Buhari’s Odyssey with Ndigbo
Who is Muhammadu Buhari? He is a Nigerian who rose through the rank and file of the Nigerian armed forces to serve in various capacities as governor, minister, Head of State and Commander in Chief, Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF; and finally civilian president since 2015 after three other attempts in 2003, 2007 and 2011. So what is his relationship with Ndigbo?
This is a man who as a solder under command between 1967 and 1970, even though he was fighting on the Nigerian side, distributed relief materials to Biafrans in Awka, Elele and many other places. And when he decided to make an incursion into civilian politics in 2003, his fist vice presidential candidate was an Igbo, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, a cerebral scholar. Buhari has no university degree on record and has never said he had one. But he was willing to work with a PhD holder, lecturer of repute and former senate president. He was willing to learn working with somebody whom he believed was intellectually superior without feeling threatened.
In his second attempt in 2007, his vice presidential candidate again was an Igbo, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, a reputable lawyer and former Speaker of the House of Representatives between 1979 and 1983. Buhari is not a lawyer. He has never been in a House of Assembly or Reps and has never been a speaker. But he still settled for one of the greatest Igbo lawyers. He took the best among us to be his running mates. On one occasion he took a former senate president and on another a former Speaker of the House of Reps. He did not come to Igboland to take Uche Okwukwu. He came to pick the very best.
In the two instances, he lost elections and went to court. The head of his legal team was an Igbo, Chief Mike Ahamba, a cerebral lawyer, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and former minority leader in the old Imo State House of Assembly between 1979-1983. Buhari was comfortable working with the best minds from Igboland. That shows the respect, trust and love he has for Ndigbo.
So the argument must be properly balanced for Ndigbo to see where this man is coming from. There is no truth in the allegation that he does not know Igboland, or hate Ndigbo. In the same 2003 he chose some of the most respected Igbo sons as governorship candidates in his All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP. In Rivers state he picked Chief Sergeant Awuse, undisputedly one of the most respected Ikwerre politicians and leaders alive, as his flag bearer. In Abia State it was Enyinnaya Abaribe, former Deputy Governor to Orji Uzoh Kalu. Regrettably, not minding that he chose Igbos to work with Buhari never gained any serious ground in Igboland.
Ndigbo and Adoption of Presidential Candidates
A thematic review of the efforts of Ndigbo in this direction requires serious study and analysis. Under the leadership of Ambassador Ralph Uwechue in 2011, Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide adopted the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the personality of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Again in 2015, under the leadership of Chief Garry Igariwey, Ohaneze adopted President Jonathan as the presidential candidate of PDP.
The Igbo argument in 2011 and 2015 was that Jonathan was partly an Igbo man having come from the Ogbia tribe that was part of the old Eastern Region. Secondly, Jonathan’s endorsement would heal the wounds of old, namely, distrust, mistrust and acrimony between the minorities of the old Eastern Region and the Igbo. This can be reasonable but it is unjustifiable since what Ndigbo required was strategic engagement and not putting all their eggs in one basket. Jonathan lost the presidential election to Buhari in 2015 and we cried wolf.
From 2015 the Igbo agitation got to its peak with allegations of marginalization and exclusion against the government of Buhari. Conscious that one of the most outstanding and visible indices of marginalization is the uneven structural composition of the geopolitical zones, Buhari made it clear that he was going to create an additional sixth state for the South East. Ohaneze recommended the creation of Aba State only for its President-General, Nnia Nwodo, to block it. The Ohaneze constitution is clear in the sending and receiving of documents. The Secretary General has the duty to transmit correspondences and receive same. But this constitutional provision was aborted through blackmail and outright falsehood. Nwodo kept us where we are today, trapped in five states. Ohaneze has been reduced to a reactionary organization that responds to events. Instead of finding solutions to the problems of Ndigbo, it behaves like a student body obsessed with holding press conferences.
Nwodo and Buhari
I emphasis this fact so that no Igbo leader should make his personal problem an Igbo problem like Nwodo did.
In 2003 Nwodo contested the ANPP presidential primary against Buhari and lost. Banking on his experience as former Minister, he then appealed to Buhari to take him as running mate but Buhari preferred Okadigbo. Undeniably, Okadigbo had very impressive credentials as political adviser to former President Shehu Shagari, 1979-1983, and senate president. Once you serve this nation as senate president, you have a huge experience as the number three citizen. So Buhari settled for Okadigbo and Nwodo never forgave him.
Buhari inherited the present 1999 Constitution as amended. He never wrote that constitution; neither was he the Head of State nor served in the cabinet of General Abdulsalam Abubakar that produced it. The man who publicly defended that constitution as a people’s constitution, progressive constitution and a constitution that would heal the wounds in the land was Nwodo. That’s what people don’t know. He presented the constitution to Nigerians as information minister to Abubakar. The question is, didn’t Nwodo as a lawyer read the constitution he defended?
Today he argues that contrary to all the federal constitutions, the excessive powers the 1999 Constitution gave the center undermine the states. He laments that the component units allocated to the geopolitical zones favoured the North, particularly the North West. This zone has seven states with Kano alone boasting of 44 Local Government Areas, LGAs. No doubt, these are facts. But he presented and defended the constitution.
I was not the one that presented that caricature to Nigerians. Nwodo did while overlooking its authoritarian nature. That is the bane of leadership. If you don’t agree with a particular thing, ab ignitio, you must oppose it. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, if he was alive, would have opposed the 1999 Constitution. In 1978 he was nominated among the 50 Wise Men to concoct the 1979 Constitution but he declined as members were not elected but selected by the military; and therefore could not produce a people’s constitution. A wise leader must have the courage to resign and not defend the 1999 Constitution as it was not written by the people. Nwodo could have opposed the constitution, ab initio, as it was not made by the people and as such indefensible. But joyously, he unveiled the constitution only to start lamenting face to face with the consequences of his own action. So who’s telling the truth and who’s telling lies? That is the kind of situation we find ourselves. This takes us back to what the Igbo need in a Leader.
The Zik Approach
A leader must identify the odds against him. Secondly, he must identify persons and institutions to help him surmount the odds. Above all, he must know when to go into verbal war as a political leader and when to retreat and negotiate. Every negotiation gives you more ground. You lose ground when you go for outright war.
Nelson Mandela even negotiated from prison. Meetings were held in Norway between representatives of his African National Congress, ANC, and the Apartheid government. The ANC accepted that if it came to power, the death sentence would not be part of the South African constitution. This gave respite to Apartheid leaders and security operatives that committed murders.
The great Dr. Nnamdi “Zik” Azikiwe of Africa remains in history as one of the most visionary Igbo leaders that lived. He picked Ndigbo from the bottom to the top through strategic political engagements. He had his own limitations, no doubt. But he worked with some of the best minds in Igboland. His negotiation skills helped the Mid-West secure its own region in addition to creating the opportunity for an Igbo man, Denis Osadebey, to emerge as premier. That was negotiation at its best – the capacity of a leader to get things for his people without war.
Zik’s strategic engagement between his National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, and the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, took Igbos to the greatest political height. He did it again in 1979 between his Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP, and the northern National Party of Nigeria, NPN, before the likes of Nwodo frustrated the accord in 1982. As young rascals they felt they could rig the election in Igboland. Igbos in the government of Shagari advised him to frustrate the accord and it was done. The resultant effect was the violence used in rigging elections in Igboland in 1983.
The highest level of electoral violence in Igboland was witnessed in 1983 in the old Anambra where Zik was rigged out. The records are there. When a man says he was a former minister, it must be understood that he benefitted from the butchery of his own people. Butchery made him junior Minister of State for Civil Aviation in 1983. It was the liquidation of Zik’s political visions and ideals that balkanized Igboland. Till date Ndigbo have not been able to come together under one party or speak with one voice on national issues. The truth must be told.
Dimm Uche Okwukwu is Secretary-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide.
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