culled from THISDAY, September 26, 2004
There are three major implications of
the successful August 26, 2004 stay - at - home order by the Movement For The
Actualization of The Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) The first is that the
episode marks a redefinition of the line of political authority in Igbo land -
the emergence of an untraditional new political leadership. The second is that
in matters concerning it and the rest of the country, the Igbo has, perhaps for
the first time since the end of the Nigeria civil war, demonstrated that they
can still be mobilized into action. I say Ndi Igbo, congratulations. I salute
Ndi Igbo for waking up from a big slumber.
In other words, the episode demonstrates that the widely held impression that the Igbo cannot work with a singleness of purpose is erroneous, after all. The third is the implication of the activities of MASSOB on the talk about a president of Igbo extraction in 2007. The August 26, event was the climax of years of a growing consciousness among the young generations of the Igbo nation, but whom nobody bothered to take seriously. Before the August 26 Observation Day, the level of support MASSOB and its leadership enjoyed from a crop of young men and women made up of apprentices, drivers, artisans, traders, okadamen, market women, young educated but unemployed youths etc., was legendary. There has never been any movement that caught on the consciousness of young people in Igbo land as MASSOB has done. It is very unprecedented.
Not even the mobilization for the civil war in 1967 enjoyed such an unprecedented support. Then, the mobilization (for the civil war) was basically an elitist affair, with decisions taken upstairs by a few and merely handed down to the generality of the people. In recent times, the umbrella socio-cultural body, Oha Na Eze Ndi Igbo, has been unable to demonstrate such a clout. For example, we have witnessed instances where Oha Na Eze asked Ndi Igbo to vote for a particular party just for them to line behind the opposing party in the recent general election.
Those members of the Igbo political elite who expressed surprise at the success of the stay-at-home order betrayed their crass lack of grasp of issues on ground. At best, they were pretending over the fact that the orthodox political elite is fact losing grip of the Igbo polity. Outside the instrumentality of political parties and the attraction to political patronage, it is doubtful if there is any other machinery through which the Igbo political elite can extract unqualified commitment and loyalty from the ordinary people. On the other hand, the commitment from the people to MASSOB has been effortless, without any inducement, over or covert use of force and intimidation. Given that type of commitment that comes from the heart of the people and not through any body's pocket, as is witnessed in our ordinary partisan politics, it was a misplaced strategy to issue statements reminding the MASSOB leaders of a certain illegality of their action, as a few to Igbo politicians did a few days to August 26. It was an exercise in futility that, nonetheless, looked more like an attempt to please some people outside Igbo land than to call a perceived recalcitrant group to other.
The fear has been expressed in some quarters that it is a mark of inconsistency on the part of Ndi Igbo to ask for the presidency and at the same time talk about Biafra. My view, however, is that such a fear is both founded and unfounded, depending on the angle from which the matter is being looked at. Yes, on the surface and from point of view of the non-Igbo, the presidency of Nigeria and the activities of MASSOB may not flow together. Yes, but that does not mean that they are parallel. There is a meeting point. They can be married. It was the Yoruba agitation for justice over June 12 that constituted the major, if not the only, reason why the presidency was conceded to them in 199. Therefore, in a similar fashion, a serious Igbo agitation against years of injustice that was a consequence of Biafra is sufficient to from the basis for conceding the presidency to them. The fact remains that for the Igbo political establishment, it is the type of spirit that the ordinary Igbo fellow has exhibited in his support for MASSOB that is needed in the struggle for an Igbo president in 2007 or at any other date in the future. In other words, it is the MASSOB spirit that will conquer that of Ndoi Kwe Ndi Ekweghi that is the bane of the Igbo polity. It is MASSOB spirit that will eliminate a situation, where as noted earlier, Ndi Igbo would vote for party when Oha Na Eze says vote for the other.
It is the spirit that made August 26 a success that will eliminate multiplicity of presidential candidates. In my view, all the orthodox Igbo political establishment need to is to take advantage of the spirit of nationalism which MASSOB has rekindled in Ndi Igbo in the quest for a president of Igbo extraction. In other words, I believe that it is possible to marry the MASSOB spirit with the conventional approach in the pursuit of power via the political parties provided, of course, that the political elite in Igbo land is ready to come down from its present high horse. And one way this can be achieved is to seize the initiative, not by reminding the MASSOB chaps of any perceived or real illegality of their activities since that will not deter them but by seeing that those Igbo politicians interested in running for the presidency in 2007 summon the courage, like MASSOB leaders, to raise their hands now. It is only after Igbo presidential aspirants have emerged that the elite can now embark upon putting forward argument before MASSOB and its leadership on the feasibility and advantage of working toward capturing the presidency on one hand and the futility, undesirability or even illegality of talking about the actualization of Biafra, on the other.
In the absence of arrow heads for the Igbo presidential project, even if by proxy, as we now have of the North in Buba Marwa, Ibrahim Babangida, and Atiku Abubakar, MASSOB will continue to reign because it is filling a vacuum in the mind of the average Igbo who is desirous of seeing an articulated agenda for the emancipation of his people. This is precisely what MASSOB stands for today for the average Igbo. On the other hand, the trio of Babangida, Marwa, Atiku though as yet working through agents have succeeded in giving the average Northerner the psychological assurance that a programme, aimed at returning power to his people, is on. But there is nothing like that in Igbo land despite that the Igbo case receives more wide spread support and sympathy when articulated.
The other day, leaders of the South-south geo-political zone rose from a meeting and declared that the presidency in 2007 is theirs. Instructively, the attendance of the meeting cut across political party boundaries. In fact, it would not be out of place to argue that the South - South may have been spurred into such an action out of the vacillation of the South East over the 2007 presidency. For the South East, the only such gathering was the one among the South East caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party. Even so, the five South East governors are embroiled in a cold war to the extent that the Governors (South East) Forum is almost moribund, under the circumstances, is it any wonder that an organization like MASSOB would fill the gap to give the people a sense of togetherness and singleness of purpose? Needless to say, such a situation leaves MASSOB with a field day, thus jeopardizing the chances of Ndi Igbo for the presidency in 2007 or, indeed, any other date in the near future.
The August 26 event has shown that Ndi Igbo are desirous of leadership and direction, which the conventional politicians seem to have failed to provide. But the way out does not lie in collaboration with hostile forces outside Igbo land to either cajole or intimidate MASSOB out of existence. And which rings us to the matter of the relationship between the movement and he corporate entity called Nigeria. The other day, the country's Minister of Justice, Chief Akin Olujimi, was quoted in the media as saying that MASSOB's activities are treasonable. The Attorney General reportedly accused the movement of wanting to break the country. But as far I am concerned, his pronouncements stand flawed. And not unexpectedly, he has been told so by very patriotic Nigerians including the irrepressible Gani Fawehinmi. I associate myself, wholeheartedly with the submission of Fawehinmi (Sunday Sun, September 5, 2004, Pg. 5) to the effect that there is nothing treasonable about MASSOB which is only a pressure group that is trying to articulate the Igbo feelings.
And in doing so, he movement uphold non-violence as the abiding faith. It does not intimidate anybody. The few instance there violence was reported around it were those when government security agencies became too over zealous and high handed in handling the affairs of the movement. Then, of course, the talk about outlawing the movement is unrealistic and even laughable because it will be a move in utter futility. I talk from experience. In the early 1990s, the government of day banned the CARIA (Cross River, Anambra, Rivers, Imo, Abia) movement of which I was a key actor. But that achieved nothing other than drive the movement underground and making it wax stronger. Needless to say, any such move against MASSOB will do nothing but achieve even a stiffer resistance, popularity and a demon hold on the psyche of the job.
Out there, the story is that there are no suitable Igbo materials for the presidency. Another insinuation is that no Igbo has the resource to run a presidential race. Ordinarily, it would appear that such things are said only be the so-called enemies who are bent on talking down on the Igbo ambition. Still, the only way to counter such thing is for arrowheads to emerge.
By the time the Oba Na Eze holds its annual Igbo Day this month of September, there will be slogans and pronouncements on the Igbo quest for the presidency in 2007. Speeches will be made extolling the virtues of the Igboman as an organizer, as a shrewd businessman who would easily apply these virtues to run the country creditably if given the chance. But the truth is that it is high time we stopped over generalizing.
The leadership of any country is not given to a group of people whether ethnic, religious or even political, but to an individual. It only happens that such an individual comes from a particular part of the country. In other words, it is only after a suitable and acceptable candidate is identified that any ethnic group could begin to talk meaningfully about producing the president. Put differently, Nigeria will not accept an Igbo ant as their president when the king makers zeroed their search for Nigeria's president prior to the 1999 general elections to Yoruba land, they did not go for just any Balogun. They went for a fellow whom they knew the rest of the entire country would accept. Truth be told, Olusegun Obasanjo fitted the bill then regardless of whatever problem that may have arisen since he mounted the throne. undoubtedly, we have quite a good number of Igbo whom the entire country will accept. They should be encouraged to raise their hands now. That is why we can sound serious about the project.
Experience has shown that Igbo presidential aspirants require a longer period of time to be sold first to their very critical fellow Igbo before being presented to the rest of the country. One of the major reasons why the Igbo quest for the presidency in 2003 failed was that our flagship candidate, Alex Ekwueme, came out very late. Power of incumbency, yes, but had Ekwueme entered the race early enough, the outcome would probably have been different. The time between when he disclosed his intentions to run and the primaries was certainly not enough to do all the intrigues, lobbying even blackmailing etc. That was needed in a presidential contest that has an incumbent in contention. By the time Ekwueme declared for the 2003 presidential race, many Igbos had already made commitments to other quarters. These included both moral and financial commitments. Should we return to that type of naivety? I think the Igbo political elite owe the people a duty to see that we do not do another fire brigade thing this time around. Beside Ekwueme, both Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and my humble self, have personal experiences to buttress the fact that only an early start can enable any Igbo aspirant make an impact.
As our people say, Ana Eji Ehihe Chowa Ewu Ojii (You begin the search of a dark-skinned goat in the daytime). Talking about resources, it will be too naive to pretend that it is not a major factor. Of course, it is one of the most deciding factors especially in the circumstance we find our self now. But it cannot stop a good presidential material if the correct steps are taken, if our elite does the proper consultations and mobilize the people sufficiently. In any case, Igbo have been known to invest immensely in presidential candidate from other part of the country. There is no reason they will not do more for one of their own given the present circumstances. It all boils down to the need for early start. An early start will enable the aspirants assemble the necessary resources and convince our people in the first instant. It is also the only way to avoid the proliferation of aspirants.
I think it will not be out of place to argue that in the matter of providing the necessary guiding for the Igbo presidential quest, the state governors easily stand in the direction most people would look, either collectively or individually. The reason is that they are the kingpins of politics at both the state and zonal levels. They have a broader contact with the generally of the people and possess a measure of clout that no other category of politicians can boast of. This is not to say that it is from among them the Igbo candidate must emerge. But they certainly enjoy a leverage made all the more possible by the fact that with the exception of just one of them, they are the first set of Igbo politicians to hold office as executive governors for this length of time and, all thing being equal, for eight full year.
They have, both individually and collectively, become a factor that no body can wish away and in the matter of the Igbo president project, they are in the best position to, as our late sage, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe said, "show the light so that people will follow". I challenge the governors to take the initiative. Why are they afraid, shy or reluctant even when we know that deep inside them there is a burning ambition? Agreed, there have been instances when some of them were credited with statements challenging the northerners and restating the Igbo resolve to go for the presidency in 2007. In such pronouncements, they sound quite vehement and articulate but the entire thing, as far as I am concerned, looks like mere academic exercise. The result is the consistent rumour that all what the South East governors, with the except of one, are looking for is to become vice president to any of the know northern aspirants, particularly from the trio Babangida, Marwa and Atiku, in my view it is this very rumour that constitutes the biggest set-back for the Igbo presidency project. A northern governor and a South-South counterpart of his are know to be working hard on their presidential aspiration. We know of them in the political circles as well as the rumor factories. Why do we not have an Igbo in the ring, now. Now is the time. "Delays are dangerous" as the Igbo trade would say. I do not see what makes the governors of the three northern state betters than any of our four South-East governors.
The funny thing is that while such an impression grows in the minds of Nigerians, we have some of their counterparts from the South-South geo-political zone being rumoured, not only as possible aspirants but also as even already anointed by those in charge. Some of these South-South governors have not come up to say they will run but they, like the aspirants up North, have people saying it for them. Let me make bold to say that our governors will be deluding themselves to believe that they can secretly negotiate for the vice presidential job from a northern president. There is no such thing. Even if Ndigbo will eventually settle for the vice president position, it has to be similarly negotiated, collectively, and I would like to believe that only a fellow who has been seen to canvass the Igbo presidential project proper, with enough vehemence and articulation and working in conjunction with the job of vice president. Agreed, they, the governors, are still serving but how did the name(s) of the South-South governor(s) enter into the national discourse as even possible successor(s) to Obasanjo? Let those who have ear hear. Then there is the matter of the retired generals. Out there too, we hear of a certain resolve by retired generals in the North to install another general after Olusegun Obasanjo. We know a few of them who have been campaigning vigorously for their favourable aspirants but we hear nothing of our retired generals in Igbo land. I asked: Are our own (Igbo) retired generals not part of this resolution to bring back another general?
This question arises because since they are also generals, they should be in reckoning not necessarily by running but by identifying with this very much cherished ambition of their kinsmen. Some of them are more pre-occupied with talking about sovereign national conference but while that should remain their own prerogative, I believe that they have to situate their own political ideologies within a more pragmatism context. Talking about pragmatism, it is pertinent to point out that while we must step up efforts to throw up arrowhead for the Igbo president project, we must not delude ourselves that any other feasible platform exists outside the People Democratic Party.
Of recent, there have been media reports that some Igbo politicians, in conjunction with some outside Igbo land, are looking at the possibilities of taking their presidential / vice presidential ambition to the pro-Igbo All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). Nobody can, of course, underestimate the influence of APGA in the emerging trend of politics in Igbo land. In fact, next only to MASSOB, I can see APGA being the only other movement that can extract massive and unalloyed support from Ndi Igbo. That has already begun with the 2003 general election. But let the truth be told, APGA cannot give Ndi Igbo the presidency. As clannish and tenacious as the Yorubas are, they realized that it would be impossible capture the presidency through the Alliance for Democracy (AD).in 1999, we were all witnesses to the political horse-trading that gave rise to the APP/AD joint ticket Olu Falae, after picking the ticket of AD, eventually ran as an APP candidate in a novel arrangement that will, for some time to come, remain a study in political engineering. This means that the ball is presently in the court of the court of the South-East caucus of the PDP. It should get to work now to throw up candidate.
In its entire meeting in the past one year, it has always restated its resolve to purse the presidency. Orugo na omume (It is time for action). I however advocate that it reaches out to other politicians with different inclinations to evolve a more global arrangement. Another point to note, still talking about pragmatism, is that the incumbent president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, is a deciding factor on who gets into Aso Rock in Mar 2007. This means that the Igbo calculation on this project must includes steps towards placing Igbo aspirants in a vantage position before Obasanjo. Not only that. Such aspirants must court his favour and acceptance. Finally, the Oha Na Eze Ndigbo. As noted earlier in this write-up, it should take centre stage on this matter, of course in active collaboration with the political parties notably the PDP. Yes, in the past it had not succeeded in beating every Igbo into line. But there is room for improvement. One way of the starting is to streamline its line of command. A situation whereby even local government chapters can issue statement on behalf of Oha Na Eze Ndi Igbo is no longer acceptable. Then, of course, all the "wings" (youth wing, women wing, student's wing, etc) must be collapsed into the central body.
As noted earlier, the success of MASSOB on August 26, should challenge the conventional Igbo political establishment into action in order to seize the initiative so that the rest of the country will begin to see Ndi Igbo more as partners in progress than as unrepentant secessionists. The argument has been put forward by some Igbo politicians, including governors, that an early show of hand would make Igbo aspirants vulnerable. That is cowardly.
Any presidential aspirant worth his salt ought to be in the field by now. What is good for Babangida, Atiku, Marwa and the two northern governors and their South-South counterpart ought to be good for any Igbo aspirant if we are serious. The die is cast. Party congresses and national conventions are around the corner, which means that any presidential contender must be working out ways of getting a good grip of the machinery of the parties now, selling and promoting himself though in a subtle manner. For the avoidance of doubt, let me restate here that I do not support the agitation for Biafra. But I welcome the spirit with which Ndi Igbo support MASSOB. It is that type of spirit, as I noted earlier that should be taken into the presidential quest.
Arthur Nzeribe is a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.