By Declan Emelumba
Any discerning mind that read through Obi Nwakanma’s recent critique on President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Imo State will come out with the erroneous impression that the entire Igboland is at war with the Nigerian leader.
The caustic diatribe by the United States-based writer also betrayed a deep-seated, fixated and pathological loathing of Buhari in such a manner to suggest that Nwakanma is averse to constructive criticism devoid of emotion, logic and stereotypes. If anything, he betrayed his intellectual background, which frowns at sweeping generalization and veneration of street gossip. His irreverent language, his undisguised incitement of the citizenry to insurrection and outright dismissal of a constitutional institution like the Supreme Court sent a dangerous signal to well-meaning Nigerians who are labouring to make the country better.
Nobody is asking Nwakanma to like President Buhari or to be a fan of Governor Hope Uzodimma. But the fact remains that they are the President of Nigeria and the Governor of Imo State respectively. No amount of demonization and insults from the ilk of Nwakanma will change that fact. Again, the elementary lesson in journalism states that facts are sacred while comments are free. But Nwakanma for reasons best known to him chose to elevate jaundiced and prejudiced opinion to facts when he cheekily declared that Buhari came to Owerri to commission ‘gutter’. After labouring in futility to justify his innuendo driven conspiracy theories as to why Buhari visited Imo State, Nwakanma ended up ridiculing himself by relying solely on the falsehood fed him by enemies of Ndigbo that the visit was worthless.
While he could stay in America to describe the balloon driven tunnel built by the government of Hope Uzodimma as “worthless piece of engineering for a great city like Owerri’, let him know that the residents of Chukwuma Nwoha, Ihechiowa, Dick Tiger, Relief Market roads and parts of Aladinma think differently. Those whose houses have been saved through this singular intervention by the governor think differently. Because Nwakanma has been away from Owerri for too long, he doesn’t know that Chukwuma Nwoha road had been taken over by flood for more than 10 years and that his “gutter” and “hurriedly constructed road” by Uzodimma saved the day.
It is indeed obvious that the secondary sources of Nwakanma failed to tell him that the four strategic projects executed by Governor Hope Uzodimma that were commissioned by Buhari were carefully planned and executed. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, he failed to tell us which of them was hurriedly completed, as he alleged, the morning President Buhari commissioned them.
Actually, Nwakanma’s habitual tendency to accept rumours and gossips as facts in doing his column reminds one of the avoidable public humiliation that the late Tai Solarin faced some years ago. Solarin had publicly accused the then military President Ibrahim Babangida of embezzlement of monumental public funds. He claimed that the May 1989 edition of a popular American magazine, Ebony, provided graphic details on how Babangida siphoned huge sums of money from the state coffers to his private account. Because the story came from the reputable Tai Solarin, many believed it. But when the chips were down and Solarin was confronted in a National television with a copy of the edition of the Ebony he quoted, and asked to point out the pages where the story was published, he couldn’t. Therin he admitted that he got the information from gossips and rumours on the streets and bus stops.
That humiliation marked the beginning of the demystification of Solarin. The worry here is that the way Nwakanma is going, by relying on street rumours to do his column, it may only be a matter of time before he suffers the Solarin fate.
It is important to ask Nwakanma if it is the Naze, Ihiagwa, Nekede, Obinze link road that intellectuals at Federal University of Technology, Owerri and Federal Polytechnic Nekede have risen to hail the governor, or the Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu bypass, which has eased the free flow of traffic in the ancient city that was hurriedly completed? Or is it the 2.5 kilometer balloon driven underground tunnel that cost over N2 billion or the new Exco Chambers? If indeed there was flooding a day before, are some American cities not suffering flooding even with all the technology at their disposal? Indeed one tunnel may not solve all the drainage problems of Owerri, but the governor has started tackling it. If Nwakanma was not inflicted with the disease of selective amnesia and perception, he would have understood that a second underground tunnel is being planned for another part of Owerri.
For his information and those who think rather erroneously that Buhari came to conquer Igboland through Imo State, the President was respectfully invited to commission those strategic projects. Because of his busy schedule, the visit was planned way back and the real people of Imo State are grateful to the President for the visit irrespective of the vain efforts by the buddies of Nwakanma to scuttle it. Thanks to Nwakanma’s revealing article, we now know how they conspired to embarrass the President and Governor Hope Uzodimma. But the living God we serve put all of them to shame. Their initial reaction to the planned presidential visit was cynicism. That soon gave way to panic when they realized it was a reality, hence the threat and hurried sit at home order. Through the intercession of Nwakanma, we now know those who are responsible for the violence in the Southeast and those who are determined to sabotage and destroy its economy.
However, it is laughable that Nwakanma thinks that those who stayed at home were patriotic Igbo and that those who trooped out to welcome Mr President are ‘rented crowd’. The man was several kilometers away from Owerri and relied mainly on hearsay, the Solarin style. In any case, even in his enamoured America, not everyone goes out to receive a visiting President. Those who had need to receive Buhari were there in their numbers and we are satisfied with that.
Indeed, the President was also happy. The cream of Igbo leadership that received Mr President and held an audience with him testified that Buhari was indeed impressed with the reception accorded him. In fact, it was based on that that he cracked the joke that next time Uzodimma invites him again that he will be careful in accepting it. The Presidency has since informed Nigerians that Buhari made the remarks out of excitement on the caliber of Igbo leaders that turned out to receive him. But to Nwakanma and his co-travellers, they are still stuck with their own warped interpretation. But it is sad that this cream of Igbo leadership is what Nwakanma dismissed as “giatric gathering”. That impudent description will one day haunt him because among that gathering included professors, a former Chief of Army Staff, captains of industry and, of course, our revered traditional rulers. In biblical sense, Nwakanma is unworthy to tie the shoe string of majority of them. Nobody is also praying that he should not grow old. Funny enough, the sitting President of America is closing in on 80 years, same as his predecessor. Yet, Nwakanma is comfortable ridiculing his own.
Beyond that, however, one instructive thing about the Nwakanma’s diatribe is his open endorsement of violence as a means of achieving a predetermined goal. Another is his open confession that those who visit anarchy in Igboland should be venerated as our leaders because the elected ones are “useless’. When a supposedly educated man who is taking refuge in a democratic and orderly country like America begins to espouse this kind of dangerous idea, a warning bell should go up somewhere. The majority of Igbo people who obey the sit-at-home order have openly stated that they do so out of fear. When you threaten to burn someone in his shop if he fails to sit at home, what do you expect him to do? If left on their freewill without coercion, who is that sane Igbo man that will abandon his means of livelihood for an utopian and nebulous state he is not sure of? Take away the threat of violence and see whether one per cent of those who stay at home will willingly do so.
My worry, therefore, is that we should not encourage our youths to embrace violence as a way of life. Nwakanma talked glibly of the Federal Government murdering Igbo youths seeking peaceful self-determination. I don’t know when the burning of state institutions and killing of security personnel became peaceful. I also don’t know how murdering of people with opposing views became a peaceful action. All I know is that violence begets violence. Instead of instigating our youths to violence, we should seek engagement with the Federal Government on ways of addressing our perceived and real grievances. That’s what Hope Uzodimma has activated with the presidential visit. And that’s what is more important, not what Buhari wore to Owerri.
•Emelumba is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Imo State.