• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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How we cheated ourselves out of ‘Igbo president’

How we cheated ourselves out of ‘Igbo president’

Chris Ngige, for one, has been counselling against the danger of the Igbo political class having all its eggs in one basket. Many who hitherto did not see the wisdom in the advice are now coming to terms with it, with President Goodluck Jonathan all but certain to lose the February 14, 2015 presidential vote woefully to Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). When the poll result is officially called, there will naturally be massive rejoicing across the land, especially in the northern part of the country where a number of people have been canvassing for a “power shift”. But the greatest winners, in the context of Nigeria’s sectional politics, are the Yoruba people, one of whose number, Yemi Osinbajo, will become the vice president. Osinbajo, brilliant, loyal, dedicated, efficient and ethical, is the kind of person about whom the boss could easily say, “This is my beloved subordinate in whom I am well pleased.” In other words, here is a person who stands a good chance of becoming Nigeria’s president someday.

Alas, it is the Igbo people, not the Yoruba, who could have produced Buhari’s vice president if only we had played our card well. There was no way the Igbo would have lost this great opportunity if it were in the days when they were led by strategic thinkers, far-sighted men like the Great Zik of Africa, Michael Okpara, Mbonu Ojike, Akanu Ibiam, Ukpabi Asika, Pius Okigbo, Alex Ekwueme in his heyday, etc. We would not have made a mess of a boiled egg. If the Igbo had identified significantly with the APC early enough, it is likely one of their number would have been Buhari’s running mate. After all, Buhari chose erstwhile Senate President Chuba Okadigbo as his deputy in 2003 and ex-House of Representatives Speaker Edwin Ume-Ezeoke in 2007.

The APC is an amalgamation of all major opposition political parties, namely, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) plus disaffected factions of the ruling PDP. At the time the APC was formed, the Igbo-oriented APGA had two governors, Peter Obi of Anambra State and Rochas Okorocha of Imo State. While Okorocha is still in the APC, Obi and the party’s national chairman, Victor Umeh, not only walked out of the fledging party but began the most dedicated hate propaganda against it. They used public media in Anambra State as well as their agents in the external media, town unions and even religious groups to declare the APC an Islamic party, the political arm of Boko Haram, etc. Their collaborators in the propaganda department of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were over the moon in spreading the demonization campaign, adding the comical dimension of the APC being Nigeria’s version of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

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There was a powerful emotional reason why an Igbo, rather than a Yoruba, should have been chosen as Buhari’s running mate if the Igbo had embraced the APC in good time. A Yoruba in the person of Olusegun Obasanjo was Nigeria’s president for a whole eight years, 1999 to 2007; to say nothing about Obasanjo’s tenure as military head of state from 1976 to 1999. On the contrary, no Igbo has been president since the fratricidal war of 1967-70 which pitted the defunct Eastern Nigerian Region against the rest of the federation. But the Igbo failure to capitalize on the emerging opportunity provided by the APC emergence left the Yoruba as the only major ethnic group from which the party’s presidential running mate could come.

So, not only will the incoming vice president be Yoruba, he is most likely to be powerful. Osinbajo’s personal credentials notwithstanding, Buhari has a reputation of empowering his subordinates. Tam David-West, Buhari’s minister of petroleum resources and chairman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in 1984/5, has been speaking of how his boss never for a second tried to interfere in his work or attempted to influence employment or contracts or projects or programmes. The case of Tunde Idiagbon, Buhari’s chief of staff at the supreme headquarters, is too well known to be repeated here. How did the Igbo miss the golden opportunity of getting one of theirs as Buhari’s deputy? Even with only two out of the country’s 19 states in 1978 and only eight years after they lost a costly civil war, the strategic position of the Igbo in Nigerian politics was so recognized that each of the five recognized political parties had an Igbo as a vice presidential candidate except the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) which had Nnamdi Azikiwe as its own presidential flag bearer. Even Obafemi Awolowo chose a fellow southerner and Christian, Phillip Umeadi, as his running mate, to ensure that the Igbo were not left out in the national scheme of things.

The only explanation for the current political wilderness of Ndigbo is a profound lack of strategic thinking on the part of our politicians and their advisers. We now have political leaders and even professionals and intellectuals governed by base sentiments and a lack of self-worth. The nation is treated to the circus of leaders who only last year were screaming from the rooftops, “No Igbo president in 2015, No Nigeria”, now asserting, without any sense of embarrassment, that Jonathan, an Ijaw from Bayelsa State, is a bona fide Igbo person. Are these elements not suggesting that we now have the fabled “Igbo president” in Jonathan, a point which could be used against the agitation for “Igbo president” any time the campaign may rear its head in the near future? Frankly, it would seem that the Yoruba could produce two democratically elected presidents who could serve two terms each before the dream of “Igbo president” is realized. The PDP, in which many Igbo activists have invested their hopes of an “Igbo president”, will, at best, become an awfully minority party or, at worst, cease to exist after the February election when it will be well beaten. What has sustained the party membership since 1999 is the easy access to the federal purse.

While the North and the Yoruba have displayed acute political foresight and incredible proactiveness, the Igbo are in limbo. Anytime two of the country’s three largest ethnic groups come together, they carry the day. The Igbo-dominated National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) cooperated with the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in the First Republic to form the government. In the Second Republic, the pro-North National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the pro-Igbo Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) formed an alliance which controlled the government. Tragically, instead of putting on their thinking cap to find out how Igbo interests could be accommodated adequately in the emerging political reality determined by the APC, Igbo politicians are naively telling their people how “Jonathan has agreed to hand over power to an Igbo man in 2019”.

The Igbo will ever sorely miss the likes of the Great Zik of Africa. Zik would not have allowed the Igbo to miss the opportunity of producing Nigeria’s next vice president who, all things being equal, will go ahead to become the president someday. A paradigm shift among the Igbo political class is a desideratum. The current Igbo politicians are just a letdown.