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Igbo, perception crisis and clamour for presidency ahead 2023

By Leo Sobechi (Abuja) and Seye Olumide (Ibadan)
24 April 2022   |   2:46 am
The issue of Nigeria’s identity politics reverberated recently, when a Yoruba monarch, the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Abdulrosheed Adewale Akanbi, declared that he cannot trust any Southeasterner

The issue of Nigeria’s identity politics reverberated recently, when a Yoruba monarch, the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Abdulrosheed Adewale Akanbi, declared that he cannot trust any Southeasterner (Igbo) to be the President of Nigeria.
  
The traditional ruler based his assertion on the sit-at-home declared in solidarity for Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, after his rendition from Kenya and re-arraignment at the Federal High Court, Abuja on June 29, 2021.
 

  
Kanu has been advocating for the secession of Igbo from Nigeria based on his perception that other ethnic groups in the country hold the Igbo in suspicion and disdain. Through the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which he leads, Kanu deployed his Radio Biafra to call for a referendum to determine Igbo’s further membership of the country.
   
By next year, Nigerians would be due for another general election to select leaders, including a new President to pilot the affairs of the country for the next four years.
   
And, given the schemes that surrounded the start of the fourth republic democratic journey in 1999, when two Yoruba candidates were programmed to fly the flags of the two major political parties in the Presidential poll, the Igbo are canvassing the view that after 24 years of waiting in the wings and playing supportive roles, 2023 is ample time for them to take a shot at the Presidency.
 
 
Against that background, opinions were divided when the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Akanbi, made scathing remarks about the Igbo, especially given the long standing political rivalry between the Yoruba of Southwest and Igbo of Southeast.
  
Although the monarch counseled the Igbo to rethink their political style, the attempt failed to hide the partisan flavour of his declarations as well as failure to reflect the historical realities of Igbo political odyssey in Nigeria.  
  
The Oluwo’s insistence that “no Nigerian will feel secured in the hands of a leader, whose ethnic attachment deprived other Nigerians their rights,” elicited debates and discussions on the question of how the public perception about Igbo, impairs their strive for political leadership and inclusivity.
 
According to the statement by the Oluwo, through his Chief Press Secretary, Alli Ibraheem, “the failure of the South Easterners to change their approach will amount to chasing shadow on their political journey of producing Nigeria’s President.
   
“The civil war wounds meted on south easterners is a weak factor to institutionalise policies capable of tearing the nation apart. I have people from across Nigeria in Iwo, including the Southeasterners. They do not only have their businesses, but also built their houses and own farm lands. Such is not only peculiar to Iwo, but to other parts of the country, except the Southeast. A Nigerian in Nigeria should be able to own land anywhere.

“The style by the Southeasterners is barbaric. Such is not only detrimental to their economic viability but also to their political recognition. As a traditional ruler, I can’t trust any Southeasterner as my President.

   
“You can’t be a leader on sectional interest. With such unsophisticated, primitive and uncivilised thinking, no Nigerian from other zones will vote a south easterner as their President.”
   
It seems the monarch was incensed by the stalwart agitation for Igbo to be President at a time notable Southwest politicians that worked for the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari as President in 2015 feel 2023 was time to reciprocate their effort.
    
The civil war economic scars apart, the Oluwo glossed over the Igbo business acumen propelled by risk taking, which led to their contributions to nation building.
      
Oluwo must be playing soft politics, because before him, the Media mogul, Alegho Raymond Dokpesi, had also advised the Igbo to alter their political thinking and social mannerism.
  
Dokpesi blamed the activities of IPOB as evidence of the general suspicion that the average Nigerian reserve for Igbo, stressing that “the separatist activities of Nnamdi Kanu, detained leader of IPOB would jeopardise the chances of the Southeast region to produce the president in 2023.”
   
Unlike the Oluwo, who created the impression that the Igbo are unwelcoming of citizens of other ethnic groups, the Emeritus Director of DAAR Communications, noted that the emergence of IPOB and its influence across the Southeast has complicated and undermined the agitation for patriotic Nigerians of Igbo extraction to lead this nation as far as the 2023 election is concerned.”
   
But, without taking into consideration the causative factors that prompted IPOB’s agitations, the allegations against Igbo seem to lack objective appraisal. For instance, even prior to the civil war, the fear of domination has always fuelled government policies that tended to set a glass ceiling against the Igbo, including quota system and use of land mass as basis of sharing national wealth.
   
Responding to The Guardian’s request for comments, a former Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Senator Emmanuel Onwe, said, “the hatred to which the Igbo are subjected in Nigeria has been on a decade-by-decade amplification since 1947.”
   
Rejecting suggestions that the Igbo are not gregarious, Onwe went down memory lane. He narrated: “Following the Jos massacre of Ndigbo in 1947, there has never been a decade in which Ndigbo escaped mass slaughter in the last 70 years, usually in northern Nigeria and exclusively perpetrated by northern Muslims.
   
“In recent years, Yoruba “Christians” have taken over the baton, not necessarily to mass murder but to execute an agenda that is no less cruel and invidious and borne out of inveterate hostility – hate speech; hate speech constructed not just to denigrate, but to delegitimise.
     
“Thugs of the pulpit from other ethnic groups have also joined in the frenzy of anti-Igbo vituperations but we know the evolution. This ugly history has nothing to do with who we are as a people and everything to do with our traducers.
    
“We owe no one explanation for our existence, our culture, our sociology or our anthropology. Once a people are forced, through hate and resentment, to offer justifications for their very existence, they’re finished.”
   
On the charge that Igbo are not reaching out, the former Senator maintained that “whether Nigeria resolves to recognise our legitimate entitlement to justice, equity and fairness, which of course will be most evidently demonstrated in the consideration of an Igboman to ascend the Presidency in exactly the same manner the Yoruba were enabled in 1999 or not, the burden of the tyranny of injustice is not on us as a people. It lies where it lies.” 
   
Taking the narrative to a new level, Onwe said the question should be, “Is Nigeria worthy of the Igbo?” He explained that the Nigeria that was recently appraised by Reverend Father Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, is certainly not worthy of Igbo.
  
His words: “With everything literally broken down, our country has become one big emergency national hospital with full occupancy.

Only corruption is alive and well….”
     
Consequently, in the face of obvious rejection and misperception of Igbo, he infers that “by the morning of 30th May, 2023, the collective energy, resources and will power of all Igbo men and women should be geared towards the creation of an independent homeland for themselves and their progenitors.”
   
Also, founding national chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Chekwas Okorie, said it was a blatant misinformation to say that the Igbo are not reaching out or insular in their political behaviour.
     
Okorie recalled how the levers of power were applied to deny Dr. Alex Ekwueme of the Presidency after he laboured with others to found the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) through the G34 he led to challenge the Sani Abacha dictatorship.

     
Okorie disclosed that even after it was very obvious that the political space was willfully being constricted against the Igbo in PDP, he joined other progressive minded politicians to found APGA as a platform to engage with wider Nigeria of like-minds, especially the marginalised minorities.
   
“But, you saw what became of APGA. The powers that be used the weakest link in the party to introduce interminable squabble and countless litigations to make the party platform unstable and incapable to compete,” he stated.
  
Okorie declared that former President Olusegun Obasanjo disclosed at a meeting that the decision to muscle APGA and edge him (Okorie) out was because he propped up the former secessionist leader, Dim Emeke Odumegwu Ojukwu as the party’s Presidential candidate in the 2003 Presidential election.
     
He also recalled how the attempt by Igbo Political Leaders to support zoning the Presidency in 2011 was fought against by the federal authorities, stressing that Nigeria has always found reason to blame Igbo for its disregard for fairness, equity and justice.
  
It could be recalled that in the build up to the 2011 general elections, a political summit of Igbo political leaders was scheduled for Monday, September 27, 2010 in Owerri.
    
But, citing orders from above, the then Imo State governor, Ikedi Ohakim, blocked the Concorde Hotel venue, which was the venue of the meeting, following intelligence that the Igbo leaders wanted to support a northern Presidential candidate.
 
Notable dignatories at the event which later held under the scotching sun, were Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Senator Ken Nnamani, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, Senator Ben Obi, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Prof. George Obiozor, Prof. A. B. C. Nwosu, Rtd. AVM Canice Umenwaliri, Rtd AVM Luke Uchulor, Prince B. B. Apugo, Chief Dubem Onyia, Dr. Sam Egwu and Chief Achike Udenmwa among others.
   
Had PDP zoned the Presidency in 2011 to the North, it would be impossible to deny the Igbo the Presidency in 2019. As such, Igbo have been applying their republican political style against the formidable political power of entrenched interests that are determined to keep them out.

Reacting to the outrage his initial views had elicited from Igbo from far and wide, especially the response by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo through their publicity secretary, the palace of the Oba Akanbi said it was evident that the Igbo body has false knowledge of him. 

“I read and observed the press statement released by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo through their publicity secretary against Oluwo’s message/admonition on in house style/sit-at-home order enacted on our own (Igbo) people. Igbo people are my own. I’ve Igbo in my blood. It is disappointing that my beloved Ohanaeze Ndigbo could jump on the media in response to a misleading headline casted to sell story. 

A statement by Chief Press Secretary to Oluwo, Alli Ibraheem, read in part: “Oluwo remains one of the leading monarchs canvassing for a united Nigeria, equity and justice, most especially for the Igbo tribe because I myself has suffered marginalization. I’ve invested heavily on sustaining Nigeria’s unity and will continue doing so. I expected a swift eradication of the sit-at-home order by the Eastern Security Network (ESN) and the IPOB, which I trust their cooperation with stakeholders and Ohanaeze Ndigbo can curb. I’ve reached out to respected monarchs from the East, most especially the highly respected Obi of Onitsha and Igwe Agubuzuo of Enugu.

“The demarcated restriction is a self inflicted punishment in a united state. No monarch feels the pain of the Igbos like I do. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo should read more about my activities before jumping on the media. My message is to their advantage should they see it as such.”