Igbo Presidency And The Nigerian State

September 19, 2020

…All rights Matter.

THE quest for a President of Igbo extraction from the South East zone of Nigeria is more than a political challenge. It is a moral and ethical issue.

Said the renowned Muslim cleric, Othman Danfodio: a people can live without religion or politics, but no one can live without justice. This aphorism puts man at the centre of all social and political activities.


Man is a political animal. He is also a moral being, a value chiseled out of the immutable tissue of conscience, man’s noble distinction from the jungle ethics of the survival of the fittest.

The sense of justice should be common to all men. Without it man would rank lower than animals, far below the Homo sapiens he is touted to be. A broken conscience is a guile that can only be requited by a divine hand through noble minds.

Like mercy, justice blesses him that gives and him that receives. Justice, Conscience and Mercy;of the three the greatest is Justice. Our country is in need of it, a lot of it in order not to flounder, in order to fulfill its manifest destiny.

Yet we cannot legislate virtue that flows from the above ethical trinity. It must, as Mark Twain (1835-1910), an American writer asserted, come from within. Most of the discussions trending on the above subject matter are arguments from the opposition camp to prolong the status quo ante.

We concede that it is better to argue as a form of reasoning than to take recourse to blind use of force. Arguments must, however, be convincing to make the debate worthwhile.

For instance, for an enlightened individual or a group of persons to openly aver that they do not understand what restructuring means is to close ones eyes to the socio-political realities on ground, on realities that compel a change of the way we are running this country.

The same applies to the skewed arguments against the desire of the Igbo to produce the next President of Nigeria from the South East based on justice, equity and good conscience.

The Igbo quest for the highest office in the land is a journey for an ideal, a quest for a substantive re-think without which we cannot have a nation devoid of malice and continuous rancour.

That journey need not be quixotic nor be visited with the habitual denial, insouciance and organized pre-judgement. Igbo presidency should be a win-win situation, part of a larger process of national healing of a fractured polity.

History would teach us that the lack of the values of justice and inclusiveness precipitated the
fall of the great Roman Empire. It lacked cohesion, epitomized by a king enjoying himself while Rome was burning.

The fall was hubristic, like the fall of a tragic hero. Rome failed because of its internal contradictions. It ignored its fault lines.

We would not like the same fate to be our lot. Our country is bleeding and we must rescue it by resolving its contradictions. Besides, the fall of great empires through ages should teach us that the end does not always justify the means.

We must therefore counter the seductiveness of the superiority complex, the born to rule syndrome, the unbridled sense of entitlement. The Aryan race or whatever is left of it can best speak to that.

NdiIgbo will continue to ensure that an inclusive Nigeria survives because it benefits them. They will work for its rejuvenation, its greatness.

Indeed, the Igbo can make Nigeria great again. The pro-Nigeria attitude of many of her past leaders justifies this optimism and our belief in a great future. The Igbos are the only people who built a University and named it after Nigeria at Nsukka (UNN).

It could have been called the University of Nsukka. The Igbos are the only people in Nigeria who built universities and higher institutions outside Igboland. It is in their character to spread prosperity.

Far back in 1953, when the Northern part of this country threatened to secede, the intervention of a foremost Igbo son, the revered leader of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun(NCNC), a pan Africanist and a great Nigerian patriot, The Right Honourable Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, averted that threat, despite the prospect of self- government for the Eastern Region.

In 1959, in the wake of a stalemated pre- independence general election, it was again the Igbo leader of NCNC that rallied behind the Northern led Northern Peoples Congress (NPC)to form a government in which Tafawa Balewa led the Central Government. Zik accepted a ceremonial position to ensure a smooth transition.

In 1966,when there was a rebellion in the Nigerian military in which a preponderant number of Igbo officers were involved, a crisis characterized by the insensate killings of persons from other ethnic groups ensued. Aguiyi Ironsi, the Igbo Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces foiled the coup
attempt and saved Nigeria from further disintegration.
Today it has been amply demonstrated that there was no time the generality of NdiIgbo planned a coup against a government in which it had a big stake.

No sensible and discerning group of people would do that. As it has been alleged in some quarters that coup d’etat was meant to put a non -Igbo into power. NdiIgbo are yet to recover from the consequences of that ill- conceived and ill-executed rebellion by some exuberant officers of the Nigerian army.

Igbos are not a subversive group. Our culture tends towards the prophylactic—towards a pacifism in the spirit of “Oje mba enwe iro”—the sojourner who does not court enmity. Igbos develop where they live and make it antiseptic, a comfort zone. They build schools, markets, and hospitals, including Universities because they take Nigeria as a home.

The politics of the Second Republic saw a galaxy of eminent Igbo sons and daughters come together to help form the Northern based NPN. They included Dr Michael Okpara, the highly regarded former premier of Eastern Nigeria, and his townsman Dr J.O.J. Okezie a former Federal Commissioner of Agriculture; the former Biafran leader, Odumegwu Ojukwu who contested a senatorial election on the platform of the NPN; the man of timber and caliber, Dr K.O. Mbadiwe of Aro Ndizuogu; Chief Christian Onoh of Enugwu Ngwo who sired Nigeria’s most beautiful girl, Bianca Ojukwu; the boy is good Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, and, author of the NPN manifesto and later political advisor to President Shehu Shagari and President of the Senate, Dr Chuba Okadigbo.

There were many others. Intellectual activists and one of Africa’s literary giants Chinua Achebe, made common cause with Mallam Aminu Kano’s Peoples Redemption Party (The PRP).

Others who joined the PRP included late Chief Arthur Nwankwo, and late Senator Uche Chukwumerije. Igbos do not only play identity politics; they also play ideological politics.

Contrary to wrong perceptions and mis-education, Igbos do not deny others their constitutive rights in Igbo land. The first mayor of Enugu was a northerner, Mallam Umaru Altine, a Fulani cattle dealer from Sokoto.

He won the 1956 election to become the first mayor of Enugu metropolis, beating an indigene, Mr Patrick Agu Ozonu, an independent candidate, to that elevated post. Before then he was a member of the Enugu Urban District Council.

He was on hand with his deputy Patrick Ozonu to receive Dr Kwame Nkrumah when he visited Enugu in 1959. Nkrumah had come to visit the Coal Mine that was said to be supplying light to Ghana even at that time.

Mr A.R Broderick, a prison contractor from Benin was appointed into the Enugu Township Advisory Board in 1931. His family still lives in Moore House Street, Enugu. When some of the council members resigned, one Chief Sani from Yoruba land, and Mr S.A Strong from Sierra Leone were appointed into the Council in 1936.

In 1953, following the first democratic election into the Enugu Urban District Council, Mr Walwin Ebreneyin, an Urhobo man was elected the chairman with Patrick Ozonu as his deputy. When Ebreneyin resigned, Umaru Altine succeeded him, retaining Mr Ozonu from Ngwo as his deputy.

Other non-Igbos elected into the Council included Samuel Wilson, D.T. Inyang and Walwin Ebreneyin. The councilors elected Walwin Ebreneyin an Urhobo man as the Chairman. In 1953 when Ebreneyin left, Mallam Umaru Altine, succeeded him with Patrick Ozonu from Ngwo as his deputy.
When Enugu achieved a mayoral status in 1956, the two emerged as chairman and deputy.

The first Leader of Government Business, that is the Premier of Eastern Nigeria, was Professor Eyo Ita from today’s Cross River State. Mrs Margaret Ekpo won all her parliamentary elections from Aba, where her husband practiced medicine.

Umuahia has remained a premier cattle market in Igbo land since the opening of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri railway line. The Hausa quarters in Asata Enugu are still there since I first saw them in 1962.

Many of the children born there may not have been to the North. They speak the Igbo language with aplomb. Many are born by Igbo mothers. Go to Owerri -Aba Road in Owerri and you will be greeted with the magnificent buildings housing the Dangote group of companies.

These facts are offered as patent examples of how Igbos accommodate strangers in their midst. It has always been in the nature of NdiIgbo to be inclusive and friendly. It was also an era that announced and exuded the Igbo sense of inclusiveness at its best, innately antiseptic. That era also defined the framework of Igbo political and social values in her early encounter with other nationalities.

Yet NdiIgbo were compelled to fight a war in which they were ill prepared and divided, induced by the misadventure of a few soldiers. The eminent and indefatigable reconciler, the Right Hon Nnamdi Azikiwe opted out of that war of attrition in time to join the Federal side.

He had always been a federalist and a chronic supporter of the concept of one Nigeria. Some misguided critics have not stopped accusing him of being the cause of the “beggarly” status of NdiIgbo in Nigeria today because of the compromises he made in favour of a united Nigeria.

Yet as far back as 1949, in a speech to the Igbo State Union, he had bemoaned the parlous state of NdiIgbo and compared them (NdiIgbo) to the Jews who, scripturally, were destined to wear a sacrificial toga. They also forget that it was Zik’s strategic politics of compromise—his fabianist tendencies—I dare add– that made it possible for the Eastern Region of the time to be considered to be one of the fastest developing economies of the time. But I digress.

In The Holy Book, God promised his servant Abraham that if he could find one person who was sinless in Sodom He would spare the City. In Igboland, we can find not one, not two, but thousands and millions who have always supported the North, and true federalism. The principle of one good turn deserves another is not only divine but also human.

It is not an oddity and that ethic of brotherhood should be applied in the present circumstance to show that Igbo rights matter.

We should forget the bitterness of the coup; we should forget the fratricidal civil war and move on. We should also remember the reasons why at the end of the war it was declared ‘”No Victor, No Vanquished.” We are an honourable people and our words should bind and bond. If we had followed the agreements reached at Aburi and managed its outcomes properly tempers would have been assuaged and war averted. We all made a mistake or mistakes, a matter of pride and prejudice.

In the Second Republic the Northern based National Party of Nigeria (NPN) could not muster enough votes to form a Central government. Again it was only the Zik and Igbo-led Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) that agreed to go into a coalition with the NPN to form a government which gave legitimacy to NPN victory, hotly contested then by other regional parties.

It was the NPN leadership, not the NPP that abrogated that accord because it saw in it a platform that could have birthed a resurgence of Igbo return to the path of social and political relevance in Nigeria. The military intervention in 1983 finally gave a coup de grace to what would have strengthened the link between the North and the South East.

Talk of building linkages and political platforms! From the inception of political activities in this country, the East has from time to time aligned with the North to produce a workable platform whose primary purpose is to ensure the unity of the country. The North has used that platform to ensure a certain political ascendancy and advantages that come with the power syndrome.

The “unity” challenge made the Igbo to play the politics of compromise—call it– an enlightened ”second fiddle” and the West a utilitarian and positive opposition for a while. In politics nothing should be taken for granted, otherwise we build a system that enthrones the unhealthy ideology of a master and a servant relationship.
Igbo political elite, as alluded to earlier, has been prominent in the formations of all the major political parties in the country, be it the APP, the ANPP, the PDP, the SDP, the GNPP following the civil war. The roles played by the likes of former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, following a committed stewardship under Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the 2nd Republic are sans pareil. His loyalty to Shagari as Vice President was such that many erroneously thought it was he who ran the government.

Ekwueme epitomized the Igbo quality of loyalty, steadfastness and capacity.There are many in Igbo land that can play the Nnamdi Azikiwe pan- Nigerian political card! Many can also match Dr Ekwueme in loyalty and administrative astuteness.

When the APP and ANPP were formed in the 90s the Igbo political elite was not found wanting. The Sam Mbakwes, The Ojukwus, The Nzeribes, The Iwuanyanwus as well as younger ones like the Ogbonnaya Onus and the Rochas Okorochas were there.

At a time Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu was billed to be a running mate to Adamu Ciroma, which made a colleague wonder why the Igbos, according to him, always chose to play the “second fiddle” to the North. Iwuanyanwu had indeed ran for the presidential slot under one of the government “programmed” parties at the time but the ruling elite was not serious and sincere about handing over power to civilians.

Igbos will always demonstrate their usual loyalty to Nigeria, despite the aftermath of the war. The All Progressive Grand Alliance(APGA) came about partly as a result of endemic marginalization, lack of inclusiveness and as a demonstration of the right to associate.

The renascent Biafra agitation was also the result of fundamental rights abridgements.

It is therefore unfair and mischievous to accuse NdiIgbo of not building bridges and of not “belonging” to major political parties. The late Alex Ekwueme belonged to at least two major political parties in his active political lifetime–the NPN and the PDP.

He was denied the presidency, despite a display of capacity, savoir-faire and principled loyalty. America fought a civil war and has moved on. After World War II, a stimulus package, code-named the Marshall Plan, was made available to the conquered nations, especially the Germans, to help rehabilitate their devastated economies.

We know where they are today. If victorious Nigeria had insisted that NdiIgbo should remain in the conquered territory they would have been constrained to do so. Igbos might have been forced to found another niche for themselves, as they have to do in the economic domain.

But, it would seem now that they were lured back to Nigeria for further humiliation, to face the “war” through other means. Politics, it has been opined, is war in another form. But it need not be so. NdiIgbo characteristically trooped back to other parts of Nigeria in search of friendship, understanding, and continued fence mending and building bridges.

Saying that NdiIgbo should not expect the presidency to be handed to them on a platter of gold is begging the question. I was in the conference in 1994 that recommended devolution of power to the sub nationals as a principle of good governance. The concept of zones as a metric of good governance was sponsored and argued ably by no less a person than Dr Alex Ekwueme.

There was nothing a la carte about that. It made sense and even though it is not in the constitution the principle has been practiced as a convention. A la carte or buffet, there is always a price to pay. I was also in a conference about a decade later, that agreed by consensus that an additional state should be created in the South East to ensure parity of states, especially in the Southern part of the country. It has not been done. A sense of equity demands that it be done.

There has to be an end to the revenge syndrome incarnated structurally and systemically in our present mode of governance. Fifty years is enough time to live without justice. Restructure Nigeria today and the agitations all over the country will substantially abate.

Restructuring will not necessarily put paid to a social and political activism that is borne out of a constitutive and constitutional right to aspire to the highest office in the land and to have it on the basis of equity and competence.

Nigeria for now must continue to remain a guided democracy, encouraging the principles that have helped her to manage her diversity. Those principles include the zonal arrangements,rotation of the presidency between the South and the North; the federal character metric and equality of all citizens, driven by a sense of justice, equity and good conscience.

The presidency of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Buhari were the direct results of this utilitarian ethos. NdiIgbo should also benefit from these principles, restructuring or not. Through this type of functional arrangement that gave birth to these leaders the Igbo aspiration would be made real.

Finally, a little comparison with Abraham Lincoln would not be too far fetched. Buhari like Lincoln fought a civil war. Both inherited a fractured country. Both had an opportunity to show leadership, character and capacity. Both had opportunity to make changes that were pro-freedom and rights.

President Buhari should begin to see the marginalization of NdiIgbo not only as an affront on their human rights but also as a hindrance to the economic development of Nigeria. He should, like Lincoln, affirm, “that a house divided against itself cannot stand”. Lincoln recognized that all human beings are born “with certain inalienable rights”. From that point of view Lincoln could be seen as the precursor of the mantra: “black lives matter.”

He who heals the wounds of this country will be perceived by future and present generations as the greatest leader or one of the greatest leaders the country ever had. Buhari has started that healing process by burying the ghost of June 12 and validating the electoral victory of Chief Moshood Abiola.

We urge him to complete the healing process and “bind up the nations wounds “ like Lincoln did in America. President Buhari’s strategic intervention will make the quest of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction a reality. If he does that he would have ended the civil war.

History will be kind to him and hail Buhari as the Nigerian version of Abraham Lincoln who not only emancipated the slaves of America but also healed the wounds of the American civil war. Buhari will not only be perceived as the greatest Fulani leader after Othman Dan Fodio but a great contemporary Nigerian leader.

Madubuike is a former Minister of Health

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