The Fulani hegemonic power in the north shares with their southeast counterparts with whom they have since independence ruled the country as a reluctant suitor and ever-willing ‘beautiful bride’, some parallels.
First was their shared world view described by Awolowo as a “cow held down by some hands while being milked by a few powerful people” or as finely put by John Campbell when they metamorphosed into current PDP, “an elite cartel at the centre of power in Nigeria simply as essentially club of elites for sharing of oil rents and political spoils”. This shared philosophy made it easy for Awo and his democratic socialism to be condemned to prison by power wielders swearing he would be too old to question how they governed Nigeria by the time he returned, if he ever did.
There is also a shared strategy of riding to power on the backs of their underprivileged compatriots. For instance, because Mrs Ransome-Kuti accused Zik of mismanagement of funds during their London trip, Yoruba suddenly became enemies of Igbo. And for supporting Ernest Ikoli, an easterner from Bayelsa against Akinsanya, his fellow Ijebu compatriot, during Nigerian Youth Movement election, Awo became a tribalist. And that was enough to drive Igbo’s Lagos urban immigrants into a frenzy of buying off cutlasses in Lagos market in readiness for war with their Yoruba hosts with whom they had lived peacefully before Zik’s brand of politics.
Of course Awo’s message of one man one vote as antidote to continued serfdom was considered an affront to the northern oligarchy and ridicule of Islamic faith, charges that led to series of attack and killings of opposition party members in the north.
The current locking of horns between the two rivals over power shift in 2023 has only rekindled their age-long rivalry. What was new however was Pa Ayo Adebanjo’s last week decision to trade his life-long struggle for federalism for an unproductive intervention in the unending war of two selfish groups that separately regarded Nigeria as a conquered territory for stateless West African Fulanis or a no man’s land, ‘the god of Africa had ordained Igbo of Nigeria to dominate’.
As if one can decree who gets power, Pa Adebanjo last week roared “If you want peace in Nigeria, the Southeast should produce the next president (because) Olusegun Obasanjo had done it for eight years, Yemi Osinbajo would be vice president for eight years from 2023, Goodluck Jonathan was president for six years” adding “All those who say the Southeast cannot be president, ask them what the Southeast has done? “ Are they not part of Nigeria? Is the Southeast not part of Southern Nigeria?
On both scores, Pa Adebanjo started on a wrong premise. Obasanjo, although rejected at home by his own people, is unarguably one of Nigerian smartest politicians who had invested wisely for future higher dividends. His imposition on the Yoruba and the nation in 1999 was his dividends for loyalty to the Fulani who just as they are obsessed with vengeance never forget little favours. He protected the interest of the Fulani as military Head of State and went on to install one of them, Shehu Shagari, president to spite Awo, his better-prepared fellow Yoruba candidate in the 1979 presidential election.
We can say the same of President Jonathan who once declared that besides God and his biological father, Obasanjo was the next most important influential figure in his life. Osinbajo is on record as admitting he did not only cut his political teeth under Bola Ahmed Tinubu but that Tinubu nominated him as vice president. The three politicians cited by Pa Adebanjo therefore earned their positions.
Of course Igbo deserves to be president of Nigeria. They are not second class citizens. There have invested heavily on PDP between 1999 and 2015 and therefore entitled to reap where they have invested. But politics is not cash and carry business. It needs a long period of gestation.
Twice Buhari went into the presidential contest, and twice he was abandoned in the court by his Igbo vice presidential candidates who took up appointments from the victorious party. But as part of long-term planning, Yoruba invested on serial loser and un-electable Buhari in 2014. They rebranded him after three heroic failures into a winning candidate in 2015 and 2019. Buhari mismanaged the victory just as he betrayed APC manifesto that swept him to power. Who then if one may ask Pa Adebanjo is better prepared to succeed Buhari but the architect of the betrayed dream?
I am also not aware anyone has said Ibo cannot lead the nation. But just as inimitable late MKO Abiola advised, we cannot shave someone’s head in his absence, I think Pa Adebanjo should first establish if the current efforts of Igbo aspirants, in view of recent Pa Clark’s curse on Igbo who would settle for vice president to any northerner, is real or for negotiating for the VP slot. Igbo politicians, from our recent historical experiences often prefer the VP slot that allows them to chop without responsibility.
In 1959, Zik, the foremost nationalist who ‘elezikified’ the Nigerian press that saw the end of imperialist rule was destined to become Nigeria post-independence Prime Minister. His NCNC party came first followed by Awo’s AG with Bello’s NPC coming a distant third. Instead of a coalition with Awo who offered to be his Minister of Finance, he chose to become a junior partner in NPC/NCNC coalition.
For their pains, Igbo political elite as pointed out by Akintola during the 1964 NNA and UPGA confrontation, controlled, Balewa’s key ministries of finance, external affairs, education, economic development, agriculture etc. and major government institutions including military, police, railways, Nigeria Airways, University of Lagos, University of Ibadan, Yaba College of Technology etc.
In 1979, Awo with Umeadi as easterner vice presidential candidate lost his deposit in the East. Igbo elite preferred Shehu Shagari/Ekwueme ticket that allowed them to also grab the senate presidency, the House speakership and key government ministries. Ojukwu, the celebrated Igbo civil war leaders returned from exile to consolidate the Fulani-Igbo partnership.
In 1993, only one Igbo state supported MKO Abiola in his historic landslide victory. The Igbo elite massively supported Tofa/Sylvester Ugoh ticket. And when NRC lost, Arthur Nzeribe, Justice Ikpeme, Justice Minister Apamgbo, Uche Chukumerije and Walter Ofonagoro and Ojukwu himself who was deployed by Abacha as envoy to de-market Abiola in Europe, joined forces with northern Fulani leaders led by Gen. Shehu Yar’Adua to support Babangida’s annulment of the election.
The triumph of Yoruba without firing a gun but through use of their intellect after six year war with many of their leaders assassinated or driven into exile turned out to be a pyric victory as Igbo political elite joined hands with their Fulani rivals to impose Obasanjo, rejected even in his own polling unit by the Yoruba as president.
You will probably assume the bitter struggle was over Sylvester Ugor’s lost VP until you realize the public face of Obasanjo presidency were the Andy Ubas, Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealas, Chukwuma Soludo, Stella Oduahs, with ex Abia governor Uzor Kalu reported as joking about “Obasanjo’s presidency as Igbo presidency”. In all these, the impoverished Igbo did not feature anywhere.
In view of the above historical facts, even if Pa Adebanjo succeeds in confirming Igbo are indeed ready for the mantle of leadership, he will have an uphill task convincing his discriminatory Yoruba voters to support Peter Obi, the most eloquent of the Igbo crowd, a self-confessed importer of wine, who wants to double GDP in four years without first telling Nigerians how to tame his fellow Igbo importers of the labours of other societies, the reason the naira today exchanges for $1 to N580 as against $1 to N0.78 in 1982.