The quest for a president of the Igbo extraction assumed an interesting twist last week when former Abia State governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, took the case of the Igbo to the House of Commons in London, the United Kingdom.
It was Thursday, April 18 and it was 6.pm local time. The Jubilee Hall in the House of Commons, London, the United Kingdom, was unusually busy. A certain event had attracted the unusual crowd, mostly the black race. Accessing the parliament was not as easy. It came with strict security checks.
As you go into the security corner and step on a metal platform, leading through to the Jubilee Hall, pictures are automatically taken. It’s a standard security system in developed societies. In addition, visitors are notified on proper attitudinal conduct within the precinct of the parliament.
The event was organised by Enugu State indigenes living in the UK to address common challenges. But to deliver the keynote address was a former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu.
Before Orji gave his speech, a member of the British Parliament and Chairman, Home Affairs Select Committee, Hon. Keith Vaz,had laid the template. Vaz who claimed to have visited Nigeria sometime in 2008 spoke of the beauty of a country endowed with both human and material resources but has nothing to show for it.
His conclusion, however, was nothing new to Nigerians themselves. Except for leadership, Vaz reckoned, Nigeria should be one of the fastest growing economies and a destination for businesses across the globe. Hon. Ivy Lewis wholater spoke had further illuminated the hall and shed light on a relationship that both the Nigerians in the UK and the Labour Party look forward to.
But Kalu soon mounted the podium and gave a keynote address titled: The Historical Plight and Precarious Future of Igbo People in Nigeria. The thrust of the speech was the place of the Igbo within the national contraption.
The former governor did not dwell on anything extraneous as he painted a pitiable plight of the Igbo in the country and why the situation could not continue. For him, the challenge was to ensure a president of the Igbo extraction who would ultimately address some of the imbalances that have put the Igbo in a position of disadvantage.
A visibly angry and passionate Kalu started this way: “Permit me at this point to invoke an ancient African idiom which has its roots in Igbo wisdom: onye na amaghi ebe mmiri bidoro mawa ya, agaghi ama ebe o kwusiri (He who does not recognise the point at which the rain began to beat him will not recognise when the rain ceases to fall altogether).
“For Igbo people in Nigeria, the rainfall ensued in the early 19th century when the British first explored the Lower Niger. The rain began to beat us from January 1914 when Lord Fredrick Lugard, concluded the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates into Colonial Nigeria and became its first Governor-General. The Igbo did not have a say as to whether they desired to become a part of such a contraption or not.
“The clouds lifted ever so briefly and the Igbo enjoyed a brief sunshine in Nigeria in the decade before and a few years after independence. Having embraced Christianity and western education with enthusiasm, they quickly rose to hold sway in the federal civil service, military, academia, commerce and industry – the Jews of West Africa were on the march, toiling, sweating and swinging upwards, to the envy and hatred of their compatriots.
“The Igbo in Nigeria became quickly drenched in that awesome rain by way of separate episodes of pogrom: the Jos massacre in1945, the Kano massacre in 1953 and the September 29, 1966 massacre in which tens of thousands of Igbo men, women and
children were slaughtered. This last event led directly to the civil war of 1967-1970, which in turn resulted in mass starvation and deliberate anti-Igbo genocide. “And the rain has not abated. The bloody rain has continued to beat Igbo people, resulting in organised anti-Igbo massacres in Kano in 1980, Maiduguri in 1982, Yola in 1984, Gombe in 1985, Kaduna in 1986, Bauchi in 1991, Funtua in 1993, Kano in 1994, Damboa in 2000 and the Apo 6 massacre in 2005,” he said.
He therefore said the ongoing killing of the Igbo people by the Boko Haram sect is yet to be documented, adding that there could be no question that a disproportionate percentage of victims, dead or maimed or permanently impoverished, is made up of Igbo people.
“The foregoing non-exhaustive examples occurred exclusively in northern Nigeria. They also represent occasions when Igbo people had been massacred by northern Nigerian Muslims who had been provoked not by any direct misconduct by the Igbo. There is, therefore, a sense in which by simply being Igbo, Christian and entrepreneurial, the Igboman is adjudged guilty and vengeful punishment is indiscriminately and randomly applied on a recurring basis.”
While referring to the nation’s first coup of January 15, 1966, Kalu posited that the execution of the coup resulted in unintended consequences. He cited for example, the ethnic composition of the putschists, the ethnic origin of the individuals killed, as well as the eventual assumption of power by Gen. Ironsi, himself an Igboman, all of which created the erroneous impression that the coup was an ethnic-biased putsch organised mostly by Igbo officers in furtherance of Igbo hegemonic agenda.
“However, I must insist that the coup was purely a military affair and that the civilianIgbo population knew nothing about it and had absolutely nothing to do with it. The Igbo in Nigeria have become the receptacle of anger, hatred, envy and frustration oozing out of their fellow compatriots. But this is on the level of the transactions between private citizens. How about the place of the Igbo in respect of the manner in which public affairs are conducted by the Nigerian federal government and its agencies?
“We, the Igbo have strived but thus far failed to persuade the Nigerian establishment about the hurt and humiliation and deprivation that come with the idea that we as a people are legally condemned to third rate status in our own country. The implications of thiscalculated fraud against my people are so massive and go entirely untold.
“Unequal allocation of resources, unequal voice at the Federal Executive Council, unequal representation at the National Assembly (the gravest of all), unequal juridical participation in the administration of justice in the federation, unequal participation in the federal civil service and adjunct bodies, unequal representation in the armed forces and para-military organisations, unequal representation in the diplomatic corps ensuring incapacity in showcasing the Igbo culture as part of a pan-Nigerian culture in our foreign missions and embassies, fewer primary, secondary and higher education opportunities for our children, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
“These structural disparities are constitutionally entrenched, thus, their grave implications for Ndigbo are beyond the primary questions of inequity and marginalization. The histories of nations are replete with evidence of existential threat to any group whose marginalisation is made a subject matter of constitutional enshrinement. “With unequal voice in the Federal Executive Council, in the National Assembly, on the federal judicial benches and a vast array of other fora in which the Igbo suffer sub-parity representation, the strength of the advocacy of our problems and priorities is thus diminished. Little wonder, then, that the South-east zone, the area inhabited by the Igbo, still manifests the physical characteristics of a conquered and occupied land, 43 years after the civil war.
“Quite apart from the psychological assault it represents for Igbo people, the practical issues of unequal representation and unequal allocation of resources are calculated to retard the development of our region and our people. The massive difference which the resources and human empowerment that we are denied might have made in our society is something that calls not just for a sober reflection but a gritty resolve to bring about their speedy resolution.
“The Igbo tenacity, drive and relentless optimism to pursue life’s enduring dreams of family, faith and success and to overcome life's challenges will see them through. But the world must listen to them whenever they cry out, for they have long suffered and endured in silence, as the rain continues to beat them.” Kalu, therefore, said it was for the same reason that Njiko Igbo, a socio-cultural/political group was birthed to give voice to the clamour for Igbo presidency. He noted that an indigene of Igbo extraction had led the country only for six months and 13 days in the nation’s nearly 53 years of independence, adding that the presidency of the nation has not eluded the Igbo by accident or by an act of divinity but by human design. “Njiko Igbo is the catalyst and conduit for our collective action. We trust that you recognise, as we do, that power concedes nothing without a demand. It is in this spirit that we have decided to set up Njiko Igbo(Igbo Unity), which is a movement dedicated to changing the power formula in Nigeria in order to obtain justice and fairness for all Nigerians. Njiko Igbo is an organisation dedicated to the struggle for the ascent of a citizen of Igbo extraction to the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2015.
“We are fully committed to the security and peace of our nation, and to the comradeship of a common justice and equality for all Nigerians. We are neither supportive of nor opposed to any political party or the aspirations of any individual politician. Our primary mission is to enlighten and mobilise the Igbo population, both at home and in the Diaspora, to stand firm and united in the pursuit of our collective goal. Our secondary duty is to connect with and persuade the rest of the Nigerian population about the justice of our cause.
“Njiko Igbo is waging this struggle precisely because there is an irrefutable evidence of blatant anti-Igbo bias in the manner in which the political architecture of this federation is constructed. Gross injustice is the ultimate outcome of that deliberate discrimination. And every man or woman possessed of conscience has a duty to take a moral stand against injustice whenever and wherever it is manifest. This expression of conscience forms the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people.” Moving forward, Kalu said “Our strategic operations are two-pronged: (a) an intensive drive to build and foster a united front at home and, (b) an energetic national mobilisation campaign to marshal public opinion and secure the solidarity and support of a majority of Nigerians. Our methods will be conciliatory, unaggressive, solicitous and flexible but without being amenable to the old easy compromises and defensiveness that reinforced prejudicial assumptions about us as a people.
“We are embarked on a big and noble dream borne out of the necessities of our history and the imperatives of justice, equity and fair-play. While our history is a proud, large and significant imprint in Nigeria, the reality of our contemporary existence has been rendered small by the politics of the Nigerian republic. These times call for self-assertion and Igbo people must rise and answer the challenges with one voice,” he maintained.
To that extent, Kalu reiterated thatit was time for the bloody rain to stop because the “Igbo people are already drenched and soaked to the point of suffocation. It is not only in the best interests of the Igbo but also in the best interests of the Nigerian people for the sun to rise and shine on us all. Without doubt, many of those who attended the event, majority of whom were Igbo-speaking, left with an impression, especially the need to address the monster of political and economic imbalances that seem to define the nation’s co-existence. Although, it may appear a tall order, observers believe if as many people share the same feeling and conviction as Kalu, perhaps, the dream for an Igbo president will be realised soon. However instructive was the significance of the gathering and lecture: that the clamour for an Igbo president is no longer a child’s play.