It is no longer news that the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari(rtd) won the March 28 election, defeating the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan. It is also an open secret that Igbos of the South Eastern Nigeria, voted massively for incumbent President Jonathan. My thrust therefore in this piece is to look at the possible causes of the stance of Ndigbo, even in the face of critical reality why Igbos voted against the APC. Also I will try to analyse the options left for Ndigbo to explore in the Buhari presidency.
The Igbos have not hidden their contempt for the APC since its formation in 2013. Considering the defeat of the Party in the Anambra Gubernatorial election in which it fielded it most prominent member from the South-East, Senator (Dr.) Christ Ngige. This defeat clearly sent the right message that concerned the APC leadership and its admirers particularly in the South-East. As I wrote in my article, APC: The Question Of Strategies, I opined that it will be asking for too much if the APC thinks they can win massive votes from that region, but the best they can do is to hold their ground in places that are “safe” for them. My recommendations turned out to be true!
In a full-page newspaper Advertorial some months after the formation of the APC titled: “APC is Dead on Arrival in the South-East” sponsored by a group who claims to represent Igbo interests. One is therefore left to wonder how a Party that is yet to be launched be declared “dead”? As I looked for answers to this question, the author of the advert pointed out that one of the reasons Igbos will not support the APC is because of the “deportation” of 14 destitutes from the APC-controlled Lagos State to Anambra State.(I come back to this point later). I came to the conclusion that the underlining reason for Igbos not supporting the APC is due to historical/political mistrust between Igbos and Yorubas dating back to 1940s.
The Nigerian Youths Movement (NYM) was formed in 1936 and consists of mainly politicians from Southern Nigeria largely because political activities were restricted to Lagos and Calabar. The Movement was immediately successful in winning all seats allocated to Lagos in the Legislative Council. But soon, a major crisis rocked the Party when there was an intense struggle to fill the vacant seat created by the resignation of Dr. Kofo Abayomi, a member of the Legislative Council in 1941. Two prominent members of the Party signified their interests: Chief Ernest Ikoli and Chief Samuel Akinsanya, only one of which can clinch the ticket. Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe endorsed the candidature of Chief Akinsany, an Ijebu man while Chief Obafemi Awolowo supported Chief Ikoli, an Ijaw. The fierce struggle between these two groups tore the Party into irreconcilable differences. What happened after this can be said to have laid the foundation of Igbo/Yoruba rivalry which resonates till this day!
Needless to say both “camps” later went on to form their political parties. Dr. Azikwe formed the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) and Chief Awolowo formed the Action Group (AG) in 1944 and 1951 respectively.
The rivalry between both both groups was taken to the peak in the 1950s when Dr. Azikwe won election into the Legislative Council from Lagos but he needed the AG-dominated Western Region House of Assembly to go to the Federal House of Representatives and was denied same by the Regoinal House in 1951.
After the 1959 elections no Party polled a comfortable majority so it was becoming clear that the first set of leaders in the newly-independent Nigeria will be produced by a Coalition Government. The NCNC chose to partner with the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) with Alhaji Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister and Zik as President leaving disappointed Chief Awolowo’s AG in Opposition in the Federal Parliament.
Awo and others were found guilty and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The Military Government under Gen. Yakubu Gowon, in a rare display of courage granted a State Pardon to Awo and others in 1967. He was later to be made Federal Commissioner of Finance and Deputy Chairman of the Federal Executive Council under Gen. Gowon. At this time, the Civil War was seriously gathering storm. Rightly or wrongly, many Igbos have come to believe that the war was lost thanks to Awo’s “political antics”. It was equally alleged that Awo had already made a ‘pact’ with Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Biafran Leader to support Biafra. The rest, as they say, is history!
During the presidential campaigns, some misguided elements attributed the Igbo “hatred” for General Buhari to his role in the Nigerian Civil War. Apart from the logical fallacy in its face value of this argument, I have not much to say other than the fact that of all the books I have read on the War, I do not know Buhari’s specific role(s) during the War other than a soldier like every other who participated in the War!
As the1979 elections approached, politicians across the country began forming political groups with the view to getting them registered as political parties. Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s(a Yoruba man) Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was the first to be registered by the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO). Though, the Party chose Mr. Philip Umeadi, an Igbo man, as Awo’s running mate and Chief M.C.K Ajuluchukwu as the National Secretary of the Party these still did not get Igbos convinced to vote Awo. In fact, after the election which ended in controversies, it is on record that the Presidential Candidate of the Nigerian People’s Party(NPP) Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe was to lead his Party into an accord with the Hausa/Fulani-dominated ruling National Party of Nigeria(NPN).
It is instructive to note that there was a serious allegation of tax evasion against the person of Zik before the election. It was argued the he should not contest before the Enugu High Court cleared him to contest. Awo was quoted to have to have accused Zik of being a “tax dodger, unfit to lead”. To this Zik responded that Awo was an ingrate for the favour he (Zik) did to him (Awo) during the latter’s term in prison in 1962.
Things went relatively well between Yorubas and Igbos in the 1980s. Though, Awo died in 1987, the Giant of Literature, Professor Chinua Achebe, renewed what looks like an old rivalry. He had been quoted to have said Awo was a tribal leader so should not be given a State burial! In the 1990s, the Military Government effectively used no less a person than Chief Arthur Nzeribe to put an end to the realization of the Presidential ambitions of Chief MKO Abiola in 1993.
We must say that Igbos supported overwhelmingly the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) since its inception. Even though they complain of marginalization consistently under the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, they supported the Party during the 1999 election against the Yoruba-dominated Alliance for Democracy (AD).
During the Yar’Adua’s administration, even though no major positions were allocated to them at the Federal level apart from the Party Chairmanship and the Deputy Senate President, they still supported!
In the earlier quoted Advertorial which cites the “deportation” of 14 destitudes of Igbo Origin to Anambra and Imo States as a case for Igbos not to support the APC. I wish to say that while I condemn this act by the Lagos State Government in its totality, I am not losing sights of the present security challenges in the country necessitating such actions by the Government. Lagos is not one of those States that condones Almajiris (destitute).
Apart from this, before this action by Lagos State, the PDP Government of Abia State has adopted the Indigenization Policy leading to thousands (mainly Igbos) non-Abians losing their jobs in the State Public Service. Nothing was wrong with relieving Nigerians of their jobs but everything was incorrect with clearing the streets of destitute!
In my opinion, it is not the question of marginalization or “deportation” nor is it the non-allocation of positions to Igbos under APC that many Igbo politicians have with the Party, but the historical mistrust, I submit, of Igbos for Yoruba politicians.
For me, the options left for Igbos in the incoming administration are very limited in that Igbos generally boxed themselves into a tight corner. Things didn’t get better when General Buhari early this year wrote to Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-political organisation for a simple audience. The response of the organisation in my opinion shows that of a disoriented body in need of reformation. The group did not even deem it fit to acknowledge the General’s letter!
Even in this, I think all hope is not lost. The APC through the state it controls in the region, Imo can provide the lead. The party must shun shallow thinkers and flatterers in the region by building the second Niger Bridge which has been in the realms of dreams over the years. The party must also ensure that Ports are located in the region for improved revenue and jobs creation. I know little of Igbo needs except those I am told by my Igbo friends. The time to build a Nigeria where Igbos can be proud once again to be Nigerians is now. Buhari can do this and more!