…being an open letter to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole
By Felix Oboagwina
Ogboo, sir? I hope you are in good health with Madam and your entire family.
Permit me to address to you a matter considered germane to national cohesion and unity. I feel comfortable to place this matter in your hands and on your conscience for two reasons. First, through your days as a Trade Unionist, you chalked up a generous roll-call of intimate Igbo comrades like: Sylvester Ejiofor (a “Super” union General Secretary like yourself) and the Late Chima Ubani (Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation and my former SUG President at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka). Following this, as Governor of Edo State, you picked as your Chief Press Secretary, the Late Chris Nwachukwu, an Easterner, just like your incumbent spokesperson, Simon Ebegbulem. So nothing in your genes cuts you out as anti-Igbo.
The second reason, I will hold back for later.
Excellency, please, let me take you a few days back. As National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), you were lately quoted as saying the South-East would not smell any significant post in the embryonic Ninth National Assembly, because the zone failed to vote significantly for President Muhamadu Buhari on February 23. Coming from a man who (borrowing from Nigeria’s political lexicon) failed to “deliver” his own state to the President, that statement should have been dismissed with a thunder clap of hefty laughter; but your words are too weighty and the insinuations too grave to be overlooked as the ranting of an ant.
Oshio Baba, who am I to join detractors to boo that you “lost” your home Edo State, with the 267,842 votes your principal scored, compared to the 275,691 garnered by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, his archrival in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)? Yet I cannot recall anyone mooting the idea that you relinquish your post.
Moreover, it will be preposterous to discount the Peter Obi factor in the presidential polls. Could the Igbo have voted oppositely, seeing they had a greater stake in PDP that gave them an “Nwa-Igbo”son-of-the soil Peter Obi as Vice Presidential Candidate, in contrast to PMB whose Running Mate came from the Yoruba South-West?
Even then, your anti-Igbo verdict glossed over one significant fact. PMB polled 403,968 to Atiku’s 1,693,485 votes in the combined five South-East states of Imo, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra. That should be good news! Although lower than Atiku’s, PMB’s 2019 tally from the South-East is a remarkable recovery (a whopping 103 percent improvement!) on the 198,248 votes he scored in 2015! That low 2015 figure, many suppose, informed the inequity the Igbo SUFFERED (!) in PMB’s distribution of appointments. And the discrimination appeared tele-guided by that infamous pre-inaugural 97-5 percent formula he laid out at the US Institute of Peace, where he posited that, “The constituents, for example, that gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%.”
Remarkably, the Civil War-veteran-turned-President took no Igbo prisoners, stubbornly turning a deaf ear to criticisms as he studiously applied this 97-5 percent Pareto Formula in his security architecture. Not one officer of Igbo extraction made his list of security chiefs. Furthermore, appointments into the top echelon of juicy agencies like NNPC remained barren of South-East representatives in these last four years. Same obtained in NPA.
In fact, but for the “rebellion” in the Eighth National Assembly, which saw to the wildcat election of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President, the original APC lineup in 2015 left the South-East in the cold.
And here we go again in 2019!
Doesn’t Brexit teach that no quick-fixes exist for national questions? Comrade, tell us, should Igbo still face corporal punishment after doing penance and showing greater electoral faith in PMB in 2019? Are you people saying you cannot get befitting Igbo people for posts from among the 403,000 who voted for PMB? Haba, you yourself know that this cannot be true!
The emerging framework your APC is constructing for the incoming government is already taking the shape of the same putrefying structure that goaded the Igbo to follow the Pied Pipers of MASSOB and IPOB who promised to lead an Ndigbo exodus from intolerant Nigeria into a Republic of Biafra flowing with milk, dignity and self-actualisation. Will you beat a child and forbid it to cry? Despite all the Army’s “Python Dancing,” the Biafran agitation has remained irrepressible, winning tons of indigenous converts.
And who can blame the “Yanmirin” who are heeding IPOB’s Separationists’ clarion call “to your tents, O Israel?” These past four years, they have been psychologically crushed under the bus. The emerging configuration, going by Your Excellency’s speech, offers Ndigbo no respite.
They feel robbed of any stake in Israel. The position of President is gone to the North (Hausa-Fulani) and the Vice President to the South-West (Yoruba). And now the Senate is being railroaded Northwards, while the Speaker is tilted South-Westward, in a 97-5 percent, winner-takes-all configuration that again marginalizes the Igbo nation.
This is not only far from fair, it flies in the face of the extant Constitution, where framers patriotically inserted a “Federal Character” clause in Section 14(3), which says: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
A deliberate construction, this extract aims at guaranteeing that Nigeria is run inclusively not exclusively, that Nigerian governance accommodates all sections of the country and proscribes none, and that all zones come away with a sense of belongingness and not worthlessness. The Federal Character clause provides a psychological anchorage for all parts of the country in order that no man will feel oppressed under the flag of Nigeria’s commonwealth.
Currently, this is not so. The national structure is a monopoly by the North. The Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are all headed by Northerners. The Three-Arms Zone completely exiles other federating partners. Such marginalisation creates room for distrust and suspicion to fester. Word once assailed the social media of how the VP Yemi Osinbajo was fenced off a meeting security chiefs held with the President and Northern governors. True or not, the rumour pushes the narrative of the alarming level of distrust assailing governance today!
APC cannot with devil-may-care impunity excommunicate the Igbo from the Federal structure. Your party must allow Easterners to head no less than the Senate. Or at worst, give them the Speaker of the House of Representatives. And there are eminently qualified Igbo lawmakers for both jobs. This will serve to satisfy a greater need –the need for national balancing, national unity and Federal Character.
No less happened in 1999. Olusegun Obasanjo from the South-West in 1999 sat as President and Numero Uno Citizen. The North provided the Number 2 Citizen. And the South-East gave the Number 3 Citizen as Senate President. The configuration remained so sacrosanct that in the game of musical chairs that played out in those days, no one from another zone vied when for any reason the incumbent lost his post. PDP institutionalised that. Thus, when Evan Enwerem lost the seat in 1999, Chuba Okadigbo replaced him, with him in turn replaced by Anyim Pius Anyim (2000–2003), Adolphus Wabara (2003–2005) and Ken Nnamani 2005–2007. A similar scenario played out in the Green Chamber, where the North monopolized the post of Speaker with Salisu Buhari (1999–2000) giving way to fellow Northerners, Ghali Umar Na’Abba (2000–2003) followed by Aminu Bello Masari (2003–2007).
No one can dismiss Nigeria as an accident. By an uncanny arrangement of geography, the Niger and Benue rivers flow from two angles to give the Nigeria landscape a “Y” shape that carves the country into three. This tripod formation has been maintained through the ages. Nothing must now amputate one leg from that nature-induced tripod.
Make no mistake, sir: By no means are Igbo pushovers! Over 42 million (24 percent) of the country’s population cannot be considered as pushovers and irrelevant! Their population equals the combined figures of Ghana, Liberia and Republique De Benin. Ask Tafawa Balewa, Sardauna Ahmadu Bello or Obafemi Awolowo, and they will tell you that this nation is principally anchored on an ethnic tripod, Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani, with hundreds of millipede legs formed by the minority tribes. If the Nigerian superstructure must stand, the two giant legs must work together with the last giant leg, the Igbo nationality.
In closing, let me tell you the second reason for addressing this open letter to you. As your party’s National Chairman, you “can do and undo.” Your party’s constitution grants you unfettered equipment to summon an emergency meeting of its policy-makers and decision-takers, the NEC and NWC, on whom you can hang this crucial matter that many Nigerians consider a national emergency!
Your Excellency, history beckons you to be the catalyst for our country’s socio-political engineering. May you not fail.
- Edo-born Felix Oboagwina is a journalist and he writes from Lagos