No one can replace Papa Anthony Enahoro and Awo but we can inculcate their ideas, their beliefs, their feelings, their irrevocable commitment, to humanity, to human progress and the development of our country”.
This was Bola Tinubu celebrating chiefs Anthony Enahoro and Obafemi Awolowo, as celebrated Nigerian visionaries who left their footprint in the sand of time. They served as role models and guiding star during his war with Obasanjo and the predatory buccaneers that held the old southwest hostage. Tinubu celebrated his victory over Obasanjo with the return the old West from Edo to Lagos to its old glory of a pacesetter administered in the main by men of ideas who understand that their own wellbeing is contingent on the wellbeing of their neighbours.
Tinubu incidentally was not one of those that Pa Awo and Enahoro heavily invested on to carry on the battle. But his principled stand on divisive issues of Nigerian politics such as fiscal federalism, devolution of power, revenue allocation, credible census exercise, free and fair election naturally positioned him as the one to continue his father’s unfinished battle. Today, his illustrious fathers who in spite of their heroic efforts, could not spread their epistle to the critical segments of Nigerian society, will be proud of Tinubu’s exploits from their graves for winning over many of the descendant of those who once persecuted them for spreading the light. The struggle for liberation from colonial rule and institutionalization of an egalitarian society might have sounded attractive; most northern leaders of the period were probably put off by Awo, Enahoro and their other members’ abrasiveness.
Thus Enahoro’s March 31, 1953 motion for independence in 1956 left a permanent scar between the west and the north. Professor Banji Akintoye, not too long ago told a story of how a prominent northern leader accused the Yoruba of arrogance for trying to preach the epistle of ‘free education’ to the northern masses. “Who by the way told the Yoruba that the north wanted free education?”, the northern leader was quoted as asking not without a touch of some cynicism. Incitement of northern masses by their leaders against Akintola, the chief evangelist of free education to Kano led to the 1953 Kano riot with about 46 people dead. In Sokoto, Awo’s helicopter would not be allowed to land. A Sokoto convert who cleared his groundnut farm where Awo’s helicopter eventually landed paid the supreme price. Hawking his fathers’ same old wares during the 2023 election, Tinubu secured the bulk of the 2.7m votes that came from the northwest. The epistle was the same. What was different was Tinubu’s marketing skill.
The Old West evangelists had underestimated the role of culture. They had thought the value of free education and other social policies will be so self-evident to be resisted by the north which they also believe will have no choice but embrace federalism because of the heterogeneity of the north where some state with 24 LGAs speak as many as 48 languages. They forgot that free education succeeded in the West because it is part of their culture and federalism because by nature, Yoruba are federalists.
In spite of Tinubu’s gains in the north, he lost the critical voice of the Igbo without which Nigeria can make progress. History tells us that Nigeria is doomed without the critical voice of the Igbo. It was obvious from the outcome of 1959 election that the three dominant groups, Hausa/Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba have diametrically opposing world views. We can today see the hypocrisy in Dr. Azikiwe “with this giant step, Nigeria is no more a geographical expression” claim during the independence night cross-over celebration at the Tafawa Balewa square on independence day in 1960. It was obvious by 1963 that “Nigeria was not a geographical expression’ only when the Igbo is inside.
Igbo response to the loss of influence during the 1964 constitutional confrontation between Zik and Balewa was no less duplicitous just as the method of taking control in January 1966 was disingenuous. And very little has changed in Igbo strategy during their reaction to PDP betrayal in 2023. It is perhaps only Igbo that would believe Obi their adopted candidate would win Nigerian presidency by fighting his former benefactors while also waging an open war against the west and its candidate.
But if we need one more evidence that Nigeria is still a geographical expression, it was Igbo’s violent opposition to Tinubu’s candidacy in the 2023 election and continued questioning of his legitimacy by majority of Igbo in spite of judiciary’s verdict.
Tinubu was roundly rejected in the east which gave Obi 95% of their to vote to Obi whose support spread among all segment of Igbo society, from the unquestioning ‘Obidients’, to elder-statesmen like Chukwuemeka Ezeife, accomplished intellectuals like Prof Pat Utomi who stepped down for him as Labour’s presidential candidate, to Igbo world acclaimed writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Except for the Igbo, most Nigerians understand why Obi couldn’t have won an election in which his party fractured into three on the eve of election in which ethnic and religious sentiments were placed in the front burner by major actors.
Igbo leaders have generally owned up to their control of commerce in the country. And since in commerce, profit is the driving force, cutting corners is a model. And this may include importation of substandard manufactured goods which has in recent years led to the collapse of our pharmaceutical, ceramics, automobile accessories, textile, batteries, electronics or their relocation outside the country. That this has become a threat to our survival as a nation underscore the need for us to ensure Igbo remains inside.
The challenge before Tinubu is politics. It is not running abroad to seek foreign investors who at the end will be frustrated out of forced to relocate to Ghana by those who control commerce. And Tinubu’s job has been well cut out for him since we know what the Igbo want is a wholesale importation of everything even when they are given license to manufacture locally as was the case with a company that, according to Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), “has not manufactured one bar of the soap in Nigeria since the its registration in 2013”. Instead the banned soap ‘was imported seven times in 2021 alone and each consignment is not less than three containers with 4,500 cartons of the soap’.
Instead of playing the ostrich, it is time to return to restructuring. Nnewi can become Dubai of Nigeria and destination for all those who want substandard imported goods including medicines. That will save those who control commerce the trouble of having to ask their customers for their preference between fake and original. With the pioneering work of Aminu Masari, Nasir el-Rufai and Abdullahi Ganduje, northwest naturally becomes the zone for animal husbandry. Of course the Middle Belt will remain the food basket of Nigeria. President Tinubu only needs a fraction of billions of naira frittered away under Buhari on fighting herdsmen sponsored and armed by those who hide under his government to serve other tendencies.