Chinedu Eze x-rays Professor Jude Undenta’s views on how the Igbo race can contribute to the unity of Nigeria if given the right political role, while expounding equity and justice
So much has been written about the fate and role of the Igbo race in Nigeria. Since the Nigeria-Biafra war the rest of Nigeria seem to have doubt about the people who occupy the heartbeat of the South-east region, while the later still struggle with acceptability and feeling of oneness with the rest of the country.
This problem has become poignant because of the differing forces, which seem to be threatening the unity of Nigeria beyond the Igbo conundrum. But the reality is that Igbos may be the race that desire to have Nigeria as one indivisible entity, considering their ubiquitous foray and integration in the nooks and crannies of the country.
Udenta who is a Professor of Government and Public Administration at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology in his recent inaugural lecture titled ‘Ndigbo and Current Political Equation in Nigeria: A Parametric Outlook’, argued that if given the opportunity to realise their full potential in Nigeria, the Igbo would be the bedrock of unity of the most populous black nation in the world.
Udenta called for end of lamentation of Ndigbo; rather, they should go into political negotiation with the rest of Nigeria in order to bring themselves back to political reckoning, noting that Igbos have the wherewithal, material and mental resources to reposition themselves in Nigeria. He however, lamented the gullibility of the masses who are used by the political elite to satisfy parochial interests at the expense of the collective interest of the people.
Shrinking Political Influence
Udenta acknowledged that Igbos are feather weight in the Nigerian politics and observed that the Igbo political elite tend to manipulate the masses for self aggrandisement by vested interests, an attitude that has comfortably taken Ndigbo away from the political firmament in the country.
“The stigmatisation, demonisation and resentment against Ndigbo have generated the dynamics of political marginalisation of Ndigbo. These invariably have resulted in the critical decline of Ndigbo in the political equation of Nigeria. The return of Ndigbo to meaningful political relevance would require the exposure of the games of the vested interests. This is no small matter. There is no gainsaying the anticipated nimble, but calculated resistance by vested interests. Be that as it may, from the foregoing we generate the following hypotheses for the endeavour: One, the contorted view of Ndigbo results from the manipulation of perception of the masses by certain vested interests and is largely responsible for the decline of Ndigbo in the political equation in Nigeria; two, Ndigbo have shown considerable love for Nigeria in many ways and deserve a better deal from their compatriots and three, Ndigbo yearn for a nation of equal protection under the law for all,” Udenta said.
The current political colouration seem to have exacerbated the political rift among Nigerian ethnic divide, but the butt may lie in the South-east, as Professor Udenta noted that the animosities like the remnants after a repast has become the offshoot of the civil war and attendant to this bitter experience are Igbophobia and the allied demonisation of the people from the South-east region.
“Here, the attributes of elite theory concerning elite conspiracy and hegemonic propensities will come into play. The elite theory will place in a better relief, the constant threat to vested interests represented in oligarchy, aristocracy and feudalism posed by democratic/ republican tendencies and credentials of Ndigbo and the attendant reprisals. In this matrix equally, the class interests of the oligarchic and hegemonic social forces will also come into play. This will help us appreciate certain aspects of our historico-social milieu. At this juncture, the manipulation of group consciousness – real or false/imaginary will come into play. This brings the group perspective as regards the exploitations by the oligarchy. Issues here include group’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Again, the strength of the elite lies in their ability to control perceptions of the masses. It is like a social magic,” Udenta observed.
He noted, however, that the concept that defines most of the observed social realities, for good or ill is power, which holds together “this combinatorial/mosaic/sandwich perspective for this endeavour.”
“Power is defined by the capacity to set and realise goals. Such capacity depends on the context(s). Hence, power is not just dynamic, fragile and volatile, but also tractable and tractionable. Hence, we speak and act in regard to the power matrix and allied calculations, viz., use, misuse and abuse of power; balance of power, poor judgment of power, balance of terror, mutual respect, mutual cooperation/benefit, Mutually-Assured-Destruction (MAD) and other excesses that flow from the analysis of the power scenes and acts and the reverberations upon social relations,” Udenta said.
He remarked that politics encapsulates among other things the social power resources and the attendant structure(s) concerning the utilisation of these resources for the improvement of the conditions of individuals, as well as more importantly, “the collective. Benthamite utilitarianism underscores it as defined by ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’.” Put differently, politics encapsulates the processes and procedures associated with the acquisition and utilisation of the power of a community or organisation as defined by the social force(s) at play within the social formation or milieu – be they individuals or groups.”
Declining Political Influence
Udenta observed that there is increasing realisation among Ndigbo that all is not well with the people, noting that some of the factors responsible for this include self destructive politics and the tendency to heap the blame on others for critical political actions taken to suit the whims of individual on behalf of the people, which most often are inimical to the collective interest. But he acknowledged that Igbo have suffered grievously from underhand treatment by the successive political leadership of the country.
“Apart from the Promethean categories of MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra) and IPOB (Independent People of Biafra), there is a whole gamut of fora and platforms within the last few years where Igbo situations have been the focus. The indices of the situation of decline, marginalisation and neglect are many and dire. These include states creation, communities/farmers-pastoralists’ conflicts, low/inconsiderable federal presence in Igbo land. This is low presence is very unfortunate in many areas, which include bad roads and other indices of weak transportation infrastructure: poor railways, airports and waterways as well as incompetent power/energy infrastructure; national political appointments and representations. Others include the manner of applications of political power within the states in Igbo land as well as the issues and preparations concerning restructuring as well as the 2019 and 2023 elections in Nigeria,” Udenta said.
Udenta also noted that there is the tendency by Nigerian government security operatives to see the South-east region as area of exploitation and booty collection and this explains why police officials and other paramilitary personnel push to be posted to the area, where they arbitrarily “make their own laws” to rip off the people.
Udenta cited example with the number of roadblocks and the presence of police and customs officials on busy roads in the region when compared to other parts of the country. These, he noted are “issues of the manner of perceptions/treatments of any ethnic rising/militia of Igbo origin vis-à-vis those of our neighbours; the obvious ease/ignominy with which politicians of Igbo origin could be dealt with vis-a-vis those of our neighbours and so forth; the ease with which our legitimate commercial and economic concerns are torpedoed by unfriendly policy somersaults that seem to have been deliberately targeted at the jugular of the economic concerns of the Igbo, vis-à-vis those of our neighbours and so forth.”
Indices of Denial
Udenta said that there are unarguably discernible demonstrations, policies and actions of the federal government that clearly showed that despite the three Rs of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, the rest of Nigeria still feel that punitive measures must be taken against Ndigbo for the war. This, he said, perhaps explained while other regions were given at least six states, the South-east has only five.
“For the sake of justice, since states provide access to national resources, there is need for justice. Or, what logic permits our minority neighbours to have six states and be entitled to more values than Ndigbo – an unquestionable majority ethnic group in Nigeria?
All in all, states creation was a political strategy clearly targeted against the Igbos as a result of the political crisis of the mid-1960s sequel to the Coup that ended Nigeria’s First Republic. It seems it has remained directed against the Igbo even now. It would enhance balance, fairness and reintegration if Igboland gets an additional state. The way things are, states creation seems to be part of the encirclement, blockade, squeeze, isolate, marginalise manoeuvres directed against Ndigbo. For the sake of amity, equity, good conscience, and sustainable development, it is important that this relative deprivation and attendant frustration quagmire be appropriately attended to. Ordinarily, when one looks at the Igboland ensemble and the state structure in Nigeria, what appears upon informed outlook is a deliberate strategy of Igbo marginalisation. It is time to make things better,” he said.
Udenta also pointed out that Ndigbo are allegedly shortchanged in political appointments, describing the situation as the, “critical index and source of the noxious condition of the Igbos in the power structure of Nigeria.”
“Time was when political fortune smiled on the Igbo: from the Nationalist Leader, to the First Governor-General, First President of the Federation, though ceremonial; First Senate Presidents, First Indigenous Vice Chancellors and Permanent Secretaries, First GOC of the Nigerian Army and so forth. It is important to add at this juncture that none of these was rigged. Each came out of merit, borne out of the best international standards of the time. Incidentally, the highest political office achieved by Ndigbo in Nigeria since 2007 has been the Deputy Senate President.
Contributions of Ndigbo
Udenta (arguably) said Igbos have contributed more than her neighbours to the Nigeria Project.
“However, the greatest contribution of Ndigbo to Nigeria is Biafra. In this connection, there would be no discussion of Nigeria without the Igbo. There would be no discussion of Igbo without the Biafra story. So, what have we learnt from that? According to Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1989, p.169-170):
The Biafra aim was not to secede per se. It was the exercise of the inalienable right of a people to self-determination. When it appeared to the then Eastern Region that the basis of the Nigerian understanding was no longer valid, the stigmatised people sought safety from within their own ability…
Biafra was not a separatist movement as propaganda made it appear, it was rather a reflex for self-preservation. It is today an attitude of mind rather than a territorial entity and within that attitude of mind exist seeds that will save this country for posterity. All over Nigeria, there is Biafra but that Biafra today is the Biafra of Nigerians and not the Biafra of the Igbos; the Biafra of the mind, not of Biafra of the fields”.
Udenta said Biafra demonstrates Igbos’a innate abilities to surmount difficulties and be technologically self-reliant and notwithstanding the harshness of the situation, Igbos instead of turning to anarchism or being reduced to street urchins and beggars and suicide bombers turned to their innate abilities.
Udenta said it was the breach of equity, law and justice, which are universal doctrine of every democracy/decent society that led to the failure of the social contract to protect the Igbo.
“This led to Biafra. It is this equal protection under the Law doctrine that raises issues as regards Lagos (the nation’s capital at the time). It is equally what is behind the discomfiture of the Igbo as regards the official responses to the pastoralists’ onslaught as well as other peculiar phenomena of insecurity directed against the Igbo of Nigeria.
Udenta also observed that if Nigeria’s leadership epitomise equity and justice it will build patriotic spirit among Nigerians and Ndigbo would make invaluable contribution to the development of the country much more than they are doing now under air of uncertainty and marginalization. He also remarked that Igbo political elite should always carry the people along in the spirit of onye aghana nwanneya (do not leave your brother behind).