After the infamous Python Dance lI that led to the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, which put the Igbo on edge, you may be thinking that President Muhammadu Buhari would leave them in the cold, right?
Well, you may be wrong because government under the watch of President Buhari has tapped ex-Biafran soldiers in south eastern Nigeria for compensation benefits in excess of N50 billion.
That the good gesture is being extended after over 50 years of the civil war that lasted for 30 months and killed an estimated two million people (mostly lgbo), is quite remarkable and therefore raising eyebrows.
But government watchers were curious only to the extent that a retired army officer, Bala Yakubu, whose firm, Deminers Concept Nig. Ltd., sued the Federal Government to the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS) Court on behalf of victims of the war, and will be benefiting from the largesse through the award of N38 billion worth of contract to clear the war zone of unexploded ordinances.
But what might have escaped the radar of politicians and Nigerians in general, is that government might have seized the opportunity created by the ECOWAS Court case to embark on peace building with the easterners that have been dancing to the drum beat of secession being played by the now defunct lPOB-led by Nnamdi Kanu.
Perhaps the current unusual magnanimity towards the lgbo, who have been crying out about marginalisation since the end of the civil war 47 years ago, is part of the strategy of defrosting the icy relationship between President Buhari and easterners who gave him only five (or is it 3%) votes in 2015 presidential election and are assumed to be bearing the brunt of casting most of their votes for the candidate that lost the election.
Whatever the case may be, it is safe to conclude that with the 2019 election on the horizon, CHANGE is beginning to take hold in terms of politics of inclusiveness as opposed to exclusiveness, which was fuelling secessionist tendencies. The same government seems to have swept under the carpet through the action of the inglorious Operation Python Dance ll and the instrumentality of a controversial court ruling.
Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), David Oyegun, had put it crudely when a couple of months ago, he reportedly advised lgbo people to join the APC if they wanted to enjoy government patronage that would translate into prosperity.
But President Buhari is actualising the proposition of bringing back the lgbo into the mainstream (After mischievous Arewa youths served them quit notice) by turning on his charm in a bid to convert the lgbo into his burgeoning political family via good deeds.
The different approaches or strategies adopted in trying to get the lgbo to say yes to APC by the chairman of the ruling party and Mr. President suggests a sort of bad cop, good cop scenario playing out.
Whatever the case may be, it is worth recalling that it was Rochas Okorocha’s lmo State, where governorship election was inconclusive in 2015, so a re-run was called and APC literarily pulled the rabbit out of the hat to give then presidential candidate Buhari the infamous ‘five per cent’ votes of the lgbo, which helped him clinch the presidency.
Going by Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, without the lgbo’s ‘five per cent’ votes, which enabled then candidate Buhari to fulfil the requirement that compels a presidential candidate to secure 2/3rd majority of votes of all Nigerians across the national spectrum before being declared the winner of a presidential contest, candidate Buhari could have remained unelected as he had been even after winning estimated 12 million votes mainly from the core north in three previous elections.
By and large, the critical contribution that the paltry lgbo votes made to candidate Buhari’s electoral fortune compared to the estimated 24% that Kano voters brought to the table, is a typical case of when the less becomes the more.
But as it would appear, President Buhari might have considered only the face value of the five per cent votes, hence he reportedly felt not indebted to the lgbo but only beholden to the northern and to some extent the south west voters who cast the majority of votes for him.
That mindset probably informed the vile comment credited to President Buhari with respect to his plan to give unto the Igbo little government patronage that is proportional to the votes that he garnered from that zone.
Sadly, that is a narrative that has been giving fillip to the notion that the lgbo are being deliberately excluded from government and a circumstance which gave fervour to the quest for a referendum or separatism as propounded by Nnandi Kanu, whose whereabouts is now unknown.
It boggles the mind that in a society where perception can easily become reality, two and half years after the faux pax or Freudian slip by Mr. President in far away USA found its way into public lexicon and discuss, nothing seems to have been done to debunk or confirm the gaffe until a couple of days ago.
As a result, the whispers in the dark advanced from being mere conspiracy theory spurn by President Buhari’s competitors, to something like a statement of fact, which has been hanging over Aso Rock Villa and APC like an albatross.
Arising from the above, the charm offensive to deodorise the odious five per cent versus 97 commentary is not only timely, but also overdue.
Fortuitously, the recent correction of the seemingly erroneous impression that appointments into public office is skewed against the lgbo and tilted in favour of Hausa/Fulani, has been a positive turning point.
However, the correction of the widely held impression that the Hausa/Fulani are being favoured by President Buhari over other ethnic stock in Nigeria, rather than being a deliberately planned strategy to give clarity to misconceptions, happened accidentally.
This is because the Presidency was only reacting to a factually incorrect and hollow Business Day newspaper report, as opposed to addressing a public concern that has become a major blithe on the image of government.
In previous articles, l had wondered what made the Presidency so complacent, insensitive or arrogant not to apprise Nigerians of its thinking on the vexed issue of appointment into public offices, which had become a hot button matter that was irritating most Nigerians. In fact, l have even heard some northerners complain that President Buhari is favouring only Daura people. Ridiculous as such mindset may be, it deserves clarification with facts and figures to disabuse the minds of the unwary complainants and stop the author of the disinformation on the track.
Given the foregoing, what stopped Aso Rock from clearing up the mess generated by Mr. President’s unsavoury remark in over two and half years, you may wonder?
Thankfully, although extraneous circumstances have compelled Presidential Spokesman Femi Adesina to come up with some argument to debunk the notion, when put in the crucible of truth, the justification would not pass the test of equity. This is because he failed to put the whole scenarios in context and perspective as such he was only being clever by half.
For instance, it is commonsensical that all public offices are not equally strategic, prestigious or lucrative.
With the people occupying the office of the president, Senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives, secretary to the Federal Government (SFG) and all the military service chiefs-Army, Navy, Air force-as well as the Police not being from the lgbo stock in a country comprising of three major ethnic groups, of which the lgbo are a strategic part and parcel of the tripod, it can be disconcerting that no lgbo was deemed fit enough to occupy any of those offices.
So now that President Buhari is dangling the carrot ostensibly to harness or harvest the votes from the east to facilitate a win again for him or the party in 2019, would the rabbit’s passion for carrots; monkey love for Banana or chicken craving for corn and cat’s greed for fish and even bears liking honey make the lgbo take the bait?
It may be too early to tell, but suffice it to say that in a country where ‘stomach infrastructure’ (apologies to Babatunde Fashola, former Lagos State governor and now minister of works, power and housing) occupies prominent position in the electioneering process, anything can happen.
Already, President Buhari’s cabinet ministers from the east such as Chris Ngige, in charge of Labour and Productivity, Ogbonanya Onu, responsible for Science and Technology, who are ex governors and as such had grass root following are getting their campaign machines into overdrive in their bid to convince their people that the grass is greener on the APC side.
Similarly, Rochas Okorocha of lmo State, which is the only lgbo state controlled by APC in the east and Orji Uzor Kalu, former Abia State governor, who is a latter day APC convert and Buhari devotee, are also strutting the vast land of the lgbo stirring up positive emotions in the desperate bid to court ndi lgbo for President Buhari assuming he decides to seek re-election or for the APC candidate as the case may be.
None typical politicians like Foreign Affairs Minister, Geofrey Onyeama, and Trade, Commerce and Industries Minister Okechukwu Enelemah, who are originally from the private sector are also expected to weigh in with any clout that they can muster to get their boss or party re-elected as the ruling party.
Unfortunately, there are no lgbo heading influential or cash cow parastatals or agencies like Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigeria LNG Limited, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), amongst many other geese that lay the golden eggs to lend helping hands to the cabinet members from the east in the mission to capture the eastern votes.
But if President Buhari in pursuit of his proposed expansion of the federal cabinet and appointments into vacant board positions offers lucrative political appointments to more Igbo sons and daughters, and promises to construct the second Niger bridge, and rehabilitates the badly dilapidated roads in the east, APC and President Buhari may make more inroads into the east.
Such is the power of give and take, which is referred to in politics as horse-trading.
Ultimately, whether President Buhari or APC likes it or not, beginning with the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Anambra State, they will be facing a referendum of some sort.
A path which lPOB wanted to tow but not recognised by Nigerian Constitution.
The Anambra State gubernatorial election is a referendum of sorts because on that occasion the lgbo would be taking steps towards choosing whether to remain outsiders, which they seem to be now with the hope that one day a knight in shining armour would rescue and take them to another island where they will presumably be free, or allow themselves to be properly wooed like a bride and get integrated into the scheme of governance in Nigeria.
Trust me, what happens in Anambra on November 18, 2017 may be a window into the pattern of the general election in 2019.
The outcome of the recent local government election in Anambra State, which was swept by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates should be a pointer to the way the pendulum may swing in 2019 and therefore a wakeup call.
A similar situation is evolving in the USA where the democrats are crushing Republican Party candidates in the midterm election one year after the ascendancy of Donald Trump as the most controversial and polarising president America has ever had.
As a franchise holder of American presidential system of governance, would a similar scenario play out in Nigeria? Time will tell.
Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta State, sent this piece from Lagos.