The victory of General Mohamed Buhari in the last Presidential elections has generated various reactions. Some of them have been predictable, while some have been outlandish. However, the reaction I find most puzzling is the one targeting the Igbo as poor losers, people who have put themselves in a tight corner and jeopardized their future by making a fatal error in their choice of President Jonathan over Buhari. No sooner was the result of the Presidential election announced, than this narrative exploded in various public and private fora. “The Igbo”, according to numerous public commentators, “ have dug their political grave; how can they back a loser? They should have known better than to support Jonathan”.
But is it really true that the Igbo miscalculated by voting for Jonathan? Obviously, the answer is No! Fundamentally, elections are matters of choice. So at the most basic level, one can simply say that the Igbo have an inalienable right to choose anyone to vote for. In this instance, they happen to have chosen President Jonathan, simple. It is their right. I don’t think it is acceptable for anyone to hold them to ransom for making that choice. There is an old maxim that in a democracy, the people should be allowed the wisdom or stupidity of choosing their own leaders. In other words, whether you see such choice as an act of crass stupidity, political naivety or inspired wisdom, does not really matter. The right to choose is at the heart of the democratic ethic. Any attempt, no matter how well meaning, to either circumscribe or micro manage such choices, negates the true essence of democracy.
However, let me also admit that in spite this eternal truth, it is still valid for public commentators, especially journalists, to examine the dialectics of the Igbo choice and it’s implications for the evolution of democracy in our country. It is on this premise that i am engaging in the discussion.
One of the most ennobling decisions the Igbo have made in recent history, was their decision to plumb for Jonathan, both in the 2011 Presidential elections and the recently concluded one. The reasons are crystal clear. Of course i am aware that some Nigerians are genuinely puzzled by it. I recall that in 2011, before the Presidential elections, former President Ibrahim Bbangida had asked me, “Emeka, what do the Igbo want? I will appoint an Igbo vice Presidential candidate and hand over to him by 2015.” I considered the matter carefully before answering.”Sir, the Igbo do not want the Vice Presidential ticket.” “So what do they want?”He asked. “They want to vote for Jonathan.” He was puzzled. Indeed, it is easy to understand the confusion of those who do not appreciate the decision of the Igbo to vote for Jonathan. They do not understand the Igbo. They also do not understand or appreciate the burden of the Igbo. Simply put, the Igbo are a people who fought a war to break out of the Nigerian union, lost that war, were forced back into the union and have perceived themselves as being victimised by the Nigerian state, in various subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, as punishment for daring to carry arms against their country. This reality is at the core of the Igbo psyche and often defines his responses to the socio-political and even economic exigencies of Nigeria. The decision to support Jonathan by the Igbo was purely emotional. Even though Jonathan is not Igbo, many Igbos see him as a kinsman. No amount of political pragmatism and pursuit of strategic interest could have made it more expedient to pass over your kinsman for anyone else. No other group of Nigerians have ever really done that. In 1979, the North voted massively for their sons- Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim and Mallam Aminu Kano. In 1983, they chose Shagari. In both instances, the South/West voted overwhelmingly for Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In 1993, they also voted for Chief MKO Abiola. In 1999, the South/ West voted for their son, Chief Olu Falae. In 2003, the South/West political party gave up its right to present a Presidential candidate and adopted President Olusegun Obasanjo, fearing that not doing so would enable Buhari to win. In all the four elections he has run including the recent one, the North West and North East always voted for Buhari. So why would the Igbo not vote for the only Easterner in post war history, who stood a credible chance of winning a Presidential election? And there are other issues in between.
By Prince Emeka Obasi
To be cont’d.
To be cont’d.