The Igbo Must Learn To Speak With One Voice
What now looks like a continuous confrontation between the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, and leaders of Ohaneze Ndigbo is becoming quite ludicrous and, and therefore, disturbing. It is beginning to make the Igbo look like people who don’t really know what they want after all. And those of us Igbo in the Diaspora are no longer finding all this funny.
First: it is important to consider the fact that everyone in Nigeria now seems to feel or to know that the Igbo can never speak with one voice. Even on this one pressing issue of Biafra or referendum alone that every Igbo is concerned about, they have as the mouthpiece of the Igbo in general, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), the Movement for the Realisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Biafra Zionist Front (BZF), the Biafra Liberation in Exile (BILIE), the Eastern People’s Congress (EPC), the Biafra United Liberation Council (BULC), the Joint Revolutionary Council of Biafra (JRCB), the Igbo Hebrew Cultural Restoration (IHCR), the Biafra Actualisation and Defence Squad (BADS), the Biafra Revolutionary Organisation (BRO), the Salvation Peoples of Biafra (SPB), the Biafra Liberation Crusade (BLC), the Biafra Peace Corps (BPC), the Billie Human Rights Initiative (BHRI), the Ekwenche Organisation and the Igbozurume Organisation. Each of these organisations has a leader and an executive council.
Obviously, this idea of proliferating leaderships among the Igbo is not doing them any good. When other Nigerians see it, they shrug their shoulders and seem to confirm their suspicion that the Igbo would never like to be subjected to anyone else’s leadership. He is either the leader or he will make trouble – the sort of trouble that could bring an organisation on its knees.
What would possibly do good to the Igbo today is that Ohaneze Ndigbo stays as the apex cultural organisation of the Igbo. As far as it is well known, that is the only organisation the federal government of Nigeria recognises and the only one that can meaningfully dialogue with Nigeria. Then IPOB and MASSOB should merge as the Youth Wing of Ohaneze Ndigbo. They should then incorporate all these other smaller organisations and possibly change their name if they consider that will help the cause. So rather than continuing to attack Ohaneze, Mr Powerful should find a way to harness all the splinter groups into IPOB as the youth wing of Ohaneze. That is going to be tough. But it is not as difficult as it seems. All he needs do is to have a conversation with each of the leaders of these groups and try to convince them on the need for the Igbo to speak with one voice to Nigeria and to the world. And let us make no mistakes about it, the opinion of youths in any part of the world can be quite powerful, persistent and difficult to suppress.
Second: when it comes to hard bargaining with Nigeria, it is important that Igbo youths should trust their elders to represent them very well. After all, it is the future of Igbo people and Igbo land that is at stake here. By the same token, the elders must listen to and appreciate the concerns of Igbo youths and take them along in any negotiations. In such a way, their fears would be allayed and Nigeria would know that the Igbo are serious and united in their quest, be it for a referendum or for secession.
It is with this in mind that I think the recent threat by IPOB spokesman, Emma Powerful, to the leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo against organising any public event to discuss the issue of restructuring and One Nigeria in the South East was not in the best interest of Ndigbo.
He described Ohaneze leaders as “Abuja errand boys”. He maintained that leaders of the body had failed the region. He threatened that what happened at the Eastern Consultative Assembly event would be nothing compared to what would become of Ohaneze Ndigbo should they attempt to convene any public meeting anywhere in Biafra land to discuss restructuring or how to keep Nigeria one.
“What we want and are being killed for is referendum not restructuring; freedom not continued bondage in Nigeria. It is unfortunate that very few individuals who arrogate the title of elders and leaders to themselves cannot point to any legacy they built or are presently building for the coming generation except betrayal, treachery, back-stabbing, avarice and lust for power. All the excellent work done by Dr. Michael Okpara and Chief Sam Mbakwe has been laid to waste by a ravenous breed of caliphate appointed Igbo leadership devoid of any sense of responsibility to the people”, he said.
Just for the records, from October 1960 when Nigeria had self rule until 15 January 1966 when the military struck, Dr Francis Akanu Ibiam was the governor of Eastern Nigeria and Dr Michael Okpara was the premier. Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu, then a colonel in the army was appointed as governor of Eastern Nigeria from 19 January 1966 till 27 May 1967 after the civil war had started.
During the civil war, Dr Anthony Ukpabia Asika was appointed Administrator of Eastern Nigeria by General Gowon in October 1967. Asika was succeeded by Col. Anthony Ochefu who governed Eastern Nigeria from July 1975 to February 1976, during the military regime of General Murtala Mohammed.
In 1976, Imo State was carved out of Anambra and a naval officer, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu became the governor of Imo state while Col. Atom Kpera was governor of Anambra.
The military ruled Nigeria until 1979 when the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari was voted into power. Chief Sam Mbakwe became the governor of old Imo State.
After Alhaji Shagari and Chief Mbakwe were sacked by General Buhari on 31 December1983, the military continued with their rule of benign terror for another 8 years. Then they gave way for just two years and came back again to milk the system dry until 1999 when they were able to draw up a constitution that would perpetually keep them in control of the country.
Where did Ohaneze feature in all this? So, for IPOB to accuse the Ohaneze of laying waste all the work Dr Ibiam and Dr Okpara put in place is, to put it mildly, very uncharitable.
The hard fact is that Igbo youths don’t seem to know how slippery Nigerian political terrain actually is. They need to know that they are dealing with a vicious, greedy, dangerously ruthless group of military cabals and their cohorts, whether they are still in military uniform or now in “agbada” as politicians, who will stop at nothing to ensure that all the money in Nigeria passes through their hands and those of their family members. Even if they give Biafra to the Igbo tomorrow, but have some powerful European countries behind them, they can easily sabotage the new nation’s independence by funding one of their people to distort the system as was the case with southern Sudan.
Again, those who are agitating for a referendum must be careful not to close in the Igbo if the referendum does not favour Ndigbo. Of course I am not sure they have taken pains to conduct a poll on the matter. But from my observation, many more people in Nigeria would prefer a united, populous country where they are free to do their businesses and even live, than fragmenting the country and sending Igbo businessmen further away in search of better life.
The northerners, despite the general conflicts that erupt from time to time between them and the Christian community, will readily tell you how much the Igbo have contributed to building up their economy. Any of their governors will tell you the same story. Why would they allow you to go? And why would the Igbo want to go anyway, since a good number of them have come to regard their residences in the north as their second homes?
What I am saying is that a referendum has a capacity to surprise those who think Nigerians are tired of staying with each other as a united country. A plebiscite conducted only among Eastern Nigerians will not be acceptable as it does not reflect the opinion of all Nigerians. And if a plebiscite is conducted and it does not favour the Igbo, considering their numerical strength in a population of about 180 million – that is, if more people want to continue as Nigerians and paddle their canoe that way – where does that place the Igbo generally? Perhaps it would mean the bondage that IPOB did not want, not the freedom it longed for.
Given these facts, the seeming inability of the Igbo to speak with one voice runs counter to their demand for anything, be it plebiscite or outright secession. Their situation is like a crack in a wall, from where a neighbour can eavesdrop into a conversation that is supposed to be private.
The moment the Igbo are seen to be speaking with one voice, nothing will be difficult for them to achieve. To secure their desire, whether it is referendum or Biafra, it is important that the Igbo must learn to speak with one voice.