I was told by a source I consider reliable that the call has gone out: send us your curriculum vitae, every Igbo man or woman who wants to contest to be president of Nigeria in 2023. He assured me that the two major parties, APC and PDP, have zoned the office of the president to the Igbo people. Another person, not far from reliable, told me I should not mind him, that it is all a ruse, a scam; that the issue has not been considered for even a second by the two top parties and no serious consideration would be given to such an ambition.
Well, I told the latter that there would be national conventions at which the flag-bearers of both parties would be nominated and that the Igbo might as well get into the affray and fight to a finish. He smiled and said that these matters are settled long before the conventions and everyone knows already the party’s anointed candidate. The Igbo can contest but it would be a futile effort and no Igbo man of worth would engage in such a desultory debacle. The question for me becomes not where the president comes from but will he be our shepherd who will watch over us, shelter us, and keep us in safety in our kens not exposed to the wolves? If he is from my place, Mbaise, I am certain he will take care of Mbaise people and in the process take care of me. Aso Rock will have Mbaise professors, engineers, lawyers, artisans, etc. walking the corridors of power. Stockfish sales in Abuja will hit the roof as the president dines his guests on ugba and stockfish. The next Federal university, University of Culture and Citizenship will be in Mbaise and the world will come to know my people better. My mind now runs to the immortal poem, The Bridge and the Wall, by the inimitable spoken word and performance artist, Dike Chukwumerije:
‘If it’s okay to say it’s not okay to marry someone /Just because they are Kalabari
That every tribe should have its own tide /Are we not practicing…Apartheid?
If you cannot buy land unless you are native,/And cannot find work unless you are native,
And cannot feel safe unless you are native/How can we then say we are not primitive?’
Indeed, we are primitive. If my shepherd is from Mbaise will he shepherd me as efficiently when I go to Ogbomosho to visit my in-laws? If he does not, I shall persuade him please to mount full proof security for all Mbaise people married to fine Ogbomosho girls. And when I visit the University of Ibadan the Vice-Chancellor will give me letters to Aso Rock. To demonstrate to him my powers I shall call the president when I am in his office and ask him to have a word with the Vice Chancellor. Mark Nwagwu would, all of a sudden, become a powerful player in Government and I shall be sought after by anyone seeking a favour from the president. This is the government that will be my shepherd, mine only. When you tell me, what is good for the goose is good for gander, I shall tell you what is good for the goose is for the goose; the gander should run off and go seek its own good. This is what happens in Nigeria today: we choose our presidents on the basis of WIIFM – ‘What’s in it for Me?’ Are we not primitive?
Obviously, no society can hope to make any progress in this manner. One problem with Nigeria is that, no matter what you say, someone else will come with some counter-motive, selfish and sinister. When you call a man a thief, he tells you I am not alone. When it is alleged that the NDDC has wasted the nation’s resources, they say no, the lawmakers have the money. You know they make the laws and receive contracts for good work they do in the national assembly. And they claim to be our shepherds! If you ask WAEC to account for missing sums of money, they tell you the pile was eaten by rats; that the money was all smeared in suya and egusi soup. You ask a suspected criminal what is your name and he faints seeking immediate medical assistance. His name, when sought by the police, sets up a blood clot in his aorta; suddenly he cannot breathe. Here I am, an Mbiase man, whose president is also an Mbaise man and all I get out of it is to grow fat, build houses on lagoons and sea shores so there is no land left in Bayelsa State and I shall not live in any of them! No, sir, all I need is the rent from the oil companies who must pay or be in danger of being blacklisted for illegal oil lifting. I might even secure a number of off-shore drilling licences and then sell them to my partners in Pretoria, who have partners in Monrovia who have partners in Slovenia. Is this not primitive?
Who is our shepherd? Let us ask, what do the flock want? First is safety from the wolves. We are the flock, how safe are we? I am eighty-three years old and have lived most of my life in Nigeria at the campus of the University of Ibadan. There are several cogent reasons for a university campus of which safety is the primary concern. Feeling secure, we could do our work for our country unperturbed totally committed to our research. There was a time, I think in the eighties, when robbery was rampant on campus and the staff volunteered to keep watch over their homes continually patrolling the streets. We kept a roster and chose nights when we did not have early-morning lectures the following day. We became our own shepherds. We were the flock; we were the shepherds.
What do we have in Nigeria today? Travels are treacherous and we are being seized for a ransom or worse still killed. Boko Haram keeps fighting and killing and we hear stories of this or that governor as their field marshal. Christians are being killed for no other reason than for their faith and the government appears nonchalant. My goodness, where is our shepherd? We have many; we elected a president, the governors, members of the national assembly, members of state assemblies, local government council chairmen, and members. I cannot believe we have this army of people and we the flock roam aimlessly like sheep without a shepherd. We did not elect them, they were appointed – the army, the police, the navy, the air force, national defence corps, etc. How do they make a difference in the life of Nigerians?
A police man dies on duty in the attempt to save lives and months, even years after, he is not paid any compensation, nor pension and his family may even be forcibly ejected from their quarters. The same applies to soldiers who have died on duty combating the evil forces of Boko Haram. How much are we spending battling the enemy? We hear of funds meant for weapons being diverted to personal accounts. I guess the bank vaults are all loaded with the latest in armoury and the defence chiefs can just go there and collect their weapons. During this COVID-19 pandemic, when school children were at home, I read that we spent billions on free lunch for the children. Am I a fool? If I am, are we all fools? If our president is an Mbaise man, will it make a difference to our safety and security in this country? If it does, is it owed to the fact that he is an Mbaise man and not Yoruba or Ijaw? Do honesty, justice and equity ride on the back of certain tribes or ethnic groups? For that matter, does corruption have tribal or ethnic preferences as to its choicest bed mates of evil? We are indeed primitive.
We are dealing with complex issues. A dear friend of mine once told me the North will never let an Igbo man be the president of this country because the Igbo killed The Sardauna. I could only reply, have the Igbo not suffered enough for their errors, real or perceived? Thus, an Mbaise man or any other Igbo man cannot be nominated by the major political parties to contest for the office of president, whatever may be his personal merits, because of the perceived guilt of the Igbo. I go again to Dike Chukwumerije:
The fire we are quenching will only keep burning /Which nation can stand dividing its people?/How can one build on foundation so brittle? /If we cannot see ourselves in each other/The journey ends here we are going no further.
Are we not primitive? But we must go further and further yet. Our children and grandchildren will see to that. I can feel it in my bones. They act differently.
Mark Nwagwu is a professor of Zoology at the University of Ibadan, he lives in Obetiti, Nguru, in Aboh-Mbaise, Imo State