By Collins Ughalaa, KSC
Many Igbo people believe that the next president of Nigeria should come from amongst us. This dream has been a reoccurring decimal in the
Nigerian polical mathematical equation. As the 2023 election year approaches, politicians have begun to deploy all sorts of intrigues. On Tuesday, September 8, 2020, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, the Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate, made a comment many considered to be the wrong way to pursue his 2023 presidential ambition.
Senators Kalu and Rochas Okorocha are the two figureheads for the 2023 Igbo presidency project at the moment on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the moment. Kalu, in the comment which was widely published, requested the Federal Government to permit him to
travel to the United Kingdom to negotiate with the Leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, to drop the Biafra agitation. While addressing the press on the sideline of the recent reported clash between the IPOB and security agencies, he said: “If
the Federal Government permits me, I will go to the United Kingdom and negotiate with Nnamdi Kanu to return home to Nigeria. I will convince him to drop the agitation for Biafra because our people don’t need it. We need a united Nigeria that will allow different cultures and tongues to live peacefully in any part of the country. A country where people
can comfortably do their businesses without fear of the unknown”.
We view Kalu’s comment on the Biafra agitation as symptomatic of the Igbo problem. By his comment, Kalu creates a kind of confusion in the minds of many people as to what actually the Igbo people want. Is it an end to Biafra agitation or the presidency? By that comment also, Kalu
has made the Biafra agitation, the IPOB and their leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the problems militating against the actualization of the Igbo presidency project and the major problem facing the country, amidst myriad challenges seeking urgent attention.
We do not see Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB or the Biafra agitation as the problem militating against the actualization of the Igbo dream. Rather we see our political elite and their disconnect with the people as the stumbling blocks towards the actualization of the project. At no time
has the political elite spoken in one voice. At no time have they become
the people’s heroes, a group the downtrodden could trust and follow.
And instead of fighting this malady, and forging a common front, the political elite are wasting their energy on something else, playing to the gallery.
Our political elite are in the habit of putting the Igbo people at the
mercy of others, as if we were vulnerable people. Whereas we advocate peaceful coexistence in the country, we believe strongly that what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. In a land of inequalities, fighting one’s brothers could be an unproductive venture and a self made distraction. Granted that not every Igbo man is a member of the IPOB, most Igbo people believe in the sublime message of the IPOB and its spirit. Nnamdi Kanu is not the spirit behind the Biafra
agitation. He did not start the Biafra agitation. The late Igbo leader, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, is credited with starting the Biafra agitation.
But he too was not the spirit behind the agitation. Ojuwku played his part and mobilized that spirit. The difference in what Ojukwu did and the spirit embodied by the modern day agitators might be that, whereas the spirit of the Biafra agitation Ojukwu mobilized was elitist, that
mobilized by MASSOB and IPOB are grass-rooted. Granted that Nnamdi Kanu
is the Leader of the IPOB, we do not think that if he decides to call it quits the Biafra agitation will end. The spirit may live on if the problems are not resolved. We note as instructive the fact that despite the proscribing of the IPOB, its spirit has not died. The only thing
that can kill the dream is addressing the core issues we all face as Nigerians, such as inequality, human right, justice, accountability, due process and rule of law, etcetera.
We had earlier noted that what the Igbo need to realize the presidency project is for the political class to imbibe the type of spirit the ordinary Igbo youths carry about. We aligned with the views of the pan Nigeria statesman, Chief Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe, who said in
2004: “In my view, all the orthodox Igbo political establishment needs to do is to take advantage of the spirit of nationalism which MASSOB has rekindled in Ndi Igbo in the quest for a president of Igbo extraction. In other words, I believe that it is possible to marry the MASSOB spirit with the conventional approach in the pursuit of power via the political
parties provided”. By urging the larger Igbo population, especially the political class, to imbibe the type of spirit exhibited by the MASSOB and IPOB loyalists, we mean that the Igbo establishment should rally the Igbo population to the kind of belief in and support for the Igbo presidency project as those agitating for Biafra.
The Igbo political elite should make their objectives clear enough to the ordinary Igbo man: the farmers, traders, the okada riders, taxi and bus drivers, artisans, the students and the teeming population of
unemployed graduates – in such a way that the Igbo traders at the Main Market, Onitsha, and elsewhere would be able to close their shops to queue up to register to vote, collect their voters cards and queue up again to cast their vote. The Igbo political class should be able to
sell the Igbo project in such a way that the ordinary man would make himself available to campaign for the project, similar to what we see in the North, where the ordinary person is enthusiastic about casting his votes. The Igbo political elite should be able to do this in such a way as to rally even the unemployed youths to contribute their widow’s
mite to the project, instead of being paid to turn up for rallies. They should be capable of demonstrating reasonable truthfulness and clarity of purpose to the people.
The Igbo are capable of laying down their life for what they believe in if the right leadership shows up. In the buildup to the governorship election in Imo State in 2011, it was reported that artisans,
apprentices, traders, farmers, students and even the unemployed graduates rallied behind Owelle Rochas Okorocha whom they saw as their rescuer. It was reported that they contributed money to fund the
campaigns and the election, to the point that they would collect money from other politicians and deploy it to fund Okorocha’s campaign. What happened in Imo State after Okorocha won his election in 2011 should serve as a good lesson why our politicians do not engender the kind of
spirit the Biafra agitation engenders.
The unemployed youths supporting Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB are not on his payroll, yet they pay the ultimate price. Some of then are in the prison. Why is that so? Nnamdi Kanu has shown the kind of leadership qualities our political elite seem not to possess, to the point that
even when he is telling a lie, millions of supporters would rather want to die for it. Put differently, the spirit of nationalism exemplified by the IPOB and MASSOB is what our political elite need to build if they truly want to achieve the Igbo presidency project.
What we need now is a leader that can build, a leader that can mobilize
the never-say-die spirit of the Igbo man, not a leader that can destroy that spirit. This is why we find troubling Kalu’s promise to travel to the United Kingdom for the sole aim of persuading Nnamdi Kanu to drop his Biafra agitation and not for him to mobilize the Igbo people in the
UK towards the Igbo presidency project. We take Kalu’s comment with a pinch of salt. We consider him as one playing to the gallery. We think that he should wear his thinking cap once more and fathom what must be done to get the deal done. He should also bear in mind that purporting
to possess the capacity to negotiate the abandonment of the Biafra agitation will create no milestones for him in his quest to become the next president of Nigeria, instead, it could diminish whatever feats he has recorded.