This is an opinion piece by Fred Ebo Eghobor.
The collapse of the Aburi accord in January 1967 led to the Nigerian civil war that resulted in over a million Biafran civilian deaths, mostly from starvation. After two years and six months of conflict, the Federal government prevailed, and Biafra surrendered—an inevitable end to a struggle in which the two sides were unevenly matched. In the aftermath of the surrender, Gowon made a “No victor and no vanquished” proclamation to heal the battered Biafran wounds, allowing peaceful restoration of the Ibos into the Nigeria republic.
It was hoped that the end of the war and call for unity would usher in a new era of common destiny. Sadly, events in the last 50 years following the war have made Gowon’s declaration a mere rhetorical effort rather than a matter-of-fact statement. Among the Igbos, there is a general feeling of alienation and unfairness due to North-South political hegemony. Rightly so. For instance, Nigeria has had ten heads of state and presidents since the end of the civil war, and none has been Ibo.
I am not a proponent of a rotational presidency. I would rather that the most qualified citizen, irrespective of tribe, was entrusted with the country’s leadership. But if we insist on a rotational Presidency (as currently appears to be the case between the North and South), no segment of the country should be sidelined.
Advocacy for the Ibo presidency at the moment does not suggest that it is a panacea to the Nigerian problem or that it will usher in a new era; I am only addressing fairness in our body politic. The endless agitation for the Biafran republic should not be dismissed as mere rantings of troublemakers. Instead, it should be seen in the context of a well-founded fear of a people who have witnessed, first-hand, the chasm in the country’s political power-sharing of the post-war period.
The Ibos’ frustration is self-evident, and the need for an Ibo presidency is even more compelling now than at any time in our nation’s history. Under normal circumstances, this would not be an issue.
For instance, Paul Kagame, Rwandan president, has held office since 2000. Kagame (from a minority Tutsi tribe) took over a country in ruins following a genocide that resulted in an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus massacre. Yet, in Rwanda, not many care about Kagame’s tribe because of his record of performance. Kigali, the capital city, is the envy of the world. Rwanda has become a pacesetter and a model of stability and economic progress in Africa. Rwanda has no oil, but it has visionary leadership that has leveraged its limited resources to transform a once failed state into an epitome of beauty, progress, and decency. This feat did not come through rotational presidency but by responsible governance and the people’s collective will. In the election of 2017, Paul Kagame was re-elected president with 99% of the vote.
The situation is different in Nigeria. The country is being gradually, inexorably dismantled by inept and corrupt leadership. A nation with vast resources (both human and material) has become emblematic of how a country ought not to be. Every subsequent leader tells hapless citizens how it will be great tomorrow, but, sadly, every successive regime turns out to be worse than the previous. As a result, there is increased cynicism and a progressively unhappy citizenry.
It is trite to say that Nigeria has not lived up to its founding promise–it is more than that. We have witnessed, since independence, a supreme failure in every aspect. Like a black hole, the politicians, rather than constructively engaging in the daily grind of running the country, are sucking in the nation’s resources and giving nothing back.
The last time I visited home, I saw a pitiful sight of a country with a past but without a future. Leaders (past and present) have plundered the resources without any goodwill toward their fellow men. The wall separating the haves and the have-not is impregnable. Worse, the security situation is despicable, roads in a deplorable state, a nation almost in perpetual darkness, and a healthcare system that is one of the worst in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Sadly, many people go into politics and religion for the wrong reasons—for a country in dire need of rescue. It reminds me of Willie Sutton, a famous bank robber, of whom Sutton’s law was named. When asked by a reporter why he robbed the banks, Sutton said, “Because that’s where the money is.” Pastors hide behind the mask of spirituality to exploit desperate citizens. Afflicted by so much suffering, the majority anchor their hopes on religion and seek spiritual leaders who speak freely of miracles as a shortcut to success and relief from grinding poverty.
The recent End Sars riot is a testament to the misery across the land and a signal of what’s to come if the status quo remains. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”
Is there any flicker of hope? Maybe. It all depends on whether there’s a collective desire to acknowledge our failures and make a conscious effort to start anew. Only when Nigeria frees itself from the unhealthy and overpowering influence of money, greed, and godfatherism (in our political system) can we hope for a new social, economic, and political dispensation.
While in the short term, I advocate an Ibo presidency due to political expediency, in the long run, Nigeria should seek visionary leadership. It behooves the citizenry to take their destinies into their hands. They should have an open mind choosing who should lead them and not get sucked in the vortex of ethnic parochial chauvinism. We must move beyond the “this is my tribesman” mentality and have a national mindset. Only then may we hope for a better future that we covet.
Moreover, Nigeria must transcend over-reliance on oil and explore other frontiers. Many Arab countries have realized that oil is not a renewable resource and are considering other areas of sustainability. I was recently in Dubai and was amazed at its breathtaking development; how the government has transformed a desert into a wonderland—to make it one of the world’s greatest destination places. Nigeria can learn from countries like United Arab Emirates, Rwanda, and many others.
Nigerians deserve better!
Fred Eghobor is an Edo State indigene, based in Canada; he is the Author of two books.