Al-Bishak (M.O.N.) is a Professor of African Literature with the Federal University of Lafia, Nasarawa State. He granted the interview reproduced below to THEWHISTLER on 27th July, 2020.
The Igbo race agitate that it is their turn to produce Nigeria’s president come 2023. Is it justified?
There is nothing wrong with Ndigbo feeling that they should produce the next president in 2023. But, the question is, have they worked towards it or it is just a feeling? This issue is important because the Yoruba race from the same southern part of Nigeria as Ndigbo feel that it is their turn to produce another president too having supported the North in 2015 and 2019. As far as Nigerian politics is concerned, the presidency is rotated between the North and the South. Each section has three geopolitical zones. Who becomes the president is left to the most astute geopolitical zone that is able to outsmart the other zones, and reach out to the other sections to garner majority votes that will clinch the presidency. Whereas the feeling of Ndigbo is based on mere sentiment, the Yoruba worked for it in last year’s (2019) presidential elections by giving massive support to the popular choice of the North, President Muhammadu Buhari, to win his second term in office. So they justifiably feel that it is payback time for the North to support them to produce the next president notwithstanding the fact that their son, Olusegun Obasanjo, had ruled the country from 1999-2007.
Ndigbo’s seeming justification for the presidency in 2023 is that both Hausa and Yoruba have ruled the country, and so being the third major ethnic group, Ndigbo feel, shouldn’t they be allowed to rule the country at this point in time? But, you see, politics doesn’t work with sentiment, but strategy or sometimes fate. Recall that the major reason that the North supported the southwest in 1999 to make General Olusegun Obasanjo the President was because Chief M.K.O. Abiola had won the presidential election in 1993, but was denied to rule by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s military regime. Instead, a military diarchical contraption called the Interim National Government headed by a Yoruba man, Chief Ernest Shonekan, was established, which lasted just six months, and was sacked by General Sani Abacha, who became the Head of State. The Yorubas saw it as injustice, and protested against it. So in 1999, the North and other sections of the country saw the need to compensate the southwest by unanimously zoning the presidency to that section. So it was through the hardwork of Chief MKO Abiola that he had won the presidential election in 1993 for the southwest which was compensated for with Sonekan briefly and Obasanjo fully.
As for Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a minority from the Southsouth, he became President ahead of Ndigbo due largely to fate. He was Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State but became the Governor following the impeachment of his boss, Governor Alamasiegha. To compensate the South-south for the violent agitation over the mining of crude oil in their section as the key foreign reserves earner of the Nigerian federation account, Jonathan was picked as the running mate of Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, hence became the Vice President. But, following the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, he naturally succeeded him as President. We are in a civil democracy that requires aggressive political horse-trading with other sections of the country to win their support in order to produce the presidency.
What factors may work against Ndigbo?
The major factor that will militate against Ndigbo’s aspiration for the country’s presidency is political naivety. The Igbos are quite an industrious people, highly intelligent and sociable. Sadly they don’t know how to bring to bear these natural advantages of theirs on politics. Politics is about negotiation by adopting the principles of give-and-take. The Igbos play politics that suits them, not their partners. They are single-minded, and want to do things their own way. Unfortunately, they don’t have the numbers to win elections at the national level. So they have to work their way in such a manner that they win the confidence and support of other sections of the country. That way they will use their numbers and add to those of other sections to get majority votes that will make them clinch the presidency.
What advice do you have for them to realise this goal?
The Igbos had their best chance during the 2019 presidential election to support the popular candidate of the North, who was President Muhammadu Buhari, but they supported the wrong candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who was not the North’s popular choice. Now Ndigbo need the support of the North, but may be difficult though not impossible. You see, the culture of the average northerner is built on Amana (Hausa word for trust). They believe in reciprocity. That is, one good turn deserves another. Buhari relied on the support of the southwest to win the presidency in 2019. The southwest is currently agitating for the presidency. So I think, it is natural for the North to support the southwest, else it will be accused of butulci (Hausa word for betrayal). So the way out for Ndigbo at the moment is to convince the southwest to drop their agitation for the presidency in 2023, and support the southeast. Then they should convince Nigerians that they are ready to do their best to make Nigeria stay together in spite of our challenges, and correct the wrongs in a just, fair and mutually agreeable manner. Most importantly, they should put forward candidates that are likely to be trusted by all sections of the country. I think that the East has some presidential candidates or materials that are likely to enjoy the support of other sections of the country. I first tip ex-Governor Anayo Rochas Okorocha for building bridges across the country via his businesses and taking a faction of APGA into APC, even though he didn’t manage well his political exit as Governor of Imo State by trying to impose his son-in-law as his successor.
In politics, it is good to have a strong home base even though it doesn’t always count in national politics. Another suave politician that exhibits calmness and maturity all the time is Senator Ken Nnamani, former Senate President.
Do you see IPOB activities working for or against Ndigbo?
Definitely the belligerent activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), MASSOB and Ohanaeze Ndigbo create fear in the minds of the people of different sections of this country, particularly the North. The aspersions they frequently cast on northern leaders do not earn them the confidence and support of the North. Ohanaeze may see itself as different because it hobnobs with Afenifere in the southwest, Niger-Delta groups, Middle-Belt Forum and the so-called Northern Elders Forum. Unfortunately, they are unpopular tribal groups with nuisance value even in their own domains. That is why they hardly make any meaningful impact during presidential elections. It is important for Ndigbo to know that the people of the North do not hate them despite the unfortunate Biafran civil war, which both sides had their fair share of the blame. They should consider the fact that after the civil war, many Igbos returned to the North to effortlessly reclaim their landed property and businesses unlike what happened to them in Port Harcourt (southsouth) and Lagos (southwest). Many northern state governments have helped Igbos to establish financial empires, like Chief Arthur Eze. Many Igbos also live in the North, intermarry and do their business. But in politics, Igbos must re-strategize to win the support of all sections of the country to produce the President.