The indivisibility of Nigeria is a common mantra among Nigerian politicians, notably those who successfully conducted the horrific civil war against the separatist Biafran Republic.
In an interview with Arise Television on August 7, 2021, to commemorate his 80th birthday, one of them, General Ibrahim Babangida, expressed it bluntly: “When we were in the military, we spoke about certain matters regarding Nigeria: the unity of Nigeria was a solved issue as far as we were concerned.”
While it would have been ideal if Nigeria’s unity had been established, events in the country imply otherwise, unless the unity Babangida and his ilk refer to are the agreement of those who won the war to exclude those who lost.
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Otherwise, what sort of togetherness is there in a society when a large part of the population is disliked and despised just for being who they are — Igbo? This reflection was triggered by two recent experiences.
The first was a Catholic priest’s disgraceful use of the hallowed altar of God as a launchpad for his hatred towards Igbo parishioners.
Rev. Fr. James Anelu, the priest-in-charge of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Ewu-Owa Gberigbe, Ikorodu, Lagos State, unexpectedly interrupted the singing of soul-lifting Igbo choruses and hymns during a service he was leading on Sunday, February 6.
The obviously enraged cleric pontificated in a viral video that Ndigbo excesses must be restrained if they are to be stopped from “dominating other people in our parish.”
What offense did the Igbo parishioners commit? During the second collection, they were happily singing and dancing before God’s altar.
Singing Igbo music in a Catholic church in Yoruba country is an act of dominance to the enraged and angry priest.
He was so enraged that he said something heretical: The spirit of God in any area recognizes only the languages native to that location.
The fact that Fr. Anelu is not Yoruba is significant. If he had inquired about the history of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, he would have learned that Igbo parishioners provided almost 65 percent of the money needed to build and operate the church, including feeding him.
Only 24 hours later, an evidently embarrassed Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins, issued a “disclaimer” ordering Anelu to take “an indefinite leave of absence.”
Archbishop Martins exhorted all “Catholic faithful to stay on to the faith and continue in our worship of God as one giant family united in love and not separated by language, culture, or race” in the suspension letter, which he personally signed.
I doubt Anelu is repentant, wherever he is today. He is completely engulfed by hatred. Prejudice has harmed him. If we believe he is an anomaly, we are making a major mistake of judgment.
The second event occurred in Adamawa State’s Yola. Vincent Umeh, an Igbo businessman who lives in the state, acquired a house from Ismail Mamman, a willing seller. He is no longer allowed to live on the land, not because of any legal violations, but simply because he is Igbo.
DCP Ibrahim Baba Zango, a Deputy Commissioner of Police now working in Lagos, claims that having an Igbo as a neighbor in Yola is an insult.
DCP Babazango ordered Umeh to rescind the purchase agreement or suffer severe repercussions, including the danger of losing his life. “I don’t want you because we’re a homogeneous neighborhood; you can’t be my next-door neighbor, I promise.” What kind of affront is this? Is it now possible for a Northerner to go to the South-East, say Onitsha, and purchase a house in any neighborhood?” Umeh was questioned by DCP Babazango over the phone.
Some may find such bravado strange. However, this is not the case. DCP Babazango is not an exception, however, like Fr. Anelu.
That is the daily humiliation that Ndigbo face in their own nation. They are hounded every day for daring to invest and own properties in their own nation, from Lagos to Sokoto; from Bayelsa to Kebbi.
Some of these harassments are usually sanctioned by the government. For example, in a crackdown on alcoholic beverages, the Kano State Sharia police, Hisbah, burned approximately four million bottles of beer two weeks ago. Bulldozers smashed the bottles into the ground in front of jubilant spectators. Hisbah operatives set fire to the crushed remnants once the bulldozers had finished their work, allowing the flame to burn into the night.
“Kano is a sharia state, and the sale, usage, and possession of alcoholic beverages are illegal,” Haruna Ibn Sina, the leader of the religious police, exclaimed after overseeing the indiscriminate destruction of life.
Ndigbo owns the majority of the companies that are being destroyed. In Nigeria, there is no legislation prohibiting the consumption of alcohol. Even though Nigeria is considered a secular state, Sharia law takes precedence over the Constitution when it comes to Igbo enterprises. Nobody screams in defense of people’s freedom to conduct lawful business in their own nation.
The irony is that, like Fr. Anelu, who is supported by contributions from his Igbo parishioners, Hisbah authorities are compensated with money earned from VAT on the same alcoholic beverages they gleefully burn.
All who criticize Nnamdi Kalu and his Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, mentees for proclaiming secession fails to mention the asinine antics of Fr. Anelu and the DCP Babazangos of this country, just as those who blame Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu for declaring an independent Biafran nation in 1967 comfortably gloss over the waves of the pogrom that resulted in the deaths of the killing of thousands
More than 30,000 Igbos and other Biafrans were slaughtered in Northern Nigeria between May and October 1966, and more than 100,000 more were massacred between October 1966 and June 1967. Pregnant mothers were slaughtered in certain cases, and their unborn children were taken from their wombs and murdered as well. Many of the victims were executed by beheading.
Those who defend the bestiality by citing the equally heinous killings of January 15, 1966, conveniently ignore the fact that the Military Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Army, Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, and the cream of the Igbo officer corps were wiped out in the July 29, 1966 revenge coup.
They also forget that pogrom had been the lot of Ndigbo in the North for a long time before the January 15, 1966 revolution, which was cleverly labeled an Igbo putsch by people with an extermination intent.
“The first event in which Igbo people were murdered in Nigeria happened in Jos on June 22, 1945,” according to a paper titled “Chronology of reported killings of Biafrans in Nigeria: From June 22, 1945, to September 28, 2013.” During the pogrom, hundreds of Ndigbo were killed by Hausa-Fulani, and tens of thousands of pounds sterling worth of their property was plundered or destroyed. The British authority did not capture or charge anyone, and there was no inquiry set up to ascertain the “official” reason for this heinous atrocity.
“In Kano, in 1953, the second mass slaughter of Igbos and other Biafrans occurred. Thousands of Igbo individuals, together with their families, were ruthlessly slaughtered and their property plundered in both incidents.”
Those who raise the specter of Igbo dominance just because Ndigbo is found everywhere overlook the fact that the people like adventure. It didn’t begin today, and it’s not likely to stop tomorrow. Many Igbo leaders were born in places other than Igboland. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was born on November 16, 1904, in Zungeru, Niger State, 10 years before Nigeria was formed after the 1914 merger. On November 4, 1933, Odumegwu-Ojukwu was born in the same Zungeru.
Ndigbo has a strong desire to travel. They take pleasure in it. They are what they are. Do they have a stronghold over their surroundings? No. Rather, they contribute to the development of the communities in which they live. That is a virtue, not a fault, and it should not cause jealousy or animosity.
The country will be better off if all other Nigerians adopt that culture. Those who do not want Ndigbo to leave Nigeria yet refuse to allow them to exercise their full citizenship rights are the country’s issues, not Ndigbo’s.
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