By Obi Nwakanma
Mr. Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Federal Government under this administration, came to the APC rally in Owerri last week to canvas for votes for his party, and for the re-election in 2019 of Muhammadu Buhari as president of Nigeria. All these are within his right. He even threw in a few sweeteners like saying “the Igbo have a right to be president because they are part of Nigeria.” Well, duh! The Igbo already know that. They have been insisting upon this since the end of the civil war in 1970. The Igbo returned to Nigeria and fully re-embraced it on the principles that ended that war, “No victor, No vanquished.”
The Igbo have constantly insisted on their citizenship rights to vote and be voted for, and to aspire, wherever they live in this federation, to any political office available in the land, to which they direct their attention and interests. The Igbo have been consistent in championing the rights of equal citizenship, because given their unique situation in Nigeria, a guarantee of that right protects them too. That is why as a group, and a significant voting bloc, they backed Goodluck Jonathan to the hilt. The Igbo, known as fierce advocates for justice, could not stand aside and watch the rest of Nigeria, and the other major ethnic groups undermine, insult, humiliate or subject Jonathan, whom they regarded as a “minority president” to shellacking.
The Igbo had to provide backbone to the Jonathan presidency at great cost to themselves, for while Goodluck Jonathan was busy courting and mollifying the North and the Southwestern political zones of Nigeria, and though he did not exactly ignore the Igbo, but he deferred all political and economic benefits accruing from that support to the second term of his presidency which he lost. Still, the Igbo continue to be his greatest defenders, because to the Igbo mind, politics is chief among everything, the defence of principles, and of interests that speak to their pan-Nigerian affiliations. Of all the ethnic nationalities of Nigeria, the Igbo are possibly the ones with the widest network – through intermarriages, and other forms of social contacts arising from their circulation across and beyond the boundaries of nation. The Igbo, in a sense, are Nigeria. It does not require anything else, until they themselves collectively choose to be other than Nigerian, to justify their future or their place in Nigeria.
So, the Igbo have always known, and they have always insisted that being Nigerians, they have a right to be president. Afterall, they gave independent Nigeria, her first Heads of state. But since 1970, it has been the lot of other Nigerians to place “conditionalities” on Igbo citizenship, and superintend the right of the Igbo to aspire to political office. The Igbo are not weighed down by this. They consider this a mere blimp in the course of what shall be a long history. And the Igbo have made it very clear that the presidency of Nigeria in the current scheme of things is immaterial to them, in the background of the crisis of nationhood in which Nigeria is currently embroiled; with a Nigeria which has unplugged from the course of greatness imagined by her Igbo “founding spirits.” The Igbo want equity rather than preferment. The Igbo want improved social conditions for all Nigerians; the Igbo are fighting for pan-Nigerian citizenship rather than citizenship based merely on one’s ethnic identity; the Igbo want the installation of meritocracy in the national order of things, and the Igbo are fighting for the republic, rather than the installation and perpetuation of the feudal ethos as the governing ethos of Nigeria.
The Igbo for years fought for a “one Nigeria” – but not one built on conquest and injustice to other parts. Boss Mustapha threw in a wanker in Owerri when he suggested that the future of the Igbo in Nigeria will depend on how they voted in 2019, implying that their political future will depend on a vote for Buhari. Indeed, the Igbo group, Ohaneze, trolled out a sharp rebuttal to that assertion. Come off it Boss Mustapha! They said. Igbo future does not depend on a vote for Buhari in 2019. Indeed, the Igbo are in proud opposition to Buhari, and to what he stands for.
The Igbo think that this president is not doing a good job. They are right. They thought that he would run a narrow, ethnocentric and bigoted government. They have been proved right. They feared that Buhari could lean towards religious fundamentalism and Fulani extremism, than in Nigeria’s national development and coherence. The jury is still out on that. But these reasons why the Igbo refused to vote for Buhari in 2015, in spite of that snake oil sold to Nigerians that Buhari was Nigeria’s “Mr. Clean” – the “honest and incorruptible leader,” are quite clear today, and the Igbo feel even more justified in their opposition, and in the electoral choices they made, because they can take a look around Nigeria today, and say to those who voted this president, “but we told you!” In any case, being in opposition is a democratic thing.
We do not all need to agree. We must have philosophical disputes at the political levels; that is how nations grow – through oppositional discourse. What we must however never allow is to elect political leaders who do not leave behind dreary partisan spirit as soon as they get elected to national office. The president of a nation, once elected, is omni-politics. He or she becomes, even in spite of their inclinations, the servants of a higher cause, and it is not God he serves at that moment, but man; and it is not the bible or the Koran he listens to, but the constitution as documented by the will of the people. Now, let me point out this fact once more: God does not give power. It is the people who elect you that gives you the power to act in their name in a democracy. God is not a registered voter in Nigeria the last time I checked.
The idea that God reserves power to a few is a very old feudal and monarchical trick or conceit, because it justifies the idea that there is an elect of God over the people. But in a democracy, people do not go to God to vote for them. They campaign to people. It may well be that the voice of the people then becomes the voice of God, in which case, it becomes right and proper to treat the electorate as that visible God that give power to whom they choose to elect. Why do I say this? Just this: the future of the Igbo can only be determined by the Igbo people themselves organizing all their resources to enter the fray of power. It will have nothing to do with God, nor with the electoral victories of Buhari in 2019.
It is time the likes of Boss Mustapha understood that these primitive presumptions that have marred our democratic goals, and the development of Nigeria has much to do with the inherited biases of the postwar years, which at some point must come to an end. The Igbo are not vulnerable and powerless people. Igbo power in Nigeria is dormant. Even the Igbo themselves sometimes do not know the extent of it. They are like that Eagle which has stayed so long among chickens that it forgot how to fly. But let me sketch this a bit. Democracy is about people, and demographic locations.
There are in every state of Nigeria, at least two million Igbo people settled. This is significant demographic distribution. The Igbo are the indigenous majority of Nigeria. They are strategically located in great numbers in at least seven states of the federation, and are indigenous minorities in Edo, Cross River, Benue, Kogi, and Akwa-Ibom. In Bayelsa, their population can go either way. But even in these states, there are at least 2 million mainland Igbo joining the indigenous Igbo of these states, to form a potentially powerful electoral population.
In key epicenters of Lagos, Kano, Abuja, Jos, Yola, Ibadan – indeed in all the major cities of Nigeria – the Igbo population is overwhelming. For instance, the “Sabon Gari” population in Kano is larger by far than the indigenous population of the old city, and the Igbo are the main inhabitants of Kano’s Sabon Gari. Usually, either this population votes with the local trends, or do not vote at all. They have not been fully mobilized to vote, as they were in the 1950s and 1960s, when Igbo population in Kano backed NEPU and gave it its consistent electoral victories in the North, or even in Lagos, where Igbo votes can very easily turn the tide of governance of that state, if properly mobilized or triggered. For years, the Igbo have been reluctant to press this dormant power in order not to unsettle Nigeria’s fragile political apple cart, set since 1970, to secure uneasy peace, and make the Igbo non-threatening. But it is about time that Igbo politicians also began to recalculate this electoral map, build new alliances, and go into party politics fully mobilizing this dormant majority, rather than pussyfoot in order not to seem threatening to certain Nigerian interests.
The future of the Igbo after 2019 is currently under fierce debate among the Igbo themselves as we speak, in any case: it is debate between the nationalist tendencies of Azikiwe, those who believe that Nigeria is Igbo heritage, and the new Biafra movement, who believe that the Igbo must leave Nigeria in order to secure peace. A resolution of that debate will determine Igbo future in Nigeria, not Boss Mustapha, or Buhari’s electoral victory.