Recently, at an event to commemorate 50 years of the declaration of Biafra, it was widely reported that former President Olusegun Obasanjo suggested that the agitators for the sovereign state of Biafra deserves to be understood through a process of negotiation. We are certain that some discerning Nigerians were startled that he, in particular, made such a suggestion that admits that the Igbo, as a nation, have been pushed to the periphery in the scheme of things in the country. Coming from Obasanjo, a rabid hater of the Igbo except when he wants to use them for a specific purpose, that call should be taken with a pinch of salt because it is lacking in sincerity.
With that call, Obasanjo was likely doing either of two things or both. One, he might have been playing to the gallery with the pretentious intent to make the Igbo believe that he has suddenly become a champion of their cause. Or two, he could, belatedly, have decided to purge himself of decades old ill-feelings against a people. Either way, he has a burden of insincerity to bear. Otherwise, why didn’t he take that line of action when he was in a position to do so?
He likened the agitations of the pro-Biafra movement to the naggings of a disgruntled, disaffected, love – starved house wife who expects to be petted or massaged to assuage her anxieties. That was a wrong, inappropriate and therefore unacceptable comparison that still puts across his mischievous perception of the Igbo as a people – a people who should be grateful that they are still accepted as Nigerians at all and, should they continue to bellyache, they could do their worst and leave. He said so himself in that same report. He was quoted rightly. The Biafran agitation is more serious than he is trying to make it seem. It is a quest for natural justice, equity, good conscience and fair play. The Igbo are clamouring for a more equitable participation in the Nigerian project. That is why they are peaceful about it. They are not demanding for anything that is not theirs by right. They are not demanding for a special treatment over and above what is reasonably accruable to them as Nigerians. They are not demanding to be given other groups’ serving of the national cake. All they want is to be treated as bona fide citizens with equal rights and privileges as provided for in the nation’s constitution. They live in fear in parts of Nigeria as they are made targets of attacks, vandalism and killings. They want that to stop. They expect their voice to be heard at the topmost level of national decision-making. That is fair enough. They do not expect to be invited to a roundtable to negotiate their citizenship in the Nigerian State as Obasanjo is suggesting. That is slavish and, in their opinion, the highest dramatisation of their marginalisation because no other ethnic group is subjected to such insult and humiliation. They are not foreigners domiciled in Nigeria. They are full-blooded Nigerians by birth and heritage as at 1914 when the entity we call Nigeria came into existence.
With a population size of over 50 million, the Igbo, as a major ethnic group, compares favourably with the other two- the Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba. Yet, in the distribution of national resources, minority groups fair better. Check the number of states and local governments in the South East, home of the Igbo, for example. And these are the bases for the sharing of accruals to the Federation Account. Because they have access to the least share of the nation’s resource, they are inevitably underdeveloped and consequently itinerant, like migrant workers in search of greener pasture elsewhere outside Igboland. The Igbo want that important issue addressed.
When eminent Nigerians like former President Goodluck Jonathan and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar talk about restructuring and true federalism those are the kind issues they have in mind. In our view, it is an incontrovertible fact that the Igbo have a greater stake in Nigeria today than most. Should the nation disintegrate, God forbid, and it becomes: To your tents Oh! Israel, the Igbo will be the greatest losers. In other words, they have every good reason to insist on the sanctity of Nigeria’s territorial integrity but on the basis of mutual respect that accommodates every ones hopes and aspirations. The Igbo have a saying that negotiated peace never lasts. Obasanjo, by calling the Biafran agitators to the discussion table, is seeking for peace. The Igbo, we dare say, want justice. Under normal circumstances, that is not too much to ask for.