Cally Ikpe, a culture activist, broadcaster and convener of Road to a Violence-free Nigeria argues that a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction is necessary to forge national unity
General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s Head of State in 1970 declared at the end of the Civil War that there was ‘No Victor, No Vanguished’. It was a reconciliatory statement intended to heal all from the animosity that led to a war in the first place. It’s been over five decades since then, yet issues of genuine reconciliation and trust between the Igbos that attempted to secede and the rest of the country have remained a constant in our national discourse. Many have argued that the main reason a Nigerian citizen of Igbo extraction has not ascended the presidency since after the civil war is not unconnected with their role in that dark past. This postulation has remained delicately contentious as many would rather dismiss it as an infantile imagination of pundits and politicians playing on the psyche of the public.
Candidates of Igbo extractions like others from other parts of the country have at every opportunity vied for all elective positions including the presidency. On one occasion, one of theirs was elected Vice President: Dr, Alex Ekwueme served as Vice President to Alhaji Shehu Shagari between 1979 and 1983. Subsequent shots at the presidency had seen names like Chuba Okadigbo, Emmanuel Iwanyanwu, Rochas Okorocha, Peter Obi, Kingsley Moghalu, Obi Ezekwesili and a host of others participate robustly. These patriots contested keenly each time in a process that was conclusive.
While nothing tangible substantiates claims of conspiracy and a deliberate scheme to keep the presidency out of the reach of the Igbos, activities of certain individuals have served to deepen that fear of alienation among the Igbos. Nnamdi Kanu who holds a dual citizenship: British and Nigerian- is a self-acclaimed leader of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), an organization committed to the actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra. Ralph Uwazururike is the leader of Movement for the Actualization. Of the Sovereign State of Biafra, popularly known as MASOB. Both groups have been persistent with their agitation for a sovereign state- a line of action that threatens Nigeria’s sovereignty. Though this trajectory has turned Nnamdi Kanu, particularly because of his exuberance into a fugitive of some sort; it has also served to reinforce that sour consciousness on the minds of all concerned. It must be acknowledged though that an overwhelming number of leaders of Igbo extraction have condemned in very unequivocal terms the activities of that group. These condemnations are quite reassuring, but are they enough to render insignificant all such sour feelings? Goodluck Jonathan as Nigeria’s president probably demonstrated that strong faith when he appointed Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika as Chief of Army Staff in 2010, making it the first time any military officer of Igbo extraction will be so appointed since the civil war.
The quest for self-actualization is not something peculiar to just the Igbos as it has actually been contemplated regardless of magnitude by many other groups: The Yorubas, Ijaws and probably others have at various times toyed with the idea of self-actualization to a near point of believability.
While nothing serious suggests any deliberate plot to frustrate the possibility of an Igbo presidency for Nigeria, many believe such feat at this point of our national life will serve greatly to promote unity and integration. Soothing as that may be, political leaders from that section of the country like others from the minority tribes must note that power is rather taken than given. It behoves on them therefore to escalate their manoeuvres and alliances across the divide as a way to achieving this feat.
Nation building for most countries goes with managing challenges of trust and perceived alienation and hegemony by sections with numerical advantage. A South-east presidency therefore like it happened for the South-south will help further in dousing tension as we march towards a violence-free Nigeria.