By Amb. Ozo Nwobu
I could not believe that such bile could be harboured and quietly concealed by one ethnic group against another until I heard the hate song by an unknown Hausa female artist against the Igbos. Even with my smattering knowledge of Hausa, I was horrified at the venomous content of the song and my worst fears were further confirmed when I saw the unofficial transcript of the song beckoning on the northern youths to carry out another round of pogrom against the Igbo.
The chorus of that chilling song cast the Igbo as the problem of Nigeria and their extirpation as the only viable solution to nation building. “Igbos are a curse to Nigeria, whose existence and birth as a people in Nigeria is useless, that abortion is greater than the birth of the bastards”
Anybody familiar with the historical antecedents of the Jewish holocaust will recall that towards the end of the 19th century, the Jews in Europe were perceived as the problem of society, a problem that needed solving if the society were to survive. While this is not intended to support the bogus claims of the ancestral linkages between the Igbo and the Jews, it nonetheless has relevance to the horrendous fate the Jews had to endure as a result of the labelling that marked them as the problem of society. The Igbo have been labelled in that Hausa hate song as the problem of Nigeria.
What indeed is the Igbo crime in Nigeria? I doubt that it is a crime anywhere other than in Nigeria to ask to be treated fairly as others. I also doubt that it is a crime to be industrious? What appears to be the unpardonable crime of the Igbo is their belief in Nigeria and their disposition – unwise as it is being made to look – to make a home of wherever they earn their living in Nigeria. Investing in their place of residence and developing same, has now been construed to mean being parasitic and living off the proceeds of their host communities. Our northern compatriots would rather that the Igbo should live spartanly like they do, in the other parts of Nigeria where they have decided to make their homes.
If the truth must be told, it is not only the Igbo who make their living outside their region in Nigeria. The proceeds of cattle sales from funerals, weddings and other ceremonies in the South East (Igbo land) every weekend amount to over three hundred million naira (N300,000,000) on the average. Some other estimates put the figures to above Five hundred million Naira (N500,000,000) when the south – south states are also added. The Northern cattle merchants in spite of this stupendous weekly income, live in temporary shanty homes in shanty towns around the major cities of the South East.
That Nigeria is not working well is an indisputable fact but what is quite disputable is the attempt to foist the failure of the nation on the Igbo as suggested in that hate song. That is simply disingenuous and belies the real reasons for the Nigerian developmental and economic doldrums. My intention is not to offer reasons for the under performance of the Nigerian state, but rather to draw attention to what I call the conspiracy of silence against the Igbo as the nation tethers dangerously towards the abyss.
Conspiracy of Silence of the Leadership Class.
The silence of the past Nigerian leaders since the release of this hate song is not only deafening but has benumbed most well-meaning Nigerians. There is no gainsaying the fact that the candid advice, admonitions and sometimes forceful pronouncements of the former leaders have helped, in no small measure, in shaping the national discourse. It therefore beats all imagination that a hate song that calls for genocide against the Igbos has not attracted the condemnation of our past leaders. The only exceptions are former Vice President Atiku Abubakar – The Waziri Adamawa – who not only condemned the song but warned of the dangers it portends and former President Goodluck Jonathan who, additionally, asked that the artists be called to order.
Why have the past Nigerian leaders – military and politicians – remained silent over this disturbing and alarming development? Why have the various political parties registered in Nigeria, especially the two major political parties, the All Progressive Congress, APC and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) not deemed it fit to comment on this issue? Why are the traditional rulers silent? Why has the National Assembly not brought up the matter for discussion on the floors of the National Assembly? Above all, why has the Federal Government remained conspicuously silent on this existential threat to the unity of the nation?
That these leaders and agencies of government have decided to play a backbench role as against their erstwhile frontline role in the Nigerian enterprise is indeed worrisome. Have they all in their silence adjudged the Igbo guilty of the crime they are charged with? Have they agreed with the purveyors of this hateful song that the Igbo are indeed the problem of Nigeria and should be cleansed from Nigeria? The answers are crucial in charting the way forward for Nigeria.
The Igbo are not alone in the call for reform or separation in Nigeria. These calls cut across the nation and are essentially as a result of the feelings of exclusion and the underperformance of the Nigerian economy. The vociferous demand for separation by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is not the Igbo narrative in Nigeria. Even as intemperate as the IPOB language has been, or how clamorous their agitation for separation, the group has not called for the mass extermination of any of the other ethnic groups in Nigeria.
A glimmer of hope for a peaceful resolution of the Nigerian question through a constitutional process appeared to have been lost when politicians in their usual self-serving fashion, decided to reject the devolution of executive powers from the center to the states. That ill-advised move, instead of dousing the political tension, convulsed the nation and set it on this perfidious path to self-destruction. The subsequent reassurances issued by the National Assembly that the issue of constitutional reforms will be revisited appear not only too late but, very importantly, lack serious political credibility.
Time for the International Community to Act.
The Bosnian and the Rwandan genocidal wars are mindful reminders of what the inaction or belated action of the international community can result into. To avert a repeat, the international community agreed, in a major global political commitment in 2005, to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to prevent genocide, war, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This article is written to urge the international community to resist the temptation to wait until all hell breaks loose before it intervenes in the unfolding political crisis in Nigeria. The signals are ominous and portend real danger if not nipped in the bud. It is worth stating that, if anything, the politicization of ethnicity and religion and not the Igbo, is the problem of Nigeria. The Igbo have invested more than any other ethnic group in other regions outside their homestead and should not be penalized for believing in the Nigerian nation.
The International Community has affirmed and committed itself to the prevention of genocidal wars. Now, is indeed the time for the international community to engage Nigeria constructively to prevent the looming outbreak of ethnic cleansing. The International Community should not join in the conspiracy of silence that has gripped the country’s erstwhile leaders and politicians. Getting Nigerians to decide on what form of political association that will preserve the unity of the country is imperative and the right thing to do. Nigerians have had a drudgery difficult life since independence and deserve a chance to develop and prosper in peace. That peace should also be with the clear understanding that Nigerians are better served when they stand together in brotherhood, even though they may differ in tongue and tribe.
The objective of this article is essentially to draw the attention of the international community to the hate songs that have been released by some Hausa artists against the Igbo of Nigeria. It is also to urge the United Nations especially its office on Genocide Prevention to monitor keenly the developments in Nigeria. Let me end, by quoting a Nigerian proverb that fits aptly into this appeal – It is only a tree that is told or rather sees elaborate arrangements being made to cut it down and still stands there waiting for the inevitable.
Concerned and well-meaning Nigerians appeal to the international community to stand ready to prevent the looming genocide and not offer apologies or embark in international humanitarian assistance programmes after the dreaded damage has been done.
Nwobu is a retired Nigerian diplomat. He was prior to his retirement from the Nigerian Foreign Service, Director of African Bilateral Affairs Department, as well as Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Nigeria