THE statement was loud and clear; the move audacious, even unprecedented, in a country where political correctness is the credo of the game.

Before the campaigns for the 2019 elections officially kicked off on Sunday, November 18, authentic Igbo leaders – the political elite, the very apolitical religious leaders and traditional rulers, Igbo intelligentsia – met in a one-day summit in Enugu to endorse the Atiku Abubakar/Peter Obi presidential ticket.

From left: Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe; Prof. Anya Anya, Sen. Ben Obi and PDP 2019 Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, during N’digbo 2019 and Beyond meeting, in Enugu on Wednesday (14/11/18).

Attendance was a roll call of who is who in Igboland. President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, was there and so was his predecessor, Chief Gary Igariwey. The highly urbane Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, was there and so were Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Chief Olisa Agbakoba, Prof. Anya O. Anya, the outgoing President-General of the umbrella organisation of all Igbo living in Lagos – Ndigbo Lagos, Prof. Uzodimma Nwala, Prof. A.B.C. Nwosu, Prof. Uche Azikiwe, widow of the great Owelle of Onitsha, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Prof. Osita Ogbu, Prof. Walter Ofornagoro, and Prof. Chudi Uwazuruike

Senators Ben Obi, Chris Anyanwu, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Chief Achike Udenwa, former governor of Imo State, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, former governor of Enugu State, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, Chief Adolphus Wabara, former Senate President, also graced the occasion.

Ambassadors George Obiozor, the only Nigerian to serve as envoy to both Israel and the U.S., Frank Ogbuewu, Lawrence Nwuruku, Lawrence Agubuzo, sat quietly all through the summit, soaking in the moment.

There was also Most Reverend Maxwell Anikwenwa, the Emeritus Archbishop and Dean, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion.

Then, the Generals were also counted. Commodore James Anieke, General Ike Nwachukwu, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, the second Igbo to command the Nigerian Army after General Aguiyi Ironsi and the only one in the 48 years since after the brutal civil war, and many others were present.

Yet, this was the same summit which outcome President Muhammdu Buhari said he was advised by “well-meaning,” albeit nameless “leaders from the region” to disregard because it had no substance.

In other words, the president was persuaded, or he may even have persuaded himself, that what happened in Enugu, the de facto political capital of the Southeast region, on Wednesday November 14, was a non-event, a storm in a teacup.

It may well be! But believing also that those who attended the summit, given their pedigree, are not Igbo leaders will be the height of self-delusion.

But the president has the right to be deluded on issues that concern Ndigbo. To say that there is no love lost between him and them is to say the obvious. The good thing is that the feeling is mutual, which perhaps was the very point the summiteers made in Enugu.

By endorsing the candidacy of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar so early in the day, the first by any ethnic nationality, Ndigbo have dared President Buhari to do his worst. It is a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

They were telling him in very unmistakable term that even if he wins the 2019 election, their lot in the Nigerian commonwealth can’t possibly be worse than what it is today.

One fact, which even the harshest critics acknowledge, is that Ndigbo are not known for treachery. You can accuse them of being brash, loud and not suffering fools gladly, but they are not sly. With Ndigbo, you know where you are. Unfortunately, in a country where treachery is a huge industry, integrity has become an anathema. That is why some will misconstrue the unmistaken Enugu statement as veritable proof of lack of political sophistication by Ndigbo.

But while that belief works for those who like their chambers echoed for the crumbs that fall from the masters table, the average Igbo is proud of his heritage and would prefer death to slavery.

The frosty relationship between President Buhari and Ndigbo needs context, which is sorely lacking in most analyses.

Of all the brash northern military hawks who fought and won the fratricidal war against Ndigbo, General Buhari is the only one who is still carrying on as if the war never ended, forty-eight years after it actually did.

That reality is not lost on the very perceptive people, who are unambiguously telling him that it takes two to play the game of distrust.

And so, during the 2015 presidential election, the people unapologetically dumped almost all their votes in the basket of the then President Goodluck Jonathan.

They lost. Buhari won. And the expectation was that the president would come out swinging. He didn’t disappoint.

Shortly after his election, while responding to a question on how he intends to promote inclusive governance at a U.S. Institute of Peace event, the president betrayed his insidious emotion.

“I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, who, for example, gave me 97 per cent of the vote, cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5 per cent,” he said, adding, “I think that is political reality.”



Despite all pretensions to the contrary, that mindset has dictated the texture of his relationship with Ndigbo in the almost four years of his presidency.

The marginalisation of the Southeast by the Buhari government has been deliberate.

On Wednesday, December 30, 2015, while fielding questions during his first and only media chat, the president upped the ante of his rhetorical warfare.

Asked about the cries of marginalisation from the Southeast, the president retorted angrily, “What do the Igbo want?”

“They (Igbo) said they are being marginalised but they haven’t defined the extent of their marginalisation. Who marginalised them? How? Where? Do you know?” he riposted.

So angry was he that after that, no other question really got a look in from him.

But what the Igbo want in Nigeria is fairness, equity and justice, a restructured and united country where every citizen can actualise his or her God-given potentials; a country where all the odds are not deliberately and mischievously stacked against them.

A country that works for all

Ndigbo want a country that works for all, a land, not of privileges for a few but of opportunities for all who work hard and tenaciously strive for excellence.

They have been consistent in making that demand, even at the Enugu summit where the communiqué expressly stated thus:

“We identify with the Atiku/Obi ticket on restructuring” and “believe that as long as the federating units remain weak, the centre will continue to be weak.”

“We equally move to appreciate the position of the Atiku/Obi ticket in promoting national unity.”



That is one thing President Buhari is not prepared to do given his 97 per cent versus 5 per cent mindset and he is angry that Ndigbo are pulling him up for his brazen nepotism, promoted by that conviction.

But make no mistake. The more the president digs in, the more the possibility that even some Igbo who were not originally taking sides will be convinced to nail their colours to the mast.

Politics is a game of interests. Just like the former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said recently that the Yoruba will be better off if Buhari is re-elected, Ndigbo are saying that though their lot is bad today, it will even be worse if Buhari is re-elected. The only difference is that Ndigbo perceive what better serves their interest from a national prism, a pan-Nigerian context. They want a more equitable federation.

President Buhari has shown that he neither has the capacity nor inclination to guarantee that equity. That is the crux of the matter.


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