By Obi Nwakanma
Let us be mindful of the following facts that may be mired in the mud of this legitimate quest for an Igbo from the South East to be resident of Nigeria: first is that it is not true at all that the Igbo have never been president of Nigeria.
The mere advance of that argument is not only sacrilegious but it is also a high insult on the man whom everybody knows, or ought to know as the founder of modern Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe: the first president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
There was not a more powerful Nigerian in the 20th century. There was not a greater embodiment of the Nigerian idea of nation and nation-building. But all these attempts to erase him, and reduce his significance in the real political history of Nigeria, simply to make an argument for an Igbo to be president, is profoundly wrong and evil.
It transmits false history to a generation of Nigerians who ought in fact to know the history of Igbo contribution to the making of Nigeria. How is it that before our very eyes, the great Zik of all people is being reduced by midgets – those whom he would describe as “Lilliputians” – who seem to have absolutely no idea about Nigerian history?
Fact is, Nnamdi Azikiwe was the first executive president of Nigeria under a constitutional government. We need to know the difference between a constitutional republic and a constitutional monarchy. The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. Nigeria is a Federal Republic. Two different orders of reality.
There are no “citizens” in Britain. They are all “subjects” of the British monarch. In Nigeria on the other hand, there are citizens.All Nigerians are granted full, individual and equal citizenships under the constitution of the republic. This was the summum bonum of the struggle for independence from British colonization led by Nnamdi Azikiwe: that Nigerians should be free of subjecthood and the suzerainty of Great Britain.
No Nigerian is subject to anyone today as a result. The equality clause of the republic guarantees this. But many Nigerians, including those who claim to be educated, seem conveniently ignorant of this pesky fact. That it was Dr. Azikiwe chiefly that made possible that Nigerians are citizens of a free nation, and not subjects of the British monarchy.
Nigerian freedom was his life’s work and his grateful compatriots honored himas the first presidentof the republic. From 1960 -1963, Azikiwe wasGovernor-General of Nigeria. The Queen of England was still Head of state of Nigeria as Head of the Commonwealth.
Zik, as Governor-General was in that ceremonial role of the Queen’s representative in Nigeria. It was frankly a sinecure position, which allowed the British an exit door, following their rigging of the 1959 election of which Azikiwe and his NCNC party won nationwide, at least according to the votes cast.
But three years later, the elected parliament declared Nigeria a full constitutional republic. Nnamdi Azikiwe was made the first president of Nigeria with executive powers. Those in doubt should look at Chapter VI (84) and (85) of the 1963 constitution.
Indeed, section 85 not only gives the president wide powers: “The executive authority of the Federation shall extend to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution and to all matters with respect to which Parliament has for the time being power to make laws,” sections 156-157, gave Dr. Azikiwe wide inferred powers in that constitution.
That is, the power to change constitutional provisions as he thought fit, using his executive powers. The simple truth is, in spite of the claims often made by ignorant or self-serving folk, there was no provision for a “ceremonial president” of Nigeria by the Republican constitution of 1963.
Dr. Azikiwe governed Nigeria as its first President with executive powers for three years from 1963-1966, when the soldiers sacked the government under him, and dismantled the state with two successive military coups. The point is, the Igbo have governed Nigeria, unless they wish to disown Dr. Azikiwe and continue the fiction of a ceremonial president.
Nothing in this claim however subverts the legitimate argument that an Igbo should be president of Nigeria in 2023. The Igbo have been instrumental in creating and building this nation. But since 1967, the Igbo have felt excluded from the real zones of authority in Nigeria.
The exclusion of the Igbo from the leadership of Nigeria has been under the “Monkey de work, Baboon de chop” policy of postwar Nigeria. A war was fought. That is true. But the Igbo were not defeated in war, because, as far as they are concerned, the Igbo were convinced to return to Nigeria on the basis of a treaty called “No Victor, No Vanquished.”
No Igbo signed a Carthaginian treaty with Nigeria in 1970, because the Igbo had the option of pursuing a guerilla phase of the war. The Igbo returned to Nigeria on the very serious promise and agreement of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, and Reconciliation. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe ensured that, and if Gowon could now speak up, used his enormous influence and international goodwill to end that war, and committed Gowon, not only not to succumb to the pressure of the hawks in his government to mount a Nuremberg-style trial of Biafrans who had been lured to end the war, but to agree to the three Rs.
Late in 1969, following Azikiwe’s meetings with Gowon, and through the Quakers and the JCI who reached the civilian leadership of Biafra – M.I. Okpara, Louis Mbanefo, Akanu Ibiam, Pius Okigbo – the various field commanders of the Biafran Army collapsed the fronts and abandoned the war.
The fronts collapsed like a deck of cards. About three hundred troops of Achuzia’s Strike Force joined up with the 3rd Marine Commando, and helped to secure the last push to Owerri. Ojukwu was eased off. The Biafran delegation led by Justice Mbanefo (and not by General Phillip Effiong as is often thought) went to Lagos to negotiate an end of that war.
Tim Onwuatuegwu who was to lead the military arm of the guerrilla war was kept waiting for signals and was sacrificed. On the strength of the agreement, “No Victor, No Vanquished” as declared, that war was ended. Asika absorbed key Biafrans, including the Director of the Biafran Organization of Freedom Fighters (BOFF), the kernel of the Biafran guerilla plan, Dr. Ukwu I.Ukwu, into administration.
What that did was to defuse the second phase of war. A more deadly phase. Indeed, the “third force,” a group of leftist supporters of the Biafrans in the West of Nigeria had already established a training camp and a supply route to Biafra from Aiyetoro, with Edwin Madunagu moving up and down that route, operating behind the lines, and running espionage, and waiting for the linkages.
I should let him write his own memoir.But since 1970, a core group of the hawks who did not agree with the way the war ended have continued to fight an invisible war with the Igbo. They include many of the young combatants on the Nigerian side majorly from the North. Their Southern partners had the scales fall from their eyes with June 12.
The likes of Buhari however, among those hawks, have remained war drunk and have been fighting invisible wars in their own minds, affected no doubt by PTSD. Much of the move to deny the emergence of an Igbo as president have been orchestrated by this group. Many of them have sworn both publicly and privately that an Igbo would be president over their dead bodies.
And so, 2023 is going to be very interesting because the Igbo have options, and they have staked a powerful claim. Anyone who listened to the recent statement by the Igbo Elders Council, will hear hints of the resolve for power shift to particularly the Igbo of the South East.
For the first time since 1970, these elders of the Igbo spoke without water in their mouths. In the past, they would use diplomatic fluff and make pleas. But this time, they made clear threats to anyone, who in their mind would sabotage the quest for an Igbo to be president of Nigeria.
Neither the APC nor the PDP have showed any indications that they are moved by this threat of the Igbo elders. And it does seem increasingly obvious that these parties are not thinking East, though they should, as equity, justice and fairness demands. For instance, contenders in the PDP against the Igbo position have argued that what the PDP needs is to win not to zone.
By that they mean that Igbo contenders have not the national reach; experience; and the capacity to pull in the votes. They often point to numbers – politics is a numbers game. Well, then, perhaps it is about time the Igbo played that game by establishing their voting power.
The Igbo have options: in Kano, Lagos, Ibadan, Ilorin, Abuja, Minna, Jos – in the great cities and crannies of Nigeria, the Igbo have the votes. They are the spine of the nation and are widespread and active. What they have not always done is to mobilize these votes. But indicators are showing that this time may be different.
There is an Igbo national surge, and it might surprise those who have no idea yet the kind of footprint the Igbo have established nationwide. Besides these Igbo voters, there are also many, many Nigerians from across the nation who vote with the Igbo, and who think it is time for a competent manager of state resources to emerge and correct the terrible mess of the Buhari years.
Let us therefore be mindful of another fact: whoever becomes the next president will face mountains of problems connected to shithole policies over the years that have undermined the political status and sovereignty of Nigeria and its economic independence and prosperity.
The next president must be a problem solver, and an astute, and shrewd manager of national resources. Evidence shows that the Igbo are non-pareil in that regard. Nigeria is in trouble. Nigerians know this.
They need the competent Igbo – patriotic, nationalist, broad-minded, fair, just, open and accepting of difference: ethnic, religious, etc. – to the rescue. Then, we will close the chapter on war and begin the true phase of real nation-building. Nigeria must, as that juggernaut, K.O. Mbadiwe said in 1983, “zone to unzone.”