Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe’s Take on “Igbo Question in the Nigerian Project”: A Tunnel Vision of Ndiigbo in the 21st Century World
The impact of ban of history subject in Nigeria’s education curriculum is beginning to manifest itself where it really hurts. There could not have been a more glaring manifestation of this than to read Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe’s understanding of the historical role of Ndiigbo in the country’s nation building. Full text of Senator Abaribe’s address is published at (https://goo.gl/jJ8NiF).
For this senator, what should epitomize the true place for Ndiigbo in today’s Nigeria must take its roots from January 1970. The ahistorical narrative that launched the senator into the speech he delivered in a keynote address at the ICAM convention in the state of Mississippi, USA started by reminding Ndiigbo about that instant when our backs were on the ground because of the horrendous mayhem and genocide unleashed on Biafrans, of which Ndiigbo are part, between 1966 and 1970 by the international alliance led by the United Kingdom government of Great Britain. Based on the theme of Senator Abaribe’s message, he carefully avoided all the antecedents that made Ndiigbo to find themselves where they did at his preferred historical milestone of 1970.
From there, the senator jumped to 2017 where he sees everything looking so rosy for Ndiigbo in almost all aspects of human endeavor. The point he labored tirelessly to get across to his audience is that Ndiigbo started from nothing in January 1970 to where they find themselves today at or near the top of the Nigeria’s educational pursuits and the dominant player in the country’s economy. Senator Abaribe’s ancestral home is in Aba (Enyimba City), Abia state in the Southeast. But all examples to illustrate the spectacular accomplishments by the Igbo business class in Nigeria are either in Lagos, Southwest or in the Abuja Capital Territory. And what are the said accomplishments? Establishment of retail markets, building of landed real-estate properties and massive investment in hotels as one finds in Abuja. From these anecdotal claims, he arrived at the conclusion that Ndiigbo are currently sitting atop a gold mine called the Nigerian retail economy. He, of course, meticulously avoided the mention of the fact that the daily markets ostensibly owned and controlled by Igbo retail traders, the real estate and hotels owned by Igbo investors are de-facto cash cows for local jurisdictions in Lagos and Abuja while the senator’s hometown and the commercial hub of Abia state is starved of investment capital, economic infrastructure and societal amenities.
Just as if Senator Abaribe was reading from script written by minders of the status quo, he opts to blame the recent upsurge in pro-Biafra agitation on “prevailing circumstance given the manifest nepotistic approach to governance at the center”. He went on to argue that the Igbo political and bureaucratic elite class has not fared badly under administrations that preceded the present one headed by President Muhammadu Buhari. In defense of the incumbent occupant of the Aso Rock Villa, the Abia-South senator explained the goings-on today by alleging that “the people who are in and around the president didn’t advise him properly”. In many ways, he attempted to convey the feeling that Buhari’s tenure is not for eternity and the party that put him in power, the APC, shall soon be sent packing by its arch nemesis, the PDP. Thereafter, the good times for Ndiigbo shall, of course, return once more.
Senator Abaribe then proceeded to give an account of when “Southeast caucus of the Senate sought for and got an appointment with the President Buhari” to complain about the incumbent administration’s inequitable treatment and official disdain for anything Igbo. He lamented that even though they were promised that their concerns would be looked into, sadly enough, nothing was done to rectify the malfeasance till today. But that did not perturb the legislator who reeled out the following to reaffirm his unflinching optimism for Nigeria’s future thus:
“The country Nigeria is supposed to be for inclusion; for making sure that everyone makes his or her input into its affairs. Allowing such fairness and equity to prevail in a plural society like ours will make us a bigger and better nation. Today that is not the case. Either as a deliberate act as it seems or a willful omission geared towards achieving a pre-determined goal, Ndigbo were pushed to the fringes of the Nigerian Union in so many ways by the present government.”
Naïve politicians spend their last breath pontificating about what is supposed to be while remaining totally oblivious to facing up to the stark realities staring them in the face. The preceding preamble was intended to set the stage for Senator Abaribe to disclose the main object for his speech when he dropped the rhetorical poser “Is relapsing into a sovereign state of Biafra the optimum option or is it a restructuring of the state such that all the federating units would have greater autonomy in the mold of a near quasi self-determination the better option?” He went ahead to answer his own question by asserting that the position of most Nigerians, as of today, is for Restructuring instead of the sovereign state of Biafra.
The last time we checked, most Nigerians have no stake in Biafra agitation and thus are not expected to favor attainment of extreme devolution (a la Biafra) over the Restructuring of Nigeria, which means different things to different interest groups. The so-called Restructuring may, once initiated, be the beginning of the end of a unitary Nigerian state which was created and sustained, thus far, with brute force. This would have been a teaching moment for the senator who should have seized this instant to ask his audience to show their preferences by raising of hands. But he did not. He was more focused on completing his message package before he became overly distracted.
The causal manner with which Senator Abaribe compares the reaction of the Yoruba after the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election and what the pro-Biafra youths, most of whom are Igbo, are currently doing is akin to comparing apples and oranges. How does denial of electoral mandate of a lone individual begin to compare with the long track of atrocities and iniquities unleashed on generations of Biafrans in the past half century by minders of the status quo? For obvious reasons, the sense of urgency with which the archetypal Igbo approaches the subject matter of regional sovereign rights of his people must surely be different from that of the Yoruba. Doesn’t the senator know this? The Yoruba have been the key beneficiaries of the relative setback experienced by Biafrans in the past 50 years. While the Nigerian Eastern Economic Corridor (NEEC) has been deliberately shuttered since eve of the Civil War, all imported manufactured goods and services into Nigeria can only enter the country via the Lagos seaport and nowhere else. Now that the senator has been reminded about this glaring fact, does he still stand by his incongruous comparisons?
Blame on Pro-Biafra Agitation for Woes of the Contemporary Igbo
It is bizarre that Senator Abaribe sees the worsening lot of Ndiigbo as caused by pro-Biafra agitation which is being blamed for eliciting “hate and disdain for our people from other ethnic groups, notwithstanding that they may have been nursing such tendencies”. If, for example, the Yoruba have been nursing the tendency to aspire for their own “Biafra”, why then should pro-Biafra agitation by Igbo youths become the lead instigator of hate and disdain for Ndiigbo among other constituents of Nigeria as is being suggested by the senator? The truth is that the pro-status quo Senator Abaribe missed his analytical deduction by a mile.
Contrary to his false assessment of convenience, pro-Biafra agitation has resonated very positively among the host of other ethnic nationalities entrapped and enslaved in today’s unitary Nigeria. Possibilities of Biafra autonomy implies the likelihood that their ownership right to their own ancestral lands and wealth therein shall be restored in the very near future. Open declaration by progressive entities among ethnic nationalities of the Lower Niger and the Middle Belt Regions point in the direction of self-determination, not maintenance of the status quo.
Trashing Biafra as Means to Leverage Support for Restructuring Nigeria
The great mistake being made by the political elite of the Lower Niger is that upfront elimination of the self-determination option is the plausible means to garner instantaneous groundswell support for so-called Restructuring which Senator Abaribe and his cohorts see as the panacea to all the maladies bedeviling contemporary Nigeria. The funniest of the trash talking against Biafra is the certainty that a sovereign Biafra, when actualized as in being articulated, shall be a landlocked puny enclave which shall be lost in a sea of prosperity elsewhere throughout the rest of Nigeria. If Senator Abaribe is not engaged in pro-Biafra agitation or has not even bothered to learn the real facts about the burgeoning self-determination quest by the indigenous peoples of the eastern half of Southern Nigeria, how does he know where boundaries of emergent entities begin and end? Does the senator understand that a self-ruling Biafra, even if landlocked, can easily enter into agreements with contiguous littoral jurisdictions about having unimpeded access to Atlantic deep seaports only a few kilometers down the road? This is the most ridiculous and puerile argument to discourage pro-Biafra agitation.
Senator Abaribe speaks so assuredly about the unbridgeable chasm that divides Ndiigbo from their neighbors in the Lower Niger as if there is any truth in his assertions. The impeccable and incontrovertible fact of history is that Ndiigbo have cohabited the eastern half of Southern Nigeria with many ethnic nationalities in relative peace for thousands of years before arrival of Europeans. There have never been instances of cross-border invasion, conquest and imposition as one can easily see in the North and West. The Igbo have closely interacted with their neighbors through intermarriage, trade and cordial cross-cultural relationship that have survived till date.
The divide-and-rule scheme was concocted in eve of the Civil War and has been exploited since then to soften the territory for easy conquest and occupation by external interest groups. We now know who are the leading beneficiaries of a divided Lower Niger territory and they are not indigenes of the area. The bogie of a resurgent Biafra is being peddled as the trick to prevent the resolution of schisms of the past 50 years thereby making them to endure forever. The ethnic minorities of eastern half of Southern Nigeria have been fooled once and they are not going to be fooled again. So, why is Senator Abaribe so interested in fighting to sustain the man-made divide between his own people and their next-door neighbors? Is dissing Biafra worth this self-nihilistic undertaking by a supposed Igbo leader?
Putting All Igbo Eggs in the Basket of Restructuring Nigeria?
The exuberant manner in which Senator Abaribe and other ardent protagonists of Restructuring as the only true way forward for Nigeria is simply amazing. Out of fullness of heart, he avowed that “the beauty of it (Restructuring) is that while we can enjoy near wholesale autonomy, our people, as itinerant business people, could have an unrestrained space in a larger market provided by a united Nigeria”. What market is one really talking about here? A market in which Ndiigbo have been playing the role of retailers of goods manufactured elsewhere and imported into Nigeria through only ONE designated seaport in faraway Lagos, close to the border with neighboring Benin Republic? A market where, in 2017, a quit order can be issued on behalf of rulers of their ancestral domains for Ndiigbo to vacate certain territories and return to the Southeast as was just issued by the Arewa Youths Council?
This chore of being the itinerant retail traders of imported goods to whoever desire them in all nooks and corners of Nigeria, at risk of being butchered by host communities, may have been of benefit to Ndiigbo fighting tooth-and-nail to dig themselves out of ruins of the Civil War in the past 50 years. But for this 21st Century world, going forward, the market which suits contemporary Igbo needs must be global in outlook and the modality of business focus shall be production-oriented and not just distributive in nature as is the case today.
If Singapore, a small island, can become the economic miracle of Southeast Asia, the Lower Niger has what it takes to become economic star of the West African sub-region within only a few decades of autonomous existence as a free-trading entity. What matters is not the vastness of the territory but rather the ingenuity, industry and determination of the target population. That the Lower Niger peoples exercise their inalienable right to self-determination does not stop profitable trade with many destinations that constitute today’s Nigeria. Self-determination does not mean cross-border enmity or mutual trade boycott by former trading neighbors as is being feared by the senator.
Senator Abaribe kept the worst gaff of his speech for the last when he broached the sub-theme captioned “Diaspora Igbo and Us”. In earlier part of his speech, he had conveyed the impression that whoever reside outside the borders of Alaigbo proper belong to the Igbo Diaspora. Using that paradigm, all the derogatory assertions made about the Diaspora Igbo are actually also directed at himself since the senator dwells in Abuja Igbo Diaspora just like most in his audience live in the US Igbo Diaspora. Unfortunately, the senator had a more sinister intent when he introduced the “Igbo Diaspora and Us” ruse. It is clear that his task was to drive a wedge between the “us” and “they” in conclave of the Igbo intellectual, business and political elite corps. He spared no effort in creating the impression that the so-called Diaspora elite stir up trouble which they, at ground zero, are left to clean up. So, says who? Suppose the blame game is reversed by fingering the Senator as one of the collaborators and facilitators of external occupation of Alaigbo and enslavement of our folks since the past half century?
By peddling the notion of divisiveness from the podium before his distinguished audience at the Igbo convention in Mississippi, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe has not served the Igbo strategic interests well at all. The US Igbo Diaspora, to whom he talked at, are responsible for pumping billions of US dollars into Nigeria annually, in general and Alaigbo, in particular, to sustain the domestic economy, maintain family and community stability as well as prevent the evil machinations by minders of the status quo to inflict the greatest suffering on our kith and kin struggling to make ends meet at home. The senator ought to have shown more respect and appreciation for the audience he addressed than to accuse them of being “Internet warriors, who stay in their comfort zone” while he and his fellow Abuja operatives perform the thankless jobs of bailing Nnamdi Kanu from Buhari’s gulag and rejecting the central government’s spurious label of IPOB as a terrorist organization.
Whose interests are served by stoking these tendencies of divisiveness among Ndiigbo, on the one hand and between Ndiigbo and their next-door neighbors, on the other hand? We see the hands of instigators and facilitators of ongoing Operation “Python Dance” II all over the new scheme to further divide the ranks of the victims so as to facilitate the murderous escapades targeted at repressing and pacifying the conquered and occupied ancestral lands belonging to the indigenous ethnic nationalities of Southern Nigeria. Let’s all beware!