At the 2007 Okigbo Conference at Harvard University, I had the opportunity to chat with a former minister of education under the government of Shehu Shagari, Professor I. C. Madubuike. He told me how he came into office and studied the Joint Matriculations and Examination Board (JAMB) statistics on candidates’ applications and admissions of prior years. From his study, he discovered that there were a lot of Igbo candidates who scored high in JAMB but could not gain admission into universities in Nigeria. Because of admission policies like “catchment area,” “federal character,” “educational disadvantage states,” these Igbo candidates with high scores end up not being admitted while other candidates from other regions who scored lower get admitted into federal universities in their states and also into the only federal university in Igbo land then, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN).
The minister, therefore, decided to him to present it at the next federal executive council meeting. He raised the issue of establishing a new federal university in the East to accommodate all the students with high scores in JAMB that could not gain admission. In the final proposal accepted by the executive council, the minister of education proposed the establishment of state universities.
Over thirty years after Shagari’s administration, it is clear to all and sundry that there is an imbalance in the number of states within the six-geopolitical zones of Nigeria. The South South, the South West, the North Central, the North East have six states each. The North West has seven states, but the South East has five states. The Igbo delegates to the National Conference presented a case for the creation of an additional Igbo state to give the South East geopolitical zone six states. When it was raised, some at the conference shouted it down. In a compromise, they decided that 18 new states should be created in the country to make a total of 54 states.
There are myriads of stories like the ones above. I don’t know if they have anything to do with why the Igbo, by all intents and purposes, have adopted President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan. By doing so, they have adopted his presidency, too. They will share the credits for his successes as well as the blames for his failures. And, most importantly, justly or unjustly, they will bear the brunt of any blowback. The reasons for this relationship are many. There is an often repeated strategic geopolitical consideration. There is a sense of comradeship with a minority who has been at the receiving end of Nigeria’s unjust structure. And, of course, there is the promise to fulfill the age-long promise of a second Niger bridge and to renovate, upgrade, and, perhaps, drain the flooded international airport in Enugu. This is not the first time the Igbo have run to embrace someone in search of succor. General Ibrahim Babangida was once bestowed the traditional title of Ogugua Ndigbo, consoler of the Igbo - for wiping away Igbo tears. (Don’t ask me or Ebitu Ukiwe how?)
However, the frenzy surrounding Igbo support for Jonathan is so high that any Igbo who dares to differ on any count is threatened by fellow Igbo. I’ve never seen a phenomenon like this in my lifetime. Those who saw the Nigeria-Biafra war say it feels like the saboteur syndrome all over again. Some analysts have said that Nigeria is back to 1964. Some say that this is Aguiyi-Ironsi’s Nigeria once again. Irrespective of where in the past we have returned, it will be good for the Igbo to reflect and reminisce. If the action of a group of military officers on January 15, 1966 was attributed to the Igbo, will the action of an Ijaw man in 2014 be attributed to the Igbo?
At the state level, a look at the Igbo states show mediocrity in action. In Abia state exists a government of thugs for thugs. For 15 years of democratic rule, Abia state has been so unlucky that it could not boast of a government that can clean up Aba and make it a livable city where human beings can breathe freely. In Ebonyi state is a tyrannical government of an old man who lords it over the territory without an independent media to speak to him or any viable opposition to raise an eyebrow. In Enugu state, before the impeachment over chicken coops, there was a semblance of a government in place. But, considering the talent in the state, it has essentially been 15 years of waste. In Imo state, the show man at the helms is running out of tricks and out of schemes. Other than abusing women and dreaming the impossible Aso Rock dream, the man is all but done and the disillusionment he is leaving behind is threatening to return the state into the hands of a certified rogue. In Anambra state, the burial ground of APGA, the debate has shifted from when to officially collapse APGA in the state into PDP to whether drinking champagne makes someone an alcoholic. Despite Mike Ejeagha’s story as retold by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in, "Peter Obi conquers people by love. Even when you show him hatred, he keeps showing you love"; the truth is that when eight years of Peter Obi’s myopic vision failed to kick off Igbo renaissance, it is no surprise that the rest of the region did not rise above its knees.
The impact of this calumnious failure could be seen in the resurgence of Biafra movements. That the federal government has failed the Igbo youth, just like other youths across the country, is not news anymore. But the failure of their own state governors made it such a hopeless situation that the overthrow of those state governments has become one of the missions of the Biafran movement, which sets it up for attack from both the federal and state sides. The indiscriminate killings of these disaffected and alienated youths by security agents get no sympathy from the executives in charge of eastern states. The Anambra River can be overflowing with corpses of Biafran activists and the Igbo state and federal officials will not notice. Compared to other regions, the Eastern region is the only place where the elite are so scared to be identified with their restless or separatist youths. In the West, OPC youths had a place on the official National Conference delegation from the region. In the North, the most radical elements got spots at the National Conference table. As frustration grows amongst the Igbo youths, the next flash point will be the impending conflict between these youths and the corrupt and Abuja-looking elite that run the states in the East. As different Biafrian groups splitter and regroup, the movement will morph beyond those who just want to take over a radio station and hoist their flag on top of government house.
Professor Chieka Ifemesia often says that, the things that others did to the Igbo are many but the things the Igbo did to themselves are more. This weekend in Houston, the World Igbo Congress will have its yearly convention. From the first time I went to the conference in New York to last year’s conference in Dallas, the questions being raised have revolved around what is known as the Igbo question. The delegates to this conference will begin to answer this question in their own court as they elect World Igbo Congress leaders. Such exercises in the past have led to rancor and spilt. The Abuja-looking crowd is once again eying positions within the organization as a stepping stone to the final destination- the government house in their state or Abuja.
As Igbo people around the world gather in Houston, the cracks are all over the map.There are already calls for the resignation of the Chairman of the World Igbo Congress who is running for reelection. Accusations are piling upon accusations. Different factions are meeting and moral authorities are being questioned. The dream of raising funds to build a reputable medical center in Igbo land is threatened. Being that this conference will be taking place on the eve of a pivotal national election in Nigeria, a country that is shaking deep within its core, the theme of this convention should be, Houston, we have a problem- an Igbo problem.