THE IGBO AND THE NIGERIAN PROJECT
I lament for my people, the Igbo. We are sick, indeed very sick. But some of us do not even know that they are sick, which is the worst type of sickness, because it will not give them the opportunity to seek for treatment of the ailment.
The Igbo people appear to be the only true Nigerians. Every other group in the country puts on a semblance, a façade of true Nigerian. Since the Igbo believe so much in Nigeria, they think that every other group equally does the same.
Many Igbo people live false life, the life of fantasy, the life of schizophrenia. They are self-alienated, which in Hegel or in Marx’s term, means “otherness”, the life of externality, forgetting one’s self, and doing another person’s bidding. The Igbo have made and are still making a lot of sacrifices for Nigeria, and in the process, put always themselves into trouble.
When the Nigeria project was started in the nineteenth century, the Igbo welcomed it with open arms, and threw themselves wholeheartedly into the bargain. They left their home regions and began to spread out, like ants, to every other part of the country, no matter how remote or how difficult it was to access, just to make the Nigerian dream become a reality.
The Igbo would settle wherever they went, took up any job, any business, not matter how menial, or how lowly it may be. They would build their own houses there, speak the people’s languages, and sometimes, marry their girls.
In course of time, the efforts of the Igbo, their doggedness, their indomitable spirit, their “can do” spirit, would begin to bear successful fruits, yield plentiful dividends, and they would begin to shine like a million stars in their places of abode. But very often, members of their host communities, and other groups around them, would not be happy. They would be jealous and envious of the progress of the Igbo.
In their consternation, in their morbid hatred for the Igbo, they would begin to see the people as their number one enemy. They would come to hate the Igbo, to accuse them of domineering and of monopolising everything in the place. This was exactly what led to the attacks and the killing of the Igbo in different parts of the country in the 1960s, and consequently, to the Nigerian civil war.
During the disturbances that led to that war, the Igbo deserted their places of abode, left their houses, their property, and their investments, and returned home to Igboland, for safety. At that time, many of them had sworn never again to return in their life, to those places where they were nearly killed, and where they had lost all their possessions.
However, when the war ended and the Igbo were said to have again become part of Nigeria, those of them who survived the war, went back to those places where they lived, and found out to their chagrin, to their disappointment, that their houses had been taken over and declared “abandoned” and appropriated by the government. They were at a loss, totally confused, embarrassed and became dumbfounded.
This again became a national issue, the “Igbo Question”: what to do with the Igbo and the property they left behind when they were fleeing for their dear lives. Perhaps, many Nigerians would not be in a hurry to forget the role played by the then “Major Mark”, Chairman of the Nigerian Federal Government’s “Abandoned Property” Committee, and the spirited efforts put up by some Igbo people like “De Sam Mbakwe”, to ensure that the Igbo got back what really had belonged to them, or the Ikemba Nnewi and his battle for the recovery of his property at Osborne Road in Lagos.
These unfortunate historical realities notwithstanding, it was not long after, that the Igbo again began to troop back to those places where they were earlier hounded and chased away. They settled down there and again began to build houses, estates, hotels, establish industries, and different kinds of investments. What a folly, what a silly act!
Ordinarily, when the Igbo would come to a town, they would show them their worst places, their very difficult terrains, their very thick forests, “Ajo Ofia”, slums, ponds, etc., to live or to do business. The Igbo would accept these places and begin to put in their energy, their resources, to develop them.
Like in the Fanonian thesis during the colonial period, there was always a dichotomy, a bipartition, between the places where the natives lived, and the places where the foreigners lived.
In the colonial era, according to Fanon, the foreigners lived in comfort zones, in GRAs, their houses well spaced, roads carefully paved and well tarred, every place lit with electricity, water running day and night, but the places where the natives lived were dungeons, ghettos, houses very crowded, no roads, no electricity, no water, no good things of life, etc.
In the case of the Igbo in Nigeria, the natives would be separated from the foreigners, from the immigrants, who are the Igbo. While the natives live in Tudun Wada, the immigrants or the foreigners, live in Sabon Gari, two opposing places. And we call ourselves citizens of the same country!
In other places, when they saw that the area first given to the Igbo have become developed and that it has become very beautiful and attractive, they would introduce difficult rules and stringent measures aimed at making inhabitants of the area become uncomfortable. They would descend on those who failed to meet with these difficult rules and stringent conditions, the Igbo, and would begin to chase them away.
They will now tell them that they own the land, that the Igbo are strangers and must therefore, accept whatever conditions that will be given to them, or else they must leave. The Igbo will be forced to accept these conditions or they will be running from pillar to post, which has been the lot of the Igbo since this enterprise called Nigeria.
Now, why is it so difficult for the Igbo to begin what they are doing in those places, in their own home states, in Igboland? If they begin their motor sparepart business, their electrical gadget business, their pharmaceutical business, etc., in Igboland, people from different parts of the country will be coming there to patronize them, and they will no longer be envied or chased from pillar to post.
In other words, let the Igbo traders transfer Idunmota, Idu, Alaba International, Maza Maza, Wuse, Garki International, Utako, Karimo, Zuba markets, etc., as well as the big markets in Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Bauchi, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Jalingo, etc., to Igboland, and a lot of people would be trooping in to Igboland to patronize them.
Apart from the fact that they would no longer be envied, harassed or intimidated, these markets would create a lot of jobs for the teeming unemployed youths of Igboland, and will, in addition, help to develop Igboland.
I doff my hart for Nnewi people for insisting that at least, every of their business enterprises must have its headquarters at Nnewi. Why can’t other Igbo businessmen emulate their example?
How many people from the other ethnic groups have built houses or established industries in Enugu, Onitsha, Owerri, Umuahia, Aba, Abakaliki, Nsukka, etc?
When there is population census, the few of these other ethnic groups who live in Igboland, in particular, the cattle herders, will return to their home states to be counted there, while our own people who reside in various towns outside Igboland will stay put in their places of abode and counted as part of their population. Yet, we will continue to complain that we are marginalized!
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