By Douglas Anele
Femi Adesina began his essay, “Wise men still come from the East,” with his trademark allusion to a biblical narrative, possibly to give his argument some sort of theological flavor and justification, knowing full well that the gullibility quotient of Nigerians increases exponentially with religion. According to him, just as some men from the east who purportedly followed a star that led them to Bethlehem in order to worship Jesus of Nazareth and present him some gifts were thought to be wise, the achikota ekwee onu traditional rulers and politicians in the south-east that welcomed President Buhari when he visited the zone for the first time more than two years after he was elected must be wise also.
But unknown to Adesina, however, genuine wisdom even at this period when sycophancy predominates in official circles, is quite different from “eye service” by traditional rulers and from lack of courage in telling the President the truth about what the people think concerning his decidedly pro-north style of governance. On the other hand, Buhari’s visit has the unintended effect of igniting suspicion of Ndigbo that Buhari has already started to implement a subtle strategy of soliciting for Igbo votes ahead of the 2019 presidential election. It also confirmed that some traditional rulers in Igboland today are glorified warrant chiefs bereft of self-respect, dignity and a robust understanding of the significance of the traditional institution they represent.
According to “my chairman,” Buhari’s two-day visit to Ebonyi and Anambra states is a “delightsome, myth-shattering visit.” In otherwords, by spending less than forty-eight hours in two states out of five states in the south-east, the President has shattered or torpedoed “the negative narrative deliberately conjured by some mischief makers over the years that President Buhari does not like people from the East, and neither do the people like him.” Here, Adesina is guilty of exaggerating the significance of the President’s very brief visit, for it would require consistent Igbo-friendly policies and programmes by Buhari spanning at least four years before the anti-Buhari sentiment in Igboland would go down appreciably.
Logically speaking, and ignoring the ad hominem fallacy “my chairman” committed by using the expression ‘mischief makers’ to describe those who correctly believe that there is reciprocal dislike between Ndigbo and his boss, the only way Buhari’s visit to the south-east could even conceivably scratch the surface of the negative narrative let alone falsify it is if the President, while in Ebonyi and Anambra or immediately after he departed, made a significant pro-Igbo policy announcement or did something so obviously outstanding for the south-east that Ndigbo generally would begin to acknowledge that they might have been too harsh all along in their negative perception of Buhari, that if they had known he could treat Igboland so well, they would have voted massively for him all the time he was contesting for the presidency.
Of course, nothing like that has happened: Buhari did not announce any realistic plan for massive federal investment in infrastructure and industrial development in the south-east, nor has he really done anything tangible after the visit to address the genuine concerns of Ndigbo. Therefore, what Adesina implicitly labeled a myth is nothing but the crystallisation of Muhammadu Buhari’s indifference to the plight of Igboland and its people from the time he was federal commissioner for petroleum resources in the late 1970s, through when he was chairman of PTF to now that he is President. Now, unless Adesina is operating from a cloud cuckoo land, there is indeed enough evidence for the notion that in President Buhari’s leadership calculus, Igboland consistently plays second fiddle to the north and Yorubaland, which is the main reason why Ndigbo have repeatedly given him low votes during elections.
Adesina parades the names of Igbo politicians that Buhari, in his serial quest to be President, chose as his running mates in the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections. His analysis of the results of the 2015 presidential election and the senatorial election contested by Dr. Chris Ngige is interesting, but his interpretation is simply misleading, because it unfairly castigates Ndigbo for complaining about marginalisation by the current administration having allegedly brought it upon themselves by failing to vote in large numbers for Buhari.
Indeed, it is true that for reasons I adumbrated several times in this column, south-easterners have been rejecting Buhari since he mutated into a politician. But Adesina conveniently overlooked the fact that only a revanchist ethnocentric individual with an unforgiving mentality and a history of unfairness towards a certain part of the federation would declare, shortly after winning the presidency when the euphoria of victory was at its peak after three consecutive failed attempts, that he would render justice according to how different zones of the country voted in the election that brought him to power. Adesina claims that in 2011, even after being rejected by the south-east whose leadership forbade any of its sons from being a running mate to anyone, and having turned to the south-west to pick Pastor Tunde Bakare as his deputy, Buhari still did not demonstrate any animus towards the east.
Oh, really? Then why did Buhari completely exclude the south-east from the top echelons of the security and paramilitary architecture in the country? What about the fact that in terms of spread, significance and monetary value, the south-east has been having the least numbers of federal projects allocated to the six geopolitical zones since Buhari became President? Moreover, which political leadership or body in Igboland banned Igbo politicians from becoming running mate to any presidential candidate in 2011? Since when did the Igbo jettison their well-known preference for republicanism and disdain for hero worship unmatched by the other major ethnic groups in Nigeria, which derive from their achievement-oriented worldview, in order to display the kind of herd mentality necessary for adhering to alleged proscription order by an imaginary “socio-political leadership of the south-east?”
If Adesina was not too eager to project President Buhari in borrowed robes as a friend of Igboland despite his political misfortunes there, he would have realised that it is virtually impossible for all prominent Igbo politicians to accept any injunction asking them to reject the offer of vice-presidency from Buhari or any other non-Igbo presidential candidate. A more plausible explanation for Buhari’s selection of a non-easterner as running mate in 2011 is that he was frustrated because of repeated rejection at the polls by majority of Ndigbo, and he felt it was time to look elsewhere. Moreover, voters in the south-east probably interpreted his choice of Dr. Chuba Okadigbo and Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke as a mere token gesture, as an insincere Machiavellian strategy to mislead them that he is a friend of the Igbo, whereas his antecedents strongly suggest otherwise. Buhari and his strategists failed to realise that you can fool some Ndigbo some of the time and all the time, but you cannot fool all Ndigbo all the time.
Adesina charges that “To make matters worse, the East had refused to re-elect its own son, Dr. Chris Ngige, as senator. If Ngige had been given a mandate, he would have effortlessly emerged Senate President, and see what the region would have benefitted. But the large number opted for self-immolation, voted Ngige out, and later began to scream marginalization. But if you ask me, it was a self-inflicted wound. Result of poor politics.” Adesina’s claims above are thought-provoking, but they can be refuted easily.
First and foremost, it was not “the East” that prevented Ngige from winning the 2015 senatorial election; it was the electorate in Anambra central senatorial zone that rejected him. And what is the guarantee that if Ngige had won, he would have effortlessly become Senate President, as Adesina proclaimed? Remember, Dr. Bukola Saraki got the post despite the fact that APC wanted a senator from Yobe state, Ahmed Lawan, to occupy the position. Therefore, if the preferred candidate of the APC was schemed out by the politically astute Saraki and his cohorts, it is very likely that if Ngige were the Party’s choice, he would also have been outmanoeuvred by the Saraki coalition.
Anyway, Dr. Ngige has been minister of labour and productivity for more than two years now without any demonstrable benefit to his senatorial zone, let alone the entire south-east. Consequently, Adseina’s hyperbolic fuzzy remark that Ngige “would have effortlessly emerged Senate President, and see what the region would have benefitted,” is not corroborated by available facts. Adesina was largely mistaken when he asserts that rejection of Ngige – and Buhari for that matter – in the last election was tantamount to self-immolation, self-inflicted wound and poor politics.
His essay reads like a labored justification of President Buhari’s ill-advised, grotesque and unstatesmanly 97% versus 5% theory of justice. Be that as it may, I have news for my chairman and others who blame Ndigbo for Buhari’s bias against the south-east. The Igbo survived the Biafran war and, through dogged determination and individual effort, managed to pull themselves from the slough of despond, from the black hole of terrible trauma caused by the conflict. As a result, having survived the extreme brutality of war levied on them led by caliphate colonialists, no amount of marginalisation by this government can stop the Igbo from remaining the primus inter pares among the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
To be continued…