Since independence and the subsequent Nigeria/Biafra Civil War, the South-east and the Igbo are yet to get it right in the political calculation contrary to expectations given their population and successes in almost every other sphere of life. Who will liberate the Igbo Nation? KEHINDE OSASONA asks in this piece.
It goes without saying that Nigerians of South-east extraction who speak the Igbo language and are known as Igbo by tribe make a large chunk of Nigeria’s population. Though they are known mostly for their entrepreneurial skills there are quite a number of Igbo people doing well in other sectors.
However, the Igbo nation is believed not to have been able to leverage on its population and reach to negotiate a better deal for its people. This has been traced to the political fragmentation of the Igbo nation which dates as far back as the pre-colonial era.
The problem with the Igbo
Former chairman of the Northern Elders’ Forum, Chief Paul Unongo, in an interview granted in 2017, castigated the Igbo for rejecting Nnamdi Azikiwe candidacy as President of Nigeria on severally.
Unongo who spoke at a lecture organised by Chief Charles Udeogaranya and Ohaneze Ndigbo to mark Zik’s post-humus 113rd birthday in Lagos state, praised Zik’s leadership qualities, which he said convinced him to work for him.
According to him, it was the conviction that made him join the late Zik throughout the country canvassing for votes to be elected executive president in the elections of 1979.
‘’To my greatest surprise and shock, I found the greatest resistance to Zik’s presidential candidacy in the Igbo speaking areas of Nigeria. The majority of Igbo people told me that no Igbo man could become President,’’ he said.
Similarly, former Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Party (APC), Joe Igbokwe, once said: “We (igbo) have never sat down to pick one Igbo leader in Igbo land. May be time has come for us to do so.”
However, from the late Premier of the Eastern Region, Micheal Okpara, to the late former Governor of Anambra state, Christian Onoh, K.O. Mbadiwe, S.G. Ikoku and Chuba Okadigbo, the people are used to choosing their leader and for them, no leader is indispensable.
Decades after, this seeming political independence of the Igbo has been observed to have lead to a leadership crisis, with the elite and other groups pitching their tents with their preferred group or political associates in the bid to outwit one another as the authentic voice of the Igbo nation.
While speaking with Blueprint Weekend on the problem with the Ndi Igbo, a Public Analyst, Lucas Anyassi Eke, said that: “The Igbo nation needs to speak in one voice and cohesion which has continued to plague and deplete its ranks. Like every other region, the Igbo should be able to speak with one voice and harmonise position on political matters and issues of great importance.
“For instance, I see no reason a group that has contributed economically and politically to the country’s progress cannot confer leadership on one of its sound or group of sound minds as the case may be; like we have in other regions to speak for them while the Ohaneze would be the think-tank.”
Continuing, he said: “That, for me will erase the era of someone taking a position in Nnewi and another person countering his stance in Owerri or Ebonyi state. I think we should have outgrown that especially now that viable political positions have continued to elude the region and our stakeholder’s status is being threatened.”
Seeking a common front
In 2017, when Igbo leaders from the South-east zone, governors and leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural body, converged on Enugu, they came up with a seven-point communiqué’ bordering on the future of the region.
It read in part: “That the South-east governors, members of the National Assembly from the South east, and the leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo, should henceforth constitute the official organs that will speak on behalf of Ndigbo on political matters.”
Shortly after, as a way of demonstrating its preparedness for the task ahead, the President-General of the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, also reiterated his team’s plan to implement his vision for Ohaneze Ndigbo.
Nwodo stated that: “Ndi Igbo as well as the wider community of Nigerians should endeavour to support our new leadership in fulfilling our mandate in these challenging times.”
Pointedly, the South-east region and by extension Ndi Igbo have been battling with leadership challenges. In recent times, new gladiators from the region for some observers and keen followers of political events have made the Igbo quest for leadership more cumbersome and complicated. Some of these self acclaimed leaders of the Igbo only succeeded in breeding discordant rather than uniting the region.
One of such leader is the Founder of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Chief Ralph Uwazuruike. The pro-Biafra agitator converted the Ijele Ndigbo title conferred on him by the traditional ruler of Nri Kingdom in Anambra state, to Eze Igbo Gburugburu, meaning an all round ruler/king of the Igbo.
Uwazuruike, who described yet another self-acclaimed Igbo leader and Founder of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu and Igbo people as “backbiter and blackmailers,” maintained that that people of the South-east were good at “double-crossing” their own.
He said, “I formed MASSOB. As a matter of fact, I am the originator of the new Biafra struggle. I originated it in 1999 and no other group spoke of Biafra before 1999.
“I also said it that we would allow the formation of other groups. I studied Political Science and Law and I have read many issues on struggles and revolutions and concluded that there was no way one group could achieve Biafra without other factions.
‘Igbo need to speak in one voice’
“I went to London and floated Radio Biafra there. I needed somebody to operate it and I appointed Nnamdi Kanu as the director but he felt that the best thing he could do was to blackmail me with the radio.
“Yes, with my own radio station! It is not new because that is the nature of an Igbo man. It is for the Igbo man to backbite, to double-cross his brother; and that is why we are behind the Nigerian scheme. As long as the Igbo man continues with that mentality, the Igbo race is doomed.”
Just as the region was getting over the idea of MASSOB, the Kanu’s phenomenon took centre stage. After spending more than two year in jail without trial on treason charges, Nnamdi Kanu, added his name in the Igbo leadership roll-call when his movement, made up mainly of people from the Igbo ethnic group, formed the independent nation of Biafra and took agitation and Biafra activism to a controversial level.
Dissecting Kanu recently, Joe Igbokwe, a politician of Igbo extraction, described his method of agitation as potentially dangerous and frightening. According to him, the President General of Ohanaeze, Chief Nwodo, the five South-east governors, and other prominent leaders in Igbo land fits leadership position for the region.
“The late Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu has done his bit, Ralph Nwazurike has done his bit, and he is still fighting. Nnamdi Kanu has also joined but his method of agitation is potentially dangerous and frightening.
“Nnamdi Kanu became popular by abusing other Nigerians calling Nigeria a zoo, and preaching hate and ethnic bigotry. Hate speech can lead to exchange of hot words, and the next thing that can happen is war. Once there is a full-scale war, thousands even millions will die.
“After the loss of the 2015 Presidential election, which Igbo never thought Jonathan would lose, hell was let loose. The colossal and tragic loss led some Igbo leaders to believe in anybody that will throw as many stones as possible at the All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari. I can understand this. They did not play better politics as they put all their eggs in one basket. Kanu became what they needed to fight back.”
Speaking further he said: “Kanu is not an Igbo leader and can never be one. He is a kid. The Holy Book says: ‘Woe betides a nation whose leader is a child.’ We have competent, trusted and tested leaders in Igbo land. We have millions who do not believe in the so-called Biafra and when the chips are down, you will hear them loud and clear.
“Leading a sophisticated and hard-working tribe like the Igbo is not an all-comers affair. It is for the serious-minded; the cerebral; the educated; the cultured; and experienced. We have yet to know Nnamdi Kanu’s pedigree, temperament, antecedents, and education. You cannot put a crown on a clown and expect a king.
“If a blind man leads a blind man, both of them will fall into a pit. Kanu with all due respect cannot lead the Igbo. This I know, all things considered. What we need now is war of sense and not war of bullets.
“We have never sat down to pick one Igbo leader in Igbo land. Maybe time has come for us to do so because of Nnamdi Kanu’s nuisance value. When elders are not at home, children may wear snakes as necklaces,” he lamented.
On its part, while reiterating its stance against Igbo leadership other than IPOB, the group had maintained that those who parade themselves as leaders of the Igbo are the main problem of the Igbo nation because they have continually undermined the collective interest of the people.
IPOB Media and Publicity Director, Comrade Emma Powerful, in a statement issued some months back, traced what he called the bad leadership in Igbo land to the era of the late Ukpabi Asika, who served as the administrator of the defunct East Central State after the Nigeria-Biafra War. He regretted that subsequent Igbo leaders had also not provided the much-needed inspirational leadership.
The group alleged that Igbo leaders, over the years, were people foisted on them by the Northern Caliphate, stating that it was the Caliphate that decided who would become governor, senator and even the leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo.
The statement read in part: “The issue is not about Igbo leaders not doing enough to promote Igbo interest. The problem is that Igbo leaders are actively engaged in the undermining of the collective Igbo interest. With the notable exception of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state, the rest are mere errand boys for Abuja and the Caliphate.
“They are visibly terrified of their Fulani masters and would not want to do anything to jeopardize their cherished lucrative relationship with their masters in the North. The supposedly apex socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo, is considerably worse.
“The problem of bad leadership in Igbo land started immediately after the war. From the imposition of Ukpabi Asika as the administrator of the then East Central State, Igbo have never had good and honest leaders.
“They have honest social critics and commentators, but rarely good leaders. Every leader you see in Igboland today was placed in office by the caliphate. The Fulani caliphate decides who becomes governor, senator, Ohaneze Ndigbo president general and so on.”
The statement further alleged that: “These supposedly Igbo leaders are on record as being the first set of people to condemn IPOB and invite Hausa-Fulani soldiers to come and kill Biafrans. Many people don’t know that IPOB has even more significant presence in Igweocha, Rivers state, than anywhere else in Biafra land, but you don’t hear Ijaw, Ikwerre Igbo, Ndoni or even Ogoni politicians castigate IPOB the way Igbo politicians do on a regular basis. That tells where their loyalty lies.
“Yoruba elders never publicly condemn OPC, Arewa Consultative Forum till date has not offered any categorical condemnation of Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen, but Igbo leaders themselves canvassed that government should deploy soldiers to the South East to kill innocent agitators.
“These same leaders never ran to Buhari to send soldiers to stop Fulani herdsmen from slaughtering our people all over Enugu State, but when it came to IPOB agitating to free everybody from the Nigerian bondage, they found the courage to invite the army to invade Igbo land.”
IPOB also spoke on its rejection of the first President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, arguing that history was replete with Zik’s accomplishments and miscalculations.
“Zik was an impediment to Igbo and Biafra progress within Nigeria, hence our repudiation of all that he stood for. Zik’s dream and greed to lead the world’s biggest black nation just to rub shoulders with the western leaders put us in this mess.
“Despite his undoubted brilliance and intellectual, Zik was not a very good politician. He remains till date the only person that led an independence struggle and never got the chance to lead the country after independence. Unfortunately, the present day Igbo leaders have continued in that failed politics of Zik.
“That is why today we are discussing cows instead of industries, science and technology, begging the Fulani to stop killing their fellow Nigerians and to allow the existence of Nigeria to be renegotiated into acceptable standard of governance to usher in political stability, economic growth and modern development,” IPOB further said.
Can Peter Obi fill the vacuum?
As campaigns for the 2019 general elections gathers momentum and with the choice of former Governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi, as the PDP presidential candidates’ running mate, permutation by some political pundits is that Obi may have been thrown up as a natural leader of the people.
For PDP Legal Adviser, South-east Zone, Mr Ukpai Ukairo, the choice of Obi is perfect because he would bring value and industry to the economy and governance of the country if the party wins the election. He said that Obi had one of the best track records of performance during his time as governor in Anambra.
The legal adviser said that the fundamentals of the PDP ticket were the tenure issue and the restructuring of the country which the candidates had subscribed to.
According to him, “It is better for us to leverage on this to restructure the country, rather than living in a Nigeria that is not working,” Ukairo said.
Similarly, former Commissioner for Information in Abia state, Mr Raph Egbu, said that the ticket would give the zone the needed sense of belonging in the affairs of the country. “Atiku is an experienced politician and must have taken a look at the numbers and what would happen in the various zones during the election.”
However, the choice did not go down well with some party faithful from the zone as they rejected Obi’s as Atiku’s running mate. The position of the party men was made known by a former Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka, after a closed door meeting of the South-east leaders in Enugu.
Chidoka said the South-east leaders were looking forward to a meeting with Abubakar to enable him explain to them why he took such vital decision without consulting them.
Worried that the region once again was getting it wrong, the Youth wing of Ohanaeze Ndigbo called on the South-east governors not to allow their political interest override the collective interest of Ndigbo, especially as the 2019 general election approaches.
President-General of Ohanaeze Youth Wing, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzo, while speaking with journalists in Abakaliki, Ebonyi state, urged all Igbo leaders, including the governors, to work harmoniously for the victory of the PDP presidential candidate and his running mate as such action will protect the general interest of Ndigbo in Nigeria.
Isiguzo, who lamented that Igbo, have since the nation’s independence been marginalized, said that: “Appointing the former governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi, as Atiku’s running mate in the 2019 general election should not be a thing that should tear Igbo apart rather it should reunite us for 2019 elections. This appointment will protect our collective political interest in future.
“l advise them to shelve their sword and should not allow their political interest to work against the interest of the zone. They should as a matter of fact allow the choice of PDP and that of Alhaji Atiku to be,” he said.
On his part, former President Goodluck Jonathan has pleaded with South-east leaders to accept the decision of Atiku Abubakar to choose Peter Obi as his running mate.
Jonathan in a statement by his Media Aide, Ikechukwu Eze, said: “I am told that some of our leaders in the zone have raised issues with the process of consultation that produced the vice presidential candidate”
“I want to directly appeal to my brothers and sisters from the South-east zone, who are members of our party, to reconsider their position and allow the presidential candidate of our party to select a candidate he thinks he can work with to be able to achieve the party’s development goals.
“It is against this backdrop that I appeal for calm and understanding in the South-east, where my attention has been drawn to the fact that some leaders of our party are openly expressing their discomfort with the nomination of former Governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi, as Atiku’s running mate.”
Which way Ndigbo?
According to a prominent Public Commentator, Olusegun Adetuyi, the precarious position of the Igbo in the Nigeria project has boxed them into a disadvantaged position politically and they don’t seem to know which way to go.
Nonetheless, as events unfold ahead of the 2019 elections this question might be answered, however, the question remains: Who will liberate the Igbo nations?