Your Excellency, it is my privilege to send you this confidential memo. Ironically I have to send it through the public space, because the issues I am writing about are of common concern. Let me congratulate you for your performance in the last media chat. Contrary to the views that some have expressed, I actually think that you did rather well, especially for one that is not noted for being an eloquent public speaker. You demonstrated a grasp of the issues and authority. In other words, you were very presidential. You had the aura of power and you exuded authority. I was impressed and I do think that you should do more media chats. You will increasingly become more comfortable with journalists and their probing questions.
Nevertheless, there are three areas where I have serious concerns. Other commentators have spoken about these areas, but there is one in particular which is very serious, and that is the issue of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu and the Igbo. It is for this that I’m sending you this memo.
I’m deeply worried by your relationship with the Igbo. That relationship is really non-existent; and what little there is deteriorates by the day. I do not think it is good for you as President of Nigeria, and certainly not good for the unity and progress of Nigeria. The feeling in the Igbo country is that you are not happy with the Igbo. Indeed, there appears to be no love lost between you and the Igbo.
The Igbo feel that you are not favourably disposed to them and that you have never really been favourably disposed to them. And because they did not vote for you in the last election and even in the previous ones, you have become even more resolute in this your attitude towards them.
Of course all these may not be true, but as General Domkat Bali once told me, ‘’in life, it is not always the truth that matters, it is what people believe to be the truth’’. The truth, Your Excellency, is that the Igbo in Nigeria do not feel that you have their back. Wittingly or unwittingly, you have not done much to disabuse their minds. The Presidential Media Chat offered an ample opportunity for you to douse the tension brewing in the Igbo country and reassure them. Sadly sir, you did not seize the moment, rather you stoked the flame of this dysfunctional relationship. When one of the interviewers pointed out to you that the Igbo feel marginalised you asked him, with barely restrained irritation; ‘’Who is marginalising them? ‘’
You may have a point sir, but with due respect, I do not think it was properly made. To begin with, the Igbo constitute about 30 per cent of the total population of the country, meaning that there are over 40 million Igbos in Nigeria.
That population is more than the entire population of many countries in the world. Igbos live everywhere in Nigeria, and constitute a sizable percentage of entire Nigerian population. You are the President of Nigeria, the father of the Nigerian nation, and that means you are the father of Igbos as well as the father of Hausas, Yorubas, Ijaws and other ethnic nationalities. As a father, it is wrong and unacceptable to show a bias against any of your children for whatever reasons.
No matter what you feel about the Igbo rightly or wrongly, there is no way you will succeed as President without carrying them along. Indeed, no one in Nigeria can succeed as President with a manifest bias against any of the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, especially a major ethnic nationality like the Igbo.
You cited statistics of appointments to buttress your point that you are not marginalising Igbos. With due respect sir, your statistics did not make the point, if anything, it validates the case being made by Igbos against your administration. In the history of democracy in Nigeria, no administration has appointed fewer number of Igbos into high positions as your administration. At the last count sir, you have not appointed one single Igbo to head a national parastatal, except Ibe Kachikwu from Delta State as head of NNPC. You only appointed Igbo ministers to fulfil the constitutional requirement that there should be a minister from each state of the federation. The argument in the Southeast is that if not for the constitutional requirement, you may not have appointed any Igbo at all into your cabinet. The National Assembly approved 16 Special Advisers for you, I am not aware that you have named one Igbo to any of those positions. In the appointment and redeployment of permanent secretaries, Igbos were poorly treated. Many of their permanent secretaries were posted to the Office of the Head of Service or Secretary to the Government, while juicy parastatals were given to permanent secretaries from other parts of the country. Please sir, ask for the statistics and you will surely be shocked.
It is seven months now since you were elected into office as President. You have visited various parts of the country, I’m not aware that you have visited the Southeast. You may not be aware of this, but there is a belief in the Igbo country that you may not even visit the Southeast within your first one year in office!
Indeed sir, it is quite possible that all these may just be a subtle coincidence. You are an honest man, a man of honour and integrity. I can also attest to the fact that you are a true patriot who loves his country. It is therefore ironical that someone with such strong moral stature can now be charged with ethnic bias. Perhaps something went amiss in the dynamics of your relationship with the Igbo?
As a leader, it is part of your core duties to find solutions to problems, including that of amity between various parts of the country and the leadership of the country.
As President, it is incumbent on you to initiate rapprochement with the Southeast.
It is not for the Igbo to do so. In science, the stronger solution draws the weaker solution. Today you are the President and so you are the stronger solution. You won the election on the platform of change and inherent in that platform is a need to change the way things are done in the country, and inter-ethnic relations in the country should form a strong part of that change agenda.
The fact is that we cannot make any progress if we do not have communal harmony. The disquiet in the Igbo country is growing alarmingly dangerous. This is not a time for righteous indignation and my counsel would be for you to be a statesman. Throughout history, those who succeeded in leadership and emerged as statesmen are those who mustered the courage and strength of character to walk the narrow road of peace and unity. That was the road Anwar Sadat walked in Egypt, the road Yitzhak Rabin walked in Israel, the road Martin Luther King walked in the US and that was the road Nelson Mandela walked in South Africa. In all these instances, any of these leaders could have chosen to walk the familiar road; the road of ethnic jingoism, of hate and prejudices, but the lesson of history sir, is that this road often leads to failure.
It is often argued by some that Igbos do not have any reason to feel marginalised.On the surface such an argument may even be correct, but in fact it is wrong, and does not mean much because the truth is that many Igbos feel marginalised. As Professor Wole Soyinka said recently, the correct approach to adopt in resolving the brewing ethnic tension is to find a creative means of making Igbos to feel part and parcel of the Nigerian state. Perhaps, because you were on the other side during the Civil War, you may not understand the trauma the Civil War had on the Igbo and how it has affected their psyche. The truth is that the Igbo feel victimised, marginalised and vulnerable and may have developed a persecution complex. The challenge of leadership in this regard is to reassure them and find means of ensuring that they are fully integrated within the Nigerian society. Any approach that jettisons this and embraces further marginalisation wittingly and unwittingly, risks recreating the scenario that led to the unfortunate civil war. No society can develop and succeed when any of its constituent part is alienated or estranged. Lessons abound internationally to validate this position. So I earnestly urge you to reconsider your views on the Igbo and your policy towards the Southeast. If you do that sir, it will surely enhance your administration and establish your place in history and ensure your statesmanship. I’m aware of the fact that there may be those within your administration and even outside, who may want to adopt hard-line positions and say ‘’to hell with the Igbo’’. Be rest assured that such people are wrong and will inevitably fail. The onus is on you Mr President, to shape your legacy.