I am asking this question because whenever I get involved in phone or face-to-face discussions with non-Igbos about the possibility of an Igbo Presidency in 2023, negative remarks are the norm.
Sometimes, an individual comprehensively insults Igbos, highlights their alleged character flaws and “crimes” and swears that they will never get near the top job. Sometimes, within group settings, several Igbophobes simultaneously launch harsh verbal attacks.
Sometimes those who regard the South East as politically unworthy restrict themselves to comments that are relatively mild but still extremely patronising and essentially damning, such as: “Igbos are OK but simply not ready for national leadership at the moment.”
Many people feel free to speak ill of Igbos in my presence because I have a Niger Deltan name, so they don’t know that my mother is from Imo State. And I’ve learned a lot about Igbophobia while conversing with bigots who aren’t aware of my mixed ethnicity.
I describe them as bigots because none of their reasons for wanting Igbos to be excluded from the presidency make sense to me.
Let me list the complaints I have heard and offer rejoinders:
COMPLAINT: Igbos tried to leave and destroy Nigeria via the Biafran civil war and continue to loudly support separatism via Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, so have no right to ever seek to run a Nigeria that is in one piece today only because Igbos lost the civil war and only because Buhari’s government has clipped Kanu’s wings.
REJOINDER: Without wishing to stir up animosities by going into lengthy, complex, painful historical details, let me briefly point out that Igbos did not embrace Biafra for stupid or unfair reasons, that they were the greatest victims of the war and that most Igbos do not support Kanu’s secessionist agenda or fiery rhetoric.
COMPLAINT: Igbos are too clannish. They shamelessly promote each other whenever they can and have no times for other tribes.
REJOINDER: Nonsense! All Nigerians are clannish. This country is full of public-and private-sector organisations that are completely dominated by Yorubas or Fulanis. Meanwhile, we minorities can be just as bad when we get a chance to be blindly prejudiced. My cousin once begged me, many years ago, not to nominate a very capable professional for a job because he didn’t come from our village. Meanwhile, the candidate from our village was a village idiot!!!
COMPLAINT: Igbos are chronic mercenaries who don’t care about anything except money and would sell their grannies if they could.
REJOINDER: Sure, some Igbos are aggressively avaricious. But I know quite a few Igbos who are gentle, intellectual altruistic souls…and lots of non-Igbos who are irredeemably materialistic.
Also, let’s face it: Nigeria needs the entrepreneurial Igbo spirit and the numerous goods and services that Igbo merchants provide.
COMPLAINT: Igbos colonise every location they settle in.
REJOINDER: Have Igbo settlers ever tried to topple any emir or oba or amayanabo? Are Igbos not just true Nigerians who are ready to make themselves comfortable wherever they find a business to do? In any case, more fool any son/daughter of the soil who lazily sits back and allows a newcomer to take over his/her terrain!
COMPLAINT: Igbos are crude and brash.
REJOINDER: Some Igbos are definitely insufferably crude and brash. And so are some Yorubas and some Northerners.
COMPLAINT: Igbos are not united or well-organised enough within a political context, so why should anyone take them seriously?
REJOINDER: Disunity is rife in other parts of the country, so why fixate about it only when Igbos display it?
COMPLAINT: Igbos are innately Republican and don’t humbly bow to those who are above them in life’s pecking order and cannot be easily ruled.
REJOINDER: True! But are egalitarian tendencies a crime? Being Igbo is not widely regarded as an advantage…which probably explains why Rivers people with Igbo names insist that they aren’t Igbo…even though the dialects in which they vehemently denounce their roots are very similar to Igbo. So who is fooling whom?!
Igbos have been so demonised in this country that debates about who stands a chance of taking over from President Buhari next year mostly revolve around Yoruba and Northern aspirants.
Sometimes when I listen to such debates, I marvel at the fact that Igbos are barely mentioned. An alien who lands on earth and eavesdrops on these calculations and speculations might be forgiven for concluding that Vice President Osinbajo and APC chieftain Tinubu are the only runners and that Igbos don’t matter at all. And yet, if you believe in rotation and zoning, it is their turn!!!
Igbos themselves are part of the problem. Many seem resigned to being ignored. I’ve even heard some Igbos saying that they can live without political power and are happy to concentrate on commerce.
I have a couple of senior friends in Ohanaeze, the pan-cultural organisation for Igbos; and I pray that they will vigorously fight for a place at the high table for their beleaguered brethren because even if one does not believe in zoning or rotation, the status quo is not fair at all.
The bottom line is that a quality Igbo candidate should be as potentially electable as a quality candidate from elsewhere.
Donu Kogbara is a writer/broadcaster who shuttles between Nigeria and the UK.