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Mending fences, really?

By Ochereome Nnanna
WHEN I heard that some Igbo leaders had scheduled a meeting with Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark to negotiate terms for Igbo support of the perceived Goodluck Jonathan presidential ambition, I pinched myself to see whether I was dreaming or awake.

It turned out that I was actually awake because I felt the pinch. I decided to wait to see the meeting come to pass.

Then on Thursday, August 19, news came that a group of Igbo politicians were meeting in Clark’s Asokoro residence in Abuja . The attendees were people you could not, in all honesty, describe as Igbo nonentities.

Among them were Chief Ken Nnamani; Chief S. N. Okeke; Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife; Dr Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; Professor ABC Nwosu; Chief Achike Udenwa and Senator Uche Chukwumerije. This was actually a set of Class “A” Igbo politicians, meeting with Clark, Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha, retired Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga and retired Brigadier General S. E. Oviawe, among others.

The meeting agreed that it had become imperative to “give attention more to the issues that unite the people of the South-South and South East geopolitical zones who live contiguously (sic) than issues that divide us because there is no ocean without debris”.

They also agreed to work together to tackle the problems both sides are facing in the system, schedule a meeting of elders and leaders of both sides in Enugu at a later date and most importantly, work together towards actualising the emergence of Jonathan as the elected president of Nigeria in 2011.

Ordinarily, nobody from that part of the country (least of all yours sincerely) should raise an eyebrow over such a historic meeting, but I am! I am raising an eyebrow, not because this was the first time the leaders of the two geopolitical zones have met since the return of democracy to Nigeria .

In fact, long before the return of democracy, retired Commodore Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe rallied leaders of the East to meet with the West and later, Middle Belt under the platform of the Council for Unity and Understanding (CUU) in the early 1990s.

CUU in May 1994 transformed into the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). The objective of this effort was, in summary, to raise a strong Southern and Middle Belt front to reduce the arrogance of sectional power and banish inequalities within the Nigerian system.

Also in 2000, Ukiwe formed the Council of Eastern States (CES) and invited Ambassador Matthew Mbu, a dependable Zikist of Southern minority extraction to lead it.

The initiative and the laudable objective of re-uniting the peoples of the old Eastern Region towards a common political objective was so well received, particularly among the minorities, that the group transformed into the Council of South East and South-South (COSESS). Meetings were held at Umuahia, Port Harcourt and Uyo.

They were well attended. Some of the leaders of the South-South that attended these meetings were the Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, HRM Alfred Diete Spiff and retired Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte, both of them distinguished Ijaw leaders.

Why did that effort collapse? The answer will interest you in the light of unfolding events. The single most important factor that destroyed the move to get the Igbos and their neighbours to put aside their differences and work together, as “there is no ocean without debris” was – you guessed it right – Chief Senator Dr Edwin Kiagbodo Clark!

Together with the likes of the late Marshall Harry, that section of the Ijaw elite held a counter-symposium and announced that the Ijaw were more familiar, and at home, with political alliances with the North. In an interview with me, Marshall said after the Port Harcourt meeting in 2001: “This meeting does not click to me”.

That effort was demonised by Clark’s group who said it was another ploy by the Igbo elite to use the minorities to achieve their presidential ambition, arguing, instead that they wanted a South-South president.

As if their prayers were about to be answered, former Governor of Rivers State, Dr Peter Odili embraced the presidential race in 2006 and had almost wrapped up his nomination by the ruling party at Abuja, when President Olusegun Obasanjo suddenly decided to yield to Northern demands that the presidency must return to the North after its stay in the South for eight years.

The greatest obstacle against Odili’s presidential ambition was Chief E. K. Clark, who dubbed him an “Igbo man”. In other words, to Clark , Igbo speaking people of the South-South did not qualify to vie for president on behalf of the region! Funny enough, Clark came to this meeting with South East politicians, including Professor BIC Ijomah from Anioma in Delta State !

Clearly, the only motivation behind Clark ’s emergency “romance” with Igbo politicians is that an Ijaw man, Jonathan, is in the presidency eyeing the presidential race and needing all the support he can get. There is a difference between the Mbu/Ukiwe initiative and that of Clark .

The Mbu/Ukiwe move was visionary and based on strategy and principle. If Clark had embraced it or allowed it to grow, by now Jonathan would simply walk in and cash in. Clark’s motives are suspect to me.

I am not sure he has now purged himself of his political Igbo-phobia. I am not sure, after Jonathan’s political venture he would be there when the Igbo will need a “return visit”. The leopard does not change its spots for any reason.

The Igbo elite who wish to support President Jonathan should simply proceed to do so because it is a good idea. Those who wish to go with the North should also proceed because it is not a bad idea, provided that terms are agreed.

When the time comes the Igbo mainstream will follow the better option. Let no one allow anyone to distract them from pursuing the interests of their people and Nigeria .


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