A few days ago, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, the governor-elect of Anambra State, released the list of members of his transition committee. In that list were names of very distinguished Nigerian men and women from all walks of life and beyond the geography of Anambra State. The quality of the membership of that committee to be headed by Mrs Oby Ezekwesili has set the entire South-East buzzing for the right reasons. For many, Soludo even before being sworn in has offered a dizzying peep into what to expect from him as governor of arguably the most prominent state in Igboland. That Igbos were grinning from ear to ear after Soludo’s victory at the polls was not for no reasons.
The quality of governance and leadership in the South-East has dropped significantly at least in the past eight years and the evidence of the repercussions therefrom are littered all over the Igbo political ecosystem.
Clearly, this is not the best of times in Igboland of South-East Nigeria. A part of the country largely known to be one of the safest in the past has lately become one of the most dangerous places with its consequences on livability today. Instead of the famous buying and selling in the cities of Onitsha, Aba and Orlu, the amazing fabrication of motor spare parts and other technological effervescence in Nnewi, the cool and enlightened ambience of Enugu, the entertainment and jollying in Owerri, what obtains in the major cities of the South-East today is the destruction of lives and property. The orgy of violence started with the renewed agitation for a separate country by some young people, under the auspices of Indigenous People of Biafra headed by the fiery Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
When Kanu started out with his group, many people in Igboland were not bothered for a few reasons. First, their anger against the country Nigeria is mightily justified.
The kind of marginalisation or even outright neglect of the Southeast region in the governance of the country over the years is inexplicable. Since the civil war ended up until now, it is difficult to point at a few federal government presences anywhere in the region. To add to that, it was as if the system was stacked against the young people in the South-East. From the 80s many bright Igbo chaps (including Nnamdi Kanu) with high JAMB scores could not be accepted in any Nigerian university because of what Oby Ezekwesili as minister of education termed, the funneling syndrome. Unfortunately, there were even fewer federal institutions in the region, being part of the systemic marginalization. Thus, there were too many qualified candidates for limited admission spaces in universities. How do you expect to command loyalty from young Igbos in Nigeria when they saw that their 270 score in JAMB could not guarantee them admission in a Nigerian university of their choice while they watched their counterparts from other regions, especially, the North comfortably accepted with scores below 200? Even after managing to fight through school, the odds get even higher for them in securing jobs even against less qualified fellow citizens.
Perhaps, the second reason many Igbos did not pay attention to Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB group in the beginning was due to the fact that they were non-violent. To many, especially those who experienced the nastiness of the civil war, the young people were merely romanticizing with war. But all that changed when the Federal Government resorted to a very muscular response to these young people. As many of them began to be mowed down in scorched-earth military operations under a very intolerant Buhari government, it was a no-brainer that these young people became increasingly more agitated. When government decided against facts on the ground to declare IPOB a terrorist group, it appears that in conformity with the psychological theory of labeling, the group has apparently owned up to that identity. The South-East has thus degenerated to a war zone today with killings and destruction of both public and private property attributed to “unknown gunmen”. As government continues to point fingers at IPOB, the group has consistently insisted that it knows nothing about the attacks claiming that the government is using its security operatives to deploy violence in the South-East just to justify its tag of “terrorists” on them.
Yet, it is important to recognize that IPOB is not only fighting the Federal Government; it is against any form of constituted authority in the polity – be it state, local government or traditional authority. Beyond that, IPOB in a significant manner has become a metaphor for the failure of politics and political leadership particularly in the South-East. In any discourse on terrorism in the Northeast and the growing banditry across the Northwest, one factor that experts continuously highlight is the presence of large swathes of ungoverned spaces. In the case of the South-East, it is not difficult to see that what we have is the presence of ungoverned states, not spaces. The way IPOB has seized authority from the governors in the region, issuing orders and expecting compliance can only confirm this assertion. The governors appear powerless, helpless and clueless on how to confront the emergent security problems in their region beyond running to an even more clueless and vengeful Abuja.
When governors of other regions in the South were brainstorming on how to secure their peoples, what did the South-East governors do beyond mere hand-wringing and empty pronouncements? For example, the so-called Ebubeagu outfit they claimed to have set up to confront insecurity in their region only exists in their infertile imagination. Even in the larger forum of Southern governors, many of the South-East governors do not consider the Meeting important enough; they prefer to see it as an anti-Buhari gathering and would rather send their deputies anytime they meet probably to spy for Abuja. Indeed, the governors in Igboland today appear to be lacking in inspiration; they are diffident, vacuous and jejune in their policies. Yet, it is proper to clarify here that not all the governors are equally yoked. A couple of them from the old Anambra may not be as terrible as their other colleagues.
Whatever the governors are, they are products of the nascent Igbo politics.
Before the civil war, politics in Igboland was a nobble service which attracted decent men and women whose only goal was to improve the life chances of their people. It was not for the nouveau riche or people of questionable background as today. The Azikiwes, the Mbonu Ojikes, the Mbadiwes, the Okparas, the Akanu-Ibiams, the Ikokus, the Mokwugo Okoyes and their like were all great men of high intellect and integrity who stood for the interest of their people. Sadly, the civil war dealt a deadly blow the Igbo body politic. Although the brilliance of the oasis of men like Sam Mbakwe concealed greatly the negative impact of the civil war on Igbo politics during the interlude of the Second Republic, it did not take time for the decay to front-load in the quality of governance in the South-East since 1999.
Yes, there is this argument of how the Igbos quickly and admirably recovered from the devastation of the war and rebuilt their land as if the war was merely episodic. Even then, the question remains, at what cost? Our politics and society have been broken by that unjust war levied on our people. Before the war, Igbo value system was primarily based on honest hard-work, knowledge, and community spirit.
After the war the near absence of opportunities appeared to have driven our people to far flung places within and outside the country in search of lucre and survival lacking in the eastern landscapes. In this quest for survival, many Igbos ended up outside Igbo land doing all manner of businesses both dignified and undignified. Some of them even ended up as contractors supplying all manner of products when they are not pimps to big Alhajis and even sissies all in the name of succeeding. The way the immediate post-war Nigeria was organised, for an Igbo man to get any contract or big job from the Federal Government, he had to submit to the suzerainty of perhaps an influential northerner. It was that bad. And you must have heard Chief Arthur Eze for instance, justifying recently, his loyalty to the Northern establishment by claiming how all his wealth was by the grace of Northerners who favoured him with contracts.
This economic incarceration of the people of the South-East after the war has profound consequences on post-war Igbo politics, especially now. One of such consequences is the lack of autonomous capacity of Igbo politics. What this means is that many political decisions that will affect Igboland unfortunately are taken outside of Igboland. These decisions include who becomes governor of an Igbo state, who is appointed minister from Igboland and who represents Igbos at the senate, among others. I am sure you listened to how Senator Orji Uzo-Kalu said in an interview that General Babangida told him in 1999 that he wanted him to go to Abia State and become a governor. And only very recently, after Imo people had voted their choice of governor, the powers that be outside Igboland hiding under the judiciary disrobed them of their sovereignty and installed a governor they never voted for. These are just a few examples. But the most worrying consequence of this lack of autonomous capacity of Igbo politics in a democracy is that you now have governors, ministers and senators in Igboland who do not owe any loyalty to the people but to the external forces that propel them.
When last did you hear a governor in the South-East defending the interest of his people as Nyesom Wike daily defends the interests of Rivers people? How many Igbo ministers in President Buhari’s cabinet had lifted a voice over the unrest in their region? Instead, you will hear a governor questioning the right of a citizen who doesn’t own a car to ask question about a flyover being constructed with his tax money. You will also probably hear another governor recite repeatedly like catechism how the insecurity in his state is “an attempt to bring down the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.” Yet, another will bore you with stories of how he loves President Buhari and how they share a father and son relationship – forgetting that federalism is not a father-son relationship but a brother-brother relationship.
Lest we forget, Peter Obi did a fantastic job as governor of Anambra State and for sticking out his neck to serve only the interests of Anambra people he was “impeached” by the ‘bridgeheads’ working on the promptings of outside forces. He also stood his ground to ensure that Willie Obiano succeeded him as governor in line with the zoning principles of the state. Obiano can have all his sins forgiven for having the presence of mind to support a strong character like Chukwuma Soludo to take over from him. An inherently bad governor would rather have his son-in-law take over from him the way Rochas Okorocha planned in Imo State. But the story in Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia states in the past eight years reeks of near collapse and absence of governance. Is it, therefore, any surprise that Mazi Nnamdi Kanu has moved in to fill the vacancy of leadership existing in the South-East?
Yet, there is renewed hope in the South-East. Soludo is coming! Although elected to govern Anambra State, this great character is expected to provide leadership in the entire South-East by a domino effect. He is well educated; he is not one of the roughnecks that have been troubling our region. He knows his people and his people know him. He may not solve all the problems, but in Soludo, Anambra people have provided the entire Southeast the ground to rebuild its politics. In electing Soludo, Anambra is telling the entire South-East that background checks are necessary in choosing our governors, senators, and other representatives. Yes, it is important that those who present themselves for elective positions in the South-East going forward must show evidence of sound education and untarnished record of service in the public or private sector. Interestingly, many of those who contested the last Anambra gubernatorial election satisfied those conditions unlike in Imo State where the nondescript appear to be having a field day since Governor Achike Udenwa. And it is showing in the poorer quality of governance in the eastern heartland.
In 2009, I had a chance meeting with Professor Soludo when he ran for governor under the PDP. I told him in the office of the political adviser to the PDP national chairman that I would prefer to see him run for President. I went ahead to support his candidature then with a Guardian opinion piece titled Anambra: Who is afraid of good governance? Even today, I am asking in a more general sense, who is afraid of good governance in the South-East?
In a couple of months Soludo will be sworn in as the next governor of Anambra State. As he mounts the saddle, he must remember that he is carrying the hopes of not just Anambra people but the entire South-East region. He must equally understand that there are many cynics and naysayers lining the roadside and offering prayers and sacrifices for his failure if only to prove that good education and solid background alone are not sine qua non of good performance in government.
Prof Charles Chukwuma Soludo must disappoint all the roughneck politicians in the South-East and post an excellent performance. In doing so, he would be laying the foundation for the rebuilding of Igbo politics and pointing the trajectory to Igbo political renaissance. In Soludo, Igbos are reaffirming their belief in the age long philosophy of politics and good governance, “Onye Uru Anaghi Achi Obodo.”
*Ugboajah, political scientist and media strategist, wrote from Abuja via [email protected]