Re: Hassan Gimba’s Open letter to Ndigbo, A Rejoinder, By Osmund Agbo

Dear Hassan,

Thank you so much for making out time to reach across. Coming from a place buffeted by the twin evil of Boko Haram and Armed Bandits, we know life has not been that easy for you and your people in the northeast. Yet you made out time to engage Ndigbo in a way that only a true brother could. Daalu rinne!

Truth be told, I have never even heard your name, let alone know who you are. You see, Igbo culture is pretty heavy on respect and so naturally one would be inclined to ask for your bona fides to address umu chukwuokikeabiama. But you know, today we are living in perilous times and so I will not pass up any opportunity to engage, after all, one might argue that most of the problem we faced yesterday and are facing today could have been resolved if only we had taken more interest in talking with each other and listening to one other. Am sure you are also aware that democracy has existed in this part of the world, dating back to pre-colonial times and so it’s not in our nature to drown out soft voices, no matter how inconsequential. Certainly, some of the issues raised lent itself to further interrogation.

Hassan, you have to know that I chuckled all the way till the end as I read through your piece. Silly me!  I was particularly drawn to those little sprinkles of “nwanne m” and “ndewo”. It was such a simple gesture yet meant a lot to me. Not even the occasional patronizing and sometimes frankly condescending tone of your letter could succeed in minimizing the joy I felt deep in my heart. They evoked some kind of childish giddiness, reminiscent of the day I walked into a white man’s home and he offered me plantain and yam. We both know that such things rarely happen and are already used to having it the other way.

Except for the few instances where you didn’t let even truth get in your way, your letter could easily have passed for one of my recent articles on the subject your sought to address. But then, you are not alone. Many in Nigeria, most especially from your part of the country claim they do n

ot have the slightest idea what the Igbos want.

After reading your letter, my first instinct was to invite you to my home state of Enugu, for a little working tour. Just as an incentive, I would want to drive you around the major southeast cities where you could potentially grow your NEPTUNE NETWORK. But on a second thought, I had to erase the idea. What if in the process of showing you around we chance into some of the violent hotspots and you get injured? How will I convince your kith and kin that you aren’t just another northerner targeted in a pre-meditated IPOB attack? Am sure none of us want another Nigeria-Biafra war.

Now, in case you think am bluffing, I even had your itinerary carefully pencilled down in black and white, per chance you make it here. First off, am hoping to take you to the recently renovated Akanu Ibiam “International” airport, a project completed by the Buhari government and commissioned by the Hon. Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika. As a smart kid, maybe you could help us comprehend how after a total lockdown of one of the only two airports in Ala-Igbo for an inexcusable 370 days, all that 10bn naira could do was a runway upgrade while the entire place is still looking like a shitty piece of abandoned real estate. Obviously, the money was so little to provide even the logistics needed to support international operations and so you will also get to see an international airport with zero international flight in view.

Of course, we will drive down to Onitsha through our beautiful federal roads, though I have to warn you that our federal roads are a little different from what you are used to in Abuja and most of the northern states. But don’t worry, I will stock up for the five hours drive from Enugu. It’s true that the 114km journey used to take just a little over 2hrs but it’s no one’s fault that we have to take the diversions through all the treacherous alleys. But hey, you need to thank me. At least I didn’t plan on driving you to Port Harcourt via Aba.  Like I said, I got your back. While in Onitsha, am sure you would like to see the famed Onitsha Main Market and marvel at the volume of containers of goods causing insane traffic jam, coming in daily from Lagos. Perhaps that will get you to convince your brothers how an Eastern Sea port would have made a huge difference on the lives of my people and bring in more non-oil revenues so Abuja could borrow less.

While at it, you can also help remind President Buhari that he may have forgotten that the South East is still part of Nigeria while designing the New Railway Plan of the Federal Government. Normally that should even make more economic sense than the $1.96 billion Kano-Maradi rail project. I think.

Instead of having police check points positioned at every nook and cranny of Ala-Igbo and treating us like a bunch of conquered people, please help us tell owners of Nigeria that we would rather have the federal government site a factory or two in Igboland so our young men and women could work and contribute to nation building. You see, that would keep them busy and steal them away from the indoctrination by IPOB/ESN. Win, win right?

Hassan, I get it that an average Nigerian can’t fathom the Igbo man as a victim in this country. I know you look around and all you see are CEO’s of big businesses and owners of choice real estates. But I ask, is it fair to appropriate to one what belongs to all for whatever reason? Does it matter that your brother is rich or poor, is he too not entitled to a share of the family estate? Should you need him only when it’s time to bear the family expenses? Bros, you don’t get high-fives for robbing anyone, just because you believe the victim is a Dangote.

“Whereas other Nigerians, especially northerners, find it difficult to own land or landed properties in the South East, major viable towns in both the North and South of the country have your brothers as major landowners. A lot of big businesses and the hospitality sector are Igbo-dominated as well.”

Bro. Hassan, I laughed so hard to the point of cracking my sternum when I read that line. Hands down, it was the most ludicrous thing I have read in a long time. Am sure you didn’t have enough time to think that one through. How did you arrive at such a silly conclusion sir? Who in your opinion is preventing the northerners or any human being created by God from owning properties in the southeast? If you are aware of any law forbidding non-Igbos from ownership of real estate or running a legal business in Igbo land, please come forward and let the world know. As far as am concerned, an Igbo man will leave his father off and sell to you as long as you make him a better offer. But don’t take my word for it, just arrange the cash and I guarantee I will personally sell you mine. Pronto. What is true is that the Igbo man does not observe federal character while trying to earn a living, running his business.

I think it’s rather unfortunate that many like you are unwilling or unable to understand the whole picture about Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB, Ndigbo and the nuances. Many have asked why Ndigbo would allow the group to destroy our land. Well, it’s not a secret that many Ndigbo, more especially younger ones are sympathetic to IPOB’s underlying message, highlighting decades of official marginalization and discrimination. That’s a fact. What is also true is that most Igbos completely condemns and despises Mr. Kanu’s caustic rhetoric. We are very worried and frankly disgusted by any call to arms in our soil after the genocide that was the Nigerian-Biafran civil war. That said, outside of all the extra-judicial killings, the government security agencies have up until the time of writing this, neither made any arrest nor have they prosecuted anyone regarding what is happening in the southeast. Without such, you and I can only speculate who is behind those attacks. I believe we all witnessed the #EndSARS protest and lived through the Abacha years to realize to what extent the State could go sometimes.

Almost all Igbo leader worth a name or title have come out to condemn the killing of the police, the destruction of security infrastructures and the descent to anarchy. But of course, such will not trend. Nnamdi Kanu has a megaphone and is ready-made for the camera and so Nigeria love to hear him and then turn around to ascribe whatever gibberish he spews as the officials Igbo position. No one seem to care about what Ohaneze President or other Igbo leaders have to say. Why is that Hassan?

Who in his right mind will make his homeland a theater of war? Tufiakwa!
If you say Ndigbo are silent, it’s because you don’t understand the predicament many sane voices face, which is pretty surprising for someone who have lived through the scourge of Boko Haram. If Kanu and IPOB were to come after me, should I trust the Nigerian Police or Army, owned and operated by your brothers to come to my rescue? Therein lies the ugly predicament my friend. It’s like blaming the woman in an abusive relationship. She may not be seen crying every day, not because she loves her ugly situation, but most times out of fear for her own life and safety. Compassion is in order here my brother.

Is it not the injustice and indignity against a people looking like an official state policy that elevated a nobody to the status of a cult figure? Please blame Nigeria and those that continue to fight the civil war, more than 50 years after the fact. Enthrone justice and equity and IPOB will fizzle out like a billow of smoke.

To tell you the truth, with all the talks about having an Igbo President, we don’t really care so much about who is the President to the extent that Okechukwu has same opportunity as Ahmed in Nigeria. Of course, it doesn’t feel good to live under some kind of glass ceiling but a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction, thrown up by northern oligarchs would replicate the Hope Uzodimma catastrophe on a national scale and Igbos are not looking forward to that. Believe it or not, we are not as stupid as we look brother.

Before independence, a Fulani man from Sifawa, and a Prince of the Sokoto Caliphate, Mallam Umaru Altine, was elected as the first mayor of the city of Enugu, the political capital of the then Eastern region. He was first elected in 1952 but won subsequent re-elections and remained in office for six years.  Meanwhile, prior to that, he was the president of the Enugu branch of the youth wing of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) and even married an Igbo girl named Esther. Cool right? Well, it might interest you to know Hassan that this was right around the time when the late Saduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, in a highly televised interview granted to a foreign journalist, told the world that he would rather hire an expatriate to fill a vacant position in the north than Nigerians of other tribal persuasions. Oh well!

In 2004, Gab Agu as chairman of Enugu North Local Government invited the Altine family to celebrate their late father’s achievement and for telling the Igbo story, the once forgotten Nigerian story. I bet you didn’t hear that in your local news. But anyway, I don’t blame you at all because we Igbos are not good at telling our stories either.

My dear brother Hassan, Ndigbo like every other group for sure have their own unique challenges. But make no mistake; we are definitely not Nigeria’s problem. Yes, not even a revisionist history can change that. Except of course if you are a Danladi Umar or Mr. Spareparts and am hard pressed to believe that you are either of those. You are way smarter. It is my hope however, that you will do a little more digging next time instead of trafficking on platitudes and dwelling on cliches.

May the future of our country be worthy of her dream.

Aboki na, sai wata rana

Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: [email protected]