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Reuben Abati and other anti-Igbo bigots inNigeria


Special and Exclusive to
USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston


Anti-Igbo rhetoric is on the rise insideNigeria. Only a few days ago, the country's President retired armyGeneral Olusegun Obasanjo called some Igbo leaders insane fordemanding a frank discussion of Nigeria's federalism and stating thatsecession was preferable to being victims of pogroms. His Minister ofTransport calledNdigbo idiots for making the case for an Igbo as President. TheMinister of State for the Navy called Ndigbo traitors. Inspiredanti-Igbo articles are flooding the newspapers. For instance, ReubenAbati of The Guardian (Lagos) wrote a two-part article entitled"Obasanjo, secession and the secessionists" (The Sunday Guardian,December 16 and 23, 2001). All he did therein was to denigrateNdigbo.

Normally,the abuses rained on Ndigbo may not ring alarm bells. Were they notalways everybody's whipping boy? However, there is something sinisterin the rising tirades. For seeking a shot at the presidency, Ndigbowere called idiots. For demanding compensation for Nigerian soldierswho fought for Biafra, a topic initiated by the Federal Government,they were called traitors.

It is pointless joining issues with politicalappointees, those amplifiers of 'His Master's Voice' who may hold nopersonal opinion on anything and whose relevance disappears themoment they are ditched in a cabinet reshuffle. However, it isdifferent when a journalist/commentator plays himself up as aconceited ignoramus. Abati (in the black and white picture,left) mounted the rostrum (of The Guardian's editorial page) tocall Ndigbo criminals and nincompoops. Why?
Ominously, Abati warns that his kinsman Gen. Obasanjo isstanding by with his pickax, ready to chop off additional Igbo headsas if that should be in an elected President's mandate. Nonetheless,this young man (Abati) should be taken seriously who has openlyacknowledged his partisanship as the President's bulldog. It isimportant to note that the newspaper he works for, The Guardiannewspaper (Lagos), was put on a solid foundation by Igbo brains. Isit appropriate for this organ, owned by a now born-again Christian(Alex Ibru), to be used for assailing Ndigbo with such viciousbigotry and falsification of history? It all adds up, of course.

Abati claimed that his write-up was to address"the issues" bordering on secession. His words: "Always, fromPresident to my 'washaman', we should all be interested in theissues, for if there is anything that unites us all, it is theexpectation that this country called Nigeria will serve our purposeby guaranteeing our safety and happiness. Safety and happiness: thoseare the two things that the average Nigerian wants. When we do notfocus on the issues, we trivialize critical aspects of our ownlives."

How does the above justify Abati's subjectionof Ndigbo to obloquy? This is Reuben Abati: "After all, Ibos now sellland in Lagos and Kaduna, and they are in charge of commerce, "419"and 'international trade.' But there is a problem of leadership.Every Ibo man who has access to the media, and some money in hispocket thinks that he is an Ibo leader." When this fellow renderssentences such as these, could he be seen to be promoting "safety andhappiness" which, according to him "are the two things that theaverage Nigerian wants." (By the way, it'snot 'Ibo' but Igbo)

Let's examine the illogicality of thesentences. How could it be sensibly said that Ndigbo now sell land inLagos and Kaduna when they were into that long before Abati was born?Why should the selling of land in Lagos and Kaduna by Ndigbo be anissue? Are there no Hausas, Yorubas and indeed people of othernationalities who sell land in Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos, Port Harcourtand elsewhere?

Ndigbo, says Abati, are in charge of "419" inNigeria. Where is the evidence to support this wildness?

What respectable part of journalism orscholarship allows people to throw unsubstantiated statements aroundlike confetti? "Every Ibo man who has access to the media, and somemoney in his pocket thinks that he is an Ibo leader", asserts Abati.Pray, how did he come by this? In any case, why should anyone beafflicted by insomnia even if every Igbo person sees himself as aleader of his ethnic group? Yet, another Abati claim: "The biggestdisease in Ibo land is money."

What is the biggest disease in Yorubaland?What is the biggest disease in Hausaland? What is the biggest diseasein other lands of Nigeria? How does Abati monitor and quantify thesepandemics? Clearly, Abati's irrationalty is calculated to fananti-Igbo feelings. Witness a few of the lies he concocted andinflicted upon a gullible public simply to pursue hiswickedness:

• On the action of January 15, 1966, Abatiwrites that:

" The coupists were mainly Ibos, they killedmainly Northern officers and no single Igbo man (except perhaps, Lt.Col. A. G. Unegbe, the Ibo Quarter-master Generalwho was killed because he refused to surrender the keys to thearmoury)." But Arthur Chinyelu Unegbe was not killed for refusing tohand over the keys to the armoury. As QMG, the Colonel held noarmoury keys, and The Guardian's top-flight commentator/staffought to have known this. Also, what are the brackets inAbati's sentence for? When he says "perhaps" in that context, is healluding to some dount as to Unegbe's fatality in the January 1966action?

•"And Ironsi not only made the mistake ofsurrounding himslef with Igbo advisers, including the strong-headedFrancis Nwokedi, under him nearly every major department - Education,Railway, etc was dominated by Igbos and he was not willing to dealwith the coupist of Jan. 1966."

Fact is that Ironsi did not surround himselfwith Igbo advisers. Recent books have quite thoroughly discreditedthat lie. What are the grounds for referring to Francis Nwokedi as"strong-headed"? In Reminiscence, his 1989 biography published byMalthouse, Lagos, General David Ejoor states that Ironsi's SupremeMilitary Council (SMC) of which Ejoor was a member decided on thetrial of the January coup makers (p39). Also, in 'The Barrel of aGun: The Politics of Coups d'Etat in Africa' which was published byAllen Lane The Penguin Press, London in 1970, Professor Ruth Firstattributes the following to Hassan Usman Katsina. "By July (1966),the minutes of the SMC recorded that the young majors were to becourt-martialed not later than October. The proceedings were to be inpublic." (p. 307).

General Hassan, another member of Ironsi's SMC,lived for over 25 years after First's book was published but neverdenied the statements credited to him. Ironsi was assassinated monthsbefore the October date slated for the court-martials. Yet, Abatimaintains that the General "was not willing to deal with the coupistsof January 1966."

Ironsi was in power for six months, as againstYakubu Gowon's nine years. Why does Abati and his ilk not ask Gowonthe reason he failed to try the coup makers of January 1966 and thecounter-coup makers of July 1966?

•Abati says that the Igbo "even had asong, Celestine Ukwu's 'Ewu Ne Ba Akwa' (meaning 'Goats Are Crying')with which they taunted the Northerners. That song w as not the workof Celestine Ukwu. That song was not the work of an Igbo artiste.That song was on vinyl long before the action of January1966.

•Abati writes that Ojukwu, whose compoundnae he mispells time and agian, fled to the East in the wake of theJuly 1966 counter-coup. But it is a matter of public record that thenColonel Ojukwu was in Enugu from January 1966 as the MilitaryGovernor of the East.

•Abati cliams that Isaac Adaka Boro was anOgoni man, that he was a student of the University of Nigeria(Nsukka) when he declared a "Republic of the Niger Delta", that hehad no army. These are lies by Abati. Boro was Ijaw. Bor was on thestaff of the University of Lagos when he struck. And, yes, Boro hadan army.

• Abati claims that Gowon announced his12-state structure the same day as Ojukwu declared Biafra.
That is fallacious.

•Of the Igbo intelligentsia, Abati says,"They had lived all their lives either in the West or the North" Thisis nonsensical. None of the Igbo intelligentsia lived abroad? Nonetaught at the Enugu and Nsukka campuses of the University of Nigeria?None found gainful employment elsewhere in the East?

Only a diseased sense of history and thepursuit of an inglorious agenda can teem these lies andillogicalities. Abati's article and all those other anti-Igbostatements amount to a fresh attempt to posit Ndigbo as the problemwith Nigeria. In 1966 when this lie was first sold, 50,000 Ndigbowere massacred across Nigeria, not to talk of the civil war thatfollowed. For Abati, that bloody pool of Nigerian history issomething to gloat over. He forgot that the action of January 1966aimed to install Awolowo, a Yoruba, as Prime Minister of Nigeria. Heforgot that when that coup took place, there was calm in the Igbocountry and ascendancy of the Igbo ethnic group whereas Yorubalandwas in flames with many of its leaders, including Chief Awolowo, inprison.

Ominously, Abati warns that Obasanjo isstanding by with his pickax, ready to chop off additional Igbo headsas if that should be in an elected President's mandate. Nonetheless,this young man (Abati) should be taken seriously who has openlyacknowledged his partisanship as the President's bulldog. The fact isThe Guardian newspaper (Lagos) was put on a solid foundation by Igbobrains. Is it appropriate for this organ, owned by a now born-againChristian, to be used for assailing Ndigbo with such vicious bigotryand falsification of history? It all adds up, of course.

The collective sin of Ndigbo is their refusalto be content with "buying and selling" which Obasanjo's deputyminister of defence and daughter of Yoruba chieftain AbrahamAdesanya, Mrs. Dupe Adelaja insists is their place. Rather, the Igboshave the effrontery to ask for a stint at the presidential palace,something intolerable to those intent on making Aso Rock a place ofpermanent abode.

It is, therefore, imperative to contain thetroublesome lot, and to amputate those arms stretched for thehandshake across the Niger, especially as 2003 is around that bend.That explains the new wave of anti-Igbosentiments being fanned across thelength and breath of Nigeria.

When the Holocaust was in the offing, everymeans was used to portray the Jews as evil and despicable. The Jewsultimately paid an un-owed debt to the staggering tune of six millionlives. A reality of this New Year is that Ndigbo are being readiedfor the firstholocaust of the new millennium. ShouldNdigbo and, indeed, the whole world allow it?
Chuks Iloegbunam, an award-winning investigative journalist andLagos-based publishing executive, is a contributing editor and USAfrica The Newspaper (Houston). He is theauthor of 'I r o n s i d e : The Biography of General Aguiyi-Ironsi:Nigeria's First Military Head of State.'
Thiscommentary for and USAfrica The Newspaper iscopyrighted and archiving on any other web site or newspaper isunauthorized except with a written approval by USAfricaonline.comFounder December 31, 2001. Readers reaction will bepublished, based on space, timeliness and USAfrica editorialstandards.

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