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Presenting Igbo Case Before The British

Presenting Igbo Case Before The British

 [ Masterweb Reports: Osita Ebiem reports ] – When I read Orji Uzor Kalu’s article about his belief in the “. . . unity and indivisibility of Nigeria.” the first reaction would have been to be alarmed. Then he was writing about the Nigerian government crime of murder against its citizens in Zaki-Biam, Benue State in October 2001. Kalu in his essay insists that Olusegun Obasanjo by his action of ordering the mass killing of Nigerian citizens in Zaki-Biam deliberately committed crime against humanity.
Obasanjo was Nigeria’s President in 2001 and he gave orders to the military to destroy the villages in and around Zaki-Biam over some inter-ethnic disputes involving Tiv and Jukun. The entire area was sacked with hundreds of civilians killed and properties destroyed. This was a repeat of what the same Obasanjo government did earlier in Odi, Bayalesa State in November 1999. The Odi incident is considered by most analysts as genocide.

Some readers will also recall that it was the same Obasanjo as the commander of the Nigerian 3rd Marine Brigade in January, 1970 committed what has become known as the Njaba Massacre against Igbo civilians after the war had ended. For several days after ceasefire agreement had been signed by the Biafran General Philip Effiong and his Nigerian counterparts, soldiers under the direct command of Obasanjo went on a killing and pillaging spree at Njaba and its surrounding areas. Majority of the victims were civilian children, women and men in various refugee camps. Witnesses remember that the entire Njaba River was turned into a river of blood and a putrid soup of human flesh. Thousands of people were killed, women were raped and some were seized and taken away as sex slaves. For many months after wards the entire river and surrounding area festered with thousands of bloated bodies floating and others rotting in the open fields.

43 years later the Ezu River dumping of 2013 where more than 40 bodies of young men were found by horrified villagers would rudely remind the people of the Njaba Massacre. Reports have it that Ezu victims were suspected members of the non-violent separatist group; MASSOB, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra. They said the MASSOB members were executed extra-judicially by the Nigerian Police and dumped in the river.

Most Igbo consider Kalu’s seemingly harmless statement in the opening paragraph of this essay as thoughtless, reckless, insensitive and roundly condemnable. In the mind of most Igbo they see the statement as more devastating than it appears to a casual reader. For such Igbo they consider Kalu’s “flippant misspeak” as negatively impacting on the psyche of Igbo people and demeaning of the memories of those of them who died for Biafra as the crime of pogrom/genocide itself. Prominent among those who vehemently condemn the statement is Oguchi Nkwocha, the Biafran expert and an advocate for the division of the Nigerian state along ethnic lines. In his reaction, as well as calling Kalu’s confessed position shameful Nkwocha describes it as “. . . typical of the stupid  Igbo trying so hard to be more one-Nigerian than any others, completely oblivious to how ridiculous he is in that: it is more nauseating than convincing. After all, which other ethnic group in Nigeria would use that as an opening statement in any discourse, serious or not?” ( Nkwocha is a reputable force in the campaign against genocides and typically condemns genocides anywhere. So his anger would not have been against Kalu’s position on Zaki-Biam and Odi. This is clear because he goes further to explain his anger which is held by most Igbo. He says; “. . . in that mien, he [Kalu] goes on to ignore the ongoing Genocide by Nigeria against his own people [Igbo people]—he has to; and is ever willing to lead the charge of genocide against any another group.” Nkwocha and other Igbo believe that Biafra genocide remains the most heinous and the one with the greatest number of people killed in Africa and any honest commentator on African genocides and mass killings cannot justifiably ignore it for any reason. The people in this group argue that the other major reason why it is not only dishonest but dangerous to gloss over Biafra genocide is because the ethnic/religious cleansing of Igbo people is still on-going in Nigeria just as Nkwocha pointed out.

Some commentators believe that Nkwocha’s statement about Kalu’s supposedly unthinking effusive patriotic gushing for one Nigeria is too strong, but others feel that he did not condemn Kalu enough. The people in the latter group believe that Kalu by his statement is making a mockery of the memory of more than 3.1 million Igbo people and other Biafrans who gave their lives in the process of trying to free Igbo people and others from the clutches of one Nigeria. And this group is pained more by what they consider as perhaps the longest running or unremitting genocide in history: Igbo/Biafra Genocide and ethnic/religious cleansing of Igbo people in Nigeria.

Another group that would be alarmed at Kalu’s statement would be those Igbo who believe that in today’s Nigerian political scene any Igbo politician should be knowledgeable on the important highlights of the history of his Igbo people that he leads. In their opinion such insensitivity as displayed by Kalu becomes more disturbing when such a politician had risen to an important position of being governor of an Igbo state. (Kalu served as governor of Abia State from 1999 to 2007). It is believed that such level of insensitivity and grandiose dreams based on irrationality among Igbo leaders may only be forgiven in the likes of the quintessential Pan-Africanist (Nnamdi Azikiwe) who had very little history to refer to. In today’s scheme of things in Nigeria they contend that it is expected that all Igbo participants in the Nigerian politics should be more of realists than mere dreamers.

In today’s Nigeria any Igbo confessing like Kalu did would not only be considered reckless but to be dangerously impacting negatively on the well-being and future of his entire people. The argument of those Igbo like Nkwocha who appear to hold extreme position is; if there is one single most important episode in the annals of Igbo history, Biafra would surely be it. So it would baffle any Igbo political analyst any day how an Igbo politician could attain any meaningful position in Nigerian politics without a sound knowledge of the Biafran tragedy? Hence it is believed by most Igbo pundits that a good knowledge of the Biafran experience is supposed to be the first qualification for any Igbo public participant. In the real world of politics no one should ever dream of leading a people to a future without knowing about their past? The road to the future is always found in the people’s past. Generally, historians have always had the consensus that those who would get to a planned and successful future, whether as individuals or a group, would always first find their past and learn all the lessons in store for them there.

In Kalu’s confessed belief in one Nigeria he fell victim of the guilt of the non-politician’s absolute sermon. This mistake is perhaps the deadliest Achilles’ heel of many Igbo politicians. Some other Igbo politicians have often been guilty of assuming similar absolute positions when reacting to certain aspects of Nigerian politics. Successful politicians try as much as possible to avoid the many dangers of taking absolute positions and making absolute statements in their dealings with certain political issues. Sincere and honest politicians always find ways, without prevaricating or being dishonest, to still communicate forthrightly and honestly what they think. Most important politicians and participants on human social affairs understand the basic fact that they can only be certain and absolute within the wishes and needs of the people they lead. When time or circumstances dictate for the people what they want at any given time, it is always in the best interest of the leaders to adjust accordingly their own positions so as to remain relevant with their people. In divine matters believers can conveniently run the risk of being absolutely sure of the doctrines of their faith but not in the physical or social sciences. Successful leaders in progressive societies study and adjust their convictions and decisions at every given time on the whims and actual needs of the people they lead and in the context of the people’s environment.

From his recent political and social activities Orji Uzo Kalu and his organization; Njiko Igbo appear to have started taking that all-important politician’s adjustment steps, even if haltingly, to conform to his people’s wishes and needs. Kalu went to the British House of Commons on April 18, 2013 and presented the case of Igbo plight and marginalization in Nigeria. ( He also used the opportunity to explain his Njiko Igbo movement to his British audience. This action is one little positive step on behalf of Igbo. Igbo people expect a lot more similar steps in the interest of Igbo from those among them who are well-gifted. All well-meaning Igbo stand by everything that Kalu said in his address to the British Parliament.

However some of the analysts have pointed out that Kalu ended his address before the British parliamentarians without proffering a realistic solution to the problems he enunciated. They argue that Kalu should have told the British lawmakers to consider as the most viable solution to Nigeria’s problem of endemic ethnic hatred and religious cleansing in the principles of Self Determination for the various ethnic groups in Nigeria who are held down by a forced unity in an unworkable one Nigeria. They contend that Kalu should have been more forceful in his condemnation of the unfounded hatred of his Igbo people by the rest of Nigerians by offering his listeners the most viable solution which is the division of Nigeria along ethnic/religious lines. Kalu would not have needed to look far for familiar examples to give to his listeners. If he had referred to the on-going process of separation of Scotland and Wales from the British union as model to follow in resolving the Igbo-Nigerian situation it would have been an apt and very familiar example to his audience.

Perhaps Kalu did not go that far because he still thinks that the hatred and marginalization of Igbo in Nigeria will end once an Igbo becomes the head of state of Nigeria. Kalu is quite intelligent and a reflective thinker and over time he will know that the hope of Igbo does not consist in the presidency of Nigeria but in the separation of Igbo people from Nigeria. Kalu is also bold and unafraid of change unlike some of his critics. He is not known to never change his mind when he encounters another and a more reinforcing light. Kalu as well as many people like him will discover sooner than later, the truth that Nigeria is divisible just as the United Kingdom of Great Britain is. (We will return to this later).

It had to take Kalu some years after he left office as governor of Abia State to reflect and draw a more realistic conclusions on the purposely restricted position of Igbo people in the scheme of things in Nigeria. To get an insight into what probably informed Kalu’s perceived, if not a complete volte-face, but at least a more realistic view of the Nigerian state in relationship with Kalu’s Igbo people, one may have to go to the article under review which was published in mid-February of 2008: The Zaki Biam massacre: Matters arising. In the article Kalu said; “Without sounding immodest I wish to state that my sojourn in Umuahia Government House from 1999 to 2007 as governor gave me a privileged insight into the intrigues that dog Nigeria’s political life. In fact, the period under review also offered me the opportunity to relate to different people from all over Nigeria, irrespective of tribe, religion or status, and shared in their joys and sorrows.”

So, though Kalu had started out by making the sweeping statement as we quoted in the opening paragraph and further down he continued to think that his belief is after all not a fluke, reading between the lines we know that his experience on the job has actually made a far reaching and lasting change in him more than he may be willing to admit. Reading him closely reveals to any careful observer that Kalu was only fighting and shouting down an insistent voice which has continued to dog him and many other Igbo politicians over the years. From their interactions with the peoples of other ethnic groups in Nigeria Igbo politicians have not been able to wish away or suppress the only reasonable conclusion about the untenable existence of a Nigerian state where Igbo features as a member of the union. Experience they say is the best teacher and for Igbo people like Orji Uzor Kalu who are quite reflective and articulate they cannot escape for too long this truth about Nigeria. Real life experiences will always override mere wishful thinking when anyone is sincere and willing to pursue after the truth. This truth about Nigeria is such that the louder the inexperienced, insincere, lazy and unthinking ones shout out the indivisibility of one Nigeria; the more difficult it gets for them to drown out the ever mounting reasons for the immediate divisibility of Nigeria.

And why this seeming Nigerian paradox is not difficult at all to contemplate is simple. The Nigerian union after all was put together for the indigenous peoples by the United Kingdom of Great Britain as the colonial masters. And as we earlier mentioned the various component parts of the British union are going their separate ways through national referendums and the principles of Self Determination. So, Britain is divisible and it is dividing. After hundreds of years Scotland and Wales are leaving the United Kingdom to form their own independent sovereign nations.  These events taking place in the UK today are helping those who had previously believed in error in the indivisibility of Nigeria to change their mind. It is now easy for the diehard “one-Nigerianists” to say; after all, Britain is divisible and it is dividing before our eyes so why not one Nigeria. (Yes, that is true, why not divide one Nigeria)?

Most commentators on the period when Kalu served as the Governor of Abia State have only but negative things to say about his performances there. Therefore, going by a majority consensus it can be assumed that Kalu failed in governance while he ran Abian affairs. His critics say that Kalu was a bad governor who did not improve the lot of his Abia people. But this article has only looked at Kalu on the basis of the recent work he is doing on behalf of Igbo people. 

Some Igbo people tend to be uncomfortable when they hear someone talking about the oppressions of Igbo people in the hands of other members of the Nigerian union. They would rather adopt the macho stance of believing that Igbo can take care of themselves and there is no point of anyone constantly painting the picture of Igbo as the victim. Who wouldn’t rather be regarded by their peers as the top dog? But in the real world it is true that things are not exactly as these in the Igbo macho school of thought would want it. Igbo ethnic group in Nigeria is therefore in disparate need for sincere, honest, dedicated and intellectually competent individuals and groups who would concertedly present their plight before a skeptical and seemingly uncaring world.

*Photo Caption - Orji Uzor Kalu