Best Place In The Bronx For A Old Fashion A Look at How a Diplomat Who Signed Up to Serve His Country Ended Up Serving His Own People: Part IV

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A Look at How a Diplomat Who Signed Up to Serve His Country Ended Up Serving His Own People: Part IV

With the professor’s contribution to the organization of African unity, and the OAU deciding on a level of action that reasonable people would accept, the dialogue continued in a sinister chronology.

Setting: In the fifties and sixties, the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo tribes were rival youthful siblings of their parent, Nigeria. They are old now, but like all siblings they sometimes resume killing each other.

Disclosure: Answers are not verbatim quotes from Professor Austine SO Okwu; rather, they are interpretations and extrapolations, based on my understanding of the topics being discussed.

Questions: Why did Nnamdi Azikiwe, alias Zik, who arguably fought for Nigerian independence stronger than any other citizen, never became the all-powerful Prime Minister of Nigeria, but was instead reduced in importance to a mere ceremonial President?

Reply: “Good question, my dear Anselm.” A short pause followed. “By the way,” continued the professor, “my son Anselm, you look very good today; sometimes I want to kill you because of your gaunt look, but today you look good. Your wife Sandra does a good job – my compliments and congratulations to her.’

At first surprised at the unexpected flattery, in the midst of the compliment I had with his attendance, I laughed myself into a moderate fit.

When the laughter stopped, a pregnant silence filled the room. In that expectant moment, I saw in the professor’s face a man reaching into the depths of the story, examining its contents, and wondering if the outcome might have been different. Finding the right tone and gesture, he replied.

‘Zik wanted to be prime minister. Nigeria wanted him to be the first Prime Minister and his party, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, wanted him to be the Prime Minister; but the British thought he was too strong for them’.

Through its West African pilot newspaper [1937- fifties]had Zik been a thorn in the flesh of the colonialists.

Although I had expected this answer, my head still dropped to rest on my left fist. After I recovered he continued.

“You know, my dear Anselm, the British will give you freedom, but not power, not authority.” To deny real authority to Azikiwe, an Igbo man, along with his party, the National Congress of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and his southern constituents, the British came up with an undocumented census which found that northern Nigeria was more populous than the southern part of the country. Based on this calculation, which they enshrined in the first Nigerian constitution, colonial Britain allocated northern Nigeria 51 percent of the representatives in the central government, and to southern Nigeria they allocated 49 percent.

Since the enclave that holds the majority of representatives produces the Prime Minister, in 1960 the position went to Allahaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Hausa, the point man of his political party, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC).

Questions: So much has been said about the ‘Igbo domination scare’ of the 50’s and 60’s which was to some extent one of the accelerators of the Nigerian-Biafan civil war. Where did this feeling come from, who were these Igbos who dominated Nigeria and on what basis did other tribes think that the Igbos dominated them?

Reply: “Again, another excellent question and I love that you brought this up.” Then a pause, shorter in time but according to the level of focus, deeper in thought than the pause in the first response.

The Dominion Fear was a mixed bag, in which one can find errors of perception and errors of unbridled emotion, but of course also some undeniable reality. The country was afraid of two categories of Igbos; those in private companies and those in the federal government.

Igbos are great travelers who travel to the northern and western parts of Nigeria. Out of necessity, the Igbos travel. We have a large population but a smaller land mass and our soil is not as fertile as other parts of Nigeria. However, shops thrive when our people establish them. Life flourishes when our people move into communities.

Under small shanties, the Igbos sell leather, become merchants, trade in palm kernels and weave baskets to sell, establish bicycle and shoe repair services, and open hairdressing and hair weaving shops.

What the Igbo saw as versatility in craftsmanship, other tribes saw as evidence of dominance.

He thought for a few seconds, remembering the civil service of that era, and said, ‘Yes, it cannot be denied – our people were plentiful at the federal level.’

The Igbos are pragmatists. On one level they led the national struggle to wrest power away from the colonialists, but on another level they imitated the white man’s way of life, helping them with governance, attending their schools, cooking for them, cleaning their houses and tending their gardens .

The Yorubas, the other great tribe, were less enchanted and were very suspicious and contemptuous of the white man. They consulted their gods and attacked the white man with phantom blows, talismans and seven snake witches.

Due to the continued relationship of the Igbo with the white colonialists, after the departure of the latter, several Igbos stepped into their roles as federal officials and law enforcement officials.

Envy, anger and paranoia grew from the other major Nigerian tribes against the Igbos and their kin, the professor lamented.

Smelling bloodshed, I shifted uneasily. Where my right palm had soothed my cheek, a temperature had developed, hotter than on day three of malarial fever.

  • Nothing new: the devil in man will always find reasons to brutalize another man.

Many Nigerians subscribed to the mob mentality of the sixties with the Igbo as scapegoats. Vilification is the fuel from which chaos erupts; in this case the Nigerian-Biafan war which lasted from 1967 to 1970.

End.

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