By Inno Obiorah
Nigeria is a tribal country. With an estimated population of about 45 million people, the Igbo ethnic group is one of the largest tribes in Nigeria. Out of the nearly 180 tribes that the United Kingdom joined together to be one country, the Igbo seem to be the most loathed. The question is, why are the Igbo hated?
Around 1700s, the Igbo lived in harmony with their neighbours. Their interactions were mainly with the riverine people in the south and the Anioma people in Delta state. But with the advent of British colonization and amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria, the Igbo have been looked at differently by other tribes, sometimes with suspicion, sometimes as aggressors or sometimes with disdain.
During the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in 1803, 75 Igbo slaves revolted against their captors, took control of the ship, drowned their captors, and caused the grounding of the ship in Durbar Creek on Saint Simons Island, Glynn Counter, Georgia, USA. Many of the Igbo slaves committed suicide rather than be slaves in the New World. It is called Igbo Landing mass suicide of 1803. The mutiny and the suicide of these Igbo would-be slaves against slave owners was regarded as the first freedom march in the history of the United States.
No wonder, after Nigerian amalgamation, the colonial masters and other Nigerians started propagating hatred of the Igbo for many reasons, which were unfounded. The hatred intensified in the early 1940s and 1950s. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe called for self-determination for the Igbo in his speech on Saturday, June 25, 1949. He told his audience, “The Igbo people have reached a crossroads and it is for us to decide which is the right course to follow. We are confronted with routes leading to diverse goals, but, as I see it, there is only one road that I can safely recommend for us to tread, and it is the road to self-determination for the Igbo within the framework of a federated commonwealth of Nigeria and the Cameroons, leading to a United States of Africa. Other roads, in my opinion, are calculated to lead us from the path of national self-realization.”
According to Azikiwe, ‘It would appear that God has specially created the Igbo people to suffer persecution and be victimized because of their resolute will to live. Since suffering is a label of our tribe, we can afford to be sacrificed for the ultimate redemption of the children of Africa.”
Like Azikiwe had said then, the purpose of this article is not to catalogue the disabilities, which the Igbo suffer, in spite of our potential wealth, in spite of our teeming manpower, in spite of our vitality as an indigenous African people; suffice it to say that it would enable you to appreciate the manifest destiny of our people to enumerate some of the acts of discrimination against us as a people.
Socially, from the colonial period, the British press were not sparing in describing us as “the most hated in Nigeria.” In this unholy crusade, the Daily Mirror, The Times , The Economist, News Review and the Daily Mail were in the forefront. In the Nigerian press the Lagos, Zaria and Calabar sections of the Nigerian press were virtually encouraged to provoke us to tendentious propaganda.
During the colonial era, over four million Igbo were disenfranchised by the British, for decades, because of their alleged backwardness. They were not represented on the executive council, and not one Igbo town as of 1940s had the franchise, despite the fact that our native political institutions are essentially democratic, in fact, more democratic than any other nation in Africa, in spite of our extreme individualism.
Economically, we laboured under onerous taxation measures, without receiving sufficient social amenities to justify them. We were taxed without representation, and our contributions in taxes have been used to develop other areas.
Seventy-three years after Azikiwe cried to the British about the discrimination of the Igbo, the conditions have relatively not improved. Those that found themselves in power have not done their part in ameliorating this ugly trend. I asked my friend from the North why people hate the Igbo. He said to me that Igbo people are smart. The Igbo are the ones controlling the local economy in the North. I asked my Yoruba friend from Kwara State a similar question and he said the Igbo are the middle class of Nigeria and they control the economy of Nigeria. He said, when one is doing so good, it is bound to bring hatred and envy. I asked my friend from the Niger Delta why many tribes hate the Igbo and he said Igbo are hated because, despite having no international airports and no seaport, yet they are doing better economically.
What will the Igbo communities do to win the hearts of other Nigerians after more than 100 years of living together? Is it their fault that many tribes hate them or are they unintentionally contributing to this immense hatred? If a white person makes an irrational statement about one of our major religions in Europe, an Igbo might get hurt by the statement for which he has no knowledge or control of.
The word ‘Igbo’ means many things to many people in Nigeria. Some say the Igbo are very hardworking, others say they are too aggressive. Others say the Igbo like to showcase their wealth to other tribes, thereby making them to hate them.
Achebe, in one of his books, conceded that the Igbo as a group is not without its flaws. “Its success can and did carry deadly penalties: the dangers of hubris, overweening pride and thoughtlessness, which invite envy and hatred or, even worse, that can obsess the mind with material success and dispose it to all kinds of crude showiness. There is no doubt at all that there is a strand in contemporary Igbo behaviour that can offend by its noisy exhibitionism and disregard for humility and quietness.”
The hatred of the Igbo might have been borne out of lack of understanding of the tribe or the independent minds of the people to achieve excellence or the misunderstanding of the Igbo way of life. There is no crime in anyone wanting to do good for himself or for the society. My interactions with many non-Igbo show that many people hate the Igbo for no apparent reasons or they hate without knowing why they hate them. They liken the Igbo to the Ashanti of Ghana, the Jews, Lebanese or Indians that they come to your town with an empty bag and in few years they own properties and businesses. They say the Igbo can make something out of nothing and the irony of it is that they show you in your face how wealthy they are.
To mitigate this hatred, I will suggest to corporate Igbo businesses outside Igboland to also establish nonprofit businesses and help build and train non-Igbo people in whatever businesses they are doing and show other tribes how to fish and not just give them fish to eat. And to other tribes who hate the Igbo, probably, the hatred must have been learned from our colonial masters who saw the Igbo as a threat to their insatiable belief in controlling races who look different from them and who they think should be less intelligent and submissive to them. Probably, the Igbo proved too tough and unwilling to worship them like other tribes did. Whatever is the case, the Igbo have work to do and the haters have a bigger job to do to purge themselves of their hate. We are people created equal by God and there is no place for hate.
•Obiorah writes from New Jersey, USA, via: firstname.lastname@example.org