By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Igbos must attend to Nigerian politics with clear eyed sobriety.
The civil war left many chronic wounds. But Igbo have survived and thrived. Igbo may have been hampered by national structural defects and systemic injustices. But they have flourished and have the economic heft to surmount subsisting inequities.
Igbo have enterprise and imagination but collectively they lack political foresightedness. And that is why the Igbo nation seems vulnerable despite all its gifts. Igbo have a good heart, but they must come to Nigerian politics with a calm head.
There is no further room for debilitating cynicism. And none for naivety. Igbos have come to stay. And must stamp their feet like princes and partake in leadership with the boldness of an equal partner. There is no room for timidity and none for self indulgent tempestuousness. Igbos must be shrewd. There is no more room for mawkish sentimentality. Igbos must negotiate their grievances with their votes.
The reality is that Nigeria is multi ethnic. And ethnicity has not been relegated to the background by Nigerian nationalism. The best interest of every Nigerian would be best served by a fair and equitable Nigeria. But such a Nigeria is still in the works. A restructured Nigeria would serve the overall interests of all Nigerians including Igbos and Binis and Efiks. But before Nigeria is restructured and before such a restructuring yields the desired good governance, Igbos must exist. And must play politics like a game.
The collective psyche of Igbos may have residual scars. But they cannot leave the improvement of their sense of belonging to the other groups alone. Igbos are too entrenched and too widely spread in Nigeria to seek an acrimonious divorce. So they must assert themselves in politics as they have in street commerce. They must insinuate themselves into the centre of power. A sense of alienation and victim-hood may fill with indignation,and could be internally comforting, but it cannot improve the fortunes of anyone.
It could be naive to discuss Igbo political attitude as if the Igbo nation were one homogeneous nuclear family. But manifest tendencies cannot also be ignored. Igbos have voted one way in national elections since 1999. And that way has been the PDP. Igbos have given the PDP more in percentage votes than any other group since then. The Southeast region, comparatively, hasn’t reaped commensurate political rewards for its faithfulness. If the PDP had repaid the southeast for its labour of love the recent clamour for secession would have been utterly preposterous.
But it is difficult to put all the blame on the PDP alone. Igbos have played shortsighted politics. At no time during their political wedlock with the PDP did they seek to negotiate either that union or their position in the federation. Some southeast states voted president Jonathan 85% in 2011. But he didn’t fix the Enugu-Onitsha road, Enugu-PH road and many other federal roads. And he didn’t remember to do the second Niger bridge. But it may not all be his fault. Igbos didn’t make their support for him and that party conditional.
Democracy is meaningful if groups and individuals articulate their interests and negotiate them with other parts and parties through the electoral process. Igbos wanted a restructured federation. But for 16 years, they didn’t put their foot down to demand that. They simply frolicked with the PDP. Igbos wanted Igbo presidency. But they never sat down to extract a promise from anyone. They simply voted and clapped when a few sons and daughters were put in a few visible positions. And you wouldn’t blame them.
The average ‘area boy’ in Lagos may not have benefited more from the Obasanjo presidency more that an almajiri in Kano. But Obasanjo’s ascendancy in 1999 healed a national wound. At least, to some extent. While the participation of political charlatans may bring no benefit to their tribal groups, members of such a tribe may however derive an enhanced sense of belonging. Such vicarious benefits are not totally trivial. The sort of emollient effect Obama’s emergence left on the injured psyche of blacks when he won the US presidency in 2008. Poor black Children in the south side of Chicago may not have been spared the vicious cycle of drugs—jail—teenage pregnancy by the Obama presidency but the general well being of the average black man everywhere in the world got a psychological lift by the symbolism of that presidency rather than its actual policies.
So I can understand why Ohaneze would rather have devolution of powers. It is perhaps not even convinced that an Igbo presidency would have the status of a Yoruba or Fulani presidency. Because a lingering paranoia by other ethnic groups about Igbos could mean that such a presidency would be Igbo only by name. But Ohanaeze should shrink and fail to articulate Igbo concerns and priorities properly. It can also not afford to carry on with the temperament of a spoilt child. An Igbo presidency could lack Igbo content and psychotherapeutic significance if it isn’t co-midwifed by Igbos. Ohaneze can’t operate with the volatility of the IPOB. The spoilt child discards discretion and compromise to service his ego. So he smashes the candy on the floor. Because it came a little late or didn’t come in the right quantity. He steps up and squashes it with his heel. But once someone stretches a hand to pick it he throws a fit. And he throws a shoe at the television.
Saraki spoke about Igbo presidency recently. Saraki said Tinubu had told him that his support for an inept Buhari was hinged on power returning to the southwest in 2023. Tinubu is yet to confirm the tale. The motive of the squeal, however, must be to throw a wedge between Tinubu, his party—the APC and Igbos. In other words, Tinubu could be positioning to take what belongs to Igbos in 2023. Igbos are supposed to feel betrayed by Tinubu and perhaps by the APC. And many Igbos reacted with requisite alarm.
Understandably, Ohaneze didn’t respond. It had a few weeks ago said Igbos were not interested in the presidency in 2023. They were only interested in a restructured federation. The IPOB is still stuck on ‘no referendum no election.’ These Igbo freedom fighters would cry treachery if the presidency failed to rotate to the southeast in 2023. But they are, without diligence, adopting public positions that make it less immoral for other groups to scramble for it.
Ohaneze cried about lopsided federal appointments. But Ohaneze is not bothered about Igbo presidency? These groups often adopt schizophrenic positions which sobriety could have saved them from. Why is Ohanaeze interested in how many Igbos are service chiefs when it is not interested in an Igbo being president? What Ohaneze and these groups lack is the ability to carefully think out the overall interests of the group and to forge efficient strategies for their attainment. Igbos need not believe the APC and their promise of Igbo president in 2023. Igbos need not stop voting the PDP religiously. But they must negotiate their interests with whichever party they fall in love with. And they can negotiate their interests with all the parties. What Ohaneze can’t do is pretend all of a sudden that the Igbo presidency project would mean nothing to the psyche of the average Igbo man.