Let me begin by saying that there is nothing the Igbo wish for themselves that they do not wish for other Nigerians. There is nothing we want that we don’t want for our fellow citizens.
Today, Nigeria is faced with a basket of problems among which is the Igbo question. The Igbo agitations are varied: Quest for separatist Biafra, restructuring, respect and inclusiveness.
The agitations are not without basis. No self-respecting person will be happy to be member of a nation where he or she is discriminated against on the account of his nationality, language, religion, political or other opinion, colour, gender or social origin.
Section 42 of the Nigeria Constitution generally guarantees all citizens of Nigeria freedom from discrimination. These are rights also recognised as inherent rights by regional instruments like the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights.
In theory, every citizen of Nigeria enjoys this basic freedom, but not so in application. We practically exist as two set of countries wherein a section of the country are favoured and treated with sense of entitlement and the other mistreated as second class citizens.
Nigeria was founded on a tripod of which the Igbo are one of the major tripods without which Nigeria will not stand firm. The Igbo mainly inhabit the old Eastern Region even though you can find some Igbo speaking tribes in states around the middle belt region of Nigeria and parts Niger Delta.
Before, the Nigeria – Biafra war, the Igbo were respected for their hard work, enterprise and industry. They excelled in academics and technology. After the civil war, a glass ceiling was systematically placed above the Igbo especially in federal institutions, thus making many to endure blatant discriminations in their various careers.
Many Igbo businessmen complain of unfair competitions, too much regulation and predatory taxes that target their businesses. Young Igbo students are denied admissions into federal institutions because the system set a different standard to measure them. They are denied scholarship and recognition even where they merited same.
In the creation of states, the Igbo have the least states and least local governments. Since, government resources are allocated by number of states, the Igbo are disadvantaged. They also get the least of infrastructures despite being major contributors to the national GDP. To ensure the Igbo have no access to the sea and that their mineral wealth was taken away, Igbo towns and villages were ceded to other states through unfair boundary adjustments. Just recently 17 oil wells that ought to belong to Imo State were ceded to Rivers State by a controversial Supreme Court judgement.
The primary purpose of any government is to provide security and build social infrastructures. In other words, a government that cannot provide the basic functions of leadership, law and order, and social services is not worth the value of ‘government’. A good government is also obligated to respect the rights of citizens and treat all citizens equally irrespective of the difference in their tribes and tongues.
Nigeria is a negotiated entity by three noble men, Sir Sardauna of Sokoto, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. These gentlemen and others negotiated a regional federalism which saw the British dividing the country into the Western, Eastern and Northern provinces. This division was made according to the peculiarities of the regions. Later the Mid-Western Region was created to resolve the minority question. Therefore, Nigeria was a country built on compensation and consensus.
No one anticipated there shall come to a time when hegemony of a section will be foisted on others, or that the British imperialists will be replaced with domestic colonialism.
The Igbo had hoped for a Nigeria where each ethnic nationality will be in-charge of her own destiny while standing in brotherhood with others. We had hoped for a Nigeria where you grow and develop at your pace, practice your religion and freedom of worship without interference. In other words a nation where the inherent rights and fundamental rights of citizens are respected, a nation governed by law, where the constitution is supreme and lives of every citizen matter.
As Igbo, we only bow to our God and not to any man. We never want to dominate any tribe and do not need the domination of others. We don’t want to be feared but to be respected as partners and equal citizens.
The reasons why we do not kotow before any living being is simply because we are republican in nature and believe in our enterprise and industry which to others may make us seem too ambitious.
Part of the Nigeria’s problem today is the fact that our leaders always make the mistakes of putting every tribe on the same parallel lanes without thorough considerations of the differences between them. Many other tribes in Nigeria including the Igbo feel that the union is tilted to one side but this wasn’t the dream of our founding fathers.
Some people argue that the military intervention of 1966 and subsequent long military rule changed Nigeria from a flourishing Regional Federalism to this convoluted unitary government and that the wrong done by the military cannot be corrected by democracy. I think it’s wrong to falsely believe that the mistake of 1966 cannot be corrected after 56 years, especially where that mistake is not working for the common good of all.
The country risks collapsing on its own contradictions except as Nigerians we come together to deliberate and renew our commitment to the Nigerian project, and find a new workable arrangement to live in harmony as equal citizens.
I don’t think building a new Nigeria is impossible. If we are truthful to ourselves, we can agree on a workable and restructured federation which can devolve more powers to the states. The over centralization of power in the centre is doing too much harm to the growth and development of the country. As a patriot, I believe in Nigeria as a big country. I believe our diversity can be our strength. But, where we cannot manage our bigness for the benefit of all, then we can try the painful path of going small. Otherwise, I will think we can weather the storm and swim the tide as one people and build a safe, secure and prosperous nation.
The mistake of master servant-relationship which many have endured in the past would not work with the new generations of Nigeria. They are already asking questions and showing signs of rebellion against the establishment.
Strangulation of Nigerians by the centre will not last forever. The new generation of youths who are well educated and who know their God given rights as world citizens will ask questions and demand answers or they will pull down these leaking roofs. They will crumble these walls and they may do so in a very distasteful and disorganized manner except we deliberately begin to fix our broken nation.
The old and aging generations who manipulated the country to their sectional advantage will not succeed in forever keeping the now self-enlightened youths in chains and bondage. What the Igbos want is a society where everyone is given equal opportunities to develop and reach their best heights. They will want a nation where there is no glass ceiling for any citizen, a nation where each citizen is judged by the content of his character and not by his tribe or religion. They will want a nation built on the basic principles of justice, equity and fairness and not a nation built on hatred, conspiracy and incitement of one tribe against the others.
Inno Obiorah writes from New Jersey USA and can be reached at: email@example.com