No doubt, it appears to be one path to the quick attainment of or an increment in the “celebrity” status of any Nigerian to single out either the entire Igbo folks or a select group of their leaders for a ridiculous discourse and denigration of their individual and collective efforts towards nation-building, which is often born out of the sadistic glee of people fond of putting Ndigbo in the negative spotlight over the perennial and intractable issues of power and politics in Nigeria. Thus, it seems that this trend is rapidly and perniciously gaining grounds as the days come by and with the effect that some Nigerians thought hitherto to be fully in charge of their cognitive psychology are unfortunately losing their discernment and political savvy vis-à-vis the Igbo question in Nigeria. And this is quite unfortunate.
This piece is therefore conceived, among other reasons, to take a special exception to the polite insolence, unwarranted polemics, outright canards and, of course, the euphemistic vituperations hurled at Ndigbo and Igbo nation by Mr. Femi Aribisala, the Vanguard Newspaper columnist, in his March 4, 2014 column titled “Re-inventing Igbo politics in Nigeria”. Somehow, with all due respect, methinks that those who bear the name “Femi” in our clime appear to take a good deal of delight in frequently talking about the Igbo and their internal affairs to the point of unconsciously uttering gibberish. For example, aside from one notorious article once authored by one Femi-Fani Kayode under the rubric: The bitter truth about the Igbo, the latest in a series of this kind of diatribe against the Igbo emanates from another Femi but with a difference of Aribisala. But good enough, providence has made it that Nigerians would always be availed the opportunity of reading across the spectrum of opinions on diverse issues as they arise, in order to balance our knowledge of events, issues and people in our country.
Though granted that Femi Aribisala in his controversial write-up under review did tender to Ndigbo unreserved apologies for himself and on behalf of his brethren who for some misguided reasons chose to perpetrate an unprecedented crime against Ndigbo both before and during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, it is completely misplaced and highly preposterous that such contrition ostensibly projected to be coming in good faith could carry with it such implied caveat that seems to be warning Ndigbo that unless “you stop remembering and/or talking about the numerous past atrocities we committed against you – even if these cruelties are talked about for historical/academic purposes or for the moral lessons inherent in them as well as for the intellectual edification of the minds of the younger generations – we are most unlikely to allow you occupy the office of the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria”. Hence for Aribisala, the prospects of the reality of Nigerian President of Igbo extraction could only be conceived and situated in the disposition of the Igbo to learn to purge their minds of the alleged grudge they nurse or still harbor at the back of their minds against all those who once upon in time engaged them in their great battle to survive and be accorded due respect within the Nigerian entity. Understandably, this is one disguised caveat that seems to be imbued with sagacity in much the same way it appears somewhat obviated because its need, with hindsight, has been duly overtaken by a number of historical and political events.
In fact let us go down memory lane a bit, with a view to ascertaining the truth or otherwise about Mr. Aribisala’s contention that the Igbo have continued to “bear a grudge against practically everybody else”. First and foremost, it is probable that the so-called “Igbo grudge against everybody else” was there when it became possible for the then Nnamdi Azikiwe-led Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) to enter into coalition with National Party of Nigeria (NPN), led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Dr Alex Ekwueme as President and Vice-President respectively, and which eventually necessitated the formation of the government at the center in the second republic – a development that left Chief Obafemi Awolowo no other choice than to become the leader of the opposition party via his Unity Party of Nigeria. If therefore the “Igbo grudge against everybody else” is as articulated by Mr. Aribisala, one would expect that Alhaji Shehu Shagari and the NPN would have had little or nothing to do with the Igbo as far as forming a government at the center was concerned at time. And that they would have rather preferred to collaborate more with Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his party, especially given that he appeared at the time to be a trusted and very important ally of the Federal government during and after the civil war. This is clearly a vital consideration that ought to have counted against the Igbo, but it never did.
Again, apart from the immense Igbo support given to late Chief MKO Abiola which accounts for why he recorded a large number of votes as was shown later by the available results announced thus far by the then chairman of the electoral body at the time – Prof. Humphery Nwosu (yet an Igbo son) – at the very risk of his life and on the ground of which Abiola is today referred to as the acclaimed winner of the June 12,1993 presidential election, there is also much to say about the pivotal role of the Igbo in the emergence of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the third and fourth republic democratically elected President of Nigeria. Needless to say that the same so-called “Igbo grudge against everybody else” was probably there when he emerged from General Sani Abacha’s dungeon, totally devastated and apparently confused, to be given the Presidential flag of the Peoples Democratic Party at the expense of the efforts of Chief Alex ekwueme and in flagrant contravention of the party’s constitution. Yet the so-called “Igbo grudge against everybody else” did not propel great Igbo sons like Ekwueme to scuttle the ambition of this Yoruba man whose charity – as events later showed – never began at home. In short, nothing summarizes all that transpired at the time than the account below as given by no other than Dr Alex Ekwueme: “when the result was announced in Jos and they said Obasanjo won, I had the option of saying I didn’t accept it or I accepted it, embrace it and work together to make sure the party won. I could have said that of all the candidates that contested, it was only six that were eligible and of those six, I had the highest number of votes and so I expected the party to send my name to INEC and having said I could have read the minutes of the NEC meeting and everybody would know that it was incontrovertible that a person who did not win his local government area, his ward, polling station in front of his house couldn’t be the candidate, going by the NEC decision. This decision was mentioned at the screening committee where we applied to contest …my own personal ambition was not worthy putting Nigeria at risk; that’s why I embrace Obasanjo and went on to campaign for him ( Daily Sun Tuesday, November 19, 2013, in an interview granted by Dr Alex Ekwueme). As self-explanatory as the above excerpt is, we can now begin to appreciate indeed the hollow place of Femi Aribisala’s assertion that the Igbo have continued to “bear a grudge against practically everybody else”.
While Mr. Aribisala believes that the “Igbo have this tendency to demonize the Yorubas” at all time, it seems to be eluding his memory that the Yorubas too have this propensity to taunt/remind the Igbo about the great betrayal of Awolowo and its consequential psychological hang over, which excruciatingly lingers in the minds of the younger generations. If therefore it is now the belief that the Igbo are wont to demonize the Yoruba because of the sins of the Awolowos, then it behooves the likes of Aribisala to think and look before they leap in order not to be offending the sensibilities of the Igbo. Agreed, no human being or a people can be said to be infallible and not even the Igbo are exceptions to this fact of life. But to mercilessly whip a child and expect/hush him/her not to cry (as analogous to the case of the deportation of scores of Igbo from Lagos state to Anambra state by the government of Gov. Fashola) is, to say the least, completely inhuman. And if the Igbo outcry in this regard is what Femi Aribisala now conceives as amounting to the tendency of the Igbo to demonize the Yorubas, then it is high time we reviewed our individual perception of the meaning of “demonization”. However, left to me, I would submit that the Igbo may have forgiven Gov. Babatunde Fashola, otherwise the recently reported Galala dance tutored by Daddy Showkey for Gov. Fashola and Gov. Peter Obi of Anambra state wouldn’t have been accidental, inconsequential and an ordinary stage-managed event devoid of profound message directed to mainly the people of Igbo and Yoruba descent.
Unfortunately, the impression that “the redemption of Igbo to prominent national office moved apace under President Obasanjo, a Yoruba man” is still part of that mentality of the Aribisalas that would always goad some Igbo elements into reacting in such a way that would further be qualified as the demonization of the Yorubas. For God’s sake, was Olusegun Obasanjo the one who trained Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, Prof. Charles Soludo, Prof. Dora Akunyili and Prof. Ndidi Okereke Onyiauke in schools? Or was Obasanjo in any way instrumental in their great achievements at national and international levels before he appointed them to serve the nation in his government? What then is this gibberish about appointing them into prominent national office? If in the opinion of Aribisala that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo acknowledged that “Igbos are some of the most seasoned, competent and experienced public servants” and so had “relied on their expertise”to not only legitimize his administration but also to turn around the fortunes of this nation , then from where did the notion of “redemption” come into play? More importantly, if not solely for sheer quest to tap from her wealth of experience and expertise, why then did the same “redeemer” called Obasanjo reportedly acquiesce – as a condition precedent – to pay the salary of Dr (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela as the then minister of Finance in dollars, at the time?
It is most unfortunate that Femi Aribisala carries the notion that “out of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Igbo have by far the worst politicians”. But the big question is: what criteria did Aribisala employ in arriving at this jejune conclusion? Of course, as we all know, good politics is not meant to be a do-or-die affair. Yet, at least to the best of our knowledge, there is hardly a time gubernatorial politicking in Anambra state, for instance, is characterized by high profile political assassination unlike the scenario that obtains in Lagos State at times. That aside, the only time there was a near state of anarchy in Anambra politics, which was clandestinely masterminded and remotely supervised by the power that be in Abuja, was during the administration of a Yoruba man in the person of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
What is more, the perception that the Igbo have no “recognizable leaders” is as nonsensical as the claim that they “have no discernible strategy as to how to negotiate power at the center”. Clearly, as a people well known for decades for running an acephalous society and according due recognition to elders, titled fellows and persons of great achievements with integrity, it is therefore odd to say that such a group is bereft of “recognizable leaders”. Like the great Prof. Chinua Achebe would rightly argue, the Igbo – unlike the Yoruba – are unhampered by traditional hierarchies”. So it is not the duty of Femi Aribisala and people of his ilk to create “recognizable leaders” for Ndigbo.
As for Igbo plan that will take them to the Aso villa, that – I believe –would unfold and basically be determined with time and events. For example, if one may ask, what “discernible strategy did the Yoruba have that helped them to produce Obasanjo other than the fact that they allowed Abiola to die like a rat in the incarceration, which the Hausa-Fulani oligarchs cashed in on to throw up obasanjo who the Yorubas never voted for in his first term? Again, what plan did the South-South adopt other than the fact that the death of President Umaru Musa Yaradua availed them the rare opportunity of occupying the office of the President? However, it is today the desperation of the Hausa-Fulani to secure power by all means which has led them into the Boko Haram terrorism, thereby inflicting unprecedented anguish on the entire country, the North and themselves in particular. Is this perhaps the kind of strategy Aribisala intends that the Igbo adopt towards a successful realization of their Presidential aspiration in Nigeria? Let it be known to the Aribisalas that the Igbo are not animals and so would actualize their dream to produce a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in due course through the application of wisdom, diplomacy, corporation, reasonable and orthodox use of force where inevitable.