Politics. Conscience. Justice. These are three key words we come across every other day. They have distinct meanings. Wikipedia defined politics as a “set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations among individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status.” The dictionary defined conscience as “a person’s moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one’s behaviour.” The dictionary also defined justice as “the quality of being fair and reasonable.”

I have always wondered the place of conscience and justice in politics and have, unfortunately, found none. In our brand of politics, conscience and justice have no mutual relationship. As people or political parties struggle for power in the name of politics, conscience and justice usually take the back seat. In politics, everybody feels justified in his or her scheme, good or bad, and people are always confident to say, “we are playing politics.” For them, the end justifies the means in politics. They do not care about the means to that end.

At the just-concluded special national convention of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which produced Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as the presidential candidate, former Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu, and ex-Senate President, Ken Nnamani, talked about conscience and justice. They told the delegates to the APC presidential primary and the nation that justice, equity and fairness should have a place in nationhood. They tried to appeal to the conscience of the people, but it was obvious they were talking to themselves. The delegates were not swayed. They were not amenable to any reason. For them, conscience and justice could simply go to hell.

Onu and Nnamani may have lost out in the presidential primary, as their case for a special consideration for the South East geopolitical zone fell on deaf ears, but they remain the unsung heroes of the event. They pointedly told delegates and Nigeria that justice should not be sacrificed on the altar of politics. According to them, a situation where a segment of the country is sidelined, a situation where rules are applied based on the people in the game, is not justice. As they spoke, I could only remember the time-tested declaration of Uthman Dan Fodio, “Conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it.”

The truth is that the country’s politics, since the beginning of the current democratic dispensation, has not been fair to the South East, as the zone has been consciously and deliberately relegated to the background. Some people are quick to say that the South East as a zone and the Igbo as a people are to blame for this political exclusion. They now point to the results of the presidential primaries of the APC and Peoples Democratic party (PDP), wherein South East delegates did not give block votes to presidential aspirants from the zone. They pontificate, heaping all the blame on the Igbo in a deliberate attempt to change the narrative.

The question is: When had it happened in this country that people from a particular zone only supported their own, while those from other zones shunned them and they became extremely politically relevant? Was it no longer in this country that the South West, as a geopolitical zone, refused to vote for their son, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in a presidential election? For the avoidance of doubt, Obasanjo as presidential candidate of the PDP, lost woefully in the South West. He, however, won the presidential election with votes from the South East, the South South and the North. Was it not in this country that Alhaji Bashir Tofa could not get enough votes in his native Kano State and, therefore, lost to a Yoruba opponent, Chief Moshood Abiola, in a presidential election? It is still the same Nigeria, for goodness sake, made up of Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Efik, Ibibio, Jukun, Ijaw and other tribes, which were fused together by the British amalgamation to become one nation. These tribes are supposed to be “bound in freedom, peace and unity.” That is what the National Anthem affirmed.

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If Igbo delegates did not give their total votes to only aspirants from their zone, what stopped delegates of other zones from voting for Igbo aspirants? People are losing sight of the fact that the Igbo have proved to be the only true Nigerians. Their deeds and actions are not influenced by tribalism, as most other Nigerians. The Igbo are only ruled by their conviction and clear conscience. They live in all parts of Nigeria. They own property in all parts of Nigeria. They do business in every part of Nigeria. This is a virtue rather than a vice. It is really sad that, instead of recognising the nationalistic disposition of the Igbo, people see them as fools and, surprisingly, praise those who are parochial and ethnically inclined. This is utter rubbish.

It must be said that, if other Nigerians force the South East and Igbo to start masturbating their ethnic proclivity, in thinking, politics and socialisation, the country would be worse for it. The treatment the South East received in the APC and PDP over the political parties’ presidential tickets may force them to start thinking and acting selfishly in politics, as other Nigerians. South East has the determination. The zone has the number and spread nationwide. They have all it takes to cause a stalemate in any election in the country.

In the Second Republic, during the political days of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the strength of the South East-dominated Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) was a thorn in the flesh of the then North-dominated National Party of Nigeria (NPN). It took only the cooperation of the NPP for the NPN to form a national government in 1979. A monolithic South East in politics, as it used to be, will make the rest of Nigeria realise the political worth of the region.

This is no time for lamentations by the South East. It is also not time to feel diminished by what is obviously collective conspiracy of the rest of Nigerians to deprive the South East of a veritable place in the country’s political space. It is, rather, a time to be resolute in becoming a force in politics that can never be ignored. The exclusion of the South East in the power equation should be a challenge for the Igbo to take their destiny in their hands, leading the way and working with other patriotic and open-minded Nigerians to provide the country the redemption it seriously needs. It is time to re-enact those eras when Igbo politicians were not ignored.

In times past, Azikiwe (Zik of Africa), Michael Okpara, Akanu Ibiam, Kingsley Mbadiwe, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Chuba Okadigbo and others were national figures in politics. These people, by their clout and pedigree, were always in the political calculation in the country. They were politically strong in their own rights. They built political alliances. They were consistent and focused on their goal. They were respected beyond the boundaries of the South East.

Today’s Igbo politicians should really re-examine themselves. They should stop the “pull-him-down” practice against each other, which has become an albatross and the bane of progress in politics. They should strive to be relevant in whichever political party they are in, occasioned by their contributions, financially or quality of engagement. Former governors should play the pivotal role in this political emancipation. They should shine the light for the Igbo to find the way.