By OBINNA EZUGWU
On Joe Igbokwe’s Facebook wall are several articles promoting and defending President Muhammadu Buhari, and at the same time, lashing out at those opposed to the president. His latest is a diatribe against Mr. Dayo Adeyeye, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) National Publicity Secretary who he described as “low, timid and crude.”
In another, he insists that his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) must do all it takes to win the upcoming governorship election in his home state, Anambra.
As the Publicity Secretary of Lagos APC, Igbokwe punches beyond his weight. His tirades resonate across the nation, and he has been at it for a relatively long time.
It was 2013 and the then governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola had dumped hundreds of Igbo ‘destitute’ at Onitsha head-bridge in Anambra State. It was an act that triggered a series of angry backlash from the Igbo community at home and in the Diaspora. On social media, the Igbo and the Yoruba were at each other.
At the thick of the controversy, two Igbo sons: Dr Chris Ngige, then senator representing Anambra Central zone and Mr Igbokwe who doubled as General Manager of the Lagos State Infrastructure & Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA), and publicity secretary of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) came out in defence of Fashola, insisting that his action was justified. Both men were strong members of then ACN. The former had been elected senator on its platform, the later was appointed by the ACN government in 2006.
In a well circulated article, Igbokwe said there was no way Lagos government would accept influx of beggars from all over the country, and that for those deported, it was for their own good.
“Most of these people picked up are mentally retarded, terribly abused, sexually dehumanized, hungry, weak, and memory lost. What Lagos does is to pick them up and take them to rehabilitation centres,” he wrote.
“Some of them after recovery may decide to engage themselves by joining skill acquisition centres we have all over Lagos, some may decide to join their kits and kin in their States of origin. After interrogations and investigations those willing to go are taken to a central place close to their towns to find their way.”
But on the contrary, most of those affected said they were forcefully picked up and deported against their will. As expected, both men attracted anger and commendation, depending on which side of the divide one was in the argument.
Fashola would eventually put the matter to rest by apologising, but it had telling impacts on the political lives of both individuals. Ngige’s position contributed greatly in costing him his senatorial seat in 2015…he had been a popular political figure prior, beating the late Prof Dora Akunyili to the Senate in 2011, but his fortunes dwindled rapidly after his remarks on the deportation.
For Igbokwe, it helped to shoot him up to national limelight, and to cement the part he has chosen…the part of a crusader, a campaigner for whatever he believes is in his interest. And when such interest collided with that of his Igbo ethnic group, he never hesitated to protect the former, and berate the latter.
He has established himself largely as anti Igbo, or simply anti any interest that does not promote his own political or personal interest. He has not looked back, and fortune, it must be said, has smiled on him.
As a crusader, it is hard to pin Igbokwe down to any particular beliefs or principles. His, it seems, changes with new realities. He had started his life as an activist in the 90s first by highlighting the marginalisation his Igbo ethnic group suffered in Nigeria, which according to him, had continued since the end of the civil war in 1970. And second by aligning with the famous NADECO movement formed in the aftermath of the June 12 debacle.
He spoke out loudly and vigorously campaigned against that unfortunate cancellation of 1993 election. He stood firmly against political injustice, and was all for the restoration of MKO Abiola’s mandate. The prevailing political opinion within the NADECO rank at the time was restructuring and true federalism. Igbokwe was all for it and spoke for it with as much vigour as he demanded that Abiola be allowed to govern.
In 1995, he wrote his first book, titled “Igbos: 25 Years After Biafra,” a book described as being “of mediocre quality” and its analysis as “a wash,” by seasoned writer and lecturer, Obi Nwakama. But Nwakama admits that the book did its job of putting across the message he intended to pass… the message of Igbo marginalisation. The book must have done well financially too, for Igbokwe said he became a millionaire after its launch.
NADECO birthed the Pro Democracy movement which later metamorphosed into the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Igbokwe was part of it all. He was discovered by the new sheriff of South West politics, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and it has been a rollercoaster ride.
In 2006, Tinubu made him pioneer General Manager of LASIMRA. That same year, he became the Publicity Secretary of Lagos Action Congress. A job he has kept even as the party changed to Action Congress of Nigeria and now All Progressive Congress (APC). Having spent over 10 years at LASIMRA, in 2015, the new Lagos governor, Akinwumi Ambode moved him to Wharf Landing Fees Collecting Authority Apapa where he now serves as chairman.
But Igbokwe is rarely known for his job at Apapa. He largely made his name as publicity secretary who speaks what he believes to be the mind of his employers. He has been very successful at it, and according to him, it has “opened the doors of the rich and poor… opened the inner ways, byways, subways, expressways and highways to the corridors of power in Nigeria.”
With his success, he admits, came new beliefs. He began to see the world differently. Whilst not much has changed with regards to the marginalisation of the Igbo in Nigeria, which was the subject of his book in 1995, Igbokwe no longer thinks it is necessary to talk about it. He has made his money, he is comfortable and as far as he is concerned perhaps, the marginalisation of the Igbo is no longer a big deal.
“He no longer believes Igbo marginalisation is an issue because of what he has gained from Lagos which the Igbo could not offer him,” notes Chidibere Anthony, an Abuja based legal practitioner. “He is indirectly seeking national relevance through the aforementioned propaganda.”
Igbokwe stood for political justice during his budding years in the 90s. He stood for equity, equality and importantly, he stood for true federalism. But today, he writes long articles to justify the marginalisation of the Igbo by Buhari because according to him, those who didn’t vote for the president deserves no justice, no equity and no equality. The talk of restructuring, for him, may also have largely become the talk of opposition.
“He is a person who has sold his conscience and personality for a morsel of porridge,” says Lagos based lawyer and analyst, Mr Ikechukwu Ikeji. “He speaks for his stomach.”
One cannot help but notice the contradictions in Igbokwe’s character. While the Buhari administration has relentlessly worked to undermine Tinubu, his boss, he does not seem to care either out of sheer ignorance of the prevailing political atmosphere, or he is angling for a new boss in Buhari.
It is common knowledge that Tinubu has been shut out of the government he worked so hard to enthrone. While the former governor’s boys in the media have largely turned against the president whose administration many say, has fallen short of expectations, Igbokwe sees no evil and hears no evil. For him the only truth is what Buhari’s spokesmen put out as ‘statements’. If a scandal is unraveled, he insists that everyone must wait for the “official” position of government for therein exists the only truth.
“Igbokwe is not a character that should be taken seriously,” argues Bar Okey Ilofulunwa, former secretary-general, Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga. “He doesn’t have enough grasp of issues.”
About the Igbo nonetheless, he still accepts somewhat that they are still marginalised. In a recent interview with online medium, Sahara Reporters, he said: “Yes, Igbo have been marginalized in Nigeria since the end of the Civil War in 1970. It is a deliberate, systemic, and strategic marginalization.”
But it no longer pays him to make the marginalisation an issue. For it seems the only crusade worth his while is one that will directly or indirectly improve his income.