In recent times, I have watched with fascination and a little disquiet as the pro-Biafra activist and politician, Nnamdi Kanu, has been making the news headlines time and again. My disquiet is not without good reason. Nnamdi kanu’s biafran agitation is founded on a not too solid foundation, born of shoddy half-truths and a tendency for whipping up the audience, in this case, the largely Igbo south east, into a frenzy. Historically, the Igbo as a race have never been known to be a singular and united front, unlike some other races in the south. The Binis of Edo state spring readily to mind. In the Bini Kingdom, the Oba is revered and venerated, almost divine and unquestionable. elevated to the status of a god. In fact, traditional Bini folklore suggests that the bini traditional ruler, the Oba, actually is a god.
The dynasty is called the Ogiso, which means sky-kings or something of some sort. This implies that at some point in the history and mythology of the Bini kingdom, gods descended from the sky and ruled among men, implying that the rulership was divine. And for those reasons and several others that this piece does not have the scope to cover, the traditional institution in Edo state is very alive and well. The Oba is called upon to mediate in all sorts of cases and disputes, and there is a genuine fear if someone says he wants to report a dispute or case at the Oba’s palace. The Oba (rightly or not) has a say in who becomes governor, police commissioner, local government chairman, or any top level position in the state. Contestants and aspirants are frequent visitors to the palace, even before the electioneering campaigns officially begin. A royal blessing is an added asset in the electioneering in Edo State. So when there is talk of a Bini Agenda during election season, everyone in the state knows what it means. Even the candidates from the minority tribes like Igarra, Etsako, Owan, etc, all rush to align with whichever side seems most likely to take the position.
There are hardly any conflicts amongst themselves, and the only long running beef they have is with the Esan tribe, and it is little more than a joke, as many Bini and Esan people intermarry.
But I digress, I digress. This post is not really about the Bini people of Edo state, the reference was a counterpoint to describe their homogeneity and singularity of purpose that they are capable of. They are one people, in one state, and speak a common tongue. The Igbo, on the other hand, is a race who have never really been able to unite under a single traditional ruler. If there is any singular, identifiable, and unambiguous thing called an Igbo agenda, I’m yet to hear of it. The Igbos have always been known to mind their business – each man to his farm, assisted by his wives and children. With the coming of the white man, for administrative ease, and to function as agents to the white man, there came the appointment of warrant chiefs, which facilitated the penetration of the influence of the white man.
Traditionally, the Igbo man has been known to be a diligent and committed person, and individuals who were lazy were considered an anomaly. Hitherto, it’s been the notable tags. The Igbo people have been good at farming for years and years. They have also been known to be geniuses at trade and industry, areas that do not exactly require one to be a recipient of formal learning, and which can be carried out without necessarily ganging up or forming unions. In 1967 at the star of the war, many Igbos left their investments and scampered back home in the face of the brutal killings that kickstarted the civil war. Those properties were possessed by others, and upon the return of the Igbos to many of the places they had inhabited and had investments prior to the war, they found their sweat, blood and tears taken over by people who didn’t work for them, and a very meager compensation was paid. Yet like a phoenix from the ashes, the Igbo rose again, attaining heights that are nothing short of phenomenal. Time and again, history has borne witness to the dogged perseverance of the Igbo race, never backing down, never giving up.
The Biafran dream was shelved after the war, and the Igbos themselves did not seem too keen on the secession. The North, however had secession in mind, before they were alerted to the possibility of the immensely profitable crude oil available in the southern terrain they’d considered walking out on.
An analysis of investments by Easterners in the country will put the bulk of them in the economic nerve centres of Lagos and Abuja, with other major cities like Kano and Sokoto also showing up prominently as cities that play host to eastern investments. This cannot be said of investments by Yorubas, or by Hausas. These people have investments primarily in their homelands. The Igbo man is well known for his industriousness and ability to thrive even in harsh conditions. Indeed, comedians have been known to quip that a state or region that has no Igbos in it is devoid of humanity and should be avoided. This is in itself a testament to the never-say-die spirit and entrepreneurial drive of the Igbo man, be it businessman, trader, or artisan.
Politically, we are yet to have an Igbo President.
Please drop a comment, while making sure to watch this space for the follow up to this piece, in which we will discuss what Nnamdi Kanu’s Biafra really means, and whether it is a dream worth waking up to chase.