New Telegraph Back Page of Thursday,
October 7, 2021
By Ike Abonyi
“Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to every man his due.” ––Ulpian
There is a truth staring us in the face that everybody is dodging in this country as we march towards 2023? It’s the fact that the South East region deserve to have the Presidency by 2023 and this fact is supported by empirical and verifiable evidence. Even as bloodletting occasioned by injustice goes on in the South-East, let us be reminded of the American writer, Lois Mc- Master Bujold, who said “The dead cannot cry out for justice.
It is a duty of the living to do so for them.” Justice is on everybody’s lips. Its absence is the main cause of Nigeria’s socio-political ills. Everyone, including the oppressors, is crying for justice. But nobody is putting it into practice.
In the Nigerian context, justice means different things to different people, not fairness or just behaviour and respect for people as largely defined. Justice as a civilised concept demands that people behave in a way that is fair and equitable to all concerned. In another stance, justice is doing to people the good you are expecting of them. Justice is interwoven with righteousness and equity.
The real reason justice is eluding us in this country is that we are flagrantly abusing it. Hardly is anyone who is talking about justice in Nigeria not speaking from the two sides of the mouth, an indication that they are not sincere. Virtually every Nigerian leader who spoke during the 61st Independence anniversary celebration hit the nail on the head, recognizing that lack of justice and equity is at the core of Nigeria’s malaise. But none were bold enough to call the devil by its proper name, the demon, to shame it. If we all know this, why are we not solving our problems by confronting them sincerely and pragmatically?
The rigmarole and the jigsaw politics over 2023 are coming up because the South-East and the Igbo put together are deserving of the presidential ticket of the two main political parties, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. But the spirit to do it by those at the helm of affairs is not there. All the voices that could make this happen are either dumb or lacking in courage to stand for the truth. Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, was quoted as saying that the current crisis in the country could be averted if justice and a sense of belonging to all were given a premium place in the polity.
But he could not go further to state that for the sake of peace the South-East should be allowed to produce the next president of Nigeria. Heaven will not fall if he says it and such a sincere and courageous voice could go a long way in influencing the final decision-makers. Gen Abubakar is indeed the right man to push for it, having midwifed such in the past and it worked.
In the late 1990s, this country was in a serious political crisis over the annulment of Moshood Abiola’s election. General Sani Abacha had just died mysteriously and the country was at the crossroads. Providence brought in Gen Abubakar who was then at the point of exit from the army. As he came in, he quickly identified injustice as the root of the entire crisis.
Putting heads together his kinsman, Gen Ibrahim Babangida and Gen Aliyu Gusau among others they quickly truncated Dr Alex Ekwueme’s Presidential ambition for peace to reign. The former Vice President was racing to pick the PDP ticket, having proven roundly as the man who deserved it.
This was how a last-minute decision was taken to turn the table against Ekwueme for Gen Olusegun Obasanjo who had contributed nothing to the party formation as he was in incarceration. To ensure that Obasanjo got it, every ground was cleared. The Gen Abubakar junta went further to ensure that the alternate party to PDP, the All People’s Party, APP, picked a technocrat and Obasanjo’s kinsman, Chief Olu Falae, who was the choice of the Yoruba, got the APP ticket. The junta made sure that however the presidential election went, it must throw up a candidate of the South-West.
When this happened the South-West was the most vociferous in attacking the military government but all this was disregarded to midwife peace in the nation. The focus was to achieve peace and stability in the troubled land. The military authorities then were in a position to hand over to another Northerner, great politicians like Abubakar Rimi and Solomon Lar were still on the scene then, but they didn’t find it reasonable to scuttle peace and progress in the land. When Obasanjo emerged in 1999, the Yoruba majority did not vote for him, but the rest of the country did and there was stability and eight years of Obasanjo helped to steady the ship of state and grow our democracy.
Key people who took that yeoman decision for the sake of peace in the land are still alive, namely Obasanjo, the huge beneficiary, Abubakar, Babangida, and Gusau. If these men drawing from experience assemble their voices for justice and say that the next President should come from the South-East, heaven will not fall, neither will their profile diminish. Rather, their political stature will gain weight. When justice is established, it’s not the beneficiary that is being done a favour. It is society. Presidency going to the South-East is not doing the Igbo a favour but the country that will hugely benefit from the resultant action of peace and congenial atmosphere. Those who are anchoring their anti-South- East position on the existence of the separatist campaigns of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, are forgetting that the one denied justice is not likely to be the most interested in peace. When the South-West was denied justice by the 1993 annulment, they were not interested in peace or the so-called one Nigeria, NADECO (National Democratic Coalition) was placing bombs here and there. NADECO was created by injustice and when justice arrived, it died naturally.
IPOB is also a creation of injustice and will soon go down if injustice against Ndigbo dies. What does that tell us, that where there is an inferno raging you don’t quench it by pouring more fuel? Rather, you are to bring water. Dodging cannot take this country anywhere. Former Central Bank Governor and dethroned Emir Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, trended in the news last week as saying that zoning would pave way for worthless presidential candidates from the two main parties. This is not true; we are not getting incompetent leaders because of zoning. It is religious and ethnic biases plus abuse of numbers on the altar of merit which will not stop if zoning goes. Sanusi knows that he was being economical with the truth; he may not have said that if the pendulum of power was not the way it is now politically.
Leaders of the North from where the former CBN governor hails are not talking of merit but flaunting their number which undoubtedly is key in a democracy. Sanusi knows that the South-East possesses competent presidential hands from the two main parties that can easily steady the sinking ship of state. In this dispensation from 1999 to date, every region has tested power at the presidential level except the South-East housing one of the three major ethnic groups in the country. By 2023, the South-West would have been president for eight years, Vice President for eight years, North would have been President for 11 years and Vice President for 14 years.
From the ethnic angle, the two major tribes of Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba have been in the presidency for as much as this dispensation minus the six years aberration tenure of Goodluck Jonathan. Only the Igbo are waiting in the wings and instead of leaders to realistically address the issue, they keep dodging and feigning ignorance of this obvious injustice. Igbos have become a bride nobody wants to kiss.
Even the southern brothers have all been hypocritical on this matter, shouting justice but doing the opposite. Bola Tinubu is leading the Yoruba squad for him or nothing in 2023. Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State is leading his revolt in PDP for himself or nothing, former President Jonathan who enjoyed the massive support of the South-East during his day’s in power is not willing to back the Igbo but himself. The double standards over the interpretation of justice in our land are légion.
Even the Southern Governors’ Forum that has been grandstanding about the next presidency coming from the South has not said that the South-East deserves it. At the risk of sounding pig-headed, until we exchange justice for peace by designing Presidency for the South-East and Ndigbo as was done for others, so long will peace elude this land. So long as Ndigbo make useful contributions to the growth of this country, so long will they continue to ask for a sense of belonging. The child’s eye will keep gazing at his toy kept beyond his reach until it’s brought down. If we don’t go for political solution on IPOB but insists on use of force, we may be in for a long marathon on insecurity.
And for those who are thoroughly displeased as I am on the senseless bloodlettings in the South East amid the people’s cry for justice, America’s playwright Howard Zinn has admonition for us that “the cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what Justice is” You cannot harvest the gains of Justice if we did not plant and manure Justice. God help us.