I pray that no Nigerian tribe, nationality or ethnic group will experience marginalization. As I am writing this, there are nations in the world that know firsthand what marginalization means in the real sense.
For a student of history, it is difficult to accept the accusation against Nigeria that Nigeria has not been fair to the Biafran nation. As I have said above, the Igbo people and the Biafran people have occupied every political, economic and military position in the Nigerian nation. A fact that should become a thing of pride for Nigeria is that Nigeria was able to assimilate the Igbo nation back into the Nigerian entity faster than most countries in the world who went through civil war.
In most countries where there has been civil war, the vanquished are always oppressed and marginalized for many years after. Usually, these people groups don’t enjoy the privileges of equal citizenship for decades after the civil wars. Even in most of the countries that we look up to as epitomes of democracy today, things did not go smoothly with them after their civil wars.
The country most of us like to refer to the most as our flagship is the United States of America. Their civil war ended 150 years ago, yet even today when you go to the southern part of America, you still hear them call the northerners names. That is where the name Yankee comes from. That is the abusive name the southerners used to call the northerners. Even today there are still conflicts, arguments and debates about the confederate flags in America 150 years later. Confederacy is what the southern part of America that lost the war was called.
So, integrating a nation after a civil war is a tough process. I have personally been in cities in the southern parts of America where I have been told, northerners are not welcome in their towns and villages. I from Nigeria was welcomed, but they were not ready to allow those from the north to come to their land. Such is the nature of civil wars almost everywhere, integration and reconciliation is always a tough process. The same thing happened after civil wars in Greece, Italy, Austria, Spain, Nicaragua, Germany, Finland, Russia, Mexico, China, India, Great Britain, Argentina, France, etc.
If you study the history of civil wars, you will discover that Nigeria has become one of the most successful countries in integrating back into the nation the secessionists. Can you believe that immediately after the Nigerian civil war finished in 1970, instead of the Federal Government of Nigeria imprisoning or killing by firing squad all the leadership of Biafra, who took the nation to war, they rather forgave them and accepted them back to a United Nigeria? In the words of the then Head of State, there was “no victor no vanquished.” Meaning Nigeria was not going to treat the Igbo people as a defeated enemy, but as brothers and sisters. That was a high level of magnanimity displayed by the Nigerian nation.
Moreover, all Biafran people were given a twenty pounds stipend to start their lives again. That could be viewed as small or nothing today, but when you study other nations where there had been civil war, you will hardly see or hear of any gesture like that. I recently read an article written by an Igbo man in America. He said 40 years ago the richest Igbo was twenty pounds rich, while today they are prominent in the list of the richest Nigerians. What he was trying to say is that, this is mainly due to the gifts and business acumen of the Igbo people. While that is true, remember what I said above, that it is also important to have the right environment. They were only able to attain that height, thanks to the fact that the Nigerian nation allowed it. This is normally not the case in countries where there had been civil wars. When we are loved, we have the tendency to think that it is because we are good, but really it is because those who love us are good.
The Nigerian government did so much to remove any trace of segregation from all Nigerian peoples immediately after the civil war. The Igbo people were quickly absorbed as part of the Federal government of Nigeria. In the western part of Nigeria, the properties of Igbos who left to join Biafra were kept intact and later returned to them. Soon after the civil war, the Igbos benefited immensely from the Udoji award, which was a gesture by the Federal Republic of Nigeria when the newly discovered oil money was used to give Nigerians a financial boost. This provided a huge lift for all Nigerians and the former Biafrans in particular.
Just ten years after the civil war, Nigeria did something that has hardly been recorded in the history of civil wars in the world. The Nigerian state decided to forgive the initiator of the civil war itself, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu. He wasn’t just forgiven, he was given political pardon so much that he could now participate in the nation’s political process. He was accepted back as a hero and soon participated by running for political office. That is something unfathomable after civil war. Such individuals were normally assassinated, their relatives and families banned into exile for life, if not for generations to come. Ten years after the civil war, the second most powerful person in Nigeria was an Igbo man, the Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Hardly will you ever find a more tolerant approach in the whole world.
Some of my Biafran friends might say, but since the civil war we have not produced a President, well if we are talking about the Igbo people, that is true. But if I were to take sides with the Biafran agitators who claim that the South-South is part of Biafra we could say it has, because the South-South just produced a President in the person of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
Let’s look at the history of the United States of America after their civil war. Even in the so-called most democratic nation of the world, it took another 80 years for the south who were defeated in the war to produce a nationally elected President. This is not counting Andrew Johnson who replaced the assassinated Abraham Lincoln. The first person to be elected nationally was Harry S. Truman 80 years after the war. Of course in Nigeria, I hope it is not going to take so long, but what I am trying to say is that there are processes that have to take place. Nigeria has done beautifully well in comparison to these countries that have gone through civil wars.
What happen in a marginalized society
The marginalized group are not allowed to speak their native languages. Tell me who stopped the Igbos from speaking their language?
The marginalized group are not allowed to practice their religion. Are the Igbos not allowed to practice their religion?
A marginalized group are not allowed to carry out socio-economic activities on the level of the privileged groups. Are the Igbos not allowed to carry out socio-economic activities on the same level as everyone else?
A marginalized group is not given the right to be actively involved in the political life of the country. This obviously is not happening in Nigeria, because the Igbos have their own governors, they vote for their governors, the people who rule over them are of their ethnic groups. Some people will claim that those who rule over them came as a result of corruption; well that happens all over Nigeria, not just among the Igbos in the Igbo land.
In marginalized societies, the marginalized groups are not allowed to send their children to school or receive higher education, I don’t believe this is happening in Nigeria. In that sense, only the poor people are marginalized in Nigeria; since the Igbo people control the economy, they are surely not marginalized.
In marginalized societies, the discriminated groups are not allowed to intermarry with the privileged groups, we simply don’t have that in Nigeria. As I have mentioned above, even my family is intermarried with Igbo people. My nephew who is like a twin brother to me, married an Igbo girl and paid the full bride price or dowry as the case may be.
Marginalized people are not allowed to have a voice in the mass media: newspapers, television or radio. Igbos don’t just have that right in their own state, but even in most of the other states in Nigeria where the majority are not Igbos. Igbos are allowed to have their voice in the media all over Nigeria. I am not saying there are no cases of marginalization here and there, but this will be in individual cases not a systematized thing in the federal government of Nigeria against the Igbo people.
If we are to look at a list of marginalized people groups in our world today, we will see that we cannot compare what these people are going through to what the Igbos are enjoying in the Nigerian nation.
Who are the marginalized people in our world today?
A study into the Kurdish people will reveal to us what it means to be marginalized. These people are said to be largely marginalized in the true sense of the word in countries like Iraq, Turkey, Syria, etc. Despite the fact that it is well known that they are hugely deprived and oppressed, still they cannot break away from those countries to get their own nation. In spite of the fact that the whole world knows about their plight, no one country is willing to risk the benefit of cooperation with the existing countries to officially take the side of the Kurdish people. Friends, it is not easy to break away from a recognized state even in the case of oppression, much less when it is difficult to prove such cases.
Thanks to mass media and worldwide television networks, everybody is pretty aware of the plight of the Palestinian people. As much as we love and support Israel, we cannot deny the fact that the Palestinian people are a marginalized group of people. Contrary to the belief of many, the Palestinians are not only marginalized by Israel, they are also marginalized in the Arab countries as well. They are marginalized in countries like Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, etc. The level and stages of marginalization of the Palestinian people varies from one place to the other. It is impossible to say that in Nigeria, the Igbo people are as deprived as the Palestinian people.
We have all heard of the tragedy of Rwanda, where the Hutu nation committed a huge genocide against the Tutsi people. Most of the world talk about how wicked the Hutu people were to have murdered about a million Tutsis in a matter of days, but hardly do we ever question what it is that led to it. Well, what led to it is the story of marginalization. The Tutsis have always been the privileged few in the nations of Rwanda as well as Burundi. The massacre, therefore was an expression of the dissatisfaction with the form of marginalization, which had been practiced for years against the Hutu people. We all know how this ended. May God never allow us in Nigeria to experience what marginalization really means.
The latest country to have gained independence in the continent of Africa is South Sudan. They fought hard and long for this privilege. They really knew what marginalization meant in the nation of Sudan. As black people, being significantly different from the Arab majority of Sudan, they were hugely marginalized and deprived. In their case, South Sudanese people will testify to you that all the factors of marginalization that were listed above were experienced by them. Needless to say, that situation led them to agitate for an independent state. It led to a protracted war lasting for over 30 years, before the international community agreed with them that they needed independence.
I am not sure the Igbo people want to forfeit all the privileges and opportunities they have now, to engage in a protracted war with the rest of Nigeria or any other nation. Peace is more important! This should be known better by the Igbo people who lost close to a million lives in the Biafra war. According to the words of the man who led that war, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, “it will be foolish of anyone to try to start another war, there is no need for it.” That is what Ojukwu said before he departed from this world.
Peopel of Kosovo
The name Slobodan Milosevic has become synonymous with evil, thanks to the world television networks. He managed to earn that vicious title due to his treatment of the Kosovo people. Kosovans will tell you what marginalization means. It is true that Kosovo is now a semi-independent state, but they too will tell you how many lives were lost, and other losses they incurred before the world managed to pay attention to their plight.
Even today, not all countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state. Hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed, yet they are still unable to enjoy their dream of a prosperous independent state. The man behind their suffering is the name I mentioned above; Slobodan Milosevic – The strong man of Serbia.
Unlike Serbia though, there is no overly dominating and controlling tribe in Nigeria, as was the case in Rwanda, Serbia, Yugoslavia, or even in Russia. The three main tribes in Nigeria are almost all equally balanced.
Without going far, it is easy for every African to associate marginalization with apartheid, when the black people of South Africa were largely marginalized in their own country. In spite of the obvious injustice of that regime, it took about 40 years of struggle before they could be recognized by the whole world as freedom fighters. As blatant as apartheid was, the countries of the world, especially developed western countries, did not support the armed resistance of the South African black majority. Nelson Mandela had to sacrifice 27 years of his life in prison before the world would grant the South African people their dream of equal rights.
I am sorry my dear Biafrans, what proofs and facts of marginalization can the Igbo people produce against Nigeria to justify their recognition by the international community as an independent state? It is virtually impossible in our modern world today.
‘Let’s go to the country of Eritrea and they will tell you how many lives they had to sacrifice before they could gain their right to independence. Beside the wars and damages that these people have had to endure, their struggle and campaign for independence lasted for years. I mean years of fighting, killing, bombing, shelling and destructions. Even after the war was over, they had to agonizingly endure decades of reconstruction. A Yoruba proverb says “it is only those that have not lived to see a war that dream about one.” I am not sure that the Biafran nation or the Igbo people are ready for another war that could cost them the very existence of their people.
The high price of Independence
Apart from these seven people groups that have been mentioned above, too many other people groups in their hundreds are struggling and clamoring on a daily basis for an independent nation even as we speak. If a detailed list were made, such people groups might run into a thousand. Can you imagine a thousand new countries emerging in our world today? It’s just not possible, they will not be recognized. It is going to create chaos and confusion.
Let’s have a quick look at some people groups that are agitating for their recognition or independence in our world today.
In Ukraine where I live, the eastern part of the country is agitating for independence with countless thousands of casualties already.
In Russia, the Chechen people, have been involved in two wars, yet they can’t get away.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban wants to build their own caliphate of Islamic state.
In Armenia, the Nagorno-karabakh people want their own recognition.
In Cameroon, the English speaking people have been struggling for years to have the same equal rights as the French speaking people. Some of them have been forced into exile, yet it has not been possible.
In Kenya, tribes have fought and spilled blood, yet no country has sided with any one of them to become independent.
In Great Britain, Northern Ireland has waged guerrilla war for years and still they could not get their full independence.
In Congo, part of the nation wanted to control their mineral resources, other foreign governments have only exploited them.
In Cyprus, the northern part of the country has been struggling for years, still they are not recognized as an independent nation.
In France, Guadeloupe and Basque have been fighting for years to be free and yet it is not easy to get their full independence.
In the Philippines, the Filipino guerillas have been living in the jungle for ages and they have not been able to build either their Marxist or Muslim nation.
In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers have dreamt about independence but it has not been easy coming.
In Turkey, the Kurdish people have dreamt of building Kurdistan. They have fought for it, yet to no avail.
In Spain, the Basque nation has fought for their independence for years, still it is not coming.
In Mauritania, the minorities have been complaining of oppression, but no help and understanding has come from the bigger nations of the world.
What more can I say? A word is enough for the wise…
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