At a wedding party in Washington DC, an Igbo DJ and a Yoruba band, alternately, entertained the guests.
The beat and rhythm of the band’s music was Juju, but the lyrics were in English. The leader of the band attended the same church with the bride. So, on this exceptionally memorable day of the bride, he came, with his band, to celebrate with his sister in the Lord. The bride is of Igbo parentage but born in the United States of America.
The gathering was predominately Igbo. At a point, the Master of Ceremony of the occasion, a crude Mbaise man, blurted: this is an Igbo wedding and we do not want a Yoruba band here; he ordered the band to leave. Flustered and dispirited, the band members started packing their musical instruments.
I went over to the band leader, and asked him not to feel too bad for this is the Nigerian reality: ethnic diversity laced with tribalism. I told him that I, like some other guests, was totally indifferent to the ethnic makeup of the band playing. And that some other guests may have been offended by the presence of a Yoruba band but could tolerate it, and then, there were others, like the MC that could not tolerate it. Similarly, if this were a Yoruba wedding, and an Igbo band played, some Yoruba may not mind, some will mind but stomach it, and others will not tolerate it, and may insist on its departure.
While there is strength and virility in Nigerian diversity, it is inevitably associated with that pesky, exasperating albatross: tribalism. To varying degrees, all the major tribes of Nigeria are guilty of tribalism.
As the Nigerian information minister (during the civil war), Anthony Enahoro, denounced Igbo hegemony; he accused the Igbo of having boasted of dominating Nigeria and the entire Africa. To me, his statement was inconceivable; I could not imagine that the Igbo were ever that boastful. However, on further research, I found his statement factual. In 1945, Daddy Onyeama, at an Igbo Union meeting, said that the Igbo will not only dominate Nigeria but the whole of Africa. In 1949, Nnamdi Azikiwe said that the gods of the Igbo that have given them the domination of Nigeria will also give them the domination of Africa. That was verbal flamboyance that must have hurt the feelings and wounded the pride of other ethnic groups of Nigeria.
Interestingly, although the Igbo made conceited statements that insulted other peoples’ sensibilities, they lament tactless blusters by other Nigerians that piqued the Igbo. For example, they were unsettled by a statement attributed to the Suarduna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, which said: it was the British that interrupted our (Hausa/Fulani) jihad. When the British leaves, we will continue our jihad to the south, and ultimately, dip the Koran into the Atlantic Ocean. Both the Igbo and Hausa/Fulani rodomontade were culpable of arrogance, insensitivity and thoughtlessness.
They were overconfident and indiscreet statements that bruised the insensitivity and injured the pride of others. The Igbo leaders talked about domination in business, education and the professions, as dictated by enviable Igbo cultural skills. The Hausa/Fulani leader talked about religious domination, as determined by the jihadist unhinged murderousness and proselytizing barbarity.
Rattled by the outcomes of the January 1966 coup, the decimated the Hausa/Fulani leadership and a power shift from the Hausa/Fulani to the Igbo, the Hausa/Fulani unleashed carnage against the Igbo; they murdered thousands of Igbo.
The Igbo ran to their home region and declared their own independent state of Biafra. Biafra was a reckless and impetuous enterprise that had no chance of success. As Biafra, inescapably, faltered, and tethered towards a collapse, the Igbo needed someone to blame. They sought and found scapegoats in the “sabotaging” and “back-stabbing” minorities of Biafra. They mass-murdered the minority peoples of Biafra, killing thousands of them.
Presently, most Igbo are angry, bitter and feel persecuted by other Nigerians and every Nigerian government and its policies. For example, although, since 1999, no Igbo politician has made a serious run for the presidency, many Igbo already believe that there is a conspiracy amongst other peoples of Nigeria against an Igbo presidency. Although, most heterogeneous countries of the world have quota system, in one form or another, the Igbo consider quota system in university admission an anti-Igbo policy.
That this is a national issue (with advantages and disadvantages) that, also, adversely affects the Yoruba, Edo and all southerners, are facts the Igbo do not want to get in their way. And incredibly, many Igbo think that the Fulani herdsmen, despite their ravages of communities in Benue, Kaduna, etc are primarily targeting the Igbo, and that their attacks on none Igbo communities are just ploys to give an orchestrated anti-Igbo onslaught a coloration of a national problem. Clinging to the lies we were fed in Biafra, we believe that we are a blameless and harmless people surrounded, hated and victimized by murderous and vengeful peoples of Nigeria. And, as such, our only saving grace is in secession. It is this groundless belief that is fueling the neo-Biafran lunacy and the muddled enthusiasm for it among many Igbo youths.
The renowned American diplomat, John Galbraith, once wrote that, “Every human endeavor is geared towards the acquisition of power and glory”. Power, in this context, is protean; it includes political power, the power of a teacher over his students, a wife, over her husband’s patience and bank account and a toddler, over the mother’s time and mood. Essentially, we are all driven by the same basic interests – power and glory. Secondly, no one is really angelic or totally demonic. In their song, Ebony and Ivory, Paul McCarthy and Steve Wonder sang, “There is good and bad in everyone”. Like any other group of humanity, the Igbo have their strengths and weakness, with the capacity for both good and bad. Like other major ethnic groups of Nigeria, the Igbo, have, in the quest for power and glory, been insensitive and arrogant, exploitative and inconsiderate, and vicious and murderous. And, like the Hausa/Fulani, we have massacred, in thousands, those that stood in the way of our political ambitions.
The Igbo desperately need to appreciate that they are not blameless and harmless, and that the other peoples of Nigeria are not a band of the vengeful and murderous united in a common plot to annihilate the Igbo. This will enable us to value the good in other Nigerians, and thus, resolve to live in peace, and forge a common future, with them in a united Nigeria.
By Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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