Theoretically, the prospects of the emergence of an Igbo as the President of Nigeria is challenged by the theory of social reproduction and the inertia of power. The theory propounds the argument that the ruling class tends to reproduce itself given its inherent strategic advantages of wealth, patronage, power of coercion and the propagation of its cultural attributes as the dominant sociopolitical norms. ‘It is the process of perpetuating values, norms, and social practices through socialisation and leads to structural continuity over time’. According to Bourdieu, cultural ((social) reproduction is the mediating instrument through which culture is reproduced across generations, especially through the socialising influence of major institutions.
In the specific experience of Nigeria, the theory has manifested itself in the fact that were it not for the intervention of extraordinary circumstances, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan (of the non hegemonic Southern Nigeria geopolitical origins) may not have been propelled to power. It took the enabling backdrop of the protracted annulment crisis of 1993-1998 to secure the compensatory presidential ascendance of Obasanjo in 1999 and the sudden death of President Umaru Yar’Adua for the latter to emerge President in 2010. Contrariwise, were it not for the arbitrary intervention of military President Ibrahim Babangida, Northern hegemony had set in motion the emergence of either Shehu Yar’Adua or Adamu Ciroma (the emergent presidential candidates of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) as President.
As we speak, who would have thought that Nigeria will be confronted with the steady dissipation of the assumption of inevitable rotation of power to the South come 2023? The dissipation is topically encapsulated in the observations of a number of my friends including high Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Magnus Onyibe, Sam Amadi and Osita Chidoka. For Dokpesi ‘the only chance the PDP has in winning the 2023 presidential election is by fielding in a northern candidate, specifically from the North-east zone and preferably the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’. Magnus Onyibe followed with the observation that “although, there has been a deluge of rhetorical statements that can be likened to the roars of lions from Igbos at home and in the diaspora about 2023 being a watershed year for a member of their ethnic group to be the president of Nigeria on the premise of the fact that both the Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani nations have had their turns in the presidential power rotation arrangement introduced since 1999: in terms of the physical mobilisation of Igbo voters and the actual preparation of Igbo candidates, there has not been any significant evidence to match the vigour displayed in the media.
Rather the hoopla in the mainstream and social media without commensurate practical action on the ground makes the Igbo appear like whimpering kittens as far as the struggle for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023 is concerned’. Sam Amadì argued that ‘I am not hung up on Igbo presidency at all. I just want Igbos not to have any inferiority complex about Nigeria. Presidency is not what you need to dominate your environment’ while Osita Chidoka noted that ‘At the PDP convention, Atiku, Saraki, Tambuwal, Bala Mohammed, Kwankwaso dominated the arena with presidential posters. No Igbo man even shared a leaflet’. Pari pasu, recall that the political leadership of the North including the state governors, traditional rulers and sundry opinion leaders rose as one, weeks ago, to serve notice to the Southern Governors’ Forum (SGF), in particular that zoning is antithetical to democracy.
Somewhat taking a cue from this enabler are the shenanigans going on in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in which talks of the party’s nominee is being effectively reduced once again, to the candidature of Atiku Abubakar. And then, of course, there is the overriding civil war syndrome in which the Igbo is perpetually framed with the mentality of the defeated Nigeria nation wreaking villain.
Inferring from the negative propaganda utility of the Biafran secessionist bogeyman (the Indigenous People of Biafra IPOB), my Fulani friend recently caught me off guard with the defensive refrain and apologia that the first priority of such a president will be the declaration of a Biafra Republic. My friend is as astute and cosmopolitan as they come, so his opinion was not that of a run of the mill victim of received political wisdom. I then put it to him that from a personal standpoint is it conceivable that an lgbo lucky enough to be elected Nigerian President would entertain the notion of swapping such coveted prize and rarefied providential boon with a most fraught and improbable Biafran secession? He appears oblivious of the loaded vetting process and criteria for the emergence of such a prospective president beginning with a record and clear enough demonstration of a pan Nigerian disposition.
The unmistakable reality is that, assuming it was disposed towards such concession, the extant Northern hegemony denominated Nigerian political process would, as a matter of course, condition and ensure the emergence of a status quo compliant candidate. Indeed, the lucky chap would be so much overcome with gratitude and excitement such that he would most likely become the avenging angel against any notion or identity that begins with B and ends with A and not its starry eyed promoter. Yet the fear to which my friend was responding is real and twofold. One is the popularity of the self-determination banner in the South generally and the South-east in particular.
Second is the conspicuous demonstration and precedence of how the Nigerian presidency has been made to subvert and expropriate the Nigerian commonwealth to serve the cause of a Northern Muslim segregationist agenda led by a Mohammadu Buhari revolt against the equality of Nigerian citizenship. The reverse logic of this precedence is the dread of successors of different ethno national origins behaving in like manner. After all, as one of the brilliant anonymous responders to this backpage column remarked, a killer is always apprehensive when someone coming behind him wields a machete.
Less said but perhaps the most critical disabling factor is the historical Southern disunity between the Igbo and the Yoruba. In a typical observation of third party critical scholars of Nigerian politics, S.K Panterbrick asked the million naira question “Why, then, have the Igbo and Yoruba been so unsuccessful in combining against the fulani, allowing the latter to play one off against the other-even to the extent of accepting the NCNC as partners in the federal government from 1959 onwards? I have taken the position that eight years of President Olusegun Obasanjo and eight years of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (in 24 years, in which the Igbo had never featured in either position), morally disqualifies the South-west from contending for the presidency with the Igbo in the forthcoming 2023 election.
Unfortunately, the prevailing Nigerian realpolitik favours the Sout-west and the concomitant contravention of this moral imperative. In the APC, for instance, the potential presidential candidates we hear of are Governor Kayode Fayemi, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu not any Igbo politician. If this scenario ultimately carries the day, the eventuality is guaranteed to reinforce and deepen, beyond repairs, the political wedge between the two Southern giants to the permanent advantage of their common oppressor. I have always marvelled at the dramatic transformation of otherwise idealistic Yoruba intelligentsia into stubborn intrasigence mode when it comes to making the argument for deferrence to Igbo political aspiration. Almost all students of Nigerian politics are stumped at what is akin to the wanton display of cutting your nose to spite the face mutual indisposition towards one another’s political advantage.
The history of who is more sinned against between the Igbo and Yoruba goes way back but the most conspicuous beginning was the famous story of the alleged ethnicity induced cross carpeting said to have deprived Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe the prize of becoming the leader of government business in Western region in 1951. I know this allegation to be incorrect because my father was supposed to be one of the cross carpeting tribalists. It is patently untrue and he stated precisely what actually transpired in his autobiography. Nonetheless the argument over Igbo presidency is significantly a test of the moral consistency for which the Yoruba intelligentsia prides itself-arguing for what is just and equitable regardless of the short term discomfort and inconvenience. The ability to transcend the age-old mutual demonisation and follow the lead of moral politics lies the political equilibrium emvisioned for Nigeria – the ability of the South to effectively checkmate the excesses of the North. Someone just has to begin playing the adult in the room and it seems as if providence has placed the Yoruba in this role. In retrospect this is the only perspective in which the seeming politically obtuse decision of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to pick his running mate from the South-east in the 1979 presidential election makes sense. Otherwise it is conspicuously unrealistic for anyone aiming to win the Nigerian presidency to ignore the North in the choice of presidential candidate, the running mate and the party chairman. It only makes sense if it was intended to lay the foundation for the South-west and South-east acting in concert.
Fare Thee Well Obadiah Mailafia
According to the scriptures “Obadiah reminds the Edomites that God did not turn a blind eye towards the wicked deeds His children had suffered. He was not absent in the cruelty they had endured. The second comfort for the people of God is found at the end of the sentences with words like “misfortune, distress, disaster, calamity, and ruin” befalling the persecutors of his people. I do not know what the parents of Obadiah Mailafia had in mind when they named their child Obadiah. Intriguingly, as it turned out their son lived his life, (almost to a t) replicating the career of the Biblical Obadiah. The Yoruba have a saying that oruko lo n ro omo (christening a child with a particular name foretells his life pathway). You will recall the historic Middle Belt liberation struggle role Mailafia assumed in the last year of his life. You will also recall Mailafia’s premonition of his death following his earth shaking revelation that a prominent elected politician in the North is the commander of Boko Haram in Nigeria; that Boko Haram and the bandits are one and the same. May the good Lord grant his valiant soul eternal rest in his bosom.