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For these endorsements, Igbo votes must count

By Obi Nwakanma
Ralph Uwechue is a distinguished Igbo. If Nigeria were serious about its own purpose, Uwechue would be the kind of candidate whose political contacts, wide-ranging professional experience, education, and exposure to the international system would have been a rich attribute for the senate of the Federal Republic.

This is the role of his peers elsewhere in the world. They become the guardians of the mores of the land, a role which they hold in trust for their children and grandchildren –  and other special interests of course.

He was a first class diplomat, and an envoy of war; he sacrificed his career for a great cause as he saw it – the defence of his “beleaguered people” – and at the end, he made peace, and found another calling in publishing and journalism. Uwechue has experience in international security and in public policy.

Such wealth of experience are never fully retired in other places in the world.  For instance, if the leadership of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka or Ibadan or Benin had both foresight and insight, they would have invited Ralph Uwechue, in the case of Nsukka, make him an Nnamdi Azikiwe Senior Fellow in Public Policy, International security and Global Studies with interdisciplinary affiliations with the Hansberry Institute of African Studies and the School of Social Sciences.

There are so many such examples in Nigeria of similar qualities whose wealth of experience are not strategically recycled to provide value in the universities and research institutes. Such centers and such people would be far more critical resources for a nation seeking to make its mark in the world.

It is people like Uwechue for whom we should be seeking endorsements. But that is not to be. Uwechue finds himself as president of Ohaneze. Nothing bad in that, for at the head of the major Igbo lobby organization, he sits on a potentially great political power that could do great good too.

It’s the equivalent of such groups as the NACCP, or the Urban League in America or the World Jewish Council. A rather cynical friend of mine even has called it the “Igbo equivalent of the Bilderberg.” That’s an exaggeration of course. But we get the drift. Ohaneze’s “ime obi” is secretive.

For an organization that purports to represent the Igbo, it is not really in touch with the Igbo people, nor has it established such a stake well enough grounded to speak with absolute and categorical force to the Igbo. Uwechue is an Igbo, and so ought to understand his own people a bit more.

But nothing suggests to me that he has taken time to understand the dynamic of Igbo politics. Now, Ohaneze has entered the endorsement fray which came in the tide of statements, first by governors of the South East withdrawing from contesting for the presidency, then by Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, ranking senator from Enugu.

Now a South-East group has all agreed to endorse Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for the presidency. I think endorsements are good things. They are acts of faith. But I wish to caution that groups that purport to speak about a heterogenous Igbo voting bloc must be a bit more cautious.

Igbo are unrepentant democrats and hardly vote in blocs. Only two phenomena in their modern history have mobilized the Igbo: one, the phenomenon called Nnamdi Azikiwe – “Zik nwa jelu Oyibo” – and the second, the threat of extermination in which they rallied around Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.

In each case, the Igbo saw their individual self-interests united around a common personality and a common cause. It took arduous campaign on the part of Zik, and a clear-and present danger during the civil war. Otherwise, Igbo political culture disdains absolutes.

The Igbo have no kings. The only king of the Igbo is the collective spirit. To arrive at that collective will takes tedious debate and consensus building. The discussions do not take place in any “ime obi” they occur in the Igbo commons. I fear that the various groups making political deals on behalf of this people, famous for their fierce independence and ambivalence with central authority, without broad consultations are making a great mistake.

Igbo people build consensus tediously. The endorsements on behalf of the Igbo by various groups purporting to speak in their behalf, for Goodluck Jonathan, Muhammadu Buhari, or any other aspirants will ultimately comedown to that question: “what is in it for me?” And that is as it should be.

What is in it for the Igbo? The question of whom to vote must be discussed in families, town union meetings, village meetings, and so on and so forth. We must be wary of easy compromises because they thaw very easily.

By that I mean that the hard boots must be on the ground by those who would campaign among the Igbo, as among the various peoples of Nigeria.

Each candidate seeking their votes must show proof of broad, workable economic programs or plans that will create employment, ensure job security, fund massive infrastructural rehabilitation of this decayed country; provide quality education, youth programs, research and development initiatives, well-built and affordable urban housing, guaranteed federal credits for young entrepreneurs, more funding for arts and culture, etc.

We need to know the specific plans for Nigeria’s national domestic and international security which is currently in a troubling state; public health and public welfare programs; energy policy reform; reform of the civil service; the restoration of our once great schools – particularly the Government Colleges – and so on.

For the Igbo, it is in their interest to lobby for a reform of the quota system, to be replaced by an alternative which must guarantee and protect equal employment rights and end state-sponsored acts of discrimination.

Igbo have a huge number of unemployed; they also have a terrible situation of ecological disaster both from natural and unnatural causes: the federal government must begin to take responsibility for cleaning up the toxic levels of chemical pollution inflicted on Igbo land from long term effects of the massive level of chemicals unleashed on it from war – including we are told – the use of napalm bombs, as well as the direct effects of oil exploration that has poisoned the natural environment, the ground water resources, and the soil of the lands in the East.

They must seek a declaration of the South-East as an ecological emergency zone, and to rehabilitate public infrastructure in the East left unrebuilt since the end of the civil war. These are minimum demands that must be basis for any negotiations for Igbo votes. Above all, they must ensure that Igbo votes across Nigeria count in the first place.


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