tore down age-old walls – is the right date. But May 16 was a day in which we saw that our dream would be realized.
Viva, Nigeria.

An award winning writer, Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama
lives in Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria.

Posted by Administrator at 02:11 PM | Comments (0)

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 01:57 PM | Comments (0)

April 15, 2006

A Celebration of Life's Beauties

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- For once, dear readers, I decided to momentarily put behind me the troubles of our world. Actually, we can never forget them – they are always there till we get rid of them or they get rid of us – but there are certain beauties of life which we tend to overlook.

Well, maybe not exactly over overlook; more like understate. An occasional celebration of those who continue to wind the clock of my life is one of them, especially when I remember there are times I feel like completely shutting down the clock.

There is good old Mummy, Josephine Chinyere Onyeama. Back in April Mothers’ Sunday was celebrated in my country, Nigeria. To my shame I never got to travel home or even phone. That would have bathed Mum’s lovely face with smiles. My brother, the smart guy, who lives even further away from home got around to phoning. All the same, Mummy never held it against me. She, more than anyone else, knows and understands the powerful cords that bind our hearts together from one Mothers’ Sunday to another.

‘Mother is Gold’ is as old as Genesis, yet newer than the latest election results from USA in 2008. But for me, what is so special, so unique about this woman who God gave the assignment of nurturing a guy like me – not the easiest job on earth, I assure you – is her warm adjustment to the various facets of motherhood. Many mothers find it hard to accept that yesterday’s toddler is today’s teenager, let alone tomorrow’s adult. I used to be mad at such mums, but as I made my way through this crazy but beautiful world my attitude changed: it is not easy to let go. Especially in a society that is changing so fast, where identities, faiths and philosophies are as unpredictable as hemlines and hairstyles. The dangers are so many and we know mothers never stop worrying. But then everyone has to find his or her own feet, and the strains of love can be occasionally unbearable. Blessed is the mother who understands her role at each phase of the child’s life. At thirty, I know her door is always open but she does not compel me to come calling, even when motherly instincts threaten to get out of hand.

What does it mean to be deprived of a mother? I use the word ‘deprive’ with concern - I am not referring to mothers who shuffle off the mortal coil naturally, though that is painful enough, or get tired of the sweet burden of mothering and throw in the towel. If Chika Unigwe’s ‘The Secret’ is anything to go by, such mothers are rare commodities in Africa. I am referring to conflict-riddled societies, which pluck mothers from their children’s trees. From Darfur, Sudan to Iraq there are generations who have not enjoyed the presence of these earthly angels. Do these men and women (some who, amazingly, are mothers) know what they are doing to the children? The pulsating and universal bond evoked by motherhood brought all attention to a heart-rending standstill in the wake of the London terrorist bombings when a Nigerian mother, Mrs. Marie Fatayi-Williams, sought to know why her son fell to the killers’ bombs. She may never know, but for that brief few minutes in which the world focused on the agony of a mother, all of us (including terrorists, I hope) felt the power of motherhood.

Daddy, the sturdy, gracefully maturing – I refuse to use the word ageing – oak is one hell of a guy. Like most fathers, Martin Onyeama tends to take a backseat. All over the world fathers are less celebrated than mothers. But you will never know what a father means till you wake up one morning and don’t see him. I do not care how old you are; it takes something out of you, no matter how great or lousy your relationship was with the old man. It is even more poignant if, like me, you are a first son in an African setting. For me, the special thing about Daddy is that he gave me the freedom to be what I wanted to be. He rarely belaboured my backside as a child but I always felt more deeply hurt if he knew about my misdeeds.

Our relationship is notches better than that of Cain and Abel but my siblings, Charles, Julie and Amauche, are diamonds on some days and dross on others. At least, when we were much younger. Now the challenges of adulthood have turned us into great friends. Each sibling has a unique spice that flavours our fraternal stew: Charles’ humour and commonsense, Julie’s sharp but kind tongue, and Amauche’s boldness.
Friends are great, and just as there are eggs and eggs, there are friends and friends. Ikenna Odife is right out of the top drawer. We first met in 1998 when I was a third year undergraduate, he a fresh-faced lecturer. Coming from an academic terrain where even part-time lecturers were dreaded oracles you had to appease with sacrifices; Ikenna Odife was a breath of fresh air. Although he has moved up in the world since then he remains the same old guy who can dine with both the Jacobins and the Bourbons without losing his essence. There isn’t enough space to talk about how Odife kept my flags flying at a time I nearly handed in my surrender. What stands out in my mind about this man is that he is a walking poster for tolerance in a fractured society. An ardent adherent of the Grail Message, his doors and heart are open to all shades of men and his quest for the truth, irrespective of source, is unflagging. Non-conformist, but then we need a recipe to satisfactorily cook the soup of group living.

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March 27, 2006

Nigeria's Version of the Muslim anti-Cartoon Riots: Matters Arising

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- As I write this I recollect an interfaith seminar organized by Muslim youth corp members in Awka, Anambra State, in which I participated as a representative of the association of Catholic Corps members some five years ago. It was a frank exchange of ideas.

Although there was no consensus on some fundamental points there was no doubt that no one who participated in that session went home without some understanding of the ‘other people’s’ faith.

So what went wrong in February in Maiduguri, Bauchi, Katsina and Onitsha? Why did the global grievance of Muslims against the unsavoury depiction of Prophet Mohammed by European press become a bloodbath in Nigeria?

Many reasons have been cited for the mayhem. No one doubts that extremists took things out of hand. From every indication there was a lousy reaction by the security agencies in the affected states, especially Borno and other first flashpoints. We may wonder why the state governments involved did not take a proactive stance, given that the entire Muslim world was boiling over the cartoons and it was only a matter of time before the wave engulfed Northern Nigeria. Hopefully, the Federal Government will unearth the causes of the crisis and the roles of both state and non-state actors.
But my concern is much more fundamental: is Nigeria too small for Christians and Muslims to co-exist peacefully? Are the practitioners of these alien religions incapable of living together without affixing an arrow to a bow or pulling a machete at the slightest provocation? Does the fault lie in the religions or Nigerians’ interpretation of their tenets? In answering these posers let us not unduly emphasize the so-called clash of civilizations, which has dominated global consciousness since 9/11 and U.S.A.’s war on terrorism (which some interpret as a war on Islam). Blaming Nigeria’s religious woes on the crises in the Middle East is only partially correct. The demons that occupy the seats of our souls gained their entrance well before 9/11. Let the records speak: 1987 (Kaduna), 1991 (Bauchi), 1992 (Zangon-Kataf), 2000 Sharia Riots, etc. Underlying causes transcend religion in all these mayhem. But religion has become the shield for mischief, giving credence to Blaise Pascal’s observation that: ‘Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as they do it from religious conviction.’

Both religions are exclusivist by nature, and this makes them susceptible to extremism. For all the historical connections, there are dissimilarities, which every adherent imbibes by virtue of identification with the faith.

But does this mean there isn’t enough space for both faiths, indeed all faiths (including atheism) in Nigeria? I doubt it. Maybe the problem is the deep-seated prejudice and lack of understanding of each other’s point of view. Perhaps it suits the political and ethnic champions to continue keeping the masses under their thumb in the name of a God who is clearly unhappy on the slur we are casting on His name. Maybe it is because most Nigerians, having lost hope of a better life on earth, are so heaven-bound that they snap at efforts to denigrate or deny them heaven. Perhaps it is a lack of education – which is different from literacy (after all Osama bin Laden is a qualified engineer and Pat Robertson who called for the death of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is no illiterate American bum) – which will temper the excesses of an uncritical interpretation of religious tenets so common among Nigerians. Above all, political forces are at play.

A scary element, which has entered the religious conflicts gradually engulfing Nigeria, is what I describe as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). The Nigerian version of MAD looks like the real thing back in the Cold War days, when both U.S.A. and former Soviet Union targeted nuclear warheads at each other, thus deterring ‘total’ war. But in our case, we strike, and my fear is that these limited engagements may someday spiral out of control. So when Igbo Christians in Bauchi are slaughtered Hausa-Fulani Muslims in Onitsha are butchered in retaliation. This trend began with the 2000 Sharia riots in Kaduna. But then, matters are not so clear-cut. To the uninformed Hausa-Fulani everyone South of the River Niger is a Christian. But there are pockets of Islam, even among the overwhelmingly Christian Igbo and Niger Delta. Uninformed Igbo conclude that everywhere up north is Hausaland. A report in one of the newspapers told of how an Edo man came close to being killed in Onitsha because his features looked like those of a Hausa. Imagine a situation where Nigerians cook a pot of religious intolerance spiced by xenophobia. While nobody has a monopoly of violence, no one can really say how far it will take us.

While external developments should not be overstressed, we only ignore them at our own peril. Since 2001 intolerance has bestridden the world like a colossus. President George W. Bush wasted the global goodwill for the U.S.A., and by extension, the West, after 9/11 by invading Iraq. The antics of his Christian-dominated government in the Middle East fuelled the fire of those who want to establish an Islamic hegemony. This does not mean that people like Hamas leaders are saints fighting a just cause. The atrocities of the Taliban are condemnable by all standards. The strains of the post 9/11 world have activated monsters in Europe, compelling Muslims to rise up against anti-Muslim sentiments and practices. But Europe belongs to all its inhabitants, both Muslim and non-Muslim. At least in theory. The spillover, combined with her problems of poverty, ethnicity and misrule is what Africa (including Nigeria) is suffering.

I plead with Nigerian leaders to realize that this situation does not allow for power juggling exercises. If President Obasanjo and his team do not get to the heart of the violence threatening Nigeria 2007 may be a mirage. Finally, where is the meeting-point between press freedom and religious sensibilities?

Posted by Administrator at 02:58 AM | Comments (0)

Is a Drop of Oil Worth a Drop of Blood?- Part 1

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- The wave of kidnappings of foreign oil companies workers by Niger Delta guerillas in the past two months have once more focused the world’s attention on the oil-producing but impoverished region of Nigeria.

Spectres are rising, not unlike the ones that emerged following the violence that tore Warri, also located in the Niger Delta, apart nearly three years ago. If the Niger Delta implodes, what will happen to Nigeria?

A commissioned research work on the Warri crises in 2004 compelled me to delve into the love-hate marriage between oil and politics in the area. I came to realize that as James Agee wrote in Time Magazine, quoting the psalmist ‘no man may deliver his brother, nor make agreement unto God for him.’

Whatever is stated here are deductions based on my interpretation of facts. I hope they will go some way in contributing to the search for peace in the Niger Delta.


What exactly is the Niger Delta? Maybe it is because many of those who struggle for the region’s oil have given the world the generally accepted depiction of the Delta. Or maybe it could be because the ruling elite of Nigeria has, through their power juggling exercises, thrust an unrealistic image of the Niger Delta on our consciousness.

Defining the Niger Delta is not easy. According to a 1999 report by Human Rights Watch on the area aptly titled The Price of Oil the Niger Delta, from a geographical perspective, is ‘one of the world’s largest wetlands, and the largest in Africa: it encompasses 20,000 square kilometres. It is a vast floodplain built up by the accumulation of centuries of silt washed down the Niger and Benue rivers, composed of four ecological zones – coastal barrier islands, mangroves, fresh water swamp forests, and lowland rainforests – whose boundaries vary according to the patterns of seasonal flooding. The mangrove forest of Nigeria is the third largest in the world and the largest in Africa; over 60 percent of this mangrove, or 6,000 square kilometres, is found in the Niger Delta. The freshwater swamp forests of the delta reach 11,700 square kilometres and are the most extensive in West and Central Africa.’

But to where does this vast crisscross of rivers and creeks extend within Nigeria? How do the peoples who dwell there define themselves?

In his presentation at a seminar organized by the Shell Petroleum Development Company, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, stated that it was scholars of the Niger Delta phenomenon who, in a bid to bring some order to their subject, classified the Niger Delta into wetlands and highlands. Communities in the area, in the pre-colonial era, defined themselves according to their peculiar cultural realities.

The Niger Delta was an administrative creation of the British who imposed their regime on the numerous self-governing entities there. Just as in the 20th century, the area, in the 19th century, was an oil-spinner. In this case it was palm oil and, just as the contemporary world’s heartbeat is petroleum, palm oil was the soul of the world then. Thus, it was known as Oil Rivers. Quite a few scholars of the submerging of the Niger Delta into global petrocapitalism believe that it began with the appointment of John Beecroft in 1849 as the first British Consul of the Bights Benin and Biafra (which is approximate to the Niger Delta/South-Eastern Nigeria).

So do we define the Niger Delta by the presence of oil? Oil cannot be divorced from the Niger Delta. But the woes of this region predate the discovery of petroleum, though it is central to the conflict claiming heads presently. Dr. Kimse Okoko, the President of the Ijaw National Council, one of the pan-Ijaw organizations of the Niger Delta, asked rhetorically, “now that oil has been found in Bauchi, does it make Bauchi a member of the Niger Delta?” Bauchi is in the northern part of Nigeria, straddling the savannah and the sahel area.

Various ethnic units who speak different languages dwell in the region. Quite a few of them have sub-units and it is not unusual to notice affinities between some of these units and others which some people regard as being outside the Niger Delta, including Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups – the Igbo, the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani. An example is the Itsekiri whose language is related to that of the Yoruba. The Ijaw, the biggest of the Niger Delta ethnic groups, has various linguistic and geographical divisions on both the eastern and western sides of the Niger Delta. Indeed, Okoko has identified fifty-two different communities with different names as belonging to the Ijaw. A number of other groups like the Ikwerre speak languages related to Igbo. Historical records indicate that inter group relations between some of these nations, prior to British colonialism and the birth of Nigeria in 1914, were sometimes hostile.

In the contemporary world, particularly in the Nigerian milieu, the existence of petroleum has become the yardstick for determining which community is in the Niger Delta. Based on this reality, quite a few places geographically outside the Niger Delta is classified as the Niger Delta. Those who define the Niger Delta from an economic perspective may not accept Akinyemi’s classification of Niger Delta as Southern Nigeria minus Yoruba and Igbo. Currently, the following states of Nigeria – going by the composition of membership of the Niger Delta Development Commission – belong to the Niger Delta: Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Imo, Abia and Ondo. Imo and Abia are predominantly Igbo while Ondo is mostly Yoruba. And Edo’s significance as a member of the Niger Delta lies more in its proximity to the oil-rich Delta State than the quantity of oil deposits it has. The violence rocking the Niger Delta is mostly concentrated in Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers and parts of Ondo (the major petroleum states), and one suspects that this is partially because they are the heartbeat of the Niger Delta.

Posted by Administrator at 12:39 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2006

Pax-Americana and the African Worldview

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- You may not like MacDonald’s or Coca-Cola. You may believe that Hollywood spreads illusions, gun-toting and sexual promiscuity faster than Asian chicken spreads bird flu.

Quite a few people may see President George Bush as a leader who shoots first and apologizes latter, and he and his people are busy spreading ideas that have little to do with the way of life of other folks elsewhere. What do those elegant words penned by Thomas Jefferson in the American Declaration of Independence mean to a Hausa-Fulani weaned on a diet of Islamic aristocracy?

But we have to hand it to the Americans. Like or loathe them the American worldview rules the world. Maybe the raging wind of political Islam, as represented by Osama bin-Laden and Al-Quaeda, may yet succeed in dimming Uncle Sam’s sun, but I do not see that happening, at least for a while. However, while the clash of civilizations takes place on the global stage, the American empire remains supreme. It has been so ever since late Ronald Reagan and George Bush Snr. oversaw the death of Soviet Communism.

My concern here is what Pax-Americana has done to the African worldview. American popular culture rules the hearts and minds of Africans. Young and old, urban-dweller and parish pump champion, lettered or unlettered; for most Africans, the world is now seen through the American, nay, Western lens. This stance could be conscious or unconscious. In an era of globalization, where the click of a button has transformed the world from a global village to a global compound, Pax-Americana is the head of the household.

The subtle seizure of our minds by American civilization did not really begin with the Yankees. The Yankees were never really at the forefront of the socio-economic, political and cultural conquest of Africa. At least overtly. That was the business of the Europeans. With the three ultra powerful weapons of commerce, Christianity and colonialism they did a perfect job of, to paraphrase the great Chinua Achebe, putting ‘ a knife on the things that held us together and we fell apart’. It only got worse as the centuries swept by. Compelled by a combination of external factors and internal contradictions the Europeans withdrew from Africa. The void was filled by the Americans who, fresh from their glorious victory in World War II, were seeking for a place in the sun. Of course they had to contend with Communism but they had a cultural headstart in Africa. The reason was simple: Africa had lost her soul. We did not know who we were.

More than three centuries of forced and unplanned intercourse with a world we could not figure out had left us disfigured. Worsening matters is the kind of leadership we have been cursed with since independence.

I do not hate Uncle Sam, nay the West, for taking over our hearts and minds. Every empire must stamp its civilization on the human soil if it must survive. The ancient Romans did it, and for years Pax-Romana swept the ends of the earth, from the Mediterranean to the River Nile. Besides, despite the justified accusations of neocolonialism, exploitation, racism, and the superimposition of an alien way of life thus fostering societal disequilibrium, the Americans (and to a great extent, their British brethren), are doing a lot of good in Africa. The aid they give is inadequate and a political tool but it saves many lives. Maybe, Uncle Sam should not tell Ethiopia’s Menezenawi how to run his country’s democratic charade, but undoubtedly her stance will compel the Ethiopian strongman to think again before sending his forces into the streets with orders to grind the opposition into stockfish powder.

Maybe the best African brains look towards the U.S. for succour but without the wide embrace of the Statue of Liberty (who, it must be admitted, wants much more than it gives), how many people would be walking the streets of African cities, burning with the fire of unfulfilled aspirations? Maybe 50 cents and Snoop Dog spew rot in the name of rap and Toni Braxton and Janet Jackson strut sex as music but without them who would have influenced the rising, and often impoverished, generation of African musicians to fuse what our ancestors had with what the new world offers to create a uniquely African sound? Maybe Billy Graham and Oral Roberts are slick practitioners who somersault the Bible to back up a uniquely American brand of the gospel, but only the Lord knows how many folks here heard them and realized that that their words contained the rainbows they had been searching for all their lives.

The Americans are not saints. In fact, they are occasionally plain gold-plated devils. While it is true they are promoting and protecting their interests, including monetary ones – Microsoft is richer than Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt combined – Africa is yet to realize the challenge in front of her. We have not yet gotten back our identity which folks like Cecil Rhodes, Fredrick Lugard and Bishop Shanahan captured. We may have produced Achebe and Ngugi Wa Thiongo, even hosted FESTAC in 1977, but the matter is far more complex. Cultural idealism is only going to go so far. Africa’s political and economic capital is zero on the world map, and till we begin to build it up we will remain in the wilderness. The so-called traditional values will remain a cover for oppression, xenophobia and maltreatment of women. Till we start working for the capital Africa so badly needs, let Pax-Americana reign. Period.

Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama is a teacher and writer.

Posted by Administrator at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2005

Chukwuma Nzeogwu: The Saint or Devil of January 15, 1966?

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- I must begin this article by stating that any attempt to discuss the place of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu in Nigeria’s politics is a difficult one. Many factors are responsible for this. First, the coup of January 15, 1966 continues to reverberate among segments of Nigeria’s ruling elite till date, and is subject to various interpretations.

Then, subsequent developments, namely the spate of successive coups and the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970 are rightly or wrongly traced to that first coup. Finally, in this era of globalized liberalism when Western-style democracy is the accepted political dogma, Nzeogwu and his co-plotters may be seen as anachronisms that set back the clock of Nigeria’s democratic development. But is this a true representation of the facts?

Many works have been written in a bid to explain the motives and nature of Nigeria’s first coup. Each account usually ends up as a ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ January 15 work. A large number of them were written by principal actors, either as active plotters or ‘opposition’ e.g. ‘Why We Struck’ by Adewale Ademoyega, ‘Nigeria’s Five Majors’ by Ben Gbulie, ‘The Nigerian Revolution’ by Alexander Madiebo and ‘Let Truth be Told’ by D.J.M Muffet. They provide an insight into why the military class ate the forbidden fruit of power for the first time in Nigeria.

But no account, no matter how accurate, can totally decipher the workings of a man’s mind. Thus it is necessary to ask, why did Nzeogwu, who for all his radicalism, was widely acclaimed as an epitome of soldiering (this was an era when Nigerian army officers were trained in the best British military traditions at Sandhurst), spearhead a bloody coup? The political and military situation in Nigeria between 1960 and 1966 need not detain us here, but it was not Nzeogwu and company’s brief to set things right. But anyone who has read ‘Nzeogwu’, the slim biography of the coup leader by his bosom friend and fellow soldier, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the story of his life as penned by Peter Nzeogwu, his younger brother, would agree that the coup leader saw himself as a Nigerian Kemal Attaturk. Sadly, revolutions, despite their initial diet of idealism, thrive on hardheaded pragmatism and an understanding of reality. Perhaps Nzeogwu did not know this.

Till date Nzeogwu remains a demon to some Nigerians: an unrepentant Igbo apologist who sought to foist his tribe’s domination of national politics. To this group he remains a leading light of the secession of Eastern Nigeria in 1967, and his death on the battlefield on the Biafran side seems to justify this stance. Yet, ambivalence towards the man remains even in the hearts of his most ardent haters because historical facts stare them in the face.

Let the tapes play: it is true that many of Nzeogwu’s co-plotters were Igbo. But what of key insiders from other tribes? Major Adewale Ademoyega is Yoruba. Many other tribes contributed men and material to the coup, and Nigerians know them. Secondly, the coup’s sole overwhelming success was in Kaduna, capital of the North where Nzeogwu personally held sway. By all accounts he had enormous support. But it was by no means total: the overthrown ruling elite would not take things lying low. The British neocolonialists would not stand by and watch power snatched from their protégés. Then, Igbo officers, more than any other ethnic group, played an active role in dismantling the half-baked ‘revolution.’ Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, then a lieutenant colonel and commander of the Fifth Battalion, Kano and General Aguiyi-Ironsi, were the linchpins of the anti-Nzeogwu plot. While one may regard the pattern of the coup’s casualties as one-sided, it should be noted that particular ethnic units dominated the national hierarchy at that time, and no coup plotter is going to be too scrupulous in neutralizing his targets if they hinder his objective. It would be ahistorical to call Nzeogwu an Igbo jingoist. Perhaps if Ironsi had detained him outside the East, he would not have been in Biafra when she seceded. One only has to read the books mentioned in this article and consult website articles about the putschist to realize that Nzeogwu was greatly appreciated both within and outside the East; that Ojukwu unwillingly released him; that the Nigerian government was reluctant to accept him back despite his professions of faith in a national army, and that he openly opposed secession. Ojukwu refused to give him a command in the Biafran army and only bowed to pressure to bring Nzeogwu into the Nsukka sector. The coup leader’s burial by his ‘enemies’ in Kaduna spoke volumes about his stance on Nigeria.

These facts will not end the controversy about Nzeogwu. Indeed, more controversies continue to dog his heels. One is the possibility that he was a mere ‘leader’ of the coup but co-conspirator Emmanuel Ifeajuna actually engineered the plot. Another is the circumstance of his death.

But Nzeogwu and his colleagues, while resorting to force to unseat a civilian but increasingly unpopular government with doubtful legitimacy (remember the General Election of 1964 and the Western Region election of 1965), are not in the same boat as the rapacious juntas that have violated Nigeria since the civil war. Admitted, the coupists of January 15, even if unintentionally, gave them the impetus to see that power was accessible via a gun barrel. But one only has to compare their visionlessness, their greed, their bloodcurdling intrigue and ethnicity with the idealism, though misguided, of the original plotters. Nigerians can always argue that their democracy might have matured if Nzeogwu had not seen himself as a messiah, but then that development should be a sober lesson for the guardians of the country’s democracy, which was wrested from the military in 1999. They should not create an enabling environment for the breeding of radicals. I hope the president still takes out time to read his friend’s biography.

Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama’s address:
Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria.

Posted by Administrator at 11:30 AM | Comments (0)

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