New Telegraph Thursday back page of March 31, 2022
By Ike Abonyi
“Ethics and equity and principles of justice do not change with the calendar.” –D.H. Lawrence
Since the return to civil rule, several reasons have been imagined for Nigeria not allowing the Igbo to occupy the Aso Rock Villa. Much of this figment of the imagination was always instigated by widespread but unfounded prejudices, irrational fears and brazen aversion against Ndigbo. The egalitarian nature of the people, coupled with their industry and mercantile drive has not helped matters and often generates unwarranted envy. President Muhammadu Buhari alluded to the Igbo knack for commerce last year when he addressed the separatist agitations of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. “Where can they go with their businesses all over the place and as a dot in a circle.”
An age-long saying among the Igbo still rings true that whoever holds another down is on the ground too. This roundly applies to the case of Nigeria against Ndigbo, for keeping the latter down politically has led to mutually assured underdevelopment. The recurring political instability of Nigeria since independence has been linked to the nation’s inability to devise a judicious means of dealing with Ndigbo. Indications abound that from inception, the Nigerian system didn’t feel Ndigbo should have a place in the polity.
Tribalism is a dangerous disease that infected the nation’s political system in the immediate pre-independence era. It first reared its ugly head in the first republic owing to deliberate attempts to stop Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, the late Owelle of Onitsha, from occupying his deserved position in the old Western Region Parliament. Zik, who upon return from the United States had been a pan-Nigeria nationalist, was pushed out and reminded of his ethnic beginnings. That western pushback sowed the initial tribal seeds in our polity that has grown from a shrub to a giant baobab.
It was also the misconception and how to accommodate Ndigbo in the old Northern Region that resulted in the pogrom that caused the 30-month civil war. Also, when democracy returned to Nigeria in 1979 (the so-called Second Republic) nine years after the civil war, Dr Alex Ekwueme from Oko in Anambra State was chosen as the Vice-President and that regime ran smoothly until the Igbo Vice-President was being touted to succeed Shehu Shagari from Sokoto.
All of a sudden, there was a coup d’état that perished the thought and terminated Shagari. Insiders then acknowledged that top on the list of unvoiced reasons for sacking the second republic by the military led by Muhammadu Buhari was to stop the possible Ekwueme presidency which would have produced the first elected Igbo Commander-in-Chief from succeeding Shagari who had just won a second four-year term and was favourably disposed to his deputy.
By the time the military succumbed to pressure from pro-democracy groups and decided to relinquish the reins of political governance to politicians in 1999, Dr Ekwueme had been at the forefront of organising the politicians but his dream did not materialise as the junta short-circuited this and approached one of their own, just released from incarceration. General Olusegun Obasanjo was planted in the then leading party to torpedo Dr Ekwueme in 1999.
Dr Ekwueme, who was cruising to pick the flag bearer ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, was stopped abruptly and persuaded by the military authorities to go to the Senate. He flatly refused the Senate Presidency. The aftermath is now history. So is how Obasanjo finished his second term and bypassed the Igbo, a major ethnic nationality, and chose Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw, for the VP position. Dr Jonathan was later to become President by providence following the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua. As a result, since this dispensation from 1999 till date, 23 years hence, an Igbo has never been in the Presidency.
Notwithstanding all that, Ndigbo blindly backed the Ijaw man to his last days on the job. Zoning in Nigeria was a device to allay the unabating fears of marginalisation of the disadvantaged and to engender a sense of belonging. Despite this safeguard, Ndigbo were not worked into the presidency equation, hence their absence in the Presidency for more than two decades into this republic.
The North was President for 11 years shared between two Katsina State sons Yar’Adua and Buhari, Vice-President for 14 years shared between Atiku Abubakar and Namadi Sambo. In the three regions of Southern Nigeria, the South-West was President for eight years with Obasanjo, Vice-President for eight years by 2023 with the incumbent Prof Yemi Osinbajo. In the South-South, Dr Jonathan was President for six years, he was also Vice-President for three years.
So in this dispensation, the South-East is the major geopolitical group conspicuously missing from the Presidency. It’s also for this reason that they have continued to retain the least number of states of all the regions in the country. This is a curious country where things are shared by landmass alone just to ensure that the Igbo, a major but landmass-challenged cirgroup, are not accommodated.
We have to recall this often forgotten history to buttress the earlier assertion that how to deal with Ndigbo is at the core of the nation’s instability. What it means, therefore, is that if Nigeria is ready and willing to end the recurring instability it knows what to do. You do not dig a hole to fill a hole. If Nigeria is sincere about addressing its challenges, it should stop digging the hole and apply justice, equity, and fairness to arrest our declining state.
The trouble with Nigeria is wanting to eat her cake and have it back. Nigeria, according to the motto that it wants unity, peace, and progress, but refuses to buy into the ingredients that make for peace. The man who sows wind and is surprised at the arrival of the whirlwind is just leaving in denial. Ahead of 2023, the search for a presidential candidate is at the top gear in the two main political parties; everybody knows where and how to go to achieve tranquillity in the system, but they are all dodging the issue, pretending not to know that without doing the right thing, the desired progress and peace will continue to elude this nation. It’s an incontrovertible fact too that if the two leading political parties, APC and PDP decide to pick their flag bearers from the South-East, all the pre-2023 tension and anxiety in the country will cease.
The reason the polity will witness calm and tranquillity, as a result, is that justice and equity will be seen as taking roots in the land. The most disadvantaged are given a sense of belonging. The truth remains that any nation that fails to make justice and fair play their grundnorm is bound to witness the consequences of their choices. At the core of all the problems, bedevilling Nigeria is the incongruous and defective political structure that got worse by the persistent poor political leadership. In some extreme circumstances in the past, Nigeria had wriggled out of some political mess by putting justice and fairness at the forefront.
Nigeria bent backwards to see Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae emerge as the flag bearers of leading two main political parties as a response to the injury arising from the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola. Even President Buhari who didn’t initially recognize the Yoruba agitation for justice over June 12 had to bend backwards to honour Abiola, naming the national stadium in Abuja after Abiola and recognizing his presidency in addition.
That was a deliberate and welcome move to address injury and heal old wounds. What influenced the Obasanjo presidency to go for an Ijaw for Vice-President in 2007 was mainly to appease the restive Niger Deltans who have suffered injuries despite housing the nation’s petrodollar. It was in continuation of that appeasement that Yar’Adua, upon takeover, prioritised the amnesty program for deliberate rehabilitation of the region. Also, when President Yar’Adua was incapacitated leading to his eventual death, the situation created a political logjam that made the National Assembly create and adopt the historic doctrine of necessity
This enabled Jonathan to assume the Presidency. So what we are saying here is that there is a way to address unforeseen logjams if only political will and sincerity of purpose exist. If Nigeria has come to agree that the South-East of Nigeria has suffered unjustly, there are examples to chart the course of remedy ahead of 2023. If we can’t borrow the experience of 1999 with Obasanjo and Falae, we can go for that of 2007 when Jonathan was picked or borrow the doctrine of the necessity of 2010.
This country is in a precarious situation today and requires an extraordinary approach to get her out of the woods. An Igbo President at this time will just be the magic wand for Nigeria. It’s not a boast but an Igbo President will take Nigeria to the next level, not because it will calm political nerves but more because the peace and harmony required to achieve and attract investment will be handy.
What the Igbo presidency will do to Nigeria will be enormous. It will unite the country, it will end agitations, it will create an enabling environment for investment and growth and development. Finally, it will end the civil war that has refused to end in some people’s minds 52 years after.