The South East leaders are certainly aware of the fact that Ndigbo are the only tribe among the three major tongues of Hausa/ Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo that do not have friendly neighbours as political associates. Whereas the Yoruba will easily flow with most Edo and Kwara for an alliance, just as the Hausa/Fulani usually count on the Middle Belt, particularly Niger, Nassarawa and Kogi, Ndigbo cannot rely on their next door neighbors for any political affiliation.
Investigations have revealed that the South East and South South disunity is as old as Nigeria itself. It has been an old mark that has refused to go. It is now an ancient pathway to the stream – it can hardly be ignored, disregarded or avoided. But it be made better, brighter and more attractive.
Historically and politically, the animosity between the former two Eastern brothers is deep and well rooted. It first reared its ugly head in 1942 following the crisis that engulfed Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the country ‘s first genuine nationalistic organization. The NYM president, Dr. Kofi Abayomi resigned his position for a political position and a struggle for succession ensued between Ernest Ikoli, the vice president, an Ijaw, and Samuel Akinsanya, another founding member, a Yoruba from Ogun State. Zik and most Igbo in the association supported Akinsanya while Awo and most of his Yoruba followers threw their weight behind Ikoli. Eventually, Ikoli won. Rather than congratulating Ikoli, Zik and his Igbo tribesmen left the association enmasse and NYM crashed almost immediately. What happened next was an accusation of bias by Ijaw people against Zik and Ndigbo. The Ijaw claimed Zik led Ndigbo to stop their next door neighbour while supporting a distant Yoruba man.
Incidentally, the 1942 discomforting outing hardly settled down when another political fart was cruelly released in 1951, thereby compounding the already estranged East and South relationship. That year, Zik, perhaps, in his conviction that he was indeed Zik of Africa and Nigeria’s greatest political evangelist, wanted to achieve a huge political fervour. He dramatically and sensationally left the Eastern House, his home base, and raced down to Ibadan, the capital of Western Region, and contested for the position of head of government on the platform of NCNC.
In a most remarkable political drama ever played out in Nigeria, Zik and his NCNC won the highest number of votes and seats. That victory was well documented as well as highly celebrated. However, it was never allowed to be. On the day of swearing in, Awo, invoking tribal sentiments rather than nation stability, got most of the Yoruba members in NCNC to move over to AG and Zik was denied that electoral victory. In anger and frustration, Zik rushed to Enugu and caused the sack of Professor Etta Eyo, an Efik in today’s Cross River State, who was already in charge as head of government at the Eastern Region and installed Michael Okpara. It was that bad.
Almost within that period, the Eastern minorities comprising what is today Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states alleged that Okpara discriminated against them. However, this was not true because Okpara appointed both Akpabio and Imoke as commissioners in his cabinet and their children ultimately emerged as governors of Akwa Ibom(Godswill) and Cross River(Liyel) states several years after. Two, Okpara built the great Trans Amadi Avenue in Port Harcourt, constructed the imposing Presidential Hotel also in Port Harcourt, put in place the Adapalm plantation that still exits in Rivers, completed the Obuduh Cattle Ranch which was modernized by former Governor Donald Duke. He started the construction of the Port Harcourt -Mbiama Road, the highway that links Rivers and Bayelsa states together today. So, the allegation of marginalization against the South South from Opkara cannot be substantiated.
It is on record that the three Igbo leaders of Zik, Ironsi and Ojukwu never discriminated against the South South when they (Zik, Ironsi and Ojukwu) held sway as president, head of state or Eastern governor/ head of state of Biafra. For instance, under Zik, Mathew Mbu was a minister/ambassador. Ironsi made Kurubo a service chief while Ojukwu had Philip Effiong as his second -in – command. Even, the man who suggested the name Biafra to Ojukwu was a Bayelsa man who later took a high chief title.
During the Second Republic, Ndigbo were really disappointed that the two states of Rivers and Cross River were won and controlled by the NPN rather than NPP, the Zik party that had Igbo inclination.
Again, Ndigbo were shocked that of all the regions in Nigeria, it was in Port Harcourt that their hard earned property were declared abandoned! It was also in Port Harcourt that roads and streets bearing Igbo names were changed from Umu to Rumo, hence, you now have Rumuola instead of Umuola, etc.
No matter how anybody looks at it, both parties have one case or the other against each other. Both should let go. Both should come together and draw a map on how to work together, discuss together and forge ahead together. The political leaders of both zones should understand that whatever affects the each of sides easily deals heavily with the other.
Here, the example of President Goodluck Jonathan comes to play. Ndigbo “adopted” Jonathan as their son. Even at that, when the all-powerful Nigerian oligarchs decided to mowdown Jonathan, they labeled him Igbo to make his downfall very easy.
As a matter of fact, 2023 should bring South East and South South together for the benefit of both zones and Nigeria as a country.