By ABBA MAHMOOD —
For the first time since independence, the Igbo of the south-east voted themselves out of the centre. Regardless of which party they followed, they always find a way of aligning to the centre – the NCNC/NPC coalition in the First Republic and the NPN/NPP accord of the Second Republic. Being himself partly Igbo, President Jonathan got the total support of the Igbo and, when he was defeated in the 2015 presidential election, they suddenly found themselves in opposition, and they are not used to opposition. It was thus a matter of time for many of their political heavyweights to move to the new ruling party, which they have started doing now.
Nigeria and the rest of Nigerians love the Igbo. They are welcome, received and accommodated everywhere across the country. It took over 100 years after the American civil war for any one from the defeated part to emerge at US national leadership. Nine years after the Nigerian civil war, all the then five political parties that contested for the presidential election in 1979 had an Igbo either as presidential candidate or vice-presidential candidate. Our integration process was quicker than that of the US. In this Fourth Republic, an Igbo, Mr Madu represented Kaduna south constituency in the Kaduna State House of Assembly in 1999 and three Igbo are in the House of Representatives currently from Lagos State.
It came as a surprise to many, therefore, when some misguided Igbo diaspora youth started advocating Biafra under the auspices of IPOB. Nnamdi Kanu and his followers must know that the enemy of the Igbo are the Igbo and not anyone else. And they are sending wrong signals to the rest of the country. While some are advocating secession from Nigeria, others are canvasing a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. It is difficult to advocate exclusion and expect inclusion at the same time. From being No. 2 in the Second Republic, they occupied the No. 3 position under Obasanjo in this Fourth Republic. But now no one can say what position they are, which requires a self-assessment to know if they are making progress politically or not, and if they are not moving forward then there is need to address the problem.
For those who want Biafra, let them know that of all the three major ethnic groups, the Igbo are the most vulnerable. They are not only landlocked but landless relative to the other two. And the Igbo are the only ones who have no boundary with any neighbouring country. This is an accident of geography. Also, unlike the Fulani, the Hausa, the Yoruba or even the Kanuri, the Igbo are found only in Nigeria. Wherever the Igbo are found anywhere else in the world, they went there as Nigerians and not as Igbo. This is an accident of history.
And the Igbo have not been able to stay in good terms with their minority neighbours. For instance, in the First Republic, Eastern Region Premier Michael Okpara, Deputy Premier Nwodo and Governor Ibiam were all Igbo, unlike in the north, for instance, where Premier Bello was Hausa/Fulani, Deputy Premier Makaman Bida was Nupe and Governor Kashim was Kanuri.
One of the major tragedies of the Igbo is the fact that they have abandoned their merit-based society for something else. They abandoned their well-known quest for knowledge and excellence for cut-throat quest for wealth by whatever means. Consequently, their young ones who make money by legal and extra-legal means do not respect their elders anymore. Instead of their egalitarian society that had served them very well in the past, they are inventing royalties such that almost everyone is either a king or a prince there now! A society of free citizens, with collective responsibility, which had rejected British-imposed warrant chiefs, is now rushing to be subjects, just to copy others.
And for those of them who want to produce a Nigerian president, they must remember that they have to build bridges of understanding. They should study the three southerners who got elected as president and learn from what they have been doing that endeared them to the rest of Nigeria. Obasanjo has never considered himself a Yoruba even though he proudly belongs to that great African civilization. In fact, he considers himself an African first before any other thing. When Obasanjo was military head of state, he was very fair and just to all. He established the River Basin Development authorities which helped especially the northern economy. He set up the Universal Primary Education which helped the children of the poor all over Nigeria to get education. He never surrounded himself with his Yoruba kinsmen but capable Nigerians. This is the reason why the north adopted him as its son and his main political base throughout his public life is the north and not his place of origin.
Chief MKO Abiola won the 1993 presidential that was annulled by the military. Abiola’s generosity was legendary. He helped noble causes and helped the poor not only in Nigeria but around the world. Most of his close friends were northerners and not his Yoruba kinsmen. For every celebration or great occasion anywhere in the north, Abiola made sure he attended and gave his support. He joined the NPN in the Second Republic instead of the UPN, the party that controlled his area. Abiola believed in Nigeria and loved northerners as well as other Nigerians and indeed was a champion of African causes. In turn, northerners voted for him en masse, with Abiola defeating Bashir Tofa in Tofa’s home state of Kano, the most strategic state not only in the north but indeed in Nigeria. That election of June 12, 1993, organized by President Babangida broke the backbone of tribalism in Nigeria.
Dr Goodluck Jonathan won the 2011 presidential election in his own right. He got the support of key northerners, and won the minimum requirement in almost all the northern states. This was because he never showed any inclination towards tribal sentiments. One of his closest confidants was Hassan Tukur, a Fulani from Adamawa, and not anyone from his area or tribe. As a person, Jonathan was a good man whose goodness was hijacked by some evil ones who subsequently mismanaged him. It is important for anyone who is interested in being a national leader to build a national platform. The ordinary people that you see selling tea on the streets, keeping gates in the townships or rearing cows in the bush as well as the ordinary farmers in the country side are politically more sophisticated and aware than many of these so-called educated elite. They are well informed on world affairs with their radios, in fact better informed than many of these elite members.
History is on the side of the oppressed.