In his famous 1984 book titled, The Trouble with Nigeria, legendary novelist, Chinua Achebe, made a profound statement. “Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo,” he wrote. Some people took umbrage, accusing him of overgeneralization.
But Achebe who towers very high in the pantheon of novelists that elevated the delicate art of storytelling to the realm of prophecy knew what he was talking about. He wasn’t given to frivolities and never used words carelessly. While it is not true that individually, every Nigerian is involved in this conspiracy against Ndigbo, and Achebe didn’t say that either, there is no doubt that scapegoating Ndigbo for Nigeria’s woes is a national pastime. The tendency of reducing every national problem to an Igbo problem is rather too apparent for any discerning observer not to notice.
The 2020 #EndSARS protest by Nigerian youths against police brutality was suddenly framed by some devious people as a ploy by the Igbo to destroy Yoruba commonwealth even when most of the vandalised private businesses, particularly on the Lagos Island, belonged to Ndigbo. Without any proof, some were already baying for Igbo blood until well-meaning Yoruba elite intervened to save their skin.
Anyone who is still in doubt of the veracity of Achebe’s claim should just pause and reflect on the frightening spin that is gradually but inexorably being put on the ravaging insecurity in the land and it will be evident that Nigeria is a country where prejudice, particularly against the Igbo, oils the wheels of governance.
Suddenly, the insecurity that has left the Northeast desolate and reduced Nigeria to a banana republic is being framed as a Southeast problem. The National Security Council that has been clueless as to how to tame the monster rose from a meeting on Tuesday claiming to have found a secret formula to quell the agitation in the zone. Meanwhile, the Southeast has no representative in the Council that took that all-important decision.
A day earlier, Lagos State government organised a security summit attended by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and other high-ranking state officials, where, out of the blues, the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Hakeem Odumosu, accused members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and by extension Ndigbo, of plotting to launch attacks in Lagos State.
Delivering a paper on ‘Appraisal of Security Situation in Lagos State,’ Odumosu alerted Lagosians of an impending plot by the IPOB to attack what he called soft targets in the state. It wasn’t even an allegation. He was emphatic and unequivocal. And because he had convinced himself that the plot was real, he disclosed that the threat by IPOB has been put on the radar of the Lagos State Police Command’s intelligence gathering and other security services. He didn’t say what the soft targets were. There was no shred of evidence to prop the incendiary claim, knowing full well how combustible the Nigerian situation is at the moment.
But that was not his problem. He knowingly flew a very dangerous kite to achieve a sinister motive, which is to pitch other ethnic nationalities in Lagos, particularly the Yoruba, against the Igbo. He was deliberately setting Ndigbo up.
All that is left now is for some fringe elements to cause mayhem in Lagos and Ndigbo will pay the price. Even when fringe elements don’t act, a vindictive government whose capacity for mischief is unmatched as it played out during the #EndSARS protest, has set the stage. All it needs to do now is unleash state sponsored hoodlums on the state whenever it chooses and the Igbo will be fall guys.
Odumosu also said the Lagos State Police Command had taken note of threats by agitators of Oodua Republic and other Yoruba separatist groups, claiming further that 24 of such groups have been identified.
But it was apparent even to the uninitiated that throwing in the so-called threat by Oodua agitators was a carefully calibrated decoy to mask the intent of his allegation, which is to instigate the Yoruba against Ndigbo in the Southwest, particularly in Lagos. But Odumosu owes Nigerians an explanation. He must present the evidence he has that Ndigbo are plotting to attack Lagos, a state where they have over 60 per cent of all their investments in Nigeria.
Expectedly, Daily Trust, which has been making unsubstantiated allegations of northerners being killed in the Southeast while ignoring the verified massacre of Ndigbo by herdsmen in Nimbo, Enugu State, Ebonyi and all parts of Igboland, came out with the screaming headline: “IPOB plotting to attack Lagos, says CP.”
The allegation is as worrying as it is absurd. The message is incendiary. It was ethnic profiling at its worst, and unbecoming of a security chieftain of Odumosu’s standing.
I don’t speak for IPOB and I believe Nnamdi Kanu’s bombast is unhelpful. But I have sympathy for their struggle, which is a cry for equity. As the 17 governors of Southern Nigeria who met in Asaba on Tuesday affirmed in their communique, “the peoples of Southern Nigeria remain committed to the unity of Nigeria,” but it must be “on the basis of justice, fairness, equity, oneness and peaceful co-existence between and among its peoples with a focus on the attainment of shared goals for economic development and prosperity.”
Without these, there will be no peace in Nigeria. Ndigbo will only defend their turf if need be but they don’t go about destroying the hard-earned assets of other people. Ndigbo love life and they live it to the fullest. They create wealth and those engaged in the business of creating wealth hardly destroy same. Ndigbo don’t live in forests. They build cities and live in mansions. So, they hardly fit into the profile of those that have made Nigeria a good-for-nothing country, a pariah in the comity of nations. Blood is sacred in Igboland. Ndigbo are not in the business of hacking pregnant women to death and opening their wombs to smash the heads of the fetuses.
That is why Odumosu’s claim should trouble all Nigerians of good conscience. And Nigerians of good conscience, if such people still exist in this febrile environment, should speak out because, as Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, once noted, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” If they don’t, they will be complicit in whatever evil plot that informed the allegation.
It is good that Nnamdi Kanu pushed back immediately and dismissed the allegation as “total falsehood.” Taking to his Twitter handle, he described the allegation as a plot to fuel division. But he made a disturbing allegation.
“The public is hereby notified that the allegations that IPOB is plotting to attack Lagos is a LIE,” he tweeted. “Lagos State CP, Hakeem Odumosu, who made the allegation is a former CSO to Tinubu & their intention is to fuel division between Yorubas & Biafrans. It won’t work. This is not 1967!”
Could this allegation have anything to do with 2023 politics and the Igbo quest for the presidency? For now, the answer blows in the wind. But it will be unfortunate if Odumosu is motivated by politics to make this allegation. Playing politics with security is a dangerous mix.
But it is heartwarming that many Yoruba are seeing Odumosu’s allegation for what it is – a malicious kite. In their very strong pushback, pan-Yoruba groups that included Oodua Nationalist Coalition (ONAC), Agbekoya, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC-Reformed), Oodua Liberation Movement (OLM), Yoruba World Congress, (YWC-Lagos State Chapter), Oodua Women Coalition (OWC), Network for Yoruba Alliance (NENA), and Oodua Koya, (AOKOYA), raised very pertinent questions.
Noting, significantly, that Odumosu spoke for the police high command in Abuja, the coalition frowned at his public declaration.
“We are worried that since the police already claim to be in possession of what appears to be a confidential information, the proper thing would have been to discreetly go after the IPOB members to arrest them unless the police is not sure of its information,” they declared.
Most importantly, the groups made two valid claims.
First, they observed that “the police statement carries the possibility of being misinterpreted as an Igbo plot against Lagos and Yoruba people. This is dangerous given the fragile nature of Nigeria.”
Secondly, they expressed their deep concern that by publicly levelling the allegation against IPOB, the Police high command “tempts the prospect of setting Yoruba in the South West against Igbo. This is very unfortunate at a time that state institutions are increasingly being turned to instruments for pursuing primordial ethnic interests.”
It was also heartwarming to hear them declare unequivocally that, “The Yoruba will work never to allow this to happen.” That shows that the country has not lost all despite the desperate attempts by malcontent characters.
Ndigbo are not Nigeria’s problem. Making them scapegoats of the failure of governance in Nigeria will fail. They are peace loving. A people that have businesses in all the nooks and crannies of the country cannot at the same time be instigating violence from which they are bound to suffer most. That is the pastime of those who have nothing to lose.