BY EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO
It is a special privilege to commence this essay writing with a quotation from one of the tiniest but yet mightiest works of the late Professor Chinua Achebe and this book I’m afraid sold like a hot cake whilst yours faithfully was only in form 1 at the Teachers College Kafanchan, a remote part of Kaduna State.
This is because apart from becoming one of the most widely read authors in the World with well over 50 million copies of some of his many illustrious books sold around the world, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart got transliterated into about several international languages including Japanese. Achebe also explored the leadership crises that have faced Nigeria in all of his books.
In this beautiful book he wrote a chapter stating that NIGERIA HAS AN IGBO PROBLEM. He wrote thus: “A distinguished political scientist from a “minority” area of the south pronounced some years ago that Nigeria has an Igbo problem. Every ethnic group is of course something of a problem for Nigeria’s easy achievement of cohesive nation- hood. But the learned professor no doubt saw the Igbo as a particular irritant, a special thorn in the flesh of the Nigerian body-politic.”
Achebe wrote further: “Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo. They would all describe them as aggressive, arrogant and clannish. Most would add grasping and greedy (Although the performance of the Yoruba since the end of the Civil War has tended to put the prize for greed in some doubt!).
Modern Nigerian history has been marked by sporadic eruptions of anti-Igbo feeling of more or less serious import; but it was not until 1966-7 when it swept through Northern Nigeria like “a flood of deadly hate” that the Igbo first questioned the concept of Nigeria which they had embraced with much greater fervour than the Yoruba or the Hausa/Fulani”. (The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe).
Historians wrote that Igbo is a significant Ethnic cluster in Nigeria, just as they submitted that Igboland has been an area of early human habitation and economic activity. The Igbo people they assert are mainly found in autochthonous Igbo towns such as Aba, Abakiliki, Awka, Arochukwu, Enugu, Nsukka, Onitsha, Owerri, Orlu, Okigwe, Owerri, Umuahia, etc. Nri town in Anambra State is regarded by most Igbo groups as the place from where they originated. It was in this area that the famous Igbo Ukwu civilization flourished.
Historians of Nigerian origin stated that the Igbo were mainly farmers and over time, ventured into black smiting, cloth weaving and trading. The Nri were reputed medicine men who traversed the length and breadth of Igboland to offer their services to communities. It is on record that they went beyond what was regarded as Igboland to as far North as Benin and Igala Land to render their services. Also, they penetrated the Niger Delta area to Ikwerre and Etche lands for the same purpose. Their activities were to be later displaced by the Aro sub group of the Igbo who through their trading and oracular influence became the dominant players amongst the Igbo and some of their immediate neighbours. What is important for our purpose is that the Igbo had vigorous interaction with other Nigerian peoples long before the coming of the Europeans in the 15th century. The Igbo’s spread out to other parts of Nigeria did not end with the advent of colonial rule, in reality, it became more intensified. They have migrated and settled beyond the territories of their immediate neighbors to other parts of Nigeria and outside the country. (Nigerian History From the Earliest Times to the Twenty-First Century Edited by Christopher B.N Ogbogbo & Okpeh O. Okpeh, JR).
From the book by Professor Chinua Achebe written and published in 1983, we have been told that there has always being what a non-Igbo professor termed as the Igbo problem. On another breath, thanks to some notable historians, the Igbo have made remarkable reputation as a hardworking people who easily integrates with their hosts and have spread their tentacles broadly.
What we can take from these researches in the context of the coming presidential election in which the dominant texture of national conversations is about how to placate the Igbo which is one of the tripartite majorities that constitute Nigeria. Letting the South East produced the successor to President Muhammadu Buhari of Northern Nigeria is the surest way to cement what can be called NIGERIA’S ENDURING POLITICAL CHARTER OF EQUITY.
Those who argued that political parties should give consideration to allowing the South East of Nigeria to produce the next president, have done so based on the theme of justice, fairness, equity because of the three major ethnicities, only the Igbo have never produced the executive president of Nigeria.
From the legal dictionary online, the word “equity in its broadest sense, is fairness. As a legal system, it is a body of law that addresses concern that fall outside the jurisdiction of common law”. In the context of this reflection, equity in terms of enabling the South East have a good shot at the office of the President of Nigeria, what we can take out of this scholarly definition of the word equity is fairness.
A scholar once wrote and I completely agree that whereas diversity refers to all the many ways that people differ, equity is about creating fair access, opportunity, and advancement for all those different people. It’s about creating a fair playing field, so argues a thinker who put up an article titled “what diversity equity, and inclusion really mean,” as published online on ideal.com.
Also it is argued and logically that why equity is important in diversity and inclusion is because a diverse group, community, or organization is one in which a variety of social and cultural characteristics exist. Equity ensures everyone has access to the same treatment, opportunities, and advancement. Equity aims to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of some groups (www.15five.com).
The aforementioned perspectives on the concept of equity, diversity and inclusion is perhaps the strongest support base for the Campaigners who think that in the context of finding lasting solution to the issues of the systemic political marginalization of one of the most dominant ethnicities known as Igbo, is to accommodate their interest in the year 2023 Presidential poll.
This brings me to a recent interview I had with a Lagos based television station known as Plus Tv in which the anchor person asked why I am canvassing that a reputable statesman from the South East should emerge as the next President of Nigeria come 2023 since according to her, South East, is witnessing heightened insecurity.
My simple answer to her is that it is a fallacy to so argue as she did because in 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the Nigerian President, the entire Northern region was in a state of war launched by terrorists and as I write, the entire North West of Nigeria is infested by terrorists, mass killers, kidnappers, armed Fulani herdsmen and the like. Just this morning the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram invaded the Mobile Police Training School in Gwoza Borno State and abducted scores of police operatives.
The television anchor also sought to debunk my assertion that the Igbos are about the largest ethnicity in Nigeria given their spread across board, by arguing that Igbos are monogamists whereas other two similarly bigger tribal groups of Yoruba and Fulani/Hausa are polygamists.
But she got it screwed up because the number of wives is not really a determinant factor on the number of children that could come from such formations since not every couple is fertile at the same rate due to biological factors.
Another lame argument is that Igbos are not politically homogenous. But all other groups are not homogenous because in 2015 when the North was asked to produce presidential flag bearer we saw Muhammadu Buhari vigorously challenged by Atiku Abubakar. Again, it is wrong to argue against zoning because Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari are all products of zoning or charter of equity.
It is therefore of imperative importance to state that following the principle of equity, diversity and political inclusion and learning as we did from historical accounts about how widespread and good Ndigbo are, the 2023 presidential ticket needs to be conceded to the South East to continue with the Nigerian charter of political equity that has always existed. Luckily, the notable Igbo voices are resonating.
Last year’s December, a former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, urged the Igbo speaking people in Delta and Rivers States to forget about the 2023 presidency, saying the slot is for the core Igbos of the South-East stock.
Anyim, who stated this during the 6th World Igbo Summit held at Gregory University, Uturu, Abia State, said the time has come for the South-East to produce the country’s president.
He insisted that any “political office zoned to the South-East in 2023 does not extend to Igbos from a zone outside the region.”
Anyim said there was a great need for the South-East to “constructively and creatively engage other geo-political zones in the country to make its clamour for an Igbo president in 2023 a reality.”
The ex-Senate president stressed that such engagement would engender confidence and helped to secure the votes of other regions.
He, however, advised the Igbos to work hard in a bid to get the presidency in three years’ time.
Anyim said: “The rotation of prime positions among geopolitical zones has no doubt become a common practice such that, its breach generates political discontent.
“The point to note is that a political benefit accruing to any geo-political zone cannot be satisfied by appointing any person outside of that geopolitical zone irrespective of commonality of language or culture.
“That means any political office zoned to the South-East does not extend to Igbos from a zone outside the South-East political zone.”
Anyim also served as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) during ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
He is a key member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ebonyi State and South-East as a whole.
Around early this month, former President of the Senate Anyim Pius Anyim, and some prominent Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) members stepped up the campaign for a President of Southeast extraction in 2023.
They, therefore, called on the political parties, especially the PDP, to zone their presidential slot to the Southeast because of its people’s “eminent qualifications and overwhelming contributions to the development of all parts of the federation through the years.”
Anyim and the party leaders added that zoning the presidential tickets of parties to the Southeast would be “the best way of ensuring that we build a nation that leaves no one or group behind.”
They spoke at a Southeast briefing and consultation by Anyim on his 2023 presidential ambition in Enugu, Enugu State.
The PDP leaders that spoke at the event were the National Vice – Chairman (Southeast), Ali Odefa; Senate Minority Leader Eyinnaya Abaribe and former Abia State Governor Theodore Orji;
The leaders assured Anyim of their support in a communique issued at the end of the event by Orji and Duru Iheoma (SAN).
The communiqué reads partly: “That the choice of who becomes President in 2023 has become a strategic imperative for the future of Nigeria.
“In this regard, the vision, capacity, experience, and disposition of the next president will make the difference in the socio-political stability and economic development of the country.
“That we appeal to the Peoples Democratic Party in particular, to in the interest of equity, justice and harmonious national cohesion to zone their presidential ticket to the Southern zones of the country and the Southeast in particular.
“That the people of the Southeast have earned the right to occupy the office of President in 2023 on account of their eminent qualifications and overwhelming contributions to the development of all parts of the federation through the years.
“We further reiterate that the choice of a Southeast citizen as the presidential candidate of the party in 2023 will guarantee to every Nigerian, a sense of equity, justice, and inclusion in the management of the affairs of the nation. In our view, this is the best way of ensuring that we build a nation that leaves no one or group behind.
“On account of the foregoing, we congratulate Senator Anyim for the patriotism of his decision to offer himself for national service by aspiring to contest in the 2023 presidential race.
“We take due cognizance of his record of distinguished and unblemished service as President of the Senate and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
“We, therefore, unanimously endorse his aspiration with all conviction and enthusiasm and eagerly commend him to the rest of the nation as a worthy leader who will pilot the affairs of the nation towards greater security, unity, and prosperity for all citizens.
“In furtherance of the foregoing, we hereby oblige Senator Anyim his request that we all join him to persuade and reassure every part of the country to do justice to the Southeast and thereby promote equity and justice as core values of our nation.”
Also, ahead of the 2023 elections, leaders of the southeast zone across political divides have urged all parties to choose their presidential candidates to the zone. This happened last year January.
In a communiqué signed by Senators Orji Uzor Kalu, Ike Ekweremadu, Anyim Pius Anyim, and others at the end of a bipartisan meeting at Igbere, Bende Council, Abia State; the South East leaders noted that the presidency has rotated between Northern and Southern Nigeria and among various geopolitical zones with only the South East left out.
The communiqué further stated that the South East as a major geopolitical zone in Nigeria and Ndigbo, being one of the three predominant tribes in the country, must take its rightful position in national polity.
“The Presidency has rotated between Northern and Southern Nigeria and among the various geopolitical zones. Thus, the South West and South-South geopolitical zones in the southern part of the country have produced the President of Nigeria in the persons of His Excellency Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Hence as power is expected to rotate to the South in 2023, the leaders noted that the South East is the only zone in the South that is yet to produce a President of Nigeria in the current democratic dispensation.
“With the support of other geopolitical zones and ethnic groups, the position of Nigerian President in the 2023 general elections in all political parties should be zoned to the South East for the sake of justice, fairness, and equity. The southeast zone is united and indivisible in advancing the cause of the region and Ndigbo,” the communiqué read in part.
On the security challenges confronting Nigeria, the southeast leaders called for a change in the security architecture to curtail the menace of banditry, kidnapping, and killings across the country.
Chief Whip of the Senate, Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu (APC-Abia), has called on the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to consider a South-east candidate as its Presidential flagbearer ahead of its National Convention.
Kalu, a former Governor of Abia, made the call while speaking to newsmen in Abuja on Tuesday.
He said that as far as the party is zoning the presidential ticket to the south, the southeast should take preference to anybody else that was trying to run.
On his ambition to run for president, Kalu said “I’m the most prepared presidential candidate in Nigeria. I’m capable health-wise, I’m capable to face anybody but our party, the APC, is supreme. I only wait for APC as a party”.
“However, I am a loyal party member, if the party decides to zone it to another zone, I will still support the candidate, but I am appealing to our Party to consider a President of the South-East extraction in 2023,” he said.
While reacting to the interest of the National Leader of the APC, Mr Bola Tinubu, to contest for president, the lawmaker said while he has nothing against the aspiration of Tinubu, he believed that the south-east is ripe for the presidency.
“I don’t see Tinubu’s ambition having any effect on the president of Nigeria coming from Igbos.
“We are talking based on how Nigeria should be, we are talking who people should believe in.
“No Igbo man since independence has been democratically elected as president,” he said.
This writer thinks it is fitting and just that the South East should have a shot at the Presidency come next March during the Presidential election.
EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was federal commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.