Ndigbo on the cross over Jonathan

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Azuka Onwuka

“Igbo are not strategic in politics like other regions: They put all their eggs in one basket.”

I have heard the above statement so many times since last week’s announcement of Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) as the winner of Nigeria’s presidential election that it has become ridiculous. The most annoying part is that even some Igbo repeat this vacuous statement without asking if it is true or not.

The March 28, 2015 election reminds one of football in which the blame game starts once the Super Eagles lose a match. Everybody suddenly becomes an expert in seeing what went wrong and who caused it. But if the Super Eagles win a match – no matter the flaws of the match – the expert analysts praise the coach and players.

Comparing the voting pattern of the South-East and South-West in the last presidential election, these analysts have described that of the South-West as sophisticated strategy, while that of the South-East was lacking in strategy. The South-West votes were split, with more people voting for Buhari of the All Progressives Congress. Conversely, the South-East voted en-masse for President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party.

What really caused these two different voting patterns? Let’s look at the voting trend between these two zones. In the First Republic, the South-West (known then as Western Region) voted en masse for the Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group. Soon after, there arose a disagreement between Awolowo and his deputy, Chief Samuel Akintola, who was also the Premier of Western Region. Many issues caused this disagreement, one of which was that Akintola wanted the West to align more with the Federal Government. According to Martin Meredith in The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, Akintola felt that the Yoruba were losing their pre-eminent position in business, university and administration in Nigeria to the Igbo people because the Igbo-controlled National Council of Nigerian Citizens had joined the government while the AG was in the opposition.

Judging by the argument of those who preach against putting one’s eggs in one basket, Akintola should have been courted by the Yoruba. But no: violence, termed “Operation Wetie,” erupted, eventually precipitating the 1966 coups and civil war.

In the Second Republic, the Unity Party of Nigeria led again by Awolowo was the dominant party of the Yoruba. But some prominent Yoruba refused to belong to the UPN, choosing rather to align with other parties. In line with the same argument of not putting one’s eggs in one basket, the action of these people should have been praised. But no. They were regarded as sell-outs in the West. Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya and Chief TOS Benson died as political outsiders in Yorubaland because they did not support Awo’s UPN. Chief MKO Abiola was also seen as a sell-out because he was in the ruling National Party of Nigeria instead of the UPN, until the June 12, 1993 election made him a hero.

On the contrary, the Igbo were always vilified for not speaking with one voice. In the First Republic, they voted massively for the NCNC led by Zik, which later aligned with the NPC to form the government. In 1979, they voted massively for Zik’s NPP. But in 1983, following the return of Dim Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu from exile the previous year and his joining the NPN, the Igbo split their votes between the NPP and the NPN. They were blamed and told to emulate the Yoruba who always spoke with one voice (ie by putting their eggs in one basket).

Now the Igbo have spoken with one voice in the 2015 presidential election, but the goal-post has been shifted again. They are now accused of putting their eggs in one basket and acting without “political sagacity.” Na waah for this life o!

Some people speak without asking themselves how the Igbo would have won two House of Representatives’ seats in Lagos if they did not speak with one voice in this election. By speaking with one voice, the Igbo proved that they are trustworthy and reliable: they remained with Jonathan even when many people sensed that he could lose and started jumping ship.

By speaking with one voice, the South-East showed the South-South that “agbata-obi onye bu nwanne ya” (a person’s neighbour is his brother). The South-East showed that contrary to all the decades of lies about the South-East being the enemies of the South-South who seek to dominate the South-South because of crude oil, the South-Easterners are not as petty as that. They also proved to the South-South that the Igbo are not petty to seek revenge over whatever happened during the Biafran War.

The Igbo proved that they fight for the underdog if the underdog is faced with two of Nigeria’s big three ethnic groups. It would have been shameful and unfair if Nigeria’s Big Three had united against the South-South.

There is nothing like putting one’s eggs in one basket in Nigeria’s governance. It is constitutional that ministers MUST be appointed from all the states of Nigeria. It is constitutional that all federal appointments must reflect federal character. Meanwhile, appointments don’t make an area to develop. Chief Bola Tinubu led the South-West to reject the Speakership zoned to the South-West by Jonathan in 2011.

By the way, there are top Igbo figures who stood by Buhari: Governor Rochas Okorocha, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, Prof Pat Utomi, Senator Chris Ngige, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Chief Festus Odimegwu, etc.

The Igbo voted based on the prevailing circumstances. The Yoruba also voted based on the prevailing circumstances, not because of any superior strategy in politics. First, there was no Yoruba among the two candidates. Secondly, the Action Congress of Nigeria – formed in Yorubaland – is a major stakeholder in the APC. Thirdly, Buhari chose his running-mate from the South-West APC. Therefore, the majority of Yoruba felt that the APC was the party that would benefit the Yoruba better. However, the other Yoruba group, led by Governor Olusegun Mimiko, Governor Ayo Fayose, the Afenifere and the O’odua People’s Congress, felt that Tinubu was leading the Yoruba into an unprofitable alliance with Buhari. They felt that the interest of the South-West would be better protected by Jonathan’s government.

On their own part, the Igbo voted for the candidate that appealed better to them. They voted for equity by voting for a man from a place that had not produced the president, even though their oil feeds the nation. The Igbo voted for a man who, for the first time since the end of the Biafran War, treated them like first-class citizens of Nigeria. The Igbo voted for a man who showed them trust by appointing one of their own the Chief of Army Staff since 1966 when J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi was killed. He added some icing on the cake by appointing another Igbo from Delta State (Dele Ezeoba) the Chief of Naval Staff at the same time. That was the apogee of trust shown to the Igbo in Nigeria since 1966.

The Igbo voted for a man who made an international airport a reality in Igboland. The Igbo voted for a man who honoured their hero: Ojukwu. If Ojukwu had been buried during the regime of another president, his burial would have been an Igbo affair, because many Nigerians still viewed him as a villain and a rebel. But Jonathan moved away from that path and gave him a national burial that made every Igbo tall.

It would have been a stab in the back if the Igbo had shared their votes between Jonathan and Buhari. It would have been a betrayal if the Igbo had not stood by a man who stood by them and gave them a sense of belonging in Nigeria. One good turn, they say, deserves another. Life is not all about winning elections.

Circumstances determine the voting pattern of a zone. Neither the Igbo nor the Yoruba, nor other groups in Nigeria hold a general assembly where they reach a unanimous decision on how to vote. In the 2019 election, the voting patterns of the South-West, South-East, North-West, etc, may be totally different from that of 2015.

So, let no Igbo accept the bullying that it was a mistake to give full support to Jonathan. The Igbo rallied round a man who gave them a sense of belonging in Nigeria. Simple!

—Twitter @BrandAzuka


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