By Omotaya Yusuf
Some Igbo people have been clamouring for an independent Biafra state while at the same time developing other regions where they reside. In this opinion by Ochereome Nnanna, he points out that the best thing Igbos can do for themselves is to develop their own region too rather than staying in other places and making noise.
I read an interesting Facebook broadcast by a friend of mine, Ray Morphy Ugba, the morning just before coming to the office to write this article. Ray is a journalist, politician, blogger and (from what I saw after the broadcast) also a musician. He hails from Cross River State, though he seems quite proud of the fact that his mother is an Igbo woman, which is why he calls Igbos “my mother’s people”. Ray referred to a recent controversial statement credited to the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode on a visit to Badagry, where he said Lagos was not a “colony” but part of the Yoruba homeland (which is true). He reportedly announced that there was “nothing like Eze Ndi Igbo again” in the state, stressing his determination to move several markets (like Mile 12, Ladipo and others) to outskirts of the metropolics. This outing has been trending in the social media, and some Igbo people believe it is yet another pointer to the fact that Ambode is an “enemy” of their people.
Ray in his broadcast said: “Just because you have bought a large parcel of land from a community to build, live, trade and flourish does not make you an indigene of that place”. I concur. Though it makes you a stakeholder as a property owner and citizen, it does not entitle you to the “inner matters” to which only the aborigines of the place are entitled. However, that you are not entitled to those things does not in any way reduce your rights, privileges and obligations as a citizen under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I will expatiate on this presently. First, let me deal with the issue of “going home”; what it is not and what it is.
What does “Igbos, go home” mean? It does not mean: pack your belongings and leave the place. It does not mean that you should uproot from where you currently live and go back to Igboland or your hometown in Igboland. Why should you? You are a Nigerian, and the Constitution entitles you to settle and live peacefully and lawfully in any part of the country without harassment. “Go home” is a very useful piece of advice for any sensible Igbo person willing to listen. Anyone who tells you “be careful”, “mind yourself” or “be warned”, is not insulting you. He is your friend, maybe in disguise. The Igbos are the only group in Nigeria who require this timeous advice: “go home”. The Yorubaman in the North or any other part of the country does not need it: he hardly “leaves” his roots, no matter how long he lives outside Yorubaland (including abroad). The Arewa man does not need it. He hardly plants down any tap root outside his aboriginal enclave. He never builds any permanent structure. He lives among his own cultural types, maintains the purity of his religious culture and is in touch with “home” by radio and other channels, no matter how long he lives outside Arewa land.
The “One Nigeria” issue
It is only the Igbo man that takes the “One Nigeria” dictum on the surface level. He is like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who says: “let us forget about our differences”. But other Nigerians are like Sardauna Ahmadu Bello who says: “let us remember our differences”. It is this misguided float of mind that leads the Igbo man to settle and develop where he lives, forgetting that where he comes from also requires to be developed. History once taught the Igbo man a painful lesson when the coups of 1966 took place and the pogroms in the North led to the civil war. When the war ended, the Igbos came back and were allowed to reclaim their property in the North and West, but were denied that right in Port Harcourt, a city built on the land of the Igbo-speaking Ikwerre sub-national group. Why? Because Port Harcourt had become the oil booty of the civil war’s winners. The Igbo/Biafrans were not allowed to be landlords/stakeholders in this city after losing the war over its oil. However, the Igbos went back to the North and West and soon forgot all the lessons that Port Harcourt was meant to teach them: understand how to live with other Nigerians in this “One Nigeria”. They recovered from the scars of the war and started ravenously building mansions, markets and even industries in major cities like Lagos, Abuja, Kano and elsewhere. Not only that, they totally neglected their own aboriginal homeland. Igboland feels very little of the famed commercial and technological acumen of the Igbo people. It is essentially an economic and infrastructural wasteland.
The fake Eze Ndigbo
The Igbos became so “comfortable” outside their own homeland that some misguided elements among them even started setting up some fake traditional institutions and installing what they referred to as “Eze Ndi Igbo” in those places, to the utter irritation of the indigenes and those of us who feel the shame of it all. These hustlers (“Eze Ndi Igbo”) who don’t understand the implications of their tomfoolery, go as far as conferring chieftaincy titles on relevance-seeking nonentites who, invariably, are people of questionable roots and means of livelihood.
These fakers have come under increasing scrutiny by the owners of the land: their commoners, kings and political leaders. This is long overdue! If Ambode says no more “Eze Ndi Igbo” in Lagos, he is right. Anybody whose ancestors did not come from the geo-cultural boundaries of Lagos cannot be an indigene of Lagos. If you are not an indigene of Lagos, how can you be a “king” in Lagos?
Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization has slammed promoters of Radio Biafra over it penchant for lies and deceits. How can you dispense chieftaincy titles? It is a barefaced usurpation of the “inner privileges” exclusive to those whose ancestors first established their traditional authority in Lagos. In any case, what value does “Eze Ndi Igbo” add to Igbos in Lagos? It is not even a cultural trait of Igbo people. It was a mere copying of Arewa’s Sarkin Hausawa or Sarkin Zango system which the Igbos born in the North (like the late venerated Dim Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu) misguidedly copied against the better counsel of some of us. The Sarkin Hausawa do pay homage to the traditional and political authorities of places they settle as due deference (though some of them are no longer doing so but actually making territorial claims which pitches them at loggerheads with indigenes). If push comes to shove again, Igbos will lose a million times more than they lost in Port Harcourt. Yet, many of them are supporting Nnamdi Kanu’s Biafra separatism, believing they can eat their cakes and still have it back. What naivete! Igbos must “go home”, develop Igboland, build up its economic infrastructure and make it a destination not only for the Igbos but also other Nigerians and even foreigners to live, work and thrive. That is the meaning of “go home”. Igbos will never live in dignity outside Igboland until they have done this.
Their children will continue to speak English and the native tongues of their hosts without the ability to speak and behave like Igbos. If Igbos do not “gome home”, they will be lost! They are already losing their Majority status, anyway, and their language is rapidly vanishing. It is in the vital interest of the Igbo people and their children to “go home”. Anambra State is showing that it can be done. I did not vote for Ambode during the elections but he is not my enemy. He is developing Lagos State for the common good, and he needs to remove shanties to do so. Every Lagos dweller (including the indigenes) has three choices: cooperate, give way or be prepared to go in. But the citizenship rights of all Nigerians in Lagos MUST always be upheld. Lagos MUST be developed lawfully. Otherwise, our voters cards will speak for us at the right time.