Chief Whip of the Senate and a former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, has identified true federalism and a president of Igbo extraction as two things Nigeria needs to be on the path to greatness.
Kalu, who stated this in his autobiography: “My Life,” described the Igbo as the salt of the nation.
The book captures Kalu’s childhood, education, businesses, politics and tenure as governor of Abia State, rift between him and his successor, role in ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s botched third term bid, life after office and his plans for Nigeria, among others.
Writing on “The Plight of the Igbo in Nigeria” in Chapter 24 of the 490-page book, Kalu stated: “I see endless possibilities for Nigeria. Beneath all the differences of faith, tribe, region and language, we are one people.
“What the Nigerian entity needs is true federalism and for an Igbo man to be president and Nigeria will be on the path to greatness. There is nothing else needed by this entity apart from that.
“That is because it is only the Igbo that are the salt of the nation. It is only the Igbo that can go to Kafanchan, Sokoto, Osun, anywhere and be seen in large numbers more than any other race in Nigeria apart from the indigenes.
“Anywhere you don’t see the Igbo, nobody lives there. They are just looking for a leader who would agree that he is a Nigerian. Not a leader, who will agree that he is an Hausa man or Yoruba man or Igbo man or Ijaw man or Efik man.”
Kalu, who stated that his interest in politics is different from what other Igbo leaders or the average Nigerian political leader wants, said the plight of the Igbo in Nigeria could be traced to pre-colonial days.
He wrote: “The plight of Igbos in modern Nigeria ensued in the early 19th Century when the British first explored the Lower Niger. Subsequently, in January 1914, Lord Lugard Fredrick Lugard completed 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 be a part of such contraption or not. However, the clouds lifted so briefly and the Igbo enjoyed a brief sunshine in Nigeria in the decade before and a few years after independence.
“Having embraced Christianity early 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 of their compatriots.
“The signs that the Igbo in Nigeria will suffer precarious consequences and bear many tales of woes manifested early by way of separate episodes of progrom: The Jos massacre in 1945, the Kano massacre in 1953 and the September 19, 1966 massacre in which tens of thousands of Igbo men, women and children were slaughtered.
“This led directly to the civil war of 1967-1970, which in turn resulted in mass starvation and deliberate anti-Igbo genocide.”
Though Kalu noted that he was not old enough to play any active role in the war, he described the crisis as a sad experience even from the eyes of a child.
The Senate Chief Whip, however, added: “The Civil war and the progrom against the Igbo did not give any reprieve. Igbo-phobia has continued, resulting in organized 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 Six massacre in 2005, to mention just a few instances.
“Even, the ongoing nihilistic slaughter of Igbo people by the extremist militant group known as Boko Haram is yet to be documented. But there can be no question that a disproportionate percentage of the thousands of victims, dead or maimed or permanently impoverished, is made up of Igbo people.”
Plight of the Igbo in modern Nigeria
Insisting that the civilized world must not continue to ignore the persecution of his people, Kalu stated that the Igbo in Nigeria have become the receptacle of anger, hatred, envy and frustration oozing out of their fellow compatriots.
Whereas the former governor described the aforementioned persecution against the Igbo as those on “the level of the transactions between private citizens,” he regretted what he termed “negative discrimination by law.”
His words: “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? The simple answer is that the rain has continued to beat the Igbo.”
He compiled a table on the distribution of states, local governments, federal constituencies and senatorial districts among the country’s six geopolitical zones to justify his position.
The table shows that the North-West has seven states, 186 local governments, 92 federal constituencies and 21 senatorial districts. The North-East has six states, 112 local governments, 48 federal constituencies and 18 senatorial districts.
The North Central has six states, 115 local governments, 48 federal constituencies and 18 senatorial districts. The South-West also has six states, 138 local governments, 71 federal constituencies and 18 senatorial districts.
The South-South equally six states, 123 local governments, 55 federal constituencies and 18 senatorial districts, while the South-East has five states, 95 local government areas, 43 federal constituencies and 15 senatorial districts.
According to Kaku, the respective distributions “represent the blatant stark reality of the third rate status forced upon the Igbo in the political space in Nigeria.” He added: “The implications of this calculated 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 greatest of all), unequal judicial 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 paramilitary organizations, unequal representation in the diplomatic corps ensuring incapacity to showcase the Igbo culture as part of a pan-Nigerian culture in our foreign missions and embassies as well as fewer primary, secondary and higher education opportunities for our children, among others.” Kalu also highlighted the period the various zones have occupied the presidency, with the South- East taking the rear with only six months in power. The North Central tops the table with 17 years, while the North-West trails with 13 years.
The South-West is third on the row with 11 years, while the South-South is number four with five years. Way forward for Ndigbo For Kalu, the Igbo must rise and tackle the challenges facing them with one voice as the reality of their contemporary existence has been rendered small by the polity of the Nigerian Republic. He wrote: “We are not pursuing the orthodox argument connected with the zoning of the presidency. This is, instead, a struggle for justice and equality of opportunities through the instrumentalities of persuasion mobilization, projection of a creative vision for a stronger and successful federation. “No one should be in any doubt that the political struggles and strife raging in the country today and which will still rage for at least another generation, represents the struggles to assert group identity and legitimacy, expressed through the mechanics of politics. The Igbo can ill-afford to take a passive stance in this maelstrom. “To the Nigerian project, the Igbo have given a great deal yesterday, we are still doing so today, and have a lot more in store for a much greater tomorrow.
It is not only in the interest of the Igbo but alos in the best interest of the Nigerian people.” Agitation for self-determination While Kalu acknowledged that Biafra was a good dream born out of a necessity, which however went wrong, he maintained that it would be wrong for the Igbo to dream the same dream in a similar way and manner without factoring in the changes that have taken place since the first dream was aborted. His words: “I do not see the country disintegrating. Unfortunately, many Igbo people still hold on to the nostalgia of Biafra because they wonder the place of the Igbo in Nigeria and what the future political direction should be. “From the civil war era to the current terrorist activities of Boko Haram which targets south easterners, Christians and minorities, there has been an understandable revival of the Biafra dream for selfactualization. “I can understand some of our people’s frustration with Nigeria, hence their agitation for self-actualization. They romanticize Biafra and seem to believe that once Biafra is achieved all our present problems would disappear as if Biafra contains a significance dose of magical thinking. I disagree with this tendency. “I believe the future of the Igbo lies in contemporary Nigeria, where some Igbo of like minds will join with members of other ethnic groups in a multi-ethnic national political party, founded on justice, rule of law, equity and liberty. “The deep sense of injustice many Igbo feel as a result of the was the government has treated genocidal victims of the civil war, the terrorist activities of Boko Haram, the high handed approach of the security agencies towards the activities of non-violent groups like Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and extrajudicial killings taking place in Igbo land makes the agitation for Biafra viable.” But, he cautioned that to simply idealize Biafra and believe that it would be a solution to all the problems in Igbo land is to display naivety about human nature and politics.
He rather suggested: “What the Igbo need is a new vision that would encompass the lessons of Biafra, the changes that have taken place since the end of the civil war, the reality of present Nigeria and the hope of good government founded on justice, liberty and equality under the rule of law for all.” Need for true federalism Kalu insisted that Nigeria cannot escape the reality that the present structure of governance is counterproductive, adding that an appropriate structure of true federalism is what the country needs to change direction. His words: “If indeed Biafra will become a reality, it may not be through the barrel of the gun, it might happen because the Nigerian state came to its natural end because of years of ethnic and religious prejudices, injustice, visionless, irresponsible, corrupt and tyrannical leadership that failed to lay the foundation of a viable state and make the necessary social investments for its survival. “This would probably be the natural course of events if Nigeria continues to sleep walk into disaster and neglect honest nation building. In view of the above it would seem ill-advised to continue to pursue the Biafra dream in the way and manner some people are doing at the moment without regard to the present reality.
“It can only undermine the confidence of other ethnic groups in the Igbo and make it less likely for them to trust the Igbo with leadership and power if all that we do is an uncompromising demand for Biafra. It is difficult to have a happy marriage if a spouse is constantly threatening to a get a divorce at the slightest disagreement and the other puts a gun to the spouse’s head whenever he does not have his way. “The Igbo undermine their place in Nigeria by their agitation for Biafra at the time of crisis, and it is simply unwise to continue to do so when what majority of Nigerians seem to want is a better Nigeria and desire to stay together for several reasons other than the oil in the Niger Delta. “Igbo and Biafra have become intertwined with the future of Nigeria and it is impossible to conceive the emergence of Biafra through self-determination from the present Nigeria if genuine democracy takes root. To believe otherwise, would run in the face of the evidence and reality on ground.
It would be to apply faith where reason, knowledge and logic are needed, “We must not continue to undermine our position by threatening to leave the union each time we are vexed, we must learn to fight it through. Nigeria is most likely to survive in a form that gives greater autonomy to the different ethnic groups, with a strong federal government, which concentrates on external affairs, defence, finance, judiciary, internal affairs plus more. “Under the arrangement, it would become unnecessary if not outright naïve, for the Igbo or anyone to aspire to secede from the commonwealth of Nigeria as it would make no political sense nor bring any economic advantage by doing so. “Unless those who want Biafra just want a place where they and their families will be kings so that they can continue the mismanagement and killings they learnt and started in Nigeria and not make Biafra the Promised Land. “I believe that every honest and sincere Igbo man or woman should channel his or her energy towards actualizing true federalism, good leadership and government in Igbo land and Nigeria by actively joining the political process.
“The Igbo and all Nigerians should unite against corruption, religious intolerance, ethnic prejudice and fight for justice, equality of all before the law, liberty and protection of fundamemntal human rights. “What the Igbo need to do is to work together towards the reversion of the ubiquitous trend of the worst of us gaining power in both Igbo land and Nigeria by putting in place a system that will enable the best of us to emerge as leaders. “Great countries are ruled by their best minds and not by a band of common thieves and exmilitary juntas without respect for individual liberty and democracy that do nothing but devise ingenuous ways to loot the treasury and serve the vilest and most primitive of human instincts. “Without this political and cultural change and paradigm shift in our conception of our future and place in Nigeria, Igbo land will remain the most underdeveloped part of Nigeria. Making this necessary change will ensure that if and ever or when Nigeria collapses as a result of our collective irresponsibility, ignorance and corruption, the Igbo would be better placed to build a new and better nation based on justice, equity, rule of law, tolerance, development and honesty. “Therefore, my struggle is the struggle for true federalism, good government and democracy for Nigeria, based on civil values where the rule of law and justice reign supreme. There is nothing I want for the Igbo, which I do not want for other ethnic groups. There is nothing I wish for Christians, which I do not wish for Muslims.”