In Defence of South-East Leaders


Ethelbert Okere‎ argues that the visit to Rivers and some South-east states by a delegation of northern states governors, was undermined by Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State’s scathing remarks against Igbo leaders

During the recent so called truce visit to Rivers and some South-east states by a delegation of governors from the northern states, following the recent the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) saga, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno state made some scathing remarks about Igbo leaders. While giving his views on why there is agitation for Biafra, Shettima reportedly said that contrary to the claim by the people of the zone, the problems in the South-east are not as a result of marginalization but the failure of leaders from the zone who had held top public offices at the federal level to use the opportunity to work for the well-being of their people.

The governor also reportedly accused South-east leaders of “pocketing the resources that would have been used in developing the zone at the detriment of the people”. With Shettima were four other governors namely; Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Simon Lalong (Pleateau), and Bello Masari (Katsina). Shettima reportedly further said as follows: “you can take for instance the case of Nnamdi Kanu who is an ordinary criminal. When he was arrested, senators from the South-east were falling heads over to bail him for what they could gain at the detriment of national unity and peaceful co-existence”.

Before arriving Owerri, the team had been to Port Harcourt in Rivers State and Umuahia in Abia State where Shettima had reportedly said that he left pressing matters concerning Boko Haram in his Borno state to come to the South-east because, according to him, IPOB poses more danger to the country than Boko Haram. From the foregoing, we have three issues to look at: one, that South-east leaders, and not marginalization should be blamed for the problems of the zones; two, that senators from the South-east decided to ensure that the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, met his bail conditions for selfish reasons and three, that IPOB poses more danger to the country than Boko Haram.

Let’s take the first. In my opinion, Shettima does not have the moral credentials to level that accusation on South-east political leaders. Agreed, the people of the zone have issues with some of their political leaders, especially the governors. But apart from that the governor’s claim that the zone is not being marginalized is incorrect, the timing of that statement was most inappropriate. Shettima’s statement was in bad faith and was a mere mockery of his colleagues in the South-east. The governor knows that he was not being sincere in his claim that there is no marginalization even though personally, I resent that excuse for reasons I need not go into here. But that some of us chose to play down the marginalization argument does not mean that it does not exist.

Similarly, it is sheer blackmail to always reel out the names of Southeasterners who had occupied federal public offices. The truth is that there are still issues between the people of the zone and the federal government despite those appointments. In any case, we now know that there is a certain paranoia over the matter of appointing people from the South-east to offices at the federal level. How? Those, like Shettima, who take it upon themselves to always reel out the names are so ignorant that they include Dr. Ibe Kachukwu, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, as natives of Southeast, simply because they bear Igbo names or come from Igbo–speaking part of an entirely different geo-political zone. So, in search of a ready-made answer to queries by the South-east and its people, they prefer to muddle up things.

If we were to rationalize the pervasive perfidy in the country, whether in the south or north, then Shettima and other members of the northern political elite are the worst culprits. It is not a hidden matter that even though the north provided the political leadership of the country for most of the period between independence and now, its people do not have much to show for it. It was only recently that some radical elements from the area (north) began to draw the attention of its elite to its failure in uplifting the people of that area despite dominating federal power for years. Shettima’s statement was uncalled for and as far as I am concerned, what the delegation went to do in the South-east was not a ‘truce’ visit. It was to match through a territory now ‘occupied’ by their military collaborators.

Then take the matter of the South-east senators going for Kalu’s bail. In my view, what Shettima said amounts to ‘hate speech’ even though I personally hate to employ that phrase because, as far as I am concern, there is nothing like hate speech. Did the governor expect the same South-east leaders he is castigating to have sat by and watch Kanu, their own son and brother, rot away in the cell?

Finally to the issue of IPOB being more deadly than Boko Haram. Really? Did such a statement come from a governor who may tomorrow jump into the ring to contest for the president of the entire country? I am sure that Shettima has seen the reactions from Nigerians to that statement credited to him. So, I leave it to him to re-examine his conscience to see whether he was fair to the totality of Nigerians, not just people of the South-east, in making that statement.

Unfortunately, Shettima went away completely unchallenged by the Igbo leaders present at the occasion there in Owerri, including his colleague and host, Governor Rochas Okorocha. Interestingly, Shettima, after that talk-down on the people of the South-east, turned round and showered praises on Okorocha, calling him a ‘detrabalised’ Nigerian. I am sure that it was at the mentioned of the word “detrabalised” that Okorocha was swept off his feet. That is the type of thing he likes to hear. Shettima could go away with murder simply for addressing Okorocha as a detrabalised Nigeria.

And that is the tragedy of our people. Let me call a spade a spade, many so called Igbo leaders get carried away by being referred to as detrabalised. Although leaders from other areas also wallow in such vain glory, the Igbo are the worse culprits. I call such people the Igbo of Liberia because if you are not proud of where you come from, then you get banished to a place where you can live anonymously forever. It is a grand illusion to see oneself as detrabalised.

Unknown to many, the “I am detrabalised” refrain is one of the major causes of instability in the country. As a country, we live in a lie. We have refused to acknowledge the fact that we are, first and foremost, different peoples. It has even gotten to a stage where it is a crime to say that you are Igbo or Yoruba or Hausa. But the tragedy really is that there exists at the same time, both an unconscious and deliberate attempt to make other ethnic groups subsume their identities into one. What a fallacy. What a lie. What a grand deceit!

While I was gathering materials for my new book that will soon be unveiled, I came across scholarly proofs that what made India (which like Nigeria is a multicultural and multiethnic society) successful in her practice of federalism is that Indians always remind themselves that they are different people, but who chose to live in one country on some terms which every constituent works hard to meet in order to keep the union going. But not so in Nigeria. To be a Nigerian, you must not say you are Igbo or Yoruba or Ijaw; but from Liberia.

Were the Igbo leaders who gathered in Owerri that fateful day not from Liberia, they would have challenged Shettima on the things he said. I, like Okorocha, was never enamored by Kanu and his IPOB, especially of their modus operandi. But perhaps if I had had an inkling that Shettima will say the type of things attributed to him as we have seen in this article, I would have been a supporter of IPOB since it would not have mattered: Shettima and his ilk had already made up their minds about the people of the South-east, IPOB or no IPOB.

It is not a hidden matter that even though the north provided the political leadership of the country for most of the period between independence and now, its people do not have much to show for it.