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Why Igbos should not go Home for Census

“The mass return of our people during this forthcoming population census will help us quantify the population of Biafrans in Nigeria. They have always told the world that we are a dot with an insignificant population” – Nnamdi Kanu, leader Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, April 5, 2023.

I can understand the frustrations, anger and sense of impatience of Mr Kanu who is arrayed against a lawless Federal Government in what is supposed to be a democracy. A competent court of law had ordered that he be set free; the FG had even been asked to pay him damages. But, Buhari and his Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, in executive lawlessness, have disobeyed the court order, as they have done several others, thereby weakening our democracy. To be quite candid, it didn’t take very long after May 29, 2015 that Buhari’s concept of democracy became “government of the North, by the North and for the North” – particularly the North-West, Katsina and Daura.

That is why, despite all the bloodshed by bandits, kidnappers and herdsmen, since 2015, no single northern hoodlum has been brought to justice. People who were responsible for the deaths of thousands of their fellow Nigerians, including school children; sent millions into Internally Displaced Persons’ camps, created unknown numbers of orphans, widows and widowers; drove millions of farmers off the land, are roaming around free – because they come from the North. Southerners, particularly Kanu, who are agitating for self-determination for their people, are in prison or being hunted down for official assassination. Surprisingly, all these are the policies of a Muslim President, who swore to uphold justice for all without favours. I know Buhari prays five times a day as enjoined by the Holy Quran. But, it is doubtful if he can beat his chest and claim he had dispensed equal justice; certainly not to Kanu.

His power will set you free

Like it or not, Kanu has emerged as one of Nigeria’s most powerful leaders. Anybody who can order the Igbo to stay at home; not go to their sheds and get the instruction obeyed is a leader of the people who ordinarily don’t toy with their daily bread. Kanu succeeded in doing this for a long period throughout the South-East. We may take exception to the strong arm tactics sometimes adopted to enforce the orders. But, the results are indisputable. He even had to be appeased to allow the 2023 elections to hold in Igboland; and his implied support for a candidate certainly influenced the outcomes to some extent.

I wrote at least four articles when he was first arrested and detained asking for his release by the FG. The government was asked to organise a referendum among Ndigbo to determine whether or not they want to form a Republic of Biafra and leave Nigeria. There was a precedent in Nigeria’s history, before our independence in 1960 when English-speaking Southern Cameroun was part of Nigeria. On account of agitation by their leaders, the British organised a plebiscite. The majority voted to leave Nigeria; and they were allowed to go. Left to me, there is absolutely no reason why Ndigbo cannot be allowed to decide their own future – irrespective of what will happen to the rest of us.

That said, I honestly think that most Igbo want to stay within Nigeria. They simply want to have a fair deal – which the rest of us are not ready to give them. Former Enugu State Governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, must have undertaken the same political arithmetic, which I did, when he lamented the fact that the announced result of the presidential election, unless reversed by the Supreme Court, has set back Ndigbo’s quest for the presidency by 16 years or more. If Emilokan does eight years, the agitation for a northern president will be overwhelming. Those who, hypocritically, argued that rotation should be jettisoned will turn round to support it. We will be back where we were as we started the primaries for the 2023 elections in 2031. It is possible that this terrible reality might have added to Kanu’s disenchantment with project Nigeria. I honestly sympathise with him. If I am Igbo, I would most probably join IPOB and damn the consequences. He undoubtedly wants to do something to help Ndigbo. That is fine. But, asking Igbo to return home will create an immediate tragedy of monumental proportions as will soon be demonstrated. But, first, a side remark.

A veteran, highly respected Igbo columnist published an article in which he declared his intention not to be counted in Lagos – where he has lived and worked for over 25 years since I have known him. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was a bad joke – if that is what it was. It was scandalous that a powerful influencer (that is what columnists are) will exhibit such utter ignorance regarding the population census as to reduce it to another matter to be used in the Igbo-Yoruba conflict in Lagos State. Why he thought that his nuclear family of no more than ten will be missed out of almost 25 million in Lagos State is a mystery to me. The great danger in his puerile outburst lies in the possibility that he might persuade hundreds of thousands of others living in Lagos to follow him. It is for the sake of the innocent millions, whose lives and properties will be endangered, that I am pleading with Kanu to rescind the order to return home.

DESTRUCTION IS A CERTAINTY: LOSSES UNIMAGINABLE

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana, 1863-1952.

Each time Nigeria reaches a cross road and leaders, as well as followers, have to decide how to proceed, my first reaction is to go into the archives or history – in order to ask the first two questions: Has it occurred in the past? What was the result? We are all aware that the massive return of Igbo people to the South-East has occurred twice in our history. The first was the prelude to the civil war.

I was not in Nigeria from 1967-70. But, in some parts of the country, the bitterness over “abandoned properties” remains till today. I was here, in 1993-4, when the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, presumably won by Chief MKO Abiola, threatened to tear Nigeria apart. I was a witness to the mass exodus of millions of apprehensive but misguided Igbo people who assumed that Yoruba secession, followed by armed conflict, was inevitable. Off they went; those with their own vehicles, as well as those going with public transport. Anything that could move was boarded at shylock fares in the desperate bid to leave the South-West and get home. I had, and still have, two homes – Lagos and Ibadan. Consequently, I was on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway frequently and I witnessed some of the carnage. Those who were shop owners sold what they could, warehoused more and locked up the rest. What were the results?

First, there was no secession, no armed conflict. The Igbo people who stayed were, by and large, not attacked. Second, many of those who ran away did not reach home at all – either because vehicles developed major faults or had accidents. The Niger Bridge became a giant parking lot; it took three days to cross from the Asaba end to Head Bridge, Onitsha. Third, the millions who reached home soon discovered that they were misfits in the societies in which they found themselves. Idleness and boredom soon set in. In less than two weeks, most were eager to return to base. Fourth, those who returned safely found shops looted and nobody to hold responsible. For many, it was time to start again. At least 15 of my regular customers who took part in that mass movement furnished me with their stories. None had a happy ending.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2023

“History does not repeat itself; man does” – Prof. Barbara Tuchmann, Harvard University, USA.

Calling for Ndigbo to return home is even based on a false premise. When Kanu says “they have always told the world that we are a dot”, he is stretching the truth to the breaking point. The truth is; most Nigerians, when summarising Nigerian ethnic composition frequently say WAZOBIA. WA is Yoruba, ZO is Hausa and BIA is Igbo for COME. There are allegedly over 200 ethnic groups in Nigeria. If Igbo, one of the recognised three, is claiming marginalisation, what should Ibibio, Tiv, Berom, Ijaw, Adara claim? Kanu has created a straw man which he is now beheading. He probably hopes that, once in, he can persuade them to stay. He is grossly mistaken. Every Igbo person living and working, elsewhere in Nigeria is doing so because it is in their best interests – not because they love their host communities. They are also not doing them favours.

Finally, if Kanu actually succeeds in persuading even ten per cent of Igbo to obey his orders, all he would achieve is to create another round of lost properties. If all Igbo leave Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, Lokoja, Jos, Lagos etc, for two weeks, there would be very little left to return to. Who will guard the shops?

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