Thursday, August 8, 2002
By Professor Omo Omoruyi
There are some Nigerians who genuinely believe that President should go round. Consequently, one term of four years would be enough for any group in Nigeria of 250 ethnic nationalities. The Nigeria’s talk of rotation, zoning and power shift flows from this feeling. They say these things without the political parties. Is there a law that would mandate all the six political parties to nominate the Presidential candidates from one region, zone, or ethnic group?
What we note is that all the various accusations of President’s favoritism shown to the Yorubas by the north and Igbo are too loud for the President to ignore at his peril. They are responsible for the demand that the office of the President should go elsewhere.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe
There is the psychological explanation that the office of the President should go round. Professor Ben Nwabueze supplied this on why the Igbo want to be President. According to him:
“The legitimacy of the Igbo Presidency must be
considered from the standpoint of the
degrading effect on the personality and psyche
of N’Igbo by the exclusion from the office for so long.”
He made a distinction between those who want more amenities for the Igbo states now such as the Governors and those who want the Presidency for the sake of the Igbo personality.
According Professor Nwabueze,
“The degradation cannot be made good by
the provision of more roads and other social amenities in Igbo land.”
It is the provision of amenities that President Obasanjo could offer and if at the end, he is not winning the support of the Igbo leaders what should he do? President Obasanjo cannot solve the deprivation that Igbo suffered as a result of the Civil War. This is too fundamental. The message for the President from the commitment of the Ndigbo to seek the office of the President in 2003 is that the 2003 election should not be taken lightly.
Alhaji Shehu Shagari
The position of the Governors who recently secured some road contract from the President may not satisfy the Ohaneze. What they need is a level playing field for all. It is no longer the usual argument of marginalization. The matter lies far deeper than that. Laying down the law, Professor Nwabueze said:
“It involves issues of psychology and the perception of Ndigbo that they really belong to the Nigerian nation that they are mere onlookers.”
Professor Nwabueze is aware that NdiIgbo may not win but running and being allowed to run is good for the psychological health of the NdiIgbo. According to him:
“A President of Igbo extraction may well not
be able to do much to redress the years of neglect and marginalization of NdIgbo yet his presence in that office will go along way to lift up the degraded and depressed personality,
psyche, and morale of NdIgbo in Nigeria,
especially their youth and the coming generation.”
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo
For Professor Ben Nwabueze’s elucidation of the Igbo Presidency Project, see Professor Ben Nwabueze “Igbo Have a Right to Presidency” in
This Day July 26, 2002.
One hopes President Obasanjo is aware of the reason why the Igbo people want to compete and would allow for a level playing field. This is fundamental to the 2003 affair. It is this determination of the Ndi Igbo that is called by Professor Nwabueze as the “irrevocable commitment of the NdIgbo”.
Professor Nwabueze in 2002 is appreciating the harm done to the NdIgbo personality not just by the Civil War, but also by what happened to the Igbo since then by shutting them out of the Presidency. Who did this, he did not say? Certainly it was not by the Yoruba and certainly not by President Obasanjo. Who caused the Igbo deprivation was absent in the statement of mission by Professor Nwabueze.
Professor Nwabueze and CO thought that they found a solution in 1977 as the country was preparing for the transition from military to civil rule. In the Constituent Assembly in 1977 where Nigerians from different ethnic nationalities were meeting for the first time to bargain on how to take over from the military in 1979, the Igbo leaders were of two camps. One group felt that Igbo should work with other Nigerians and compete for the number one. That group worked with the minorities and later formed the Nigerian Peoples Party(NPP). The other group believed that Igbo should look for a “northerner” undefined and asked to be apprenticed to a northern ruler. This group joined the National Movement that later became the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Chief Sam Mbakwe belonged to the former group, which I coordinated and Professor Ben Nwabueze belonged to the latter group.
Those who went to the NPN including Professor Nwabueze accepted in the past the feeling that an Igbo man and woman can only produce a number two to an Hausa man. His present position laced in psychological jargon is intriguing. He should have said where some of them blundered in the past.
Professor Nwabueze was one of the NdiIgbo intellectuals who opposed Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1979 and accused him for sabotaging the Igbo project. They believed then that Igbo Presidency was not a feasible project just after the Civil War. This was the message they took to Dr. Azikiwe in 1978 and pleaded with him to take them or follow them to the NPN. This was where Dr. Azikiwe broke with them.
Dr. Azikiwe listened to the Igbo leaders that came to him that wanted him to team up with the northern led National Party of Nigeria(NPN). They told him that was the most feasible method of reintegrating the Igbo into the political mainstream after the Civil War. A partial recount of this debate is in the memoir of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Beckoned to Serve. I also tried in my book, Beyond the Tripod in Nigerian Politics to provide a detail explanation of why Dr. Azikiwe decided to team up with the Fourth Dimension floated political party the NPP and reject the NPN in 1978. I shall address later the Shagari’s mischaracterization of Dr. Azikiwe’s decision to turn down the invitation of the NPN to address the NPN Convention.
The Owelle of Onitsha addressed what Professor Nwabueze is talking about today, Dr. Azikiwe in 1978 even though people like Professor Nwabueze disagreed with him. For the information of readers, Dr. Azikiwe decided to run as the NPP Presidential candidate in 1978 as a way of promoting the reentering of the Igbo into the political mainstream of Nigeria after the Civil War. This is what Professor Nwabueze is saying today as if it is original to him. Professor Nwabueze and others who supported the idea of an Igboman serving as an apprentice under an Hausa man and went to the NPN literally terrorized Dr. Azikiwe for his decision. All the intellectual and economic power in Igboland deserted him and the NPP was made up of the common folks and old people to whom Zik’s name meant something. I saw this in many campaign rallies in villages in Anambra and Imo. He had to be addressing curious young men and women who just wanted to know if the Jesus-like of a man was still alive. Of course, the very old men and women came in large number just to touch him and see whether the man they knew about in the past still had the magic. He never disappointed them. All the former NCNC leaders in Igboland went to the NPN.
Those who went to the NPN believed then that after the apprenticeship for an undefined period, the Hausa man would call on the Igbo to produce the President of Nigeria. This was their view of zoning which to them meant rotation but which to the Hausa overlord did not mean rotation. How they thought that one-day the Hausa would make the Igbo the master of the house built by and for the north was one aspect of the visionlessness of this group that went to the NPN. Master in what country, certainly NOT in the house where the original master, the Hausa still owns! This was the explanation for the number two mentality in Igbo land in 1979. How many Igbo leaders still recall that in all the political parties, (NPN, GNPP and PRP) that had a northerner as the number one, Igbo produced the number two? They even played this role to the Yoruba man in the UPN with a Yoruba man as the number one. They would be surprised to read in Shagari’s memoir that there was never a time the number two was zoned to the Igbo as a right. They would be surprised that the number two was a toss up between the minorities in the southeast and the Igbo woman he actually wanted who incidentally was a colleague of ours in the Constituent Assembly. Finally he picked Dr. Alex Ekwueme who was not part of the leadership that was floated in 1978. Suddenly this same group went round the Igboland that a new leader had emerged and should be embraced as such. They even wanted Dr. Azikiwe to accept the new leader, created for the Igbo people by the conservative northerner. I have gone this far not to denigrate my good friend, Ben , but to let readers especially those who did not follow what happened in 1978 to know the genesis of Igbo problem. I really thought that by now an Igbo Agenda shall have been thrashed out. May be it is the Presidency Project. President Obasanjo should take it seriously.
For the record, only the NPP had an Igboman as the number one in the past. What did Professor Nwabueze and the Igbo NPN do to the old man? They used the Nigerian Television at Enugu to sing with Dr. Azikiwe’s name for not allowing the Igbo vice-president to be the Igbo leader. Finally the same Igbo clique brought Chief Emeka Ojukwu from exile. That further complicated the life of the old man in Enugu.
What Professor Nwabueze is saying in 2002 is not new to me or to those in the NPP associated with the Owelle of Onitsha, Dr. Azikiwe, such as Chiefs Sam Mbakwe and Jim Nwobodo. I still recall an incident in 1979 in a campaign rally in Imo. Dr. Azikiwe had to confront the issue of Igbo as the professional number two. He told the crowded rally in Igbo language that ” Igbo man or woman could also “mate” and produce Igbo children who can also grow up to be President in Nigeria “. Dr. Azikiwe conveyed this in Igbo language to Igbo people especially the women in various parts of Igbo land. How effective, it was. This is what Professor Nwabueze is saying in 2002 as the reason why the Igbo person should run for the office in 2003. According him, “…there is no going back on it,”
whatever the prospects for success or failure may be.
If it succeeds, fine but if it fails, we will nonetheless have forced our demand upon the attention of the nation and the international community .
What a goal! I thought that Professor Nwabueze should have started his statement of mission with a tribute to Dr. Azikiwe who abandoned his well-earned retirement to be used as an instrument to work for the reintegration of the Igbo into the political mainstream in 1979. In fact, Professor Nwabueze should have also apologized to Dr. Azikiwe and the NPP for what he and those leading the Ohaneze then did to the old man in 1979. Professor Nwabueze should have paid tribute to the followers of Dr. Azikiwe who felt this way and went to the Igbo voters with that feeling in 1979 and 1983. Dr. Azikiwe was not that politically naïve to know that he would not win the election in 1979 and 1983 in the sense of becoming the President of Nigeria. His concept of winning was in terms of the psyche of the Igboman and woman. I saw this in various locations in Igboland during the campaign. He genuinely thought that the NdiIgbo’s spirit must be lifted up. Trust Zik, he did. I will not say more.
That was Professor Omo Omoruyi, a Zikist in 2002 ahead of the 2003 general election.
Azikiwe’s 114th posthumous birthday will be marked this November 16.