I was half-way examining the unfortunate events in Syria when a friend called to encourage me to write an update of an essay I wrote for an online medium in the summer of 2004 entitled, “The Nigerian presidency and the Igbo nation.” I reminded him that in a roundabout way, I had revisited the topic last year in “The Igbo and Nigeria’s political arrangement” (The PUNCH, April 18, 2012).
But the more I thought about the topic, the more I became convinced that, at least for now, I have said all there is to say about Igbo Presidency. Then, I had an epiphany: Considering the forceful cyber-debate between Nigerians of Igbo extraction — and considering also the heated debates that sometimes take place between them and other groups — perhaps it makes sense to ask, “What do the Igbo want?” The question may be uncalled for; condescending, even. If that’s the case, then, I apologize. After all, nobody ever asks the Hausa-Fulani and the Yoruba what they want.
Nonetheless, it is a question that needed to be asked especially when one considers the plurality of debates about the “future of Ndigbo.” But before I expand on this question, I thought I should make a few sentences about the events in Syria.
First, we know that governments and individuals in and outside of the Middle East have, for several decades, been looking for ways to roam freely from Beirut to Tehran (by way of Damascus and Baghdad). They are not likely to leave Syria alone until they accomplish their mission. Second, insofar as the recent accusation of gassing is concerned, no one should rush to judgment. We urge the USA, NATO and the United Nations not to rush to judgment. Careful investigation by impartial professionals may, in the end, show that President Bashar al-Assad did not gas his own people.
Furthermore, President Barack Obama should be careful. He should, as we say in Nigeria, “shine your eyes.” There are Heads of Government in and outside of the Middle East who have, for several decades, been looking for ways to “catch and crack” Damascus. These same entities are today looking to use President Obama’s “hand to catch the serpent…use his head to crack the coconut.” Our hope is that Obama will NOT fall for their despicable tricks and do a repeat of Tripoli. President Bashar al-Assad may not be a saint; but he is not evil.
Show me any Head of Government anywhere in the world that is a saint. And in fact if al-Assad was weak and subservient, he won’t be in the artificial mess he’s in right now. Imperialists and expansionists have a way of making you hate those with “lesser sins” – much the same way they made many to hate and or become suspicious of Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, Hugo Chavez, Mahmud Ahmadinejad and a few others.
Back to where I was: To hear some Igbo tell it, “Nigeria has not been fair to us and we can only feel secure and wanted in Biafra.” For this group of Nigerians, therefore, Biafra will never die. It is the homeland they nostalgically and lovingly yearn for. It is their “Jerusalem…their Palestine.” Not for them, the “fraud and the artificiality of Nigeria.” No! It is Biafra or nothing! And so, year after year since 1970 or so, they’ve dreamt about and toiled for a Biafra.
One of the contending and contentious conversations many pre-independence African leaders had was whether or not to single-mindedly pursue economic or political freedom. They pursued political independence. I cannot think of any country that simultaneously pursued both, or who gave preference to economic independence. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps, they should have prioritized economic freedom. And perhaps it is for this reason that many of my Igbo friends believe that “we the Igbo should leave politics alone and gain control of Nigeria’s economic space…economic superiority will lead to political freedom.”
It seems to me that the history of the Four Asian Tigers (Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea), along with the Tiger Cub Economies (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines), vindicates the preceding thinking: Economic prosperity hastens political development. So, should the Igbo abandon and or pay less attention to the political arena in favour of economic dominance and control? Or, perhaps the presidency means more to them?
Nnamdi Azikiwe, a Nigerian of Igbo descent, was the ceremonial President of the Republic from 1963 until 1966. He was succeeded by Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (January 16 1966 – July 19 1966). No one considers Aguiyi-Ironsi a proper head of government; nonetheless, it’s been 47 years since an Igbo ruled the country. The closest an Igbo has got to the presidency is Dr. Alex Ekwueme — who served as Nigeria’s first Vice-President from 1979 until 1983. And of course, there was Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe. When you think of this, and when the Igbo think of it, the question becomes, “Why not a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction…don’t they deserve it?” They do! And rightfully so!
No one knows the scientifically acceptable percentage of Igbo who want a President who hails from Igboland. And for that matter, no one knows how many want a Republic of Biafra; or how many who aspire to the economic domination of the country. We simply don’t know. What we know, and what seems clear, is that the Igbo – as with all other federating groups, want justice and equity. They want to be able to function and thrive in a country where all human and civil rights are respected. They want a just and justice-driven country!
As Paschal Ukpabi, an attorney practicing out of Southfield, Michigan, said: “We want a free and democratic Nigeria that practices true federalism,” otherwise those clamoring for Biafra may get their wish. Emeka Maduewesi, an Intellectual Property and Technology Attorney living in San Francisco, concurred: “Justice, equity and a strong and thriving democratic environment will go a long way, and will also strengthen the country.”
What do the Igbo want? Well, no one should have to tell the Igbo what they want or shouldn’t want. However, as my good friend, journalist and speaker, Kaanayo Nwachukwu, considered by many as Nigeria’s foremost social media activist and strategist, asked: “What strategy do the Igbo have to actualise their aspirations. It is not enough to want or to aspire to small or grand designs; there must be short and long-term strategies behind any move they make.”
Well then: What strategy do the Igbo have to actualise their aspirations — whatever those aspirations might be?
Written by BY SABELLA ABIDDE for punch newspapers