By Jibrin Ibrahim
My column of last Monday on the “Igbo Question” (http://www.chidoonumah.com/resolving-the-igbo-question/) has elicited very many responses, some negative and others positive, and that’s as it should be for such a topic that evokes strong emotive reactions from Nigerians.
My objective was to provoke a discussion on how to discuss and hopefully address the unfolding crisis provoked by the on-going mobilization for Biafran secession, which is tearing Nigeria at the seams and costing us a lot of lives. I was however surprised to read Chidi Odinkalu’s attempt, (http://www.chidoonumah.com/the-igbo-question-a-response-to-jibrin-ibrahim/), to politically malign my character and attack my credibility through false attribution to me of arguments that I never made.
I am fully open to criticisms, but it is irresponsible to fabricate arguments, attribute them to me and go ahead to demolish the straw man that has thereby been invented.
According to Odinkalu “Dr. Ibrahim had recently written about Barewa College, the legendary High School in Katsina State that appears to hold a patent on producing Presidents and powerful people in Nigerian politics. But what have these people accomplished for Barewa, for their people or for Nigeria? All the Presidents he pointed to are from “the North”. But what have the peoples of this region had to show for their political musical chairs?”
For the record, I have NEVER written an article on Barewa College. By criticizing what I purportedly wrote about the Northern leaders that emerged from the said school, he weaves an argument that presents me as an unthinking Northern chauvinist who is not critical of the leadership failures of Northerners in power. It is mischievous of Odinkalu to create such falsehood and attribute it to me to score cheap political points. The reality is that I have spent my entire career criticizing the actions of the said Northern leadership.
Having accused me of being a “convert to the visceral world of Nigeria’s rent politics of identities and “tribes”, he asserts that rather than deepening democracy I am stunting it by arguing as I did, that the Igbo elite needs to build a more inclusive narrative about the Nigerian State rather than remain fixated on the ”marginalization thesis”, which applies to other Nigerian groups as well.
I had argued that there have been persistent demands for an Igbo presidency, which is very legitimate. My argument was that, if this desire were to be achieved, the Igbo political class needed to engage in a discourse of inclusive politics and coalition building. I made the point that to focus on marginalization, leading to the revival of the secessionist movement is not the best path. This is simple political common sense.
Odinkalu attributes to me the “historic methodological flaw of ethnicism” and accuses me of racialising our politics. He even attributes to me the hubris syndrome, which is a mental disease. He then pompously asserts that; “in a democracy, tribes don’t vote; citizens do.” The issues we are discussing do not concern a racial divide so it’s not clear why he is attributing racial analysis to me. What we have had for the last seventy years is strong ethnic politics. Yes, citizens vote but as is well known in electoral politics the world over, voters are often influenced by identity factors, including ethnicity and religion.
Had Odinkalu bothered to look at the outcome of votes in the five predominantly Igbo South-East States in the 2015 presidential elections, he would have noticed that ethnicity was a huge factor, as it was for other groups as well. It may be politically convenient to dismiss the ethnic factor in elections, but all keen observers of Nigerian politics would be aware that the denial has no empirical basis. What I have been committed to in my engagement as a civil society activist is the promotion of issue-based politics. It takes time and persistence but I have remained steadfast in that endeavour. What Odinkalu is trying to do is to impose a label of ethnic jingoist on me, which is cheap and mischievous.
Odinkalu makes the case that significant moves have been made in the promotion of mutual coexistence and that many Nigerians have been politically accepted and have had leadership responsibilities in ethnic communities different from their original identities. This is correct and I have myself made the same argument on numerous occasions, such as the book I recently edited on citizenship and indigeneity conflicts in Nigeria. There is no basis to accuse me of “staple homogenizations and mutabilities of Nigerian ethnic politics” as well as “conflating race and geo-politics”.
What I did in my article is to state the case that there are empirical facts that have led to the emergence of the discourse on Igbo marginalization and that if we really want to forge national unity, these issues need to be addressed.
Playing the ostrich and hiding our heads in the sand cannot be the way forward. In discursive analysis, the rule is to recognise that what different groups say and accept that they do matter, and that political analysts need to examine these various perspectives, critique them and engage in a conversation on the best way forward. It is not only the views of self-styled progressives that matter. I strongly supported the national conference because of my belief that it provided a platform for such discussions and the search for pathways that could lead to a resolution. That was why I entitled my article “Resolving the Igbo Question”. Odinkalu’s response was to be uncharitable and accuse me of ethnic bigotry and feeding mutual illiteracies and sustaining prejudices.
Odinkalu also accuses me of a “commitment to the Bantustanization of Nigeria”. This is a strange accusation because Nigerians are strong believers in federalism and since independence, we have pursued a fissiparous tendency that led to the subdivision of the three legacy regions into 36 states. When the national conference proposed the creation of 18 additional states, I opposed it very strongly on the basis that it made neither fiscal nor political sense to continue to subdivide our political units. There is absolutely no basis to make the case that I am for bantustanisation of Nigeria. In his last sentence, Odinkalu claims that I am trivializing rather than elevating Nigerian politics.
Was it not the same Chidi Odinkalu who went on national television to call for the cancellation of the 2015 election because “Nigeria is at war”? Is keeping Goodluck Jonathan in power the best way to elevate Nigerian politics?
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