One aspiration that is very close to the consciousness of all Igbo people now more than any other issue is the need to actualize the dream of having an Igbo son as the President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigerian Armed Forces. I recall that apart from the six months that the late Maj-General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi ruled as the first military Head of State from January 15, 1966-July 29, 1966, no Igbo has held such position. Ironsi’s short stay in power cannot be counted against us. So also is the ceremonial President of the late foremost nationalist and elder statesman, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Therefore, in the leadership equation of Nigeria, the Igbos had been marginalized even when they were in the forefront of the nationalist agitation that led to Nigeria’s independence in 1960. Apart from President Olusegun Obasanjo who fate enabled to rule the country as a military Head of State following Dimka’s abortive coup of 1976 and his becoming president in 1999 to assuage the wounds inflicted on the Yorubas as a result of the death of the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 election, Chief Moshood Abiola, no other Yoruba has ruled the country.
President Goodluck Jonathan emergence as the ruler of the country was equally fated that it is needless recounting the already familiar tale. Jonathan, the second Southerner to rule the country under democracy is from Ijaw ethnic group. From the foregoing, the North, since independence, has ruled Nigeria under democratic and military regimes. The first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa from Bauchi ruled the country from October 1, 1960 to January 15, 1966. Gen. Yakubu Gowon from Plateau State toppled Ironsi’s regime and ruled from July 29, 1966 to 1975 when he was ousted from power by Murtala Muhammed. Obasanjo entered in 1976 following Muhammed’s death and handed over power to the first civilian executive President of Nigeria,
Alhaji Shehu Shagari from Sokoto State. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari from Katsina State toppled Shagari’s government in 1983 and became the Head of State. He too was toppled by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida from Niger State. Chief Ernest Shonekan from Ogun State became the Head of the Interim National Government imposed on the nation by the fading IBB regime when he stepped aside following the annulment of the June 12 election. Gen Abacha from Kano State took over from Shonekan and later died in office. Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar from Niger State became the undertaker of Abacha’s dead regime but due to immense pressure from Nigerians and the international community for a return to democracy rushed a transition programme tailored to make a Yoruba the Head of State for reasons already given.
In all these political exercises, the Igbos were absent or at best spectators. Following the post-independence trauma and the chain of actions it produced, Nigeria went into a civil war with the breakaway Republic of Biafra under Lt. Col Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. After 30 months of gruesome bloodshed and destruction, Biafra capitulated under heavy economic blockade. The war ended on a note of no victor and no vanquished but subsequent events immediately after the war and now show that a side won the war and a side lost.
The most glaring example of the pre-and post-war injustice is the issue of state creation where the Igbo of South-East had been marginalized to no end. Initially, we were lumped into one single state called East Central State by Gowon’s anti-Biafra state creation, when Eastern minorities had two states of Rivers and Cross River. From one state we later became two states of Imo and Anambra courtesy of Muhammed’s state creation of 1976. Babangida in his magnanimity brought the tally to four when he split Imo and Anambra into two respectively. Abacha, who created six states, brought the number of South-East states to five. This happens at a time the other geo-political zones had six states apiece and one zone, the North-West, had seven states.
The imbalance in state creation led ostensibly to imbalance in ward and local government creation. In these exercises, the North had overt advantage over the South because all military leaders that created states in the country are from the North. That is why apart from the Igbo presidency aspiration, the need to balance the structure of Nigeria along the geo-political lines is important to the Igbo too. That can explain why there is a consensus among the Igbo during the recent Public Hearing of Constitutional Review Committee at all Federal Constituencies in the country. The Igbos voted for more states creation, rotational presidency, State Police among other resolutions.
There is nothing wrong with an aspiration. But there is everything wrong if the aspiration is a mere wishful thinking. If it is just at the level of dream and nothing is being done to actualize it, please forget it. I have had occasion to ask some highly placed Igbo on this Igbo dream and when and how to make it a reality. I have not got a definitive answer. Most of the responses are at best tentative and cannot be relied upon. I am also worried on who and who will be put forward for the job and I am yet to get one. It is not that we do not have the human materials for the presidency. But among the political elites, I am yet to find one that I can say will be acceptable to majority of the Igbos, assuming Nigerians asked us to bring one. Just as the Igbos are not yet agreed on which state to create, that of the presidency will suffer the same fate if not nipped in the bud.
For the Igbos to realize whatever aspiration they have in Nigerian Federation, they need to deploy the consensus principle. This principle has been at the heart of Igbo traditional governmental system. It is encapsulated in the Igbo Kwenu refrain. Igbos will only kwenu when they have all agreed. The early Igbo politicians like Azikiwe, Ojike, Okpara and others tapped the benefits of this pragmatic principle. Therefore if the Igbos want the presidency come 2015 or whenever, they should build on this consensus paradigm to succeed. The Igbo aspiration should not be politicized. It should cut across party loyalties. It is in this light that one should appraise and appreciate the current move by the former Abia State governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, in the Njiko Igbo project. The project is a collective platform to nurse the Igbo aspiration based on consensus.
The Igbos should embrace and use it to dialogue among other sub-groups within Igbo land and other Nigerians. The motive is to achieve Igbo cohesion, which its lack, has worked terribly against the race. We stand if we are united and we fall if we are divided. Those criticizing Kalu for this move are simply naïve or do not want to face the reality. People should not oppose a good idea simply because they do not like the bearer. Igbo politicians should come together and speak with one voice if they are to realize this noble aspiration. It is not wise to stay in one corner of Igbo land and pontificate you will run for president in 2015.
The Igbo people have passed that stage. Issues concerning the Igbos should now be subjected to robust scrutiny before we arrive at a consensus. Igbo leaders in future, as was the case before, should be men of proven intellect and integrity. When I say this, I remember Azikiwe, Ojike, Okpara, Ibiam, Mokwugo Okoye, Ojukwu, Ekwueme, and Mbakwe. Since the return to democracy in 1999, the quality of Igbo politicians has deteriorated in terms of intellectual output, morality and integrity. We have had governors that are more self than public.
We have had state executives that rule with impunity. As I am writing this piece, Igbo land cannot boost of two governors with these attributes, yet some of them are thinking of being the next president when they have not even delivered in their home states. The time has come for Igbos—politicians, businessmen and intellectuals—to come together and think of Igbo future. The time to do that is now. Tomorrow will be too late.