For full disclosure, I am an Igbo man. I am also one of the pundits currently being lampooned for cheering President Muhammadu Buhari to democratic power. Yet, knowing what I know now, I will lend that support all over again – and even more.
The thought of the very alternative, which was to bring back Goodluck Jonathan, remains a portent of much bigger crisis. More relatively, I strongly endorse Buhari’s latest mantra: “Change begins with me.” And that is exactly what this piece is set to accomplish.
Like every Nigerian leader, Buhari assumed the Presidency with good intentions. Despite the economic mess left behind by the previous government, he is soldiering on with measurable progress on many areas. Regrettably, most Nigerians see the efforts as busy doing nothing. Accordingly, Buhari is making changes beginning from his very self. But there is one critical problem the General has continued to ignore that is firmly woven into the fabric of our current quest for economic revival: His Igbo problem.
As one of the major Nigerian ethnic groups, the Igbo are the natural inhabitants of the South-East and some areas of South-South and North-Central zones of Nigeria. They are known for their unique resilience, resourcefulness, can-do spirit and, of course, unbounded technological and scientific acumen; the Igbo represent the hybrid engine of Nigeria’s commerce.
Not surprisingly, the Igbo in the Diaspora are a leading block contributor to the yearly amount of foreign money remitted to Nigeria, which is ironically more than the national budget.
The foregoing attributes are more than enough to discern that the Igbo is as important as any other ethnic group and ought to be carried along in the current change agenda of the government. But events thus far suggest that Buhari might have been ill-advised to challenge the theory from the onset.
This apparent dissent is rooted in the 2015 presidential elections, where a vast majority of the Igbo joined the South-South to vote en masse against Buhari’s winning candidacy.
However, rather than use the historic mandate to rally the different political divisions towards common purpose, the President would shock the democratic world by revealing his plan to marginalise the zones that voted against him.
“Buhari had provided a lifeline for the corrupt brigade of the immediate past regime to resurface and grandstand as latter-day fighters of what is considered naked injustice to people of the South-East. And what followed was a montage of propaganda that painted the President as an unapologetic bigot”
Many pundits thought his statement was a mere gaffe. But the records afterwards seem to suggest that Muhammadu ‘Okechukwu’ Buhari actually meant the threat of vendetta against the Igbo, particularly those from the Southeast.
Critics are free to join here. But there is no gainsaying that the Igbo people are truly marginalised in the current scheme of things. As I had penned in October 2015, the upper echelon of Buhari’s government is a preview.
“The underlying rationale in this case is that the positions of the President, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker, chairman of the ruling party, and the Secretary to Federal Government have been staked in the past 16 years as the main thrust of the party in power and thence rotated among the six political zones of the country.”
Yet, the South-East was conspicuously denied its share. Moreover, it is no coincidence that the same South-East Nigeria, is the only zone without a personnel presence in the nation’s security leadership apparatus.
This outlook coupled with a stoic indifference by the President triggered outrage in the land, provoking the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra, then a sedate outfit, to declare “that Buhari is not seeing Ndigbo as part of Nigeria.”
Recognising that the ruling party treated it as business as usual, the opposition from the highly influential South-West Nigeria, led by the trio of Ayo Fayose, Femi Fani-Kayode, and Femi Aribisala, capitalised on the saga to strike back. What just took place here, and painfully so, is that Buhari had inadvertently provided a lifeline for the corrupt brigade of the immediate past regime – from the east, north, and west – to resurface and now grandstand as latter-day fighters of what is widely believed as naked injustice to the people of the South-East. And what followed, thereafter, was a montage of propaganda that successfully painted the President as an unapologetic bigot, determined to punish not only the Igbo but also the entire Christian-dominated South.
More dauntingly, many blame part of the current crisis on Buhari’s economic policy, particularly foreign exchange, which is believed to be tribally skewed to specially benefit his Fulani kinsmen, who control bureaux de change across the country.
Today, not only is the national economy in recession, the negative opinion of Buhari is growing beyond our shores. Although a number of world leaders showered praises on him during the recent UN session in New York for giant strides against corruption and terrorism, a creeping concern within the international community remains that Nigeria’s President is a dictator, tribalist, sectionalist, misogynist, and religious bigot – all in one person.
This does not bode well for an economy in recession. It scares away investment whether local or foreign. This also goes to say that even as President Buhari might have done a good job on the area of corruption, the fact that he is generally perceived as condoning gross injustice at another area renders his entire effort pyrrhic.
Buhari has to simply make amends. Allowing the problem to linger not only threatens the chances of economic revival but also the hard-earned change. Mr. President cannot feign ignorance of the fact that his queasy quandary with the legislature has his Igbo problem written all over it.