By Ochereome Nnanna
WHY has Muhammadu Buhari failed to visit the two Southern states which provided him with the wherewithal to emerge as President after three failed attempts – Lagos and Rivers States? If you excuse Rivers for the fact that the governor there, Barrister Nyesom Wike, is of the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, as well as the “conqueror” of the President’s All Progressives Congress, APC, what about Lagos State, an APC governorate?
Being the home state of the touted “National Leader” of the APC, I had expected the President to hop over there soon after his election and show his gratitude to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Buhari was scheduled to pay that visit in May 2017. At the last moment, it was Vice President Yemi Osinbajo that was sent. Since no official reason was adduced for the sudden change of mind, we had to make do with the rumour mill, which indicated that Buhari’s Arewa cabal advised him against the trip to prevent a repeat of the “Yar’ Adua experience”!
Whatever made Buhari to fight shy of visiting part of his “97%” (Lagos State) did not stand in his way when he recently went to the South East, the heartland of the “5%”. Remember that Buhari had divided Nigeria according to his queer formula of “97%/5%”. He promised to reward the “97%” abundantly for voting for him while the rest “5%” could go and shift for themselves.
The “5%” represents the South East and South-South where he failed to get electoral support, and Buhari had vowed (and followed up with concrete action) that he would marginalise those who did not vote for him. In response, the South East has been the main hotbed of anti-Buhari opposition fronted mainly by Biafra separatist activists. The President counter-responded to that by mobilising the Army to invade the South East which drove the separatists underground.
The summary of it is that President Buhari and the Igbo people have been fighting since he assumed power in May 2015. Apart from a few cosmetic post-Python Dance II “peace offerings” such as the payment of pardoned Biafran police officers and the Federal Government’s agreement to pay N88 Billion to “victims of the civil war” in response to an ECOWAS Court verdict, Buhari has not really shown a concrete shift in his hostile disposition to the “5%” of the South East.
In spite of the genuflecting antics of his party men from the zone, such as Osita Okechukwu, Chris Ngige, Ogbonnaya Onu, Orji Uzor Kalu, Jim Nwobodo, Ken Nnamani, Rochas Okorocha, Osita Izunaso and the rest of that horde, Buhari still ignominiously snubbed them and appointed another Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha from among his favoured “97%” (in fact, he made sure the post remained within disgraced David Babachir Lawal’s roost).
Suddenly a new front of political sycophancy opened up from the Ebonyi section of the “5%” when Governor Dave Umahi paid a recent visit to the President at Aso Villa. He came out of that and started singing like an excited canary: Buhari should run for second term. Umahi is a PDP governor. He is also the Chairman of the South East Governors Forum; a prize “5 per cent-er”. Umahi had long been speculated to join the APC because he has never hidden his love for the party and its leadership. Only he knows what he is still doing in the PDP. Obviously, he cannot be trusted to support a candidate of his party for president in 2019, with this unabashed anti-party disposition. But that is a problem between him and his party.
The issue here, for me, is that Umahi organised some rag-tag and overdressed traditional rulers to give Buhari chieftaincy titles that fly in the face of his relationship with the Igbo people and the South East Zone. For instance, one of the titles he got was Enyi Oma 1 (the good friend) of Ebonyi State. He was given a gift of 2,000 tubers of yams, 2,000 bags of rice and a white horse. Good friends are known by their words and deeds. What good had Buhari done to Ebonyi to deserve being entitled as a “good friend”? One would have expected Umahi and his overdressed cockerels to name Buhari’s deeds to justify their action.
The second title was Ochi Oha (Leader of all) of Igboland, and it was bestowed, also at the behest of the Ebonyi governor by a group referred to in the media as South East Traditional Rulers, though I could not spot any notable traditional ruler among them. A group of traditional of South East that does not include the most nationally-recognised royal father, Igwe of Onitsha, Nnaemeka Achebe, tells you the credibility of such a group.
It is obvious that these chieftaincy titles on Buhari are mere borrowed robes. They do not fit. Buhari has never done anything in his life as leader of this country to deserve any honour from Igbo people. He knows it. I am sure he would have rejected the titles if not for political expedience and the fact that 2019 is around the corner. Of course, we know he will NEVER wear any of those traditional paraphernalia again after that fake conferment.
It was Igwe Achebe who tried to mitigate the shame of the Ebonyi circus when he insisted that Buhari must visit him and his colleagues in his palace if he wanted to meet them. That demand was justifiable. Achebe ranks among the foremost traditional rulers in the country, such as the Sultan of Sokoto, the Ooni of Ife, the Oba of Benin and others. These rulers would not leave their palaces to go and gratify politicians. They sit in their palaces to receive visitors, including presidents.
I have come to learn not to put much value to traditional titles. Any riff-raff who manages to manipulate the electoral process to become governor automatically becomes the overlord of traditional rulers in his state. He can make them dance to his tune or they will risk being dethroned. In any case, most traditional rulers are eager to meet the president just for personal aggrandisement.
People should not be over-surprised by the show of shame in Ebonyi. Something worse happened during the Second Republic in old Rivers when Chief Melford Okilo was the governor. President Shehu Shagari paid a campaign visit to Rivers State. In appreciation, Okilo, on behalf of the people of Rivers State, donated two under-aged virgins to Shagari! Umahi only gave Buhari a white horse and food items he obviously did not need.
Since the civil war ended, the Igbo people have never had it so rough as they are having it under Buhari’s presidency. The only other time a similar situation was noticed was when Buhari was a military head of state in 1983-1985. Buhari is still nursing the grudges of the first coup of 1966, the civil war and his serial rejections at the polls by the Igbo people. A year ago, Amnesty International, AI, published a report that the Army killed 1967 Biafra activists under this regime, a charge the Army vigorously denied. After putting down the Biafra agitations two months ago, Nnamdi Kanu disappeared into thin air. The South East remains outsiders in this government; the zone is excluded from major projects of the government, and almost every community in the zone has been victimised by armed herdsmen without anyone being brought to justice. What a “friend”! What a “leader”! Politicians and traditional rulers can be an infuriating lot!
Welcome back, Mr President, from the land of “5%”.