Notes On Igbophobes, Igbo-Haters And Igbomaniacs (3)


Douglas Anele

Concerning the serious weakness in the Igbo character that ended our discussion last week, Prof. Chinua Achebe captures it succinctly in his eponymous work, There was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, by affirming that as a group its success “can and did carry deadly penalties: the dangers of hubris, overweening pride and thoughtlessness which invite envy and hatred or, even worse, that obsess the mind with material success and dispose it to all kinds of crude showiness.

There is no doubt at all that there is a strand in contemporary Igbo behaviour that can offend by its noisy exhibitionism and disregard for humility and quietness.” This deadly character flaw has over the years led to insensate generalised hatred of Ndigbo by Nigerians from other ethnic groups, especially those who see them more as unwanted uppity competitors rather than as compatriots.

It must be pointed out that the character problem Prof. Achebe refers to can also be found amongst the Fulani, Hausa, Ijaw, Yoruba, etc. Nonetheless given the ubiquitous presence of Igbo people all over the place, their own hubris, showiness and noisy exhibitionism tend to be more noticeable, offensive and widespread.

Unfortunately many nouveaux riches of Igbo extraction like Obi Cubana and his close associates seem not to have learnt the lesson encoded in the Igbo proverb that oke soro ngwere maa mmiri, ahu koo ngwere o gaghi ako oke (if a rat plays with the lizard in the rain, if the body of the lizard dries off, the same will not be the case for the rat).

The preceding remarks points to a negative side of the Igbo character. But as a nuanced thinker Achebe also notes that in other countries an ethnic group as industrious as the Igbo would trigger healthy competition and the rebirth of achievement and learning.

Unfortunately in Nigeria “it bred deep resentment and both subtle and overt attempts to dismantle the structure in place for merit in favour of mediocrity under the cloak of a need for ‘federal character’ – a morally bankrupt and deeply corrupt form of the far more successful affirmative action in the United States.”

Accordingly, those looking for the main reason why Nigeria has become a horrible caricature of what a nation should be need look no further because, as the renowned novelist wryly remarks “The denial of merit is a form of social injustice that can hurt not only the individuals directly concerned but ultimately the entire society…whenever merit is set aside by prejudice of whatever origin, individual citizens as well as the nation itself is victimised.”

In short, all the policies meant to pull down the Igbo have boomeranged. Nigeria is now a giant with the feet of soft clay, a big-for-nothing agglomeration of peoples afflicted with a succession of some of the most selfish, incompetent and shameless leaders in the world.

The late Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, was a prominent unapologetic Igbophobe and Igbo-hater. For instance, he vehemently kicked against the sizeable number of Ndigbo in northern Nigeria and the preeminent positions they occupied in different aspects of life there.

Again the Sardauna championed some of the discriminatory policies of the First Republic that favoured northern Nigeria to the detriment of the south generally and Ndigbo in particular. Indeed, in an interview with a British journalist shortly after independence he affirms that as premier he would rather employ a foreigner than an Igbo, a fellow Nigerian, to fill any vacant position in his region simply because the Igbo, according to him, are ambitious and have a tendency to dominate others.

Apparently Ahmadu Bello was not interested in merit or in employing qualified Igbo to foster national unity. His main focus was to exclude the ‘uppity’ Igbo from being employed in the north. As we observed earlier, after the Biafran war members of the dominant faction of the northern conservative military-civilian establishment in the corridors of power continued the Sardauna’s apartheid policy against the Igbo.

For them, Ndigbo are lower class citizens that should ingratiate themselves before Fulani caliphate colonialists in order to make any headway economically and politically at the federal level. And the obnoxious quota system was a readymade tool to ensure that merit was sacrificed on the altar of “federal character” as defined and implemented by those running what Prof. Ben Nwabueze describes as the “invisible government” controlled by the northern elite.

Of course, without lowering standards it would have been virtually impossible for northerners to compete and outperform Ndigbo in various aspects of human endeavour that depend on individual initiative, creativity, industriousness and self-reliance. This is very evident especially since 1970 in the education sector where cut-off marks for admission at various levels of formal education run by the federal government are deliberately lowered to accommodate underperforming northern candidates whereas their Igbo counterparts with far better scores are denied admission.

The same discriminatory system is applied in employment into federal ministries, departments and agencies. All the same, Ndigbo have continued to play the role of primus inter pares with respect to the informal economy of northern Nigeria (and other non-Igbo majority areas) in spite of those obnoxious discriminatory policies and periodic violence targeted against them.

On the other hand aside from recent increase in the number of cattle dealers in the south-east due to deliberate pro-north policies of selfish bulimic factotums of the Fulani oligarchy like Orji Uzor Kalu, Hope Izodinma and Dave Umahi, majority of northerners in Igboland are barely managing to survive as beggars, low-grade artisans, gatemen, petty traders, okada riders and keke operators who mostly live in very squalid conditions.

Consequently if all the northerners in Igboland were to pack and relocate to their respective states, it would make a tiny mark, not a dent, on the socio-economic condition of the Igbo towns where they lived whereas if people of Igbo extraction had left the north en masse some time ago as proposed by a rag-tag collection of irascible northern youths the negative economic impact on the north would have been serious.

This claim will irritate northern Igbophobes and Igbo-haters who often shamelessly and falsely claim that Igbo people put unnecessary obstacles that prevent members of other ethnic groups from establishing and progressing in Igboland. Igbophobes and Igbo-hatersmaking such claim conveniently ignore the fact that Ndigbo living outside Igboland face even greater obstacles than the imaginary bottlenecks they are complaining about butstill continue to soldier on because of two main reasons: one, their indefatigable can-do attitude and, two, they take the concept of One Nigeria seriously.

That said, with the decades-old divisive policy of Igbo exclusion by the northern ruling cabal and their acolytes from the south now taken to a whole new level by the current nepotic administration of President Muhammadu Buhari it is time for Ndigbo to begin a critical re-examination of what it really means to be an Igbo in Nigeria.

It is probably true that majority of Nigerians from other ethnic groups are Igbophobes and Igbo-haters. This is particularly true amongst a segment of northerners who still think that having lost the civil war Ndigbo should be satisfied with whatever situation they find themselves in the country and be grateful.