Before August 9, 1965, the Singaporeans were seen as an irritation in Malaysia. Then Singapore was one of the 14 states of Malaysia. Singaporeans were viewed as arrogant, stubborn, and domineering. While the United Malays National Organisation wanted affirmative action or “quota system” for the Malays, the People’s Action Party of the Singaporeans insisted that the best thing for the country was a merit-based policy on all issues, so as to bring out the best in the nation and create a spirit of excellence.
This constant disagreement and tension resulted in race riots. It got to a point where the Malays could take it no more. So on August 9, 1965 they convened the parliament, with no Singaporean parliamentarian present. At that sitting, the legislators voted unanimously (126 – 0) to expel Singapore from Malaysia.
When the Singaporeans heard that they had been expelled from the nation, at first they were devastated. But they took their fate in their hands and started building a new nation. And, indeed, by applying merit and the pursuit of excellence, Singaporeans built a country that moved from the Third World to First World in record time, overtaking Malaysia in all ramifications.
Interestingly, despite this sad way of parting, Malaysia and Singapore have remained good neighbours. In spite of the success that the latter has recorded, it has not made Malaysia not to record its own success.
There are many similarities between the story of Singapore and Malaysia and the Igbo and Nigeria. The Igbo are not happy with the quota system policy used in the admission into federal schools and federal positions. They want competitiveness in every sector, which will lead to the best being selected, for the sake of excellence.
The Igbo are seen as arrogant, noisy, domineering, greedy, over-ambitious, to mention but a few. Many Nigerians see them as irritants. They get killed frequently, especially in the North, at the least misunderstanding. Sometimes the cause of the provocation is someone from Denmark, Cameroon or another part of Nigeria.
There are many Nigerians who will easily tell you: “We will never allow an Igbo person to rule Nigeria.” There are many who believe that the problem of Nigeria is from the Igbo and that once the Igbo are done away with, Nigeria’s problems will disappear.
Given this scenario, the Igbo want a true federal system that will make Nigeria look like what it was before 1966, with each state or region taking charge of most of its affairs and moving at its own pace. Sadly, anytime it mentions restructuring or true federalism, there are forces that resist it vehemently and insist that such will not be allowed.
Ironically, despite this view by many Nigerians about the Igbo, anytime any person or group from Igbo land asks that the Igbo be allowed to leave Nigeria to form their own country, the resistance from most Nigerians is fierce. This reaction creates a contradiction. If the Igbo are irritants and troublemakers, why not expel them from Nigeria the way Singaporeans were expelled from Malaysia? But if you see them as valuable and believe they must be part of the Nigerian state, why not treat them as equal partners in the union? What does Nigeria really want from the Igbo?
Last week news broke that the Department of State Services embarked on a recruitment exercise, with 165 people recruited from the North-West. The report said that 51 people were recruited from Katsina State alone, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Director General of Department of State Security, Mr Lawal Daura, while the number of people recruited from the five states of the South-East was 44 and the number recruited from the six states of the South-South was 42.
Compare that with the academic performance of the different zones of Nigeria. The Unified Tertiary Matriculation Education of 2016 produced the following number of applicants from the six zones:
South-East (five states) = 335,883;
South-West (six states) = 320,691;
South-South (six states) = (299,632);
North-Central (six states plus the FCT) = 259,846;
North-West (seven states) = 163,240;
North-East (six states) = 96,220.
The six states that produced the highest number of candidates were:
Imo – 104,383
Delta – 78,854
Anambra – 77,694
Osun – 72,752
Oyo – 72,298
Enugu – 69,381.
The six states that produced the least number of candidates were:
Adamawa – 15,615
Jigawa – 12,664
Yobe – 10,045
Sokoto – 10,006
Kebbi – 8,947
Zamfara – 5,295
The states that were given a minimum of 130 cut-off mark out of 200 in the 2013 examination into the Unity Schools were:
Anambra – Male (139) Female (139)
Imo – Male (138) Female (138)
Enugu – Male (134) Female (134)
Lagos – Male (133) Female (133)
Delta – Male (131) Female (131)
Ogun – Male (131) Female (131)
Abia – Male (130) Female (130)
For the same examination, the states that were given cut-off marks of less than 50 were:
Borno – Male (45) Female (45)
Jigawa – Male (44) Female (44)
Bauchi – Male (35) Female (35)
Kebbi – Male (9) Female (20)
Sokoto – Male (9) Female (13)
Taraba – Male (3) Female (11)
Yobe – Male (2) Female (27)
Zamfara – Male (4) Female (2)
The six states that scored above 50 per cent in the 2015 West African Senior School Certificate of Education were: Abia (63.94%), Anambra (61.18%), Edo (61.05%), Rivers (55.69%), and Imo (52.49%). The states that scored below 13 percent in the same examination were Kebbi (12.08%), Katsina (10.81%), Gombe (7.41%), Jigawa (6.37%), Zamfara (6.23%), Yobe (4.37%).
These are verifiable results that have remained virtually the same for decades. And they give an idea of the number of candidates that are involved in education from each state and zone, as well as their academic performance.
The point of this essay is not that it is only the Igbo that excel in many sectors. Other ethnic groups, especially from the South, also excel. But the focus of this essay is the Igbo. From the attitude of other ethnic groups, it seems that they are comfortable with the status quo. If not, they should not be focusing on the Igbo as their problem.
The call for restructuring of the country has been promoted as the solution to Nigeria’s problem. However, there are strong forces that are hell-bent on ensuring that the restructuring of the country will never succeed. They have been erroneously schooled that restructuring will impoverish them.
The danger in this hard line against restructuring is that if restructuring fails, the alternative may not be palatable. Nigeria has moved in a self-destructive path for long. Nigeria has been wallowing in retrogression for long because some stakeholders are afraid that pulling it out and setting it on the path of progress will cost them their feeding bottle. But nothing lasts forever.
Last week the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, met his seemingly impossible bail conditions within 48 hours. When the bail conditions were made public, the belief of many was that no serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would want to associate with him. But the South-East caucus of the Senate met and quickly chose one of them to stand bail for him. All other conditions were also swiftly met.
If those conditions were given in December 2015, no Nigerian Senator would have wanted to be associated with Kanu. Since his coming into office, Buhari has continued to display a type of croynism and prebendalism that has never been witnessed in Nigeria. And the worst beneficiaries of this are the Igbo. He has been making it clear by his words and actions that the North and the Igbo are not equal partners in the Nigerian project. He has been distributing Nigerian resources and appointments to his kinsmen and region as if they are his personal property. This brazen nepotism has made even the fiercest Igbo critics of Kanu’s call for secession to develop sympathies for Kanu.
Nigerians must decide what they want from the Igbo. It is either they want the Igbo in Nigeria as full citizens or they want them out as non-citizens. As the English say, Nigerians can’t have their cake and eat it!