Buhari, Ndigbo and Inclusiveness
By Tony Nezianya
President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory speech of Wednesday was that of a statesman. It could not have been better. Perhaps the most memorable line is his pledge to run an inclusive government. The victory statement is in sharp contrast to the one credited to him in 2015 when he was quoted as saying while on a visit to the United States that the people who gave him 5% of their votes could not be expected to benefit from his administration as much as those who cast 95% of theirs for him.
The Igbo people, who may number up to 40million, complain of not being included enough in the national scheme of things under Buhari’s leadership, probably because they gave him only 5% of their votes in 2015. Of all three major ethnic groups, the Igbo people are the only one without a member in the National Security Council. None of them is heading any security or intelligence organization.
The complaint of neglect may be countered by those who argue that the Buhari administration has engaged in far more concrete development of the Southeast than, say, the Goodluck Jonathan government which preceded it. For instance, whereas Federal Government roads in the Southeast were in a big mess for the six years Dr Jonathan was in office, many of the roads today have today been rehabilitated or are undergoing reconstruction. The critical Enugu-Port Harcourt Highway is an example.
The Buhari administration has also pursued the building of the strategic Second Niger Bridge connecting Onitsha in Anambra State and Asaba, Delta State, with greater commitment than any administration in our national history. It has paid Julius Berger, Nigeria’s biggest construction firm, N30billion for the project. According to the company’s chief executive, the foundation will be completed in June.
Also important is that the Buhari administration has completed the Zik Mausoleum in Onitsha, Anambra State. The mausoleum for Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who led Nigeria to independence in 1960, was begun 23 years ago by the Sani Abacha regime but none of the governments which followed took it seriously until President Buhari assumed leadership. Not even Dr Jonathan, who was named Azikiwe at birth in admiration of Nigeria’s first president, did anything tangible about the mausoleum. President Buhari’s concrete development efforts in the Southeast may account for why the number of votes cast for him rose from a mere 198, 28 in 2015 to 403,242 in 2019, an increase of over 200%.
Still, Buhari has so far not been able to endear himself to the Igbo as much as he would have liked. He would have loved to win outright in at least one Southeastern state in the recent presidential election. Buhari once asked rhetorically: what do the Igbo want? Questions like this one obviously overlook a key aspect of human existence: a human being or group of persons is made up of not the material part but also the psychological part. As the scripture says, man cannot live by bread alone.
To illustrate the point about the primacy of the psychological part of human being in society, we can cite an example with East Germany when it was under the communists. By the 1980s, the people had high living standards, almost comparable to what obtained in the Western world. Yet, they were enthusiastic to join the revolution sweeping East and Central Europe in 1989. The East Germans overthrew the communist dictatorship and ushered in democracy. Why were they willing to discard a system which guaranteed them free education, free healthcare and employment in favour of one which could deny them all these necessities?
They wanted to be like their cousins across the border, in West Germany. They had for decades been watching how their cousins were choosing their leaders during elections. And they wanted to be like them, that is, to have the freedom to choose those they wanted to lead them and the power to remove those they didn’t want as leaders any more. They wanted their dignity to be recognized as citizens with fundamental rights, and not mere subjects to be used at will by the old men in the communist apparatchik. In other words, life is far more than bread and butter.
As Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State has argued, the Igbo would like to see at least one of their own number head a security or intelligence organization under President Buhari, like other ethnic groups. Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr Uche Okeke headed the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Under President Umaru Yar’Adua, Mr Ogbonnaya Onovo was appointed the Inspector General of Police. Under Dr Jonathan, Gen Azubuike Ihejirika became the Chief of the Army Staff. Even under the Abacha regime, Admiral Alison Madueke was made the Chief of the Naval Staff. They all did well.
As Chief Obiano has recalled, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State has gone out of his way to publicly commend Igbo security chiefs who have worked in his state for outstanding performance. The gallant men include General Nicholas Rogers from Imo State who commanded Operation Lafiya Dole fighting Boko Haram in the Northeast, and Damian Chukwu, who has been serving as the Commissioner of Police in Borno State for years. It is also interesting that another Igboman, Celestine Okoye, has been appointed the police commissioner for Zamfara, another state deeply challenged by insecurity.
Gov Obiano has noted that the appointment of people from the Southeast into key positions in the more inclusive administration which President Buhari has pledged in his second term will make for national unity and cohesion. Peace, says the governor, is not the absence of war but the presence of justice which is manifest to all and sundry.
Obiano is one Southeast leader who has the record, courage and diplomatic skills to persuade President Buhari to do more for the Southeast. He hosted the eminently successful Igbo Summit on Restructuring last May without ruffling federal feathers at a time his Southeastern colleagues were afraid even to attend. He held a mass funeral in Awka for all the Easterners who died during the Biafran War but were not accorded proper funeral. He quietly got President Buhari to remove from the Southeast hardened Boko Haram terrorists who were brought to the Ekwulobia Prison. They had to go because their presence was causing profound anxiety in the entire region.
Obiano’s policy of constructive engagement, which sees him enjoy a good relationship with members of different political parties at both the national and local levels and thus contributes significantly to Anambra becoming the most peaceful and socially harmonious state in Nigeria, shows substantial diplomatic skills. Obiano can lead the effort to get more for the Igbo from President Buhari who will run a more inclusive government in his second tenure.
Nezianya was a director of the News Agency of Nigeria.