Igbo Presidency, Malice with Ironsi’s Corpse, and Bigoted Southwestern and Northern Masses

Southerners have ruled for only 16 years out of Nigeria’s 59 years of independence. The southerners that ruled were 5 (Aguiyi-Ironsi, Olusegun Obasanjo, Ernest Shonekan, and Goodluck Jonathan) and out of the 5 only one (Aguiyi-Ironsi) was Igbo and he spent just 194 days in office. Since Ironsi can be considered to be representing the whole Igbo nation during his time in power, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Igbo nation only ruled Nigeria for just 194 days out of Nigeria’s 59 years of independence.

When Ironsi came to power after the January 15 1966 coup, one of the things that his military colleagues from the Southwest and the North held against him was his incriminating supineness in punishing Igbo officers who plotted and successfully carried out the January 15 coup. Later, they murdered Ironsi in a retaliatory coup, the country plunged into a civil war, and, during and after the war, they ground down the country under the weight of military dictatorship.

Some of those same Ironsi’s Southwestern and Northern military colleagues are the straws that have been stirring the drink of Nigerian democracy from 1999 till date. Through it all, it’s now 55 years since Ironsi died and since then no Igbo leader ever ruled Nigeria again.

One can ill resist the temptation to think that some of those Ironsi’s Southwestern and Northern military colleagues — who are now mighty members of Nigerian democratic ruling elite — still hold the January 15 malice against the Igbo nation and — incited by the malice — had agreed never to let any Igbo rule the country again. Or is it just a coincidence that an Igbo ruled for just 194 days out of Nigeria’s 59 years of independence. Are members of the Igbo ruling elite so dilettantish at the game of politics that they couldn’t deftly snatch power from Southwestern and Northern ruling elite throughout Nigeria’s 21 years of uninterrupted democracy?

Now, Igbos think it’s their turn to produce the next Nigerian president, but some mass people from other ethnic groups and members of the Northern and Southwestern ruling elite, who direct the affairs of the most powerful political parties (APC and PDP), don’t think so — neither APC nor PDP has shown any plan of choosing an Igbo as its presidential candidate in 2023. Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide (an apex Igbo socio-political organization) suggested more than 4 notable Igbo politicians in the APC who can run in 2023 as APC’s presidential candidate, but there is no telling that the high-muckety-mucks in APC have made any decision based on the suggestion. A PDP senator from Benue had revealed that PDP’s presidential candidate in 2023 would come from the North.

Buhari and Igbo leaders. Are they really together?

We have seen what’s going on among members of the ruling elite on the matter of an Igbo Nigerian president in 2023. Let’s now turn our attention to what’s going on among Nigerian masses on the matter. As you may already know, a considerable percentage of Nigerians’ discussions and opinions on this katzenjammer are symptomatic of a populace mentally chained with ethnic bigotry and miseducations (all for the benefits of only the ruling elite), but briefly baring the matter for analysis is benefic. To do that, I will outline 3 common positions against Igbo presidency and vitiate them.

An Igbo president would work to actualize Igbos’ 53-year-old plan to secede from Nigeria, so non-Igbos should be leery of an Igbo presidency.

Vitiation: The claim seems to come from patriotic minds that believe in the oneness of Nigeria and cherish its current federal structure. If we pretend the claim is fairly reasonable, we still can’t pretend that its promoters were skillful at veneering their ethnic bigotry and hate with their synthetically patriotic “One Nigeria” bromide. First, an Igbo president doesn’t in any way guarantee the actualization of Igbos’ plan to secede from Nigeria. Lessons of history have shown that seceding from a hellishly beleaguered country like Nigeria wouldn’t be as easy as getting out of a poorly ventilated room.

Besides, it’s logically contradictory and a telltale of ethnic bigotry to evince a strong belief in a united “One Nigeria” and still come up with red herring arguments and claims against Igbos’ desire and agitation to produce a national leader 55 years after Ironsi died.

A multi-ethnic Nigeria where citizens are divided by an ever-widening gaping orifice of overlong pathological ethno-religious resentments and intolerance shouldn’t ignore any opportunity to shrink that gap of hate and intolerance. It’s with that conviction that I think anyone outside the Igbo nation who truly wants a united “One Nigeria,” should support the Igbos in their clamor for an Igbo president in 2023, or at least not peddle a conspiracy theory about secession to invalidate their legitimate clamor.

Igbos aren’t united in their clamor. They should therefore unite and make themselves politically indispensable, because who controls the presidency doesn’t matter; what matters is making one’s ethnic group or region so politically indispensable that whoever occupies the office of the president will always try to please one’s region or ethnic group.

Vitiation: This claim (first made [though not as a direct commentary on the issue of Igbo presidency] in a 2018 Premium Times article by Professor Moses Ochonu, a Nigerian-American professor of history at Vanderbilt University) is predicated on the thesis that any Nigerian president will try to please the ethnic group or region he considers to be politically indispensable when it comes to matters of winning elections. On that basis, that ethnic group will get more political dividends from the president than any other ethnic group, even if the president isn’t a member of that ethnic group. The thesis is faulty on three counts and has no strength against the matter at hand. Let’s review it.

First, it isn’t only the Igbo masses that aren’t united. Nigerian masses, from the North to the South, aren’t in any way united like their mercilessly corrupt ruling class who are united in stealing public funds and are never divided by the picayunish differences in ethnicity and religion. It’s in spite of this absence of cohesion among their masses that the Southwest and North produced democratically elected Nigerian presidents for 21 years. I think those who are now bringing up issues of disunity among Igbo masses, do so to distract them and silence the noise of their legitimate clamor.

Secondly, the claim that past presidents and the current president served the ethnic group they considered politically indispensable than their own ethnic groups, invites an implicit assumption that a president is supposed to serve his own ethnic group/region more than any other group or region. But a president isn’t elected by all regions and ethnic groups to serve one particular region/ethnic group, or favor (whether for his own political benefits or not) one particular group over another. The example — a list of presidents who favored regions they deemed politically indispensable over other regions — used to support the whole thesis is a terrible, brief story of how those presidents further infected every region with cancerous ethnic bad blood and widened the chasm of ethnic distrust through intentional political favoritism.

Lastly, if the claims in the thesis were true, one should find that masses in the ethnic group or region that, according to the thesis, is currently politically indispensable (the Southwest) or used to be so (the South-south and the North ), are socioeconomically well-off than masses in other ethnic groups or regions. On the contrary, we find that masses in those supposed favored regions or ethnic groups, just like their fellow masses in other parts of the country, constantly bemoan — in pitiable jeremiad — the dividends of democracy they never enjoyed .

The thesis was advanced by intentionally forgetting that since the return to democratic governance in 1999, Nigeria has been only a money-making entity for the political elite and their compeers. The South and the North have produced presidents for 21 years, but that never translated into any tangible political, socioeconomic benefits for Northern and Southern masses.

To explain that, we just have to call to mind the fact that irresponsible leadership has been normalized to the point where Nigerian masses (trapped in the cage of ethnic distrust) have been calibrated to be content with voting political elite from their respective ethnic groups into offices not to represent and serve them according to true standards and tenets of representative democracy, but to represent them in a looting spree so that members of their ruling elite (or their region) aren’t left out while only elite from other ethnic groups or region consciencelessly plunder the country. One example that effectively strengthens that, is the contemptible social media and real life spectacle where young and old poor Nigerians defend their kinsmen and kinswomen who brazenly embezzle public funds and mortgage their future — instead of instantly disowning them and protesting irately that the looters be removed from office, or voting them out of office in the next election cycle.

Igbos should be clamoring for restructuring, not presidency.

Vitiation:

An Igbo presidency doesn’t stop “restructuring” in any way, so they don’t have to put down one for the other. Moreover, Igbos often championed the demand for restructuring. One of the problems of restructuring is, crusaders of restructuring seem to define restructuring differently, and haven’t been able to explain coherently and unitedly, what they mean by “restructuring”. What do we really mean by “restructuring”: creation of more states, abolishing the 1999 constitution, reducing the power federal government has over states, creation of more geopolitical zones, creation of state police, all of the above, or some of it? The inability to agree on what restructuring means and entails, is one of the reasons it hasn’t been achieved till now. We shouldn’t be telling people to clamor for restructuring when we haven’t agreed on what restructuring really means.

Members of Northern and Southwestern masses who try to delegitimize Igbos’ clamor for presidency in 2023 don’t seem to know that they are worsening a malady (ethnic intolerance and hate) they are all victims of. If Nigerian masses must be united to hold their mercilessly corrupt ruling elite accountable and eat the good fruit of representative democracy, then the masses themselves must effectively use every opportunity to fix the problems of ethnic bigotry and hate that the elite created and exploited through years of systematic ethno-religious polarization and divisive lies. Nigerian masses have never benefited anything from ethnic bigotry and religious intolerance; only the elite benefit from those ills. Isn’t it high time Nigerian masses started folding up the profitless business of ethno-religious hate and intolerance?

I’m not in any way saying that ethnic bigotry and hate will suddenly end and Nigeria will truly become one once we produce an Igbo president, and I’m also not somehow saying that an Igbo presidency is the ultimate solution, but I strongly believe that if we truly want a united Nigeria, supporting Igbos in their demand or at least accepting that their demand is right and reasonable, is a decisive way of healing the wounds of the past and building national cohesion.

Writer| Book and rhetoric lover