Revisiting Wole Soyinka And The Igbo Controversy



The controversy that has excited intense public recriminations over statements by Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, to the effect that Igbos are champions of stomach politics, bears closer examination. The offensive comments are in the public domain and need no re-telling, not the least for the reason that they are so unedifying and most embarrassing to the foremost dramatist. Although Soyinka has come out to angrily deny making any such comments “regarding the Ndigbo voting pattern in the last elections,” this apparently, is an afterthought of a man who spoke before thinking. Even now, there is need to refocus on the implications of the overwhelming Igbo support for President Goodluck Jonathan in the wake of what evidently is a well-orchestrated campaign of vilification against the Igbos by certain groups, poised to hijack and imbue the incoming Buhari administration with the mentality that “this is our turn.” This is unacceptable. It is Buhari’s duty to protect the nation from cant and chicanery in pursuance of sectional interests. This is the challenge of leadership.

From the public debate the issue has generated, no one is challenging Soyinka’s right to free speech. Far from it! The main grouse, and validly so, remains that, there is a concerted effort to cast the Igbo vote for Jonathan as a treasonable offence, for which they must be punished. Caught in a seemingly, even if unintended clannish grandstanding, Soyinka did not say anything new. If anything, his open celebration of bigotry only diminished his person. Without saying whether he was misquoted or that his remarks at the Harvard lecture were taken out of context, Soyinka said anyone who believes the “imbecilic pronouncements” credited to him is a moron and mentally retarded. Be that as it may; the fact is that Igbophobia – the systemic exclusion of Igbos from the commanding heights of authority in the nation, has been the hallmark of governance in Nigeria from the end of the civil war to the present.


However, in substance and manner, the reaction of Ndigbo was hasty, equally imprudent, in a way that advertises a herd mentality; a pious tendency towards self-centered pedestrianism, which reinforces the stereotype of the Igbos as garrulous, clannish, over-bearing, and always ready to rally in furtherance of an Igbo hegemonic agenda. The result is that, in the face of such extreme provocation, the Igbos failed to demonstrate maturity and political sagacity. The anger, name-calling and insultive grandiloquence that characterized reactions to Soyinka, was unnecessary. It is bad enough that Soyinka finds himself in this controversy; it is doubly embarrassing for him to openly express such contempt for public opinion even if there was a gap between what he said and what the media transmitted, as he now claims. Calling people morons and mentally retarded is insultive and unbecoming of a man of Soyinka’s standing.

The latest controversy comes in the wake of similar unedifying comments by the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, shortly before the governorship and state assembly elections. Even though the palace, like Soyinka tried to walk back the unfortunate statements, made to some Igbo notables, who were the Oba’s guests, the royal faux pas went viral and generated enough bad blood to threaten the unity and peaceful co-existence between the Igbos and the Yorubas in cosmopolitan Lagos and across the country. The offensive statements tainted the Oba’s throne and portrayed him as a belligerent rabble-rouser. The Igbos had every reason to take umbrage at Oba Akiolu’s wish for the “settlers” to support his preferred gubernatorial candidate, failing which; the Igbos would be drowned in the lagoon.

Before the Igbos crucify Soyinka, it is worth reminding them that their anger, however justified is misdirected. The allegations against the Igbos and their vote for Jonathan notwithstanding, the reactions of anger can make sensational headlines in the media, but it certainly will not resolve the “Igbo problem” which, to all intents and purposes has been institutionalized. The angry reaction was not even good politics. If at all Soyinka’s acerbic anti-Igbo remarks needed a response, Ndigbo should have formally given a measured one, which would have indicated seriousness commensurate to Soyinka’s weighty allegations, discomforting as such may have been. It is amazing just how anyone who loves this country and cares for its people can, reasonably, pretend not to realize that between the three major ethnic groups – Igbos, Yorubas and Hausa/Fulani – the Igbos have continued to be marginalized and treated with disdain as third class citizens in Nigeria.

The travails Ndigbo has had to endure from sporadic outbreaks of anti-Igbo sentiments across Nigeria speaks directly to the bankrupt state of Ndigbo leadership and their failure to learn from the popular Igbo saying: “onye na amaghi ebe mmiri bidoro mawa ya, agaghi ama ebe o kwusiri” (He who does not know when the rain began to beat him would not know when the rain stops). The rain began to beat Ndigbo in 1914 when Lord Lugard amalgamated the northern and southern protectorates into the contraption called Nigeria. The Igbos became drenched in acid rain by systemic massacres: Jos (1945), Kano (1953) and the September 29, 1966 massacre in which thousands of Igbo men, women and children were slaughtered. This led to the civil war, which saw mass starvation and anti-Igbo genocide. And the bloody rain has continued to beat Ndigbo, resulting in anti-Igbo massacres – Kano (1980), Maiduguri (1982), Yola (1984), Gombe (1985), Kaduna (1986), Bauchi (1991), Funtua (1993), Kano (1994), Damboa (2000) and Apo 6 (2005). The ongoing nihilistic slaughter of Igbo people by Boko Haram is yet to be documented. But there is no question that a disproportionate percentage of the thousands of Boko Haram victims are Igbo people.

The political expediency that dictated the emergence of the Hausa/Fulani-Yoruba axis of power has been consolidated by the overbearing disposition and insatiable greed of Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba political elite, who by deliberate and questionable policies have whimsically and arbitrarily emasculated the Igbos from political relevance in the commanding heights of authority in the federal government and its agencies. Unarguably, either by design or omission, these policies have become institutionalized, with Ndigbo getting the short end of the stick. The numbers don’t lie. An analysis of the six zones comprising the federation has the following breakdown in number of states: Northwest (7), Northeast (6), North-central (6), Southwest (6), South-south (6) and the Igbo-dominated Southeast (5).

Local governments by design are the machinery through which governance is brought directly to the grassroots. It is the tier of government whose functions are calculated to impact directly on the people. Here again, the numbers don’t lie; Northwest (186), Northeast (112), North-central (115), Southwest (138), South-south (123) and Southeast (95). The federal constituencies are so designed in such a way that the transfer of resources is anchored on proportionality. Again the numbers don’t lie: Northwest (92), Northeast (48), North-central (49), Southwest (71), South-south (55) and Southeast (43).Even the Senate, where logic demanded equal representation as obtained in the USA, whose presidential system Nigeria copied, the Southeast is last with just 15 Senatorial districts; the Southwest, South-south, North-central and Northeast each have 18 districts while the Northwest has 21.

These constitutionally entrenched structural injustices have far-reaching implications beyond questions of marginalization. These numbers represent the blatant reality that Ndigbo has refused to confront, preferring to revel in distractions about who said what against the Igbos. Forty-five years after the end of the civil war, the Southeast zone bears the unmistakable characteristics of a conquered and occupied territory. This is a national shame not just for Ndigbo, but for Nigeria!

Culled from: HuhuOnline

SEE ALSO: APC: There Will Be No Persecutions, But Jonathan’s Aides Must Be Ready To Account For Their Actions

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