BY JOHN OSHIMIRI
I HOLD an alternative view to Senator Emmanuel Onwe’s elegant piece entitled: “Igbos Cannot Produce a President with Five States published on January 8, 2013. It is my considered verdict, not opinion that a president of Igbo extraction cannot emerge in 2015. It’s glaringly obvious that the political conditions necessary for such a grand achievement are absent at the moment. The vice presidency is the only feasible route through which an Igbo person could ascend the presidency by or before 2023. And that is my contention in this essay.
Stereotypes and Myths
Take a quick quiz: If the sum of N5,000 were to be offered to each of its natives in exchange for one of its own holding the office of the president of Nigeria for four years or more, which of the following ethnic groups would be the most likely to accept the cash:
(A)The Yoruba (B) The Hausa (C) The Kanuri (D) The Ijaw (E) The Igbo?
Your choice is exactly in accord with that made by hundreds of random people across Nigeria. This predictability illustrates the nature of stereotype – the bedrock upon which the deep-seated anti-Igbo prejudice in Nigeria rests. What’s more, the lie has been peddled sufficiently as to become an acknowledged “truth”. As an Igbo man, I resent this malicious defamation to an unmitigated degree.
The myth of self-centredness and money addiction among the Igbos in their political transactions has become deeply etched in the consciousness of Nigerians. This fallacy does not rest on any tangible evidence for its sustenance. It’s an ugly generalisation that does not apply to the vast majority of upright, proud and patriotic Igbos. This is not to deny the odious roles played by a few Igbo political pimps, anchored on personal greed and self-centredness, in sabotaging the collective interest – but such is hardly a peculiarity of Ndigbo.
Stereotypes, like taboos, are meant to be broken and reversed.
The Igbo moment to demonstrate true character and to showcase the battle spirit of solidarity and self-sacrifice which saw us through a turbulent history is once again upon us. There cannot be any logical reason why the Igbos would hesitate to push till the last drop of their political sweat for the vice presidency (the only realistic and winnable battle to wage in the 2015 electoral cycle), which will potentially lead to the presidency in 2023, unless we have already been sold out by the greedy few who have persistently besmirched the Igbo reputation. And if this is the case, are the Igbos prepared to put up with such a state of affairs?
No one should be in any doubt that the political battles raging in the country right now, and which will rage for at least another generation, represent the struggles to assert group identity and legitimacy, expressed through the mechanics of politics.
To Those Who Have
The North has held central power for 38 years. Yet, its leadership is furiously agitating and planning and forging formidable alliances across the country in a push for power shift in 2015. The West has held central power for 12 years. Yet, its leadership is everywhere articulating, advocating and laying the foundations for strategic alliances to secure power shift in 2015. The South-South has held central power for two years (five years by 2015). Yet, its leadership has been the most strident and energised in its push for the retention of central power in 2015. The East held central power for six months some 46 years ago. Its ambition for prime power will best be served by power shift in 2015 and crippled by the retention of the status quo. Yet, the Igbos appear to be bereft of ideas, save for the belated efforts of groups such as Njiko Igbo and C21. And even those efforts are headed in the wrong direction, with all due respect to the cerebral Dr Onwe.
The Igbos played second fiddle to prime power in this nation just nine years after the Civil War, occupying the Vice Presidency from 1979 – 1983. It took 29 years after the war for the Igbos to play third fiddle, occupying the post of Senate President from 1999 – 2007. Over 40 years after the war, we have hurried ourselves to the fifth fiddle and hastening down to complete irrelevance. We fought a gallant war of live ammunition and mortar, spilled blood and treasure but ultimately surrendered with our heads held high. Now, in peace time, we are surrendering the war of strategic ideas, argument and persuasion and human mobilisation without as much as a whimper. Haba!
Edmund Burke it was who said that “Our patience will achieve more than our force.” Well, we have tried both: War for three years and patience for 43 years. Head or tail, we’ve lost. The Igbos are constructing their own political wheelchair, as they set about crippling themselves. We cannot reach our destiny by remaining quadriplegic houseboys.
Here, again, we are faced with a historical opportunity to mark our place in this land, and rid our psyche of the debilitating trauma of being cast as outsiders in a nation-family in which we played an outsize role to bring into being.
Fantasy and Realpolitik
The colourful fantasy of an Igbo presidency in 2015 or even before 2023 is resistant to hard evidence. It ignores the peculiarities of Nigerian realpolitik. It feeds on the propaganda of the few who feed fat on the status quo to the detriment of Ndigbo. At the head of this jaundiced politics are elements equivalent to the saboteurs of the Civil War era.