‘’ Those who profess to favour freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want ocean without the roar of its waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never ever did and it never will’’- Frederick Douglass
It is an honour to be granted this unique opportunity by IPAN to comment on the topic through this essay. It’s my desire that this work creates a lasting change in the mind-set of every Nigerian. A better point of departure will be to establish the meaning of the concept “Agitation”.
The Oxford Lexicon defines it as the arousing of public concern about an issue and pressing for action on it. To trace the origin of the Igbo agitation, a panoramic leap-frog into history is necessary. The geographical region now known as modern day Nigeria has been home to many ancient, and indigenous pre-colonial states, and kingdoms over the millennia. It was once a slave coast, but that changed in 1870 when slavery was abandoned. By 1897, Flora Shaw, a British journalist coined the name “Nigeria” from Niger River. With the North, West and Eastern parts of the country doing exploits through the production of groundnut, cocoa, and oil palm respectively, foreigners moved in for business deals. The Royal Niger Company controlled agricultural trade in the territory during this period but with revoke of its charter by Great Britain, the company sold its territory to the British government for 865,000 pounds. By 1914, the Southern and Northern protectorates were amalgamated by Lord Lugard. Towards 1960, ethnic groups in Nigeria united against colonial rule and fought for independence. Founding fathers like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Ballewa, Obafemi Awolowo and a host of others all looked forward to the birth of a nation where everyone will have a place in the scheme of things. No wonder, Nnamdi Azikiwe became the first Nigerian president after independence. A military coup was staged by some soldiers, but failure on the part of the coup plotters to execute their initial plot caused misunderstandings among many Nigerians who erroneously tagged it, “an Igbo coup”.
The Northerners in their quest for revenge executed a counter coup that claimed the life of Major Aguyi Ironsi and many other officers. Following the massacre of Igbos living in the North, and a high state of insecurity, Col Ojukwu asked Igbos to return home. Due to perceived feelings of deprivation, marginalization, isolation and neglect of the Easterners and subsequent domineering attitude of Northerners, a bloody civil war which claimed the lives of over 500,000 to 2 million people ensued. It’s been decades yet, the post-civil war period have been characterized by division along ethno-religious-cultural cleavages.
The recent Biafra agitation in 2017 for example was majorly due to the inability of the government to provide basic social, economic and infrastructural amenities for the betterment of Nigerians. It is for this purpose we will now concentrate on how the “Igbo agitation” is helping Nigerians to regain their pride of place in the scheme of things.
An assessment of the leadership structure of the country shows that the Igbos have never been given the opportunity to rule the country after the civil war. This is a source of concern for a country whose foundations were founded upon unity and brotherhood. The cries of the Igbos on the need for an inclusive system of government have resulted in the infiltration of rumours about Igbo presidency come 2023.
In addition, the agitation is charting a path for other regions to work for new programmes. When the farmer-herdsmen crisis was at its peak, South-Easterners embarked on vocal campaigns on how to curb the situation. According to a post published by Daily-post Nigeria on the 6th of June 2019, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youths Council declared that “the South-East region would no longer fold its hands and allow herdsmen to continue to kill, terrorise and destroy properties worth millions of naira in the zone. They called on the incoming leadership of the State House of Assemblies in Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo state and existing leadership in Anambra to proceed without delay to enact laws to establish local vigilant groups with special mandate to protect Eastern Nigeria and fish out armed herdsmen from peaceful cattle rearers, who operate in unholy hours of the day”. The South-West followed suit to tackle the insecurity situation in their region when they collectively formed operation Amotekun , a security outfit that assists police, other security agencies and traditional rulers in combating terrorism, banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping and also in settling herdsmen-farmers contentions.
The ripple effect of the agitations have created a collective consciousness among Nigerians. The Yoruba’s are now calling for the creation of Oduduwa-republic while the Niger-Delta militants battled the Government for the implementation of reforms that improved the region.
Furthermore, these agitations have kept leaders across the country on their toes. Political-leaders are now executing projects in their communities, visiting their constituents and providing relief materials to their people amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. From the FACTSHEET report by Femi Adeshina, some projects executed in Eastern Nigeria includes; construction of 600km of roads across the region, allocation of 16.67billion naira for critical road projects, Presidential fertilizer initiative, Ariara market power project , GEEPS disbursement of 1.2 billion naira in loans to 24,155 beneficiaries etc.
Finally, many people have been provided opportunity to express their feelings regarding the state of things. Past leaders like Ibrahim Babagida and Atiku Abubakar have been motivated to continuously call for restructuring. Pastor Adeboye also aired his view recently due to the cry of Nigerians especially the Igbos.
Since Rome wasn’t built in a day, let’s all rise in unity till we finally regain our pride of place in the scheme of things in our dear nation. God bless Nigeria