May 10th, 2011
This piece has long been in the making but has had to be put off time and again for obvious reasons not unconnected with the just concluded elections. I had been itching to do an essay along the line indicated in the headline of this piece but had been held back by the exigencies and imperatives of the general elections in Nigeria. With the elections successfully concluded, however, those concerns have largely been attenuated and the subsequent ones rearing their ugly heads, like the mass murders in the north, for example, could not stay my hand any longer.
While declaring the election “successfully concluded”, however, I’m not unmindful of the fact that the judicial phase has yet to kick into full gear but just getting started. But thank goodness the Imo state gubernatorial debacle has been finally laid to rest with the defeat of Governor Ikedi Ohakim by the APGA candidate, Mr. Owelle Rochas Okorocha, in the “supplementary election,” and his acceptance of same. INEC had so badly messed up things over there in Imo state that it suddenly found itself boxed into such a tight corner from which it could not extricate itself except by taking extra-legal measures to get itself out. Though now rendered redundant and largely academic by the turn of events, it would appear that INEC had run foul of the law by exceeding the statutory timeframe for the conduct of the election which expired with the conduct of the gubernatorial/state houses of assembly elections on April 26, 2011. Therefore, whatever election that was purportedly conducted outside of the statutory timeframe would go to no issue and in violation of the law, and the results thereof liable to be declared null and void and of no effect if challenged in court. INEC’s failure to declare the APGA candidate, who had satisfied both statutory requirements in the first ballot on April 26, 2011 as to majority votes and geographical spread as the winner and duly elected governor of Imo state, was fatal to its case. Declaring him winner now after it had become functus officio on the basis of a so-called supplementary election outside the timeframe could not have cured the defect because it had no authority to do so. It is important to understand that every act by statutory bodies must be grounded in the law establishing them which includes discretionary powers where granted in the enabling laws establishing them. I don’t know where INEC got its powers to conduct supplementary elections outside the statutory timeframe from. I respectfully submit therefore that the matter was already out of INEC’s hands from the very moment it ran out of time and it had no powers to unilaterally extend the time to enable it conclude the election in Imo state. Rather, it should have sought the amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act by the NASS to grant it time extension to do so rather than being a law unto itself. However, like I said earlier this does not matter anymore since Ohakim has chosen to allow sleeping dogs lie in the interest of peace and stability in Imo state, which is a different animal altogether than pure legalism. But this precedent must not be followed in the future though it has yielded salutary outcome in the present case which is wholly beside the point. The law is the law.
While the Imo case appears settled the 2011 transition is not over yet until it is all over on the whole. As always the judicial phase will prove much longer than the balloting phase with lawyers getting their legal fireworks primed and ready for the kill. Oops, Buhari’s CPC is there already with an ex-parte motion! We are surely going to be entertained in this electoral rollercoaster that could feed the nation’s movie industry. Election losers will inundate the tribunals with all manners of claims; some substantive and meritorious, and others, an amalgam of hollow, delusional, and face-saving judicial adventures. However, in a nation where judicial officers have been tacitly empowered to turn defeat into victory overnight, defeated candidates have every incentive in the books to fish in judicial waters. You never know; some of them could come home with big catches and become governors, senators, and even presidents! So the winners should watch their backs and look over their shoulders every now and then while the tribunal proceedings last when they should be giving their full and undivided attention to governance. One could only imagine the health implications for the winners whose fates hang in the balance as their defeated opponents gingerly plot their ways through the judicial minefields determined to unseat them. In the end governance suffers and the people would have to contend with distracted leadership at all levels of governance.
Is anybody out there thinking along these lines at all in Nigeria? Perhaps there are some but I don’t see the media taking up these issues as yet. Suffice it to state however that the nation cannot afford to be foisted with perpetually distracted leadership at all levels of governance. It is not healthy for our democracy and good governance. That’s not what the people were told to vote for and that’s not what they should be getting either. It’s therefore time to terminate the judicial phase and have elections re-done in all areas where there are substantial issues of electoral malpractices, or for that matter, absence of voting as has been done in Imo state albeit with proper legal backing. That is a template that should be replicated throughout the country with a view to getting rid of the judicial cottage industry where defeated candidates troop to and manipulate unscrupulous judges to do their biddings. When judicial officers begin to intensely lobby to be appointed into election tribunals as reported in the papers, it is ipso facto, symptomatic of a rotten system and therefore time to do a critical rethink about the role of election tribunals and their effects on the administration of justice and governance in general. This will of course require amendments to the extant laws governing elections. So long for those election fallouts. I must now turn to the issues at hand.
Now, before I take the plunge into the depths of these muddied waters that I have come to probe, I’m inclined to confessing my utter lack of qualification and therefore limitations in attempting to weigh in on these highly controversial, and I might add, emotionally charged matters that pertain to one of the most educated and enterprising ethnic nationalities in Nigeria—Ndigbo—that great ethnic nationality located east of the great Niger river. Yet out of great concern I have advised myself to do what is necessary in the circumstances by looking into these matters even with my limited knowledge as I see fit. But why do I address Ndigbo in that manner? What does it mean to describe an ethnic group as great? Is Ndigbo really great? If yes, where is the evidence? What are the attributes of greatness? Is the description valid and merited? Is that description borne out of opportunistic ingratiation in return for some undefined previous or prospective personal gratification? Is it barefaced flattery or genuine respect and adoration for the ethnic nationality based on certain unique and discernible attributes which set it apart from other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria? These are all pertinent questions that demand answers now before I proceed any further. In a land where praise singing is second nature it is important that we get our compass primed and our bearings set right. And it is important that we understand the general and contemporary environment in which this evaluation is taking place in relation to the black man. And I must here hasten to confess my Afro-centric/nationalistic perspective on these matters that tend to touch on civilization in general. More often than not the black man has been so put down and counted for nothing that he has lost all sense of his self-worth and even his sense of history and accomplishments in the time past. His own God given color has somewhat been associated with evil and darkness to the point that he is ashamed of wearing his color and has had to either bleach it white or tone it brownish. He has himself reduced his color to a badge of shame even though “black” is the sovereign color on earth. One only has to take a look around his surroundings to acknowledge the fact that black is the king of colors. Isn’t it amazing and somewhat amusing that the very people who attribute evil or darkness to blackness are the ones who wear the color the most in their clothing?
Even so the black man had been told by others and he seems to believe it that he has no history of accomplishments. The fact that his accomplishments were not reduced into writing but passed down by word of mouth by professional oral historians known as griots, as it was indeed in Europe before writing was invented elsewhere outside of Europe has somehow worked to diminish his profile even to himself. But oral history is history nonetheless because in the end most if not all history has oral origins even in contemporary times. The fact that it is reduced into writing at some point does not ipso facto confer superiority or credibility on written history over strictly oral history passed down from word of mouth because inaccuracies, biases, and even blatant falsehood exist plentifully in written histories bound in glittering covers to legitimize them with the veneer of authority and credibility. If that were the case then writing would be the beginning and end of history. In fact, I would argue the opposite, because written history, especially that which is sourced from oral history is nothing but second, third, fourth, even fifth hand materials in several instances. It is amazing how other racial groups had conveniently dismissed Africans as lacking in history of accomplishments worth documenting. However, this now utterly discredited mental conditioning which was the bedrock of slavery and colonialism continues to torment our people to the point of self-denial and self-immolation which is nothing but cultural suicide. There is no question that available evidence point to the fact that Africans have wrought great deeds throughout history that have gone largely un-coded and therefore unsung. It is therefore time for Africans to sing their songs and tell their stories of accomplishments at least to themselves if not to others. And there are hidden materials buried in African oral historiography that should be unearthed, and I believe African historians are doing just that within the confines of their ivory towers. But their works need to be brought into the open and shared with their African publics and the world in general in order to set the records straight. We have been harangued and inundated with too much lamentations and self-pity by those who seek not to lift up our spirits but to dampen and depress them to the extent of self-immolation. I have grown so sick and tired of it all that I’m no longer prepared to listen to the wailing hordes of self-annihilation. I am sick and tired of our brothers and sisters east of the Niger wallowing in lamentations and self-pity as a result of the devastations of the Nigerian Civil war in the region because they had a great past and have a great future ahead of them and no ethnic group in Nigeria today is satisfied with its present conditions and everyone has issues of development. The other day the whole nation was gathered in Kaduna to lament the poor conditions of underdevelopment in the same north that has been in power for 38 years. I’m, therefore, troubled that the younger generations of Ndigbo are being weaned on a diet of self-pity and constant lamentations by those seeking political relevance through the media in their locales. It is not healthy and a disservice to the younger generations who can hold their own anywhere without being scarred with and held hostage to emotional civil war liabilities and disabilities rather than the greatness of Ndigbo, historically.
A people who rose up to confront gross injustice verging on genocide when no other did has no right to wallow in self pity whether or not their resistance ended with military victory, because military victory is beside the point, and frankly speaking secondary to the philosophical victory that the war represented in a much larger sense. Military victory could not have been the end but a means to an end, which could be attained and has indeed been attained by other means. They have forcefully made their point and Nigeria has taken due notice of it, and that to me is nothing but victory philosophically and idealistically, with practical and salutary implications for the polity. That’s why the Ibos are everywhere all over the federation engaged in legitimate economic activities. Therefore, the Ibos have every reason to be proud of the outcome of the Nigerian civil war rather than searing the consciousness of its younger generations with debilitating attitudes of war guilt evidenced in the drumbeat of lamentations because the war has helped to reinvent Nigeria the same way the American civil war helped reinvent the United States. Nigeria has never been the same again since the end of the civil war, thanks to Ndigbo. And other ethnic groups have since learnt to defend themselves militantly, and forcefully push back too when push comes to shove, again thanks to Ndigbo. The Ibos may not appreciate this but others have learnt a lesson from them in self-defense in the human jungle that Nigeria has become. It’s the one thing I admire in the Americans because they get to define for themselves by themselves what victory or defeat really means to them, and could see victory in what others might see as defeat, because they have defined their terms in their engagements or contentions with others. Has the genocide in the north stopped with the war? Not really, but it is now more of dog eating dog like black-on-black violence in the United States rather than the specific targeting of the Ibos because they’re Ibos as was hitherto the case before the civil war. The north is now devouring its own children. And that’s now a problem for northerners themselves to sort out perhaps with the assistance of the government.
It is, therefore, time to step back and say to ourselves: Wait a minute: We had a great past too like other races and peoples all over the world. And while the present might be troublous the future is ours to grasp with both hands and run with it as our common heritage knowing full well that the present is no indication or guarantee of the future. After all, the leading continents of today were some of the most primitive and backward a few centuries back. Yes even Europe which is the most developed continent today was one of the most backward in the world a few millennia ago. To put in late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s immortal words: “No condition is permanent.” That was from the greatest son of Ndigbo and one of the greatest sons of Africa. We should all take comfort from those immortal words of wisdom. Therefore, I seek no more than to tread on that path not as a historian per se because I don’t claim to be one, but as a witness to history even now. As such, my motivation for this essay cannot but be reverential, selfless, altruistic, wholesome, inspiring, ennobling, and above all, nationalistic in all materials particular. What else can it be when we’re confronted with the entrepreneurial and independent minded nature of the people that are the subject matter of this endeavor? These are the people that began the first modern interstate, long distance transportation systems in the nation with luxury buses that one could only find in advanced countries obviously anchored on their vast commercial interests in far flung parts of the country, with no formal training in modern transportation systems. They have built from the scratch a multi-billion naira industry. These are the people that spearheaded the invention or reinvention if you like of an industry now called Nollywood and turned it into mega movie industry now ranked third in the world behind US Hollywood and India’s Bollywood, employing tens of thousands of Nigerians who would otherwise be jobless, with huge multiplier effects across the board on the economy, making millionaires and international celebrities out of highly educated citizens and professionals who might otherwise have fled to other nations only to find themselves engaged in menial and demeaning jobs fit only for slaves or house helps.
These are people who have put their noses to the grind literarily, sometimes forsaking formal education to build viable commercial ventures from nothing that keep the Nigerian economy bubbling and humming with vitality. They breathe life into dead cities and bring into local communities the fruits of modern technology sourced locally and globally. They do not rely on government handouts to live the good life and their contact with government is for the most part purely regulatory and administrative. Are they perfect in the overall Nigerian environment of graft and corruption? No, they are not and they have their own share of human weaknesses. But hardly would you find them as 10% government’s political contractors who fleece the nation of so-called mobilization fees only to abandon projects. Yet they have economically acquitted themselves far better than those for whom the government is veritable Father Christmas. You could see this graphically played out during Yuletide periods when all roads literarily lead to the South/East and to nowhere else, with all city arteries along their pathways clogged with the latest models of posh, glittering automobiles headed for equally posh country home mansions. These are testimonies to the enterprising and entrepreneurial spirits of the people that are finding productive outlets in the fields of local technologies incubating in places like Aba, Umuahia, and Nnewi. When I read sometime ago in the papers that the rolling stocks i.e., the buses and other subsystems of the modern mass transit system executed by the Enugu State government were locally sourced from a local bus manufacturing company, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited (IVM) plant in Nnewi, Anambra State, rather than from Brazil or Germany as with similar ventures in other states of the federation, you can imagine how gratified and proud I was of the people who made that possible. And come to think of it, why wouldn’t a people who invented modern transportation system in Nigeria be able to embark on backward integration projects like a mass transit production plant in Nnewi? Just think about the multiplier effects—the jobs, technology acquisition, and the overall wholesome effects on the economy of the region and the nation in general! That is what I call “economic literacy” that should be taught to every Nigerian public office holder and to the general citizenry as well. Our material salvation lies in economic literacy.
Economic literacy leads invariably to economic freedom for a people that are smart enough to embrace it. Now, I have read a lot about the general climate of economic dislocation, criminality, and sundry disabilities in the region, but I dare say Ndigbo is leading the charge in Nigeria in the technological revolution that is about the hit the nation. And don’t forget that the GSM revolution that hit the nation was delivered by an Ndigbo son in the person of Mr. Ernest Ndukwe who was head of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, and the power sector revolution currently underway is equally being delivered by Professor Bath Nnaji the Presidential Adviser on Power who is heading the Presidential Task Force on Power operating directly from the presidency. That testifies to something unique, and I will leave the reader to supply the answer for him or herself. There is no question that Ndigbo has delivered on almost every national assignment handed to it whether it is about banking reforms, telecommunication and now, power supply, at least in this dispensation. I’m not out to cast ethnic slurs as individuals must be judged on their own merits. At the same time we will not forget in a hurry what happened to the National ID Card project, for example. It was in the hands of a man from a different ethnic group that was given the assignment but failed to deliver. This is certainly not an attempt to promote one ethnicity over others in Nigeria since other ethnic groups have their own unique strengths as well but to acknowledge the unique strengths of Ndigbo in the Nigerian environment in view of a flurry of commentaries in the media appearing to the contrary. What else could it therefore be than admiration when one beholds the pantheon of Ndigbo sons, and daughters too, that have walked the earth and many of whom are still hanging out here with many firsts to flaunt? Understand what it means to be first in a field. It means the individual concerned is a pioneer and pacesetter in that field who showed others the light from the hilltop to follow on that path. That is the significance of being first in the field. What else could it be then when I see in my mind’s eyes such historical and legendary titans such as General Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi , first four star general, first GOC of the Nigerian Army, and first Nigerian military Head of State, whose military exploits in the Congos stunned the white man, decked in his full military honors? What else could it be when I think about that political Mt. Kilimanjaro, the venerable Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Owelle of Onitsha, Nigeria’s first Governor-General and first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who established the first indigenous university in Nigeria, in Nsukka after UI, Ibadan, and before those in Ife and Zaria? And must we forget also that the first indigenous VC of UI was Dr. Kenneth Dike?
To be sure this is hardly a treatise on Igbo civilization for which I’m not qualified but an attempt to highlight certain of its achievements in contemporary Nigeria that are relevant to this discourse. When we think of the First Republic we are quick to remember Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe but there was also Dr. Nwafor Orizu, first President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and also Dr. Michael Okpara who was the premier of the Eastern Region and such political heavyweights like Dr. Kingsley Mbadiwe of the timber and caliber fame. And who would forget Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, the late urbane and flamboyant President of the Senate? Looming large are the imageries of such literary giants as Professor Chinua Achebe, Africa’s foremost novelist, Dr. Chike Obi, Africa’s foremost mathematician, and Dr. Pius Okigbo, the renowned economist. Before Justice Taslim Elias went to the World Court Justice Dadi Onyeama was there as Nigeria’s first Judge at the World Court in the Hague. But have I exhausted the pantheon yet? No, because it is inexhaustible and I’m just reeling out the names that occur to me as I glide my fingers on the computer keyboard. But my memory’s storage space is limited and could therefore not accommodate all the intellectual and political giants that Ndigbo has blessed the Nigerian nation with. Surely then the Nkemba of Nnewi, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, occupies a special place in the nation and in this pantheon. He is one of a kind and I will stop at that. This represents a snapshot, i.e., partial intellectual, political, and military heritage of Ndigbo. Would Ndigbo be able to replace these titans of yesteryears in these mercantilist climes? But lo and behold! There are more—a multitude of them rushing out from the depths of consciousness laying siege on the fringes of my brains in the manner of an invading army, but couldn’t fit into my puny brains. They’re coming from the literati to denizens of the intelligentsia; from captains of industry to technological geniuses; from military warriors to political titans. Just imagine the depths of academic qualifications of these individuals nearly a century ago when other ethnic groups could barely produce a university graduate. What a proud history! It is simply impossible not to be in awe or at least respectful of a nationality that produced these iconic historical figures.
Now, how does this relate to the present? Of what relevance is this illustrious history to the present state of Ndigbo in contemporary Nigeria? Let me state right away that a people destined for greatness will always act great and selfless while others are beating themselves silly. Ndigbo has demonstrated this to the admiration of many in the way and manner it has carried itself in this dispensation. How? It did quite the opposite of what others were doing up north by not joining the fray and keeping a dignified presence and holding its head above the murky waters of Nigeria’s cut throat political competition. When other ethnic nationalities up north were fooling around with harebrained schemes, unraveling and destroying their hitherto carefully woven mythologies of assumed political wizardry in the process, Ndigbo was watching this tragic-comedy with bemusement from the sideline until its ethnic actors got their fingers burnt and their reputation in tatters. Now we can tell the foolish from the wise, the kids from the adults, and immature from the mature in the nation’s political arena. Many Nigerians who had been brought up to believe that the “north” was one huge monolith that could not be vanquished politically are no scratching their heads in disbelief at what has happened. And Ndigbo was part of the unraveling of the north.
But Ndigbo was not aloof when the north was dancing itself naked before others in the public square. Oh, what a shame for a famed ethnic nationality! Rather Ndigbo had its game plan meticulously drawn up with wide consultations and inputs from the rank and file which it proceeded to scrupulously execute with clinical efficiency. And as they say, the rest is history. In this election cycle, Ndigbo had before any other group or nationality and in its wisdom entered into strategic partnership with the PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan, and by necessary implication with the South/South as well with a view to capturing the nation’s presidency. I must be blunt about this: yes, with a view to capturing the presidency. This would appear to be a natural enough course given their neighborliness. With time and realizing the implication of this partnership in the overall scheme of things, other equally important but otherwise marginalized ethnic groups notably from the South/West led by the OBJ group/faction of its leadership, and the North/Central led by the Chief Solomon Lar/Barnabas Gemade group/faction of its leadership, followed suit and hopped into the bandwagon just before the train was due to leave the station, thus transforming the strategic partnership into a truly national project and compact. It is true that these other groups had earlier indicated their interests in the Jonathan candidacy but it was the very proactive Ohaneze Ndigbo that came out first to endorse his candidacy, and the South/East Governors’ Forum was the first to indicate that the South/East would not be fielding a presidential candidate for the 2011 general elections followed by APGA’s Jonathan adoption for the presidential election. Thus we saw a huge coalescence of relevant political forces in the south/east rallying around a common project.
Now, it is equally true that with the spirit of republicanism running deep in its veins, which has quite erroneously been viewed in certain quarters as weakness rather than strength in a democracy, there were elements within Ndigbo led by former VP Dr. Alex Ekueme and former Senate President, Kenneth Nnamani, who had rebelled against this strategic partnership, and had sought to construct their own in the hope of attaining the same end. However, it is noteworthy that both strands of the stratagem were carried out within a national as opposed to a regional platform of the PDP. And that is important because it speaks of a recognition of the fact that the presidency can only be attained through a national rather than regional platform hence no one thought of going outside of the PDP to prosecute Ndigbo political agenda. As both the NASS and presidential elections results have shown quite conclusively, this strategic partnership has paid off big time. While other ethnic nationalities to the north and west are understandably in disarray and are yet to catch their breath given what hit them at the polls, Ndigbo has every reason to remain calm, cool and collected, for the political seeds it sowed have germinated and grown to produce healthy fruits. Going forward the question is not about sowing the seeds but harvesting the fruits.
To put this in some perspective, Ndigbo had in this dispensation massively invested in the PDP, which was partly formed by the G34 group led by its very own son, Dr. Alex Ekueme, mentioned earlier, who in fact, had contested the PDP presidential primary with OBJ in 1999. OBJ from the south/west prevailed against Ekwueme from the south/east on account of the fallouts of June 12, 1993 political crisis that eventually claimed the life of its winner, MKO Abiola from the south/west, who was murdered in prison, otherwise Ekwueme would probably have carried the day. Even so, delicate geo-political balancing act had ensured that Ndigbo was adequately compensated in the scheme of things with the presidency of the Senate together with deputy speakership of the House of Representatives and a slew of other important ministerial positions and governorship of the Central Bank, just to mention but a few. If you asked me, I would say quite honestly that that wasn’t a bad return at all on its investments. It is important that we sift the wheat from the chaffs of unbridled sentiments. It is an open secret that the OBJ administration which as noted above was a child of necessity had had its cabinet brimming, gleaming, and sparkling with bright stars from Ndigbo, who represented the face of the administration in a positive manner. You could hardly name any star from OBJ’s own south/west in his administration. Almost all the big brains of his administration were sourced from Ndigbo whether it was about economic policies indicated in Vision 20/20 and NEEDS; banking reforms indicated in banking consolidation and the weathering of the financial crisis that hit the nation; or about its signature GSM telecommunication reform, privatization, and much more. The faces of Dr. Okonjo Nwala, Professor Charles Solubo and Dora Akunyili, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, and many others would not be easily forgotten by Nigerians as individuals who gave off their best in the service of their nation and set the nation on the path of sustainable economic growth and development. Thus Yar’Adua inherited an economy not in recession as others in other parts of the world but a growing economy with over 6% growth in GDP. Ndigbo was key to that achievement in the quality of its human inputs in that administration. Can anyone point to such crčme de la crčme from any other part of Nigeria in that administration?
Say what you would about Professor Maurice Iwu, but the fact remains that he delivered on the 2007 general elections, perfect or not, and thereby broke the jinx of impossible civilian to civilian transition in Nigeria, and the nation is building on his records today. I personally do not think that Jega bested Iwu’s performance in any shape or form given the poisonous climate under which he operated with paucity of resources. That is because performance should be evaluated in terms of inputs and outputs, and outputs must be relative to inputs. A husband cannot give his wife pennies for shopping and expect her to bring home a cow. Such expectation would indeed be satanic. Politicians could have crashed the 2007 general elections given the bad blood generated by the so-called third term crisis and the very intense battle between OBJ and Vice President Abubakar Atiku in 2007 leading to calls for coups and postponement of the election. Politicians including Professor Pat Utomi who is pontificating about leadership today had gone to Abuja to demand the postponement of the elections and in its place an interim government that could easily and in all likelihood have brought the military back to power like Ernest Shonekan’s ill-fated interim government. Saddled with short memories many Nigerians have totally forgotten that and blamed Iwu for PDP’s victory. What they need to ask themselves today is whether the same PDP has not won again under Jega? Are the same politicians not calling for Jega’s head the same way they did to Iwu? What has changed in the character of Nigerian politicians but shuffling of faces?
Yes it is my considered judgment and I have no apologies for this that Professor Maurice Iwu was one of the brightest minds that graced the OBJ administration and his appointment was, to the extent that we could say so, also evidence of political dividend for Ndigbo just like the others mentioned above. But guess what, Ndigbo’s position has further improved under the Jonathan administration. I don’t care who, but anyone who regards the positions of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) long denied Ndigbo and Minister of Petroleum never before held by Ndigbo as far as I can remember, as crumbs from the master’s table has got to have his head examined and fixed too for real. Bottom line is that PDP is the brainchild of Ndigbo and therefore had every reason to stick with the party to the very end. It would be preposterous, self-serving, and indeed mischievous for anyone to imply directly or indirectly that Ndigbo has not been reaping any political benefits from its PDP membership or that it has been picking up crumbs from the table as some had sought to portray in the media. Such a misguided position flies in the face of available facts. There is every indication that more than any other group, Ndigbo will be and rightfully so at the head of the table in the incoming Jonathan administration within the imperatives imposed by geo-ethnic/religious balancing of political power sharing. And why not? It has invested heavily in this and previous administrations, delivering all it has to Jonathan and the PDP, particularly at a time the fortunes of the PDP and its presidential flag bearer were on shaky and slippery grounds and not guaranteed to win unlike the case in the past. In the past the PDP swept the polls in all the zones effortlessly, leaving crumbs for the opposition parties to scramble for. Therefore, no particular ethnic group could claim credit for its victory at the time in both the 2003 and 2007 general elections. But all of that changed in the 2011 general elections and the party’s stranglehold on the polity was set to unravel due to the circumstances surrounding the nomination of its presidential candidate. At that point, and with ACN marching on the south/west to reclaim it, Ndigbo was PDP’s last hope in the entire south. Had Ndigbo gone the ethnic way of the south/west and went with an ethnic party like the ACN in the form of APGA, PDP would have been history by now and Jonathan would have been preparing handover notes to retire to his village at this point in time. Only political rookie would contest this.
As such Ndigbo has every expectation indeed the right to sit at the head of the table with Jonathan unlike the south/west that went astray more or less into political oblivion. This much is clear from the incipient marginalization that is about to hit the south/west in the national political equation. So far as national affairs are concerned only an idiot would envy the position the south/west has suddenly boxed itself into. There is just no way the zone would be rewarded by the PDP for kicking the party out of the zone. It’s simply impossible and the south/west has nobody but itself to blame. Yes, geo-political balancing will not be sacrificed by the PDP in power sharing but there is a price to pay somewhere along the line. The night of the long knives is drawing nigh and PDP will definitely extract its pound of flesh from the south/west in some form one way or another that might not appear too obvious to the public. There can be no mistaking that as the signs are already showing going by media speculations at this point in time. And it’s all foreseeable and natural. How could one be made to reap where he did not sow at all? That would be unconscionable, immoral and unjust. In the PDP family the south/west is the outcast and that is not an enviable position in a nation controlled by the party having the government at the center where critical decisions affecting all are made and executed. Frankly I think the south/west has committed political hara-kiri. Even so although the south/west voted against the PDP in general, it voted massively for Jonathan and that fact alone should serve to moderate his attitude toward the zone overall.
With that being the case therefore those who derided the wisdom of Ndigbo in going with Jonathan have seen their follies and shortsightedness. There is no question that they were not thinking strategically and holistically but myopically and selfishly owing largely to the immediate political gains they had hoped to acquire from pursuing their different and opposing agenda. Sometimes one is compelled to wonder where such individuals were coming from to have adopted such clearly unproductive contrarian positions. I make bold to state that the strategic partnership the wise and prudent Ndigbo leadership had entered with Jonathan and the PDP is the best thing that has happened to Ndigbo in a long while especially with regards to the circumstances surrounding the 2011 presidential election. Apart from political appointments that are getting all the press now there are critical issues of development in the south/east to be addressed which are even more important than fleeting political appointments that come and go. The question, therefore, is not about what was entered into but why it was entered into? It is an open secret that both the south/south and south/east had suffered acute marginalization in the nation’s political leadership for a long while. For the south/east that marginalization began since the end of the Nigerian civil war. Prior to that period the south/east had been having a swell time in the nation’s political, military, and even bureaucratic leaderships. It was said that the south/east dominated the federal bureaucracy before the civil war, which is not surprising given its level of education back then. For the south/south, however, it had been so since the beginning of time. Even the position of vice president was a no-go for the region even though it was one of the four regions in the federation before the advent of states in 1967. It was utterly blacked out, not because it did not have the men to lead but because it was in the minority. The minorities in the north/central region that are crying of marginalization today in the north have produced a number of leaders for the nation the longest serving of whom was General Yakubu Gowon. In fact, virtually all the zones in the nation had produced leaders for the nation except one—the south/south.
Ordinarily there are no compelling reasons for a particular zone or ethnic group for that matter to produce leaders for the nation. However, the introduction of geo-ethnic politics and the seeming reluctance, even resistance of certain parts of the nation to relinquish power to other individuals from other regions have not only promoted but heightened geo-ethnic consciousness in the polity to the point that the occupation of the presidency is now seen as a evidence of full citizenship of the nation by the constituent units. This has been so ingrained in our collective consciousness that it cannot be simply wished away. We just have to deal with it as is as a Nigerian political malaise. Thus the nation’s general elections have now been reduced to inter-ethnic competition for the presidency, warranting and indeed compelling strategic alliances between and amongst constituent nationalities. We have all become victims of group psychology that all we care about is how to grab the greater portions of the so-called national cake for our zones or states rather than how to bake it in the first place. Evidently, this is unhealthy for our nation. There is no zone in the federation that is incapable of economic self-sufficiency if it wants to as were the regions in the First Republic before the discovery of oil, but they have chosen the easy path of receiving handouts from the center. Each quarter or so, state Finance Commissioners troop to Abuja like pensioners to receive handouts from deities resident in the bowels of Aso Rock. The inability of the constituent units of the federation to stand on their own and their consequent over dependence on the center is responsible for the deadly competition for the control of federal government. And in this competition strategic alliance is key to the control of the center. The alliance between the south/east and south/south must therefore be seen in the light of the larger power struggle amongst the constituent units particularly between the north and the south.
When we take these two partners in this political relationship together, therefore, it becomes clear that the one needed the other to actualize a common goal. And the fact that the south/south had not tasted power at all at the presidential level must not have been lost on both partners. It was not lost on OBJ either in 2007 when he made the choice to have Dr. Goodluck Jonathan run with Musa Y’Adua which he worked off his butt to see through. Although he would not admit it publicly for obvious reasons, OBJ had indeed strategically positioned Jonathan for the presidency at the end of Yar’Adua’s tenure. The vice-presidency was supposed to be Jonathan’s period of pupilage offering him the much needed political exposure nationally. Unfortunately, however, President Yar’Adua did not even make it to the end his tenure before death recalled him, thereby hastening the realization of OBJ’s strategic plan. So Jonathan was already there in the presidency at the time of the presidential election. He could not be pulled out for any reason whatsoever. He could not be compelled to step down for anybody else from any other zone for any reason whatsoever. He was and still the president who calls all the shots as did presidents before him. It was simply impossible to shove him aside, and those who tried to do that were simply displaying their political naivety and indeed foolhardiness. I don’t know of anyone with a modicum of conscience and wisdom left in him who would have done otherwise than what Ohaneze Ndigbo did in rallying Ndigbo behind the Jonathan presidency. It would have been immoral and unconscionable indeed to do otherwise and only a mind imbued with satanic schemes would take Ndigbo to task on account of its full throated support for Jonathan’s candidacy. That support, by the way, was not given on the cheap. It was on terms and it will be reciprocated in the fullness of time because Nigeria is not going away anytime soon. But please do not ask me what the terms are. It is not in my place to tell.
All I can say is that the south/south leaders were at the table and assiduously courted Ndigbo knowing that it held the ace. While it had been denied the shot time and again in the past, it had helped others win the ultimate prize. It was therefore time for it to be helped in return and it approached Ndigbo for help and the request was granted on terms. It’s an irony of history though that the North that had been the greatest beneficiary of the enormous political goodwill dispensed by the people of the south/south to the region had treacherously turned back to stab her on the back and voted against Jonathan for the most part. Rather it was Ndigbo that won the day for Jonathan, of course together with other parties in the strategic partnership. There is no doubt in my mind that when we drill down to the core in search of the elements that forged Jonathan’s victory not only in the south generally but particularly in northern parts of the country, we shall find to our greatest surprise that they have the marks of Ndigbo inscribed all over them. That calculus was not lost on Jonathan who had postulated before the election that 30% of the northern population belongs to Ndigbo. Whether he was right on the numbers or not, there is no question that he had banked on the huge Ndigbo numbers in the north to deliver the votes for him. And they did. And like other southerners and Christians in the north they are bearing the pains of mass execution in the north on account of their support for Jonathan and are burying their dead brought home in coffins.
How then could any mischief maker who could not see beyond his nose come around to tell the world that Ndigbo would wind up picking the crumbs while northerners who stabbed Jonathan in the back would be at the head of the dinner table in Jonathan’s administration as if Jonathan does not know or is incapable of knowing who put him there and who wanted him out? It’s more than silly. That is not say or suggest even remotely that he should be vengeful to those who voted against him but to say that he cannot be expected to reward them either at the expense of those who helped him to get to the throne. There are prices to pay and repercussions to bear for everything we do and politics is definitely not an exception the world over. There is no need to bribe those who voted against him with juicy posts in order to buy them back in for the next time around because the election has proved that a southern candidate could win without the support of the core north. And didn’t we learn that Jonathan is not going for a second term after all? So why would he want to bribe anybody with positions to support him later. This writer in particular has always held that the much vaunted northern monolith is more in the realm of fables or imagination than in reality and that when push comes to shove the north would unravel before our very own eyes. And it did. Didn’t it? Yes indeed. But make no mistake about it: Ndigbo has led the way in the new Nigeria where even the son of fisherman or farmer could become the president of the nation regardless of the circumstances of his birth. Ndigbo has led the way in the New Nigeria where tribal marks, ethnic names or language would not determine who gets what and when in our national affairs. More than any other ethnic group, Ndigbo is acutely aware of the pains of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and therefore had every reason to invest in the Jonathan presidency with its publicly declared vision of Nigeria-for-all-Nigerians as opposed to Nigeria-for-some Nigerians, which was until now the ruling paradigm. That liberation is not only exhilarating but priceless because it opens the doors to other opportunities the same way abolition of slavery, and institution of civil rights opened the doors to the African-American community in the United States. Those who seek to undermine the importance of this development are either plain ignorant, mischievous, or both.
Strategic Options for Ndigbo
Now what could have become the alternative in the circumstances of Jonathan already finding himself in the presidency due to the abrupt death of President Yar’Adua? There were only three options left for Ndigbo: (1) Frustrate Jonathan’s emergence as the PDP candidate at the party’s primaries by going with Atiku after extracting from him a promise of handing over to Ndigbo after doing just one term. A promise was all that Ndigbo could have received from Atiku with vice-presidential slot, nothing more. But you don’t go shopping with promissory notes, do you? You could anyway but you most certainly would lose the item to the man who had the raw cash to pay. As for vice-presidential slot, who wants that, anyway? Ndigbo has had enough of that already and it could not have been particularly appealing to it. (2) Quit the PDP altogether and go with Buhari or ACN using APGA as its regional platform. How it could have succeeded in ditching the PDP with its army of governors, senators and House of Representatives members in the zone is beyond me. That would be the most improbable course of action and, (3) Cut a deal with Jonathan who was already president and therefore in a position to get things done for Ndigbo. Of all the three choices the third one was the most prudent and viable in the circumstances such that even a complete idiot could have opted for it. Ditching Jonathan for Atiku in the PDP primaries was of course also doable. However, in the face of the south/west, south/south, north/central and parts of the north going for Jonathan including Atiku’s own Adamawa state, it is not entirely clear to me that such a course would have paid off handsomely for Ndigbo. Besides, let’s face it: it would have produced permanent and undesirable results in the relationship between Ndigbo and the south/south. As leaders of the Jewish State, Israel, would readily tell anyone who cared to listen, having a neighbor as your enemy is not the best thing in the world. Ndigbo could easily have been the odd man out from the south had it gone that route. But thank goodness, better judgment prevailed and it went with Jonathan, the neighbor next door! And anyone who regards that as a bad decision on the part of Ndigbo has got to examine his head for traces of insanity.
Having settled for Jonathan and the PDP, therefore, honor demanded that Ndigbo should stick with it to the very end because it could not allow its investment to simply go to waste by suddenly jumping ship for no reason and going with Buhari or Nuhu Ribadu of the ACN. Nothing in the constitution of the highly nationalistic Ndigbo tells me that going with a regional party like the ACN or CPP would have been a good idea for Ndigbo. Therefore, going with Jonathan to seal the deal was as natural as a mother responds to the cries of its baby for her breast milk. Yes, Jonathan was Ndigbo’s baby and therefore could not have denied him her milk of love in his greatest hour of need. A mother who did that for her child would of course live to reap the benefit when the child grows up to manhood, all things being equal. Ndigbo should not expect any less from the incoming Jonathan administration. I can almost guarantee that, again, all things being equal. It might not come by way of the senate presidency or the speakership of the House of Representatives—positions it had occupied before in the past in the persons of Chief Umeh Ezeoke and senators Chuba Okadigbo, Adolphus Wabara, and Ken Nnamani. We see from newspaper reports that some PDP northern members in the House of Representatives are plotting behind the scene to zone the speakership to the south/west which had it before on the ground of religion. It seems they’re trying to pay back Ndigbo for going with Jonathan otherwise the argument of having a Moslem as Speaker of the House is gratuitous insult. However, if the northern members have made up their minds on that they will certainly seal it with their votes on the floor of the house to defeat Ndigbo candidate for the speakership, and there is nothing Jonathan can do about it. After all they threw out OBJ-nominated Madam Speaker Olumbunmi Etteh. But here is the point: there is nothing new or special for Ndigbo in these purely legislative leadership positions though important they certainly are. A more enduring focus should be the physical development of the region. And for that purpose, a kind of Marshal Plan, if you like, should be aggressively pursued to address the ecological challenges as well as true rehabilitation the region as promised by the Federal Government at the end of the civil war, not just fleeting governmental positions. Hankering after legislative leadership positions that bring nothing home, which it had plenty in the past to the detriment of developmental agenda for the region is, in my view, counterproductive. These positions are mere window dressing with nothing substantive to them developmentally speaking, because executive policies are not formulated in the legislature.
On the flip side, going with Atiku to face Buhari would have carried with it grave implications. To be sure Atiku is not the darling of the north although he had contrived to rig out IBB and Gusau in the consensus gambit. That he lost his own state in the PDP primaries should help drive home this point. The north/central would have abandoned him as it did Buhari. And the south/west would equally have abandoned him for another candidate possibly Jonathan moving into a different party or forming a new one like Buhari’s CPC, with a huge chunk of PDP base. I don’t see the ACN which Atiku had abandoned midstream adopting him in the presidential election. Had he been frustrated out the PDP with Ndigbo going with Atiku as PDP flag bearer, Jonathan could easily have been transformed into PDP’s nemesis at the polls and a rallying point for the entire opposition in Nigeria, leaving behind a decapitated PDP hanging on to life by the thread.
As I always say, no one should underrate the power of the presidency in a third world nation like Nigeria. There would definitely have been mass exodus from the PDP especially from the south and the Middle Belt had Jonathan been denied the PDP slot in preference for Atiku. Leaders of the PDP were not stupid for going with Jonathan. In fact, the Jigawa state governor, Sule Lamido, said that much when he castigated AREWA and Ciroma’s NLPF. The party knew that was a distinct eventuality, and didn’t Jonathan himself threaten about “sinking the boat” when it appeared that some party leaders were working to deny him the PDP slot in the lead up to the party primaries? There is no question in my mind that the opposition was waiting in the wing to embrace and carry him shoulder high in a triumphal exit from the PDP. The party saw the hurricane that was about to sweep it from the face of the earth and detoured. And as they say the rest is history.
If the scenario painted above had been allowed to occur, it could have left Ndigbo holding the short end of the stick with nowhere else to go with Atiku in a comatose PDP. We have witnessed before our own eyes what happened to the APP that was as big as the PDP at the beginning in 1999. It’s now a walking corpse. Such would have been PDP’s fate with the exit of Jonathan. God forbid that Ndigbo should allow such a cruel fate to befall it. Going with Atiku therefore was a nonstarter. And going with Buhari would have amounted to political suicide because Buhari is not sellable anywhere in the south. Period! Besides Buhari is a practicing dictator and like all dictators cannot be counted upon to voluntarily relinquish power. There is nothing like zoning in his CPC and you could count on Buhari to do two full terms and tell Ndigbo to bury the idea of handing over when he gets to power, citing his constitutional right to go for a second term. And Nigerians in general would indeed be lucky if Buhari did not abolish the constitution altogether and declare himself life president. Don’t forget he was the only military head of state who had no plans whatsoever for handing over power to civilians. He had no transition plan. Gowon mulled one. Murtala had one. OBJ had one and implemented it. IBB had one that he kept postponing and eventually messed it up but handed over all the same to an interim government. Abubakar had one and he implemented it. But Buhari had none! These were the stark realities that starred Ndigbo in the face when Ohaneze Ndigbo placed its options on the table. And they were not pretty. Nigeria’s history and political environment therefore demanded forcefully that Ndigbo entered into strategic partnership with Jonathan and south/south. That is the mark of wisdom that comes with acute knowledge of the political environment, age, and experience. And pretty soon Ndigbo will be smiling all the way to the bank. That you can count on…
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Franklin Otorofani is an Attorney and Public Affairs Analyst. Contacts: