Saturday, June 10, 2017

Nigeria: You Can't Kill The Igbo Spirit

By Dan Amor
Multiculturalism has been the subject of cover stories of most international magazines including Time and Newsweek, as well as numerous articles in newspapers and magazines across the world. It has sparked heated jeremiads by leading American columnists such as George Will, Dinesh D'Sousa, and Roger Kimball. It moved William F. Buckley to rail against Stanley Fish and Catherine Stimpson on "Firing Line." It is arguably the most hotly debated topic in the civilised world today- and justly so.

For whether one speaks of tensions between Hasidim and African-Americans in Crown Heights, or violent mass protests against Moscow in ethnic republics such as Armenia, or outright war between Serbs and Croats in Yugoslavia, it is clear that the clash of cultures is a worldwide problem, deeply felt, passionately expressed, always on the verge of violent explosion. Problems of this magnitude inevitably frame the discussion of multiculturalism and cultural diversity even among leading intellectuals across the world. Yet, it is unfortunate that, in Nigeria, the vexed issues of racism, nationalism and cultural identity are downplayed by our commentators and analysts because some think that they and their tribes are not directly affected.
Few commentators could have predicted that one of the issues that dominated academic and popular discourse in the final decade of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century- concomitant with the fall of apartheid in South Africa, communism in Russia, and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union- would be the matter of cultural pluralism in our secondary school and university curricula and its relation to the "Nigerian" national identity. Repeated experience and routine violations of the rights of minorities and the Igbo nation in Nigeria attest to the urgency of the scattered, and often confused, debates over what is variously known as cultural diversity, cultural pluralism, or multiculturalism. 

The greatest threat to the string that binds us together as a nation of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds and its social intercourse is not nationalistic cultural passions but our collective failure to discuss our differences and the arrogant manifestation of messianic impudence by our rulers who think that they possess the sole authority to dictate what should be talked about and what not to discuss in our country. Increasing incidents of violence are associated with ethnic differences in very many places in the world: Koreans and African-Americans in Flatbush, Brooklyn; Zulus and Xhosas in South Africa; Poles and Gypsies in Poland; the Tutsis and Hutu in Rwanda; the Hausa/Fulani and Igbo in Nigeria; and, of course, the fate of the Jews in Ethiopia and in the old Soviet Union.
The resurgence of agitation for self determination by a section of Igbo youth and the abrasive reaction to it by the powers that be led by President Muhammadu Buhari and its security forces is a pointer to the fact that the matter of multiculturalism has become politically fraught. It shows that actual cultural differences between social and ethnic groups are deliberately being brought to bear to justify the subordination of one group by another. Until these differences are understood in an era of emergent nationalism, the challenge of mutual understanding among our country's multifarious cultures will be the single greatest task that we face, after our failure to feed ourselves. Anyone who thinks that the Igbo question is a post-Civil War phenomenon is a mean-throated double-faced liar. In Nigeria, a cockpit of ethnic animosity is consuming the different ethnic groups that make up the country. Like an incurable addiction, hatred is consuming virtually all the ethnic groups in the country. Every throat slit, every head sundered, makes someone else thirst for blood. The barbarity that has enveloped the country is gradually becoming overwhelming. Nigeria is gradually becoming the story of a perdition where everybody is losing and nobody is gaining.
Peace in Nigeria is trembling a multiple of balance while the Igbo remain the permanent victims. The Igbo ethnic group has perpetually suffered what many conceive as a multidimensional ethnic cleansing via marginalization, persecution and victimization. Some South Eastern States of Abia, Anambra and Imo, are oil producing states. A large expanse of oil producing communities in Rivers and Delta States are occupied by Igbo-speaking people. After the war, you had no plans for the rehabilitation of Eastern Nigeria which was the theatre of the war but rather you used the oil wealth to turn Lagos and Abuja to model capital cities comparable to some of the best capital cities in the world. You used the oil wealth to turn sleepy northern villages such as Jigawa, Lafia, Gombe, Dutse, Bauchi, Yola, Minna, Katsina, etcetera, into sprawling state capitals. You set aside $6 billion to rebuild the North East destroyed by Boko Haram which was sponsored by people from the North that government knows too well. You set up a North East Development Commission but you opposed vehemently a bill seeking the establishment of a South East Development Commission. You forgot so easily that immediately after the Second World War, Europeans set up the Marshall Plan that superintended the rebuilding of Eastern Europe which was destroyed during the war. You promote deliberate wickedness and hatred for the Igbo and yet you kill them if they agitate for autonomy. You beat a child and stop him from crying. And you tell the world that you are running country called Nigeria. What a fraud!
A popular story has it that if you go to any community, however remote in Nigeria and you do not find an Igbo, you better shake off the dust from your feet and run for your dear life. Death may be lurking around the corner. This story captures the itinerant life of the Igbo, their enterprise, penchant for adventure, as well as, of course, the hospitality of their hosts. Like explorers of old, the search for greener pastures knows no bounds. Strangers help to develop a town, and this is precisely what the Igbo have been doing here, there and everywhere in Nigeria over the years. Unfortunately, however, the Igbo have been victims of almost every ugly circumstance. Like the Jews, Igbo remain the subjects of hate in many parts of the country. Like the Jews, they are adventurous, mercantilist, aggressive and are found all over Nigeria and even beyond. Also, like the Jews, the Igbo have been visited with persecution and virtual extermination. The Igbo are either primary targets of attack once a communal or religious strife erupts or they are caught in the crossfire of feuding groups. There are, indeed, countless instances of persecution of the Igbo in Nigeria to warrant critical consideration. What is considered the first ethnic conflict in Nigeria happened in 1932 in Jos which smouldered into a two day attack on the Igbo. Initially the Berom natives thought that the Igbo who had attracted to the town by the mining activities there as traders and petty miners were taking over their land from them. Now they know who their real enemies are with the adroitness of the Hausa/Fulani in the area.
In 1960, the year Nigeria gained independence from the whiteman, riots in the North led to a pogrom against the Igbo. Thousands of lives were lost which resulted to mass exodus of Igbo back to the eastern part of the country. Their brothers who are now called South-South, were not spared as they are all called Igbo in the North. In 1966, shortly after the Nzeogu coup, war was declared on the Igbo and their South-South brothers before even the actual declaration of war between 1967 and 1970. At the end of the civil war, the Igbo put such terrifying memories behind them and returned to the North to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. With hard work and perseverance, they revived their business dreams and have continued to shore up successes. This pattern of killings, displacements, flight to ancestral homes and back to land remains to this day. Even since the end of the civil war, riots in Kano, Kaduna, Kafanchan, Jos, Bauchi, Yola and even occasionally on Lagos Island, have wreaked varying degrees of havoc on the Igbo. Thousands of lives have been lost, and goods and properties worth millions of Naira either looted or torched. For instance, in the aftermath of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, miscreants known as "Area Boys" chose to express their disapprobation against the military government by attacking Igbo traders at Idumota in Lagos.
Consequent upon the thick cloud of dissension in the country, coupled with the contempt held by the contending forces, the Igbo took flight to their ancestral homes and awaited tempers to cool. When normalcy was restored, they returned to their trading posts and it was business as usual. Even under the watch of this civilian dispensation, the Igbo are still subjects of attack in Kano, Jos, Kaduna, Bauchi, Kafanchan and Maiduguri. The current Boko Haram insurgency in the North in which Igbo are targeted in churches, markets and other places for virulent attacks, has however raised the recurring vexed question: why are the Igbo the ready targets of attacks whenever there is any breakdown of law and order in any part of the country? If you are keen on a research work on why people condemn the Igbo the way they do, you would be stunned by your findings and how spurious the reasons are. While a set of people posits that the Igbo are too aggressive and adventurous, others will say that they are proud and domineering. Yet, another set argues that they are too materialistic and individualistic. The friends of the Igbo who are as diverse as their detractors, admire them for their guts, and tenacity, in spite of all odds.
Yet the Igbo is the quintessential entrepreneur . Uninhibited by a system that places premium on unnecessary deference to potentates and possessing a system that stresses the achievements of the individual, he comes across as perhaps the only Nigerian ethnic group bestowed with a natural capitalist ethos. Give an Igbo a forest and he will in no time turn it to an estate. But the almost giddy success of the Igbo appears to be his own Achilles' heel and undoing. Why are the Igbo victims of orchestrated pogroms even in the country they have come to accept as theirs? The recent mass murder of defenseless Igbo youth who call themselves Indigenous People of Biafra in Aba, Abia State by the Nigerian security forces, is one provocation too many. Perhaps, it should seem anomalous that I, a young man from a minority ethnic group in the South South region of the country could be so burdened by this unceasing national tragedy. In fact, I have lived all my childhood and adult life amongst the Igbo and I have seen nothing strange in them that should scare anybody. What is called "Igbophobia" is the complex some lazy Nigerians manifest when they see the enterprising Igbo enjoying their wealth. It is this complex which degenerates into hatred for the Igbo. Our society simply cannot survive without the values of tolerance, and cultural tolerance comes to nothing without cultural understanding. You can kill the South East Development Commission Bill; you can order the Igbo out of the North within three months or burn down their assets scattered all over the North. But you cannot kill the Igbo spirit. It's not possible!

*Dan Amor, a public affairs analyst, resides in Abuja

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