Full-Scale war has broken out in the South East as Nigeria prepares for General Elections 2019. It is not a physical battle, mind you, at least not yet. On the surface, the war is about political choice. Deeper analyses, however, reveals a more nuanced struggle around issues of direction and the soul of a people.
Election 2019 would serve as a proxy for the many issues in contention. The issues are political, economic and socio-cultural. They have developed as stirrings and taken shape as disaffection with growing unresponsiveness of government. Deepening poverty and a landscape denuded of hope and jobs has caused questioning and manifests in several directions. While some of the issues are as old as Nigeria’s First Republic and Biafra, they are all coming to the fore and would echo loudly in the coming election.
The most prominent and renown of the political battlefields is the matter of the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB). In the last four years, IPOB has grown in stature and appeal with the Igbo, with a concentration on the youth demographic. It appeals to the primal urges, fears,and aspirations of the youth. IPOB has led advocacy for the restructuring of the federation and independence of the region. The annals of Nigeria would record the impact of IPOB in setting the agenda of political discourse in the Buhari years.
As part of its separation agenda, IPOB pushed for non-involvement in Nigerian civic affairs. It asked members to boycott Elections 2019. Many of its enlightened followers argued otherwise and instigated a serious internal debate. IPOB suddenly has now shifted grounds in favour of electoral participation and directed its anger against two of the governors of the South East. It has asked its members to ensure that Okezie Victor Ikpeazu of Abia state and Dave Umahi of Ebonyi state do not return for a second-term as governors.
IPOB would seem not to reckon with the possibility that a large portion of its members may not have the visa for participation in Elections 2019 in obedience to its earlier boycott call. INEC’s electoral register records the South East with the least voters. Is there an IPOB effect? It is too late for those disenfranchised to register. The governors threatened have in return accepted the IPOB challenge, asking it to meet with them at the polls.
Then there is the matter of youth versus the elders in the Igbo politicosphere. The youth accused the elders of working against the Igbo interest, of sabotage and of selling out to the enemies of the Igbo nation. They point to Egwueke (python dance) 1 and 2 and claim the governors and elders of Igboland instigated it for a willing administration to seize for its purposes.
The political and the cultural are now enmeshed. Should the youth of the land continue to respect and obey elders who they feel are unresponsive and unrepresentative? Should they ditch the culture and its regard for seniority given the realities as they see it? In recent times, IPOB has taken swipes at grey hairs in Igboland in language that defied the culture. Note that elders here are a broad sweep. It includes the governors and elected officials across the South East, the “apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohaneze Ndigbo” as well as the traditional institution. For how long will this state of mutual disregard continue and how can the people progress in a state of mutual antagonism and deep distrust?
Another charge against the governors is fighting against the Igbo consensus of support for the Atiku/Obi ticket. Fingers point to Anambra state governor Willie Obiano and his Ebonyi state counterpart, Dave Umahi, as leading a subterranean and now open push for President Muhammadu Buhari in Igboland mainly for their personal purposes. Umahi because of his agenda to be the president of Igbo extraction based on a promissory note and Obiano to retaliate against his mentor, godfather and benefactor. These instances also speak to culture.
Then there is the special case of Ebonyi state. Ebonyi state was the only one where citizens turned their back on IPOB calls to stay home. They had the backing of their governor, David Umahi. And history. Ebonyi state is the place that looks the other way in matters concerning the South East. They cite a long history of scorn and disregard by other parts of the region. The outburst by the Ebonyi state government over the renaming of an Abakaliki street in Awka spoke to the depth of feelings in Ebonyiland. It was passionate, angry and brimming with indignation.
As with Ebonyi, so too the Igbos across the border in the South-South. Many feel abandoned and relegated. Their Igboness often comes with a qualifier that is needless and exclusionary. It rankles with them.
Ebonyi would also provide a test case for the influence of godfathers versus the young Turks determined to write new chapters, nay even books, in political representation not only in Igboland but across Nigeria. We will share in this column an exposition on the significance of the quest for a seat in the House of Representatives by Ebonyi House of Assembly member, the eponymous Nwanyi Afikpo, Maria Ude Nwachi. She is swimming against the tide in her quest. It would be an interesting battle. Will thunder strike twice in the case of Maria Ude Nwachi who got into the state Assembly on what is a modified independent candidature? She bucked the big parties and rode on her own steam.
These matters come against the backdrop of a clamour for regeneration in all spheres in the region. From the Arts through STEM and economics, there is recognition anew of the possibilities of the land and, more importantly, a call for action. Patrick Okigbo, Ndidi Nwuneli and Co play strongly in culture with the Centre for Memories in Enugu and Nkata UmuIbe that serves as a true village square in the best traditions of Ndigbo.
The call for Akulueuno (return your wealth to the homeland) is resonant. Many of the well-heeled entrepreneurs of the region identify with it. However, Akulueno should go beyond soundbites to policies and plans that would make it happen. Akulueuno is necessary to tackle the loss of jobs and the growing army of unemployed young people in the region. They need positive engagement so as not to serve as fodder and foot soldiers for negative causes.
These are interesting times in the South East. For the political, note that a week is a very long time. The permutations are unfolding daily.