Obiano, Ozoemizina and the political leadership of ndi Igbo
Sometime in 2013, shortly before the Anambra governorship election, I had the opportunity to sit in conference with a former governor of one of the Southeast states and two editors of our national newspapers at a hotel in Southwest Ikoyi Lagos. It was an informal meeting that played down ceremonies. Amidst an exchange of friendly banters an informal interview ensued.
It was a free and easy discussion until it veered off to politics. The topic was the political leadership of ndi Igbo. The ex-governor admitted the leadership has lapsed into rudderless state and expressed a lot of worries at the drift. When asked what should be done to redirect it, and possibly stem the dwindling fortunes of the people, he said the leadership as well as followership must make conscious effort to change. Otherwise, he said, the condition may gravitate to something hopeless. “It is grave already, but not hopeless. All of us have a role to play. I am as much involved in the failure as every other political leader from the zone. We are all guilty, and nobody can be excused from the blame”. He said the erosion of the once vibrant and inspiring leadership may continue unless something drastic is done. Followership is as guilty as leadership in the political misfortune of the people. Neither is without blemish. Directionless leadership thrives on the ashes of lethargic followership. It seizes it through lies and demagogy to selfish advantage. Unless, and until, the supply line of this selfish leadership is cut off, the condition will abide, and may deteriorate to hopelessness.
When asked to assess the five governors of the zone who, by their prime positions, were most qualified politically to lead the people. He dismissed the question with a wry smile. He asked no one in particular to tell him who among the five could offer the desired leadership. With almost something of a gallows humour he began an assessment of the five. The first, he described as diffident. The second, he called a trader. The third, he branded senile. The fourth, he termed a sybarite and the last, but not the least, he dismissed as erratic. He was convinced that none of them could offer the kind of leadership needed to extricate ndi Igbo from the complex web of Nigerian politics. He was also unenthusiastic with the way elected representatives of the people in the National Assembly have fared. Almost at that point the discussion faded once again into a friendly banter.
When I got home that day I pondered for almost an hour over the discussion. Twice, I tried to assure myself the situation is not as bleak as the ex-governor has painted it. Twice, the reality of his analysis hit me. The people's political star is on the descent no doubt. It has been eclipsed by the meteor of contending interests and needs a great force to redirect it upwards. Resigning to the poverty of political leadership will further imperil the people. Today the political leadership of the people is a shambles. It is not so much for the dearth of astute leadership for the people. Ndi Igbo are sufficiently endowed. The problem is the lack of will to identify and follow them. A zone that produced the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael Okpala, Akanu Ibiam, and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu cannot be barren of vibrant leaders. What the people need do to do is not just identifying and yielding to the desired leadership, but finding a way to nip off the system that produces the counterfeit.
Just recently, precisely on Monday the 12th day of January, 2015, ndi Igbo were brought in their thousands to Awka, the Anambra State capital for an unusual kind of celebration. The host was the debonair governor of the state, Chief Willie Obiano. They were brought to witness the rite of repose for the souls of the dead during the internecine Nigeria –Biafra war. It was a solemn procession which was programmed to honor the souls of the departed during the fratricidal war. Unfortunately, the event would be taking place 45 years after the war. The act of according desired rest to the gallant souls that died either at the battle field or as a result of marasmus was indeed phenomenal. It bespeaks of sound leadership acumen on the part of the governor to soothe the souls in a well-attended rite. War veterans were also recognized for their gallantry and publicly acclaimed. Some of the Biafran commanders who found time to be there like Cols Joe Achuzia, Ben Gbulie, Udeaja, and Nwobosi were no less impressed by the ceremony and expressed gratitude to the governor.
Titled ozoemezina - loosely interpreted as plea against reoccurrence - the program was simply outstanding for the simple reason that it underscores the thoughtful and humane aspect of the Obiano's government. It also proved right the government claim to welfare and reward for excellence. But more than that, it shows a government with a great sense of history. Part of the leadership problem of the people derives essentially from its ignorance of history and or disdain for its relevance to politics. But with the historical burial, the governor has signaled an uncommon resolve to treat with respect every aspect of the people's life. His government has shown it could be concerned in big as well as small matters of interest to the people.
It is also fair to say the burial program was a success partly because the state was dutifully secured. The ability to divorce the state from the distractions of criminal elements no doubt encouraged the large turnout at the venue. It had earlier ensured the euphoria that greeted the Christmas and New Year celebrations that preceded it. No pretender to governance, however ingenious, could have achieved that much within so short a time. It was a work of a great leader; a diligent effort of a governor eager to impact positively on the lives of those he governs. Already the projections of the government vis-a-vis its accomplishments have been eliciting approval from the people. It has achieved in one year what others were not able to do in four. The man has given so many reasons to think he could offer leadership at the time of need.