Uzodimma, Ihejirika’s clamour for one Nigeria, President of southeast extraction
…‘Igbo better off staying in Nigeria’
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the clamour from southeast to produce the next president is gaining traction in segments of the zone, while the younger population believe in secession from Nigeria is a better pursuit.
Despite the divergent views, contentious issues of marginalisation, restructuring, true federalism and Igbo presidency still dominate discussions at major forum where Igbo questions are being addressed.
The recent public presentation of a book, “Reflections on the Igbo question,” written by Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma presented another opportunity for Igbo leaders to bare their thoughts on how to achieve their objectives within the Nigerian political space.
Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika is one of Igbo leaders who do not believe in secession or the opinion that Igbo are being marginalised. He said, “My experience over the years has shown that our greatest weapon as a nation lies in our unity, further enhanced by our diverse culture, population and rich history. My opinion is that the feeling of marginalisation is not peculiar to the Igbo race alone, but is a national cry. It must therefore not be seen as a basis for separatist agitation.
“I’m therefore in agreement with Governor Uzodimma that this innate desires of our people are better channelled to positive expressions such as technological advancement, industrialisation and entrepreneurship development, which are globally recognised as key strengths of Ndigbo. Our continuous desire for an Igbo President, or rather President of Igbo extraction, is a just and inalienable right but can only be realised through strategic alliance with other zones and not by any hostile agitation.”
Uzodimma, former Chairman of Southern Senators Forum at the National Assembly, has been categorical about his position against violent approach to addressing Igbo question. He specifically called on his people to be patriotic and work hard for the realisation of Igbo presidency and to shun all separatists’ agitation.
The governor, who charged Igbo people to be forthright in demanding for their rights in Nigeria, declared that Igbo people have no other country apart from Nigeria, adding that they were better positioned to achieve their dreams in the country. He said: “We already have a country. We don’t need another one. We should rise and take our rightful place by unleashing our God-given talents, by working in concert and by being focused on the future, which I believe holds a lot of promise.”
On the different position of Igbo elders and youths on how to position southeast rightly in national politics, Uzodimma said, “This brings us, of course, to a vexing development in Igboland: the renewed agitation for Biafra. Who could have imagined or foreseen this event 47 years ago when the war ended? That one day, Igbo youth, who had not experienced the tragedy and trauma of the Biafran War, could raise the motion to split from Nigeria once again? The youth preponderantly want a nation that affords them the level playing field, which they believe Nigeria has not provided and does not seem able to provide for its citizens. Some people agree with them and argue that the restiveness of Igbo youth in agitating for Biafra springs from the inequities of a skewed federal structure, which has turned the federating units into appendages of the centre. This has resulted in a dependency syndrome that has reduced the federating units to stultified estates, floundering in constant retrogression.”
But in contrast, “The older generation who have seen war and its indescribable capacity for devastation, argue however that Nigeria provides a wider identity and market for the creativity and ingenuity of Igbo entrepreneurship. And here we must admit that the grand official plots to render lgbo irrelevant, notwithstanding, our people have made their mark all over the country and contribute far more than their fair share to the business and economic development of other states and local governments of the federation.
“Their involvement in the economy is not limited to real estate and commerce but extends to small scale manufacturing as well as the tourism industry. In spite of the drawbacks of the Nigerian state, which we share with the other less privileged ethnic nationalities, Nigeria offers Ndigbo adequate opportunities to prove their mettle consistently as industrious and ingenious citizens.
Uzodimma continued: “The question which many of the elders are asking their younger pro-Biafran kin is as follows: Why give up the one bird in hand that we have in Nigeria, for the two wild ones in the Biafran bush? The point must also be made that for Igbos to fulfill their destiny and optimise their talents, they need an equitable Nigeria. The real pressure should really be to press for a restructured federation where all ethnic nationalities have a level playing field to operate.”
He then asked: “Where do we go from here? I believe we must relentlessly pursue the path of peaceful co-existence in a strong, united Nigeria. Using technology and innovation as our compass, we must build a secure and prosperous Southeast Nigeria so that our abiding worth as equal players and partners in the great Nigeria Project becomes more unassailable.
“As the most travelled Africans, Ndigbo are spread all from Mombasa to Cairo to Cape Town. Our must move beyond the increasingly narrow confines of Project Nigeria to encompass the wider continent. If we expand our productive base in the Southeast, our brothers and sisters already in these countries can be our marketing ambassadors to take the message of our cost-efficient, quality products to these places. Already, such a synergy exists in the Aba textiles and footwear industry. Other trades should follow suit if we put on our thinking caps, and work hard to overcome the handicaps that Project Nigeria many have imposed on us.”
For Uzodimma, there is something about Ndigbo that gives so much hope, “which can be seen in the resolute spirit of our people. This is the mind-set that helped us overcome the tragedy and setback of the Biafra war to become a dominant group in the national economy. Though we may not have the right position we deserve in the present administration, and although we may lack the political and administrative space, we can overcome these drawbacks and surge forward. Our optimism is borne by the wise observation of our ancestors. Onye kwe chi ya ekwe, which means your God or Chi, will agree to do what you will.”
He said, “For Ndigbo, the challenge of our generation is to insist on our inalienable birthright as citizens of Nigeria, who must coexist with other ethnic nationalities as equal partners. This is the rationale for my book. It is my own modest contribution on how the Igbos can overcome the existential challenges facing them today in project Nigeria. This accounts for the sense of fulfilment and joy that I derive from the presentation of this historic book.”
“One thing stands clear here, and it is the consistency of my views on the subject matter, which were expressed before I became the Governor of Imo State. These views can be aptly summarised in two themes, to wit: Igbos have not had a fair deal from project Nigeria since the end of the civil war. They have continued to cry to high heavens over the sordid dilemma they face in their own country. I believe we have cried enough and it is time to wipe our tears.
“The second is that Igbos are citizens of Nigeria by birth. They should never allow themselves to be cajoled out of their father’s land and inheritance. This is our country and we must stay here and collectively enforce out rights as bona fide citizens of Nigeria.
On the marginalisation of Ndigbo in the Nigerian project, Uzodimma noted that while that is trite, what was cogent was to address a rational and realistic way out of it. “I have been unambiguous in my diagnosis of the Igbo question. In spite of the state of affairs since the 1966 counter coup, we are still better off staying in Nigeria. Some may not agree with me. But anyone who takes his time to go through the book will be persuaded to think along that line
“We need to reclaim our rightful place in Nigeria by building on the comparative advantage we have over other Nigerians. We have to leverage on the special talents bestowed on us by God to ensure that we are accorded our dues in Nigeria. One of the talents is technology. The other is commerce and trade.”
The governor noted that when the Jews found themselves in a similar situation such as Igbos of Nigeria, they simply used their talents to force the world to accede to their legitimate demand, noting that through technology and the media, the Jews now call the shots in major countries of the world including, the United States of America.
Realising Igbo agenda
IN a complex multi-ethnic society like Nigeria, Uzodimma is of the opinion that Ndigbo must of necessity change their approach and be more politically strategic in their quest for presidency. He said, “It should be obvious that we urgently need to refocus our vision. We need to adopt the right navigational tools that can take us to the desired destination. The first thing to do here is to purge ourselves of the fixation or illusion of Igbo presidency because this can never be actualised. We must appreciate the inevitability of the fact that while president of Nigeria Igbo extraction is achievable, Igbo presidency is not”…Logically, we must adopt a more pan-Nigerian approach we earnestly desire to actualise our mission.
“By this, I refer to the need to embrace other Nigerians and to show greater patriotic stake in the Nigerian project. As we speak, a babble of voices across the country is pushing hard for separatist ideologies. What is our take on this? Do we want to rule a united, strong Nigeria, or do we want to rule a fragmented Nigeria at the verge of disintegration? I want to believe that our love as a people for Nigeria is not in doubt.
“What we need is a Nigerian president not an Igbo president. On this note, I dare say without any fear of contradiction, that we have never had and will never have an Hausa or a Fulani President, a Yoruba President, an lgbo President or an Idoma President. We have only had Nigerian Presidents – from Nnamdi Azikiwe to Shehu Shagari, to Olusegun Obasanjo, to Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, to Goodluck Jonathan and now Muhammadu Buhari. Yes, all of them came from somewhere or belong to one linguistic group or the other. But they were not presidents by their ethnic or linguistic groups alone.”
The governor observed that they were made Presidents by Nigerians or at least a majority of Nigerians. Uzodimma noted, “The 1999 constitution as amended and others before it, make it clear that to be president of Nigeria, you must secure two-thirds of the support of all the states. Section 134 (2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended states: “A candidate for an election to the office of the president shall be deemed to have been elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election, (a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election (b) he has not less than one quarter (4) of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two- thirds of all the states in the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
“So, you need both spread and majority of votes cast to be president of Nigeria. It follows that you can only be president of Nigeria with the support of a majority of Nigerians. However, because you come from a particular ethnic extraction, we can have a president of Nigeria of Yoruba, Igbo ljaw, Hausa or Fulani extraction. This is the closest we can come to ethnicising the presidency of Nigeria, if we must.”
To actualise Nigeria President of Igbo extraction, Uzodimma advised Ndigbo to embrace Pan-Nigerian approach and join political parties with national appeal. He said, “Those who delude you that the way to a Nigerian president of lgbo extraction will come from a clannish political party, are false prophets and prophets of doom. There is no evidence from our history that any ethnic-based party has ever had a chance at winning the highest seat in the land”.