I HOLD an alternative view to Senator Emmanuel Onwe’s elegant piece entitled: “Igbos Cannot Produce a President with Five States published on these pages on January 8, 2013. It is my considered verdict, not opinion that a president of Igbo extraction cannot emerge in 2015. It’s glaringly obvious that the political conditions necessary for such a grand achievement are absent at the moment. The vice presidency is the only feasible route through which an Igbo person could ascend the presidency by or before 2023. And that is my contention in this essay.
Stereotypes and Myths
Take a quick quiz: If the sum of N5,000 were to be offered to each of its natives in exchange for one of its own holding the office of the president of Nigeria for four years or more, which of the following ethnic groups would be the most likely to accept the cash:
(A)The Yoruba (B) The Hausa (C) The Kanuri (D) The Ijaw (E) The Igbo?
The myth of self-centredness and money addiction among the Igbos in their political transactions has become deeply etched in the consciousness of Nigerians. This fallacy does not rest on any tangible evidence for its sustenance. It’s an ugly generalisation that does not apply to the vast majority of upright, proud and patriotic Igbos. This is not to deny the odious roles played by a few Igbo political pimps, anchored on personal greed and self-centredness, in sabotaging the collective interest – but such is hardly a peculiarity of Ndigbo.
Stereotypes, like taboos, are meant to be broken and reversed.
The Igbo moment to demonstrate true character and to showcase the battle spirit of solidarity and self-sacrifice which saw us through a turbulent history is once again upon us. There cannot be any logical reason why the Igbos would hesitate to push till the last drop of their political sweat for the vice presidency (the only realistic and winnable battle to wage in the 2015 electoral cycle), which will potentially lead to the presidency in 2023, unless we have already been sold out by the greedy few who have persistently besmirched the Igbo reputation. And if this is the case, are the Igbos prepared to put up with such a state of affairs?
No one should be in any doubt that the political battles raging in the country right now, and which will rage for at least another generation, represent the struggles to assert group identity and legitimacy, expressed through the mechanics of politics.
The North has held central power for 38 years. Yet, its leadership is furiously agitating and planning and forging formidable alliances across the country in a push for power shift in 2015. The West has held central power for 12 years. Yet, its leadership is everywhere articulating, advocating and laying the foundations for strategic alliances to secure power shift in 2015. The South-South has held central power for 2 years (5 years by 2015). Yet, its leadership has been the most strident and energized in its push for the retention of central power in 2015. The East held central power for 6 months some 46 years ago. Its ambition for prime power will best be served by power shift in 2015 and crippled by the retention of the status quo. Yet, the Igbos appear to be bereft of ideas, save for the belated efforts of groups such as Njiko Igbo and C21. And even those efforts are headed in the wrong direction, with all due respect to the cerebral Dr Onwe.
The Igbos played second fiddle to prime power in this nation just nine years after the Civil War, occupying the Vice Presidency from 1979 – 1983. It took 29 years after the war for the Igbos to play 3rd fiddle, occupying the post of Senate President from 1999 – 2007. Over 40 years after the war, we have hurried ourselves to the 5th fiddle and hastening down to complete irrelevance. We fought a gallant war of live ammunition and mortar, spilled blood and treasure but ultimately surrendered with our heads held high. Now, in peace time, we are surrendering the war of strategic ideas, argument and persuasion and human mobilisation without as much as a whimper. Haba!
Edmund Burke it was who said that “Our patience will achieve more than our force.” Well, we have tried both: war for three years and patience for 43 years. Head or tail, we’ve lost. The Igbos are constructing their own political wheelchair, as they set about crippling themselves. We cannot reach our destiny by remaining quadriplegic houseboys.
Here, again, we are faced with a historical opportunity to mark our place in this land, and rid our psyche of the debilitating trauma of being cast as outsiders in a nation-family in which we played an outsize role to bring into being.
The colourful fantasy of an Igbo presidency in 2015 or even before 2023 is resistant to hard evidence. It ignores the peculiarities of Nigerian realpolitik. It feeds on the propaganda of the few who feed fat on the status quo to the detriment of Ndigbo. At the head of this jaundiced politics are elements equivalent to the saboteurs of the Civil War era. They want to eat their cake and have it – scream for Igbo presidency in 2015 until they froth in the mouth, knowing this to be unrealistic, knowingly being deceptive – selling us down the drain in the dark but, simultaneously, presenting themselves as champions of the Great Igbo cause during the day.
Those who are only tactically gunning for the presidency while really intending to settle for the vice presidency should be advised to desist. Such negative signalling is neither sufficient to meet the intensity of the debate nor the scale of our demand. Our battle line is boldly drawn. It’s pointless, therefore, to beat about the bush.
President Goodluck Jonathan is a far more calculating and aggressive politician than prevailing wisdom concedes. If he does his math and arrives at the conclusion that he will be less than likely to have the required numbers during the PDP primaries, he might not willingly plunge into a predictable humiliation. The numbers are, of course, the governors and the governors are the numbers. In such a circumstance, the President will unquestionably impose his own candidate – most likely a northern Muslim (almost certainly his Vice President, Alhaji Namadi Sambo – although the VP’s detractors deny his northern patrimony and allege that he is actually “Nnamdi from Edo State”!). This scenario will favour the Igbos to a degree. A northern candidate will certainly be deputised by an Igbo man or woman. However, politicians being what they are, and Jonathan being a consummate politician, the instinct to gamble even against unfavourable mathematical odds, might overwhelm him.
The starting point for the Igbo debate must be a recognition of the inescapable reality that if Jonathan gambles and wins, a potential Igbo presidency will be deferred to 2027. If he gambles (with the Igbos in lock-step with him) and loses, an Igbo presidency will be deferred to 2039. Either way, the Igbos will lose out. First and last, let Igbos engage in this debate in the open.
The Joker in the Pack
The South-West is playing at the top of its political game right now, to the admiration of all serious students of politics with any gift of depth. The unfolding Buhari/Tinubu entente cordiale has riveted the nation, as the platform of the West-North political solidarity firms up. The West is fielding its first-eleven but in two opposing teams at the same time. Proportionately, six stars are fielded in ACN/CPC and five in PDP, with world class talents on the reserve bench in the Labour Party – all three parties hold executive power at either state or federal level. It is a game they can afford to play to great regional benefit and they know it.
The East is stuck in a monogamous marriage of convenience with Jonathan. An entirely barren marriage from the Igbo perspective, thriving on the life blood of sentimentality – but sentimentality as a political strategy is bereft of rationale and thought and, therefore, doomed.
If a Yoruba man becomes a vice president in 2015 and a president again in 2023, Nigerians, who are witness to current events, will be entitled to disregard the inevitable uproar that will rise from the East. You cannot reap where you have not sown.
A non-binary coalition of purely southern Nigeria or purely northern Nigeria as a strategy to maintain central power in perpetuity, or at least until demographics compel a recalibration, is a recipe for a national disaster. Similarly, it would be catastrophic the day Nigerians consciously cleaved purely around religious faith as a political strategy to win federal power. For, whichever faith triumphed, the heart of its policies and style of governance would be inhabited by inflexible theology. It would portend many ills among which would be the cessation of secularity in our national life and the curtailment of our freedoms and liberties on a scale that would recall totalitarian theocracy.
Igbo support for Jonathan in 2015 will translate to acceptance of the deferral of Igbo presidency to 2027 – on the assumption that PDP maintains the reins of power. If that is the case, let the discussion be in the open so that the generality of Igbo people will weigh the implications and come to an informed and consensual resolution. This is too important an issue to Igbo people to be handled in the dark rooms by a few individuals on the basis of selfish personal bargains.
We are a people who have been condemned, with the connivance of some amongst us, to the political wilderness for over 40 years. The way out of our wretched ignominy is not to choose to follow a Moses called from a different land to lead us to our destiny. Our resolve must be to find and follow a Moses called from within our own Israel.
President Jonathan is the last man standing from the Class of 1999. An already extraordinary personal history might be eclipsed by the one that beckons, but which might be ominous for the future prospects of the Nigerian people. By 2015, Jonathan will have been Deputy Governor for 6½ years, Governor for 1½ years, Vice President for 3 years and President for 5 years. He will have exercised executive power at both the state and federal levels for a consecutive period of 16 years – a record of individual domination of power without a historical parallel since independent Nigeria was proclaimed in 1960. If he prevails in the impending political hotwire of 2015, he will, by 2019, have done so for 20 years. He will have passed, by some distance, the stage at which, by historical evidence, the absolute corruptive influence of power amongst African leaders begins to manifest, followed by the onset of the demigod impulse and paralysis in the arena of policy delivery. His power and influence over the events of 2015 will be nearly determinative because he will draw on an unprecedented wealth of iterative experience of the PDP-type politics. But this knowledge should not make cowards of us.
Dr. Oshimiri Wrote From Boston, USA.
This piece was first published in the Guardian.