In the eyes of the rest of non-Igbo Nigeria, the assault on Ekweremadu, the Ike Oha Ndigbo is a humiliation of the entire Ndigbo “worldwide.” This reprehensible act of base ignorance, if not condemned unequivocally by those who should know better, will become a permanent scar of disrepute on the entire Ndigbo as a difficult-to-please people, with the possibility of alienating the political solidarity of the liberal non-Igbo Nigeria in the near future.
The period between 2015 and 2019 can perhaps be said to be the most difficult in the political life of Nigerians of South-East origin since the return of the country to democracy in 1999. Having invested enormous emotional, financial, moral and political capital in the candidacy of former President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 presidential election, which was won by All Progressives Congress (APC)’s Muhammadu Buhari, the South-East geo-political zone of Nigeria was to face severe political repercussions for this.
In practical terms, President Buhari’s doctrine of 97 per cent and five per cent of votes given to him in the 2015 presidential election by respective sections of the country, as a direct proportion of the patronage to be received by these voting areas, meant the South-East zone was left with the short end of the patronage stick. In Nigeria’s murky politics of ethno-geographic and religious identity, Nigerians of the South-East origin, who mostly identify as ethnic Igbos, were systematically marginalised in the Buhari administration subsequently. As though being punished for exercising their constitutional rights of the freedom of democratic choice, Nigeria’s Igbos were excluded from President Buhari’s powerful kitchen cabinet, the inner cycle of power brokers and associates on the corridors of power. This systemic marginalisation was to see the Igbos completely exempted from appointments into the headship of security agencies in the ministries of Interior and Defence respectively.
President Buhari’s political scorched earth policy of the-winner-takes-all, not only reversed the modest gains of the preceding sixteen years of nation-building but sharply polarised the polity, with Nigeria’s ethnic Igbos crying out loud against their mistreatment in Buhari’s Nigeria. The clamour for justice, equity and fairness for Nigeria’s South-East geo-political zone was to throw up new dynamics in the Nigerian polity. In the face of a defiant hardliner president, who was unapologetic about his exclusivist leadership style and refusal to redress the numerous glaring cases of systemic marginalisation of Nigeria’s Igbos, the twin demands of restructuring or dissolution of the federation became heightened. Whereas the clamour for the dissolution of the Nigerian state, with the revival of the Biafran secessionist agitation, was championed by Nnamdi Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the option of restructuring through a renegotiated Nigerian federation, which guarantees justice, equity and fairness to all constituent peoples, was championed by Ike Ekwerenmadu from within the governing establishment.
A veteran community based politician, administrator, lawyer and a federal lawmaker from the South-Eastern state of Enugu, Ekweremadu as one of the longest serving senators after securing a record fifth term, emerged from the shadows to chart a clear political course for his Igbo people. Occupying the sixth most important national position of deputy president of the Nigerian Senate and being the highest political office holder among Nigeria’s Igbo, the burden of leadership of his people in a most difficult time, fell upon his shoulders.
As matter of fact, Ekweremadu not only fought for the release of Nnamdi Kanu from detention and helped arrange the achievement of his impossible bail conditions, he equally made a passionate appeal to President Buhari to roll back the Operation Python Dance, which was launched by the military to crush the IPOB secessionist movement, as “it was creating tension in the south east.”
While the burning flames of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB – fuelled by President Buhari’s failure of statesman-like leadership – was ravaging the hearts and minds of Nigeria’s Igbo, Ike Ekweremadu skilfully explored the diverse mechanisms inherent in Nigeria’s constitutional democracy to seek redress for his marginalised people. In the short term, Ekweremadu used his position of relative influence as deputy Senate president to press for a more inclusive structure of governance, wherein no Nigerian is left out as a result of his or her ethno-geographic, religious or partisan political affiliation. On the national stage, Ike Ekweremadu was to become a vocal voice in demanding equity, justice and fairness for his Igbo people, within an inclusive pan-Nigerian framework of integrated socio-economic development. To evolve a sustainable structure of good governance for the Nigerian state, wherein the egalitarian principles of equity, justice and fairness are guaranteed to all in the long term, Ekweremadu strongly advocated for a renegotiated federation through restructuring. To underscore his convictions on the issue of restructuring, Ekweremadu’s PhD thesis is on the subject of fiscal federalism, which reveals the depth at which this issue has exercised his thought. The issue of restructuring was to eventually signpost the electoral campaign promise of the opposition PDP in the 2019 general elections, with President Buhari himself making a commitment to fiscal federalism in his second term. For these and more efforts in the defence of the political and economic rights of Nigeria’s Igbo, Ekweremadu is fondly referred to as the “Ike Oha Ndigbo” (strength of the people) by his kinsmen to the admiration of the entire non-Igbo Nigeria.
Therefore, it was a rude shock to most Nigerians to see the video images of the physical assault of Ekweremadu in the hands of his own kinsmen at an Igbo cultural event in the historic city of Nuremberg in Germany. The taking of responsibility for such a dastardly action, which appropriately qualifies as an abomination, was made more absurd when Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, clearly lacking any sensible reason for the unexplainable action, justified the attack on Ekweremadu on the ground of his purported support for Operation Python Dance. As matter of fact, Ekweremadu not only fought for the release of Nnamdi Kanu from detention and helped arrange the achievement of his impossible bail conditions, he equally made a passionate appeal to President Buhari to roll back the Operation Python Dance, which was launched by the military to crush the IPOB secessionist movement, as “it was creating tension in the south east.”
The grouse of IPOB against Ekweremadu is his unalloyed loyalty to the Nigerian state, without any iota of succumbing to a poorly thought-through Biafran separatist agenda. As far as these IPOB extremists are concerned, you cannot be Igbo and Nigerian at the same time.
However, the real problem is not the now fugitive Nnamdi Kanu and his rather excitable IPOB followers, but those Nigerians, especially of Igbo ethnicity, who are trying hard to justify a sacrilegious act of cowardice. Ekweremadu was not assaulted by members of his Enugu-West senatorial district on the basis of poor performance but by an irate mob of programmed agents who are high on the opium of Nnamdi Kanu’s Biafra utopia. It is a fallacy to attempt to twist the clear cowardly ambush of a man who let down his guard, believing he was in commune with his own kinsmen on the basis of popular uprising against bad leadership. The grouse of IPOB against Ekweremadu is his unalloyed loyalty to the Nigerian state, without any iota of succumbing to a poorly thought-through Biafran separatist agenda. As far as these IPOB extremists are concerned, you cannot be Igbo and Nigerian at the same time. The Enugu-West people, to whom Ekwerenmadu is directly answerable as their elected senator, have returned a verdict of confidence on the quality of his representation, for the fourth time, as seen in his unprecedented feat off attracting the largest concentration of federal government intervention projects in the 20-year history of the Fourth Republic. The office of deputy Senate president that he occupied in the Eighth National Assembly was not zoned to the South-East geopolitical zone, as the victorious APC was determined to shut-out the zone from the epicentre of government.
At the risk of his life and at huge personal costs, Ekweremadu had to fight to clinch a position he used to effectively provide leadership for his Igbo people at a most difficult time in their political history. To now turn around and applaud or justify this unfortunate incidence will be akin to the majority of Ndigbo taking ownership of IPOB’s cowardly act of terrorism against the biggest political brand east of the Niger in contemporary times. To successfully navigate the labyrinths of the murky waters of Nigeria’s identity politics, decorum, self-respect, ethnic solidarity and support for leadership is essential for the political survival of Nigeria’s ethnic Igbo. In the eyes of the rest of non-Igbo Nigeria, the assault on Ekweremadu, the Ike Oha Ndigbo is a humiliation of the entire Ndigbo “worldwide.” This reprehensible act of base ignorance, if not condemned unequivocally by those who should know better, will become a permanent scar of disrepute on the entire Ndigbo as a difficult-to-please people, with the possibility of alienating the political solidarity of the liberal non-Igbo Nigeria in the near future. A community that strips naked its biggest masquerade in the market square only demystifies its own strength, and hence perpetually renders itself vulnerable to external attacks.