MK Othman: Removing the smokescreen of national stereotypes against Ndigbo

Prof. M.K. Othman is a great patriot and academic, who had contributed to national development through research and human capital development. And out of burning desire to engender a better society, he hosts a weekly column with Blueprint newspaper. His articles are usually full of wisdom and elderly exhortation to a society in dire need of justice, equity and social succour. Thus, he makes a good read week-in, weak-out.

On Wednesday, July 21, 2021, he authored a piece titled: “Nigeria-2023: Ndigbo undoing the Igbo presidency.” As usual, he was succinct, and savvy. But midway, he found himself in the same gaffe of misrepresentation of Igbo worldview, in Nigeria politics like his many northern compatriots. As if to give a dog bad in order to hang it, he struggled, albeit subtly, to establish that Ndigbo don’t deserve to be given their due support to have a shot at the presidency come 2023.

He said, “…Just like other tribes, Igbo have their share of bad eggs lucking among the good ones in pretense waiting for the right opportunity to perpetuate their ignoble acts. These are the armed robbers, cultists, kidnappers, swindlers, Yahoo boys, and the likes that are unfortunately in the majority.”

The catch phrase from that sound bite is “…These are the armed robbers, cultists, kidnappers, swindlers, Yahoo boys, and the likes that are unfortunately in the majority.”

Before he made this remark, he dished some complimentary notes on the nobility of the Igbo person. But while he acknowledged that social delinquency is a vice that every ethnic nationality has a share in, he fell into the error of fallacy of generalisation, like President Muhammadu Buhari did in his recent interview with Arise News.

Our Prof characterised “majority of Igbo to be armed robbers, cultists, kidnappers, swindlers Yahoo boys and the likes.” This blatantly failed the test of logic. On his June 10, interview, Buhari saw every Igbo man as an IPOB apologist. I tried to correct that falsehood in my follow-up article titled: “Re:Presidential interview: A change in perception is necessary” dated June 13, 2021 which can be read via:

It’s like saying that majority of the northerners are bandits and terror herdsmen, whereas these miscreants are not up to 10% of north’s population.

Is there something the rest of Nigerians have against Ndigbo that some of us don’t know? Why all these conspiratory efforts to discredit Igbo and deny them their due turn to the presidency come 2023? The Yoruba threatened fire and brimstone against the Nigeria state from June 1993 till 1998, and we all saw reasons to quell their anger in the interest of Nigeria brotherhood and gave them the chance to rule. All political parties zoned their presidential tickets to the South-west, and Obasanjo beat his brother, Pa Olu Falae, to the presidency. The likes of Prof. Othman never argued that by their wild protests, the Yoruba were undoing their chances to the presidency in 1999.

Even though by no one’s fault, President Yar’adua could not finish his term in office, the North revolted against President Jonathan’s South-south bid to see off their own terms in him. All manner of threats came both from their elite and gutters alike, to the extent that they stoned President Jonathan’s convoy. And to placate their unjustified anger, Nigerians gave their son, Buhari, over “15 million” votes twice (in 2015 and 2019) to soothe their rage.

Now, Ndigbo having asked that it is their turn to produce the next president, all manner of campaign of calumny had surfaced from the North, South-south and South-west against the Igbo interest. And to the shock of some of us who are staunch followers of Prof. Othman in his column, he wrote that “…Igbo can only achieve their desire of making the Igbo presidency with active support, partnership, and cooperation of other tribes. Intimidation and threat of war to the nation are akin to undoing the Igbo presidency.”

By implication, he was judging the entire tribe by the actions and utterances of IPOB who (even though they exploit the just angst of the Igbo against the present regime’s stark denigration of the South-east), constitute far less than 5% of Igbo population. This is not only fallacious but hypocritical as well.

Prof forgot that northern youths formed Boko Haram that has been threatening the sovereignty of Nigeria, and wrecking havoc on everyone, for over a decade. Yet, Nigerians didn’t look back in voting the North to the presidency in 2007, 2015 and 2019. He equally forgot that Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) was causing undue mayhem in the country at a time we decided that their son, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, should be voted a second time. The Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) were busy wrecking our national economy in protest when we voted their son, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

The reason was that in those instances, Nigerians knew that OPC, MEND/NDA and Boko Haram boys constitute a negligible percentage of their respective region’s population. And so no one can justly say the entire region were miscreants.

Why will the case of southeast be any different?

In terms of collaboration with other regions which he rightly said is a sine qua non for any tribe that wants to win election to the presidency, he failed to highlight the fact that no tribe is more accommodating and collaborative in the nation’s body polity than Ndigbo in this regard. In 1998, at the PDP convention in Jos, Dr. Alex Ekwueme was cruising to victory halfway in the primary election, but other South-east delegates lead by Chief Jim Nwobodo saw the need to join ranks with the North to deliver a Yoruba candidate, even though South-west preferred Pa Olu Falae. Igbo delegates to the convention advised their own brother to drop his (and by extension their own) interest. They didn’t hesitate to make it come through. This selfless brotherly love was re-expressed in 2003, when they collaborated again with the North, yet again, to deliver Obasanjo, at the cost of their most cherished leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

Four years after, they extended same hands of fellowship to the North again in 2007 to deliver Yar’adua. Even after the current northern president, in practical sense, dismissed Ndigbo as 5%, they still went ahead to adopt another North’s son, Alh. Atiku Abubakar, as their preferred candidate for president in 2019. Which other advice of collaborative politics was Prof. Othman actually struggling to give Ndigbo?

His last phrase in the essay read: “It is time for the Igbo to return to the drawing board for a better and viable strategy to produce a Nigerian Presidency from Igbo extraction instead of the Igbo presidency to preside over Nigeria. Igbo and Indeed other Nigerians do not need a tribal presidency at this moment of nation building.” With all due respect, if our Professor is sincere, he would accept that with the level of Igbo phobia and politics of exclusion going on against the South-east region, since the inception of this regime, his advisory is grossly misplaced. He should channel that advice to the northern president currently in Aso Rock and use his pen to support the just cause of Igbo presidency come 2023, anything else is nothing but intellectual dishonesty.

God bless Nigeria.

Eze Jude O.,
Medical Laboratory Scientist, a columnist and a public affairs analyst
[email protected]