THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH: IGBOS AND POLITICAL WILDERNESS
DR KENNETH OKONKWO
The greatest tragedy that had ever befallen Ndigbo in the history of Nigeria is the Nigeria civil war which led to the demise of their crop of first republic/generation military officers including the then first head of state, General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, a generation of youths whom were conscripted to fight a civil war they were ill equipped, ill trained and ill prepared to fight, a generation of children and babies who died of kwashorko (malnutrition) and lack of adequate medical attention due to the rigours of war.
Miraculously, their crop of first generation politicians were largely preserved from the war. We grew up after the war to witness the input in our national lives of such great first republic/generation Igbo politicians like Chief Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, first President of Nigeria, Nwafor Orizu, first Senate President, Michael Okpara, Premier Eastern Region, Akanu Ibiam and many others. This preservation enabled us recover swiftly from the effects of the civil war politically in the second republic and was launched back to political reckoning in Nigeria just after nine years of the war where Chief Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme emerged the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1979.
In the first republic, Ndigbo were predominantly members of NCNC, the political party with which they won the elections in the Eastern part of Nigeria. AG won Western Nigeria, while the NPC won the Northern part of Nigeria. None of the parties was able to form the government of the first republic alone because they could not obtain a parliamentary majority in the parliament hence the need to go into alliance and coalition.
The NPC could not agree with the AG, while it agreed with the NCNC which saw Ndigbo produce choice political offices in the first republic. This alliance, produced the first President of Igbo extraction, the Head of State and the no 1 citizen of Nigeria and other wonderful offices earlier mentioned. It was an alliance between the Hausa/Fulani, led by the Sarduana of Sokoto, and the Igbos, led by Chief Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. This flourishing alliance which saw the Igbos favourably located in all the vital organs of the nation was unnecessarily interrupted by the first military coup of 1966. This unfortunate coup was to precipitate the counter coup and the civil war that followed and unfortunately set the Igbos back from all the political positions hitherto occupied.
However, the preservation of the first generation politicians of Ndigbo enabled them recover quickly from this loss simply by re-enacting the same strategy of the first republic in the second republic. Specifically, Ndigbo belonged to NPP led by Chief Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1979, while the North predominantly belonged to NPN led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari, an Hausa/Fulani. The NPN, irrespective of the fact that the Igbos belonged to the NPP, still chose Dr Alex Ekwueme to be the running mate of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
After the elections of 1979, the NPP won resoundingly in the Igbo speaking areas of Eastern Nigeria, while the NPN won uncomfortably throughout Nigeria. NPN, in order to consolidate its powers at the Federal level went into alliance with the NPP, which produced Chief Edwin Umezuoke of the NPP as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in addition to the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the person of Chief Dr Alex Ekwueme of NPN and other choice political offices. Another alliance between the Hausa/Fulani and the Igbos with solid benefits to the Igbos. Chief Dr Alex Ekwueme and other Igbos were re-elected in the 1983 general elections and Dr Alex Ekwueme was heading towards becoming the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1987 but for the unfortunate military coup of December 1983 that toppled the regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Dr Alex Ekwueme.
Then came the third republic midwifed by General Ibrahim Babangida and the beginning of political wilderness for Ndigbo. The transition organised by this regime confused and consumed the first generation politicians, the man that won the election and resulted in the Maradona himself (General Ibrahim Babangida) stepping aside. It started with a promise by the General that he will hand over power to a democratically elected government by 1990. By 1990, the General directed that the disengagement of the military will be gradual. He stretched it to 1992 beginning with local government election in 1990, gubernatorial election following the next year and the Presidential election to be held in 1992. He encouraged people to debate and come up with a system of democracy that we will follow. After the debate, he decreed two parties into existence, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and gave them their manifestos. By 1992 when the presidential election was conducted, General Shehu Yar’adua and Mallam Adamu Ciroma emerged as presidential candidates for the SDP and the NRC respectively. Unfortunately, the General cancelled it.
But the greatest set back for Ndigbo was that the General banned from participation in politics all the experienced politicians of all divides in Nigeria and introduced the warped concept of new breed. This action wiped out from participation in the remaining transition to democracy all the experienced politicians of the Hausa/Fulani extraction and the Igbo extraction who knew how to combine their strengths for their mutual benefit and left the Hausas, Fulanis and Igbos with a new breed that are inexperienced in the management of the affairs politically of Hausas, Fulanis and Ndigbo. The remaining new breed Igbo politicians could not muster enough clout to make any impact nationally and bring any political advantage to Ndigbo in the remaining periods of the transition.
The ethnic group that benefited most from this unfortunate ban and cancellation of the presidential primaries was the Western Nigeria as they still had men with national clout but who were not affected by the ban. Such political heavy weights as Chief MKO Abiola appeared on the scene and defeated his opponent, Bashir Tofa in his home state of Kano during the June 12th, 1993 presidential election. The political alliance between Hausa/Fulani and Igbo in Bashir Tofa and Sylvester Ugo in NRC could not match the overpowering influence of MKO and Babagana Kingibe because it amounted to a first eleven in political football playing with a second eleven.
Unfortunately, the 1993 general election was cancelled without any cogent reason. The crisis precipitated by this cancellation led to the stepping aside of General Ibrahim Babangida and eventually led to the emergence of General Sani Abacha, who arrested Chief MKO Abiola for daring to declare himself President on the strength of June 12, 1993 election, detained him in prison until he died during the regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
As all these were happening, no new generation of Igbo political leaders were emerging. The only political star the Igbos had was still the former second republic vice president, Dr Alex Ekwueme. He was at the head of midwifing the fourth republic being the Chairman of the G 34 that led to the birth of PDP, where he became the first chairman. Unfortunately for him, the ghost of June 12 needed to be exorcised. This led to the adoption of only Yorubas as the presidential candidates of all the political parties in 1999 and led to the emergence of General Olusegun Obasanjo as the President and commander-in-chief of the armed forces in 1999 by defeating Dr Alex Ekwueme and Olu Falae in the primary and general elections respectively. Dr Alex Ekwueme tried again unsuccessfully in 2003 to contest for the presidency with Olusegun Obasanjo but failed in the presidential primaries held here in Abuja. The primary ended bitterly with Ekwueme rejecting the outcome of the primary election. His rejection could not stop Obasanjo from emerging the next president of Nigeria thereby putting an end to his political career as a result of age.
We must note that MKO Abiola and Olusegun Obasanjo were able to be this successful politically because of their strategic political alliance with the North. Both of them built strategic political alliances with the North during both military and civilian regimes starting from Gowon to Babangida. Indeed Babangida went to Ota to conscript Obasanjo to become the President of Nigeria in 1999 because of the belief by the North that he will not rock the boat of Nigeria, while it was believed that MKO built his vast business and political empire and network through his alliance with the North.
With General Olusegun Obasanjo as president and Atiku Abubakar as vice president, the general denigration and destruction of the remaining Igbo politicians began. The South East was zoned the number 3 position which is the position of the Senate President. By the time President Obasanjo finished in 2007, the position of the Senate President has changed 5 times with all of them disgraced out of office. No other tribe suffered the same fate. The first to emerge was Evan’s’ Ewerem, whom Obasanjo foisted on the Senate against the will of his party, the PDP, just to ensure that Chuba Okadigbo did not emerge. Being perceived as Obasanjo’s stooge, he was unceremoniously removed by the Senate to make way for Chuba to come in as Senate President. Immediately Chuba ascended the throne, a grand plan was hatched by the regime to remove him. Allegations of wrong doing were established against him by a panel set up by the Senate and he was unceremoniously removed. He was never charged to court. The third was Pius Anyim, who fell out with Obasanjo to the point that the impeachment of Obasanjo was mentioned at the floor of the Senate. His political structure was taken from him in Ebonyi leading to his resignation from PDP at the end of the first term of Obasanjo. Adolphus Nwagbara became the Senate President after Anyim in 2003. Obasanjo brought a criminal allegation of bribery and corruption against him and Prof Fabian Nwosu, the then Minister of Education, in his cabinet. He chose the occasion of the meeting of the common wealth heads of state in Nigeria to put these men on handcuffs, arraigned them in court and informed the world how corrupt they were. These men were later freed by the court after Nwagbara had lost his position as Senate President and Prof Fabian sacked as Minister. Then came Senator Ken Nnamani, who fell out with Obasanjo on the issue of third term and was later to be rendered impotent in the political equation of Enugu State in 2007. He has not contested any political position since then.
Obasanjo, therefore, succeeded in painting that generation of Igbo politicians as incompetent, corrupt, disloyal and unreliable and landed Igbos in political wilderness. By 2007, Igbos have fully entered political wilderness full of political serpents and scorpions without a clear leader and with all their leaders effectively neutralized and frustrated. As the Igbos were excluded and disgraced politically, so were they excluded infrastructurally. No roads, no water, no electricity and no nothing. Obasanjo concluded his term in 2007 and did not think any Igbo was qualified to be either a President or a vice president despite the fact that Igbos are one of the three majority tribes in Nigeria. He picked Shehu Yar Adua from the north and Goodluck Jonathan from the South South to succeed him.
This trend of not giving the Igbos their rightful place in Nigeria continued in Yar Adua’s regime. We managed to get the Deputy President of the Senate, a step lower than we had in Obasanjo’s regime and had not climbed above this position till this day with no improvement in our infrastructure and standard of living throughout the sixteen years of PDP misrule. The most pathetic case was that of a young Igbo member of the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu, who was made the Chairman House Committee to investigate and probe the extensive wastage of money in the power sector during Obasanjo’s regime. The committee submitted a damming report on Obasanjo and indicted him of misappropriating billions of dollars as huge sums were spent on power without any improvement on power. Rather than prosecute the indicted President Obasanjo, the government of Yar Adua turned and mysteriously prosecuted Ndudi Elumelu for corruption in the power sector. Of course the court threw away the case but that left some scar in the psyche of Ndigbo that in the political wilderness they have found themselves without a leader, if they are not careful, they would be swallowed by the serpents and scorpions even when they discharge their duties meritoriously.
This trend of Igbo humiliation continued during Jonathan’s regime. Vincent Ogbulafor was the PDP National Chairman when Goodluck Jonathan came into power. For daring to declare that power should go back to North in 2011, after the death of Umaru Yar Adua, in deference to the zoning arrangement between North and South, the government of Goodluck Jonathan ordered that he be arraigned in court for corruption as a way to ease him out of the chairmanship of the party. Of course, they succeeded in disgracing him out of office. Nothing else was heard about the case. This fate also befell Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, who succeeded Ogbulafor. He thought that throwing all his support for Jonathan in utter disregard for the zoning arrangement without proper negotiations will save him. He discovered too late that as he was discarding the idea of zoning, he was offending substantial members of the party and making himself more enemies. When they moved against him, he discovered to his chagrin that President Jonathan could not help him retain his seat. He was disgraced out.
President Buhari’s regime is the only regime that has not witnessed the dehumanization and debasement of any Igbo belonging to the same party with him since inception of his regime in 2015. The only allegation against his regime is that he has not appointed sufficient Igbos in his cabinet. The statistics showing the appointments per geopolitical zone in this administration does not support this allegation. But one must note that because the Igbos gave PDP almost 100% support politically in the 16 years of PDP misrule, the administration of President Buhari had to be shopping for the few qualified Igbos in APC for appointment. As more Igbo professionals are moving into APC, this situation will continue to improve. President Buhari has since promulgated a marshall plan towards the reconstruction of Igboland with the construction of the second Niger Bridge and the reconstruction of our roads and rebuilding our infrastructures. The efforts of President Buhari to make an Igbo man vice president in 2003 and 2007 in the persons of Dr Chuba Okadigbo and Chief Edwin Umezuoke failed because Igbo people did not patronize the joint ticket. This was at the time PDP was treating the Igbos with so much disdain. He became frustrated with this lack of support despite his love for Ndigbo. He went West and became President on second trial with Prof Yemi Osibanjo. He consulted the APC leaders from Western Nigeria before choosing Prof Yemi Osibanjo as Vice President. Indeed, the APC political leadership in the South West recommended Prof Yemi Osibanjo for President Buhari.
It is disheartening to hear that the choice of Peter Obi by Atiku Abubakar has started tearing the Igbos apart. Let me note that it is quite disrespectful to the political leadership of Ndigbo to choose one of them as a vice presidential candidate without consulting them. The culture of Ndigbo frowns gravely at such procedural neglect. It is a naked imposition of a vice presidential candidate on Ndigbo. This is PDP perpetuating the dehumanization and denigration of Ndigbo. An attempt at divide and rule for which PDP has desecrated Ndigbo since 1999. However, having said this, it was wrong for the PDP political leadership of Ndigbo to come out to wash their dirty linen publicly. They would have articulated this grievance privately and made it known to the ill-fated presidential candidate of PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, so as not to ridicule the integrity and dignity of Ndigbo publicly. I always wonder whether there is something inherently and spiritually anti Igbo in PDP on the national level. I lost confidence in this attitude of dog eat dog in this crop of leaders sometimes ago and this led me to become a member of the All Progressives Congress.
I made a comment recently that Igbos will wander in political wilderness for 8 more years if they do not vote for President Buhari in 2019 and was unnecessarily blackmailed by the opposition and backbiters who maliciously misrepresented and misinterpreted the statement out of context to achieve their malicious end. The crux of the matter is that President Buhari will have only four more years constitutionally to be in office if voted into office in 2019 whether he is good or not. So in the unlikely event that the Igbos do not get what they want from him, they will only have four more years to endure before it is their turn to be President in 2023 if they strategise well. But if the Igbos vote another person into office in 2019, the person will have eight years constitutionally to be in office, meaning that in the likely event that the person continues the marginalisation of Igbos in Nigeria, the Igbos will now have eight more years to wander in political wilderness without any viable option to contest against an incumbent in 2023.
Igbos should not be deceived by Atiku Abubakar if he said he will do only one term. We learnt that Obasanjo also promised to do only one term of four years but eventually wanted to morph into a life President after being in office for eight years through the third term agenda. We learnt also that President Goodluck Jonathan promised to do one term but eventually wanted to continue in office after being in office for almost six years. A politician’s claim to honesty is akin to a prostitute’s claim to virginity, especially, unfortunately, if the politician is Atiku Abubakar, whose principal, employer, godfather, Olusegun Obasanjo, has condemned in his book, “my watch” for his “inability to say and stick to the truth all the time”.
How did the Igbos find themselves in this political wilderness? It will be dishonest to state that the political wilderness in which the Igbos found themselves are entirely the work of the other competing tribes. Obasanjo was able to humiliate our successive Igbo Senate Presidents because he found some accomplices among the Igbo senators who were eagerly lobbying and waiting to take over from their brother incumbents. Evan’s’ Ewerem was impeached because there was a Chuba Okadigbo who believed that Evan’s’ Ewerem usurped his Senate President’s office with the assistance of President Obasanjo during the election of the Senate President. He continued plotting against Evan’s’ Ewerem until he was impeached and he took over his post as Senate President. Chuba was in turn impeached because there was a Pius Anyim who was waiting to take over. An Adolphous Nwagbara was disgraced as Senate President because there was a Ken Nnamani, a first time senator, for which the rules of the Senate had to be changed in order to make him Senate President, who was on the wings to take over from him. Ogbulafor was ousted from being the National Chairman of PDP because there was an Okwy Nwodo to take over from him.
Contrast this with President Obasanjo’ s attempt to remove Ghali Nabba, Speaker of the House of Representatives from Katsina State for many alleged offences and disloyalty against Obasanjo, including an attempt to impeach him. Obasanjo failed woefully to remove Nabba because of the unflinching backing of his people despite his shortcomings. This show of support from his people was to be the protection Aminu Masari, the next Speaker of the House of Representatives from Katsina State enjoyed as there was never any attempt to remove him from the Presidency despite his own shortcomings. Saraki is able to retain his Senate President’s position, in spite of being tried for criminal offence in the code of conduct tribunal, because of the support of the members of the Senate. The unity of today’s people is the strength the tomorrow’s people need for their advancement and prosperity.
Another factor that is landing us in wilderness is the unfortunate brainwashing and tutoring of our young ones to hate other tribes. The young ones should realise that their so called teachers are giving them this teaching in order to use them as cannon folders to get better bargains from the same persons they are preaching against for their selfish interests. Is it not hypocritical for some Igbo politicians to be condemning APC for having President Buhari, an incorruptible Hausa/Fulani as President and teaching the young ones to regard the Fulanis as dominators, whereas when I challenged them to provide a better alternative for us, the PDP gave us as their presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, another 72-year old Hausa/Fulani, grand father, whose principal and employer, Olusegun Obasanjo, said has a propensity to corruption and has the readiness to sacrifice morality, integrity, propriety, truth and national interest for self and selfish interests. Obasanjo even invoked God’s wrath upon himself if he will ever recommend such a person to Nigerians.
Igbos must learn to love all tribes and build strategic alliances with all tribes like they did in the first and second republics if they are serious in occupying the no one position in 2023. Igbos are everywhere in Nigeria, if not the world and cannot afford to hate. They have the most to gain in a united, well structured Nigeria because of their itinerant and commercial nature just as they have the most to lose in a disunited and dysfunctional Nigeria because they have assets and dwellings in every part of Nigeria.
Our present crop of Igbo political leaders should be overhauled, if not changed altogether. Most of them are products of political godfathers, who foisted them on the people with the resultant effect that they are loyal to their godfathers rather than the people. They continually rob the people to pay the godfathers. I can tell you that there has not been any genuine primary election by any major political party in Igboland since 1999. The primaries have always been marred by violence, thuggery, vote rigging, vote buying, outright imposition and failure of the aspirants to reach consensus among each other. I was appalled to witness in the last APC elective national party convention that it was only the post of the National Organising Secretary, zoned to the South East that ended in a fiasco and in the appeal because of overt disagreements among Igbos. Also after the PDP presidential primary election, it was the post of the vice president zoned to the South East that is causing trouble. It has not happened in Nigeria since 1999. For the avoidance of doubt, in Imo state, which is the only state in Igboland that the incumbent governor will not be returning, the three major political parties, APC, PDP and APGA, conducted a rancorous primary election that has left all the parties in the state in tatters. If this is not political wilderness, then I agree completely with the people who challenged my mental stability when I made the comment of Igbos wandering in political wilderness or my teachers did not teach me well.
People like us who nourished political ambitions to govern, after watching the situation of things, the exorbitant cost of purchasing forms, the fractured nature of our party apparatus in the state, the overbearing influence of the godfathers, the violence, vote rigging and buying, and being unable to raise the necessary billions needed to fight these agents alone, decided we cannot join them and suspended our campaigns until such a time when we will be able to contend with these people and take them out, God helping us, for when Jesus says yes, no man can say no. We are willing to wait on our God until our positive change comes. We will support only the candidates that do not represent any of these vices in the 2019 general election for a better Nigeria.
Some have even suggested that some of the leading Igbo politicians are members of some occultic secret societies that have their headquarters located in other geopolitical zones and unknowing to the Igbo adherents of such secret cults, there is a grand design by other members of those secret cults to manipulate the Igbo members and use them as tools to turn Igboland to become hewers of wood and fetchers of water in the Nigerian federation, God forbid. The only solution to this is that the Igbos must return to the worship of Chukwuokike (Almighty God of creation), the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their God for the divine redemption and restoration of Ndigbo to take their rightful place in the scheme of things in Nigeria.
Dr Kenneth Okonkwo is a Legal Practitioner/Nollywood Actor and writes from Abuja.