The 2019 Elections In Nigeria And The Igbo Dignity
Dignity is the ability to stand strong and tall in the face of adversity while being able to sit with the elderly and crawl with the children. Dignity is taking a stand for your beliefs without closing your mind to other’s opinion. Dignity is being an example by your deeds and through your words avoiding gossip, anger and lies. Dignity will manifest itself in the warmth of your smile, the depth of your love and kindness for your fellowman.
The just concluded 2019 general elections in Nigeria represented so many things to different persons and groups in the country. In the run-in to the elections, there were a lot of permutations and assumptions. For Ndigbo, the elections represented a watershed for their resolve to get Nigeria working again. It was an opportunity for Ndigbo to make a clear statement to other sections of Nigeria about what they want in Nigeria.
Ndigbo wants a restructured Nigeria; a Nigeria that is anchored on devolution of power, fiscal federalism, equity, fairness and justice. Their demand for these values is predicated on the fact that of all groups in Nigeria, Ndigbo have paid the most price in keeping Nigeria one. In defense of our ideals, we have been slaughtered, debased and humiliated. We have become experimental guinea pigs, fit only for the experimentation table.
As Michael J. Fox remarked, one's dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered. The Igbo personality has dignity writ large on it; and this was why Ndigbo had to interact with all persons and political parties laying claim to the presidency. We wanted to know what they have in stock for our people. We showed in one voice that our demand in Nigeria is not negotiable. That we had maintained our decorum in the face of daunting challenges was not a sign of weakness.
Ndigbo showed in unmistaken manner that when decorum is repression, the only dignity free men have is to speak out. Like the oracles of old, Ndigbo spoke out loudly. They showed that self-respect is the fruit of discipline; and that one’s sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to injustice and abuse. This was why Ndigbo swore never to lose their dignity and self-respect trying to make people love and appreciate them when such people are unwilling.
Our people understood what election is all about. For them, election is a process by which any society freely chooses its leaders. The process of choosing a leader from a vast array of contestants is critical in every democracy; and in developed societies this freedom is located on the tripod of transparency, credibility and integrity. This is basically the reason why during every election cycle, men and women who desire to serve in elective positions traverse the length and breadth of the society seeking public support to advance their political career.
In real terms, election time is the moral gauge, the accountability and evaluation time for the politicians. The implications of the election time preoccupy the consciousness of every politician and it is for this reason that every politician weighs his/her utterances before any audience (privately or publicly), moderates his/her public conducts and mannerisms; and strives at all times to embody the aspirations of the electorate; essentially because each of his/her behaviour is subject to public scrutiny.
Fundamentally, most politicians are obligated to lead two lives; a private life on the one hand; and a public life on the other. By trying to please all, even against his/her nature, the public judges the politician by such public standards and if by error of omission or commission, the politician’s closet life is let loose, those closely held private conducts becomes the dominant part of his/her characterization. In spite of the criticism such ambivalence holds, it brings out the best in politicians in their efforts to meet the public expectations. The above backdrop explains the ‘do good’syndrome that heralds every election. It is in the competition to outshine each other that politicians share bags of rice, salt, award scholarships and embark on such other humanitarian gestures. Ndigbo are aware of this trend but primarily the Igbo are not always swayed by that essentially because they also realize that voting patterns in Nigeria are determined by factors other than sharing of rice, salt, money and award of scholarships.
In Nigeria, for instance, voting pattern in every election is highly influenced by ethnicity, religion and cult personality. These factors are not new in Nigerian politics but are traceable to the foundation laid by the founding fathers of the Nigerian State, who used the three major ethnic groups of Hausa/ Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba and later the Binis as basis for the federating units. The mainstream political parties that orchestrated our political independence also had their power bases in the regions or ethnic groups of their leaders and founders. For example, the Hausa/Fulani dominated Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) held sway in the north; the National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) led by Nnamdi Azikiwe controlled the Southeast; while the Yoruba-dominated Action Group (AG) called the shots in the Western parts of the country.
But despite this conundrum of ethnicity, Ndigbo have a peculiar advantage over other ethnicities in Nigeria. That advantage is that they are not hemmed-in by religious or traditional hangovers; and they are itinerant in nature. The immortal Professor Chinua Achebe had observed that the emphasis on change, individualism and competitiveness by the Igbo culture gave his ethnic group an edge over some others who are hindered by rigid religion or hampered by traditional hierarchies and fatalistic orientations.
So, even when the Igbo homeland is located predominantly in the South-East and South-South of Nigeria, they are found in large numbers in virtually every Nigerian community; where in truth they constitute the next largest population outside the indigenes of those communities. The reason for this Igbo surge outside their homeland could be anchored on their creativity, industry, resourcefulness, adaptability and resilience and capacity to attain self-sufficiency even in the harshest of environments. Basically, Ndigbo take pride in adventure, hard work, courage, audacity and self-esteem.
Reno Omokri, a Lagos-based lawyer and commentator on public affairs, in an article titled “The Igbo Are The Engine of the Vehicle called Nigeria” published in ThisDay newspaper recently likened the Igbo to palm trees in the desert. “If you see palm trees, you know water is there; If you see an Igbo in a town, you know progress is there…Igbos create progress and value and do not take value already created”, he wrote.
Another important factor that has placed the Igbo above his peers is the well-rooted, liberal democratic values in their world view. The Igbo pre-colonial political system thrived on what the Eurocentric conservative writers refer to as the Greek-city state model. The Igbo society is organized in outward concentric expansion; namely family, kindred, hamlet, village and town. Each unit has an administrative authority which is derived through a deliberative process. For decisions to be taken on any matter that affects all, the adult males of each unit must gather in the family Obi or the hamlet/village/community square (Obodo) for deliberations in order to reach a consensus. This is democracy and that is the Igbo archetype.
One other unique, yet interesting aspect of the Igbo culture is godliness. For a brief illustration, each kindred, hamlet, village and town of the Igbo society has a god or deity and a highly venerated totem that is revered by all. This is partly the source of the Igbo religiosity, honesty, sincerity and creative integrity, which are in short supply in other cultures.
The Igbo republicanism, individualism, self-esteem and dignity are the accessories for consultation, deliberation and consensus-seeking. To ride roughshod over the Igbo inalienable right or recourse to persecution, threats and intimidation in order to secure compliance is allergic to Igbo reflexes. Even when the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Waziri Atiku Abubakar, in his wisdom and large heart chose a prudent and accomplished Igbo, Mr. Peter Obi as his running mate without consulting the Igbo leadership, the kind gesture was widely upbraided until Waziri pleaded for forgiveness. The outcome is the total support Waziri received from Igbo Land.
The Igbo industry, self confidence and ability to master and control the immediate environments earned the Igbo a global sobriquet during the period of slave trade, Edward Okolo of the Enugu State Arts and Culture explained that prizes were placed on slaves according to their tribes. According to him, the Igbo slaves were the costliest because of their ability to survive harsh weather, adaptability, strength and resourcefulness. And the Whiteman would ask; “Are you Ibo, are you Ibo…and from there the Whiteman was referred to as Oyibo, the corrupt version of “are you Ibo”
In 2015, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of the PDP contested with President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and as indicated above, almost all the Hausa Fulani/ Northern states voted for President Buhari. Expectedly, the Igbo voted for Jonathan from the East of Nigeria in obedience with the tradition of Nigeria’s voting pattern. It was more of a repeat of the 1979 general election where the Igbo voted enmasse for Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and the Yoruba voted massively for Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). While the north voted en-bloc for Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) who eventually won the election with Dr. Alex Ekwueme as his running mate.
I want to state here, for posterity, that President Shagari was very presidential. He displayed maturity and magnanimity in victory by accommodating several brilliant minds of Igbo origin in his government not minding the voting pattern. Some of them include Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, Professor Godwin Odenigwe, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, Dr. Ihechukwu Madubuike, Dr. Sylvester Ugo, Dr. Emmanuel Osamor, Chief D. C. Ugwu, Paulinus Amadike, etc.
But today, this accommodating spirit displayed by Shehu Shagari in 1979 has been thrown overboard. Yes, in 2015, Ndigbo voted according to their conscience. We have no regrets about that nor do we have any regret in voting the way we have done in the 2019 elections. But rather than cultivate the trust and confidence of the Igbo, President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, vowed to visit the Igbo with vengeance, stressing that his government will be 97 percent favourably disposed to those that voted for him massively; and 5 percent to those that antagonized his candidacy. To make good his threat, the character of the appointments in Buhari government since 2015 has reflected 97 percent to the Muslim North and 3 percent to the South. By every standard this is not the mark of true statesmanship. Buhari is not alone in this morbid threat to the Igbo. Some of his ministers are fully convinced that the Igbo can be whipped into line. The only way to get the Igbo to be submissive, they think, is to alienate us and stifle our industry and creativity. For instance, in a convocation lecture by Mr. Rotimi Amaechi at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in March 21st 2018, the Minister had, with an air of imperial fiat, charged the Igbos to “stop recriminating but fall in line and support President Muhammadu Buhari for his re-election in 2019”, warning that“if the Igbo fail to support Buhari, they would continue to shout marginalization”.
Chief Nnia Nwodo, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide was on hand to call the Minister to order. Chief Nwodo’s message to Amaechi and Buhari on that occasion was simple, terse and poignant. According to Nwodo, “if President Buhari does not change his attitude towards the Igbo, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to secure the Igbo support”. He reminded Rotimi Amaechi and his likes that Ndigbo have seen the worst in their history and that irrational threats to the Igbo would rather embolden them to take their pre-determined course of action. That was the mind of Ndigbo delivered by the PG on a grand scale.
Perhaps, what Buhari and his journey men do not understand is that Ndigbo hate threats. Ndigbo, like the Tiger, in the face of threats to its life, would rather activate their paws, reflexes, lares and penates. As a matter of fact, Ndigbo are often emboldened by such things as the Lagoon threats, marginalization, denial of Igbo presidency, etc. As Reno Omokri would say, “like the Jews, the more you marginalize Igbos locally, the more they leave to thrive globally. It is the destiny of the Igbo race to restore the fortunes of the Black Race worldwide. Their crucifixion is meant to prepare them for their resurrection and benediction”. It has to be sounded with a trumpet to all corners of the world that sustained persecution and marginalization of Ndigbo is a Frankenstein monster that plagues Nigeria and until there is a sustainable mechanism for justice, equity and fairness to all, Nigeria will continue to grope in the dark.
In conclusion, I want to salute the Igbo tenacity, commitment and zeal to get Nigeria working again. I thank Ndigbo for speaking with one voice during the last election, for making a statement that Ndigbo, even in the face of adversity can speak with one voice. I rejoice that we did not sell our birthright for filthy lucre. Our united vote spoke volumes about our belief in a workable Nigeria; about our commitment to a truly restructured Nigeria; a Nigeria where no man, to another, a slave shall be. Though the electoral Robin Hoods in Nigeria may rejoice that they have stolen our mandate, I am persuaded that the rejoicing of the ungodly is short-lived.
In Psalm 30:5, the scriptures remind us that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning”. I, therefore, urge Ndigbo to be patient. The husbandman waits until he reaps his harvest. Be patient! For you know who has said, "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give to every man according as his work shall be". Light beckons
Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia, President, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Enugu State Chapter