Commentary: Ndigbo And Nigerian Presidency

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The Yorubas in the six South Western states of Nigeria are bound to be in the good books of the winner of the 2019 presidential election. The reason is simple: they spread their votes between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). To use a popular expression, the Yorubas did not put all their eggs in one basket. Alhaji Atiku won in two of the six states, namely, Oyo and Ondo. President Buhari emerged victorious in Lagos, Ekiti, Ogun and Osun. Even so, both Buhari and Atiku scored up to 25% of the votes cast in each Yoruba-speaking state.

Against this backdrop, one person who should be celebrated for his foresight and courage among the Igbo is Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State. As the 2019 general elections were approaching, Governor Obiano advised his Igbo people to review their new strategy of block voting for a particular candidate and his party in every major election. He premised his call on the fact that there is no certitude in elections. Any person, and not necessarily the person we want or the person favoured in polls, can win.

Events have now vindicated the governor. President Buhari of the APC has won the 2019 presidential election. Many Igbo feel bereaved because the PDP candidate, whom they backed without reservations, lost. There is a difference of over 3 million votes between the APC and PDP candidates.

This is a case of history repeating itself. Four years ago, Ndigbo adopted Dr Goodluck Jonathan, then the sitting president, and his PDP in the general elections. They campaigned for him with unimaginable fervour. He was given an Igbo name, Azikiwe, the name of Nigeria’s first president. Even Jonathan’s Ijaw name of Ebele was made to sound like a popular Igbo name with the same spelling. Most Igbo people were convinced that Dr Jonathan would win. After all, no incumbent Nigerian president had been defeated up to 2015.

But Jonathan lost the election with some 2 Million votes to President Buhari. The situation was such that many Igbo people felt that it was not Jonathan that lost the election but Ndigbo. Obiano was one of Jonathan’s key supporters. Having learnt from the mistake of an entire ethnic group of several millions putting all its eggs in one political basket, Governor Obiano, this time, courageously, called the attention of his people to the grave risks inherent in block voting.

It is imperative to learn from mistakes of the past, otherwise the same mistakes will be repeated. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists in human history, is reputed to have described madness as repeating the same mistake over and over and expecting a different result. As a popular Igbo adage goes, a wise person does not fall on the same stomp twice.

It need be pointed out that Governor Obiano has not been alone in calling the attention of Ndigbo to the dangers of not spreading their political risks. Senator Onyeabo Obi of the Second Republic has been another voice of reason, courage and wisdom in this context. Just before the 2019 general election commenced, this scion of the family of the legendary Chief Z.C. Obi, President-General of the powerful Igbo State Union in the First Republic, told newsmen in his hometown of Nnewi, to resist pressures from self-serving politicians to railroad Ndigbo into block voting because it is not in their strategic interests.

Widely regarded as among the three most effective senators in his heyday, this octogenarian reminded his people that African rulers are often vindictive, punishing those who did not show support to them during elections. The victims are sometimes whole ethnic groups.

It is pitiable that the leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo succumbed to the pressures of politicians and other misguided elements by endorsing a particular presidential candidate and his party in the 2019 general election. The candidate has now lost. And once again, many Ndigbo are feeling like political orphans who are marooned on the island of nowhere.

Perhaps, the ongoing skirmishes between street urchins and Igbo traders in Lagos are an outcome of the perception that all Igbo people, as exemplified by their umbrella organization, are hostile to APC leaders and members across the country. We pray that similar skirmishes will not occur in other parts of the country, especially the North. Akpokuedike did counsel that it is not prudent for the apex socio- cultural Igbo organization to be seen as partisan, instead of being neutral or apolitical. It should never be seen as being no longer for Ndigbo because it has been hijacked by certain interests. If only Ohaneze had heeded the wise advice of farsighted Igbo leaders like Governor Obiano and Senator Onyeabo Obi, the Igbo condition in today’s Nigeria would have been different.

All well meaning Igbo men and women hope that this is the last time Ohaneze officials would endorse a particular candidate and his or her party in the presidential election. Let individual Igbo voters exercise their civic duty without being goaded into how to do it by any ethnic organization. In the meantime, such courageous and thoughtful Igbo leaders as Governor Obiano and Senator Obi deserve our gratitude. They are ahead of most of their generation.


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