By Sunny Igboanugo
Permit me to tell a little story. It’s about Nwakpuda, the passionate Umuahia village warrior. I’ll abridge it, because it’s a long story. The British colonial masters, in a bid to develop part of then East, had carved out a rail line that passed through his village to Port Harcourt. But, Nwakpuda, was so passionate that he swore that no train would pass through his father’s land.
So, on the day the train was to be test-run, he had heard from the town-criers of the event and the brave warrior he was, he decided to enforce his vow and got ready. Apparently without further revelation of his plans, lest he be impeded, he sharpened his war cutlass and off he went to the rail track. The train driver saw him from afar as he stood with his cutlass at the ready and continued to blast his horn. But Nwakpuda laughed at the approaching “animal,” quipping derisively – I’ve not even touched you and you’re crying – stood firmly and ready to smash it with his weapon. Of course, the inevitable happened. He was crushed on the rail track.
But you know what? The white man didn’t allow it to go. Such heroism they thought! So, in the place where Nwakpuda died, they built an epitaph in his recognition. So, Nwakpuda, didn’t die in vain. He was a hero and a legend. That’s the end of the story.
Why did I recall this? Some people in Nigeria today, are playing such a heroic replication of Nwakpuda, the Umuahia legend in trying to stop a moving train with bare hands. Else, how do you situate the huffing and puffing by some political tendencies in the land over the ambition of Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) outside what the diminutive – yes, they said he was very short, but powerful – Nwakpuda, tried to do?
I wasn’t there in the first republic. So, I might not situate it correctly to say there has never been anything like it. But I could say so from the second republic that nobody, has ever conduced such a pan-Nigerian movement as the Peter Obi movement has been able to create. Else, if you knew any other Nigerian politician, who has created a similar momentum where followers, across the country, gladly contribute money to print posters, make T-shirts and hold street rallies, let the world know.
All the purveyors of this paradigm shift, he seems to beget, appear to have one message – ENOUGH! Nigeria will no longer be run by vested interests, whose only motive is to pocket the commonwealth, from whence they dish out privileges, like Robin Hood, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, or closer, back home, the legendary Lawrence Anini, the great armed robber, who after killing and robbing his victims, threw parts of his loot to commoners in the market for them to scramble for and thereby, creating a hero image of himself.
Yes! The resonating message through Obi is quite apparent – Don’t steal on our behalf again. Let us take our destiny in our hands. Let us build a new order. That is their battle-cry. Yet, there are naysayers, swearing that this won’t happen. The train would not pass through their father’s land, they insist. Their weapons, like Nwakpuda’s sharpened cutlass, come in different forms.
You hear that about 5,000 youths were quartered at a luxurious hotel in Abuja for a special training on the use of social media to do battle – the target – Peter Obi. They want to cut him down in the same way Nwakpuda, wanted to slice the train to pieces with his cutlass. Only this time, unlike the Umuahia hero, who used salt to sharpen his cutlass overnight, the weapons are said to have been sharpened with raw cash – some say N500,000 monthly pay. don’t even try to calculate what it amounts to. It’s chicken feed to the patrons who have procurred them. After all N2.5billion monthly revenue from a state Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), is not moi-moi. And that’s just one aspect.
So, you see all manner of ugly narratives and campaigns of calumny in the social media. It doesn’t matter how infantile or obtuse – they don’t need to be factual or make sense – just write anything and get paid. So, they go to work. Completely for the pay. It doesn’t matter what happens thereafter as long as the pay keeps coming. Ironically, the same people even those that associate him with the damning imagery – Obituary, turn around to harass for the same offence, even when, like the biblical lamb going to the slaughterhouse, he replies not as much as whimper.
If Obi sneezes, it would be fact-checked to test the quality or decibel of the sound. He farts like any other human being, they’ll ask google how pungent the smell is. Someone speaks for hours, reeling out tens and scores of figures ad-lib and just one – they go to town with the singsong – he lies! As if lies have assumed a different meaning. Yet, it doesn’t matter that their patrons never even appear in public, let alone attempt what Obi does, even with prepared paper without disgracing themselves.
We all saw how far they could go in asking Edo people to vote out Godwin Obaseki and how Nigerians were asked to tweet on WhatsAPP and how 50million Nigerians recruited into the army would be fed with agbado, corns and cassava in the morning and yams in the evening. That’s what they want to compare.
Even heroes of the pen -professionals whose works had hitherto excited their audience, now fair no better. The have decided to lower their God-given talents and skills in their attempt to serve as Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) to the dis-ennobling project of keeping Nigerians permanently in Egypt. For such people, it doesn’t matter whatever happens to their brothers and sisters across the land and even beyond. It doesn’t matter whether Nigeria lives or dies as long as they repay the loans of loyalty which they believe they owe or pave the way for new inroads.
I’ve just finished reading Segun Ayobolu. A fantastic writer any day. Apparently soberer. But here he has fallen into the same meanspirited penchant to serve his master. I had thought that after Sam Omatseye, there would be lessons learnt. But no! It’s a project. So, he travels the same route – throwing his poisoned spear, not only at Peter Obi, but the Igbo – because, to him and his possible sponsors, outside the 2023 election, there will be no Nigeria again.
Obi’s ambition into the straightjacket of the Igbo quest to produce the President of Nigeria. Like it is such an anathema. Now, what if it were so? Why not not if not? Like any other part of Nigeria, Ndigbo have not hidden their desire to that ambition. The argument has already been made that it needs no further stretching. Even Ayo Adebanjo, the President of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, who ought to represent all the Yoruba people, is sold to that argument that the Igbo should be allowed to take the job. If by virtue of rotation, the governors of the All Progressives Congress (APC), decided to zone the position to the South, why not allow the South East to take the position? Simple argument! But, my colleague, Segun doesn’t see the merit – clinging to the convenient argument of democracy as in numbers, an argument he handily ignored when the Southern governors first pitched for the nation’s number one job and thereafter, South West politicians. If democracy as in numbers didn’t count then, it had to count when the Igbo make the same pitch. Well, because it’s politics, double-speak and hypocrisy is allowed.
But then, Obi even disowns that route. He tells anyone that cares to listen that he doesn’t want anyone to vote for him because he’s Igbo. He wants to be seen as a Nigerian President and not an Igbo President. Of course that is conveniently ignored. He must be cloaked with the ethnic garb.
Not satisfied, Ayobolu moves from there to bespatter him with the paintbrush of IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra), which has become the most dangerous group in Nigeria more than Boko Haram, Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) and bandits put together. But he conveniently forgets to mention that there are also ethnic Yoruba groups, agitating self-government, such as O’odua Nation. He forgets that Mazi Nnamdi Kanu wears the same garb as Sunday Igboho. No, Obi’s ambition is fired by IPOB, while the ambition of his patron, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a Nigerian project.
He conveniently forgets that the alter ego of Biafra, the main symbol of that effort, the late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, actually ran for the same position Obi is seeking today, without as much as passive interest by Ndigbo, not to talk about Nigerians. But what do you say, when disinformation becomes the strategy? Keep shouting IPOB and sooner or later, the tag will stick. Unfortunately, very few seem to be listening.
Thus, the seeming exasperation and change of tactics. Go after Obi’s supporters – depict them as dangerous – hang anything negative on their necks and make Obi bear the consequences. How ingenious! Yet, Obi’s supporters are not on the ballot. Obi had even come out publicly to admonish his supporters to keep it clean and not insult anyone. But no! That’s not enough! He must pay the ultimate price of having his neck in the guillotine.
Come to think of it, what do you say of angry youths, whose father’s today was eaten yesterday, beholding their future being eaten today by vested interests? Shouldn’t they be sufficiently angry on their own and go against the culprit(s)? So, when members of the Pyrates Confraternity rendered their frustration in a song, what does the likes of Segun think fired their imagination? How could that be pinned on Obi?
Of course, it is convenient for Segun to travel the road of history and remind his audience about the ingredients of the first coup in the land, in his well-choreographed attempt to open old wounds, by informing his target – the North that it was an Igbo project. Of course, outside the fact that the people driving Obi’s project are beset by a far more fundamental existential threats right now to continue to dwell in the past, especially when the Northern region is virtually bearing the brunt of bad leadership over the decades, he failed to remind the same audience that the coup plotters, actually wanted to make the late Obafemi Awolowo, a Yoruba man the Prime Minister – at least, that was part of the narrative, attested to by some of the participants who are not Igbo.
Segun also failed to remind his audience that a Yoruba man, Adekunle Fajuyi, sacrificed his own life for an Igbo, Aguiyi Ironsi. He perhaps, conveniently forgets the millions of Ndigbo that have died as a result of the reprisal attacks and the civil war that followed. Obviously, that’s the path he wants to rekindle in the present generation, even when it appears that, that part of history, is fast receding from the memory of today’s Nigerians.
Just imagine Segun trying to pin the #EndSars protests on the Igbo. Haba! Something as fresh as yesterday! Despite the comments of Nnamdi Kanu, whose statement went into no issue and made as less impact as the incitement of Adeyinka Grandson for the Yoruba to kill all Igbo in Lagos, could Segun tell the world the identities of those eventually arrested for the acts of destruction? How many Igbo were found among those who invaded the palace of the Oba of Lagos, including those who stole his foreign currencies, swam in his pool and even wore his royal attires. How many?
Another point he laboured to make was to impute the oft-trumpeted line that Ndigbo got the meat during the government of Goodluck Jonathan, while the Yoruba were left with the skeleton. Well, the jury is out on that, my brother. The only thing that happened was that for the first time, it appeared that Ndigbo were given a pride of place in the affairs of the country as major stakeholders. That’s what the naysayers couldn’t bear to see.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala did not come into government during Jonathan’s time. It was President Olusegun Obasajo that discovered her. Jonathan only continued where the former President stopped, even though with a bigger mandate, because the reward for good job is more work.
Under Obasanjo, an Igbo man was the Senate President – the third Nigerian citizen. But they lost that position under Jonathan. They never headed any arm of government till date. So, which special favour did the Igbo enjoy that Yoruba didn’t get? Even the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) position, which an Igbo man held then, was taken away when the din became so deafening and it appeared that the heavens would fall.
Please Segun, tell us how Mulikat Akande lost the position of Speaker of House of Representatives. Was it Jonathan or your patron that blocked it? I’m sure, now the entire South East, one of the legs of the Nigerian tripod has been stripped of everything, Segun would be happy. That’s the position he wants Ndigbo to maintain for there to be peace. That’s the only way they won’t be seen as troublemakers.
Yes, I’m one of those who lay claims to Lagos. I wish to be identified as a Lagos boy than Anambra, the same way a Yoruba from Ogbomoso or Iragbiji, ought to claim Coal City boy, if he were born in Enugu and grew up there. I couldn’t be happier watching Ademola Adeleke, the governor-elect of Osun State, speaking undiluted Igbo the other day. I want to see the day a Yoruba man would pick up the ticket of a political party and contest for governorship of Anambra State, where I come from, just like I know it would happen in Lagos, one day, as was the case when an Hausa became the first Mayor of Enugu. That may be years after my bones and those of Segun must have become dust. That’s the Nigerian I want to be. I say so, proudly. I don’t want to hear anyone telling me about Lagos giving me “privileges” or “accommodating” me. Sounds so archaic, primitive and unproductive.
In fact it is new in the Lagos I know. Yes, as a student of Awori College Ojo, I got all the privileges like Lanre my classmate – free books (exercise and textbooks), pencils, erasers, maths sets, free lunch throughout my secondary school under the late Lateef Jakande, without anyone threatening my parents that they must vote for him or leave Lagos. Between Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Shehu Shagari, people chose who to vote freely. Nobody ever told the Igbo that it was not “respecting the people that accommodated them” by not voting Awo or Jakande. I saw Igbo people win Jakande houses in Lagos, where many of them live till date. What’s this strange politics of either you vote for a particular candidate or be pushed into the lagoon or respecting the culture of the people? In Nigeria? Haba!
Segun, did Kemi Badnoch contest for British Prime Minister, one of the powerful jobs in the world, because Yoruba people wanted to take over the United Kingdom? What then is giving you the impetus to restrict Ndigbo from aspiring or voting the candidate of their choice? What would you say if Yoruba in Kano or Akwa Ibom are asked not to vote or support a particular candidate, else they’d be run out of town?
We hear that outside the other measures being put in place, stopping Ndigbo, as has been tried in the past and as seen when some hoodlums tried to stop them from registering with INEC, is part of the game-plan of your patrons to win in 2023. Well, let’s see how that pans out. But before then, just know that not a single person can tell Ndigbo what to do. Dem neva born the person. Not in Igboland, not anywhere! So, go ahead and incite those who would accede to this strange, but dangerous trend in Lagos. But, remember, whoever strikes a machete on a rock, should be wary of the specks piercing his eyes.
As for Peter Obi. There are thousands, if not millions of Yoruba supporting him, just as there are thousands, if not millions supporting Tinubu, including two well-know South East governors. I’m sure nobody has forgotten the yeoman’s job of my brother and friend, Joe Igbokwe is doing in this regard. So, much as you try to pigeonhole Obi into an ethnic closet, it will fail. Nigerians know better.
“Nowadays, when a man cannot get an erection, or impregnate his wife, he blames it on NADECO.” I think that was Abraham Adesanya, one of the heroes of the June 12 era, who birthed what you and I are enjoying today who made that statement.
I still remember how it came about. It was to the effect that NADECO was blamed for everything including the bombings in Lagos, in the same manner you and your gang are now blaming Ndigbo. You know the outcome, don’t you?!
As a reporter in Enugu then, I not only bore the imprimatur of the much-advertised Lagos-Ibadan axis of the press of that era, I bore and still bear the scars of military koboko and the memories of my police detention. One of them was that by the time I came back from the proscription of The Guardian, my fiance was pregnant and about to wed another man! Go figure!
So, continue. But don’t forget the story of Nwakpuda. If you know, you know!
Igboanugo, a journalist, wrote from Lagos