By Aloy Uzoekwe
I think it was the Jos crisis of 2001 that entrenched the term ‘settlers and indigenes’ in the Nigerian lexicon. The dichotomy between the rights of an indigene and those of a settler was the principal cause of the crisis which engulfed the then peaceful city of Jos and has since then like a malignant sore refused to heal – a settler in this context refers to someone who migrated from another place to reside in a different abode and as such has no claim to the ownership of the land. The core ingredient of the logic was that the indigene has and enjoys special status/rights over the settler irrespective of the number of years the settler has settled in the area or what the Constitution posits on Citizenship. The indigene can occupy certain positions which are considered out of place to the settler.
This scenario best illustrates what stares us in the face presently at the center of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Buhari government following its composition has clearly demonstrated to the world that the people of the South-East region of Nigeria are settlers in the country. Never has one of the tripodal base of the country been so brazenly excluded from the top echelon of the central government as it currently obtains, the South-East is neither represented at the top hierarchy in the Executive, nor the Legislature, nor the Judiciary.
Many had prayed that the observed imbalance in the power equation of the executive arm of government at the center will be addressed with the inauguration and election of the principal officers of the ninth National Assembly. But such expectation was dashed, rather more salt was rubbed deeper into the wound. In a federation like Nigeria, the heads of the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary are all from one section of the country – the North. The other two remaining key positions – the Vice President and Speaker of the House of Representatives are taken up by the West. Where is the fairness?
At all times, the political leaders of the country had maintained the spirit of equity and national cohesion in the distribution of key leadership positions in the country. In 1979 to 1983 (the second republic), just nine years after the Civil War and with the scars of the war still fresh with us, the leaders of that era did maintain the balance; Alhaji Shehu Shagari was the President and head of the Executive, Justice Fatai Attanda Williams was the Chief Justice of the Federation and head of the Judiciary while Ovie Whiskey headed the Legislature as the President of the Senate. The other two key positions of the Vice President and Speaker of House of Representatives were held by Ndigbo – Dr. Alex Ekwueme and Edwin Umezuoke respectively. Even in the aborted Third Republic, political equilibrium was ensured. Under President Obasanjo, positions also were evenly distributed. But what we have at the center currently is a corruption of a well-known system and repulsive. It runs counter to all tenets of peaceful co-existence.
More than any other episode, the outcome of the election of the headship of the National Assembly clearly illustrates the level of disdain the government and the ruling party have for Ndigbo. It simply showed that Ndigbo have no claim in Nigeria. The main reason adduced for this reckless show of scorn that there is no ranking member from the region is escapist as it is provocative.
If in 1979 the leaders of the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN) can be liberal enough to adopt the doctrine of necessity and enter into an arrangement with the then Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) which made the Nigerian Peoples Party, though a minority, to produce the Speaker of the House of Representatives, what does this in your face attitude of the present All Progressives Congress (APC) government signify (forty years after)?
The afterthought pacific gesture of offering Ndigbo the (appointee) position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) is ordinary. The gesture as conciliatory as it may seem is what the Police terms as “an accessory after the facts”. It may serve to placate flayed nerves but it pales into insignificance when compared to the injuries inflicted on the psyche of Ndigbo. It was the legendary musician, Rod Stewart, who sang ‘first cut is the deepest’, and its message resonates with the slap on the South-East. Making an Igbo son the Secretary to the Government of the Federation changes nothing more-so as the SGF is an appointee of the President and answerable to him. The statement has been made about where Ndigbo belong in the Nigerian venture, any later amendment(s) are cosmetic and palliative and do not deceive anybody.
It is apparent majority of our leaders still adorn the garb of the victors. This seems to guide and influence their major decisions, yet this is most unfortunate in this age. At a critical time like this in the life of the nation when leaders should be espousing policies and actions to enhance nation building, the people who find themselves ruling us are happy promoting divisive tendencies.
However let the present masters not gloat, because try as much as they can Ndigbo cannot be bended. No amount of coercive machinations can shake our spirit. Ndigbo are not made out for prostration or genuflection of any type. We did not do it under strife so we will not do it now. If excluding us from the decision making echelon of the country is the price we will pay for not kowtowing to anyone, we owe nobody no apologies. If the guarantee for consideration to any of the leadership position in the country is based on voting significantly for the party in power irrespective of its policies, please continue to accord us Settlers status. We prefer it to subservience. Ndigbo are neither cowards nor failures and can never support any retrogressive initiative(s) just to belong. Mbanu! Jidenu ya, unu enyela anyi biko (No! hold it do not give us please). And if tomorrow presents itself again in the same or similar circumstance, be assured we will proudly toe the same line again, because slavery ended in the East with the Slave Trade.
Yet, let the Indigenes beware; the cries for divorce is now getting louder and spreading to other corners of the country. The sound coming from the West is even more ominous. Most times the consequence of suppression is implosion.
- Hon. Aloy Uzoekwe