Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The harm MASSOB does to Ndi Igbo

Azuka Onwuka
As far as most Nigerians are concerned, every Igbo person is a secessionist — in word or at heart — no matter the person’s claim to the contrary. Even though it is not a crime to be seen as a peaceful secessionist if one is actually one, the problem arises when one is assumed a secessionist or a potential secessionist just because of one’s ethnic group.
Last Saturday, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra called for a sit-at-home in the South-Eastern states to protest the incessant killing of Igbo people in other parts of Nigeria, especially in the North. It brought the members of the group and the security agents into a collision, leading to the reported loss of two lives through accidents, as well as destruction of property. Many markets in Igboland were said to have closed not because they were keen on obeying the sit-at-home order by MASSOB, but because they were afraid of being molested by members of the group who were bent on enforcing the order.
Ordinarily, such a protest against the constant killing of Igbo, especially in the North, should be seen as noble, but the problem is the name of the body organising such a protest as well as its stated mission of seceding from Nigeria.
One thing that many find difficult to understand about the Igbo is why they will be seeking to rule Nigeria and at the same time seeking to break away from Nigeria. It is really contradictory. But that is because many assume that MASSOB represents the ideology of the average Igboman or woman. On October 16, 2012, I published an article in The PUNCH entitled, “Reason the Presidency still eludes Ndigbo”. In that article, I identifiedIgbophobia as the mute reason why it would be hard for an Igbo person to become the president of Nigeria. But many of those who commented on The PUNCH’s website or sent me emails noted that their fear is that the moment an Igbo person becomes the president of Nigeria, he will balkanise Nigeria or pull the South-East (and even some parts of the South-South) out of Nigeria.
To the Igbo, this perception is terribly wrong, but
it is said that perception is reality. The average Igbo person believes in a Nigeria that is ruled by justice: a nation that guarantees its citizens the right to pursue happiness. He loves competition and merit. If the Igbo did not believe in Nigeria, they would not be investing heavily in all parts of the country. Because the Igbo person has a lot at stake in Nigeria, he wants a country that is not perennially in crises and mayhem. He is not desperate about the resuscitation of Biafra, neither is he desirous of living in a Nigeria that continually treats him like an outsider or an enemy.
It is this same perception of the Igboman as a potential threat that prevented the Igbo from holding the office of the Chief of Army Staff for over 40 years, even though an Igboman, Maj.-Gen. J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, was the first Nigerian to hold that post as General Officer Commanding of the Nigerian Army on February 9, 1965. It was assumed that if an Igboman was given that post, he would immediately execute a coup d’état and then pull the Igbo out of Nigeria, or seek revenge against other Nigerians for the massacre of the Igbo after the July 1966 coup as well as during the Nigerian Civil War that ensued after that coup. It took the trust of President Goodluck Jonathan to make an Igbo the Chief of Army Staff. And while an Igbo is the Chief of Army Staff, the President did not deem it threatening to appoint a Delta Igbo man as the Chief of Naval Staff. In spite of this, the two gentlemen have not shown any insubordination to their Commander-in-Chief. Igbo are not known for betrayal of trust.
When other ethnic groups formed their own pressure groups, they chose names that identified with their people without adding any secessionist flavour: Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, O’odua Peoples Congress, Arewa Consultative Forum, Egbesu Boys, etc. Even Boko Haram, which is clearly a secessionist and religious supremacist group, did not give itself a secessionist name. Only MASSOB chose a secessionist name.
Some may term it bravery and straight-forwardness, but it is simply a case of poor strategy. It is even double jeopardy to a people that had fought a war before, with a loss of about two million people, many of whom died of starvation rather than through bullets. While such people are trying to regain the trust of other Nigerians and get their due in Nigeria, the MASSOB image on every Igbo simply increases that suspicion.
There are those who have argued that MASSOB’s agitation for secession will make it easier for the Igbo to get a better deal in Nigeria, a case of asking for a cow and getting at least a goat in the bargain. That cannot be true or realistic. What it does is to make it difficult for the Igbo to be allowed to hold some positions considered as sensitive, even when they are known to have the competence to occupy such a post, especially the Presidency. Every Igbo person has to continually prove that he does not harbour secession and vengeance in his heart.
A robust and consistent campaign against the marginalisation of the Igbo has a greater chance of getting the Igbo a better deal. On the contrary, an agitation for a separate state only makes things more difficult for the Igbo.
Interestingly, it is not only Igbo people that talk about secession during private discussions, but the people who are seen as potential secessionists are the Igbo because it is from their zone that a secessionist body springs forth. Even though MASSOB pursues non-violence, it is seen as more dangerous than even the violent organisations from other parts of Nigeria.
It is understandable that the non-inspiring state of Nigeria over the years as well as injustice against the Igbo is the main reason for the resuscitation of the campaign for Biafra. If Nigeria had lived up to its billings as the Giant of Africa and a country that is fair to all its citizens, nobody would remember Biafra. The nostalgic romanticism about Biafra is because in spite of the discrimination they face in different spheres of life, many Igbo people can see that petroleum products are imported in Nigeria even in 2013, while the Biafran state of 1967 to 1970 never imported fuel all through the war, and yet never lacked fuel. They could see that planes still crash in Nigeria in the 21st century while planes were landing and taking off in the Biafran airstrips in darkness, yet, there were no crashes. They could see that Nigeria imports guns and bombs today, but Biafran scientists made bombs used in prosecuting the war. Such stories of ingenuity and bravery, especially when spiced with salt and pepper, would fill the heart of a young man with nostalgia for such a country that was. Indeed, there was a country, apologies to Chinua Achebe! But trying to resuscitate that country has consequences.
MASSOB needs to embark on a change of brand identity and strategy. In 2006, for example, the group encouraged and prevented many Igbo people from participating in the national census, leading to the recording of lower population figures for the South-East states. Such acts and attitude simply work against interest of the Igbo.
Between 1966 and 1967, the Igbo felt rejected by their compatriots who killed them in their thousands for the coup plotted by some young military officers without the consent of the Igbo. The rest of Nigerians who did not join in the massacre of their fellow Nigerians folded their arms and watched as the massacre went on with an it-serves-them-right stance. The Igbo decided to pull out of Nigeria to form their own country where they would not be massacred, but the Nigerian state said no to that move and embarked on a war to bring the Igbo back at a high cost.
If Nigeria is to break up, the Igbo should not be the people asking for that. They should fold their arms and tell any ethnic group that wishes to secede or fight a war not to involve them in such plans. If Nigeria remains one and successful, the Igbo have everything to gain. If it breaks up peacefully too, the Igbo should also have nothing to lose.
But it must be stated that if Nigeria were developing at the pace of China, India or Brazil without the recurring ethnic or religious bloodshed, nobody would be agitating for secession or the like. It is stating the obvious if one says that our government has more work to do to bolster nationalism.

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