Here Is the Reason the Presidency Still Eludes the Igbos

Here Is the Reason the Presidency Still Eludes the Igbos

By Azuka Onwuka

Some Igbo politicians
Some Igbo politicians

Will an Igbo emerge as the president of Nigeria in the nearest future? I have this gut feeling that the answer is no. Why? Are the Igbos not qualified to rule Nigeria? The stated reason is different from the unstated real reason.

In almost all countries of the world, where there was a struggle for freedom or independence, once self-rule is achieved, the leader of the struggle, more often than not, emerges as the political leader of the new free state. Examples are many: United States, George Washington; South Africa, Nelson Mandela; Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah; Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta; Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe; Namibia, Sam Nujoma; Tanzania, Julius Nyerere; Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda; etc.

However, in the case of Nigeria, the leader of Nigeria’s liberation struggle against the British, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, did not win the election that would have made him take over Nigeria’s leadership at Independence like his contemporaries in other African countries then. Victory went the way of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), and Sir Tafawa Balewa was chosen by his party to lead Nigeria. Ironically, the NPC had walked out of the parliament in 1953 when Chief Anthony Enahoro moved a motion for the Independence of Nigeria. The NPC’s reason was that the North was not ready for Independence yet!

That was a pointer to the fact that Nigeria from Independence was a peculiar or unusual nation. Even before Independence, most parts of Nigeria put the good of their ethnic region before the good of the nation and their compatriots. Nigeria was, therefore, a nation that was built on cronyism which has hampered its growth all through the years.

If you listen to most Nigerians, including many Igbos, you will hear that the reason why Nigeria’s presidency still eludes the Igbos is because Igbos are not united. This excuse has been rehashed so much that many people believe that it is the biggest challenge facing the Igbo presidency. It is passed around as the gospel truth that for Igbos to win the presidency, they have to unite and present a single candidate.

But looking at this reason critically and logically, is it tenable and cogent? The answer is no. Let’s look at a few presidents of Nigeria and how they emerged.

In 1979 when Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a northerner, emerged as the President of Nigeria, he contested against one Igbo man (Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe) and one Yoruba man (Chief Obafemi Awolowo), but was he the only Northerner? No. He had two other fellow Northerners to contend with: Mallam Aminu Kano of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) and Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim of the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP). One would have thought that in the spirit of Northern solidarity and unity, Kano and Ibrahim would have stepped down for Shagari, failing which Shagari would have lost the election. The same thing happened in 1983 when Shagari sought a second term and still won despite the “lack of Northern unity.”

When Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was contesting the presidency in 2007, two strong contenders: Major-General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the then Action Congress (AC) did not step down for Yar’Adua to show that the North was united. Yet Yar’Adua was declared the winner.

In 1999 when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo contested the presidency, his people of the Southwest did not rally round him. In spite of the fact that the then Alliance for Democracy (AD) won all the states in the Southwest, Obasanjo still won the presidential election.

The current President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, was never elected on the basis of the excessive display of unity by his Ijaw ethnic group or the South-south people.

On the contrary, once any ethnic group shows undue support for its kinsman, the other parts of Nigeria are usually alarmed and on their guards.

Therefore, no Nigerian has ever been elected on the basis of the “unity” of his ethnic group alone. So bandying that point as the reason why the presidency has been eluding the Igbos is not really smart.

The unstated real reason why the Igbos may not rule Nigeria in the nearest future is Igbophobia: most Nigerians are afraid of the Igbos for various reasons, real and imagined.

When Nigerians make diplomatic or political statements, they shroud the real reasons why an Igbo presidency may be a Herculean task. But when you hear many non-Igbos talk among themselves or when online commentators comment under the cloak of anonymity or during bouts of anger, you hear the real reasons why Igbo presidency is still far away.

Many non-Igbos have a deep-seated fear of the Igbos. To them, Igbos are too ambitious, too boisterous, too domineering, too this and too that. There is also the perception that Igbos don’t believe in Nigeria.

The belief that Igbos don’t believe in Nigeria arose from the Nigerian civil war, when the Igbos demanded a separate nation, following the massacre of over 50,000 of their people in cold blood in parts of Nigeria, with their supposed compatriots either justifying it with it-served-them-right comments or keeping quiet as if it was not human beings that were massacred. But after the war, the Igbos returned to other parts of Nigeria. And despite the huge losses the Igbos suffered in other parts of Nigeria as a result of that war, they still continued to invest in businesses and property across Nigeria.

Excluding the Igbos, it is rare to see other Nigerians investing in property in a large scale outside their ethnic origin or the old federal capital territory Lagos and the current federal capital Abuja. What most other ethnic groups do is to make money in their area of residence, live in a rented apartment and send the money home. But the same Nigerians who will not buy property outside their region or federal capital will buy property in other parts of the world with ease. Is that not a sign of not having trust or faith in Nigeria?

Anyone who invests in an economy and especially acquires property in that economy has proved in practical terms that he believes in that economy and would not want any crisis that would jeopardize his investment. But anyone who prefers to live within his ethnic group or the federal capital and never invests in any property outside his ethnic group or the federal capital territory has made it clear that he does not believe in Nigeria and its continued existence.

Therefore, no ethnic group believes in Nigeria more than the Igbos. If truth be told, the Igbos deserve an award for believing in Nigeria and continuously investing in all parts of Nigeria and helping in developing all parts of the nation where they live, unlike other ethnic groups who only think of their areas.

There is also the fear that since the Igbos already have financial power, that the acquisition of political power would give them too much power. But even though the Igbo middle class may be more financially empowered in the nation, the people who own corporate Nigeria (the corporations) are not the Igbos but the Yorubas. So this fear is unfounded.

There is also the fear that comes from the perception that the Igbos have a plan to buy over many Nigerian cities and be in control of them. That is completely unfounded. There is no Igbo meeting where Igbos are told to buy up property in other ethnic zones so as to take them over in the future. The Igbos just don’t like the high cost of rent they pay regularly. Igbos also want to have investment that will yield proceeds for them and their children.

But most importantly, Igbos believe that it is wicked to make money in an area but fail to contribute to the development of that area the way parasites and vampires do. There is an Igbo saying which captures this mindset succinctly: Ebe onye bi ka na-awachi (one must take care of wherever one lives.) So they buy property wherever they live and make that area better than they found it.

Given the deep-seated fear many Nigerians have for the Igbos, the hope of an Igbo president in the nearest future is dim. Such a hope will only be realized more by happenstance and circumstance as it was for Jonathan rather than by a dint of hard work.

But the more Nigerians deny Igbos the presidency for whatever reasons, the more they portray Nigeria as a land of inequality and injustice. But most importantly, given the mediocrity Nigeria has suffered in the area of leadership for decades, the emergence of a Nigerian president from Igboland will be more advantageous to Nigeria than to the Igbos, for Igbos in office try as much as possible to make a mark and be seen as nationalistic rather than parochial. Leaders like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr Alex Ekwueme, Prof Dora Akunyili, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, and others proved this when they had the opportunity to serve the nation.

So should the Igbos be seriously bothered about not ruling Nigeria? Not at all. How has the presidency bettered the lot of those ethnic groups that have produced presidents? Are they better off? The answer is obvious.

The only good the presidency will accord the Igbos is the feeling of having a sense of belonging in the nation. But rather than worry so much about that, the Igbos should, like the popular hymn says, count their blessings and name them one by one, and they will gladly change their names to “Nkemjika.”

*** First published October 16, 2012

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