Mazi John Nnia Nwodo (Barrister)
President, Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo
Dear Mazi Nwodo,
IgboZaraIgbo is a United States Igbo non-profit organization unapologetically committed to the promotion of Igbo values in all their ramifications, including the reestablishment of an Igbo State to ground those values. Following your election as Ohaneze President on January 10, 2017, we congratulated you with the pointed advice that you focus your attention unwaveringly on the Igbo self-determination agenda since after the genocidal war from 1966 to 1970. That agenda entered a new phase under the so-called Fourth Republic since 1999, reaching an apogee under the blatantly discriminatory dictatorship of General Muhammadu Buhari.
We reminded you that when the Igbo walked out of the killing field of Nigeria in 1967, they did not return to that ill-begotten arena and will never again, no matter how long the Nigerian military occupation of our homeland, fortunately now in its last stages, goes on. We observed that never before since the end of the genocidal war have “the Igbo spoken with one undivided voice regarding their rights to autonomy, separate and removed from Nigeria,” adding:
Therefore, the organization under your leadership must, no dithering from any quarters, commit itself to the right of our people to self-determination, under international law, achieved peacefully through a referendum organized under the auspices of the United Nations and no other body. There is a time for everything under heaven, as the Holy Bible teaches. The status quo is unacceptable.
Ana ekwu ekwu, ana eme eme; time is of the essence, an aphorism that, as a lawyer you well appreciate. Accordingly, the purpose of this open correspondence is to respectfully present before you some practical suggestions on how Ohaneze under your leadership for the next four years can go about realizing the desire of the Igbo people to separate themselves peacefully and nonviolently from Nigeria, while securing accountability for every atrocity perpetrated against our people back to the period under British colonial rule when the seed of these abuses was sowed.
In your acceptance speech, you indicated that your election “compels” you to assign “undiluted” representation to Igbo collective interest. You also promised to “stand up for” Ndigbo, wherever they may be in the world, and to fight for and if necessary die for them. The masses of the Igbo people abroad that IgboZaraIgbo represents are about to put these words of yours to the test. Finally, you pledged that your leadership will be “an era of a strong and all-involving Ohaneze” that will engage in “a sustained and active fight” for restructuring Nigeria. We disagree with the portion relating to restructuring for the reasons we unambiguously spell out in this open letter.
Igbo Peaceful and Nonviolent Separation from Nigeria
We have followed your public utterances since your election, including your acceptance speech referred to before and an interview with the editors of the Vanguard newspaper that you gave on February 9, 2017. In your acceptance speech, you brilliantly summarized the many problems, ongoing for the nearly 50 years after the genocidal war, which the Igbo confront in Nigeria. In your interview with the Vanguard, you went one notch further to assess the unceasing mistreatment of the Igbo as “a ticking time bomb” with the potential to explode into a conflict any moment, if not well handled.
Your diagnoses are on the mark, your heart appears to be on the right place when it comes to Igbo issues, and we salute your commitment. The only area we vehemently disagree with you is on how to resolve the manifold problems gratuitously imposed on our people. You see “restructuring” as possible solution where we see complete separation from Nigeria as the only creative way out.
As a matter of fact, IgboZaraIgbo pays little heed to the empty speeches of many Igbo organizations in Nigeria and the Diaspora, no matter how sweet to the ears their messages ring. The only reason we spare attention for Ohaneze Ndigbo is that, based on its past work, we have seen some consistency between its words and action that, to us, indicate some genuine commitment to Igbo interest. One of those past activities, to its eternal glory, is the leadership role it played in preparing the submission to the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission, more popularly known as the Oputa Panel. Nigeria’s Fulani-dominated leadership, in its characteristic hatred for the Igbo, has paid no heed to Igbo legitimate reparation demands. However, that document remains an important starting point in the search for accountability against the Nigerian state for the atrocities it perpetrated and continues to perpetrate on our people. That search for accountability needs to begin immediately from where it stopped and along the lines we suggest to you later in this open letter.
The recommendation of Igbo autonomy outside Nigeria was not a choice that IgboZaraIgbo settled on easily. Instead, that option was forced upon us by careful review of Nigerian history going back to the mis-amalgamation of 1914 that some northern leaders until today call “the mistake of 1914,” even though out of their own greedy self-interest, they have done nothing to correct that mistake. That history reveals that none of the universally known systems of organizing relations within a political system—unitarism, federalism, or confederalism—has worked for the Igbo. Nigeria had a unitary system of government in 1945 when many Igbo were killed in Jos and their businesses and other valuable property destroyed. Nigeria had only been in existence for 31 years when this unjustified attack took place.
The country still operated this arrangement when in 1953; a mere eight years later, a similar massacre took place in Kano. A constitutional conference in 1954 acknowledged “the deep realities of the [Kano] confrontation.” The British historian Anthony Kirk-Greene observed that the conflict in Kano wreaked such damage as to “necessitate the deployment of troops on a scale unprecedented in the North since the pacification era of fifty years earlier.” The humongous scale of destruction also convinced British colonial authorities that Nigeria, “if it was to be a nation, must be a federation, with as few subjects reserved for the Central Government as would preserve national unity.” This tragedy led to Nigeria’s adoption of a federal system of government in 1954. Besides the inquiry into what happened, there was no attempt to repair the masses of Igbo people in Kano damaged by the unprovoked and gratuitous attacks.
Northerners used the excuse of General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi’s proscription of the federal system to perpetrate several rounds of pogrom against our people in 1966 only to turn around and centralize powers in a nominal federal system until today no different from the one they accused Ironsi of inaugurating.
Like unitarism, confederalism has also not worked for Ndigbo—because it had never been tried, to begin with. It was the system agreed upon at the meeting in Aburi in Ghana before General Yakubu Gowon got back to Lagos and unilaterally created new states that triggered the bloody “civil war” that complemented and completed Hausa-Fulani mass-killing of the Igbo in 1966.
A second time Nigeria missed the opportunity to explore confederalism was in 2000 when following the death of 300 innocent citizens, many of them Igbo, Ohaneze despatched a 40-person delegation to Abuja led, instructively by former Biafran leader General Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu and Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Vice President under Shagari, to approach then President Olusegun Obasanjo with a demand to break up the country into a confederation. But Obasanjo, then warming up the presidential seat for Fulani born-to-rules, angered that political control had slipped off their feudalistic hands after 30 years of military rule, demurred. The context of the deaths was demonstrations following the unconstitutional adoption and implementation of sharia law in Kaduna State—which, by the way, we assess as Northern secession from the country, which reached its highest point with Boko Haram, under the guise of religious freedom.
Finally on federalism, this has not worked for the Igbo because of the insincerity of Fulani-dominated governments who have implemented that federalism in a unitary format with all powers concentrated in Abuja to favor their hegemony—totally oblivious of British determination in 1954 that to stay together Nigerian must be a federation with few powers reserved to a central government and, worse still, this after murdering General Ironsi in 1966 for unifying public services in the country and perpetrating genocide against the Igbo to boot.
None of the problems you correctly identified, including mistreatment of the Igbo in Lagos, the country’s former federal capital that the Igbo helped build, would be corrected by restructuring so long as a sharia-loving Nigerian government dominated by Hausa-Fulani operates that federalism.
Clinical madness is defined as making the same experiment and hoping for a different result. It does not work that way. The sheep has already left the shelter barn; Igbo mistreatments in Nigeria have festered to the point that patching it up in a federal system, no matter how sincerely implemented, is now medicine after death.
In one of your public statements, you recalled the unwritten agreement between the Hausa-Fulani and the Yoruba after the civil war to hold Igbo down perpetually for defending the bloody invasion of Igboland called civil war that Muhammadu Sanusi, now Emir of Kano, warned in 1999 had gone too far to the point that it had become a ticking time bomb. For just how long will our people continue fruitlessly to appeal to the proverbially and medicinally deaf ears of General Muhammadu Buhari for decentralization?
The concern our people have is whether separation from Nigeria can ever be done peacefully and nonviolently. It is one that you need to allay because, yes, it can be done. Ihe enwegh otu esi eme ya, otu esi eme ya di (the problem that seems irresolvable has a resolution we have not figured out yet). Nigeria with all the occupation forces in the world cannot hold the Igbo down—unless we permit them to. It is now time that we unambiguously tell them: enough!
Bear in mind that last year, the European Union expressed its support for a “snap referendum” as a way out of the impasse over Biafra. The Union also indicated to Buhari to produce evidence that Igbo youth nonviolently demonstrating for Biafra committed treason—that Buhari did not commit in 1983 when he unconstitutionally overthrew a duly-elected civilian government—or set them free. Being the brutal dictator he is, Buhari has stoutly defied this advice, just as he did numerous court orders, and held these individuals indefinitely without trial, contrary to the Nigerian constitution and international law.
When it is convenient for them, Nigeria’s exclusively non-Igbo leaders comment annoyingly on the “resolution” of the people of Nigeria “to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign Nation under God.” The quotes came from preambles of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, which many correctly consider illegitimate because it was ratified not by the people supposedly resolving to live together in perpetuity, some like the Igbo in the slavery of permanent Fulani hegemony, but rather by the departing military who stitched the document together without approval from the people.
The maximum ruler Muhammadu Buhari resorted to the same “unity” argument angrily explaining why he would not countenance any advocacy for an independent Igbo State out of Nigeria. But a legitimate question that needs to be posed is: Which people? Which God? From every indication since the end of the genocidal war, the Igbo people are certainly not among those Nigerians that have signed off their right to autonomy in perpetuity to Nigeria for God knows what reason. Next to which God?, given the known desire of northern leaders to Islamize Nigeria, northerners and their leaders worship a different God from the one Igbo worship.
Governments everywhere are a coalition of the willing, based on the consent of the governed. Think about it, northerners and their fellow travelers who proclaim that the “unity” of Nigeria is not negotiable miss out one key fact: this ramshackle state did not exist in history but instead was created for the benefit of a foreign power that until today seeks to preserve its interest in the country.
Anybody insisting on the inviolability of Nigeria should count out the Igbo, already completely excluded in the affairs of the country, in their warped calculation. Igbo masses have shown in so many ways that they do not owe allegiance to the Nigerian state; their body may be physically in Nigeria, but their heart is not in Nigeria, certainly not after a genocide that wiped out 3.5 million of their own for which the Nigerian government has shown no iota of atonement or remorse.
And for the records, here is not the first time this “unity” argument has been rebutted in its weightlessness. In 1968, as Nigeria perpetrates its numerous acts of genocide against the Igbo, the Tanzanian government under the distinguished leadership of President Julius Nyerere issued a statement in recognition of Biafra notable for its memorable language. Nyerere reasoned that “every people must have some place in the world where they are not liable to be rejected by their fellow citizens.” He posited that when the powers and machinery of the state are turned against a whole group because of unlawful prejudice of the kind the Igbo endured in Nigeria, “the victims have the right to take back the powers they have surrendered and to defend themselves” by creating another instrument for their protection in the form of another state. He believed that a rejected people “must have the right to live under a different kind of arrangement which … secure[s] their existence.” He maintained that national unity ceases to exist the moment a group of people becomes convinced that they are rejected and that there is no longer any basis for unity between themselves and the rest of the country. Most instructively, this is because “unity by conquest” is an aberration; it is absurd to kill “in the name of unity” and, worse because “[t]here is no unity between the dead and those who killed them,” just as there is “no unity in slavery or domination.”
As you indicate in your public statements, most of the conditions that led to the genocidal war exist today unresolved because the victors refused to learn from the war and build the peace. Nearly 50 years after the bloody war, as you aptly observed, Nigeria still has not found enough Igbo politically competent to handle security matters as police commissioners, but has found them “to be physically competent to be foot soldiers” in the struggle against Hausa-Fulani self-inflicted religion-based Boko Harm terrorism where the mortality is high. This is also a country that last year devoted 2.6 billion US dollars to humanitarian relief for Boko Haram victims when reconstruction of badly-damaged Igbo territories remain unattended nearly 50 years after.
More recently in his booklet recounting Nigeria’s numerous troubles, including its “Igbo problem,” Chinua Achebe addressed this “unity” issue. Progressive countries around the world adorn their coat of arms or great seals with values like social justice. But not Nigeria, he pointed out, which instead includes “unity” and “faith” among values it wants to pursue and promote as absolute good. However, as Achebe noted, the choice makes no sense simply because unity is not good in itself—unless it is placed on a value that is acceptable. As he explained, “unity can only be as good as the purpose for which it is desired,” adding: Nigeria “cannot extol the virtues of unity without first satisfying [itself] that the end to which the unity is directed is unimpeachable.”
True to Achebe’s prescient observation, in 1999, as now Kano Emir Sanusi told the world, to their shame, Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba united in their secret agreement to perpetually make Igbo second-class citizens in their own land—all for the crime of exercising their right to self-determination after being mass-killed in northern Nigeria? So much for the goodness of Nigeria’s idle “unity” or “indissolubility.”
You said and we believe you that “the time for lamentation is over” because Igbo “continued cry of marginalization has become stale” because the Nigerian leadership has turned deaf and refused to listen. Just as Igbo complaining about marginalization to a deaf leadership, flying the kite of “restructuring” to Buhari is equally pointless. You observed that the young men and women protesting for Biafra are “dramatizing” their right to freedoms of expression and association” provided for everyone in the Nigerian Constitution. You added, “If the Nigerian state does not respond to the active state of marginalization” by acting to restructure Nigeria, “Biafra becomes an inevitable answer for every Igbo man.” Here your reasoning moves soothingly close to complete separation. For the courageous youths risking their limb protesting for a state alternative to Nigeria are exercising their God-given right to self-determination, period. They will exercise these rights (just like any other group) to the solidarity of every Igbo at home and abroad, regardless of whether Nigeria chooses to correct “the active state of marginalization” it has premeditatedly perpetrated against our people continuing the genocidal war by other means after January 12, 1970.
You indicated correctly that Nigeria’s sovereignty was built on a “falsehood.” The only remedy that corrects that falsehood would be a distinct Igbo identity built on complete separation, not any amorphous restructuring. After over one century, including a bloody “civil war” and nearly 50 years of non-stop persecution and exclusion, what is our people still doing begging for inclusion within this falsehood? Legal theory, which you know too well, waives pursuing a futile option. Just as the blind does not lead persons with 20-20 vision, it is pointless to engage in a conversation with deaf people.
The trial balloon of an Igbo presidency of the kind some non-Igbo Nigerians, such as General Olusegun Obasanjo, sincerely or insincerely propose late in the day, medicine after death, would also be out the question. Why now after the Igbo have been totally excluded from aspiring to the highest office in their own country for over 50 years since the brutal murder of Aguiyi Ironsi? Asked by the Vanguard editors regarding your answer on Obasanjo’s trial balloon, you said among other things that you “do not see the topicality of this issue.”
This is a good answer for which we commend you because the Igbo, a large nation of over 30 million people in Nigeria alone, want to run their own affairs rather than have others, no matter how talented, which in this case they are not, to do so for them. In some of your public statements since you assumed the presidency of Ohaneze, you advised the Igbo to invest in wealth-creating industries other than just real estate, and, equally importantly, to site those businesses in Igboland rather outside Igboland. These are steps in the right direction that should rank among the preparations the Igbo need as they brace for their impending autonomy.
Getting finally to the practical measures we suggest that Ohaneze explore as it leads Igbo peaceful and nonviolent separation from Nigeria, the following are our recommendations:
- Map out plans to conscientialize the Igbo on strategies for peaceful and nonviolent separation from Nigeria. These plans should include what to do about Igbo property in the non-Igbo portions of Nigeria. Humans draw on the experience of other people and nobody reinvents the wheel, as the saying goes. Models exist from all over the world that we can creatively adapt in our attempt to resolve this issue with the rump of Nigeria after successful Igbo removal from the failed country. Those models include examples from the former Soviet Union, former Yugoslavia, and former Czechoslovakia, among others.
- As the race for 2019 gears up, seek out and back political parties and candidates that incorporate self-determination on their manifestoes. As a matter of fact, any Igbo parties that contest the elections should have this issue as their main issue. A while ago, Buhari challenged Ndigbo seeking separation of the Igbo from Nigeria to use the political process. This is the time to use his advice and we urge Ohaneze under your leadership to follow through on this avenue.
- Meanwhile, ahead of 2019, encourage currently serving Igbo office holders at all levels to embrace the Igbo self-determination agenda as the only political game in town. Also please put them on notice that, from now on, their tenure will be assessed based on how well they respond to that agenda.
Accountability for Abuses of Igbo Human Rights
As one Igbo saying goes, nobody dries from a drenching rain who does not know where the rain started beating him. For IgboZaraIgbo, figuring where the rain started beating us mandates that we secure accountability for all the damages we endure in Nigeria—without which our nonviolent separation from Nigeria will remain incomplete. As you well know, accountability is necessary to make a victim whole and to promote deterrence against this kind of behavior, whether perpetrated against our people or others. Accountability as defined here should include reparation and restitution. Due accountability for atrocities against our people pay needed tribute to Igbo victims of human rights atrocities committed against our people by generation of Nigerian governments and their officials. Moreover, we will never be taken seriously by our detractors unless we can show that there will be severe consequences for those who premeditatedly bring calamity on our people—no matter how long determinedly that it takes to secure accountability.
The genocidal war in which 3.5 million Igbo perished and other identifiable events in its aftermath necessarily form the gristmill of accountability, but for optimum result, the timeline goes much further in time to encompass the colonial period under Britain that set the stage for Igbo damage. Every party involved in the harm must be brought to book, no matter how long it takes to secure accountability. In addition to the Nigerian state and its numerous officials, the list of parties must include the British Government, and Igbo leaders who participated in bringing grief to our people.
The Nigerian state must face questions regarding the violations that it committed during the war and in the nearly 50 years until the present day since that genocidal war. Nigerian officials that have a case to answer for atrocities against Ndigbo during these periods include General Yakubu Gowon, General Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Theophilus Danjuma, and General Muhammadu Buhari. If you recall, without consequence, some of these individuals, notably General Babangida and General Buhari, impudently refused to appear before the Oputa Panel to answer for their crimes against the Igbo people.
The case against the British Government arises from the fact that, to begin with, for its imperial selfish interests, it brought together forcibly, under one state roof, an incongruous group of highly disagreeable ethnic groups with no history of living together—a political structure that while, under its colonial watch, time and again as in 1945 and 1953, brought untold pain and suffering to many innocent Igbo without any legal recourse whatsoever. Going further, Britain transferred power to a severely underprepared Fulani elites uninterested in independence that ever since has used genocide to maintain its domination. Further still, Britain instigated the genocide called civil war against our people, indicating in now-declassified intelligence record, its approval of the deaths of half a million Igbo if that was what it took to maintain a genocidal state. Until the present day, Britain has continued to preserve its selfish national interest in Nigeria to the detriment of Ndigbo.
Coming to Igbo leaders who join foreigners to bring harm upon our people, there are many such individuals who have used their political authority to the detriment of our people that a team of distinguished Igbo lawyers must be empanelled to detect, including the nature of their offenses against our people.
Like the parties, the avenues that open up for the pursuit of remedies are also broad, including traditional and Western tribunals. Traditional remedies common to Igbo legal jurisprudence will include ostracization. Next to Western-type tribunals, this should include the African Court, the International Criminal Court, the ECOWAS Court, United Nations human rights forums, and Western national courts that would be willing to entertain tort-related lawsuits, such as the U.S. federal courts, and courts in countries like Spain. Note that we did not include Nigeria’s come-today, come-tomorrow, religiously-politicized courts, which we assess as lacking in needed adjudicatory independence to make their use worthwhile. Just as with the decision regarding parties, the last word on appropriate remedies should be left with a team of Igbo lawyers.
For practical steps relating to accountability, we respectfully make the following suggestions:
- Empanel a team of distinguished Igbo lawyers at home and abroad. It should be a coalition of the willing of volunteer lawyers of very high integrity and record of commitment to Igbo matters.
- Some of the lawyers in  above should take up the stalled defense of Nnamdi Kanu and other Biafran activists for long held without trial, in violation of the Nigerian constitution and human rights treaties Nigeria is party to.
- Pursue other such issues of accountability as Ohaneze determines appropriate, subject to the professional judgment of the legal team.
In sum, under your able chieftainship, Ohaneze should immediately and unequivocally commit itself to the two most pressing and interconnected issues of the Igbo today since the genocidal war continued by other means by the Fulani-dominated, born-to-rule governments of Nigeria since 1970, namely: peaceful and nonviolent separation from Nigeria, and accountability for all the atrocities committed against our people, including the period before the civil war under British colonialism.
1629 K Street, N.W
Washington, D.C. 20006
This is wonderful & motivating. My humble suggestions are that as first step, Ohaneze should work mainly towards, as you said, (1) promoting awareness about the Igbo marginalization, persecution & predicament. The need is for people to become informed & ready to key into any future agenda when called upon. Nnamdi Kalu’s greatest success owed to information & bringing people to awareness. SO, THE ISSUE IS THAT MASS AWARENESS IS GREATEST FORM OF MASS MOBILIZATION.
(2)Two should be achieving a South East regional integration. It should include working to unite the political class – especially the governors & NASS members (this will be best under one political party but it must not necessarily be so). Part of the strategy should also include reconcilling feuding Igbo politicians. THE ESSENCE IS TO BEGIN GRADUALLY TO PREPARE A SEPERATE IGBO NATION THAT WILL ONLY MATURE WITH TIME. This is especially important because Nigeria has a potential to break up in spite of the Igbo itself. It will be neccessary to prepare so as to have the opportunity of testing the grounnds to detrmine what future problems we may encounter. We should begin early to sort out regional issues.
(3) Third is the kind of economic plan of the future laid out recently in Uturu by Ohaneze & an Igbo think tank group. This should involve captains of industry, business men, clergy & so on. It should include beginning to bring back investments into Igboland. THIS IS TO SAY, A NEED TO GRADUALLY LAY AN ECONOMIC PLAN FOR THE IGBO NATION.
(3) Third should be