Ethnic Nationalities Crisis: The Yorubas, Igbos Not At War

By Emmanuel Onwubiko / Posted March 20, 2023

Nigeria, right from when the British Colonizers came up with what they called the amalgamation of South and North in 1914, has never recorded a clearly delineated ethnic conflict or ethnic war, especially that involving the Igbo Speaking natives of Nigeria and their neighbours.

Nigeria had a Civil war (1967-1970) when the rest of the then Nigeria, went to war to force back a part of it –the former Eastern region, to rejoin the Federation.

That Civil war lasted approximately three years and the casualty figure was put at well over three million out of which over 90 percent of those were Igbos.

During that war which historians termed as ‘Civil’ which I think is contextually wrong because of the extensive casualties on the side of the old eastern region, hundreds of thousands of children in the Eastern region died from man-made starvation tactics due to the embargo imposed by the then rest of Nigeria against the Eastern region, whilst that war lasted.

History has it that the Finance Minister then who was once the governor of the Western region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was instrumental in the imposition by General Yakubu Gowon of that devastating economic sanction on the eastern region to force it back to the centre. The ethical debates on the economic, and food embargoes slammed on the then Eastern region by Gowon, are not necessarily the item of discussion in this piece.

It is therefore appropriate to say that the first and for now, the only civil war fought in Nigeria, ended when both sides agreed on a truce and the then Nigerian head of State -General Gowon reportedly declared the three Rs.

These three Rs represented what the then pre- and post-war military Junta headed by Gowon called the official policy of reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation. Gowon and his military Junta rehabilitated erstwhile Nigeria Army operatives into the Nigeria Army and police. Igbos and their other Ethnically distinctive neighbours in the then Eastern region were allowed back into the larger Nigeria. Some of the Easterners got back their landed and housing assets but some lost these assets following some dubious Declarations by some regional governments that classified those housing assets of Igbos, especially in Rivers State, as abandoned properties. The other two Rs were not properly enforced.

Many years after this policy came on board, many questions still linger regarding the success or failure of some components of the three Rs.

From historical facts, it is correct to state that General Gowon’s government had ample opportunities to implement these resolutions which his government introduced Suo Moto.

But the government went about the implementation in a perfectly imperfect and haphazard fashion by picking and choosing which of the components suited the military government’s purpose.

From the empirical data available all over the archives, the military regime of Gowon failed to implement the reconstruction of the public and private infrastructures in the Eastern region decimated during the three years of fratricidal war and the main war fronts were in the Eastern region.

The Eastern region suffered many economic losses and these people never got compensation. The Eastern region was virtually cordoned off even as the Federal forces aided by Britain and the Soviet Union bombarded the Eastern region leading to the absolute destruction of the public and private infrastructures. But these destroyed assets were never reconstructed.

According to a renowned Economist and Political Scientist Professor Ebere Onwundiwe, the mismanagement of General Yakubu Gowon’s Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation (3Rs) policy, which the military government put in place to erase the scars of war, was the major reason for the resurgence of Biafra uprisings.

He said, “It was the failure of Nigeria to vigorously and successfully implement the Three Rs policy that was partly responsible for the establishment of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Independent People of Biafra (IPOB).

“It is well known that there have been so many protests, riots and recently, even terrorism in Nigeria since the end of the civil war. I think our leaders ought to be having a real epiphany right now with what is contemporaneously happening in the Northeast.

“This is because if you fail also to keep the promises of rebuilding that region after the devastation of Boko Haram if you let the hopes invested in the promise of that rebuilding die like the Three Rs, especially reconstruction and rehabilitation, you can also be sure that the children in IDP camps today will grow up and ask questions. Their disagreements with the state then will intensify feelings of deprivation as IPOB members feel today. I believe that the issues generated by the national question that caused the Biafran war are still among us.

“Recall that Nigeria’s goal of the civil war originally was to preserve the country and keep it one. Was it not? Remember also that the common slogan then was “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.” The military defeat of secession only achieved that goal in half. The other half is the war of reintegration, which I posit can only happen on the battlefields of policy-making and implementation where the most effective weapons are the soft tools of reason, justice and fairness.

“Has Nigeria not been fighting in this particular war zone for 47 odd years? While some territories have been conquered in this war, do you not agree with me that there are still vast areas still in enemy hands? If you ask who this enemy is, my honest answer is that it is we as Nigerians.

“I think we have to begin to tell ourselves the truth and also of necessity learn to separate perceptions from reality. We cannot do this without a rigorous pursuit of the truth in preference for reliance on rumours and stereotypes.”

I think the systematic abandonment of the salient components of the three Rs of Gowon by his regime and the many other administrations that succeeded him, is the genesis of so many agitations by youths from the Eastern region against perceived injustices.

So the ‘war’ the Igbo may be contending with which is not a war per se but a well-grounded agitation for the right things to be done can be traced to the aforementioned failures. To be Frank, the Igbos are not in any practical war either with any ethnicity or against the Nation State. But why do some reactionary people always drag Igbos along the lines of their imaginary Ethnic conflicts?

This aforementioned point is because, sadly, each time a general election comes up, there are usually conspiracies on the part of the political elites drawn from the Muslim North and the West to plot to ensure that the South East does not receive social justice in terms of equal representation at the topmost level. These cabal of the Muslim North and some elements from the Western region do often recruit some never-do-wells from the East who are power hungry and have stains in their hands, to help them market the toxic idea that Igbos can’t be President in Nigeria even in this 21st century.

It is perceived in many quarters that a bunch of power-hungry elite of the Muslim North and West in active criminal alliance with some loafers from the East, often, connive against the South East, and then unleash a bunch of street urchins to start beating drums of war to make it look like the South East is not properly so to say an equal member of the federation. But there is no Nigeria without the tripod made up of Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo.

This defective conspiracy against the Igbo ethnic bloc is sometimes even played up in a section of the media controlled by materialism and cash, to make it look like Igbo are still at war.

The truth is that Igbos have never gone to war against any ethnic group in Nigeria and even the so-called Civil War of the late 60s was a war imposed on the Easterners who only wanted to secede from the then Federation of Nigeria because of what happened such as the pogroms of Igbos in the North, immediately after a bunch of Soldiers went rogue and killed off some prominent ethnic leaders such as Sirs Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa, Balewa amongst others, in an unsuccessful counter-coup that snowballed in the Intentional assassination of General Aguiyi Ironsi who was the then head of State.

That season of anomie happened also during the lifetime of the current infamous administration of Major General Mohammadu Buhari when a bunch of boys in the North brazenly announced the expulsion of Igbo People living in the North and the Federal administration led by the Katsina State-born Buhari failed to arrest these treasonous bunch of trouble makers.

The few boys who announced the insane expulsion of Igbos said they did that in retaliation for the agitation for self-government by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB)- a group President Buhari had commenced a military crackdown on since 2016. The same group even went to Court to pray to the court to expel Igbos from the federation. What insane impudence!

Unfortunately, the 2023 general election is being railroaded again into some imaginary ethnic discords and this time around, even a newspaper publication known as the Nation is the mouthpiece of a bunch of misguided Yoruba- ethnic warlords who are championing the declared electoral victory of their paymaster Bola Ahmed Tinubu of APC by INEC, as if there is an ethnic conflict between Yorubas and Igbos.

Far from it. There is no lota of truth in this mischievous insinuation which has been promoted by the supporters of the President–elect, only because their paymaster suffered political defeat in Lagos which he claims to be his political fortress. The truth is that Bola Ahmed Tinubu is from Osun State but somehow managed to grab power and has since built a dynasty that the masses of Lagos made up mostly of Yorubas are now challenging.

Then again, Tinubu also lost Abuja to the presidential Candidate of the Labour Party Mr Peter Obi who is in no way an Igbo Candidate. In fact, if there are any of the Presidential Candidates that played up the ethnic card, it is Bola Ahmed Tinubu who tried, by all means, to convince Yoruba voters to vote for him because he is Yoruba. Peter Obi got votes from across the board and he won Lagos which is a Yoruba State populated majorly by Yorubas.

Instead of Bola Ahmed Tinubu sitting back and reflecting on the underlying reasons that most Lagosians made up mostly of Yorubas did not vote for him, he has permitted his hirelings to start propagating an imaginary ethnic conflict between Yorubas and Igbos which is a big fallacy.

The truth remains that Yorubas and Igbos have come a long way just as Igbos and many other ethnic groups including Fulanis, Hausas, Tivs, Jukuns, Biroms, Langtang, Bajju and many other groupings in the North have co-existed, inter-married and are still co-existing as good neighbours and in-laws.

The attempt to conjure up ethnic war between Igbos and Yorubas is an agenda made in hell and should be discountenanced because it has supporting facts backing the infantile claims.

Those who canvass this destructive route of ethnic conflict, don’t seem to know what ethnic conflict means and how such a conflict could snowball into even an international war. Enclopedia Britannica has done very refined and intellectually stimulating research on ethnic conflict and I recommend this to these proponents of their imaginary conflict between Yorubas and Igbos.

This British Britannica stated that: “ethnic conflict, is a form of conflict in which the objectives of at least one party are defined in ethnic terms, and the conflict, its antecedents, and possible solutions are perceived along ethnic lines. The conflict is usually not about ethnic differences themselves but over political, economic, social, cultural, or territorial matters.”

What then is Ethnic identity, ethnicity, and ethnic group? The writers said the terms ethnic and ethnicity have their roots in the Greek word ethnos, which describes a community of common descent. In ethnic conflict research, the terms ethnic group, communal group, ethnic community, people, and minority are mostly used interchangeably. Two elements provide the basis to identify ethnic groups: first, the accentuation of cultural traits and, second, the sense that those traits distinguish the group from the members of the society who do not share the differentiating characteristics. Anthony D. Smith, a scholar of ethnicity and nationalism studies, identified ethnic criteria that provide the origins of communal identity. Those include shared historical experiences and memories, myths of common descent, a common culture and ethnicity, and a link with a historic territory or a homeland, which the group may or may not currently inhabit. Elements of common culture include language, religion, laws, customs, institutions, dress, music, crafts, architecture, and even food. Ethnic communities show signs of solidarity and self-awareness, which are often expressed by the name the group gives itself.

They wrote that: “Ethnic identity is formed by both tangible and intangible characteristics. Tangible characteristics, such as shared culture or common visible physical traits, are important because they contribute to the group’s feeling of identity, solidarity, and uniqueness. As a result, the group considers perceived and real threats to its tangible characteristics as risks to its identity. If the group takes steps to confront the threats, its ethnicity becomes politicized, and the group becomes a political actor by virtue of its shared identity. On the other side, ethnicity is just as much based on intangible factors—namely, on what people believe, or are made to believe, to create a sense of solidarity among members of a particular ethnic group and to exclude those who are not members”.(Encyclopedia Britannica).

Unfortunately too, the armed forces of Nigeria made up of officers who swore an oath to be loyal to the constitution, need to wake up and defend Nigeria. The police and the DSS need to stop pandering to Ethnically drawn up agendas but must first and foremost defend the constitution and arrest persons fanning the embers of ethnic war and those spreading hate messages about Igbos or any other ethnicity for that sake. This must be done to nip in the bud these toxic falsified narratives that Yorubas and Igbos are at war because of the 2023 Presidential election. Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a political elite who is after his own interest and is not very close to being described as a Yoruba leader. Most Yorubas don’t consider him a Yoruba leader.


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