Following the declaration of General Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the 2015 presidential election, some Igbo elements cajoled their kinsmen for playing “bad politics” in choosing to stand by Buhari’s sole opponent, President Goodluck Jonathan, instead. For these fellows, the Igbo failure to read the political barometer correctly to discover the inevitability of Buhari’s emergence was bad politics. To those skeptics, the response by the Igbo collective was that they were ready to live with whatever might be the consequences of their action.
I was among the first set of commentators that gave kudos to the Igbo for generally taking the stand they took in an article published in a national newspaper. Not unexpectedly, there were a few other Igbo commentators who disagreed with my position and even threw darts at me. One of them was my long-standing friend and brother, Tito Okoye, an ex-banker whom I met in the late 1980s on my beat as a reporter on economy, banking and finance. In his rejoinder published a few days after my article, Okoye was emphatic that the Igbo failed to do their homework well and as such took the wrong decision on Buhari.
However, another colleague and brother of mine, Amanze Obi, was, as expected, on the same side with me. In his weekly (Thursday) column in the Daily Sun, Obi, writing on the topic “Ndi Igbo Voted Wisely,” was unequivocal in his endorsement of the Igbo decision to stand with Jonathan and, like me, dismissed insinuations by some of our politicians that the Igbo were bound to suffer dire consequences as a result. The common strand in the submissions of both of us was that, whether the Igbo voted for Buhari or not, he was most unlikely to repudiate his fixation over them and which was (is) that the race is a pain in the neck of Nigeria and are better seen than heard.
The above anecdote is brought in for two main reasons. One is to demonstrate that the decision of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to endorse the candidacy of Mr. Atiku Abubakar for the February 16, 2019, presidential election is not a happenstance. The Igbo have never equivocated in their position that Buhari is not their ideal person for the office of the President of Nigeria. In the 2015 article referred to above, I pointed out that it was unfair to have expected the Igbo to vote for a presidential candidate, who, apart from dodging open debates, could not provide evidence that he possessed the minimum educational qualification required for the office he was contesting for, if we were (are) to go by the high literacy level associated with Igboland.
I noted that voting for Buhari would have meant, for the teeming educated and sophisticated collective of Igbo youths, a repudiation of their years of struggle to acquire good education. The educated Nigerian youths, not just Igbo youths, must have reasoned, and rightly so, that a fellow as lackadaisical as Buhari on matters of education, to the extent that he couldn’t care where his only academic records were, would not be in a good stead to appreciate the problems confronting the teeming educated young men and women across country.
Four years on, the story is still the same. Buhari, now President (unlike in 2015 when he was just a candidate), has not provided any concrete evidence that he has the requisite academic requirement for the office he is occupying. He has even shown a bigger disdain for debates as recently witnessed. Aside from educational requirement, President Buhari did nothing in four years to prove the skeptical Igbo (youth or elder) wrong, talking about the perception that he sees the race as a people that once rebelled against their country but were crushed and beaten back into line.
But fortunately for the same Igbo, they are now faced with a situation whereby they have to make a choice between Buhari and another fellow who presents to them a direct opposite of the former. One, Atiku Abubakar is not known to be idiosyncratic about the Igbo. It may sound like a platitude but for an average Igbo, it means a lot that Atiku is married to one of their own. In my local government area, Atiku is a long-standing friend of one of the most revered and influential families in the area. Till this moment, one of them is a personal staff of Atiku. Two, Atiku has told Nigerians that he will, if elected, take one bold step that is bound to obliterate the disequilibrium in the Nigerian system and of which Ndigbo are potentially the biggest beneficiaries: Restructuring.
The Igbo need Nigeria to be restructured perhaps more than any other section of the country. Igbo totally believe in restructuring. One of the biggest grievances Nigerians, particularly the Igbo, have against President Buhari is his celebrated disdain for the ongoing national discourse on restructuring. Three, the Igbo have discovered the lie in the promise by Buhari and his party that support by the Igbo towards his re-election will automatically guarantee the emergence of an Igbo as his successor in 2023. The Igbo have since discovered that it is a potential Greek gift. Since July 5, 2018, when one of Buhari’s closest men, Boss Mustapha, made that proposal at an APC rally in Owerri, at least three other of Buhari’s close associates from the South West have been falling over each other on who could best deliver the message to their Yoruba kinsmen, namely that the presidency will be theirs in 2023 once Buhari is re-elected this year. They are Bola Tinubu, leader of the APC; Babatunde Fashola, Buhari’s super-minister and, of course, the Vice President himself, Yemi Osinbajo.
Now fast-forward to Thursday, January 24, 2019, the day the apex socio-cultural organisation in Igboland, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, announced that it had decided to endorse the candidacy of Atiku Abubakar for the February 16, 2019 presidential election. Not unexpectedly, there were negative reactions from pro-Buhari Igbo elements on the Ohanaeze endorsement. Perhaps the most celebrated was that from the governor of Anambra State, Mr. Willie Obiano. Obiano’s attitude to the Atiku endorsement did not, however, come to many as a surprise. The governor is a leading supporter of President Buhari in the latter’s bid for reelection. Ordinarily, the governor, as an individual, has the right to support whoever he chooses, more so as the forthcoming election offers him an opportunity to pay back Buhari for supporting his own reelection last year.
However, he has proceeded in a manner that impugns the collective integrity of the Igbo. How did we know? Obiano, as leader of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), cajoled the party into presenting a presidential candidate for the February 16, 2019, election. His theory is that an APGA presidential candidate will reduce the number of votes the Igbo electorate will give to their more cherished candidate, Atiku Abubakar. His thinking, further, is that even though Atiku is sure to win the majority of votes in the South East, an encroachment into his potential volume of votes will give Buhari the needed spread to enhance his, Buhari’s, overall victory.
Ordinarily, this is a good political calculation but in going about it Obiano and his cohorts in the All Progressives Congress gave the Igbo perhaps the biggest insult in their political struggle, by choosing one John Gbor, as the presidential candidate of APGA. In other words, Obiano and his co-plotters expect Igbo voters to vote for a fellow whose name has never been mentioned in any discussion in Nigeria. As far as I am concerned, such a thinking amounts to a big insult to Ndigbo because it means that Governor Obiano and his co-travelers see them, the Igbo, as naive and a people who do not know their right from their left. To think that any Igbo, however undiscerning and politically unsophisticated, could vote for an unknown John Gbor from one remote village in Benue State, in place of an Atiku Abubakar, is an assault on the collective psyche of the people.
When we add to this the fact that the last presidential candidate of APGA was no less a person than the late icon and easily the most revered leader (dead or alive) among the Igbo, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, then the damage Obiano and all those who are part of that conspiracy have done to the Igbo collective integrity would be best appreciated.
We wholeheartedly endorsed what Ohanaeze did. Indeed, Igbo are happy that Ohanaeze not only showed leadership, but was also able to read the political barometer of the country quite correctly. Whatever will be the final outcome of the presidential election, the Igbo as a whole have begun to show signs of consistency and tenacity on important national issues and in their relationship with the rest of the country. It is a sign that we are getting to a point where the Igbo will no longer be a matter of fact in the political algebra of Nigeria.
• Okere wrote from Owerri, Imo State