By Douglas Anele
Having concluded a lengthy but worthwhile discourse on the phenomenon of Biafra, I thought of writing on a topic not connected directly with the political situation in the country right now. But an argument with a colleague who is a Professor of history changed all that. It started during a discussion when he abruptly asked me whether I am a Biafran or a Nigerian. I told him that since there is no country called Biafra at the moment, I am not a Biafran. But I made it clear that actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra might not be as terrible as Igbophobic caliphate colonialists and their supporters think, since it would be a wonderful opportunity for Ndigbo and their immediate neighbours interested in creating a separate nation for themselves to showcase what they can achieve in a different geopolitical environment.
As the argument continued, I criticised the excesses of Nnamdi Kanu and some members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), and pointed out that President Muhammadu Buhari unwittingly made Kanu and his irredentist organisation very popular among discontented Igbo youths due to his anti-Igbo disposition and by his overreliance on brute force to stop IPOB agitation. I also cited Buhari’s condescending take-it-or-leave-it attitude to Ndigbo and his incendiary remark that he would treat different parts of the country differently depending on how people voted in the presidential election of 2015. My interlocutor defended the President by arguing that Ndigbo have no right to complain that Buhari is marginalising them because they did not vote for him. It is unrealistic, he claims, to expect Mr. President to treat those who voted for him equally with the people that voted for his opponent. For him, relegation of the South-east by Buhari is in line with his reputation as someone who keeps his word. I countered that a genuine Nigerian leader or statesman, having secured electoral victory, would see the whole country as his constituency and give everyone a sense of belonging, which is essential for peace, stability and national development. At the end of the argument, it occurred to me that some of the serious mistakes made by President Buhari since he assumed office in May 29. 2015, are probably due to wrong advice from his close aides and confidants, including the so-called experts parading highfalutin academic titles who are preoccupied with what they can gain from the system, not with what they can contribute to make Nigeria great again.
Inasmuch as a plausible case can be made that the near-total absence of solid development in Igboland is largely attributable to the emergence of achikota ekwe onu or agbata ekee leaders in the south-east, certain decisions of President Buhari creates the unmistakable impression that he has an “Igbo problem” or “Igbo complex;” that is, he seems to find it extremely difficult to see the Igbo as equal stakeholders with other ethnic nationalities, particularly those in the “core north,” in the Nigerian project.
As I argued sometime ago, the Buhari manifests a condescending, I-can-always-subdue-them attitude towards Igbo people, such that it is often difficult for a typical Igbo man or woman not to infer ulterior motive even when he does something good for Igboland. Inspite of hyperbolic distortion of facts and name-calling of critics by the President’s hirelings, Buhari has shown, right from when he was the federal commissioner for petroleum resources in the late 1970s, that giving Ndigbo their due as the greatest contributors to the concept of One Nigeria is not in his to-do list. Even when he was chairman, Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF), the south-east geopolitical zone had the least number of projects in the country.
Since the President (in my opinion ill-advisedly) joined politics, he had chosen two prominent Igbo sons as his running mates. But many Ndigbo believe, with good reasons I must admit, that such choices were insincere, mere tokenisms and political gimmick meant to win Igbo votes during elections. Therefore, it is not surprising that Buhari has never received significant votes from the south-east. Millions of Igbo people think that Buhari does not like Ndigbo; they can easily point to instances of his condescending indifference to the yearnings and aspirations of Igbo people generally. To the average Igbo person, Buhari’s emergence as President in 2015 is a matter for serious concern: they feared that he would behave like the Shakespearean Shylock by exacting revenge for his rejection at the polls. Their fears seem justified by the President’s sefl-serving 97% and 5% inequalities we referred to earlier, his exclusion of Ndigbo in the security architecture of the country as well as by the fact that the south-east has the least number of projects to be executed by his government. Indeed, I have heard some Igbo people argue that the president’s bizarre concept of 97% versus 5% concept of justice is a veiled threat against the south-east for voting massively for his opponent, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Accordingly, they consider any action of the federal government unfavourable the south-east, such as recent top-level appointments in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) dominated by northern Muslims without any representation from the south-east with several oil-bearing communities, and Operation Python Dance, as indicative of President Buhari’s anti-Igbo predilection. I am sure that a handful of Ndigbo had benefitted, and are still benefitting one way or another, from Buhari. However, it is very difficult for those ingratiating themselves with the President, especially Garba Shehu, Lauretta Onochie and Orji Uzor Kalu, to admit that there are good reasons why majority of Ndigbo view the President with suspicion and dread, that Buhari’s unflattering record in public office with respect to how he has treated Igboland and its people is the major reason why Ndigbo have gravitated towards his opponents in every election he has contested.
The just concluded two-day “working visit” of President Buhari to the south-east, specifically to Ebonyi and Anambra states, have elicited conflicting responses from different people. Buharimaniacs claim, inter alia, that the visit would foster national unity, accelerate infrastructural development in the geopolitical zone, and confirm to doubting Thomases like myself that the President loves Ndigbo and they love him back. Considering the (some say rented) crowd that converged to see the President in both Ebonyi and Anambra states, the traditional Igbo attires he wore, and the chieftaincy titles conferred on him, one might conclude that the visit was a huge success. Unfortunately for Buhari’s sycophants, the arguments on the other side are more compelling. For example, a lawyer, Olisa Agbakoba, considers the visit a wily Machiavellian strategy to win cheap votes for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the November 18 governorship election in Anambra State.
He questioned the timing of the President’s visit by pointing out that because elections are around the corner, Buhari is using “style” to warm himself into the hearts of Ndigbo. Agbakoba believes that dressing in traditional Igbo formal wear and other well-choreographed activities of the President are unconvincing, and that the only way his gestures towards the south-east can be taken seriously is when he addresses concretely the issue of Igbo marginalisation by his administration.
Agbakoba’s sentiments were re-echoed by other individuals, and organisations like IPOB which rashly issued an empty threat against the President’s visit. To be candid, Buhari and his handlers are to be blamed for any negative reaction to the visit. Since his election, the President has visited every geopolitical zone except the south-east, as if the zone is no longer a part of Nigeria. Indeed, he visits the north much more than he visits the south, which implies that he belongs more to the north than to the south. Consequently, Agbakoba and others have a point in questioning the genuineness and sincerity of Buhari’s visit to Ebonyi and Anambra states. Now, how many federal projects did Buhari commission in the two states he visited? Since he was visiting the south-east for the first time after he was elected President, why did he ignore other states, especially Imo, which is the only south-eastern state governed by the APC? Why was he insisting that Ndigbo should forget Biafra, the most significant event in modern Igbo world, and in Nigerian history aside from the amalgamation and independence?
Just as President Muhammadu Buhari finds it difficult to surmount the mental and emotional inertia that prevents him from embracing the Igbo lovingly and respectfully, majority of Ndigbo will continue to reject him at the polls, irrespective of the noisy pro-Buhari humbug by political chameleons and comedians from Igboland. The President and his supporters can deceive some Ndigbo all the time, but they cannot deceive all Ndigbo some of the time or all the time.