I am a Yoruba born and bred in Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, and therefore not the most well-placed person to defend the interests of the Igbo nation. The South-East has eminent sons and daughters who know their onions and can hold their heads high at anytime and anywhere defending their own cause and charting their course, within or outside the context of the Nigerian nation. The most industrious and enterprising ethnic group in the country today are the Igbo. They are also the most technically endowed. They can be found in all corners and crannies of Nigeria, as traders, merchants, technicians and high level professionals. They are big landlords in every major city in the country. Reasonable people will therefore consider the Igbo people worthy compatriots to be proud of. What baffles many is why some people do not find it easy living in harmony with the Igbo, unlike the Yoruba who treat and regard them as brothers and healthy competitors. This probably explains why there has never been any inter-ethnic conflict between the Yoruba and the Igbo in any part of the South-West.
The Yoruba of the South-West have continued to watch with dismay how a major and vibrant ethnic group like the Igbo had continued to endure and stomach the disrespect and open hostilities. As hardworking and self-reliant people, the Igbo cooperated and took care of themselves without waiting for any dole-outs from the Federal Government. They are a proud people. After the civil war, the Igbo did not wait for anybody to do their reconstruction for them. They took the bull by the horns and embarked on a reconstruction drive that brought out the ingenuity of the Igbo in the areas of civil and mechanical engineering, agriculture, medicine and public administration. In these and many more, they triumphed and even excelled. Barely two years after the war, the Igbo were back on their feet, setting standards and creating innovations that turned the erstwhile theatre of war into elegant cities and towns dotted with structures of beauty and elegance.
However, much as these energetic people have proved their worth to be reckoned with and respected as an important part of the Nigerian nation, they are yet to attain the pinnacle of their ambition, namely the presidency of Nigeria.
Two major ethnic groups in the country, the Yoruba and the Igbo, have paid the supreme sacrifice to claim their right to co-ownership of this nation, a claim often denied them by the northern oligarchy. While the Yoruba sacrificed June 12 and its hero Chief M.K.O. Abiola on the altar of national unity, the Igbo lost over two million lives in the civil war. But the Yoruba have since been handsomely ‘compensated’ with the eight-year rule of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. His emergence placated the Yoruba and settled the score we had with the northern military oligarchy over the June 12 debacle. Now, 52 years after the civil war, people from that area are still being deliberately excluded from gaining access to the zenith of power in the country. The Igbo are yet to be recompensed for the huge human and material loss they suffered in the civil war.
It will be seen how the injustice and unfair treatment of the Igbo cause has prompted the agitation for self determination and outright secession from Nigeria. Any right-thinking person would agree that the Igbo are fighting a just cause, judging from what they have gone through under the past and present dispensations in Nigeria. The questions that now arise are: how do we reintegrate the Igbo fully into the nation’s mainstream political system? What conscious efforts or sacrifice must other parts of Nigeria make to pave a clear way for an Igbo presidency in 2023? How do we re-enact the national consensus of 1999 which handed the presidency to the Yoruba on a platter of gold, to compensate for the loss of June 12 and the state murder of its winner? I am a full-blooded Yoruba man of Oyo State extraction, and so not supposed to be holding a brief for the Igbo because nobody can do it better than they themselves. But I believe in justice and fairplay to all the component parts of this great nation. And that is why we must all be united in our resolve to give the Igbo their own portion of the national cake that is long overdue. How do we go about this?
As a first step, all the political juggernauts in the northern and south-western parts of the country should drop their 2023 presidential ambitions and allow for a candidate of Igbo extraction. The field should be made open and level for all gladiators of Igbo origin. Whoever emerges from the intra-ethnic contest could then have the support of all Nigerians.
- Olorede is a veteran journalist
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