Igbos: Again, Wandering in Nigeria’s Political Wilderness

The 2015 Nigerian presidential election has come and gone (unless some elements want to cause trouble) and the spoils have gone to the victorious All Progressives Congress, while the People’s Democratic Party is left agonizing in defeat.

A breakdown of the voting pattern attests to the Igbo’s massive support for the candidate of the PDP and current president, Goodluck Jonathan. All through the four, or so, months of active campaigning, Igbos never hid which side of the fence they were on; prominent Igbo leaders – authentic and self-styled – never bothered to disguise their disdain for the APC and its leadership, especially Muhammadu Buhari. The main recognized Igbo regional political party, All Progressives Grand Alliance, openly declared and adopted Goodluck Jonathan as their presidential candidate, and directed its supporters to vote for him; in doing so, it claimed, they will be fulfilling an unverifiable request by the late Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, the national face of the party. Of course, many unsuspecting illiterates and loyalists of the late Ikemba did as they were told.

The ever energetic crop of unaccredited and misinformed Igbo internet journalists clogged the super highways with various reasons why Igbos should not support Buhari; they unearthed 50 years-old photos of the civil war, caked and browned copies of the Aburi accord, interviews of the late Sarduana, photos of executed drug dealers from Buhari’s days as military head of state, and manufactured quotes of islamization of Nigeria and attributed those to Buhari. To further convince the young Igbo voting public born after the first and second republics, these internet warriors railed on Yoruba and their supposed betrayal of Biafra’s leaders during the civil war – even though many of them fritted their families away to US and Europe during that time; the Awolowo – engineered mandatory payment of twenty pounds to every Igbo family, and the blockade of Biafra during the civil war which led to the death of millions of Igbos. To bolster their claim of Awolowo starvation war tool, 1960s photographs of sick and kwashiorkor-riddled children resurfaced all over the internet media, thereby subjecting the families the victims to an unwanted re-living of these past horrors.

While the Igbos were busy living in the past and dusting up old Biafran files and photographs of executed drug dealers in a new Nigeria with a population majority of whom neither remembered the Buhari military administration nor the civil war, the Yorubas, led by a rather dull looking but very astute negotiator and crafty manager of people, were busy cobbling together what, initially, seemed an impossible and unholy alliance with some sections of the north to wrest power from the PDP. While the likes of Rotimi Amechi, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Kayode Fayemi, Atiku Abubakar, etc. were busy negotiating regional alliances, merging political associations, and securing zonal consensus candidacies with a view towards the future, the Igbos were busy working to shut their doors to APC, plotting to defeat and humiliate any “nwa afo Igbo” who dares to align with the “enemy” to truncate “our son’s” re-election. They proudly and firmly accepted to wait till their turn in 2027 (by PDP zoning calculation), rather than deny Jonathan a second term; something the Yorubas were not willing or ready to do. The brave few, including Rochas Okorocha and Dr. Chris Ngige, who dared to identify with this dreaded Ebola called APC, were branded traitors and their Igbo origins were questioned in the public domain.

Anyone who dared to query the wholesale Igbo support for Jonathan was reminded of his promise to build a second Niger bridge (the same illusion he used to garner Igbo votes in 2011), others were reminded that he is a Christian, or that he will support the Igbos come 2027 when it will be “our turn”. The Igbos, in their blind loyalty to one man, and hatred for another, forgot that Nigerian presidents do not care about legacy and, therefore, are not likely to carry out promises made just to earn a second term berth at the presidency. Secondly, not one past president ever cared about another region ascending to the seat after he has served his term. It, therefore, boggles the mind where the Igbos got the idea that Jonathan, in his second term, will build the second Niger Bridge, or help the Igbos in 2027 by rallying the South-South support around an Igbo presidential candidate. This is a man who does not even have clout in his immediate village or his party, the PDP.

Today, as Nigerians look forward to an APC administration at the center, and as the positions are being allocated to reflect the federal character, the position of the Chief of Staff and Speaker of the House will likely be allocated to the southern region of Nigeria; while the South-South may have someone to take up the likely slot of Chief of staff, the Igbos have no legislator high enough in the APC leadership hierarch to occupy the post of the Speaker of the House. So, the Igbos, in their zeal to ensure the defeat and humiliation of their imaginary “enemy”, seem to have shot themselves in the head. As that Igbo adage says; “onye noro ebe an eke akpa m’okwugi okwu, e kere onu ya tinye na akpa”.While Tinubu and company were tying up the APC bags, the Igbos sat and watched, believing that it will be a wasted exercise. Now the bag is tied and the only person/team poised to benefit are the two Igbo sons that were vilified and branded outcasts.

Once more, as it was in 2007 and 2011, the Igbos are left literally holding an empty bag in the current political dispensation. They are, again, up the creek without a paddle; thrown deep into the cave without a lifeline, and it is all of their own making. Blinded by unqualified loyalty, the possibility of a Jonathan loss did not cross their minds; deafened by an internally generated noise, they could not hear the tsunami of change every other region heard. The current Igbo political situation is much more compounded by the dearth of charismatic and transformational leaders in the region. Currently, there are no political tacticians like Tinubu in Igboland, no populists like Buhari, and no strategists like Rotimi – though they may want to claim him as one of their own like they did Jonathan. What exists at the moment are selfish opportunists with titles too many to cover two sheets of an exercise book. The difficulty of rearing or grooming someone like Tinubu, Buhari, or Amechi in Igboland is not lost on the people; especially, in a tribe where unity and consensus decision is an aberration.

The Igbos have a long way to go to be relevant in Nigerian politics, and time seems to be running out on them. Just as MKO Abiola boasted to Arthur Nzeribe that he can win the presidency without Igbo votes, Buhari and APC have achieved the same feat in 2015. There is a likelihood that other regions, when it is their turn to produce the presidency, could form enough regional coalition to do so; thereby further relegating the Igbos to a minority and inconsequential group in deciding who emerges as Nigeria’s president. Many may argue that this is not true, and that what happened on May 28 was an isolated incident; however, the numbers tell the story; Buhari won with 2.57 million votes over Jonathan, and the total accepted number of votes from the 5 southeastern states are just about, if not less than, that number. So, realistically, anyone from the north or southwest can win the Nigerian presidency without Igbo votes.

This is very scary, and does not bode well for Igbo relevance in Nigeria’s political future. The time to start a rethink is now, and it starts with accepting that in politics you have to sleep with the devil to get what you want. 

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