Nigeria-2023: Igbo Undoing the Igbo Presidency
Prof. M. K. Othman
Believe it or not, Igbo are among the most treasured set of people in Nigeria’s nationhood. They are the most sagacious entrepreneurs, traders, transporters, hoteliers, and all sorts of money-spinning enterprises within the Nigerian system outside. They are also not lagging in the educational system. Their trademarks include tenacious aggressiveness to a point of being offensive, a trace of arrogance, and a tendency of the “end-justifies-the-means”. Additionally, they are skillful oratory with a capacity to convince their listeners. Etymologically, Igbo means the people, language, culture, and land of people who speak the Igbo language. Population-wise, Igbo constitutes 15.2% of the Nigerian population, making it the third most populous tribe in Nigeria after Hausa and Yoruba tribes, which constitute 30% and 15.5% of the Nigerian population, respectively.
Like other tribes in Nigeria, Igbo have the bad, the good, and the excellence among them. I met all three categories in my journey of life. Citing three examples of excellence; two of them impacted positively on my personal experience and partly mold me into what I am today. The third impressed me as an amazing African Ambassador in the USA. The first among the two was Prof. E. A. Arinze of blessed memory. He was assigned to me as my staff advisor in my first year as an undergraduate student of Agricultural Engineering of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1983. He was my father figure with responsibilities of advising and following up on my academic progress in the university. He went beyond a mere follow-up to being a motivator, inspirational speaker, and supporter. I was always looking forward to our weekly meeting in his office to discuss my academic and personal challenges. His soothing words and ability to create a simple solution to a difficult problem were superb and incomparable. Before his demise, the Nigerian university system lost Prof Arinze to Canada as part of the persistent brain drain in 1992 caused by our gross negligence to our educational system. Mr. J. O. Ogbonna was the second Igbo personality whom I met in Kano during my transition period from secondary school to university. Within a short period of working with Mr. Ogbonna, he brought out my entrepreneurship spirit that made it possible to establish newspaper/magazine-vending enterprises in Kano, Bauchi, and Jos at that tender age. Thanks to Ogbonna’s sagacious resourceful acumen. Mr. Ogbanna, a Biafran war veteran treated me like his son despite being a Hausa/Muslim youth while he, being an Igbo/Christian man. His large heart was indeed very accommodating. Ogbonna used to reminisce his experience as a Biafran army officer/Nigerian rebel as a sign of regret and always concluded: “war is not good”. I was too young and naïve to comprehend his war messages but I am sure wherever he may be today, he will never vote for war.
The third personality in the category of excellence was Prof. Kalu Osiri whom I met during my scholarly visit to the University of Nebraska, the USA in 2017. I visited seven scholars and the famous Nebraska Tractor testing laboratory in the university and the visit to Prof. Osiri was not in my schedule. Upon discovering Osiri’s odyssey and his brilliant performance as one of the highly-rated professors in the university from Africa, in fact from the southeast of Nigeria, I made a concerted effort to visit him. Within few minutes of our contact, he invited us (me and my colleagues) to a dinner at his residence. During the dinner, I met many Nigerians and other Africans of different tribes in addition to some Americans. Our host, Prof. Osiri, my compatriot was an excellent Ambassador to the African continent whose scholarly activities were making every African proud. I was certainly impressed and elated to interact with and listen to the giant academic guru, Prof. Osiri in the most reputably developed clime of the world. His patriotism to Nigeria was not only impressive but made all of us happy to be Nigerians.
Just like other tribes, Igbo have their share of bad eggs lucking among the good ones in pretense waiting for the right opportunity to perpetuate their ignoble acts. These are the arm robbers, cults, kidnappers, swindlers, Yahoo boys, and the likes that are unfortunately in the majority.
The likes of Arinze, Ogbonna, and Osiri are excellent presidential materials from Igbo extraction. If they are given the opportunity, each with the right team can turn Nigeria into El Dorado and place it among the greatest countries in the world. This means that Igbo is not lacking credible personalities to occupy Aso Rock but perhaps lacking the strategy on how to go about it. How are the Igbo people faring in the political arena of Nigeria? This may be where the shortcoming of Igbo features glaringly.
In retrospect, the first Nigerian president under civilian administration was Sir Nnamdi Azikwe from the southeast. Although, it was a presidency without executive power, a kind of ceremonial one but was still a giant political score at the time it happened. Igbo have failed to continue with the foundation laid by Zik. This is the crux of the matter.
With all their shrewdness, dexterity, intelligence, and exposure, Igbo or perhaps, the loudmouths among them are failing to understand that none of the three major tribes in Nigeria, can single-handedly make it to the Nigerian presidency without the support of the other two tribes in addition to few minorities. None can coerce other tribes to extract political support to achieve electoral success at the federal level. Electoral successes in Nigeria are achieved through a combination of political dialogue, “give & take”, persuasion and unfortunate clandestine activities such as rigging, vote-buying, outright bribery, and corruption. So, Igbo can only achieve their desire of making the Igbo presidency with active support, partnership, and cooperation of other tribes. Intimidation and threat of war to the nation are akin to undoing the Igbo presidency. It is time for the Igbo to return to the drawing board for a better and viable strategy to produce a Nigerian Presidency from Igbo extraction instead of the Igbo presidency to preside over Nigeria. Igbo and Indeed other Nigerians do not need a tribal presidency at this moment of nation building.