By Tochukwu Ezukanma
One Nigeria is not a homogenizing vat where different cultures blend into one. Consequently, although I am an avowed proponent of one Nigeria, I am exceedingly conscious that I cannot be a true Nigerian without first being a consummate Igbo. So, as I brood over the problems of Nigeria, I brood, even more, over the problems of the Igbo. The Igbo are one of the major ethnic groups of Nigeria, with the wherewithal: numerical strength, industry, education, wealth, ingenuity, etc, to secure a robust and extensive niche in Nigerian politics. That we have failed to do this requires an explanation.
Many Igbo blame this on the marginalization of the Igbo. Marginalization is the process and the consequences of a deliberate and systematic endeavor by other Nigerians and a continuum of federal governments to deny the Igbo their fair share of the national resources, and repress their progress across the entire spectrum of the Nigerian social life, especially, in politics. However, because I taught myself very early in my life never to blame others for my problems, it is very hard for me to blame the problems of the Igbo on marginalization without being totally convinced.
In musing over the problems of the Igbo, two questions readily popped up in my mind. Why were the Igbo not marginalized in the 2nd Republic, when the scars of the war were still raw, and the Igbo extremely susceptible to marginalization. Secondly, how could Goodluck Jonathan, a president that got overwhelming Igbo electoral support, and appointed the Igbo to some of the most important positions in his administration, marginalize the Igbo?
In the Second Republic, the word, “marginalization”, was not part of the Igbo lexicon. In 1979, just nine years after the war, the victors, in their thrill of victory, would have been most disposed to exploit and repress the defeated, and the losers, cringing in the agony of defeat, would have been readily subservient and most vulnerable to marginalization. Ironically, then, the Igbo were not marginalized.
Following the 1979 presidential election, there emerged an Igbo Vice-President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and, in the Senate, the Igbo chaired some of the powerful Senate Committees. And we got our fair share from the President Shehu Shagari administration.
It was in 1999, twenty nine years after the civil war, that “marginalization” made an inroad into the Igbo political lexicon. It has, ever since, remained a central word in our political parlance. After the Obasanjo presidency, the Yar’Adua administration continued to marginalize the Igbo. And perplexingly, after Yar’Adua, the Goodluck Jonathan administration also marginalized us. And presently, the Buhari administration is marginalizing us. But how could have the Jonathan administration marginalized the Igbo? After all, in the election that brought him to power, he garnered more than 90% of the votes casted in Igbo land, and he also appointed Igbo to important and powerful positions in his administration.
A man that got ill after a meal at a restaurant can reasonably blame the restaurant food for his illness. But if a man gets sick from everybody’s (his wife, maid, mother and mother in-law) cooking, then the problem is not with the foods but with the man. If every administration since 1999, including the Jonathan administration, marginalized the Igbo, then the problem is not with the different Nigerian governments but with the Igbo. Yes, the Igbo have a problem. Our problem is not marginalization by anyone. Our problem is our attitude towards Nigeria. We are clinging obstinately to a mindset that is antithetical to political progress in Nigeria.
We were not marginalized in the 2nd Republic, when we were most susceptible to marginalization because the then Igbo political elite were dominated by those whose concept and perception of Nigeria and the place of the Igbo in Nigeria were formed before Biafra. Thus, their attitude towards Nigeria were not informed and shaped by the Biafran propaganda. So, despite our obvious weaknesses then, they approached politics with a positive attitude: confidence, trust and optimism in the Nigerian system. They believed that it works for all Nigerians within the limits of human fragilities and the Nigerian factor. With such constructive attitude they achieved impressive political feats.
On the other hand, the present Igbo political elite are dominated by those whose concept and perception of Nigeria were shaped by the falsehood of the Biafran propaganda. Unlike the earlier Igbo leaders that encouraged us to make the best of our cultural skills and talents in a unified Nigeria, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu and the Biafran propaganda taught us that only secession from Nigeria can guarantee our survival. They taught us that we had no choice but to turn inwards, fortify our battlements and fight off murderous hordes of Nigerians, who, unified by their intense jealousy and implacable hatred for us, were determined to annihilate us. They indoctrinated us that we were fighting a war of survival that we must win or face extermination by the enemy – a posse of conscienceless, vicious, bloodthirsty Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and other ethnic groups of Nigeria.
While these were blatant, brazen lies, they, lamentably, captured Igbo minds. They instilled in the Igbo the mindset needed to fight to a finish in a war of “survival” but that is antithetical to the exigencies of co-existing, and forging a common future with the other peoples of our multifarious country. The lingering grip of the Biafran propaganda on Igbo minds makes us paranoid, and fearful and suspicious of other Nigerians, and stokes the feelings of self-pity and victimhood in us. It makes us believe that the other tribes of Nigeria, in their universal hatred for us, have a grand conspiracy to undermine and frustrate us. And consequently, that despite our potentials and resourcefulness, there might be no use in striving, as whatever we do will not amount to much because of the deliberate, unified and concerted attempt of the other Nigerians to thwart all our efforts and hold us down.
It is this defeatist, despondent attitude towards Nigeria – not marginalization – that is our problem in Nigerian politics. Until we change our attitude towards Nigeria, the steady whittling down of our political lot will continue. And, in our self-pity and feeling of victimhood, we will continue to blame it on our marginalization by the federal government and other ethnic groups of Nigerians. Self-pity and victimhood are the staples for losers and failures. Those that choose to wallow in self-pity and court the image of victimhood refuse to take responsibility for their actions, thus, they blame their failures on the hatred and malevolence of others.
They tolerate failure, and sometimes, invite failure because it gratifies their feeling of self-pity and sense of victimhood, and adds more weapons to their arsenal of blame game. The mindset that sustains self-pity and a sense of victimhood negates victory and progress, especially, in politics. Not surprisingly, no victim is a victor and no victor is a victim.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria