By Ochereome Nnanna
LAST Thursday, I explained why the Igbo electorate did not vote for President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. In truth, they never voted for him, even when he chose Dr. Chuba Okadigbo in 2003 and Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke in 2007 as his running mates. Why?
The simple reason was that the Igbo people had strongly identified with the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, a party that their political leaders, notably Dr. Alex Ekwueme, created. He had pioneered the formation of the PDP all the way from 1996 when the Abacha Conference closed, to 1998 when his run for president was scuttled by the military and Northern leaders who brought General Olusegun Obasanjo from jail and sponsored him for the presidency.
Last Thursday, I had observed that the Igbo had altogether exempted themselves from running for president or vice-president in order to give full support to President Goodluck Jonathan and thus cement their fractured relationship with the Minorities of the South-South in hopes of their support when rotational presidency eventually favoured the South- East. In 2011 and 2015, Buhari shifted focus to the South-West in search of running mates. In 2011, he went with Pastor Tunde Bakare, and then settled with Chief Ahmed Tinubu’s flunkey, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, in 2015 when he finally got elected.
After running for president four times without the Igbo people offering him notable support, Buhari must have developed an injured feeling towards them. He must have felt they “hated” him, hence his decision to exclude them from the mainstream of his government even when the constitution forbade such exclusion under the Federal Character principle.
The question should really be: what are the grounds for such “hatred”? Definitely, it had nothing to do with Buhari being a Muslim and Northerner (Fulani in particular). After all, Igbo political leadership had, down the ages, formed strong alliances and accords with mainstream Northern political parties led by Muslim Northerners, invariably by people of Fulani stock. Examples included the post-independence regime of Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa via the Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello. Then in 1979, just nine years after the civil war which, primarily, was a clash between the Igbo and Fulani, Alhaji Shehu Shagari (Fulani), the presidential flag bearer of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, picked Dr. Ekwueme as his running mate and they emerged as President and Vice-President of Nigeria.
Those who flaunt the theory of Igbo hatred of Buhari should take note that in the 1959 elections that produced the post-independence Tafawa Balewa regime in which the Northern People’s Congress, NPC, and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, formed a coalition government, the Eastern electorate did not vote for the NPC. The Northern electorate gave their majority votes to the NPC while the Eastern electorate also gave their majority votes to the NCNC, and the two parties later created an alliance to enable them form a strong government under the parliamentary constitution.
In 1979 also, the majority of Igbo voters never voted for the NPN’s Shagari, though he had Ekwueme as his running mate. They voted for the Nigerian People’s Party, NPP, led by Azikiwe. It was after the election that the NPN and NPP went into an accord to form a strong Federal Government and neutralise the threats presented by Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, and the other “progressive” parties. Again, in 2007, the Igbo electorate voted massively for Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, precisely because he was the presidential candidate of a political party then favoured by the Igbo electorate.
I went into this elaborate historical narrative to dispute the notion that, despite the fact that Buhari had on two occasions offered the vice- presidency to the Igbo, still they shunned him because they “hated” him. Some even say the “hatred” arose from Buhari’s role as a Federal combatant during the civil war. How can that be an issue? As the Federals were killing the Biafrans, the Biafrans were also killing the Federals. People always talk about Igbo people being killed during the war as though they never offered any resistance. Why did the war last 30 months instead of a few days as General Gowon had boasted he would accomplish through his “police action”? Everyone played their roles on both sides of the conflict believing they were doing the right thing. It cannot be a sensible basis to vote for someone or reject him at the polls.
If anything, Obasanjo who played more prominent roles than Buhari for the Federal side during the war got Igbo votes twice – in 1999 (even when his Yoruba kinsmen had contemptuously boycotted him) and in 2003 (when they came from the back door to support him because “he is our son” (as if he was not in 1999). The Igbo electorate voted for Obasanjo precisely because majority of them were part and parcel of the PDP.
From the above, we can conclude that the negative assumptions that informed Buhari’s “97%/5%” formula of South-East (and to a lesser extent, South-South) marginalisation do not hold water, politically. It was politically unwise for him to mount a revanchist response to the notion of his “rejection” by the Igbo voters. Yet, it led to an avoidable head-to-head face-off. Buhari’s unabashed charter of marginalisation against the South-East brought out millions of the Igbo youth into the Biafra agitations, which were basically anti-Buhari protests. The Igbo people had never since the civil war, been so mobilised against a regime. In fact, many were shocked at the level of unarmed confrontation that came from Igbo people both at home and abroad under the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu.
Unfortunately, however, Kanu took matters beyond the expectations of majority of the people. After the formation of the Biafra Security Services, BSS, who knew what the next steps were going to be? Buhari’s Operation Python Dance 2 managed to nip further escalations in the bud, though many questions remain about what happened to Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. All seems quiet right now, like a peaceful graveyard, but I assure you, people will be brought out to answer questions at the relevant time.
Immediately after the quelling of the Biafra protests (which many Buharists boastfully tag as the “second defeat of Biafra”), the President started making what appeared like a typical “victor’s” pacification gambits. First, he approved the payment of salaries to officers who served in the Biafran Police during the war. Second, the Federal Government agreed to pay N88 billion to settle an ECOWAS Court judgement for the compensation of the victims of the civil war in eleven states that constituted the theatre of the civil war (including, and I laugh, Benue State!). Then, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, loudly announced the “approval” by President Buhari for ailing former Vice-President Ekwueme, to be flown abroad for medical treatment. As I write today, (Thursday, 9th November 2017), Ekwueme remains in his Oko village in Anambra State waiting in vain to be accorded this entitlement as a former Vice-President.
One of my pastors, years ago, used to advise: “don’t try to get by miracle what you can get by obedience.” If Buhari had obeyed the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, especially the provisions on Federal Character which do not care about who voted for whom or who loves or hates whom, he would not be looking for cheap means of pacifying the Igbo nation after unleashing the Army on them. No one is impressed, and no one is deceived by these tokenist and cosmetic gambits. The damage is already done.
If you give people their constitutional due, you will have peace to run your government. It is a simple lesson, but only the wise learn lessons.