From Ojukwu to Ngige: Wither the Nigerian dream?
Sometime in 2015, I had written that the Igbo should avoid decamping en masse into the victorious All People’s Congress (APC) party. I had good reasons for my position at the time, reasons that have not changed. Primarily, my contention was that of greater importance was for the Igbo to have a clear vision of what they expected from Nigeria; that rather than the makeshift and predictable hobnobbing with the centres of political power and patronage, the Igbo should show character by sacrificing short term material gains by individuals for long term social or group benefits. Nothing in that proposal could translate to isolationism or putting all our eggs in one basket.
I make the point against the raging controversy over recent comments by the Labour Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige. The minister had admonished his Igbo brothers for putting all their eggs in one basket during the 2015 elections. The minister’s position has drawn the ire of many Igbo individuals and groups. Some of his critics have gone as far as suggesting that he has betrayed the late Igbo leader Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, by joining the APC, conveniently ignoring that his membership of the party predated the current herd mentality that questions, to some extent, the motives of the ‘born again’ joiners.
But was Ngige wrong in identifying the political miscalculation of the Igbo in 2015? Even if we do not admit it publicly, upon reflection, do the Igbo not admit that they could have been more pragmatic in their electoral behavior even against the background of the political currents of the time? The point is that, in trying to be politically correct, many Igbo political elite can say one thing in the day time and act another in the night. In the end, the poor masses are taken for a ride.
Let us examine the Ngige matter further. To the best of my knowledge, the saying that one should not count all of one’s eggs in one basket is yet to become obsolete. In fact, contemporary practice is for various ethnic groups to distribute their political risks and fortunes among various parties while aligning electoral behavior and party support between party and candidate. That is how the Yoruba ethnic group has successfully navigated its way through the vagaries of Nigeria’s unpredictable political climate. Let’s not crucify Ngige for telling us the truth unless, perhaps, the Igbo are saying that they intend to repeat the mistake of 2015 at 2019 general elections. That will be inexcusable.
Commonsense and political reality dictate that the Igbo should be a lot more rigorous in reading the nation’s political barometer, in going into alliances and coalitions, in staking their bet publicly. This is not about soured grapes. No matter how aggrieved we may be, no matter how emotional we want to be, politics will remain what it has always been: the art of the possible. I want to believe that that is what Ngige has advocated.
Besides, as the minister himself has argued, nothing that he has done can be said to amount to a betrayal of Ojukwu, considered by many as the foremost Igbo leader of all times. After all, was it not the general himself who once thundered that he was ready to go to war again, but only to defend the corporate existence of Nigeria? Didn’t he give practical effect to his declaration by contesting the presidency of Nigeria on at least two occasions? I do not want to get into the argument of whether he won or not or whether he was not rigged out. What is certain is that he believed that reintegrating the Igbo into the mainstream of Nigeria’s political process would take some deliberate effort.
One can understand the impatience of young school leavers of Igbo extraction who cannot understand why, in spite of very high JAMB scores, they are denied admission so that their counterparts who scored less can read medicine while they wait at home. There is no denying the anguish of the graduate who watches in despair as he is denied a job so that his counterpart from another geo-political zone can be offered the job even when he has a better university degree and interview report. Just as the itinerant Igbo traveller would be hard pressed to understand the explanation as to why the rail lines are not slicing through Igbo heartland that witnesses the highest human traffic in the country. Yes: these are ponderous vicissitudes; in spite of them, we should guard against certain political miscalculations or rushing to crucify those political actors who have the courage and patriotism to say the truth. Nigige is one of such people. Senator Ken Nnamani is another.
The way I see it, the trend is for many politicians to jump into the Biafra bandwagon just because some political capital can be made from it now. Had President Muhammadu Buhari not made the mistake of arresting Nnamdi Kanu, had he allowed him freedom to operate on the streets without guns, had he not turned a relatively unknown activist, who was legitimately bemoaning the plight of his people, into a celeb overnight, who would have been struggling to take photographs with him, including lavishing dollars and SUVs on him? Let Buhari take stock of Kanu’s fans: how many of them were there for Ralph Uwazurike who, more than anyone else, single-handedly carried the banner of his people and, for many years and has been catering for the welfare of civil war veterans from the side of Biafra?
Nigeria is in a state of flux. The forces of destabilization are pushing the nation to the brink. Yet, this is one moment that grandstanding will take us nowhere. Brinksmanship will only lead us to certain perdition. Nor would we survive another civil war; at least, civil war veteran General T.Y. Danjuma told us that many years ago. Beyond emotions, we need to reflect soberly on the crisis of survival that is buffeting the nation on all sides.
Patriots like Ngige are being misunderstood because those in power are not listening to elder statesmen like General Yakubu Gowon who, in a recent statement, has counseled on the need to implement the 2014 Constitutional Conference to douse the tension in the land or former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (all hail the Waziri!) and serial minister emeritus, Professor Jerry Gana who have called for the restructuring of the country. If that is done, we would have travelled a productive distance from where Ojukwu started when he joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1982 to Ngige’s impassioned membership of the APC in 2017. That is a quarter of a century. See how we have wasted precious time driven by unproductive parochialism while other nations developed.
My final take is that as the political gladiators of the Igbo ethnic stock trade tackles over the strategy for creating an inclusive political environment, it should not be forgotten that there is neither wisdom nor strength in casting all one’s eggs in one political basket or throwing the baby away with the bath water. Ngige should be given a hearing. He is a Nigerian patriot whose DNA is unimpeachably Igbo; he demonstrated it as president of Aka Ikenga; he took it a notch higher as governor of Anambra State where his legacy has become a benchmark for service delivery among the states. I have a strong feeling that given a chance, he has the capacity and political experience to pursue to its logical conclusion Ojukwu’s peaceful quest for a paradigm shift in inter-ethnic and inter-governmental relations in Nigeria.