My friends who are not from the East of Nigeria where Igbos come from often ask me why there is so much anger in the East and among Igbos. Some wonder why, despite the famed Igbo” wealth’ and enterprise all over Nigeria, the people still complain that Nigeria is unfair to them. Some insinuate that the anger comes from the loss of the 2015 election by Jonathan who the Igbos heavily backed.
And why is it that the current generation of Igbos are so angry as to contemplate carrying arms against the country? With lots are following Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB with his secessionist message. Those not following may despise his antics and rhetoric but are sympathetic to his underlying message? And what is that message? That Igbos don’t feel wanted in Nigeria. That decades of official marginalization and discrimination should be stopped or they would be ready to take their chances in a new nation.
First, for those who think this is all about Jonathan and Buhari. It is not. Igbos were disappointed that Jonathan did not win. But those whose candidates lose elections lick their wounds. It is allowed. It happens when your candidate loses election. Why did the Igbos invest so much emotions in Jonathan, a non-Igbo Ijaw? It was more because of the fear of their experience in the past 50 years. Nigeria has placed an embargo on any Igbo man becoming Nigerian president. Jonathan was the next best thing. Other parts of Nigeria have supported their sons to the presidency. Some have bombed Nigeria into submission to get their son to Aso Rock. Igbos have little capacity to blackmail Nigeria to the presidency. They chose Jonathan as their “Igbo” . But that’s not to say that they are angry enough because he lost to contemplate going to war on his behalf. Jonathan was not really the model of a President you would go to war for. And his Ijaw people have accepted his loss. So?
Igbo anger has been building up in Nigeria since I was a kid in the 70s. As kids, we made choices in our school years based on the narrative of the Igbo place in Nigeria. We knew of the glass ceiling against Igbos before we were out of puberty. After the civil war, despite the “No winner, no vanquished” program, Nigeria placed glass ceilings and no-go areas for Igbos. The war reconstruction program was observed more in the breach. There was the “abandoned” property program that was introduced to drive a wedge between components of the former South-East Nigeria. While the country was too embarrassed to put the discrimination program down in an official gazette, it was there for anyone who cared to look. It was evident in the Igbo police officer who stayed in one position while less qualifies juniors progressed to become his bosses. It was evident when no Igbo qualified to become the Inspector General of Police, or leader any division in the armed forces. It was there when ‘ sensitive” or ‘lucrative “ positions were shared in Nigeria and Igbos were conspicuously absent. It was there when Igbos were only fit enough to be made Minister of Information until Obasanjo came to power. And even recently, it was there when Buhari appointed 47 people to man the critical roles in his government and no one from the South east was there. Any time there is a federal appointment in Nigeria, its usually the east that shouts. It was there from Buhari first term to his second term and anyone in-between.
The Igbo elite called it marginalization. Other Nigerians countered by saying no part of Nigeria was getting enough. Marginalization was universal. But they forgot something. The Igbo cry of marginalization was official policy. It was expected. It was programmed. And occasionally, key government officials let it slip that Igbos should not complain. After all, they fought a war with Nigeria. Talk about No Victor, No Vanquished. There was a Victor alright. And they were reminded of that at every turn. Every appointment. Every national project. Nigeria was only pretending. Igbos were licking their wounds and complaining and the rest of Nigeria was too busy to notice.
Go to the South-East today. Since the 70s and the oil boom. Nigeria has invested in commercial industries across the country. None has been sited in the South east. None. Refineries, Steel Plants, Cement Firms. Any Industry. The South East was systematically de-industrialized. Even when it was the best location for any industry, there was always a reason why it should not be sited there. What this means was that any Igbo man that wanted to work in a commercial federal establishment had to leave the east. Add this to the indigenization policy of the early 70s that pushed the Igbos out of private companies. It meant that international companies also avoided expansion into the south east. The Nigerian Breweries, the Dunlop and other such firms sited their plants outside the East and only set up distribution centers to sell in the region. This is one of the main reasons the exodus of Igbos from the zone accelerated after the war and continues to this day despite the hostility they face in certain parts of Nigeria. And why most became traders and commercial business men. Because access to organized work either in the government, government commercial institutions and even commercial institutions were limited.
The only industrial enterprise in the east are built by easterners; Nnewi, Aba, Onitsha. These are Igbo indigenous industrial cities.
This has been the practice since the end of the war.
In addition to this, the Federal Government has systematically made it difficult for Easterners to do commercial business even in the East. The Federal Roads in the East are some of the worst in Nigeria. The Eastern Sea ports have been made ineffective. It was a war to get the Enugu Airport upgraded to an International Airport. The former Finance Minister shed tears on the day the first International Flight landed in Enugu. Yes, Okonjo Iwealla cried! Recently, it was only the South East that was conspicuously missing in the New Railway Plan of the Federal Government. Nigeria has 6 regions. And one was missing in a national railway plan. Incidentally, Igbos who reside here are the most itinerant in the country and would benefit most from a national transport plan. Even our President changed the plan to include his village but a zone of the country was not included.
When you go to the east, despite the lack of federal presence, the presence of police all over the east tells a story. They mount road blocks and make it difficult to have commercial activity. Recently, Customs has joined. And lastly the army. It is an occupied territory. They extort money. They intimate. They recently have started killing.
Nigeria has made the east unlivable. Purposely. Carefully.
I am often in conversations where people accuse the east of being clannish. That while we are welcome in all parts of Nigeria, outsiders cannot come to the East. My question is: why would you come to the east? To do what? There is no business to do in the east. Nigeria has ensured that. Why would someone from the South West of Nigeria go to the East to invest? No one would prevent you. But it hardly makes commercial sense. Nigeria has ensured that. Those from the North are there in droves. Igbos love to celebrate with cows. And the cattlemen go there to sell their cattle. No one molests them. In my village and most villages in the East, they live unmolested. But those are the only people who can find commercial reason to be there!
So those who wonder why Igbos are angry, wonder no more. While most would not dare carry arms against Nigeria, don’t under estimate the level of disconnection and anger especially among the younger generation. Nigeria is made of nations that came together to form a country. No nation will like to be in perpetual servitude. That Nnamdi Kanu’s supporters starred down army tanks with sticks is a sign that the next generation will be ready to fight bare hands if necessary to stop Nigeria treating the Igbo nation as second-class citizens. There will be fiercer and angrier Kanus in our immediate future if Nigeria does not officially stop the “vanquished “program against the Igbos who fought the civil war. You cannot preach unity and indivisibility of the country on TV and all your actions point at discriminating against the components of the country. It is as dangerous as it is foolhardy. Let those who preach unity walk the talk and stop open discrimination of their countrymen. History has shown that you cannot decree peace. You cannot decree unity. You cannot force any group to belong to a country by force, it may work for a time. But never sustainable.
Nigeria has a lot to look forward to as a united country. It also has enough for the regions and nations that make up the country. Our diversity is a blessing. Our failure to reach our potential is caused mostly by the internal contradictions and the inability to build a fair country that can bring out the best out of her component regions. Those who shout most about loving Nigeria today are mostly those its current unfair structure favor. But Nigeria will continue being as strong as its weakest link. And the weak links are all there to see. The East is one of the weakest links. Until it stops being a weak link, Nigeria cannot truly make progress.
FOUNDER AND EVC at SIGNAL ALLIANCE