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Nigeria: Igbos and the 2011 Election

chukwuemeka-ojukwu2A late relative of mine had an interesting name. He told us that his nickname was “Edikete Ekwuo”-I will endure for a long while before I speak my mind. For him, he was not a man of that spoke his mind often, but when he did, he spoke fearlessly and to the point. He never left anyone in doubt as to what his opinion was.

This same thing has been my dilemma on the 2011 election. Many have asked my opinion about the forthcoming election especially as to the issue of what side is Igbo interest is buttered (as if my opinion actually matters in Nigeria), and I have maintained the taciturn attitude. But as events continue to unfold, like my brother “Edikete Ekwuo”, I decided to bare my mind out without the political correctness that keeps the entity called Nigeria backwards.

There is a wise saying that it is only a fool that does the same thing over and over again and somehow expects a different result. Our so-called Igbo leaders or those that hold themselves out as representing the Igbo interests continue to do the same thing at every turn and then turn back later to blame tribalism after they have been short-changed.

From the Second Republic all the ways to now, many Igbos have not learnt that first of all, power is taken and not given. Secondly, they have not learnt that the North does not care much about Igbo interest immediately after every election. Thirdly they have not learnt that being a lap-dog of the north can only reduce their chances of getting the highest price and not increased them.

During the Second Republic, National Party of Nigeria (NPN) which was the ruling party had a gentleman’s agreement that after the eight-year presidency of Alhaji Aliyu Ushman Shehu Shagari, that his Vice President, Chief Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme would be his successor in office. Chief Ekwueme was in fairness a quintessential Vice President, cool-headed, loyal, and affable and had the confidence of his boss, President Shagari. After Shagari won his second term, the military cabal dominated by the north took over power. But before they did, they duly informed Shagari what they were about to do and in fact provided a soft landing for him. General Muhamadu Buhari and his cabals put Shagari in house arrest in his own house in Sokoto. However, Ekwueme was not given the common courtesy of letting him know what was going on. He was treated as a second-class citizen despite his immunity. He was arrested and detained, not in his own house, but in Maximum Security Prison, Kirikiri, in the company of condemned armed robbers and other hardened criminals!

Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu suffered same fate in the hands of the northern oligarchy. After he was “unconditionally” pardoned and returned home from his exile, he joined the NPN despite wise counsel from lots of Igbos not to. He reasoned that Igbo interests would be better with the NPN and that Igbos would be re-absorbed into the mainstream of Nigeria politics than with any opposition party. He was promised the Senate Presidency by the NPN only for them to turn back and rig the election against him and a little-known Chief Edwin Onwudiwe of Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) won. They basically stabbed him in the back!

If those instances were ancient history; how about in 1999? After Chief Alex Ekwueme almost single-handedly formed the G-34 that later metamorphosed into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he was later short-changed for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was in jail when the party was formed. Obasanjo did not even know how the so-called biggest party in Africa was formed. The northern kingmakers ditched Ekwueme and chose Obasanjo. Ekwueme on his own part capitulated “in the interest of the nation”. What did the Igbos get from their so-called loyalty to the northern oligarchy? How much does the north care about Igbo interests?

When would the Igbos learn that power is not given? Northern political interest is paramount to the north, period. The north would always aspire to the highest position available regardless of whether they have been at the helm of affairs since creation of the country. They would not care so much what others think about it. Whether it is military or civilian at the helm of affairs, it better be a northerner. The Southwest also aspire for the same thing and rightly so. They do not respect so-called leaders who do play second fiddle to the north. I do not blame them for that, no one should. That is what they suppose to do and they do it well. The blame goes to the self-appointed Igbo leaders that appear no to get it.

Now we are hearing about Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the candidate for the north, promising to make an Igbo his Vice President. We also heard that he pledged that he would only do one term of four years and hand over to an Igbo. Haven’t we heard that line before? Who told them that the northern oligarchy would just hand over power to them? Anyone thinking that the north would hand over in 2015 to an Igbo is just chewing the cord of foolishness. It would not happen.

Now we have many respected Igbo sons positioning themselves to be used by the north. Many names have been in the news as potential Atiku’s running-mates. People like Chief Ken Nnamani, Chief Ben Obi, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, Ambassador Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and former Information Minister Chief Emeka Chikwelu. It was reported that those mentioned are being screened by same Chief Alex Ekwueme since he was detailed to produce a running mate for Atiku Abubakar.

My take on the whole issue is that those jumping into the Atiku wagon are not representing the Igbos but their own personal interests. Our self-appointed Igbo leaders do not speak for the Igbos. Some of them have already outlived their usefullness to us.They do not speak for me. They speak for their own personal interests and for their own pockets. The only thing they are angling for is re-alignment to be the latter-day oppressors of their state governors and politicians from their home states. Some of them are waiting for an opportunity to grab crumbs from the table of those cabals and use access to the corridors of power to flex their little muscle against their perceived political enemies back home. When would the Igbos understand that as long as they cheapen themselves for the little crumbs, they would forever be confined at the back of the scheme of things? Some of our people blame the others for their woes. However, they forgot that ever since independence, our brother west of the Niger has been in opposition. However, they are better off than we are.

Had it been that Babangida did not scuttle June 12, Late Chief MKO Abiola would have been president. Even though many of our brothers ran to the center thinking that once you shout “one Nigeria”, and run to the north and learn how to speak hausa, that it is a sure way to make them like you, and just hand over power to you.

When Ekwueme was made the Vice President, what did the southeast states benefit from his stewardship? The only benefit was a federal road that led to his town, Oko. During that period, it was antagonism galore against the former state Governor, Chief Jim Nwobodo. Between 1999 and 2003, there was turnover of Senate Presidents. We had Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, Dr. Even Enwerem, Chief Adolphus Wabara and Chief Anyim Pius Anyim (not in the right order). What exactly did the Igbos as a major ethnic group benefit? Aside from antagonism between the power drunks among them there was nothing else we as a group benefit. In 2007, the Igbos did not even get any reasonable position in the ruling party.

When would this foolishness end? In September 2003, it was reported that Chief Orji Uzo Kalu went to the north and apologized to them for the Nigerian-Biafran War! Some would buy houses in the north and give their sons and daughters hausa names thinking that by cozying up to the north is the sure way to presidency.

As the Americans would say “why are you fighting over a burger when you can have a steak?” Why are we fighting for crumbs when with a clear head and tenacity, we could work for making one of us president. If Igbos want to be president of Nigeria, the first thing we do is to fix our Igbo states. We have to start holding our state governors accountable for the way they manage our resources. Do not worry about hand outs from the center and make our state a model for other states to emulate. Our destiny does not lie with any ethnic group in outside the former Eastern Region. Our own destiny lies squarely in our own hands. We have to unite and support enterprising state governors from the southeast despite party affiliations. If we want to be in the opposition, we have to be consistent in opposition.

Also, Igbos should support the aspirations of President Goodluck Jonathan. Why not? Supporting the presidential aspirations of Jonathan would do two things. First, it would eliminate the age-long distrust between the Igbos and brothers in the South-South. Secondly by supporting Jonathan, Igbos would have taken our turn at the presidency by proxy. Let me explain, President Jonathan is not an Igbo man, despite the fact that his parents gave him two Igbo names: Ebele and Azikiwe. However, I believe that he understands the Igbos problems more than any other major candidate.

There has been lots of distrust between the Igbos and the south-south dating from independence. The mutual suspicion lingered through the war and even after. However, during the struggle for revenue allocation, they have found out that of many in the national Assembly, it was only southeast that supported them aspiration for 100% revenue allocation formula. The south-south is beginning to understand that Igbos are not their primary foes. They now know that Igbos are not the ones standing between them and the benefits of the immense national wealth (oil) in their backyard. They have figured out who their nemesis is. We would be dealing a big blow to one of us becoming president in the future if we do not line up behind Jonathan.

Apart from building a future coalition with our south-south brothers, we stand to gain a lot from supporting Jonathan. We share a common interest. We have a proverb “agbatobi onye bu nwanne ya-your neighbor is your brother. Southeast and south-south are of former Eastern Region and our relationship dated back even before creation of Nigeria.

Also to get to his state of Bayelsa by road, President Jonathan has no other road to get there other than the road that went through River Niger. Even if he could not ply the road as president, his people from the south-south have no other way to get home except through Onitsha. If he wins in 2011, it would therefore be imperative that he fix the Niger Bridge and expedite action on the second Niger Bridge.

The dredging of River Niger that has been a contentious issue would be a thing of the past if Jonathan follows through on his promise to complete the project. People of the southeast that are pro-business stand to benefit from the completion of that project. Restive youths in the Niger-Delta and Southeast that have taken to kidnapping as a means of livelihood would be gainfully employed if the River Niger becomes a seaport. Also the Enugu International Airport contract has been awarded and would be completed and this would alleviate the sufferings of international traveler especially from the southeast and boost business opportunities in the southeast. We have to support him now and then hold him to his promises.

On the other hand, if the Igbos turn their back on Jonathan as they try so hard to be perpetual lap-dog of the north, what would become of the fragile relationship between us and the south-south? If Jonathan wins without our support, we are going to pay the political prize. If he loses because we failed to support him, how do we think that the south-south would support any Igboman’s political aspiration in the future, knowing that it was due to our lack of support that their son lost the presidency? This is the closest that they have been to be president through an election, and we are to be the ones to throw the spanner? What we need is total support of Jonathan. There should not even be any debate about it. This wavering by the southeast state governors does not send a correct signal. There should be an unconditional support for Jonathan among southeast governors and every Igboman regardless of past grievances.

Many people talking about the so-called gentleman agreement in PDP about rotational formular are just being either naïve or deceitful. It is total nonsense and does not even worth that paper it was written on. If the cabals that control PDP care so much about rotational presidency, why did they remove that section from the “Abacha” constitution that made provision for rotational presidency? Are they not the same caucus? If rotational presidency is good for PDP, why is it not good for Nigeria? Let truth be told, it is because the north would lose power if they allow the rotational presidency in the Nigeria’s constitution. It does not serve their selfish political interest. Do you blame them? No I do not. They know that the so-called rotation agreed upon in the PDP is not cast in stone and could be violated without any sanction.

How then can anyone from the southeast support any gentleman’s agreement that does not first of all start with an Igbo as president before other sections of the country take their turns. We are quick to talk about marginalization but we can go and sign on with a stupid document that does not remedy past marginalization. When was the last time a candidate from the southeast occupy the Aso Rock Mansion or even Dodan Barracks? We have to get on board with Jonathan and give him the maximum support or we just shut up and put the nail on the coffin of Igbo presidency in the future.

*Chukwudi Nwokoye writes from Maryland, USA.

chukwuemeka-ojukwu2 peter-obi  
Peter Obi With Ikemba Ojukwu and Bianca Ojukwu

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