By Dr. Johnson Greg
In January 1970, the Biafran General, Philip Effiong, led the leadership of the secessionist Biafran State to a meeting with General Yakubu Gowon to acknowledge the end of the Nigerian civil war. Effiong ended his speech with the following words: “The Republic of Biafra [hereby] ceases to exist.”
Apparently excited and happy to mark the end of the bloodiest civil war Africa had ever seen, the Nigerian Head of State announced to the world the famous 3Rs. One of the Rs stood for the full reconciliation of Biafra with Nigeria.
Like every country that had survived a civil war and prospered after, the Nigerian leader understood the importance of full reconciliation of the warring sides. Indeed, that was the American model.
The world heaved a sigh of relief and cheered for Nigeria. It seemed that the worst had been avoided and that the most populous black nation on earth was about to rise again.
Sadly, very sadly indeed, the pronouncements of General Gowon, though full in words, turned out to be empty or only half full in action and implementation. Thus began a painful period in Nigerian history where instead of ending the war and reconciling the country, Nigeria and Biafra ended up with only a ceasefire. There was no reconciliation.
Instead, the ethnic mistrust and suspicion that gave rise to the war persisted in a more pervasive manner, with the Igbo race, having been severely ravaged and bloodied by war, remaining in a weakened position while Nigeria punished them through unabated policy of exclusion and marginalization.
And as the saying goes, when you hold a person down, you have to stay down to keep him there. Nigeria stayed down in order to keep the Igbos down. Staying down to keep the Igbos down explains why the supposed giant of Africa never stood much taller than the dwarfs of the continent.
The Nigerian attitude toward the Igbos unwittingly rendered Nigeria poor, backward, underdeveloped, ravaged by instability, and now tethering on the brinks of state failure and disintegration.
As things are today, nothing can save Nigeria from herself other than a miracle or an audacious move in the right direction. Ending the exclusion of the Igbos and zoning the presidency in the next election to the Igbos is one such audacious move. Yes, that will allow the Igbos to rise, but even more so for Nigeria.
Igbo presidency is primarily good for Nigeria because it will free Nigeria from herself. Instead of staying down to hold the Igbos down, Nigeria can finally rise to its natural height of the giant.
To underscore the importance of zoning the Presidency to the Igbos in 2023, recourse should be had to the comment of Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a respected leader from the western part of Nigeria, who recently said: “We are talking about people who want Nigeria to stay together. How can anybody who loves this country talk of the presidency coming back to the South West in 2023? That’s why I tell you all these people are not serious. Why should you exclude the South-east? Is South-east not part of Nigeria?”
This view is shared widely in Nigeria and has been gathering momentum in recent times. At this point, one must acknowledge this: zoning the presidency to the Igbos is not just where it ends. Indeed, one must admit that the process is not as simple as it appears. After fifty years of policies of exclusion which was founded on mutual mistrust, suspicion and fear, it is hard to expect magic overnight. The process must involve credible agency and personalities that can rebuild trust and end suspicion and fear.
Naturally, Nigerians must be hoping for an Igbo leader who can allay any residual fears and suspicion Nigeria has of Biafra. At the same, the Igbos must be looking for an Igbo leader whom they can trust to assure them of continued good faith from the rest of Nigerians. And the world will hope that all sides can agree on that unifying leader.
We can sum up the above analysis by putting it thus: by far the greatest challenge Nigeria faces today is to find an Igbo leader who can unify the fractious country. Indeed, one must agree with former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his recent observation that Nigeria had never been as divided as it is today, though not necessarily the fault of the present government.
If we accept the first leg of Obasanjo’s observation, as regards the state of division among Nigerians, it reinforces the urgency in finding a leader who has the unique abilities to unite Nigerians and quell suspicion and fear of Nigerians by Nigerians.
True, the Igbos are never known to run short of talents. Indeed, the Igbo race is known to have produced many talented and ably endowed leaders and leadership materials, men and women in all walks of life. But the moment at hand is a delicate one and there can be no room for error. What we have before us is our final moment to achieve the full reconciliation that General Gowon envisioned in his famous 3Rs speech.
Given the delicacy of the moment, one Igbo leader stands out by the fact that he possesses, to the greatest extent, ascertainable characteristics of a consensus builder and the kind of centrist leader that can be trusted by all sides, and who can build bridges and unify Nigerians. If that leader is not Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, he must possess all the qualities of Orji Uzor Kalu.
With him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2023, Nigeria will finally get to a true and full reconciliation and the world will be spared of the feared collapse of the biggest and most populous economy in the continent of Africa.
•Johnson, a commentator on national issues, writes from Abuja