By Jude Atupulazi
It is all over as far as the 2019 presidential election is concerned. Or is it? In the early hours of last Wednesday, February 27, while Nigerians slept, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, finally declared incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, the winner of the election. According to the INEC boss, Buhari polled over 15 million votes to Alhaji Abubakar Atiku's over eleven million to emerge winner. The early morning announcement came in the wake of the midnight postponement of the presidential election a week earlier.
Nigerians had cried blue murder at the postponement, having suspected something fishy. But despite the ominous signs, many Nigerians stood firm in their resolve to vote out Buhari whose first four years have been nothing to write home about.
Among the Nigerians who resolved to vote out Buhari were Ndigbo. Never before in recent memory had they come together as one to determine their destiny. Many of them had to travel twice (no thanks to the initial postponement) to exercise their franchise. In Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, they saw a ticket powerful and credible enough to unseat and do better than Buhari. Thus despite attempts by some turn coat Igbo elements to bribe them to vote for Buhari in the Southeast, they took the money offered and still voted for their choice. In the end, their hopes were quashed as Buhari was declared winner.
But even in their loss, many see it as a victory. It is a victory because the Igbos refused to be cowed by any deceitful argument, including the one that voting for Atiku would be like putting all our eggs in one basket. As far as Ndigbo were concerned, there was no other basket apart from the one labelled Atiku/Obi and they demonstrated it by stubbornly voting PDP all the way in the presidential election.
However, they would learn about the new type of rigging employed by the ruling party, the APC. That new type is calculated disenfranchisement of voters in areas of strength of the opposition through malfunctioning card readers which INEC had said must identify voters before they would be allowed to vote.
In the Southeast, a clear strong hold of the opposition PDP, an estimated 8 million people were believed to have been disenfranchised through the card readers. While this number was stopped from voting by the malfunctioning card readers, the same card readers were miraculously working in parts of the north. One of the places where they amazingly worked was in Borno State; a place made near desolate by war, war against Bokom Haram. Even on the morning of February 23, the day of the election, gunshots were said to have been heard in parts of that state, a development the state governor himself had confirmed but claimed the guns were not from Boko Haram. He urged his people to ignore the scare and come out to vote.
Mind you, before then many communities in that state had been sacked by Boko Haram, with the fleeing population finding safety at the many Internally Displaced Persons' camps set up in parts of the state.
A visit to Bornu before the elections showed one that it was a place angels feared to tread. Even soldiers have been scared stiff of going into some of the places owing to the large number of casualties they have been getting. To say that large swathes of the state have been deserted is to state the obvious. But on the day of election, all those people who had previously scurried into their holes like rats all came out in their numbers and voted massively for a government that had failed to protect them from the insurgents. More importantly, the card readers there worked to perfection! In fact the votes got from that place were bigger than those from Ebonyi and Abia put together! Now, isn't that the eighth Wonder of the World? The Borno experience was also the case in places like Yobe and Zamfara.
Where they were not able to replicate such magic, they resorted to open intimidation as was seen in parts of Lagos, especially Okota. Despite the president's controversial shoot-on-sight order to security agents against ballot box snatchers, the chief thug, clearly working for the APC, who was beaten black and blue for burning ballot papers, was rather than being arrested, taken to a VIP hospital for admission. It is no rocket science that had he been Igbo, a policeman would have been deployed to keep vigil over him in order to arrest him immediately he is discharged. That's Nigeria for you.
In the aftermath of the declaration of Buhari as the winner of that election, the PDP candidate, Atiku, had rejected the results and announced his intention to head to court. But as he prepares to undertake that long journey to hopefully reclaim his mandate, it has become necessary at this point to examine a serious issue that emanated from that election. It involves a piece on the social media by a Yoruba who virtually gave a red card to Ndigbo in Lagos. The summary of his piece was that Igbos should leave Lagos to the indigenes. He frowned at the penchant of the Igbos to colonize areas where they settle and dominate the indigenes. He asked how the Igbos would feel if the Yoruba came to the Southeast, colonized it and determined who would run and win elections there. He was clearly unhappy that the Igbo population in Lagos nearly upset the applecart in the presidential election. For the first time, the votes were almost equally shared. They didn't like it.
When one recalls that a major clash between Igbos and Yorubas was averted in Lagos following the beating received by the ballot box snatcher, that write-up ought to drum some sense into us.
Without bias, I think the author raised very salient issues and sounded very logical too even though such has no place no place in a true federation. But since what we operate is far from a true federation, I think the solution to the issues raised by the author is clear: let the Igbos make their money outside very quietly and send it home to invest with it. Have you imagined what it would look like if a Yoruba successfully aspired to become our governor here and makes policies for us and tells us the land belongs to no one? While it is within our rights to vote and be voted for anywhere in Nigeria, we can't feign ignorance of the sad reality of ethnic and religious walls dividing us as a people. Also while we are genuinely settling comfortably in other places, acquiring property and employing labour in the name of One Nigeria, the natives of those lands see it differently. They see our success as a sort of ethnic expansionism and dominance and are well within their rights to feel threatened.
Ever wondered why our people are targets during crises? It's just because of our penchant to acquire property and integrate into foreign lands, thus making us look like an army of occupation. I'm not talking of our loquacity and arrogant display of wealth in those cities. These have their own problems. We should know that no matter how we believe we're one, we remain in their perception as the butterfly that can never be a bird. We simply don't and can't belong. Hence during crises periods they loot our property and kill us when we want to save such property.
Why don't the Hausa, for instance loot Yoruba property in the north? There's nothing to loot. These other guys come to our place without anything and leave with nothing. I once visited a Yoruba man in Nkpor. All that was in his one room apartment were a mat and a shirt hanging on a thin rope across a side of the room. His only other clothing was apparently what he was putting on. Although he could be excused as an itinerant salesman (he actually sold drugs), his Igbo counterpart in any part of Nigeria will never live in such a sparse room. He's more likely to have it tastefully furnished and be living there with wife or relatives because he calls that land home. It's not our fault. It's in our DNA to act and live that way. But this will never be understood by others who will always see us as a threat.
What to do then?
We have to think home! We have to make our money in those places and invest it at home. That way, no one will loot our property or envy us or fear us. Our belief in One Nigeria will remain utopian for as long as we refuse to embrace the realities of the Nigerian situation. The electoral violence in parts of Lagos populated by Igbos during the Presidential election should serve as a brutal reminder of how "they" perceive us - usurpers!
So, for how long shall we continue to play the ostrich? Let's wake up from our slumber and do the needful which is thinking home. Our leaders should set the tone by creating the enabling environment for our brothers outside to return and thrive.
God has blessed us with talent, ideas and strong will. Let's deploy them in the move to turn our homeland into Dubai and Japan. We can do it, we should do it. Whoever thinks our lot can ever change any time soon in this Godforsaken country is surely a bigger dreamer than Joseph. This is the naked reality which the last election has once more brought to the fore.
Ndigbo, arise and act!