By Lasisi Olagunju
(Published in MaTaZ ArIsInG on Monday, 13 September, 2021)
President Muhammadu Buhari last week in Imo State acknowledged the resourcefulness and enterprising spirit of Igbo people. He said: “The fundamental thing about the Igbo people is that there is no town you visit in Nigeria without seeing the Igbo being in charge of either infrastructure or the pharmaceutical industry. Therefore, it is unthinkable for me that any Igbo man would consider himself not to be a part of Nigeria. The evidence is there for everyone to see that Igbo are in charge of Nigeria’s economy.” Amazing.
Was it not this same president who said in June – just three months ago – that these same Igbo, because of their beloved Biafra, were “just like a dot in a circle”? You remember he stressed for effects that even if the Igbo managed to exit Nigeria, “they’ll have no access to anywhere.” He suggested strongly that Nigeria would constrict them because there would be no access to the sea. Then he wondered aloud: “And the way they are spread all over the country, having businesses and properties, I don’t think IPOB know what they are talking about. In any case, we say we’ll talk to them in the language that they understand. We’ll organise the police and the military to pursue them.” That was the position of the commander-in-chief three months ago.
But Buhari in Imo State appeared to have changed his opinion of the Igbo man. His tone changed too. What is that thing that has shifted the tectonic plate of the hardliner? An expert said “leaders change their mind for one of three reasons: external forces, new knowledge or spontaneous cognitive shifts.” To which of these reasons does the president owe his new picture of (or posture on) the Igbos? We may not know – but someone told me it could be all three here. What we observe, however, is that our leader spoke as if he no longer saw his Igbo subjects as “just five percent” and as a problem-people fit only for the police and the army to pursue. They are now a prized race who should not leave Nigeria. Did he really mean it or it was just another of the old slithering tricks of the Bayajidda? He said it was “unthinkable” for him “that any Igbo man would consider himself not to be a part of Nigeria.” But the history of Igbo’s ‘hatred’ for Nigeria is an open book; it is forced on them by the same system that has ‘killed’ Nigeria’s reason for existence. My people say Goat never said Sheep was not his sibling. Rather, it is Sheep that insists that his mother had no dark-complexioned child. And goats are born black.
The Igbo man has his failings – like any other man. Having and condoning self-serving leadership is one of his dubious blessings. And, until recently, he thought it was wisdom for his goat to follow every hyena holding palm fronds. That is despite the fact that his experience with Nigeria has been of blood and tears. Across decades, Igbo are flies in the hands of wanton street boys of the north. It started even before independence. On 22 June, 1945, the Jos riots happened. They were the south’s first encounter with violent northern Nigeria. Some historians blamed the riots on the north’s simmering resistance to its amalgamation with the south. Lives and valuable assets were lost there that early in the life of Nigeria. Then there were the Kano riots of 16 May, 1953. They were the north’s response to southern leaders’ call for independence for Nigeria. Fifty-two persons died and 245 injured in the riots. Valuable assets were also lost to looting and arson. From May 1966 to July 1967, there was what historians call the pogrom on the streets of northern Nigeria. Check the thousands of southerners who died in it and the percentage of the Igbo victims in the massacre. Even unborn babies were not spared. Then the civil war started in July 1967 and, for 30 months, it was death and destruction. The respite that followed the end of the war saw the Igbo babe choosing the enemy as her husband – and she enjoyed the honeymoon while it lasted. On October 14, 1991, a German Christian evangelist called Reinhard Bonnke wanted to stage a revivalist rally in Kano. There were riots; about 200 people died and people lost assets. Earlier in April of same year in Bauchi, no fewer than 500 people died in similar riots with rioters setting fire to homes and shops. When the north said it wanted sharia in January 2001, again people died. And between February and December 2002, its way of showing seriousness on the sharia question was killing of southerners. In November 2002 again, there was an attempt to host a Miss World beauty contest in Nigeria. That secular business intention birthed murderous riots in Kaduna; at least 215 persons died. The Guardian of UK described the unrest as “more about old grudges than a beauty contest.” It confirmed that the riots “left deep wounds.” Killing of southerners in the north has ever been as routine as herding of cows by the Fulani. How many people have been tried for these crimes? The murderers always live to kill tomorrow. But then, when you water the plant of a nation with the blood of the innocent, and of a section of it, it won’t grow healthy – because the soil is cursed.
Ragge legend, Bob Marley, left many songs for all oppressed peoples of the world. He titled a particularly intensely profound one ‘War.’ In that song, Marley sang of justice and injustice and of their consequences. He sang of war and rumours of war. He gave conditions for peace but he also predicted the triumph of good over evil. The lyrics:
“Until the philosophy
Which hold one race superior
And another inferior
Is finally and permanently
Everywhere is war;
Me say war.
That until there are no longer
First class and second class citizens
Of any nation;
Until the colour of a man’s skin
Is of no more significance
Than the colour of his eyes
Me say war;
Until the basic human rights
Are equally guaranteed to all
Without regard to race
It is war…
That until the ignoble
And unhappy regimes
That hold our brothers…
in sub-human bondage
Have been toppled
Well, everywhere is war,
Me say war –
War in the east
War in the west
War up north
War down south
The president spoke like a man of peace in Imo last Thursday. But beyond the platitudes of shifty words of friendship, he must be seen from now on doing justice to all manner of people. That was the oath he took that made him leader of Nigeria, north and south. It was good hearing him speak to Ibos without impudent, sectional threats. He said that the Igbo were drivers of our economy who should not think of divorce or separation from the country. He said they are so precious to Nigeria and its survival. So, why does Nigeria enjoy slaughtering its golden geese? Why kill them? There is a story behind every saying that is classified wise. You have heard about killing the goose that lays the golden egg. It is a story of gluttonous stupidity. There was once a man whose only possession was a goose. It was his lifeline. One day, he visited the goose’s nest, he saw that it had laid a glittering, golden egg. He picked it and sold it and enjoyed the good money it brought. Every day from that day, he went to the nest and picked his gold, went to the market and came back a rich man. He soon became stupendously wealthy beyond the possibilities of his environment. Then, he thought of a quicker way of multiplying his riches. Enough of picking and pocketing one lonely golden egg per day. He took a long look at the goose and wondered how many millions of golden eggs would be in the belly of the bird. If he could get all the golden eggs in one day, he would be fulfilled as a truly wealthy man. The big man seized the goose and cut open its belly for a golden harvest of eggs. To his horror, there was no egg, golden or ungolden, anywhere in there. He scrambled to bring back from the dead the goose laying the golden eggs for him. It was futile; the bird of gold was gone forever.
Except the other parts of Nigeria live in denial and self-deceit, we should know that every Ibo man is already out of Nigeria in soul and spirit. That is what you saw demonstrated on the deserted streets of Owerri last Thursday, September 9, when the president of Nigeria visited. It was a very sad, loud requiem to a nation at war with them. And it happened because there are always options for the maltreated goose that lays the golden egg. Never take it for granted. In July 2016, I wrote here on trending photographs online of a monkey holding onto a distressed puppy in Rode, India. A report quoted a Facebook post as observing that the monkey “makes sure the little dog’s stomach is full before eating himself” and “protects the pup from other stray dogs.” The adorable friendship, a commentator stressed, “is a tribute to the power of animal compassion.” Should that vulnerable puppy then take the monkey for a fool for the sacrifices he made? The monkey is no fool, he has his own logic and sense of justice and care. And he serves these in the right measure at the appropriate time. That is the wisdom that still eludes power captors who think they could continue to ‘eat’ Nigeria to the exclusion of those wetting its fields. The president visited Imo State and he met completely empty streets! He should be worried – and worried.
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