Dr Chikezie Onuoha Msp
Yesterday, 17 August 2019, I was in an event in Sweden where I was invited to give a keynote address titled: ‘IRI – JI Ohuru, A Celebration of Igbo Culture, path to meaningful Life for Igbo Diaspora” at a New Yam Festival of Ndigbo in Gävle city. It was at this event that a friend showed me the video circulating of the incident in Nuremberg.
Why are we surprised at the incident in Nuremberg? The event of the IPOB members in Nuremberg calling Ike Ekweremadu to account for his action as the representative of the Ndigbo in the political structure of Nigeria reminds me of a talk given by Revd Fr George Ehusani of the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, Abuja a couple of weeks back. Ehusani observing the widespread disenchantment, bitterness, resentment in Nigeria with a violent culture holding sway in Nigeria being promoted by security apparatus and others, there are ominous signs in the horizon of an impending popular revolt, or what he calls the “revenge of the poor,”. Is the revenge of the poor justified?
Along with Ehusani, many religious leaders have observed and warned that Nigeria is on the brink of disaster and impending popular revolt. In a country with a worsening culture perceived as “high level of brigandage” by the political elite and other public office holders, the attack on Ekweremadu is to be expected. In a forum organized in Abuja by Community Life Project (CLP) under the ReclaimNaija platform and sponsored by Open Society Initiative For West Africa (OSIWA), urged greater citizen action to “take back the country”.
Let me confess from the onset. My perspective is coloured by experience living in one of the best democracies in the world, where human life and the wellbeing of citizens are not reduced to political rhetoric lacking sincerity and the will to serve as it is in Nigeria. As I look at all the politicians and other public office holders in Nigeria, I can hardly see any of them who would not be in jail for the abuse of power and criminal acts if they were to be living in Sweden. Consequently, morally stand for them could be problematic.
It is not unexpected that the Nigerian government and other politicians and beneficiaries of the current structure of Nigeria would condemn the action against Ike Ekweremadu. They have to protect their privileges.
About 19 years ago, Fr Damian Eze MSP and myself arrived Scandinavia precisely Sweden during the fall of that year. We were filled with zeal and not only saw ourselves as Christian missionary priests but in an important sense Ambassadors of Nigeria to Scandinavia. Our love for our motherland ‘Nigeria’ could not be hidden. The first thing we did upon arrival was to visit the Nigeria Embassy in Stockholm, where we met George Ajonye, who was then the Ambassador of Nigeria to Scandinavia.
One of the reasons for our visit was to ask for a Nigeria flag for each of us. Our patriotism and pride to be Nigerians could not be missed in any gathering we were. Ambassador Ajonye asked us to leave our addresses, promising to send the flag to us as there were no extra flags as at our visit.
We waited for one year and the flags were yet to be sent to us. Having ran out of patience, we paid a second visit to the Ambassador. Immediately we were ushered into the Ambassador’s office, I reached out to his table and took the Nigeria flag on his table. He was taken by surprise and I said to him he could call the police if he felt that citizens asking for their country’s flag from their Ambassador and waiting for it in vain for one year committed any offence.
As this was going on, Fr Damian went to the Embassy’s Charge the Affair and collected the flag on his table. Having accomplished our reason for visiting, we left happy for standing up for our ‘nations’ flag. Reaching home, I placed the flag at a central place in my office where anywhere could easily see it. I was proud not just to be a Nigerian but to be seen to be one.
Many years later, this sign of joy has turned to a sign of pain and sorrow. Now you may ask me where that flag is today. For the past 16 years plus, I have struggled to keep faith alive in the hope for a great Nigeria, where human rights, the rule of law and social justice hold sway.
I had hoped that the government of Mohammadu Buhari would usher in a pro poor and humane government in Nigeria where looting and corruption and injustice with impunity would be curbed. This has proven to be a mirage over the past years and things have become worse. While I choose to be optimistic, there is little to encourage such a position.
Finally, I could no longer feel comfortable identifying myself with the flag of a country where human life means nothing, where justice and fair play which is the basis of the social contract within a country is the exception rather than the rule.
Today, that flag is laying in a cartoon in one of the stores in the building. I can no longer stand the sight of that flag. If this could happen to me with my training and education, little wonder the impact it is having on those who are not as opportune as I am.
The attack on Ekweremadu in Nuremberg is significant and symbolic in many respects. To understand this, one would have to understand some facts about Nuremberg and its historical legacy. It is referred to as the city of human rights. Why? The National Socialist Party of Germany chose that city to hold their annual party conventions, referred to as Nuremberg Rallies. It was here that the laws that discriminated Jews and ushered in the path to the genocide committed by the Nazists. It came to be known as the ‘place of perpetrators. Conscious of its history, this city fights hard to engage with its past far more that other cities in Germany.
After the Second World War, the chief perpetrators of the crime against humanity and their accomplices were tried and sentenced in Nuremberg. Here, in 1945, the International community sat in judgment over war criminals for the very first time in human history. In the trials at Nuremberg, the Allied powers prosecute Nazi leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is the first criminal trial in history to prosecute crimes committed by individuals during wartime. The legacy of these trials led to the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The significance of this city being where an attempt was made to hold Ekweremadu to account for his roles as one of politicians from eastern Nigeria who has occupied one of the highest positions in Nigeria could not be lost on any who reads the signs of the times. The beginning of the end to the conspiracy of politicians especially from eastern Nigeria is in sight. Ndigbo in Nuremberg decided to call Ekweremadu to account especially in the crime committed against the people in the Python dance of the Nigerian government and maiming and killing of innocent Ndigbo daily in Nigeria.
Time is running out for the Nigerian leaders and people. Many see the attack on Ekweremadu a welcome development in the fight to reclaim Nigeria from politicians. Ekweremadu’s wearing custom- made cloth with the Nigerian coat of arms demonstrates the disconnect of the Eastern Nigerian politicians from the masses of people who voted them to serve their needs. It could be seen as an act of insensitivity and wrong judgement to wear that cloth to a purely Igbo- cultural event, the mother of festivals for Ndigbo. It underscores Ekweremadu’s poor understanding and appreciation of the significance of the New Yam Festival (Iri Ji ohuru) for Ndigbo.
In every sense, it was provocative just as the Nigeria flag provokes many Nigerians of good will. Further, it could be likened to killing a person and going to their funeral to dance around his grave. In lieu of the suffering and de-humanization, maiming and killing with impunity of the Ndigbo going on in Nigeria and no one takes adequate responsibility, the event in Nuremberg is instructive.
I am also one of those who believe that the business of leadership is to solve problems. If you lack the capacity to solve the problems that your people are crying about, you have no business remaining their leader. Resign and allow those who have the ‘ako n’ uche’ (knowledge and wisdom) who will not give excuses year in and year out to replace you.
To run for political office is to say that you know and understand the problems of your constituency and that you have what it takes to salve them. It is not about power and position, title but solving real problems confronting those you represent. To cling to power when you lack the knowledge to some the problems you told you people you would solve for them is immoral and unethical.
Infact, there is an ethical and moral imperative for every person of goodwill to work to remove you from office. I have learnt to always side with the victims not the perpetrators. The poor masses of Nigeria are the victims not the politicians who are the beneficiaries of the system, fighting hard to promote and keep it in place. There is no real sincerity both at the Senate, State and National Houses of Assembly.
Ehusani argues, ‘there appears to me to be only one way out of the mess of the moment: the way of ethical and moral revolution’. While this is an important action that most be undertaken, it might not work at this time because of the extent to which things have gone in Nigeria. The beneficiaries of the system, I submit have passed the point of no return in which case no call for ethical and moral revolution makes sense to them. What is required is an agreement to change the script they rich and power are following in the affairs of Nigeria. They are not going to surrender their privileges without a tough and sometimes unconventional measure from the oppressed masses. These politicians, their families and their cronies come to enjoy the good life they have the power provide for their people but have chosen to pay lip service to their constitutional obligations.
To speak about the justifiability or the non-justifiability of the actions of the alleged action carried out in Nuremberg would require an ethical analysis. A look at the social media comments would tend to show that the masses of eastern Nigeria support the holding of eastern politicians accountable. IPOB has consistently described Nigeria as a zoo. Looking at the situation of things, one might even say that IPOB description shows some patriotism. Many other have observed that the description that fits the situation of things at present is jungle. In a zoo, animals are kept in their different places, lions and antelopes are not kept together, neither are birds and cats put together. In a jungle, there is no order. Nigeria to make resembles the latter rather than the former.
This struggle is between the poor masses of Nigeria and the politicians and powerful public officer holders. Leaders must not only show have as their highest priority serving their people, but they must also be seen to be doing that. From the perspective of the Nigerian situation and the role being played by eastern Nigerian politicians and their cronies, the ‘attack’ on Ekweremadu could be justified as it falls within the ‘revenge’ of the poor and oppressed, in which their culpability of those who carried the action if any could be insignificant in ethical judgement.
Where any leader consistently fails in fulfilling the social contract between him/her and the people, that individual or group of people lack legitimacy to command respect, loyalty and obedience. If this kind of action will lead to reclaiming Nigeria for all and avoiding the tragedy that is looming, then it could be justified. In this light, any judgement on the right or wrong of the action of Ndigbo in Nuremberg must consider these facts and contexts.
Ndigbo are not known to be subservient to any. The Ndigbo resist injustice, persecution, enslavement and exploitation. This is demonstrated by the Igbo Landing story in the New world, tragic yet resilient story of Igbo kidnapped by Europeans. The Igbo Landing is a historic site at Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia. It is the site of one of the largest mass suicides of enslaved people in history. Historians say Igbo captives purchased for an average of $100 each by slave merchants John Couper and Thomas Spalding, arrived in Savannah, Georgia, on the slave ship the Wanderer in 1803.
They decide to commit suicide instead of becoming slaves. The mutiny and subsequent suicide by the Igbo people is perhaps the first freedom march in the history and a prelude to the civil right movements in the United States.
No one should therefore be surprised when Nnamdi Kalu and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) say “Biafra or death”. Writer Alex Haley recounts it in his highly acclaimed book, Roots, and it was the basis for Nobel laureate, Toni Morrison’s, novel, Song of Solomon.
Many contemporary artists like Beyonce have paid tribute to this event in their work. In the recent wildly acclaimed Marvel comic film, Black Panther, Killmonger, played by actor Michael B Jordan, refers to this event, saying, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage”.
While this story is now part of the curriculum for coastal Georgia schools, the Biafra – Nigeria Civil War is not taught neither is the history of Nigeria taught in Nigeria schools, a country afraid of its history.
Ekweremadu and other beneficiaries of the current situation of the Nigeria structure must realize that the oppressed will someday leave Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the Promised land. These politicians and other public office holders must just be fighting for their people, they must also be seen to be doing that. Against this background, Governor Emeka Ihedioha must be praised for not just working to make Imo and Igboland better but he is also seen to be doing so in concrete actions at giving justice to Imolites against all those who ‘raped’/looted the state to ‘comatose’ resulting in deaths of thousands lacking basic necessities of life. While we reject and denounce physical violence, it is equally important to realize that denying people human rights and dignity is a greater violence. None should be condoned by civilized minds.
The harder I try not to feel some sentiments of fulfilment over the incident, the more difficult the absurdity of defending oppressors of whatever form becomes. Perhaps you feel same and lack the courage to admit it to yourself, what more to others!Dr Chikezie Onuoha Msp
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