The Igbos, grudgingly respected for their entrepreneurial skills, are often derided for their perceived lack of unity and ability to articulate and doggedly defend their common interests. This perception, often exaggerated, or deliberately aimed at subtly disparaging them, feeds into an existential lacuna of patriotic elites, who are Conscious, Cohesive and Conspiratorial, and who enjoy universal legitimacy in Igboland such that they can set and defend the groupâ€™s interest.
In the post Biafran war era, perhaps nothing challenges the ability of the Igbos to articulate, defend and build the necessary alliances that will ensure the protection of their interests more than the current debate on PDP zoning and president Jonathanâ€™s candidacy in the 2011 presidential elections. In the current politics of PDPâ€™s zoning arrangement, it could be argued that the strategic interest of each geopolitical zone ought to be defending its chances of producing the president of this country. In this sense, the politics of zoning and the candidacy of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) raise a number of significant issues for the Igbos of the South East political zone.
One, while it is true that ethnic/zonal politics and the subsequent arithmetic of â€˜my turnâ€™ which it purveys is a crude method of leadership recruitment, the Igbos do not gain any respect or advantage by feigning disinterest in the ethno-regional identity of whoever emerges president of the country when others are playing the game. If it does not really matter who governs, why is power sharing agreement often at the centre of civil conflicts in Africa? Why did an overwhelming majority of Blacks and Africans enthusiastically support the candidacy of Barrack Obama during the last presidential election in the USA? Not to have a strong voice in this ethno-regional politics is in fact to facilitate its own marginalisation and drift towards being an ethnic minority in the country.
Two, the Igbos have been in the forefront of the industry of complaints against marginalisation in the distribution of political appointments and relative absence of federal presence in their area. They have also for years been calling for a president of Igbo extraction. This means that there has been a latent articulation of Igbo interest even before the current politics of zoning began. This raises the question of which side, in the current divide between those for and those against a Jonathan candidacy, best allies with the articulated Igbo interests? My personal opinion is that a Jonathan candidacy, in the current politics of zoning, strongly conflicts with Igbosâ€™ own interest because they are the only major ethnic group which has not produced an elected President of this country, and 2015 is their best chance of doing so.
Three, one of the arguments used to sell GEJâ€™s candidacy to the Igbos is that he is one of their own. Dr Wolfe Obianime, President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) was reported by the Tribune (online) of September 6, 2010 as telling the 16th annual convention of the World Igbo Congress (WIC) in Philadelphia, USA: â€œI do not need to bait the Igbo people, Goodluck Jonathan is from the eastern regionâ€¦ his name is Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan. So why must he bribe his brothers to get what he wants?â€ This line of reasoning however appears to be mere gimmickry, if not mischievous, because those who divided the country into six geopolitical zones for convenience had a reason for treating the South South and the South East as separate political entities. Similarly canvassing for Igbo support for Jonathan on the basis of old regional solidarity is misleading. It is in fact tantamount to asking Anambra state to concede its rights, such as allocation from the Federation Account, to either Imo, Ebonyi or Abia state because they were all carved out from the defunct East Central State. It is in fact possible to turn this argument around by asking why President Jonathan cannot give up his candidacy in 2011 to help the Igbos actualise their own quest for a President of Igbo extraction by 2015.
Four, it has also been argued that because of the civil war and the complicated relationship it created between the Igbos and the other ethnic groups in the country, the Igbos are better off at this time supporting an Ebele or Emeka from the South South than one from the South East. This argument is however not only defeatist but also amounts to persuading the Igbos to accept that they are second class citizens. Was Obama not also told that it was too early for a Blackman to aspire to become President of the USA? It could in fact be argued that the PDPâ€™s zoning arrangement, as imperfect as it is, presents perhaps the best opportunity for a President of Igbo extraction in 2015.
Five, efforts to sell GEJ to the Igbos are contradicted by the apparent discrimination against the Igbos in his presidency. For instance under Jonathan, no Igbo person holds any of the six class A ministerial appointments in his cabinet â€“ despite being a major ethnic group occupying one of the six geopolitical zones. Similarly the Igbos have been losing the key public offices they held under the Obasanjo regime without a commensurate appointment into positions of similar significance. Instances here include Governorship of the Central Bank (lost under Yaradua) and Chairmanship of INEC (lost under GEJ). The argument here is not about retaining incompetent Igbos in their positions but ensuring that the delicate political balancing in appointments is maintained. For instance in the recent shake-up of the service chiefs, the Igbos were again clearly short-changed as they lost two key positions – that of Chief of Defence Staff formerly held by Air Marshall Paul Dike, and the Inspector General of Police held by Ogbonna Onovo. In return, an Igbo, Major-General Onyeabo Azubuike Ihejirika, was appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS). There have been efforts, apparently by the presidentâ€™s men, to play up the appointment of Ihejirika as the first time since the end of the war that an Igbo man would be appointed COAS. However such playing to the gallery is not only patronising but also disingenuous as it amounts to persuading the Igbos that losing two key positions and getting one in return is in their best interest, or that the post of Chief of Army Staff is enough consolation for their right to aspire to be president of this country by 2015.
In conclusion few people doubt that the â€˜hurrah effectâ€™ of having one of their own as President of this country in 2015 is one of the surest ways for the Igbos to end their perceived marginalisation and drift towards being an ethnic minority group. However, since power is rarely handed to any one on a platter of gold, the time for them to start laying an overwhelming claim for this entitlement is now. And they must lay such claims without sentiments or apologies.