BY OKEY IKECHUKWU
Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, in Sunday Sun newspaper of February 2, 2020, took on the Igbos in an elaborate interview that touched on many national issues. Although he did not seem to have taken the many political and institutional challenges that are standing in the way of Ndigbo in Nigeria today into full account in his prognosis, his observations about the “internally generated” problems of approach by Igbo politicians are spot on. He urged the Igbo elite to wake up to what it takes to become president in today’s Nigeria. Hear him: “The issue is that every corner of the country has an ambition…If people in Igbo land who want to be president are not ready to go around and canvass the nomination then they will never get there…What wins an election is a candidate that other parts of Nigeria will feel safe and comfortable with.” He did not preclude the possibility, or right, of the Igbo or anyone else for that matter to be president of the country. “If the person I know will best serve the interest of the country comes from the South-east, I will vote for him or her,” was Babachir Lawal’s submission.
Not quite done, he continued: “South-east must understand that sitting and crying marginalisation is not what gives the ticket…My sister was one of Kingsley Moghalu’s campaign members. She talks about him as if he is Angel Gabriel. Why did the Igbo not vote him? Why did we not see all the votes from the South-east go to him? Why did 99 per cent vote from that region go to Atiku, a Fulani man from Adamawa at the expense of their son? During the 2014 APC convention in Lagos Okorocha was the man we feared most because we felt that with five states all the Igbo delegates would vote him as an Igbo man, and at that there was so much anti-Buhari sentiment… But Okorocha got all his votes from the North. Why are they (Igbo) saying they are being marginalised when they do not patronise themselves?”
The above queries by Lawal bring out only one major aspect of the political crises facing the South-east today, namely, lack of elite consensus. There is also the benumbing leaning towards a messiah mentality by some Igbo who desire public office. Then you have the nihilistic in-fighting by a ruling elite that lives by a “me or no one else” philosophy. Look where you may. Ask yourself whether it was the masses that gleefully mobilised to rig elections in some parts of the South-east, to give Buhari his required 25 per cent spread during the last elections, or the elite with poor strategic thinking and no real following. But let us go back to more, presumably anti-Igbo-presidency, comments.
In the same newspaper, former Director General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Idi Farouk, said he did not want an Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa president, but a Nigerian president everyone would be comfortable with. The implication of his statement is that the ethnic roots of a president would not matter if the person in question is seen by all to embrace all. Thus, Farouk will rather have “a president of Igbo extraction” rather than “an Igbo president,” in 2023. From the standpoint of Realpolitik, he submits thus: “There had been no time that the Igbo have not been allowed to contest an election, but politics is about participation and the power to rally.” Addressing Ndigbo, Farouk said: “My call to those advocating for Igbo presidency is that the only party that has rotation in its constitution is the PDP. I know this from a source book I did during my time at the NOA, which contained the manifesto and constitution of all the political parties. In terms of rotation, it is only the PDP that guarantees that, but that is not to say that any party has stopped anyone from contesting on the basis of their tribe. Like they have also not stopped women and the youth from becoming president. However, for you to be the president you have to be the candidate of a political party. To be a president you have to rally the people and gain national consensus.”
True. All true. But there is still the matter of poor leverage, perhaps occasioned by the systematic leaching of Ndigbo from all that matters in Nigeria today. But let us move on to Funtua’s submission on this same matter.
About a month ago, Alhaji Isa Funtua took it upon himself to shake an admonishing finger at South-easterners and their politicians on the matter of 2023 presidency. This was during a talk show on Arise television studios in Lagos. Addressing the Reuben Abati-led team of anchor persons, he said: “Nobody is going to hold you in this country like a newly-born baby. With due respect to the Igbos, they fail to understand…it is no issue of 2023 an Igbo man must be president of Nigeria. If you want to be president, belong. You don’t want to belong; you will not be president. Abiola went out of his way. He cultivated people and he got the results. So, they should learn from there.” Valid points about Abiola, we must admit. But he did not become president.
Funtua’s observations are modified and reinforced in Lawal’s and Farouk’s submissions. The summary of it all is that Ndigbo should get their act together and create a profile that would have a reassuring effect on the rest of the polity, if they wish to be taken seriously. Entrusting them with the affairs and fortunes of the Nigerian State is not something that will happen while they are still regarded with suspicion. Yes indeed. But the question remains: …sorry, I forgot the question.
Alhaji Funtua’s comments, in particular, elicited heated debates, and even some outrage (even if feigned) within sections of the Igbo political elite, media practitioners and intelligentsia. But it was a mixed bag. There were Igbo stakeholders who felt that the presumably offending statements were valid points, which the Igbo political leadership should take seriously if they wished to be relevant going forward. In fact, the statements of the three men mentioned and quoted here today should ordinarily be taken as providing warnings and signposts that should be reviewed, internalised for strategic planning and used as guide in designing a viable template for better engagement with the Nigerian state by Ndigbo. This was the dominant strand in the reactions to Funtua’s and Farouk’s statements at a recent private roundtable, where major stakeholders lamented the lack of consensus and group cohesion among Ndigbo on any matter.
Now let us, for the sake of argument, ask: “Which one of the Igbo politicians of today can be likened to an Abiola?” Certainly not those whose eyes are so fixated on the presidency that it is almost beginning to hurt them from the continuous staring, even as they ignore their current watch in pursuit of a deleterious illusion. The growing concern about the fate of Ndigbo in Nigeria is connected with a restiveness occasioned by unemployment and a shrinking economic space that has fuelled calls for secession. Meanwhile, the call by the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) only deepens the fears of other groups. Thus, IPOB is seen as symptomatic of the Igbo crisis in Nigeria, rather than a problem the Igbo youths and elite should help Nigeria to solve. The political elite that is on its own. It is threatened by an IPOB that will rather have all current political leaders eliminated. No one is entirely sure of what to do with (or about) an Ohanaeze that has long acquired a reputation for ineffectual grandstanding, or a business elite that is allergic to its own ethnic, or domestic, address in all its major investments.
The twin, or double-barrelled, interventions of Lawal and Farouk coming a month after Funtua’s frontal declarations has led to an attempt to build a consensus that is neither strategic nor forward-looking. It has led to a call on Igbo man or woman of repute to ignore Funtua’s or Farouk and Lawal’s statements. The expected benefit is this: If you do not endorse, repeat or reinforce such a statement, you will be seen not to be washing the Igbo dirty linen in public and, thereby, giving enemies a quotable person of repute on which to anchor their continued marginalisation of Ndigbo. Beautiful submission, I dare say!
But can anyone be rationally accused of washing family dirty linen in public when the linen in question has been hanging in the village square for weeks on end? It becomes doubly problematic, even tragic, disconcerting and indecent, when the owners of the linen are known, their address is on the hanging linen and everyone has become aware of their inability to use soap properly. Then, amidst all of that, members of the family whose dirty linen is in public view begin to urge one another not to say anything about the linen hanging in the village square; no matter what others choose to say or do about it.
Dirty linen is one thing, but smelly dirty linen is another. The latter has no hiding place. It is annoying to neighbours and bad for family reputation. A family so circumstanced will not hoodwink anyone into giving it the leadership stool of the community. So, nothing is gained when a group that has lessons to learn prefers to block its ears and stumble along; all the while calling whoever dares speak up, or call for strategic thinking, a saboteur. Truth is: the bulk of the current Igbo political elite is not amenable to advice, nor open to the Realpolitik of the Nigerian State of today. What is playing out in Imo State today speaks volumes about the possibility of Igbo political development and redemption.