…for the Igbos to focus on the excesses of President Buhari is to grossly miss the mark, and President Buhari’s seeming inclination towards political decisions informed by his personal idiosyncrasies is to promote dangerous personality-based politics, which undermines the development of our democracy. The relationship between the Igbos and President Buhari can be enhanced if both parties focus on virtue.
The argument is often constructed like this: the clamour of the Igbos for political positions in President Buhari’s administration is bizarre. Recently, they did not vote en masse for the All Progressives Congress (APC) – President Buhari’s political party. Historically, they attempted to secede from Nigeria, as Biafra. As such, they are not expected to benefit from President Buhari’s reign. Such expectations are invariably tantamount to the ad misericordiam (i.e. appeal to pity) fallacy, exemplified in the classic case of a man who murdered his parents, and when it came to sentencing him, he pleaded to the judge for leniency, as he was now an orphan. Therefore, the Igbos should learn to live with the consequences of their choices, which includes, amongst other things, marginalisation by President Buhari’s administration.
Although this may come across as an exaggerated account of the truth, it is, arguably, at the core of the seeming and “latent” tension between President Buhari and the Igbos. However, despite the attractiveness of the conclusion of the syllogism, President Buhari and the Igbos may benefit from some pieces of advice, given that Nigeria is for all, and life is always larger than logic.
First and foremost, I think the Igbo people need to be more realistic in their expectations from the federal government and aim to find solutions to their perceived challenges of marginalisation from within. As the saying goes in Igbo, “ihe n’esi nkapi si n’okpukpu ya” (meaning: “the foul smell of the shrew is deep within its bones”). In other words, the problem of the Igbos is from within. Igbo people seem to be their own worst enemies. The last I checked, the governor of Imo State is not a Yoruba, the governor of Enugu State is not an Hausa, neither are the governors of Anambra, Abia, and Ebonyi states, respectively, non-Igbos.
What is stopping these governors from developing their respective states and Igboland without any animosity against other regions, ethnic groups and tribes? The Igbo people are entrepreneurial. It is a shame that there is enormous human capital flight from the South-East to other parts of Nigeria. The governors of the Igbo states can collaborate strategically to stem this flow. This is one of the key ways to develop Igboland. As far as I can tell, no one, but themselves, is stopping them from doing this.
…as President Buhari continues to fight corruption, he should recognise that institutional corruption is rife in Nigeria. The South-East is the only geo-political zone with the lesser number of states and local government areas compared to the other zones in Nigeria… If this is not a form of corruption, then we must be living a lie. President Buhari should aim to address this anomaly.
Unfortunately, the clamour for Igbo appointments in President Buhari’s administration may not be the solution to the Igbos’ problems. At best, it could be a misplaced priority choreographed and orchestrated by some selfish politicians. If they think otherwise, they should stand back and carefully evaluate the benefits of having Igbo people in prominent federal government positions (e.g. the Secretary to the Federal Government). In my view, the emphasis should rather be primarily on the socio-economic development of Igboland and the recalibration of our institutions to address the obvious corruption embedded in our national institutional arrangements.
On the part of President Buhari, he needs to rise above petty politics, man-up, and realise that he is the president of Nigeria and not the president of some nebulous northern Nigeria, if he truly believes in one-Nigeria. Beyond political appointments, which are insignificant and symbolically shambolic, despite the importance accorded to them, he should ensure that every part of Nigeria has its fair share of socio-economic development. Aba, Onitsha, and Nnewi, for instance, are all strategic economic hubs that can contribute significantly to the Nigerian economy, as much as Kano, Kaduna, and Lagos.
The South-East/South-South need a viable sea port to enable the flow of goods and services without necessarily going through the Lagos sea ports, which add extra transaction costs to economic activities domiciled in the South-East and South-South. The proposed Niger Bridge is, also, a critical infrastructure in that part of Nigeria, which shouldn’t be ignored or abandoned.
In addition, as President Buhari continues to fight corruption, he should recognise that institutional corruption is rife in Nigeria. The South-East is the only geo-political zone with the lesser number of states and local government areas compared to the other zones in Nigeria. It has five states, while others have six and more, each. If democracy is a game of numbers, it is very obvious that some zones are automatically marginalised even before the race starts. If this is not a form of corruption, then we must be living a lie. President Buhari should aim to address this anomaly. This should not necessarily imply the creation of extra states and local government areas in the South-East, but I suspect there will be ways to balance things to ensure fair representations in our democracy. For where there is a will, there is a way!
For many Nigerians, including the Igbo people, the one-Nigeria project is as distant as the moon is from the sun. Notwithstanding, these Nigerians continue to forge ahead, and hope against hope, that one day, the moon and the sun will merge into one.
Unfortunately, there is no equivalence of Lagos or Abuja (both entities developed through federal presence, wealth, and resources), as major cities, in the South-East – another form of institutional corruption and injustice. Notwithstanding, this situation presents an opportunity for the concerned citizens of that region and the Federal Government of Nigeria. The fact that President Jonathan’s administration did not address this institutional anomaly in our system will haunt him forever.
If President Buhari struggles with any of these pieces of advice, he can also take a cue from the United Kingdom, where the recent elections produced a similar outcome to the election that brought him to power in Nigeria. Scotland did not vote the ruling Conservative Party (Prime Minister David Cameron’s political party). It is on record that the Conservative Party only has one Member of Parliament in Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) enjoys a majority in Scotland. Yet, it will be politically naïve and suicidal for David Cameron to signal, in any form or shape, that he is anti-Scotland or not pro-UK. That will be read and understood as pure bad politics and will not be tolerated. One way the United Kingdom has managed to accommodate the differences and diversities within its polity is to devolve power to the different nations (i.e. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) within the United Kingdom. This is another opportunity for President Buhari in many ways.
However, these suggestions may not be particularly useful if President Buhari, understandably, does not believe in the nebulous one-Nigeria project, or if the Igbo people continue to blame others and not take responsibility for their problems. President Buhari will not be the first Nigeria to do so and neither will he stand alone on that platform. For many Nigerians, including the Igbo people, the one-Nigeria project is as distant as the moon is from the sun. Notwithstanding, these Nigerians continue to forge ahead, and hope against hope, that one day, the moon and the sun will merge into one. This is at best a grand reverie, despite its psycho-somatic soothing effects. At least it is better to believe than not to believe.
In the final analysis, for the Igbos to focus on the excesses of President Buhari is to grossly miss the mark, and President Buhari’s seeming inclination towards political decisions informed by his personal idiosyncrasies is to promote dangerous personality-based politics, which undermines the development of our democracy. The relationship between the Igbos and President Buhari can be enhanced if both parties focus on virtue. And as Aristotle famously advised: “virtue lies in the middle”!
Kenneth Amaeshi is a member of the Thought Leadership Forum (TLF), Nigeria, Visiting Professor at Lagos Business School, and an Associate Professor of Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Follow me on Twitter: @kenamaeshi