Igbonine (all Igbo): What do we want? – Part 2
Option 3: A Nigerian President of Southeast Igbo extraction. Many Nigerians, I included, believe that this political outcome is essential to stabilize Nigeria and secure full national reconciliation after the Nigerian civil war over 50 years ago. It is also a fundamental element of justice, equity and inclusion, as other regions of the country have had the opportunity to produce the President of Nigeria since 1999. In the Southern part of Nigeria’s three geopolitical zones, the Southeast is the only one that has not produced the president in the context of informal but important North-South rotation of political power.
This option is under attack from forces outside the Southeast region, and perhaps with silent sympathy from some political actors within the region who seek to position themselves in the usual second-fiddle mode. It is interesting to observe that the two biggest political parties in the country have not yet committed to producing a president from the Southeast in the context of Nigeria’s nation-building project, as was the case in 1999 in response to the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election that Moshood Abiola won.
Option 4: Secession (Biafra). This option is advanced by groups who believe that Nigeria has failed Ndigbo, and does not want to give the Igbo their place as equal Nigerians with other groups. The secessionist tendency is also driven by the nostalgia for ethnic purity in place of a multi-ethnic nation. This option faces certain fundamental obstacles:
First, although international law recognizes the right of peoples to self-determination, that right is virtually unassailable when it is expressed in the context of external domination. This is the basis on which colonized territories such as Nigeria became independent of colonial rule. But in the context of an already existing state, the right to self-determination is conditioned by the domestic constitutional law of such a state. This is essentially a political question, in addition to a legal one in this circumstance. For example, in the Nigerian constitution of 1999, Article 2 says that Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But it does not preclude the possibility of a political process that can amend the Constitution or even replace it with a new one. And it does not preclude a political negotiation of the terms of such a sovereign state to assure its stability and its unity. In other words, the need to address Nigeria’s National Question remains an urgent one.
The right to a referendum in Nigeria is constitutionally recognized only in cases of state boundary adjustment and in the recall of a member of the National Assembly. Similar obstacles have prevented the secession of the Catalonia region in Spain, while in the case of Canada and its Quebec province, political negotiations resulted in constitutional amendments to accommodate their interests and prevent secession.
Second, the secessionist agitations do not have the military capacity to use force to create a new state of Biafra and a new reality on the ground. Even the Biafran attempt in 1967 ultimately failed for this reason. This appears to leave no other option other than a peaceful one to advance the legitimate interests of Ndigbo for equity and justice in Nigeria. Third, beyond sentiments and nostalgia, we must carefully interrogate whether this is in reality in the best interest of Ndigbo and whether in fact there is no alternative or better option, such as a return to federalism in Nigeria after President Buhari leaves office. The Southeast is a very small landmass, with a high population density, and the Igbo are known to always prefer a much larger playing field for their business and other pursuits inside and outside Nigeria. The existential reality that forced the creation of the State of Israel for the Jews does not exist to anywhere near the same degree in this case.
Fourth, the South-South and North-Central (Middle Belt) geopolitical zones, while now thankfully at one with the Igbo in demanding a constitutional restructuring for Nigeria, are simply not interested in being part of any presumed Biafran territory. This was largely the case in 1967. It remains so today. Even inside the Southeast, a majority of Ndigbo still prefer to remain part of Nigeria, but DO NOT thereby accept political marginalization or injustice, and therefore they prefer a constitutional restructuring with enhanced autonomy of sub-national units. Fifth, the so-called international community will not provide any significant support for the Southeast to break away from Nigeria but could be made allies in a legitimate peaceful struggle against injustice and inequity against the Igbo inside Nigeria.
Finally, we should be very careful of “co-agitators” for secession who might egg us on to “go first”, and their presumed support for any rash action on the part of Ndigbo. The lessons of 1967 should remain fresh in our memory even as we collaborate with other regions of Nigeria to advance mutually shared legitimate goals.
The Path Forward: What the Igbo Need
What we need is more important than what we want, because what we want is not always good for us. I may like and want cake or ice cream, but I must first consider whether eating the cake or ice cream I want is good for my heart or my blood sugar levels.
Against this background, I say that we, Igbonine, should want what we need most. In my view, those needs are as follows:
First, the Igbo must continue to resist any hegemonic worldviews in Nigerian politics and assert their own political relevance, but this is best done through persuasion combined with firmness, and partnerships with other ethnic groups. To do so, the elected Igbo political elite must overcome any second-fiddle mentality that might have been created by the psychological consequences of the Civil War.
Second, the elected Igbo political elite must demonstrate its commitment to the people of the region in order to regain their legitimacy, which has been eroded by secessionist agitation groups in view of demonstrable lapses from legitimately elected leadership of the states in the region, in particular in the area of securing the lives and property of citizens.
Third, we must look inward, not just outward at other ethnic groups as the source of our troubles, and reverse the impact of negative norms and value systems that have blocked the development of effective political strategy by Ndigbo.
Fourth, we must shift from reaction to proaction. Ndigbo must look beyond President Buhari and his current administration and plan and position the Southeast beyond the Buhari era, which will inevitably come to an end.
Fifth, the Igbo must insist on power rotation to Southern Nigeria in 2023, and with a unique argument for a President of Southeast extraction. In this context, we must look beyond the APC and PDP as political party vehicles for this purpose. The priority should be placed on the emergence of a competent and visionary Nigerian President from our region, from any of the recognized political parties who can move Nigeria and all its component parts and peoples forward. Restricting ourselves to APC/PDP as “mainstream” parties have effectively rendered the Igbo politically second class in Nigeria because it has prevented us from effectively advancing our strategic interests.
Sixth, we must be very strategic about the 2023 presidency. We must consider the following, among other criteria, in assessing potential candidates of political parties: Who best meets the criteria to perform the functions of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in terms of nation-building (managing our country’s diversity and building strong institutions), national security, managing our national economy, and restoring Nigeria’s standing in the world? Who is most acceptable to other parts of Nigeria, whose support we also need, and who has or does not have “excess baggage” in terms of track record and integrity?
Seventh, Ndigbo have nothing to gain by self-disenfranchisement in the Nigerian political system through election boycotts or low voter turn. We must register to vote and vote in state and national elections because he who is not at the table, is by implication on the menu.
Finally, Igbo people cannot bear alone, exclusively, the burden of proving their commitment to a united and functional Nigeria. It is time for the rest of Nigeria to prove their own commitment to a nation anchored on equity and justice. That means that Nigerians must abandon any anti-Igbo prejudices based on a distortion of our national history, and open their hearts to Ndigbo as fellow countrymen and women in the political arena. As the Igbo have voted for candidates from every part of Nigeria to lead our country; North, West, South-South, so it is time for these other regions to vote for a competent Igbo to lead Nigeria into the 21st century.
Address by Professor Moghalu, Former Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Presidential Candidate, 2019 & Convener, Moghalu4Nigeria (M4N) Movement at the Inauguration of Igbonine Sociocultural Organization.
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