Nigeria must not have an Igbo President by Aregbeshola Mobolaji

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The Igbo summit in Awka, Anambra State in which there was call for restructuring and the advocacy for a national conversation, new constitution, convocation of a constituent assembly, six year tenure for the president and five vice presidents from the geopolitical zones and rotation of the president among other demands speaks volume.

The Igbos have been marginalized in the Nigerian political space. They are yet to have a shot at the presidency. Their voices have not been heard despite being one of the major ethnic groups. They are viewed with suspicion by their fellow countrymen and covet the most exalted position in the country. Having served in different dispensations and in different capacities, the Igbos are tired of making sacrifices towards nation building and this is reflected in their stand on restructuring.

The clamour for relevance in the Nigerian political space is seen in the creation of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) in 1999 and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in 2014. Since independence in 1960, the Igbos have expressed their displeasure about their marginalization and their quest for the presidency.

The Buhari administration declared the founder of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, a terrorist, arrested him for treason in 2015, detained him without trial for almost two years, later released him on bail and finally silenced him. The president used his authority to stop the call for an independent Igbo state. Both MASSOB and IPOB are secessionist groups which some Igbo elites are opposed to.

Many Nigerians disagreed with President Buhari’s assertion that Nigeria is not negotiable, stating that there was a need for restructuring. The call for restructuring has heightened. Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar has been at the forefront.

Many prominent Nigerians including Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Pa Fasoranti, Professor Jerry Gana, Professor Pat Utomi, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, Chief Olu Falae, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Dr. Segun Mimiko have also learnt their voices to the need for restructuring. Some Nigerians have also accused the ruling APC of insincerity for denying ever promising the restructuring of Nigeria during the 2015 electioneering campaigns.

Nigerians are no doubt divided on the issue of restructuring. Some politicians do not believe in restructuring. Recall that President Buhari dismissed the report of the 2014 National Conference which some people believe contained important recommendations that can be used to proffer solution to many problems Nigeria confronts.

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With the increasing call for restructuring, many people who were once opposed to it are now in support of restructuring. Going back to the 1963 constitution in which there was regional government with the states controlling their resources is now seen by many Nigerians as the way forward. Although the issue of restructuring has been resonating across Nigeria, the Igbos took their time before coming up with a position on restructuring.

The Igbos have never been president of Nigeria and knows exactly what they were saying when they converged at the Alex Ekwueme Square in Awka, Anambra State. They know their history which is replete with marginalization. Prominent Igbo leaders have spoken up against this marginalization and have not shied away from telling those who care to listen. With the return of democracy in 1999, the Igbos have been clamouring to be president of Nigeria.

But some Igbo elites are opposed to Nnamdi Kanu who was advocating for an independent Igbo state due to marginalization.

The opposition of the Igbo elites to secession of the Igbos from the federal republic of Nigeria strengthened Buhari administration’s resolve to silence Nnamdi Kanu and insist that Nigeria is not negotiable. The Igbo elites do not want secession but wants the presidency. Some have even accused Nnamdi Kanu of pursuing a personal agenda. The governors of the five South-Eastern states had announced the proscription of all IPOB activities. Pro-Biafra groups have accused the Igbos of being the greatest threat to their own progress due to their silence on the disappearance of Nnamdi Kanu.

There are also speculations that Nnamdi Kanu was killed by the federal government which ordered the invasion of his home. The media has also been charged with criminal silence and culpable complicity in the disappearance of Nnamdi Kanu by Chief Tola Adeniyi. IPOB stated that only Nnamdi Kanu understood that the current structure would never be fair to the Igbos besides the Nigerian government would never have spoken about restructuring if not for Nnamdi Kanu.

MASSOB also believe that ill-treatment against Igbo businessmen and industrialist by the Buhari administration is a justification for their call for secession.

Since the 1960s, the Niger Delta has been protesting the marginalization of their region with lack of economic development, environmental pollution and lack of economic opportunities leading to deprivation and poverty. The agitation of the Niger Delta was justified since crude oil is derived from this region. The kidnap of oil workers and militancy became the order of the day. Many agreed that there was need to proffer solution to this problem. The agitation of the Niger Delta caught the attention of late President Umar Musa Yar’ Adua. The late Yar Adua came up with different initiatives such as the Amnesty program and the establishment of the Ministry of Niger Delta. The Niger Delta militants consequently surrendered their arms. They co-operated with government due to its commitment to address their concerns. Late President Musa Yar Adua was praised. But after their kinsman Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan ended his tenure as president, the Niger Delta are still alleging marginalization stating that the Niger Delta is the most neglected region in the world and their youths are poorer under the Buhari administration. Kidnapping has returned while militants have resumed their activities. The reality is that government’s initiatives to develop the Niger Delta have not been effective. No matter how much the government disagrees with this assertion, the lack of economic opportunities due to environmental pollution makes the continued protests and agitations of the Niger Delta justified. The Buhari administration has delayed the commencement of the Ogoni clean-up despite its flag-off almost two years ago.

Niger Delta agitators have also suffered military clampdown with the arrest and killing of Ken Saro Wiwa and other oil activists from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1995 by late General Sani Abacha. The mobilization of the Nigerian security service to the Niger Delta region has resulted in human right abuses. These are some of the proof of injustice and marginalization. Government cannot feign ignorance. The oppression of some ethnic groups makes them see the current political structure as unjust and unfair with certain ethnic groups being dominant. Politicians have continued to pay lip service to addressing these issues and this is responsible for the mutual suspicion among ethnic groups. The Nigerian state has been unfair to many ethnic groups with poor infrastructural development and lack of economic opportunities. Nigeria needs to address these problems as a matter of urgent national importance.

The present generation are not proud of this unfair treatment of different ethnic groups even though they seem helpless with the situation. The call for restructuring across different segments of the Nigerian society is indicative of the fact that the present political structure is not working, the people want a better future and also wants to experience meaningful progress across the geo-political zones. Many Nigerians are not happy with the killings in Benue, Zamfara, Plateau, Kaduna and other parts of the country. Governments should be alive to their responsibility of protecting and securing the lives and properties of the citizens.

The protests and agitations against marginalization by some ethnic groups show that a lot still needs to be done on Nigeria’s road to nationhood. Nigeria’s inability to become a nation since independence is partly due to marginalization and ethnic conflicts. Governments cannot continue to act like all is well with Nigeria. Apart from the ethnic groups, the unemployed youths and workers are all marginalized by the political class. Governments must be responsive to the needs and demands of the people.

The stand of the Igbos on restructuring has evoked a debate in the political circles. Some prominent Nigerians from other ethnic groups believe the call for secession by IPOB and MASSOB is justified.

Nigeria is presently not practicing true federalism as wished by some politicians. The Igbos believe restructuring and having a go at the presidency is the pathway to ending the protest in the South East and addressing the injustice and marginalization they have suffered over the decades. They have made sacrifices and supported the aspirations of other ethnic groups. The Igbos have come out openly to say enough is enough besides they are unanimous in their position even though some wants Biafra. The clamour for Igbo presidency and the call for restructuring show that Nigerians need to have a conversation about their co-existence. The country may not make meaningful progress and solve the conflict arising for injustice and marginalization of some ethnic groups if the Buhari administration or future government believe that their agitations are not justified.

Although some Buhari associates including Chibuike Amaechi and Boss Mustapha have called on the Igbos to support President Buhari’s presidential bid in 2019 to pave way for Igbo presidency in 2023, there is a need to address the unwritten rule that ‘’Nigeria must not have an Igbo President’’. There are insinuations and fears that the Igbos would divide Nigeria if elected president. But this is not a justification for the continued injustice and marginalisation of the Igbos. Nigerians should support the aspirations of the Igbos for an Igbo presidency.

Bolaji Samson Aregbeshola is a freelance writer. He is the author of ‘’Nigerian Political Parties and Politicians: Winding Road from Country to Nation’’.

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