By Emeka Asinugo
Chairman of Igbo Leaders of Thought, Professor Ben Nwabueze and the Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Joe Nwaorgu were among prominent Igbo leaders who recently expressed their opinions on the alleged contemplation of President Buhari to restrict any planned probe by his government to Dr. Jonathan’s administration alone. They had insisted that singling out Jonathan’s government to be probed when the administrations before it were not going to be probed was tantamount to a travesty of justice.
Reacting to the development, the South-East All Progressives Congress, in a statement credited to its spokesman Mr. Osita Okechukwu, told the elderly Igbo leaders to stop desecrating Igbo tradition by supporting Dr. Jonathan.
According to media reports, in a statement titled ‘Stop Desecration of Igbo Tradition’, Okechukwu said he wondered why Jonathan’s defence was being championed by Igbo leaders, rather than “the ex-President’s Ijaw kinsmen.” Okechukwu is said to have told the nation that the Igbo leaders who are supporting ex-President Jonathan are in breach of the traditional admonition which forbids Igbo from identifying with thieves or alleged thieves.
If indeed Chief Okechukwu in his capacity as the South-East APC spokesman had the audacity to call an ex-President of Nigeria a thief when no law court has convicted him as such, without mincing words, and without joining issues, I would categorically say that Chief Okechuku’s name-calling was, to put it mildly, very uncharitable. He created the impression of someone who was out of touch with contemporary national issues, unexpected of a political stalwart of his standing and position in a ruling party which should know where it is leading the country to.
To the best of the knowledge of some of us, Nigerians in the Diaspora, the Buhari administration is still making frantic efforts to move the nation forward in its search for true and sustainable democracy. Consequently, Chief Okechukwu should have done his mathematics properly at home before coming out into the political arena as the big masquerade he sees himself to be, to display controversial dance steps that are likely to send the nation backwards in its march towards true democracy and respectable nationhood.
Chief Okechukwu should have taken into consideration the fact that in a true democracy, the interest of the Nation supersedes the interest of any individual or any single party. Take the Boko Haram insurgency for instance. The fight cannot be left alone for the APC simply because it is the ruling party. It is a national war, a national interest. What it means is that its prosecution must transcend political leanings and ethnic bigotry. By the same token, the issue of continuity of government is a fundamental challenge of the incumbent APC government.
If the APC’s vision is to begin its tenure by probing every phase and every bit of its predecessor’s governance, a lot of facts will no doubt be brought to the fore – facts that could shock many Nigerians. That is a dangerous path to tread. Such situations are likely to distract the government from its focus, especially if they have to do with discrediting the opposition. For the APC, as a ruling party, it would be like shooting itself in the leg.
Yes. It is commonsense that sometimes it is better to be silent on some sensitive issues because they might upset many people if made public. In other words, the APC must not start a preposition – that of probing the preceding government – which it cannot conclude. Given the mindset of the average Nigerian, history has shown that a government which is voted into office and its immediate vision is to probe the government before it and “recover all stolen money” is not likely to do better than the government before it. The reason is that the new government will eventually get it wrong because its idea of salvaging the country anchored on the money and not the people.
If all the money so recovered is not just changing hands – moving from one ex-officer’s bank account to another incumbent officer’s bank account – then something the exercise would have achieved is that it would have taught Nigerians new ways of stealing from government coffers without being caught. Those who have access to such money will simply devise new methods of stealing that will defy detection. So, APC needs to be careful and far thinking about the policies it is laying down. No one should be stampeded to take any panic measures. Gradually, the country will get there.
The APC, as the ruling party, will have no reason to destroy the very strong opposition it needs to succeed as a government of the people. It is a norm of true democracy. The importance of a strong opposition is that through its criticisms, the incumbent government will have a clearer vision of what is needed for it to succeed as a government of the people, to remain focused, to remain a listening government and to always be alerted to the fact that if it is under-performing, there is always an alternative or shadow government, waiting to take over from it. So, the PDP remains as relevant to the aspirations of the APC as it remains to itself. The relationship between the two parties must be based on home-grown diplomacy.
Furthermore, Nigerians need to keep a tab on the case for the inclusion in the Nigerian constitution of the right to self determination by any part of the country which is in the law court right now. Even as we speak, interpretation of what the law says about this in the Nigerian constitution has been slated for September 22 at the Federal High Court, Owerri in Imo State. The Human Rights suit filed by Bilie Human Rights Initiative on behalf of the Supreme Council of Elders of the Indigenous People of Biafra, SCE-IPOB, against the Federal Government of Nigeria will be heard on that day.
In the suit No FHC/OW/CS/192/2013, brought under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap 10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, the Bilie Human Rights Initiative representing IPOB, the claimants who are indigenes of the South-East and parts of South -South and Middle Belt geo-political zones of Nigeria, had dragged the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its Attorney-General to court as first and second defendants, seeking to be given the right to self-determination.
It will be recalled that the suit which was filed on their behalf by their legal counsel, A. C. Emeka of Mekadolf Law Chambers, Owerri, had been originally scheduled for hearing on 16June. The court was unable to sit on that day. So, the case was adjourned to September 22 for hearing.
In the originating summons, the claimants sought a declaration of the court to enforce their right to self-determination, pursuant to the relevant Articles on African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In addition, they asked the court to order the defendants to redress all wrongs inflicted on them by the defendants in consequence whereof.
The claimants prayed the court to determine whether the IPOB who are the remnants not consumed in the Nigeria-Biafra civil war of 1967 –1970 have the right to self-determination pursuant to Articles 19 –25 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
They wanted the court to determine whether the claimants who identified themselves as Biafrans by indigenous identity were committing any offence by doing so, contrary to any provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 or contrary to any provision of the Criminal Code and whether it is a crime under any national or international law to mention the name of Biafra or for the remnants of IPOB who were not consumed by the war to maintain their indigenous identity as Biafrans with their native emblems and symbols as they do now, even though they are Nigerians by citizenship and nationality laws.
We know we cannot comment prejudicially on a case in court. Doing so would tantamount a contempt of the court. But one might as well ask where, in all these developments, Chief Okechukwu found the space to place his observation that the case of Dr Jonathan was being championed by Igbo leaders rather than the ex-President’s “Ijaw kinsmen”.
At a time like this, the more admirable culture of Nigerian politics demands that leaders such as Chief Okechukwu preach the gospel of oneness and unity in diversity. But from the look of things, the spokesman of the South-East APC is preaching divisionism, even at zonal level. That is really unfair to the APC and what it stands for – that change that Nigerians yearned and voted for. The APC must find it necessary put up men who are conversant with the party compass and the direction the new government is intent on piloting its nationals at the rudder of the ship of national integration and unity. Through the turbulent seas of Nigeria’s democratic evolution there is need to prove to the world that, indeed, the APC is poised to do better than its predecessor.
No one is saying that it is going to be so easy. Nations are never built over night. The out-going government was able, at-least, to put a few things in line. It brought back train services into the system. It built more federal universities in the Northern States. It built Almajiri schools. It improved the airports. It made a reasonable improvement in the energy supply sector. It signed the freedom of information bill into law, making it possible for Nigerians to investigate public office holders and to hold them to account. But above all, it laid the foundation for the nation’s stride towards true democracy by putting in place the dynamics for hitch-free elections in the country and by demonstrating through the selfless attitude of Dr. Jonathan in conceding victory to Buhari without resistance that politics in Nigeria should not be a do-or-die affair any more. By doing this, Dr Jonathan saved the country what would have been a devastating flow of blood and unrest in the nation. Why would Igbo leaders not rise up to the defence of a man with such a heart, whether he is Igbo or not?
In consideration of these and other facts of governance and the mindset of Nigerians generally, APC leaders like Okechukwu should reassess for themselves the need to rise above tribal politics to national leadership. They should find the need to play Nigerian politics the modern way, which is built on the desire to resolve the problems of national identity among the people of the ethnic Nigeria. He should have expunged such words as “his Ijaw kinsmen” from his lexicon before addressing the public. Those words immediately portray him as a tribal leader which is not in the best interest of the APC Nigerians are looking up to.
The calibre of officers the APC needs at this time in its political outing is those who know and appreciate the need to bring all the component ethnic groups in Nigeria together – and there are over 250 of them – in unity, understanding and love, not those who will tear them apart by their public utterances.
No matter the situation, a public office holder is like a writer in some ways. Each actor has his own audience, his own followers. So, he is in a position of influence in the society. In other to move the country forward, that influence must not only be positive, it should be working in the interest of the nation and the party in which the people have reposed their faith and trust to lead them. What the APC needs at a time like this are men who will help it build a bridge of understanding among the various classes and dispositions of people in the Nigerian society, not those who will dilapidate already existing bridges and shout at the people: “To your tents, O Israel!”
Honestly, I want Chief Okechukwu to understand that most Nigerians see ex-President Jonathan as a good man. He may have had his faults. He may have made his mistakes. He was human. His office came under massive pressure from college and university mates, from his former students, from his biological relations, from his political associates, from the ever greedy business community, from the international community and numerous other sections of the Nigerian society that only one in that position is capable of speaking about. It is the case in all such offices across the globe.
It is important that Okechukwu understands the need for caution in his public utterances, especially in his official position as APC spokesman. His position should not do harm to the party’s focus. If possible, he should clear his opinion with Barrister Lai Mohammed, his colleague at the national level. Lai is quite conversant with the direction APC is moving modern Nigeria. Yes. Nigerians must continue with their forward march in the democratisation process. But our people need to be careful so that in throwing away the used bathwater, they throw not the baby away with it. We need to be careful.