Buhari: Why Igbos Need To Rethink Strategy


Muhammad Al-Ghazali




One of the most interesting hypotheses by pundits on the outcome of the 2015 Nigeria general elections concluded at the weekend, was the allusion that the Igbos voted as the manner they did for President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, and then in 2015, because of their insatiable need for a foothold in the corridors of power at all times, incredibly rationalized as the case of the goat's incurable attraction to the man with the palm fronds.


I found the hypothesis interesting for two reasons: in the first place, it gives the unfortunate impression that stomach infrastructure is all that matters to the average Igbo man - a view most of my close friends of the same ethnic group like the Southeast spokesman for the triumphant APC Osita Okechwukwu, will no doubt vehemently contest for justifiable reasons.


Secondly, I belong to the ranks of discerning Nigerians who strongly believe that the so-called elections in the South-South and the South-East were a sham. Therefore, to use the outcome of the same elections as the basis for any form of informed prognosis on why the Igbos chose to vote the way they did in the general elections would be flawed. It will also confer credibility on the same electoral process that was severally dismissed by local and international observers as fraudulent.


Thanks to available statistics, no one can deny that the ratio of the number of votes cast against the list of registered and accredited voters were unreasonably high in both the South-East and the South-South compared to the rest of the country despite the unprecedented violence recorded in both regions. There can only be three logical explanations for the disparity in voter behaviour in the two regions.


The first plausible explanation is to assume that the voters in the South-East, and the South-South, trooped out in their millions to perform their civic duties out of patriotic zeal for their country, but with the prevalence of MASSOB, MEND and the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, that will obviously be a laughable conclusion.


With the widely reported violence marked by assassinations, be-headings, theft of ballot boxes, as well as unbridled assault on polling stations, perhaps the voters in the affected regions also opted to commit mass suicide, but again, that is also highly unlikely even if the high numbers suggested so.


The third and most probable explanation for the incredibly high turnout of voters in the SS and SE - against the current of voter apathy in all the other regions of the country particularly in the Gubernatorial and State Houses of Assembly elections - is to arrive at the painful and most realistic conclusion of the three which is to conclude that the figures were fraudulent.


As I write this, there are protests in Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Imo and Abia states. The one in Imo was even declared inconclusive by INEC. Local and international observers have also concluded that elections in Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Cross-Rivers were fraught with irregularities. Alex Otti, the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in Abia, has appeared on TV to declare that the PDP was hell-bent on snatching victory from him.


He has alleged what most discerning observers of the electoral process in the region already know: most of the figures so far declared were padded and inflated by local politicians with the active connivance of security forces and INEC officials. That is hardly a suitable background for the sort of coherent group politics suited for an ethnic group or region intent on avoiding "opposition politics" at the center.


With what I can see going on presently in Igboland, what cannot be denied is the politics of stomach infrastructure at the highest level. It is intended only to nourish the expansive bowels of the rich and affluent. When the likes of Arthur Eze and Emeka Offor romanced Sanni Abacha, it was never to bring the Igbos into the mainstream of Nigerian politics or for the benefit of the entire South-East. They did so to expand their business empires. If it were not so, The Second Niger Bridge would have been concluded a long time ago. And that accounts for their politicians as well.


The only telling impact by any Igbo politician in recent times - and one which could have been of immense benefit to the SE if faithfully maintained -occurred when Chief Alex Ekwueme, somehow, convinced his peers to adopt the present six geo-political zones structure which the PDP subsequently adopted for the rotation of political offices especially at the center. But what did the Igbo do next? They contrived to ensure that the same principle was effectively killed when the President Yar'Adua died. I shall return to this point in due course.    


In the meantime, when I alluded to the naivety of the Igbo in this context, it was mainly to underscore their lack of foresight in the dynamics of Nigerian politics, as well as the undeniable paucity of long-term strategic thinking and planning in the orientation of their critical elite. It was not meant to be a slur. It was an honest observation which I intend to justify in the remainder of this discourse. 


I agree completely with the notion that the history of contemporary Nigerian politics has been marked by health, and sometimes not so healthy, competition for control of the center among the critical elite spread over the six geo-political zones. But that is also, sadly, where the comparison ends.


In 1999, the critical elite from the north, consciously or unconsciously, reached a sobering conclusion: June 12 was a travesty of justice. Amends had to be made to save the republic. Not a single northern candidate contested against Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who flew a banner of the PDP. Chief Olu Falae, the candidate of the APP he contested against conveniently happened to be from the Southwest. Was it pure coincidence? Not by any stretch of the imagination.


It was a decision entirely taken by the region's elites, whose collective guilt was apparently shared by the masses who bought into it. The voter turn-out and the results of the election bear sufficient proof of their complicity. By contrast, the South-East had an opportunity to make their own decisive strategic call in 2011 but blew it!


Yar'Adua was only two years into his tenure when he died. President Goodluck Jonathan constitutionally succeeded him as he was entitled to. But by 2011 it was a different ball game altogether. After Jonathan concluded the remaining two years of Yar'Adua's constitutionally allotted four year term, the Northern elite felt they deserved another short at the presidency, under the PDPs unwritten power-sharing arrangement.


It was a golden opportunity for the SE to insist on the retention of the zoning arrangement they stood to benefit most from for as long as democracy remained a game of numbers. Instead, they assisted the incumbent President Jonathan in giving the zoning arrangement a befitting burial. I used the words 'befitting burial' because ordinarily, zoning or rotational presidency is an aberration. It is inimical to the inculcation of proper democratic cultures.


Had the SE invested in backing a northern candidate in 2011, they would have shortened their route to the presidency. Their backing of a northern candidate in consistency with the PDP's zoning arrangement at the time, would have entitled them to legitimate claim in 2015! It's as simple as that. After Obasanjo's eight years, there is no way the Presidency would have returned to the Southwest in 2015. 


Have the Igbo's noticed that no South-western candidate contested for the presidency this year? How many critical elites from the SW also backed Jonathan to hijack the PDP machinery in the manner that alienated the North? Even Chief Obasanjo, who assisted Jonathan to the presidency balked at the prospects of his re-election this year.


Except for ex-convicts like Bode George and alleged felons like Buruju Kushimo, along with the Ayo Fayoshe,and the like of Ganiyu Adams, few prominent Yoruba politicians openly backed Jonathan in his botched re-election bid. It was not a sign of weakness. They may be bidding their time. I can perceive strategy and political sagacity in their actions.


The big problem for the Igbos who are often the first to shout against marginalization, is that by 2019 Buhari may decide to do a Mandela and vacate the scene. But even if God spares his life to complete two terms the equation will still be the same. The APC is not a signatory to any zoning arrangement that I know of. But even if it does, and it is the turn of the South, which region between the SE and the SW do they think the North would be rooting for after the experience of the past six years?


The Igbos are among the most illustrious Nigerians dead or alive. But very often I get the impression that they need to get their priorities right for more effective engagement at the center. They can count me among their friends.