Senator Ike Ekweremmadu, Igbo Representatives and Legitimacy Deficit, By Uche Igwe
I do not mean to say that the wishes, style and assumptions of constituents are always right… As a rule, representatives must find ways to reflect the wishes of the represented or respectfully look for another job. If they learn to do so consistently, they will reclaim their legitimacy and unfortunate events like what happened in Germany can be prevented.
Earlier in the day, I watched the video making rounds on the attack of the former deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, at a cultural event hosted by Ndigbo in Nuremberg, Germany. He was billed to deliver a keynote at the event before the unfortunate incident occurred. The leaked video shows the senator attempting to enter the venue, while there is a struggle to stop him from doing so by an angry mob. The mob prevailed. During the struggle, he was rough-handled, and his clothes ripped apart, before he was whisked away in a waiting vehicle. The attackers have been confirmed to be members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). They accused the senator of conspiring with the Nigerian government to proscribe and kill unarmed families of IPOB members. In addition, they sent warning signals to other Igbo leaders, threatening to humiliate them when they are seen at public events abroad.
I wish to, in strong and unequivocal terms, condemn the unwarranted attack on the senator in faraway Germany, where he has gone to honour his people. The action is barbaric, uncivilised and completely unacceptable. There is no justification whatsoever for young Igbo men to resort to such physical attack on a high-profile individual. Such extreme reaction is uncalled for. I must state here that I share in some of the grievances of Ndigbo in general and have sympathy for the motives of the agitation against marginalisation. However, I cannot hide my disapproval for the crude methods employed by this group, which unfortunately commands a large following abroad. We must learn to get our grievances across in more civilised ways. Mob action cannot be part of civil society. I spoke to the senator after the incident and he confirmed that he did not suffer any severe bodily harm.
This regrettable and deplorable incident exposes many issues worthy of note. The first is that it gives an insight into the level of anger that the Igbo youth have for their leaders and other Nigerians, in terms of how we have been marginalised in the country. That feeling is deep-seated in many of us. Even when we take frontline positions in collective national struggles, there is always a reason to exclude us later, when it is time to share benefits, just because we are Igbo. We have been unjustly and conveniently labelled, even when our contributions are clear and verifiable. Although there are many of us who may not join IPOB formally nor subscribe to their approach, it does not mean that we are less livid. Nigeria and Nigerians have been unfair to Ndigbo in almost all spheres of our national life. There is no single day that passes that you do not get the sense that Igbos have not been treated justly after we lost the civil war. It is sad and offensive. We are on the receiving end of every deliberate policy of exclusion.
I say these without prejudice to the fact that Ekweremadu was at the frontline of the demand and eventual release of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, from detention. He also claims to have spoken against the killings committed by the Army during the distasteful Operation Python Dance. From what happened, we now know that those he represents wanted a little more.
The second point is that the incident unfortunately exposed Senator Ekweremadu as a politician who is out of touch with his people. Many politicians in Nigeria belong to that category. They parade themselves with a false sense of legitimacy or at best with a very narrow interpretation of what constitutes legitimacy. They tend to oversimplify the whole issue of representation and reduce it to victory during elections. At best they try to indulge their supporters with some financial tokenism. It is far beyond that. Elections are important in a democracy; however, the dwindling credibility and failing health of our elections clearly demonstrate that you can be victorious at the polls without the real mandate of the people. Representation is a sacred social contract, which is consolidated by the regular effort of the representative to consult and reflect the pulse of the represented. Ignoring or not adequately servicing this relationship renders representation impotent. For instance, if the senator had his ears on the ground, he would have known that IPOB has a strong following in Germany and that they might bring their agenda into any cultural event of that nature. John Nnia Nwodo, the president of Ohaneze was smarter in this case, as he cancelled the trip when the IPOB leader allegedly threatened him with an attack.
I say these without prejudice to the fact that Ekweremadu was at the frontline of the demand and eventual release of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, from detention. He also claims to have spoken against the killings committed by the Army during the distasteful Operation Python Dance. From what happened, we now know that those he represents wanted a little more. I am sure that Ekweremadu attended the event because he wants to be taken seriously as an Igbo leader, but such a position comes with sacrifices. Those who are critical of the senator maintain that he played mixed roles after the emergence of Peter Obi as the running mate of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last presidential election. They believe that he went against the so-called wish of Ndigbo. Many stakeholders also insist that his voice is not loud enough in support of what is perceived as the interests of Ndigbo in general. His home state, Enugu, remains the hot bed of banditry in the South-East. Fulani herdsmen have sacked several villages and many clergymen have either been killed or kidnapped. For a responsive representative, it is expected that he should have used his voice and position to convey the urgency of insecurity in the region to the federal government. Rather, Ekweremadu’s stance is viewed by many as some form of complicity or hypocrisy.
…representatives of Ndigbo like Ekweremadu need to pause, do some conscious introspection and recalibrate. They need to change their strategy. They must spend some time to challenge the perception that they are in positions for their own individual interests and try to find out what serves the collective interest of our people better.
The third point is a direct message to the Nigerian political elite, especially as the conversations about the 2023 elections have already begun in the background. I will not be surprised if this kind of treatment begins to spread, particularly if the other parts of the country continue to treat Ndigbo as if we are a dispensable national appendage. The faulty argument of numbers does not cut it for me. Those who harp on it do not love this country. Igbos are far more than what state creation portrays. I do not think it is proper to allow youth of Igbo extraction to take to violence before they are taken seriously. The sense of denial must stop. Supporting an Igbo man to give the presidency a shot in the next election will be one of the best ways to lay any issue of marginalisation to rest. I am a fan of the abolishment of rotational presidency to give way to those who have the capacity to govern. However, let it be after an Igbo man has taken a shot at the topmost position. Other Nigerians cannot continue to treat us as conquered people and expect us to helplessly watch them in silence. Any Nigerian of good conscience who believes in equality should queue up so that we can all work together to allow this happen. It must be seen as a national project.
My final point is that representatives of Ndigbo like Ekweremadu need to pause, do some conscious introspection and recalibrate. They need to change their strategy. They must spend some time to challenge the perception that they are in positions for their own individual interests and try to find out what serves the collective interest of our people better. They should articulate our common positions and use it to put the right pressure on the right quarters. There is an opportunity to shape or at least modify the thinking of IPOB and their often-misplaced exuberance. Our leaders should take it up urgently.
Even if they fail, there should be adequate evidence to demonstrate that they tried. I do not mean to say that the wishes, style and assumptions of constituents are always right. No. I only want to point out the risk in not adequately listening to and engaging them. As a rule, representatives must find ways to reflect the wishes of the represented or respectfully look for another job. If they learn to do so consistently, they will reclaim their legitimacy and unfortunate events like what happened in Germany can be prevented.
Uche Igwe, a political economy analyst and governance expert, can be reached through email@example.com