By PRINCE EMEKA OBASI
By the time the APC came on stream in 2013, it was essentially a union between the Bola Ahmed Tinubu led Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the President Muhammadu Buhari led Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). The third leg of the union was a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) led by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) led by Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu. The political realities in the country at the time, ensured that APC was basically Muhammadu Buhari and Bola Tinubu political tag team. Both the ANPP and the faction of APGA were merely bit players who were taken on board to fulfill all righteousness. When the positions were shared, that reality became even more obvious. The South/ South produced the National Chairman, while the North produced the National Secretary. Even then, it was clearly implied that the presidential candidate of the party would come from the North.
The South East and South South did not benefit very much from top offices within the APC, perhaps as a reflection of their weak standing within the party. When the presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the party emerged, it followed the predicted pattern of the North producing the president and the South West producing the vice president.
In the election, the support for the party followed the same trajectory. The APC drew the bulk of its support from the North and the South West, while the PDP retained its formidable presence in the South East and South South. The result of that election created a very challenging situation for the two zones. Many commentators within the APC read the party’s poor performance in the two zones as a rebuff of its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. Understandably, they were not pleased. The situation was worsened by the overtly polarised nature of the campaigns.
Many of the supporters of the two leading candidates, the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and the then opposition candidate, Buhari, were very emotional in expressing their support. This was especially so among the Igbo. Many Igbo saw President Jonathan as a son of the soil who deserved their support. Jonathan was the first person from the old Eastern Nigeria to govern the country. As a result, many from the zone were very passionate in supporting him.
The same passion was also evident in the response of the Igbo to the Jonathan candidacy. Increasingly, Jonathan had become a very emotional rallying point for many Igbo who went as far as dubbing him Azikiwe.
But it was not just a question of emotional response. There were also other political reasons why the South East were so effusive in their support of Jonathan.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, the South East had been a catchment area for the PDP. It was only in 2003 that Anambra State, largely due to the influence of the late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, ousted the PDP government in favour of APGA. The situation is similar in the South South. Apart from Edo State, which in 2007, chose a candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole in a highly contentious gubernatorial election that was only decided by the Supreme Court, all the states of the South South had always chosen the PDP. So, we had a situation where a zone that is dominated by the PDP, was put in a position to choose between President Jonathan and General Buhari. Its preference was predictable.
However, after the election, the attitude of the APC to that reality has continued to shadow its relationship with the Igbo of the South East especially. From the choice of appointments to the location of strategic projects and the general body language of governance, the APC led federal government has tended to behave in a manner to suggest that the Igbo are not wanted within the party and do not deserve prime consideration in the sharing of the perks of power.
Nigeria has always functioned on the basis of a tripod wherein the three major ethnic groups shared strategic positions in the country. This arrangement subsisted until the unfortunate outbreak of the civil war.
It is remarkable that less than a decade after the war, the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari returned to this practice. Dr. Alex Ekwueme was elected, alongside Alhaji Shagari in 1979, as the vice president of Nigeria. Many had expected that since the APC, had allocated the presidency and his vice to the North and South-West, the strategic office of senate president would be allocated to the East. My information is that that was the sharing formula which the APC adopted. However, that was not to be because the APC did not produce any senator from the South East. In the circumstances, the party had no choice than to pick senate president from another zone. It was only by a stroke of fortune that the Igbo got in on the act through the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as deputy senate president in the historic alliance between a faction of the APC and the PDP in the senate. Ekweremadu thus, emerged by default, as the highest ranking Igbo man in the government of President Buhari during his first tenure.
Many sources have confided to me that part of President Buhari’s angst with Senator Bukola Saraki was the inclusion of Senator Ekweremadu and the PDP in the leadership of the National Assembly. President Buhari was said to have felt embittered by that fact.
Having lost the opportunity to produce the president of the senate, one had expected that the APC government would give to the Igbo, the next ranking appointment in government, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF). I have learnt from several sources that many well-meaning Nigerians, including the charismatic pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly, Tunde Bakare, urged President Buhari to appoint an Igbo SGF, but President Buhari vehemently refused. Instead, he appointed someone from the North East.
Former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, once told me that he personally appealed to President Buhari to pay attention to the tripodal nature of the Nigerian state and ensure that the Igbo are accommodated at the highest levels of his government in order to ensure the stability of the polity. How well Buhari has done in that regard is clear for everyone to see.
Beyond top office of government, President Buhari has not paid sufficient attention to the South East, neither has he pursued an inclusive policy since his assumption of duty. His attitude towards the Igbo has ranged from indifference, contempt to irritation and even anger. I recall, how, during the first presidential media chat he had, he bristled at a question on Igbo marginalisation. His response reeked of barely constrained anger. Immediately after that interview, I called his official spokesperson, Mr. Femi Adesina and asked him why they allowed the President to exhibit his angst with the Igbo so publicly. My argument then was, and still is, that the president of a country is the leader of the whole country and not just the leader of the political party in power. Even though the Igbo may not have voted for him, that doesn’t justify his attitude towards them for the simple reason that the president is the father of the whole country.
Once a president is elected, he transcends party and every Nigerian has a right to be fairly treated and be fully accommodated, and enjoy all the rights and rewards of citizenship.
It is indeed very sad that the relationship between the Igbo and the APC is in such a sorry state. The tendency by many APC partisans is to blame the Igbo and accuse them of not liking President Buhari. Evidently, there may be some merit in that argument. But the matter should be taken holistically. I still do not believe that the Igbo hate President Buhari personally. What I think is that the political preferences of the Igbo and that of the president do not converge. That does not make the Igbo any less Nigerians. I also do not think that the APC has done as much as it should to woo the Igbo. Indeed, it would appear as if the party is contented with just being a South West and North East/North West political party. Sometimes the body language of some of the party’s leaders tend to suggest that they regard other members of the party, especially those from the South East and South South, as meddlesome interlopers; people to be barely tolerated and not to be trusted with sensitive leadership positions. The position of the South South is even better than that of the South East, at least the National Chairman of the party is from the zone, while it also boasts of other top notch political appointees in government. The highest ranking person in the APC from the South East is the National Organising Secretary, while the only meaningful positions the zone occupies is that of Foreign Minister – a position manned by a faceless Igbo man – and the Ministry of Trade and Investment.
It is curious that the APC does not see anything wrong with a situation where, of the over 100 strategic parastatals in the country, no Igbo man is heading any. Even those who occupied such positions before the advent of this administration were summarily removed, some of them unlawfully, like the former head of PENCOM, Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, who was removed without due process.
Many other issues have arisen in the last four years to worsen the relationship between the APC and the Igbo. It was therefore, not surprising that during the last general election, the APC performance among the Igbo was even poorer than in 2015. At least in 2015, the APC could boast of one state in the zone. It is no longer so.
One would have expected that the result would have jolted the APC into reappraising it’s relationship with the Igbo. Sadly and shockingly, it does not appear to be so. Instead, top leaders of the party, by their actions and comments, appear to be even worsening the matter. As the old management theory says, “when you are in a hole, stop digging”.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as if the APC leadership is interested in adopting that theory. So it has continued to dig itself deeper and deeper into the mud.
Recently, the National Chairman of the party, the loquacious Adams Oshiomhole, announced that the party has shared its National Assembly offices once again, between the North and the South West. According to him, the North East will produce the Senate President while the South West will produce the speaker of the House of Reps. Many political commentators and Igbo leaders who feel affronted by this situation confronted the APC leadership and demanded that the Igbo should be reflected in the positions. But Oshiomhole’s response was very telling. He said that if the Igbo wanted positions in the APC, they would have thought twice about supporting the APC. In other words, because PDP did better than the APC in the East, Igbo members of the APC should not be entitled to prime positions.
It is amazing that the chairman of a national political party can talk like this. It is even more amazing that the APC appears not to have learnt anything from its past. How can a national political party discountenance a major ethnic nationality of over 40 million people, so casually? It is very strange.
The APC is like a groom while the Igbo are like a bride. Any groom that is desirous of the attention of the bride usually does whatever is necessary to woo that bride. But apparently, the APC is not interested in the Igbo, which will invalidate its claim of being a national political party. As Rochas Okorocha said, the party stands a real risk of becoming a tribal group of some Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba members, and that is sad.
Today, APC is in power, but the lesson of history is that nothing lasts forever. Another election cycle will soon come and the APC will return to the Igbo to seek for votes. It will be interesting to know what they will tell them. Indeed, APC’s indifference and even hostility to the Igbo has become very worrisome because it has exacerbated the fault lines in the country. Sometimes pitting some sections against the other.
Nigeria has always been a complex country with different ethnic nationalities contending for supremacy. Political parties and governments have often managed the situation adroitly to preserve national unity. Sadly, the APC government has failed to follow this precept and has in the process created widening gulfs in the peace, national cohesion and unity of the country. As a result, such divisiveness has certainly become more pronounced in the last four years, more than at any other time in history. And the reason is simple: the political party in power appears to have made ethnic division and prejudice, the cornerstone of governance either wittingly, or unwittingly. That is tragic and may yet have calamitous consequences for the future.