In the last one and half years, anytime one posts anything on President Buhari, some people of south east origin devour the person like a wounded lion. They attack the source of the post and even the president. It is baffling for keen observers because campaigns and elections ended in April 2015.
Before I go further, I will use three different scenarios to drive home my point in order to explain the politics of manipulation going on between the Igbo elites and the masses. During my active journalism days in Maiduguri, Borno state, few years ago, Jim Nwobodo, a former civilian governor of Anambra state was in Maiduguri for a political event and his good friend, Mohammed Goni, first civilian governor of Borno welcomed him warmly. From a short distance, I watched their exchange of pleasantries, with the duo asking after each other’s children. From the way they interacted, one does not need to be told that their bond is strong and based on mutual trust and respect.
While the Goni/Nwobodo story looks like a scene from Nollywood movie, another good example of handshake across the Niger is the relationship between former governor of Abia state,Orji Uzor Kalu and Lawan Bukar Alhaji, former registrar of the University of Maiduguri. Their friendship is so strong that at some point, some members of the University community were asking questions as to what is the basis of the friendship.
If Alhaji’s case looks normal since Kalu once lived in Maiduguri, how do you describe the relationship between the families of former minister of Education,Oby Ezekwesili and Kaduna state governor,Nasir El-Rufai. If you do not know the duo before and you see them relating, you will think El-Rufai and Ezekwesili are from the same parents. His son, Bello El-Rufai took to twitter in April 2015 to appreciate Ezekwesili for her tremendous support during his wedding.
The question is, why do Igbo elites interact with their counterparts in other parts of the country warmly and exchange visits, but the Igbo middle class despises this other group either as Yorubas or Hausas. Hate spewed against President Buhari,Yorubas and Hausas on social media in the last fifteen months by middle class people of south east origin is growing worse daily and calls for critical examination.
The answer to this question is very complex and has a historical dimension. Since the end of the civil war in 1970, some Igbo elites have continued to feed the masses with a negative propaganda that a conspiracy between Obafemi Awolowo and Yakubu Gowon was responsible for their impoverishment, but, run to Abuja to share contracts with Yorubas and Hausas over a good meal with drinks.
They made the people believe that if Biafra had succeeded, it would have been a paradise today. These masses with little or no education who are mostly traders bought into this cheap and destructive propaganda. It is the flames of this negative propaganda that is spreading like wildfire today that the likes of Nnamdi Kanu whose generation never witnessed the civil war, yet believe Biafra republic is the answer to Igbo problems.
For those who have forgotten, late Obafemi Awolowo could not campaign in some parts of the south east during his contest with Shehu ShagarI in 1979. Where he did, it was under tight security. This was because some Igbos born after the civil war were brainwashed to believe he was responsible for the starvation of Biafran children. President Muhammadu Buhari could not make any inroad in the region in the 2015 presidential elections because the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) fell back to the same negative propaganda telling the people that All Progressives Congress (APC) was the party of people who killed the Igbos during the civil war.
Some of them went to the extent of saying that Buhari was an enemy Igbos. This is a claim yet to be substantiated looking at the strategic positions held by Igbos in this government from Central Bank governor, Budget office to five strategic ministries. When Buhari floored Jonathan in the last presidential elections, Igbo elites who were part of PDP government reinforced the hate propaganda against him..
The likes of Rochas Okorocha, the Imo state governor, who made a political gamble of his life by running on the APC platform, but was lucky to coast home to victory is today seen as a political sell out because of his association with northern politicians.
Unknown to many of these Igbo masses, Okorocha like other Igbo elites understand the politics and geography of Nigeria that many of them will never comprehend. Hence, the elites will continue to smile to the banks as they get a good share of the national cake, while the middle class wallow in poverty and frustration. Late Ojo Maduekwe, a former minister of transport continued to say time was not ripe for Igbo presidency during the Obasanjo years.
Maduekwe forgot the fact that Alex Ekwueme, Shagari’s vice president waited anxiously to actualize this dream and remained the best candidate to make this happen because of his acceptability across the country. His defeat at the Jos Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries by Olusegun Obasanjo will remain a bitter pill to swallow for his people. They however forgot that Obasanjo used his fellow Igbo kinsmen like Ojo Maduekwe, Orji Uzor Kalu and Chimaroke Nnamani and to bury Ekwueme’s dream to occupy Aso Rock.
Anyone who has read Fredrick Forsyth’s “Emeka’’ will understand why this kind of negative propaganda will continue to sell among Igbo middles class, because you can only get power in a society like theirs where money and propaganda are important survival tools.
Another classical example of Igbo elite manipulation played out when the deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, appeared in court June 27, 2016, for alleged forgery of senate rules along with Bukola Saraki and two others. He appeared in full Igbo regalia unlike his usual suit. Some traditional rulers in his state also said he was been persecuted because he spoke against the killing of Biafra protesters.
Some of his kinsmen took to social media to insult President Buhari. The question here is, what is the relationship between the charge of alleged forgery of senate rules and Biafra protesters?
The reason anti-Buhari sentiment will continue to sell among the Igbos is that the average trader from the south east with his little or no education, just like the Fulani man and his cattle see their business as their heartbeat. Since Muhammadu Buhari came to power fifteen months ago, shortage of forex and dwindling purchasing power of the average Nigerian has taken its toll on their business.
This is unlike what obtained under Goodluck Jonathan where the borders were wide open and there was enough forex to bring in goods from China and other Asian countries. These political elites have continued to feed fat on this loophole for political mileage.What they however fail to conceptualize is what their interests are in the Ngerian state?
How can they protect these interests without burning bridges? Can Biafra be the solution to their economic woes?
Regardless of the pride and ethnocentrism of an average Igbo person, they are industrious and commercially enterprising. Probably, this may be why Chinua Achebe in his controversial book ‘’There was a Country’’ said they hold the key to the country’s future. However, I disagree with Achebe on this as there is no empirical evidence to prove this. The bitter truth all Nigerians must face is that we all need one another and there can never be progress in isolation.
Hence, rather than articulate their position with one voice in the Nigerian state, they have continued to alienate themselves, despising other ethnic groups. Some of them will tell you these ethnic groups have not forgiven them for their attempt to secede in 1967. Thus, they are better off in a country of their own. This is a narrative common among the Igbo middle class, as you never hear the thorough bred, well educated Igbo man talking about Biafra, because they know it is an exercise in futility. The truth is that both sides suffered casualties that one may never know the statistics. Like Chimamanda Adichie said in her novel, “Half of a Yellow Sun” war is ugly and leaves emotional and physical scars.
In the long run, it will be difficult to actualize an Igbo presidency because of the mistrust they have built in the minds of other Nigerians. They need to ask themselves whether it is Biafra, presidency or fair share of the national cake that they want?
It is imperative to ask if the Igbos in the south west and northern Nigeria can find a place to do their business comfortably in Biafra like they do in Lagos, Kaduna and Kano. The challenges of power sharing that is tearing South Sudan apart indicates that Igbos may not find their rhythm in Biafra. This is partly due to the fact that in the present Nigerian state, Igbos have never been united.
Despite their obsession with Jonathan, who is of the Ijaw ethnic stock, his six years in power as President left them worse than he met them. The south east still has the worst set of federal roads in Ngeria, with gully erosion eating up two third of their roads and poverty growing in geometrical progression. This is second only to the north east. The ground breaking ceremony of the second Niger bridge was the biggest scam of the century against the Igbos. Why then is it difficult for them to move on by negotiating a good deal with Buhari?
Negative propaganda is not the exclusive preserve of Igbos elites, as the Yoruba and Hausa elites have theirs too. The difference is that the degree varies. Ayi Kwei Armah, the famous Ghanian writer who wrote the book “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born” says African leaders and followers are deceive all.
The Igbo elites must realize there is a limit to this kind of negative propaganda. A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes according to a popular saying. I foresee a revolution in the south east someday where the masses will turn against the elites for using and dumping them.
While it is certain that no ethnic group is greater than the Nigerian state, it is in the Igbos interest to fight for better share of the national cake rather than alienating themselves. The Igbos, like other ethnic group, has an important stake in a better Nigeria where people have opportunities to realize their potential. Despising other ethnic groups will do them no good, but compound their woes in a nation where they are already struggling with an image problem. It is time to join hands to move the country forward, as Biafra is dead and buried in the dustbin of history.
AbdulRafiu Lawal, a Public Commentator can be reached through [email protected] Twitter @AbdulRafiu19Lawal