By Prof. Nathan Protus Uzorma
Since after the Nigerian Civil War, the Igbos have been crying of marginalization in almost every aspect of national endeavor, including political, military, and senior civil service appointments and promotions, as well as economic and social development, which all began with the non-implementation of the Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation program promised at the end of the civil war in 1970 by Generel Yakubu Gowon.
Nonetheless, this seemed assuaged with the pairing of President Shagari (Sokoto State- Northwest) and Dr Alex Ekwueme (Anambra State- Southeast) in 1979-1983, was considered as a smart assuage and healing for the central leadership lost cost by the 1966 saga and the devastation of the civil war on Biafra. Certainly, it was in this light of General Gowon’s declaration- ‘No victor, no vanquish,’ which whimsically worked for the immediate post-war Southeastern politicians who were as well the Independence and Post-Independence politicians. After the active political domination of the post-civil-war politicians, the constitutional rights of the Igbos and southeasterners have been jeopardized, mostly since the return of democracy in 1999 and in the same manner the post-war military administration never allowed an Igbo to become the Chief of Staff since 1966.
General Aguyi Ironsi (Abia State, today’s Southeast) made Col Yakubu Gowon (Plateau State, North-Central) the Chief of Army Staff; Col Yakubu Gown (Plateau State, North-Central) made Lt Col Joseph Akahan (Benue State, North Central), David Ejoor (South-South), General Hassan Katsina (Kastina State, Northwest) as Chiefs of Army Staff; while General Muritala Mohammed (Kano State, Northwest) made Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo (Ogun State, Southwest) and Brigadier Theophilus Danjuma (Benue State, North-Central) as Chiefs of Army Staff. General Olusegun Obasanjo (Ogun State, Southwest) used Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (Kastina State, Northwest) as Chief of General Staff and Vice President and General Theophilus Danjuma (Benue State, North-Central) as Chief of Army Staff.
President Shagari (Sokoto State, North-Central) retained the Chief of Staff and later changed him with General Gibson Jalo (Adamawa State, Northeast) and Gen M.I. Wushishi (Niger State, North-Central) as Chiefs of Army Staff. General Buhari retained the latter and changed him with Major General Babangida (Niger, North-Central) as Chief of Army Staff. General Mohammadu Buhari (Katsina State, Northwest) took Gen Babatunde Idiagbon (Kwara State, North Central) as Vice President and Major General Babangida (Niger, North-Central) as Chief of Army Staff. General Ibrahim Babangida (Niger State, North-Central) took General Sani Abacha (Kano State, Northwest), General Salihu Ibrahim (Kogi State, North –Central), and General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (Zamfara State, Northeast) as Chief of Army Staff; while Commodore Oko Ebitu Ukiwe (Abia State, Southeast: for just 7 months- December 1987-July 1989), Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (Edo State, South-South), General Donaldson Diya (Ogun State, Southwest) and Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe (Edo State) were Vice Presidents, and General Abdulsalami Abubakar (Niger State, North-Central) served as Vice Presidents and Chiefs of General Staff.
From General Aguyi Ironi who was the first indigenous Nigerian General Officer Commanding, which title years later became the Chief of Army Staff (1965- January 15, 1966), it took Igbos in the Nigerian Army 54 years and a roll of 24 indigenous Chiefs of Army Staff before General Azubuike Ihejirika (Abia State, Southeast) became the Nigeria Highest Ranking Military Officer (2010-2014). Thus, the Igbos have been marginalised in the military since after the January 15, 1966 coup.
The only few moments Igbos emerged were the General Babangida’s magnanimity on Vice Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe (as Junta Vice President), and the revolution of President Jonathan who appointed Lt General Oneyabo Azubuike Ihejirika as Chief of Army Staff, which has never happened in Nigeria since after the death of Gen Aguiyi Ironsi, and thus the first Igbo Army officer to have so been appointed thus since after July 29th 1966.
Similarly, it is also a historical fact that since 1963 till date 2020, Nigeria has had a total of 20 indigenous Chiefs of Air Staff (CAS), and out of the 20 CAS, only 1 Igbo (Air Marshal Paul Dike: 2006-2008 and a South-South Igbo) has held the position, while the Efik/Ibibio, Tiv, Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani, etc., have dominated the Air Force apex leadership.
In the Nigerian Navy, the Chief of Naval Staff is the highest ranking naval officer, and since 1956 till date (2020), Nigeria has had a total of 22 indigenous Chiefs of Naval Staff (CNS). Out of these, only 2 were of Igbo extractions (Rear Admiral Alison A. Madueke (1993-1994) under General Abacha, and Vice Admiral D.J. Ezeoba (2012-2013), under President Jonathan. Besides these, the Igbo man whether from South East or South-South has not held such position since 60 years now, and these two were in office for just 1 year each.
The same story is applicable to the Nigerian Police Force. It is also factual that since the beginning of indigenous Inspector-General of Police (IGP) in Nigeria, starting from Louis Edet’s 1964 leadership as IGP till date (2020), it is only of a brief time-frame (2009-2010) that an IGP of Southeast extraction emerged in the person of Mr Ogbonnaya Okechukwu Onovo (Enugu State). Thus, apart from Mr Onovo, till date Nigeria has a total of 21 IGPs for 56 years with an Igbo man heading the Police Force for just one year. A seeming attempt to experiment if an Igbo of South East extraction could mount the IGP position was on the former IGP, Sir Mike Mbama Okiro (2007-2009) who is a core South-Eastern Zone Igbo enrolled into the Force from Rivers State, under President Yar’Adua. On the contrary, the Efik/Ibibio as minority tribes have produced 3 IGPS, same with the Yoruba and former Midwest (Bendel State) and South-South.
The story is more pathetic in the history of the Nigeria Chief of Defence Staff, which is the highest ranking military officer of the Nigerian Armed Forces, which is appointed by the Nigerian President and started in April 1980 with Lt. Gen. Ipoola Alani Akinrinade till date, with a total 19 CDSs and only one Igbo man- Air Chief Marshall Paul Dike; who only stayed in that office from August 20, 2008 to September 8, 2010. I wish to ask here too, has none of the past Nigerian President since Alhaji Shehu Shagari till date found any other Igbo in the Nigerian Armed Forces worthy of such post for 40 years?
To this effect, one is compelled to ask, what is the taboo that Igbos committed that since 1964; it is only of a brief period of 1 year that an Igbo has headed the Nigeria Police Force? The same story goes with the Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC), NNPC, NSCDC, etc. It is only in Customs and Immigration that few Igbos have emerged some years ago as heads.
More so, it is on record that since 1958, Nigeria has had 16 indigenous Chiefs of Justice of the Supreme Court. The Chief of Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria is the head of the judicial arm of government in the Federation, and thus presides over the Nigerian Judiciary and Supreme Court. None of these 16 Chiefs of Justice of the Federation is of Igbo extraction, beginning from Justice Ademola Adetokumbo (Ogun State, 1958-1972) to the present day CJN, Justice Nkanu Onnoghen (Cross River State, 2019- till date).
Thus, since 1958 when Nigeria started having indigenous Chief Justice for the country, the former secessionist Biafra: Today’s Southeast and South-South geopolitical zones have not had any Chief Justice of the Federation, despite the crop of high-class Justices of the Supreme Court coming from these zones; not even the Socrates of the Nigerian Supreme Court- Late Justice Ckukwudifu Oputa. It is evident that most of these Chief Justices were formerly among the judicial crew in the apex court before their appointments by the Nigerian Heads of State.
Since the position is by appointment, and records of past CJNs are still existent, the principles of federal character and the justifications of component States and ethnic nations in Nigeria have not till date enhanced the possibilities of a CJN emerging from any of these two zones for 62 years of appointments. And one should sincerely ask here, what is the rationale behind the appointments of CJN that apart from the recent appointment of CJN Nkanu Onnoghen, none Igbo or South-South has been found worthy to be appointed? The meaning is that the entire former Biafra, has for 61 years never emerged as head of the Nigerian Judicial Arm of Government.
With the above history, is it possible for an Igbo man to emerge as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria come 2023 presidential race? Your guess is as good as mine!