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Both the ANPP and the faction of APGA which held the majority of southeastern, Igbo members were merely bit players and backbenchers who were taken on board to fulfil all righteousness and fill in the numbers at the time because of the growing crises in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the time. When the positions were shared amongst the majority member-regions, that reality became even more obvious. The South-South produced the National Chairman, while the North produced the National Secretary. Even then, it was clearly implied that the presidential candidate of the party would come from the North. The Southeast and South-South did not benefit very much from top offices within the APC. When the presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the party emerged, it followed the predicted pattern of the North producing the president and the South West producing the vice president.
In the election, the support for the party followed the same trajectory. The APC drew the bulk of its support from the North and the South West, while the PDP retained its formidable presence in the Southeast and South-South. The result of that election created a very challenging situation for the two zones. Many commentators within the APC read the party’s poor performance in the two zones as a rebuff of its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. Understandably, they were not pleased. The situation was worsened by the overtly polarised nature of the campaigns. Many of the supporters of the two leading candidates, the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and the then opposition candidate, Buhari, were very emotional in expressing their support. This was especially so among the Igbo. Many Igbo saw President Jonathan as a son of the soil who deserved their support. Jonathan was the first person from the old Eastern Nigeria to govern the country. As a result, many from the zone were very passionate in supporting him. The same passion was also evident in the response of the Igbo to the Jonathan candidacy. Increasingly, Jonathan had become a very emotional rallying point for many Igbo who went as far as dubbing him ‘Azikiwe.’ But it was not just a question of emotional response. There were also other political reasons why the Southeast and Igbos in other regions were so effusive in their support of Jonathan.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, the Southeast had been a catchment area for the PDP and some other political parties. It was only in 2003 that Anambra State, largely due to the influence of the late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, ousted the PDP government in favour of APGA. The situation is similar in the South-South. Apart from Edo State, which in 2007, chose a candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole in a highly contentious gubernatorial election that was only decided by the Supreme Court, all the States of the South-South had always chosen the PDP. So, that was what brought forth the situation where a zone that is dominated by the PDP, was put in a position to choose between President Jonathan and General Buhari. Its preference was predictable.
Nigeria has always functioned on the basis of a tripod wherein the three major ethnic groups shared strategic positions in the country. This arrangement subsisted until the unfortunate outbreak of the Nigerian-Biafran war. It is remarkable that less than a decade after the war, the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari returned to this practice. Dr. Alex Ekwueme was elected, alongside Alhaji Shagari in 1979, as the Vice President of Nigeria. Many had expected that since the APC, had allocated the presidency and his vice to the North and South-West, the strategic office of senate president would be allocated to the East. This was the initial sharing formula which the APC adopted. However, that was not to be because the APC did not produce any senator from the South East. In the circumstances, the party had no choice than to pick the Senate President from another zone. It was only by a stroke of fortune that the Igbos got in on the act through the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as the Deputy Senate President in the historic alliance between a faction of the APC and the PDP in the senate. Ekweremadu thus, emerged by default, as the highest ranking Igbo man in the government of President Buhari during his first tenure. One of the glaring reasons for President Buhari’s angst with Senator Bukola Saraki was the inclusion of Senator Ekweremadu and the PDP in the leadership of the National Assembly. President Buhari was said to have felt embittered by that fact.
Having lost the opportunity to produce the President of the Senate, one had expected that the APC government would give to the Igbo, the next ranking appointment in government, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF). Many well-meaning Nigerians, including the Pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly, Tunde Bakare, urged President Buhari to appoint an Igbo SGF, but President Buhari vehemently refused. Instead, he appointed someone from the North East.
Beyond the top office of government, President Buhari and the APC have not paid sufficient attention to the Southeastern region, neither has he pursued an inclusive policy since his assumption of duty. His attitude towards the Igbo has ranged from indifference, contempt to irritation, and even anger and bitterness. and even anger and bitterness. It is indeed very sad that the relationship between the Igbo and the APC is in such a sorry state. The tendency by many APC partisans is to blame the Igbo and accuse them of not liking President Buhari. Evidently, there may be some merit in that argument. But the matter should be taken holistically.
To any close observer, the APC has shown that it has no place or structure for the Igbos and it is utterly sad to see Igbo leaders who are supposed to be looked up to still campaigning for the party, joining them and upholding her useless notions. This shows how these Igbo leaders have been reduced to ordinary sycophants and servants in a party where they are supposed to have an equal say and organisation in. Indeed, it would appear as if the party is contented with just being a South West and North East/North West political party. Sometimes the body language of some of the party’s leaders tend to suggest that they regard other members of the party, especially those from the Southeast as meddlesome interlopers; people to be barely tolerated and not to be trusted with sensitive leadership positions. The position of the South-South is even better than that of the Southeast, at least the National Chairman of the party is from the zone, while it also boasts of other top notch political appointees in government. The highest ranking person in the APC from the Southeast is the National Organising Secretary, while the only meaningful positions the zone occupies is that of Foreign Minister – a position manned by a faceless Igbo man – and the Ministry of Trade and Investment.
It is curious that the APC does not see anything wrong with a situation where, of the over 100 strategic parastatals in the country, no Igbo man is heading any. Even those who occupied such positions before the advent of this administration were summarily removed, some of them unlawfully, like the former head of PENCOM, Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, who was removed without due process. Many other issues have arisen in the last four years to worsen the relationship between the APC and the Igbo. It was therefore, not surprising that during the last general election, the APC performance among the Igbo was even poorer than in 2015. At least in 2015, the APC could boast of one state in the zone. It was no longer so.
One would have expected that the result would have jolted the APC into reappraising it’s relationship with the Igbo. Sadly and shockingly, the reverse is the case. Instead, top leaders of the party, by their actions and comments, appear to be even worsening the matter. As the old management theory says, ‘when you are in a hole, stop digging.’ Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as if the APC leadership is interested in adopting that theory. So it has continued to dig itself deeper and deeper into the mud and these Igbo leaders are seeing these events and are still trying to prove that the Igbos are actually the ones at fault.
Recently, Adams Oshiomhole one of the former bigwigs of the party, announced that for the future, the party has shared its National Assembly offices once again, between the North and the South-West. According to him, the North-East will produce the Senate President while the South-West will produce the speaker of the House of Reps. Many political commentators and other Igbo leaders felt affronted by this situation and confronted the APC leadership and demanded that the Igbo should be reflected in the positions. But Oshiomhole’s response was very telling. He said that if the Igbo wanted positions in the APC, they would have thought twice about supporting the APC. In other words, because PDP did better than the APC in the East, Igbo members of the APC should not be entitled to prime positions. It is amazing that an APC bigwig like Adams Oshiomhole can talk like this. It is even more amazing that the APC appears not to have learnt anything from its past. How can a national political party discountenance a major ethnic nationality of over 40 million people, so casually? It is very strange.
Nigeria has always been a complex country with different ethnic nationalities contending for supremacy. Political parties and governments have often managed the situation adroitly to preserve national unity. Sadly, the APC government has failed to follow this precept and has in the process created widening gulfs in the peace, national cohesion and unity of the country. As a result, such divisiveness has certainly become more pronounced in the last four years, more than at any other time in history. And the reason is simple: the political party in power appears to have made ethnic division and prejudice, the cornerstone of governance either wittingly, or unwittingly. That is tragic and may yet have calamitous consequences for the future.
Today, APC is in power, but the lesson of history is that nothing lasts forever. Another election cycle will soon come and the APC will return to the Igbo to seek for votes. It will be interesting to know what they will tell them. Indeed, APC’s indifference and even hostility to the Igbo has become very worrisome because it has exacerbated the fault lines in the country. The earlier these Igbo leaders realise the grave mistakes they are making, the better it would be for them.
THE EASTERN UPDATES