Begging? I Beg Your Pardon!

By Okey Ikechukwu

As the Igbo would say, the man who sets out to marry a wife and celebrate his wedding in the Village square while wearing stolen and brightly coloured clothes of another should pray that the owner of the apparel on his back does not turn up in the Village Square while he is rocking his new-found body gear of questionable origins. And this saying has an extension: He who prays that the owner of the stolen clothes he chose to wear to a public event should not attend the event and see him should remember that the village is a small place and that the original owner of the clothes has friends and relations who will carry home a report that would make the thief unable to sleep after close of the day’s business.

But the matter of whether Ohaneze was planning to embark on a begging expedition or not has been laid to rest for good. Just when it was beginning to look like a crescendo was about to be attained by drivers of the campaign of calumny, the project ran out of gas. Untruth may rear its head, and even display some bright colours you cannot ignore, but it can never last long enough to challenge the truth. The mischief makers who tried to float the totally reprehensible narrative lost out in the end. But there is still the after-smell of un-sanctity in the air. No matter.

In reaction to the shocking tale of beggary, the President-general of Ohaneze and the organization’s Secretary General rolled out the tanks of public discourse and drowned out the ridiculous, but viral, claim that the organization came up with the had the hare-brained idea going on some kind of begging expedition to the northern part of the country. To begin with, there was nothing remotely resembling that thought in the two-day Ohaneze retreat where the idea was alleged to have sprouted.

I was at the event. I was also the Lead Speaker at the retreat held in Enugu. My presentation, and other presentations, were focused on new paradigms for Igbo self-actualization in the nation that essentially undergirded by a conspiratorial, and not openly and freely competitive, political economy. It was a soul-searching and truth telling outing. The ensuing Communique spoke to the issues discussed, as well as the new programmes and focal concerns of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Worldwide. So where did the tale of begging and supplication come into it?

Ohaneze, and Ndigbo generally, had a chance to “beg” the North or, more specifically, the Fulani, for support about a year ago. That was before the Last presidential elections, when Peter Obi was a candidate. They did not such thing. Instead, a meeting was called some five months before the elections between the South East Elders Forum and the Northern Welders Forum. In attendance covered the confederacy of all otherwise distinct platforms from both parts of the country, all with a common interest on the issues the coming elections were likely to put   the table.

Prof Ango Abdullahi led the Northern team, while the South east team was led by Chief Simon Okeke, for Chairman of the Police service Commission (PSS) and Chairman of the Anambra Public Officers and Elders Forum (ASPOF). The atmosphere was sombre. The air was charged with barely concealed expectations of horse-trading proposals, since it was a question of an election wherein the highest position in the land was being sought by an Igbo man.

There was a smell of “What is in it for us” in the air. So, it was for the South East Elders Forum to “Make their case” and convince their counterparts that a Peter Obi Gamble was worth their while. The Northern Elder presented Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed as spokesman, while the South East Elders presented Prof Okey Ikechukwu, mni, as spokesman. And so, Ikechukwu was invited to address the Northern elders after the leaders of the two teams had put forth their opening pleasantries.

As one of the very highly respected and also very old Northern Elders later quipped, after the three-hour interaction and exchanges, “We did not see it coming at all. That your Ikechukwu just compelled some of us to thinks about things we probably have bever adverted my mind to in the politics of the momen”. So, what really happened?

As the designate spokesperson for our own side of the table, I started by saying that we had come with a central message; which is captured in the statement: “Come let us reason together”. I said the we had not come to beg them to vote for Mr. Peter Obi, or to ask them to support our son and brother, no. Instead, had come to compare notes with them, on the good product that Nigeria needed a tthat historical hour.

I pointed out that Obi’s choice of their son and brother as running mate was based on his assessment of the latter, as enlightened, successful, and hands-on manager of human and material resources. Obi chose one of their best, who, in addition to being broad-minded, was also known for his substantial, and sustained, investments in human capital development. So, let us reason together, with these questions in mind: (1) “What  sort of leadership and navigational skills do we need to save Nigeria. (2) What type of person can deliver on this, and is Peter Obi, alongside his running mate, the type of team that dan do this job well?

Then came my clincher: “Gentlemen and elders, what every one of us here has in common is that we have all the attributes of people who can be kidnapped for ransom. are prime targets for kidnappers. That is not to say that we are wealthy by any stretch of the imagination in the conventional sense of Nigerians who can routinely sign off millions of naira, or eve n dollars, without blinking; no”!

I pointed out that we all came in more than passably clean air-conditioned vehicles; all in relatively good condition. We all look a little less harassed and less desperately hungry than the average person out there. So, anyone seeing us, and who has caught unto the new-fangle trade of capturing human beings in order to release them again after being paid, will see a potential product he can secure and use to make money”. Everywhere was dead quiet.

I continued: “No bandit, kidnapper or terrorist who accosts any of us on the road will first try to find out who we are, how good or bad we are and whether we are doing our best for humanity and for our fatherland. We would all be just, “ransom-able commodity” and nothing more. Professor, Imam, Senator, Senior military officer, students, name is!

Turning to the Prof Abdulahi, I said: “Recall, sir, that your son was one of the unfortunates of the Kaduna-bound train mishap. Fortunately, no stray bullet found him. But unfortunately, he was taken captive alongside everyone else they people could get hold of after derailing the train and killing some of the passengers. The young man’s identity as your son your son did not make any difference to them, or to anyone for that matter. No! with all the sacrifice you and many other people have made over the last 50 years?

I spoke if the demand for ransom and of the fact that the criminals held unto the young man until the full ransom was fully paid. Shortly thereafter, an incident involving the kidnap of another of your relations, this time with four of your beloved grand children in tow, was reported. It was all Ango Abdullahi’s problem while it lasted.

“The concern for us at the South East Elders Forum had more to do with a desperate need to rescue even our humanity as a people, in addition to all the hullabaloo about elections and positions after the elections. The coming elections, we held, must be sued as a tool for the restoration of the people-centred leadership ideals that characterized the era of the Ahmadu Bellos, Ziks, Awolowos, and so many others of that era.

I reminded us of the circumstances under which Prof Onyemelukwe lost his life in Anambra State, at the age of 84. He was accosted on the road by armed young men. Then they discovered that he was a saboteur working with the Fulanis in Nigeria against Igbo interests. Yes! And they had clear evidence and proof of his treachery before their very eyes. They also told him about this evidence and proof before they shot him. Guess what proof of his treachery and betrayal of Ndigbo they had against him? The 84-year-old man was wearing a caftan. That was all. He had to be executed for wearing Fulani dress in Biafra Land. That was the end of a great scholar of international repute and community leader.

Traditional rulers hitherto thought to be untouchable in various parts of the country are now routinely picked off their royal stool in their kingdoms and emirates like hapless chickens I nan exposed cage. Alongside the foregoing several other issues that were discussed in confidence on both sides.

Baba Ahmed was at his eloquent, and also very realistic best when it was his turn to speak for his side of the table. He raised all the relevant issues, forever focusing on the things that mattered the most. There was neither begging nor demand for begging. The gathering did not query, or try to impugn, the reputation or aspirations of other candidates besides the ones we had on the table at our meeting.

Then the meeting rose, agreeing embark of serious group reflections and introspection, and to reconvene soon thereafter to determine next steps. It was about Nigeria, about or physical, economic, political and moral survival as a people facing common problems that we needed to “reason together” and chart a way forward.

Imagine if a man who, as Vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello university, did so much to fast-track tertiary education for Northerners were to lose his son to criminals at whose current means of livelihood is the fact that they had no education and no socially useful survival skills. The north stood by and Ango’s son was held captive for months. Just as the East watched the husband of Dora Akunyili bumped off in broad daylight by gunmen.

Going back to the matter of whether Ohaneze was planning to beg anyone or not, ”Untruth may rear its head, and even display some bright colours you cannot ignore. But it can never last long enough to challenge and permanently displace the truth”. Begging? I beg your pardon!

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