The Guardian (Nigeria)
Igbonine ( All Igbo): What do we want?
THE Igbo of Southeast Nigeria are arguably the most cosmopolitan, demographically mobile, and sociologically adaptive of all of Nigeria’s ethnic groups. We take pride in our spirit of hard work, ingenuity, and resilience in the face of challenges. We are to be found in every nook and corner of Nigeria, turn such locations into our permanent homes, and become indispensable members of these local communities. Because we often are not restricted in our minds and in our experience to the confines of our original tribe and tongue, Ndigbo are in reality more “Nigerian” than anyone else.
It is therefore a paradox that today, Ndigbo are at a crossroads, wondering what they want out of Nigeria’s fragile and troubled nationhood project. The Southeast zone has witnessed increased violence and a crisis of governance in recent months, partly as a result of secessionist agitations by a number of groups, partly as a result of political rivalry between powerful politicians from the region, and partly as a result of extrajudicial killings by Nigerian security forces of youth in the region suspected of involvement in these agitations. Given that the identities of many persons thus far arrested in the region for violence have been from outside the Southeast, there also exists a suspicion that at least part of the violence in the region has been fomented by forces from outside in order to discredit Ndigbo politically ahead of the 2023 elections.
We are divided internally over what our response should be to the many failures of the Nigerian project, including indisputable political marginalization of Igbos despite being one of Nigeria’s majority population ethnic groups with over 30 million people, despite our economic success, and despite our educational attainments as reflected in the commanding performance of students from the Southeast states in national secondary school entrance examinations.
Should we continue to focus on entrepreneurship and “mind our business” to the exclusion of national politics? Should we look eastward and homeward, with a laser- like regional focus and pull back a bit from our focus on Nigeria? Should we support a constitutional restructuring back to true federalism and forget about the clamour for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction, or should we simply turn our backs on Nigeria and pursue a dream ( or mirage?) of secession and the reestablishment of a territorial Biafran Republic?
The Civil War and its consequences
The Eastern Region, in which today’s South East geopolitical zone formed the region’s majority ethnic group, did very well under Nigeria’s federal system of government from 1954 to 1966. By 1963 its economy was one of the fastest growing in the world. The region and its politicians played a frontline leadership role in Nigeria’s quest for independence and was an important political player in post- independence Nigeria. But the Igbo in contemporary Nigeria have been fundamentally and adversely affected by the Nigerian civil war of 1967- 1970 during which, for understandable sentimental and existential reasons, they attempted to secede from Nigeria.
Biafra was the fourth secession movement in Nigeria. The first clamour for secession came from the Northern Region when politicians from the region threatened to secede if the British colonial administration granted Nigeria independence before the North was ready. This provoked Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s famous speech at Yaba, Lagos in 1953 where he argued strenuously against secession and civil war in Nigeria as a consequence. The second was the secessionist attempt by Isaac Adaka Boro, who declared the Niger Delta Republic in early 1966 in defiance of the exploitation of the oil resources of the Niger Delta.
The third was the secessionist clamour for “Araba” ( separation) in the Northern region after the first military coup of 1966 in which key political leaders from that region were killed violently and the short- lived military government of Gen. Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi introduced the Unification Decree ( Decree 34) of May 24, 1966. That law was believed to have been intended to make Nigeria into a unitary state at the expense of federalism. But the Biafran secession attempt did lead to a tragic civil war in which more than two million died.
While the Igbo recovered from the economic devastation of the war within a few years after it ended in 1970, we clearly are yet to recover politically. The war destabilized Ndigbo politically in three important ways: First, despite the “no victor, no vanquished” official posture of the military regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, there appeared to be an unwritten assumption that a Nigerian of Igbo origin could not become a Head of Government within the foreseeable future after the war. Despite the remarkable situation in which, just nine years after the war, Dr. Alex Ekwueme became the Vice- President of Nigeria in 1979 as the deputy to President Shehu Shagari, a military coup in 1984 led by Maj. General Muhammadu Buhari truncated the possibility of testing the true depth of national reconciliation if Ekwueme had become a presidential candidate in 1987 after two four- year terms of the Shagari administration.
Second, the psychological impact of the defeat in war led to a loss of Igbo political self- confidence. The Igbo political elite developed a psychology of political subservience to hegemonic powers outside of the Southeast in a country in which power was concentrated at the center instead of in the regions as was the case before the civil war.
Third, and perhaps most important, the civil war resulted in a breakdown of societal norms and values in Igboland. A get- richquick culture, hitherto unknown in the ethos of the Igbo nation, developed. The extreme monetisation of politics in the region, resulting in poor leadership selection and weak governance, is an important outcome of the civil war in a region that produced the likes of the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s postindependence ceremonial President, Dr. Francis Akanu Ibiam, and Dr. Michael Okpara.
What Do We Want?
Igb“While the o recovered from the economic devastation of the war within a few years after it ended in 1970, we clearly are yet to recover politically. The war destabilized Ndigbo politically in three important ways: First, despite the “no victor, no vanquished” official posture of the military regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, there appeared to be an unwritten assumption that a Nigerian of Igbo origin could not become a Head of Government within the foreseeable future after the war.
Ndigbo today are confronted with the following very clear choices:
Option 1: The Status Quo. Nigeria today is mostly a unitary state in reality although federal in name. It is a failing state. It is failing because it is weak, from the standpoint of the absence of state capacity to secure the country’s territorial integrity against terrorists, extract taxes for effective fiscal governance as opposed to the reality that we now live on external borrowing, and to dispense administrative services to its citizens efficiently and effectively despite a bloated public sector. The status quo is of no value to Nigeria and is stunting our country’s development, although a small, parasitic political and business elite profits from the current state of things. As we all know, however, it is unsustainable..
Option 2: Constitutional restructuring to return to real federalism with significant autonomy for regional or state governments. This is the most widely supported option in the minds of most Nigerians — including the Igbo of the Southeast — today. Even the core Northern region, which was reticent about restructuring, is coming around to its inevitability as the way out of Nigeria’s quagmire.
Unfortunately, President Muhammadu Buhari’s publicly stated opposition to the constitutional restructuring of Nigeria makes it unlikely that this will happen during his tenure of office, and so in reality this will have to be dealt with and sorted out by the next administration. But that is only if in 2023 we elect a president who has the will and, importantly, the capacity, to lead in this direction. There is no question in my mind, however, that Nigeria’s future in the absence of the imperative of restructuring is a bleak one, and the country, in fact, is unlikely to survive for long as one entity in that scenario.
• Address by Professor Moghalu, Former Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Presidential Candidate, 2019 & Convener, Moghalu4nigeria ( M4N) Movement at the Inauguration of Igbonine Sociocultural Organization.