The message released by the governor of Anambra state, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, which he titled, ‘History Beckons and I will not be Silent (Part 1)’ witnessed an eruption of a babel of noise and media frenzy. The overriding assumption out there is that Soludo has an axe to grind with Peter Obi. Some have even trumped and pushed the narrative that it is all a turf war while insinuating that Soludo does not want Obi to become President of Nigeria.
These sad commentaries are forcing the real reason and essence of Soludo’s intervention to be lost in the shuffles. What is more, the media frenzy, the unguided and reckless narratives are aimed at putting asunder two very close, topmost illustrious sons of Igbo land. Even an enemy would agree that Soludo and Peter Obi are part and parcel of the Igbo first eleven.
Soludo in particular is not a regular politician and may even have craved the frenzy flared up by the discourse he generated. Soludo remains a vast, versatile, and consummate intellectual, one of the few with global acclaim and who has been able to serve as a bridge between theory and practice, qualifying to serve in over a dozen top-of-the-range financial institutions, including the World Bank and the IMF even before serving his nation as Chief Economic Adviser/Head National Planning and ultimately Governor of the Central Bank.
Peter Obi on the other hand is equally an accomplished Igbo man in his own right. Though he prides himself as a trader, we all know Obi is as great as they come. He too sits on the board of many companies, including banks. He was the governor of Anambra state and discharged that responsibility creditably. It is such credentials and rare competencies that have made Soludo and Peter Obi to be desired by their people and indeed Nigerians to serve in their enviable capacities.
We are aware that Soludo genuinely wishes Peter Obi well and vice versa. Soludo however does not want the personal relationship he shares with Peter Obi to deter him from seizing this auspicious moment to draw the attention of Peter Obi and Ndigbo to some fundamentals that need to be pondered over at this historic moment that the nation is gearing up for the 2023 general elections.
We believe that Soludo used Peter Obi to draw attention to certain existential conditions, which Ndigbo must put in perspective while taking political decisions at this moment. Many have also wondered why Soludo did not reach out to Peter Obi privately. But the message sent out by Soludo was for Peter Obi as it was for the Igbo public. The message expectedly jolted and jarred the people out of their slumber. Some critical messages are best delivered as a shock treatment as a way of whipping the people into the mood to consider the issues that shape their existence and impact their future for decades or even generations to come with their fortunes and happiness on the line.
SOLUDO’S 30 THESES ON THE 2023 ELECTIONS AND IGBO POSSIBILITY
1. All Igbo patriots must have a mindset geared towards what is best for Ndigbo. Ndigbo thus can ill-afford to inflict on themselves the pains of political exclusion by abandoning the diplomatic channels and political sagacity adopted and deployed by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe that fetched for the Old Eastern Region powerful executive, legislative, judicial, bureaucratic, and defence positions in the First Republic. The approach also secured the Southeast positions of the Vice President and Speaker of the House of Reps less than a decade after the civil war as well as several plum positions that ensured visibility and full representation of Ndigbo in the scheme of things as well as being the springboard for region-wide development.
2. All Igbo patriots should be extremely worried about the currently raging nzogbu-nzogbu (do-or-die) approach and mentality, which seems to have displaced the time-honoured paradigm of political engagement, consensus building, and common sense. There is an urgent need to turn away from the politics of self-adulation, uncritical echo chamber, and herd mentality and re-embrace the dialectic of dialogue and robust debate.
3. The fact that Zik led the Igbo-dominated NPP into an alliance with the northern-dominated NPN just 9 years after the civil war that cost us millions of lives for strategic reasons speaks volumes about the potential benefit embedded in burying anger and deep pain in the interest of practical political necessity. Forty-odd years later the Igbo are apparently worse off from where the Great Zik- and as a spinoff of his political participation – Dim Emeka Ojukwu and Dr Alex Ekwueme placed us and it paid off greatly. The message is loud and clear: strategic alliance pays off since no zone in the country can go it alone.
4. Igbo political actors and their supporters who are hounding and harassing others who hold contrary views in a disgusting and repulsive anti-Igbo way do not mean well even for Peter Obi; that Ndigbo are republicans who can never be hounded into nodding their heads like lizards to a single political narrative; and that right from time, our people have always played politics of tolerance, accommodation and agreeing to disagree amicably. There are historical examples that define this trajectory of Igbo politics. One case is in the First Republic when S G Ikoku of Action Group, a political party led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, stood for election against his father, Alvan Ikoku of UNIP. The son defeated the father. The young man was not ostracized or killed, or had his name taken to deities for opposing and defeating his venerated and highly regarded legendary father. That is democracy at its best and that is the stuff Ndigbo are made of!
5. The politics of tolerance played by Zik and other first-generation Igbo politicians was deep and effective and Zik did not go out of his way to punish one or two of the Argonauts such as K.O Mbadiwe, who broke away from the NCNC and formed a new party called the DPNC (Democratic People’s National Congress) and went on to field candidates against the NCNC in very many constituencies during the 1959 Federal elections.
6. Igbo life and political culture allow for an unfettered and unhindered multiplicity of ideas, which stem from Igbo republican nature and practice that was deepened by Igbo fathers like Zik.
7. Ndigbo with alternative viewpoints should not be branded as enemies, hounded, alienated, cursed, humiliated, and ostracized for holding contrary political views and beliefs. To do so would amount to repudiating the salient political ethos on which Igbo democratic culture, pristine values and live and let live (Egbe belu Ugo belu) is founded.
8. While Ndigbo want Peter Obi to win even as a quest for social justice, spiritual wish and moral desire and requirement given the decades of marginalization and abuse in the hands of their compatriots, they have to be realistic about such great expectations since facts of the ground may not support such unbridled optimism. Truly, Obi could have easily won if he were flying the PDP or even the APC flag for the same reason of party infrastructure, the greatest of which is having a formidable pool of down-ballot candidates, which Labour desperately lacks. Rather than examine this precarious electoral circumstance critically and empirically Peter Obi supporters believe it is not only better to sweep them under the carpet but to also viciously hound, attack, abuse, and debase anybody who dares to sound the alarm early enough.
9. Ndigbo should take a critical look at their political behaviour vis-à-vis their counterparts in the other regions of the country. This has become necessary given what the Igbo ethnic group has gone through in the last seven and half years, since being virtually shut out by the APC-led federal government. While the Buhari-led APC government may have literally levied war against Ndigbo and turned Alaigbo into a veritable wasteland of strife and killing fields, there is the small point of whether the Igbo leadership collective genuinely engaged with President Buhari after he won the 2015 election when indeed Ohanaeze burned all Ndigbo political bridges through the blind adoption of Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, Atiku Abubakar in 2019 and now Peter Obi in 202- foreclosing the prospect of constructive engagement with other viable parties and candidates. It was this lack of strategic reach out that was partly to blame for the labeling of Ndigbo as 5% voters” who will not be treated equally with “97% voters”. This may be worse in 2023 if Peter Obi does not win.
10. It is genuinely worrisome and alarming that there is an intolerable social media frenzy proclaiming and posturing as if Obi has already won without commensurate preparations and without asking, ‘What if Obi doesn’t win?’ When reality dawns on people that dream and reality are miles apart in real political practice there is the danger that millions of our people will believe that the election was rigged. The violence that may erupt across the length and breadth of Igbo land and elsewhere and the heavy-handed response by the repressive state apparatus will make the EndSars revolt and the ongoing Unknown Gunmen saga a child’s play.
11. We must draw attention to the fact that popularity is a distant third in a presidential election in Nigeria in the pecking order of factors that produce the president. The first two factors are party infrastructure and logistic resources.
12. It is vital to remind those who say ‘people are the structure’ of a political party to see the fallacy and its telling consequences as a disaster waiting to happen. Party structure refers to hardcore party members rooted in the Polling units and Wards, who will be ready to ‘take the bullet’ for the party and the candidate on Election Day. In other words, what is required asking is: does the Labour party now have such core party supporters and members and EXCOs in the over 170,000 polling units and the 8,812 wards of the federation as the PDP and APC do?
13. For those who care to know, it’s worth reminding us that votes are cast and results are announced at the Polling Units, and the first collation is done at the pooling units in the various Wards. Some estimates suggest that Labour core members cannot be found in even 30% of the Wards and Polling Units whereas a Presidential candidate must cover at least 80% of the Polling Units and Wards and at least 80% of rural Nigeria where about 70% of the votes come from.
14. Many Ndigbo are worried that Ndigbo voted for a Yoruba Muslim, MKO Abiola in 1993; for a Yoruba Christian, Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 and 2003; for a northern Muslim, and for Shehu Musa Yar’Adua in 2007 even when Emeka Ojukwu was in the race – without any negotiations. They also voted for Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 and supported him till the end of his presidency also without any negotiations or anything of significance to show for it. We must see that such free support is neither strategic nor helpful towards the survival, advancement, and development of the Igbo ethnic stock within Nigeria as a regional block and economic hub.
15. Ndigbo are possibly the largest ethnic group in Nigeria when their populations in other zones are added and therefore need to be better organized to deploy their huge and spread population to strategic ends in a thoughtful and balanced manner.
16. It is worth drawing the attention of Ndigbo and their political leaders to the fact that no group and persons get what they deserve in politics but what they can negotiate out a complex political bargain. Ndigbo must therefore negotiate.
17. Ndigbo must remain unafraid, and resist the adoption of fear, threat, and siege mentality because they are being relentlessly hounded by some supporters of a presidential candidate. Dissenting voices are people’s voices so they are legitimate voices.
18. Ndigbo should not be cowed by such intimidation and feel free to support whoever they want and not be compelled by tyrannical forces to do anything against their will or conscience. Ndigbo should not allow themselves to be intimidated or blackmailed into forced silence.
19. Ndigbo should not see politics as a do-or-die affair but imbibe the art of negotiations. We align with Soludo’s words: “…this exhibition of desperation, intolerance and attempt to bully everyone who expresses the slightest of dissent is reprehensible” because it cannot get anybody anywhere. If candidates from other zones carry on likewise, Labour Party supporters are likely to be the worst hit.
20. We must call out and vehemently condemn the outright insult and denigration of other ethnic groups and religions as working against the political and economic interests of Ndigbo.
21. The open expression of anger by the youth against the nation’s political establishment and the ruling class is legitimate but we must also call their attention to the humongous task involved in translating such anger and desire into positive political outcomes. Insults, hate speeches, profiling people, and social media “tigeritude” cannot accomplish this.
22. We must endeavor to immortalize the great Zik of Africa’s famous statement as a way of re-affirming the primacy of politics without bitterness: “In politics, there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends but only permanent interests”. Zik taught Ndigbo and indeed Nigerians that politics is a game of compromises and bargains/negotiations and this endeared him to the whole of Nigeria and Africa.
23. We genuinely wish Obi well in his political endeavour and wouldn’t mind campaigning for him. If Soludo was opposed to Obi’s ambition he wouldn’t have offered him the opportunity to vie for the Presidential ticket of APGA and use of Government House to declare his presidential aspiration.
24. If the truth be said, Peter Obi is the major threat to PDP presidential success at the polls because de-marketing PDP and bleeding votes away from it may pave the way for APC to retain power in 2023. In the likely event that Obi does not win, the continuation of APC rule may spell doom for Ndigbo and Nigeria.
25. There is an extra urgent need for Ndigbo to be systematic, deliberative, shrewd, calculating, rational, logical, and pragmatic in their approach to productive survival and progress in a multi-ethnic Nigeria.
26. Ndigbo should not, in their enlightened self-interest, adopt any political party or candidate for that matter. Obi is not an Igbo Project and should not be made to look like an Igbo project since it is likely to work against him and Ndigbo.
27. Without a shadow of doubt, it will be injurious for the Igbo ethnic group to adopt a sole political party or candidate, including Peter Obi, even if his chances are likely to yield victory. It will be yet another strategic blunder if Ndigbo adopt a party or a candidate as happened in 2015 and 2019. The decision of who to support must be left to individuals and groups without intimidation or harassment.
28. The Igbo collective and strategic interests can be articulated and negotiated with all the leading presidential candidates. This way, Ndigbo will not be left out of the scheme of things yet again.
29. Let the truth be told: if the election is held today, Peter Obi cannot win. The truth is, as things stand, Peter Obi cannot win because indicators still show that the Labour party has not reached beyond 30% of Wards and Polling Units, and Rural areas where 70% of votes come from in the Nigerian presidential election. Obi supporters and Labour can puncture this assertion by proving that it now has Ward executives in at least 70% of the federation. This translates to 6,168 Wards. These ward executives organize the activities of core party members and supporters in at least 120,000 Polling Units. Meanwhile, PDP and APC have been rooted in the Wards and Polling Units since 1999.
30. Ohanaeze Ndigbo erred by adopting Peter Obi as the Igbo candidate. This is a massive blunder. Ohanaeze should retrace its steps and not lead Ndigbo on the path of political perdition and highway to nowhere as it did in 2019 even when it was cautioned not to. If it retraces its steps, it is still not late for Ohanaeze to lead progressive Igbo leaders to preemptively act on the historic duty of strategizing and bargaining, especially with the candidates likely to be president on at least three central issues. These three-point agenda on which Igbo leadership should negotiate are peace and security; a Southeast economic and public infrastructure marshal plan promised at the end of the civil war; and restructuring.
Soludo’s intervention is indeed timely.
THROUGH SOLUDO’S COURAGEOUS INTERVENTION WE HAVE FOUND OUR VOICE; WE ARE NOW RECLAIMING OUR HUMANITY