The Mirage of Igbo Presidency


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The Mirage of Igbo Presidency



Dillibe Onyeama




culled from GUARDIAN, July 19, 2005


I am privileged to own a 664-page book titled WORLD HISTORY, compiled by British scholar Rodney Castleden. This reference work dates from 38,000 B.C. to present times and, as a chronological Dictionary of Dates, provides a continuous and detailed history of the human race, covering all the main moments in world history.

It is gratifying to note that the activities of some of Nigeria's ethnic groups are well-documented as far back as the year 835, when Dougan, the first king of the Saifawa dynasty of Kanem-Bornu, died at Njimi, his capital city. A significant situation that bore a direct relationship with a feature of present-day political life in Nigeria is recorded in the year 1139, when "The Igbo people of the lower Niger (West Africa) are making fine bronze castings, the first of several West African cultures to do so. The Igbo are politically disunited, but they have spiritual unity under their religious leader , the Eze Nri."

During the 2003 general elections in Nigeria, 864 years later, it was brazenly apparent that the Igbo people were no less politically disunited, in spite of their spiritual unity under the Ohanaeze; and today, two years later and two more to go to the 2007 general elections, their political disunity continues to be glaring, notwithstanding the stability of the Ohanaeze as their spiritual leadership.

In the light of the foregoing, it is easy to draw an inference that the Igbo people were not ordained to be politically united - in sharp contrast to the other main ethnic groups of the Nigerian state, for whom political glory has invariably been rooted in a bedrock of solidarity from kith and kin. This would appear to be a vindication of the popular immortal claim of the individualistic nature of the Igbo man.

From all this it can be positively maintained that any Igbo presidential aspirant who clinches the coveted crown will not achieve it through any mass effort of solidarity of his Igbo kinsmen. A classic case in point was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became the first indigenous Governor-General during colonial rule purely through the vagaries of the hour, being as he was the most visible and vocal in the strident nationwide clamour for independence. His subsequent ascension to his desired post of President, although ceremonial but powerful, came about through the collective love of the Nigerian people. The support of the Igbo people alone would not have carried him through.

The ongoing deafening hue and cry by the Igbos to be given the Presidential slot, set against blustery claims of marginalization, underscores the triumph of emotion over good sense. Regrettably the Igbo people of Nigeria remain a security risk in the wake of their 'Biafra' misadventure. Notwithstanding General Gowon's placatory "no victor, no vanquished", any ethnic group which, rightly or wrongly, summons the courage to secede from a sovereign state, holds her to a two-and-a-half year civil war that draws in the super-powers, earning recognition from four other nations, causing the deaths of over two million people, and is finally defeated, must, of necessity, remain a security threat at the end of the day. Anything to the contrary would represent the height of irresponsibility on the part of the governing authorities.

Viewed in that light, the perceived marginalization of the Igbo people, while unfortunate, must be seen as understandable. The activities of the quasi-militant group 'MASSOB' and the open support voiced for its aims by the 'bearded genius' under whose leadership the Igbos rallied in their breakaway bid, have demonstrated - as nothing else can - that the Igbos might not have been pursuing the ideal approach in conciliating their adversaries from the national collective fear, mistrust, opprobrium and phobia nursed against anything Igbo. Indeed, there has been an inflammatory effect that might only have served to concrete a tacit oath that the Presidency of Nigeria must not be trusted to the hands of a notorious 'Biafran rebel'.

The Igbo people need to borrow a leaf from the US experience. After their war of independence was formally ended in January 1784, a total of 179 years elapsed before Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner and previously Vice-President, took the Presidency in 1963 - and, at that, not by popular vote, but through the vacuum created by the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy. In all those years, there had been no overt agitation by the former rebel 'South' to produce the President. It had come about by subtle lobbying, and when it became clear that the South no longer constituted a security threat to American unity after a stable Johnson Presidency, Southerners in the persons of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were swept into office by the love and popular vote of the American people.

The picture is very different among the Igbos of Nigeria. The ghost of 'Biafra' was barely exorcised in January 1970 than, 30 years later, demands for an Igbo President - enforced by subtle blackmail from the sponsors of 'MASSOB', started to reverbrate in the ear-drums of the nation. Apart from the inability of the Igbo people to select a compromise candidate from among themselves, an Igbo President at this juncture would send the wrong message to a mistrustful Nigerian electorate which is unable to view the Igbo beyond the concept of the cunning 'Biafran rebel'.

While the miracle of President Obasanjo's leadership could find possible Igbo rivals in such political strongmen as Anyim Pius Anyim, Odumegwu Ojukwu, and Chimaroke Nnamani - being those exceptional Igbo leaders possessed of a peculiar strength of character, conviction and stubborn-ness to be able to ride and tame the wild Nigerian bronco, is it Anyim who could remove a corrupt Yoruba Inspector-General of Police and not ignite the flames of rage from the OPC against the Igbos in Lagos? Or is it Chimaroke who could declare a state of emergency in Plateau State and not risk the heavens falling against everything Igbo north of the Benue? Or is it Ojukwu, especially, who could move against mindless religious killings in Kano and not re-awaken murderous genocidal designs against Nyamiri Banza?

No, the people over whom such a President would hold sway would see the Igbo first before the Nigerian and the human being. Hence any Igbo aspiring to lead the Nigerian nation with any hope of nationwide acceptability would need to be a Nelson Mandela, or Bill Clinton, or Pope John Paul II, or even Nnamdi Azikiwe, swept into power by the sheer love of all Nigerians.

On the horizon of possibles, one Igbo leader only stands out with glaring singularity - Sam Egwu, the Executive Governor of Ebonyi State. He has emerged as President Obasanjo's most trusted Igbo ally, the ultimate peace-maker whom Obasanjo relied upon to effect the recent surrender of the opposition in the Anambra political imbroglio - and who, as erstwhile Chairman of the Committee of South-East Governors, sealed a truce in the war of nerves between the duo of Governors Orji Kalu and Chris Ngige against Governor Chimaroke Nnamani. Through Egwu's influence, the emergence of Anambra's Chris Ngige as the new Chairman of the Committee of South-East governors was unanimously accepted.

Sam Egwu's remarkable humility, and his magnetism to attract love and reverence, have been made manifest in his abrupt appearances in public to interact with ordinary folk without the back-up of security men, and in his low-profile motor-cades that do not punish the public with menacing sirens. His popularity, also gaining ground in Yorubaland, needs more time and effort to permeate the length and breadth of the Nigerian state. In that time, if the Igbo people hold fast to the notion that God is to be found in silence, it is not, indeed, unlikely that such an approach will yield greater dividends for an Igbo aspirant to the Presidential throne.

bulletOnyeama, a writer and publisher, lives in Enugu



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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.