Of Igbos And Political Naivety, By Ugoji Egbujo


The Igbo man’s shrewdness and foresightedness is the envy of many. With a keen sense of competition and a culture that greatly rewards industry, the Igbo man seeks success wherever it can be found. And the Igbo is not just one of the most dispersed groups in the world but also one of the most successful. And while they are reputed for outstanding commercial instincts they can match any other African ethnic group in their aptitude for learning and academic achievements and excellence in sports and other professional endeavours.
The success of the Igbo has always been individualistic for the Igbo culture is steeped in republicanism. Without Kings and kingdoms, existing in small communities run by the ordinary men, everyone aspired to be better than his mates. Families climbed up and came down social ladders purely by merit and industry. Though predominantly atomistic in their efforts , the “onye aghala nwanne ya” spirit of the Igbos has meant that while individual success is appreciated, contributions to the community are greatly valued and honoured.
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The Nigerian civil war left a deep scar in the collective psyche of the Igbos. Though they are still assertive and ambitious, their faith in the Nigerian project may have suffered a small but irreparable dent. And because they are the most widely dispersed group in Nigeria and because they settle and own properties wherever they find themselves, they are naturally especially vulnerable to incidents of widespread violence anywhere in the country. While they may be remotely associated with the events leading to chaos , once disorder sets in , mayhem is visited on the Igbo man and his properties.
And whenever these eruptions happen, the Igbo man is haunted afresh by the ghosts 1966 pogrom and the war and his doubts about Nigeria are reawakened. How these affect the political calculations of the average Igbo is still being examined but it is incontestable that the average Igbo man in Ihiala or Aba continues to view with grave suspicion anything suggestive of a re emergence of a Hausa Fulani political hegemony or enthronement of ethnic supremacy by any group. Does the Igbo man suffer some kind of political paranoia?
While the events of the war and their aftermath may have conditioned the political attitude of the Igbo, the Igbo as a group, have been undone by unbridled individualism and resultant unhealthy rivalry and commercialism. It is great to be a tribe of ambitious people amongst whom rivalry is intense but when insane competition allows a prioritization of individual attainments above collective group aims in a multi ethnic primordial society like Nigeria, the group is in clear jeopardy. There no longer exists any concerted attempt to articulate the group’s interest and there has been no forward -looking deliberate and coherent strategy to harness the resources and numerical strength and versatility of the Igbo to enhance the group’s political fortunes.
Some may argue that it is retrogressive and atavistic and perhaps divisive to treat the country as a collection of ethnic groupings and to prioritize ethnic interests. I understand those sentiments. But the reality is that Igbos have in some sense continued to reject certain political tendencies because of long held prejudices against certain groups. It is therefore important to assess and articulate their collective group interests so that certain harmful assumptions can be challenged objectively and hopefully dismantled. It is sadly true that amongst Igbos, those who are materially endowed have voice and are worshiped and those who are intellectually endowed have little influence and are not envied. This affliction may however be a national epidemic.
The Nigerian polity has suffered a moral degeneration and the society no longer has cherished values. Known criminals are now leaders and role models. When the wise is despised , fools reign. In many Igbo communities the man who has the most money has the most honour and the most influence. So even intellectuals, pauperized by domestic economic circumstances , have come to envy the moneyed men.
But the bane of Igbo politics is not the collective assault on it by a college of semi literate wealthy traders who rule the town unions but the existence of a special virulent breed of freshly minted horsewhip bearers, political houseboys of the lords in Aso Rock and the political culture that their emergence spawns. A variant of god fatherism where the local godfather ordained by Abuja is a conceited barely literate , shortsighted , crumbs seeking , cudgel bearing, cowardly businessman in political robes.
When the colonial masters came those who managed to become their domestic staff also managed to pick up their language and before long became all powerful interpreters and messengers. That rested soap opera on NTA “ICHOKU” dramatically depicted the phenomenon . The messenger in inter-mediating between the community and the white district officer became an indispensable agent of the colonialist and an unscrupulous extortionist of his people.
The colonial masters have left but their legacies live on . All the politically emancipatory works of Zik, Mbakwe, Mbadiwe, Collins Obi, CC Onoh , Ekwueme, Okadigbo, Ikemba Ojukwu have practically come to nothing. Igbos once the major factor in Nigerian politics are now so peripheral that they can be taken for granted.
Neo colonialists in Aso rock are now always adept and proficient at producing lackeys of Igbo origin . Occupant after occupant, Aso rock , nearly always contemptuous of Igbo intellectuals , will mint a new head boy for the Igbo by transforming an erstwhile pliant court jester or half witted messenger or political tout by investing him with cash and security operatives and impunity . And though they will employ a handful of Igbo intellectuals and technocrats like Okonjo Iweala or Chu Okongwu or Soludo or Ezekwesili to render technical service to the nation but they will always reserve and concentrate real political powers in the hands of the anointed sycophants.
Abacha had a few and they were allocated oil blocks and they became prefects over the Igbos. Obasanjo came and sidelined Ekwueme who built the party, the platform , on which he was delivered the presidency on a platter. He looked around picked two of his semi illiterate errand boys and set them over the Igbo nation . And th ey tormented people . Who could doubt their ‘omnipotence’ ? They once kidnapped a governor and destroyed the state capital and made late Chinua Achebe reject his national award.
President Goodluck Jonathan who prefers his middle name Ebele when he needs Igbo votes may not have been politically adventurous and did not mint a head boy. But with that TAN and their coarseness and obtrusiveness he had one in the making.
When Igbo intellectuals are made vulnerable by the sudden elevation and political empowerment of touts whose only virtue is fierce loyalty and sycophancy, technocrats become wimps and bootlickers themselves . Professors grovel at the feet of nitwits to be recommended for political appointments.
Leaders who are essentially political middlemen situate themselves between the lord in Abuja and the people of Igbo land. They fill their pockets, get bits for their cronies and wallow in self deceit. They are too self absorbed to think of the people they purport to represent. They hang around the gardens in Aso Rock and tell the president he should not worry about Igbos because they , his loyal serfs can handle them. So the second Niger bridge can be promised and forgotten and any who complains of Igbo neglect is demonized not by the lord but by his Igbo political domestic servants. They collect money, stuff ballot boxes and brag about their ability to deliver their localities.
And you can always hear them frothing during campaigns : “Sir you shouldn’t have bothered coming here , this region is 100% percent yours.” Of course the Onitsha- Enugu expressway was not done. And neither Sullivan Chime, whom I must confess has performed fairly creditably, but who wants to retain the party machinery ahead of another rival nor Gov Obiano who seeks political protection from Jonathan can make that road a condition for supporting Jonathan. The leaders are too weak , too shortsighted , too preoccupied with self preservation.
Gov T. A Orji has left Aba decrepit. Refuse and pot holes have seized the town. He tells many that the roads are federal roads and yet he tells all that Jonathan is the savior of Igbos. He had to become a Jonathan minion to save himself from his estranged god father Orji Kalu. And since he had Jonathan the people of Abia who should have been his protection no longer mattered.
APGA will adopt Jonathan as presidential candidate even before his party PDP has given him the party’s ticket. And they will make political caricatures of themselves by the variety of adjectives and superlatives they manufacture to eulogise him. You look at Victor Umeh and you see APGA – chaos and opportunism. And what about Ohaneze? Lets spare that disoriented body .
The presidential elections have come and Igbos have shown their preference. They rejected the APC rather reflexively , out of prejudice and paranoia. They shut markets in Lagos down for the PDP rally but not for the APC that controls Lagos . And Igbos will seek positions in the new government but they have no senator and only two federal legislators in the ruling party and no one knows if they would even have a governor.
And no one quarrels with the right to make a choice. And no one quarrels with an unpopular choice if the choice is made objectively. One must wonder then what the interests of the Igbos are. And I will submit that a highly competitive group that is well dispersed would above anything else seek a Nigeria that is peaceful and stable where freedom and justice and ‘meritocracy’ and equity reign. The Igbo man seeks not advantages but seeks a level playing field, seeks an opportunity to maximize his potentials. These aims can only be advanced and protected by a Nigeria where institutions of democracy are well established, by a truly federalist Nigeria where multi party democracy thrives.
Then you have to wonder how the Igbos collectively failed to see that the entrenchment of a second national party was to their advantage. This is not to suggest that Igbos are expected to reject the PDP and embrace the APC but they are not supposed to demonise or hate the APC.
From Zik, Okpara, Mbadiwe, Mbazulike Amaechi , Ikemba , Mbakwe , Ekwueme and co to the current breed? How did it happen? Igbo politics needs a renaissance.
Igbos must approach politics with clear eyed objectivity and not unhelpful emotions. Collective interests must be paramount and long term interest must have priority. Untamed materialism cripples. Beggarliness is shortsightedness. Igbos must assert themselves.
Culled from Vanguard
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