Editor's note: Public affairs analyst, Collins Ughalaa writes on the recent comments of Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, concerning the demands of the Igbos to produce the next president of Nigeria in 2023.
Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna state, is considered one of the intelligent guys from the north. Eloquent? No doubt. But garrulous. Oftentimes he displays characteristics unbecoming of someone of his pedigree. He has the capacity to bless with one side of his mouth and curse with the other side of the mouth. Under him, Kaduna state has become a slaughter house, a den of kidnappers, and a haven for all forms of banditry. Pundits say his divisive politics in Kaduna state fuel the crisis.
Former economic adviser to former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, former director of the Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE), and former minister for the Federal Capital Territory, El-Rufai should understand the problems that plague Nigeria better than many people. But that is not the case. His comments are erratic, inciting, and indifferent. His big ego and unbridled appetite for power prevent him from seeing the larger picture. He wants to be Buhari's successor if the All Progressives Congress (APC) retains its presidential ticket in the north; or vice president, if the party zones its presidential ticket to the south. He appears not to care whether Nigeria burns, whether he would preside over a fragmented Nigeria, or not.
On Thursday, May 6, Punch newspaper in its editorial entitled “Nigeria is sleepwalking into war” painted a graphic picture of the Nigerian conundrum. Citing the recent killing of three of the kidnapped 23 undergraduates of Greenfield University in El-Rufai’s Kaduna state, the newspaper further quoted the Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, saying:
“This nation is at war, yet we continue to pretend that these are mere birth-pangs of a glorious entity.”
Punch noted that Boko Haram alone has killed over 100,000 persons and displaced others numbering millions. Besides, insurgents are taking over territories in the north once more. The editorial also quoted El-Rufai’s government in Kaduna state disclosing that 393 persons had lost their lives between January and March 2021; 926 kidnapped within the same period.
Kaduna is not the only troubled state in the country. With reports of 741 Nigerians killed and over 1,000 kidnapped in the first 96 days in office of the new service chiefs, nothing else confirms that all parts of Nigeria are in one pang of distress or the other. The southeast, for example, is currently witnessing insecurity. There have been attacks on security formations and other government-owned institutions in recent times.
On Monday, April 5, unknown gunmen attacked the Custodial Center in Owerri, the police command and military checkpoint at Ukwu Orji along Owerri-Onitsha road. A few days later, the group launched a dare-devil attack on the house of the governor in his village at Omuma, Oru East LGA. There have been similar attacks in other states of the southeast. The southwest is also going through its own pangs of distress. Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, and the Osun states are currently being atrophied by insecurity. The police in Lagos state a few days ago raised the alarm that groups plan to attack the state. The story is not different in the south-south.
The crisis bedeviling Nigeria has its roots in marginalization. This is pushing Nigeria to the precipice. Nigeria needs to be saved. Sadly, while patriotic Nigerians are shopping for solutions, Governor El-Rufai in whose Kaduna state 23 students were kidnapped in broad daylight and three of them killed - while their kidnappers demanded N800million ransom, still has the motivation to lecture Ndigbo on how to go about their legitimate demand to produce the next president.
On Saturday, May 8, the media reported El-Rufai to say:
“I don’t think anyone has stopped the southeast from going for the presidency. But you see, you cannot get the presidency of Nigeria by threats or by shouting victimhood. This is a political process and you have to engage other parts of Nigeria to convince them to support you. That is what everyone does. That is what Jonathan did in 2011; that is what Buhari did in 2015 and 2019.
“That is what every president does. You don’t stay in your corner, abuse everyone in Nigeria and say give me the presidency. It is not going to happen. The presidency is not by allocation. It is the result of a political process. You join a political party, your party negotiates with other parts of the country and it happens. That is how it is done.
“And you cannot get it by sitting down or threatening secession. It won’t work. I think the southeast is going about it the wrong way because if you look at the APC for instance, we do not have many footprints in the southeast.”
In the rave of the moment, El-Rufai conveniently forgot that no part of the country has all of its citizens in one political party. Not even his Kaduna state. In the face of this, it is erroneous that the APC does not have "many footprints in the southeast."
Furthermore, it is shocking how El-Rufai stereotypes Ndigbo. His veiled reference to the IPOB and seeing Ndigbo in that light is condemnable. IPOB has been agitating for the Republic of Biafra. They cite years marginalisation as the reason. But El-Rufai chose to see every Igbo man as members of the IPOB as if everyone in the north is a member of Boko Haram or the bandits.
Igbo leaders have since made the point that they want a structured Nigeria where justice and equity reign. The President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Professor George Obiozor, for example, says that Ndigbo wants fairness and equity, peace, progress, and unity. Fairness and equity would bring us to see the need to support Ndigbo for the presidency.
In a recent interview in Abuja, Professor Obiozor emphasized the “compellingly reasonable” need for the rest of Nigeria “to support the southeast to produce the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria the next time around.”
He said that doing so would provide a sense of balance and sense of belonging, crucial in resolving the Nigeria dilemma.
In July 2017, Igbo leaders, including the five governors of the zone, rose from a closed-door meeting and restated the commitment of Ndigbo to a restructured, united Nigeria. The position of Igbo leaders on a restructured, united Nigeria was taken in the midst of intensified agitations for the creation of Biafra by IPOB and MASSOB. This is unlike the attitude of some leaders in the north towards the crisis in the area. Yet, El-Rufai does not see it.
Since his emergence as the governor of Imo state and leader of the APC in the southeast, Governor Hope Uzodimma has maintained that Igbo people do not want to break away from the country, but to get justice and fair treatment in the country.
“What Ndigbo wants is justice, equity, and fairness. A Nigeria that provides a level playing ground for all citizens. That is what we want. And we believe we can get what we want through constructive and tenacious engagement with fellow nationals and relevant institutions, not by violence or war.”
In spite of all this, El-Rufai chose to classify Ndigbo as people “shouting victimhood,” as if they are weak people. If El-Rufai does not listen to the leaders of Ndigbo, he is missing the point. No leader in Igbo land will listen to bandits in Kaduna who roam the streets, kidnap students and demand ransom, and misconstrue same to be the voice of the people of the state.
If Nigerian leaders refuse to listen to the leaders of the various ethnic groups, including their state governors, and prefer listening to non-state actors, we may not have a country where people like El-Rufai would become governor and aspire to become president. El-Rufai should change his style. Nigeria is not all about him. He should lend his voice to the call for restructured Nigeria in order to enthrone justice and fairness. This will guarantee a united Nigeria for all of us. It will remove marginalization which is the root of the agitation in parts of the country. Then people like El-Rufai will have the space to pursue their political ambitions in a better Nigeria.
Ignoring the call for restructuring Nigeria and talking down on Ndigbo because of their 2023 presidency project is not in the best interest of the country.
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