The popular American writer and multi-faceted artist of Egyptian origin – Suzy Kassem once prophesied that: “through love, tribes have been intermixing colors to reveal a new rainbow world. And as more time passes, this racial and cultural blending will make it harder for humans to side with one race, nation or religion over another.” Her prediction seems to be working in almost every nation of the world except Nigeria (especially when Igbos are factored in the equation). The evidence to this assertion is empirically ubiquitous. Being Igbo in the current Nigeria configuration comes with a huge price – the selfsame price their postwar fathers paid in 1970. It is gladdening that three of the frontline men who oversaw the belligerent subjugation of that tribe are still alive today, to bear witness to the ripple effects of their bileful treaties. General Yakubu Gowon, General Muhammadu Buhari and General Olusegun Obasanjo. The three-year war ended on the pretentious “no victor, no vanquished” note, but it wasn’t long before everyone glaringly knew who the vanquished truly is. Indigenisation policy of foreign companies and conglomerates was begun at the time it was clear that Igbos were fiscally incapacitated, as an aftermath of their economic trauma from the war. And so they were made non-stakeholders of the nation’s mainstream economy. In the political sphere, a perceivable clandestine charter was sealed that “no Igbo should be allowed to attain the highest political office in the country.”
And so, when it was very clear that second republican Vice President – Dr. Alex Ekwueme was the most favoured to succeed President Shagari, the war veterans resurfaced from their barracks to scuttle any bleak chance of such occurrence. Shagari administration was toppled, and Ekwueme was sent to prison, while his Principal was kept in Guest House. Fast forward to 1998, after he had pivotally fought for the return of democracy and midwifed the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Ekwueme was again the favourite of majority of the delegates to the Jos presidential primary election of the party. The same old guards made a last minute interference to extinguish the possibility of his emergence as the candidate of the party. From prison, Olusegun Obasanjo was reined in, to pick the ticket. They preferred a prisoner to a ‘free’ Igbo man. In the alternative party — the then All People’s Party (APP), another Igbo man, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu was moments away from clinching its ticket. But he was surreptitiously dropped for Chief Olu Falae. Granted, Chief Obasanjo’s regime favoured Ndigbo in terms of appointment into juicy offices and prominent positions, but that was inevitable, as the country had no option than to opt for government of perceivable national unity. Seeing that they had been politically “bruised” and “raped,” Ndigbo took solace in Goodluck Jonathan, after fate had combined with doctrine of constitutional necessity to make him president. “Ebele” a silent sobriquet in his name was brought to the fore, just to justify his acclaimed “Igbo-ness.” He was adopted by the people. And immediately that happened, he was out of favour from the “owners” of Nigeria.
They pulled him down from the throne in 2015. It didn’t matter to them whether Jonathan himself actually adopted Ndigbo or not. 2023 election year came, and the most qualified and popular candidate was figured in Peter Obi. Everyday well-meaning Nigerian saw in him the rectifier of the rots of leadership impropriety that had pinned us down as a country for years. His candidacy enjoyed wide acceptance across the divides. But his only albatross is his being Igbo. He was chased out of PDP by the cabals. Despite all the investments made in the establishment and sustenance of the party by the tribe they made sure their son was denied 2023 presidential ticket of the party. It was not even a herculean task. They did it with such finesse that Peter Obi had to read the handwriting on the wall, long before they finished writing “Mene mene Tekel urphasin” (Dan. 5:25). It also didn’t matter to them, that Obi has been making detribalized commitment to Nigeria’s corporate entity in all his campaign outings. As he ran to Labour Party (LP), his followership widened nevertheless. At that point the “owners” of Nigeria allegedly knew that the only way to out-scheme him off the way is by the barbarism of election rigging. And it did happen. While the legal fireworks are ongoing to establish the alleged rigging, a lot of people are already catching the bug of Igbo phobia, with the latest being former Super Eagles Captain and Coach — Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh. A fortnight ago, he denounced his Igbo-ness when he suspected that it might impede his chances of winning back his former roll as Super Eagles Manager. He was not alone in this. Even Late Stephen Okechukwu Keshi also did same, when he was desperate to court the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) in his days as Eagle’s Manager. Recall that Rivers governor, Nyesom Wike, also renounced his own Igbo ancestry too when he wanted to be seen as anti-igbo, which is one of the criteria for acceptance in the current polarized Nigeria, if one wants to be president. Even when Olusegun Obasanjo threw away his previous convictions to openly support Peter Obi, Wike outrightly did all he could to suffocate Obi’s popularity in the South South region.
Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amechi who saw in the body language of President Buhari that he could tilt towards an Igbo presidency, (even if not strictly a southeast presidency), dusted up his Igbo paternity again. And when some people resisted him on the ground that he is only claiming Igbo for selfish political gains, he was on national television to say that he was more Igbo than Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe. Comically, he said: “everyone knows the meaning of my names “Chibuike” and “Amechi” in Igbo, what is the meaning of “Abaribe” in Igbo?” However, we must acknowledge that prolonged Igbo phobia is seemingly having psychological effect on some prominent Igbo politicians and elders. Of course, it is a known psychological fact that Stockholm syndrome sets in on the humiliated. And this probably explains why Sen. Orji Uzo Kalu, Joe Igbokwe, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, Chief Engr. Arthur Eze were campaigning against Igbo presidency. Sen. Kalu even said that Igbos are not ripe for Nigerian presidency. But today he is ruing the rejection of his ambition for the Senate presidency of Nigeria by the same people he was defending in APC. Not only did they zone the Senate presidency to the South South, they micro-zoned it to Akwaibom and to Sen. Godswill Akpabio specifically.
The argument of those Igbophobic oligarchs who plotted the zoning, is that no South Southerner has ever been elected to the Senate presidency since the return to democracy. Is it not hypocritical that they are selling such sentiment, whereas they closed their eye to the same sentiment when it was hoisted about Igbo presidency? As you read this, Sunday Igboho — a co-secessionist leader with Nnamdi Kanu is a free man while Kanu is extrajudicially being incarcerated in the nation’s secret police cell. The only difference is their tribe of origin. The newly elected President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo — Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu has been crying around Buhari and his men begging for the release of Nnamdi Kanu, to no avail. Last week at the ceremony marking the inauguration of the dredging project of Oguta and Urashi lakes in Imo state, he even designated Buhari as an Igbo son, just to libate the gods for Kanu’s release. It has always been hard to be Igbo in Nigeria, but never has it pitched fever heat as it has in these past eight years under President Muhammadu Buhari. The stigmatization is too obvious, but the dreadful danger is that the end is not in sight. May daylight spare us!
• Jude Eze a medical laboratory Scientist, Columnist and Public Affairs Analyst writes from Lagos. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org