Archive for April 2015

Xenophobia Is Worse In Nigeria

April 24, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union of April 24, 2015

Emmanuel Sithole  was from Mozambique. He lay helpless that fateful Saturday, April 18, 2015.  His attackers had no sympathy. They hit and stabbed him many times. The man died before any medical help could come his way. Seven other people were killed. Some others escaped death but their attackers looted their shops. The only crime they committed was that they were foreigners living in South Africa. They call it xenophobia – intense dislike or fear of foreigners or strangers. I call it barbarism.

It is a familiar phenomenon in South Africa. They once threw two Senegalese and a Mozambican off a moving train in that former apartheid enclave. In 2000, two Nigerians were among those who died in another xenophobic attack. The current cruel attack was reportedly precipitated by the Zulu king, Goodwill Swelithini, who was said to have called on foreigners to go home.

Different versions of this idiocy exist in different parts of the world. In the United States, an African-American woman was recently elected as mayor of a small town of Parma, Missouri. Tyrus Byrd, who was sworn in last week, was said to have beaten the incumbent, Randall Ramsey, to become the first African American woman to be so elected. But soon after the election,  police officers, and many other top officials of the city resigned en masse citing ‘safety concerns’. Is this really about safety, or irrational dislike of the black woman?

Here in Nigeria, we face variegated forms of xenophobia. The Igbo appear to be the worst hit. Many a times, they are attacked and their shops looted in different parts of the North. The pogrom against them in 1966 resulted in a 30-month civil war that led to the killing of millions of Nigerian citizens.

Since the war ended in 1970, the Igbo have been fighting to be reintegrated into the Nigerian society. They leave their home states and move to other states where they establish businesses and build houses. But sometimes, their host communities antagonise them and make them realise that they are visitors.   For instance, some landlords in Lagos refuse to rent their property to Igbo for reasons best known to them.

In entrance exams into unity schools, children from the South-East region are the most disadvantaged. A child from Anambra State, for instance, will be denied admission not because he is a dullard but because of where he comes from. His colleagues from Zamfara or Sokoto will be given top priority in the admission process simply because of their state of origin. Is this not xenophobia of a different hue?

The last elections brought some vivid memories back home. One of such is the threat by the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, that the Igbo in Lagos either vote for the All Progressives Congress governorship candidate, Akinwunmi Ambode, or perish in the lagoon. Hardly had the Oba finished issuing his ‘fatwa’ when some individuals went to the social media to denigrate the Igbo. They further warned voters that  a vote for Jimi Agbaje, of the rival Peoples Democratic Party, was a vote for the Igbo. My happiness is that most people condemned the Oba’s statement.

Elsewhere in the country, the voting pattern was skewed in xenophobic style.  The North largely voted for their kith and kin, while the South-East and South-South did the same thing. People also considered whether a particular candidate is a Christian or a Muslim. If he is a Christian, the other consideration is whether he is a Catholic or a protestant.

Happily, some non-indigenes have just been elected to represent Lagos in the national and state assemblies. This has not happened in many decades.  Recall that when Obafemi Awolowo’s daughter, Tokunbo Dosunmu, attempted to contest for the governorship of Lagos State in 1991, she was schemed out because she is not a Lagosian. This is somebody who has lived in Lagos for over four decades. Talk of xenophobia!

Meanwhile, a Nigerian, Mr Chuka Umunna, was (until March 30, 2015 when the British Parliament was dissolved to pave way for another election on May 7, 2015, ) a member of the British House of Commons. He was elected as Member of Parliament for Streatham in 2010 and could emerge later to be the Prime Minister of Britain. If Umunna were to be in Nigeria, he would be derogatorily called omo Igbo and would be asked to go to his state of origin to contest.

The tragedy of our existence is that we always try to remove the speck in someone’s eyes while leaving the log in our own. Now, we are clamouring for who will be Senate President and House of Representatives Speaker. But the major consideration is not who is capable but which zone will produce these leaders.

The current Senate President, David Mark, belongs to the PDP. So the possibility of his retaining the position is remote. From May 29, APC will become the ruling party and naturally, should produce the leadership of the National Assembly. The South-East, by some zoning arrangement, should have produced the Senate President. But there is no ranking APC member from the zone in the National Assembly.

Already, some individuals are blaming the Igbo people for not voting the APC. They say Senators like Chris Ngige could have easily emerged Senate President had they been elected by their people. This has also engendered some hate speeches from some quarters.

The question is, for how long are we going to continue with these primitive sentiments? How has David Mark’s leadership of the Senate impacted on his local community in Benue? How will Ngige’s leadership of the Senate bring food to the table of an average Anambra man? How will Governor Rochas Okorocha’s membership of the APC bring development to the South-East?

Granted that Nigeria is a complex mix of interests and groups, but must we continue to highlight our differences and complexities? Must we continue to discriminate against people on account of where they come from? Let’s stop deceiving ourselves.

The xenophobic attacks in South Africa are condemnable.  But we are also guilty in many other ways.

Okechukwu Buhari And Nigeria’s Stomach Politics

April 10, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union newspaper

Last Tuesday, one advertorial in the Daily Sun newspaper caught my attention. It was Elder Mrs Eunice Uzor kalu (Oduko N’mba) congratulating President-elect, “General Mohammadu Okechukwu Buhari (Ogbuagu 1 of Aba, Abia State) on your hard and sweet victory, which is victory for Nigeria.” Eunice is the mother of the former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu.

Just as I was still trying to download the import of the congratulatory message, I saw a front page news story the following day in the same newspaper with the headline, “Kalu’s mum, brothers join APC…Party leaders woo ex-Abia governor.” Even the Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, was reported in the same newspaper to have endorsed APC for Abia, Imo governorship polls.

I wondered how  the Ohanaeze that endorsed President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party could turn around so soon to endorse the All Progressives Congress. But I later realised that it was a splinter group led by Ralph Obioha that issued the statement and not the one led by Gary Igariwey.

The truth is that the last presidential election held on March 28, 2015, has caused the wind to blow and expose the rump of some of our politicians. In Plateau, Kogi, Niger, Imo and some others, erstwhile PDP leaders are singing ‘chaange’! They are now APC members.

Former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) is one of them. Former National Legal Adviser of the PDP and an ex-governorship candidate of the party in Ondo State, Olusola Oke, is another.

Overnight, some of these characters have transformed themselves into friends of Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate who won the election. Some others have become emergency advisers, advising the president-elect on how to be an effective leader.

I pity Buhari. These new-found lovers will bring him doom if he is not careful. They are not joining the APC because of any strong ideological leaning. In fact, they have no principles. It’s all politics of the stomach. The United States where we copied our presidential system from does not practise democracy this way. There are two major parties in the US – the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Their leaders do not jump ship because they lose elections.

This is why I now have more respect for Senate President, David Mark, and the Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu. In spite of the mass defections, these two leaders have stated categorically that they are not ready to leave the PDP.

Aliyu said, “I would rather resign from politics than defect. Those defecting from the PDP, based on the outcome of the Presidential and National Assembly elections, lack principles of integrity and morality; they are, indeed, stomach politicians.”

I cannot but agree with Aliyu. Many politicians have no ideology. They have no shame. All they are after is how to exploit every situation to their selfish advantage.

Look at what is happening in Ekiti State currently. The APC legislators, who had remained silent and redundant since Ayo Fayose returned as the governor, have now found their rhythm. They have threatened to remove the governor from office. The governor, in the same token, is battling for his survival. He has called the lawmakers jesters and has used or caused to be used, security agents to block the gate of the assembly.

It serves him right, you might say. Fayose, during the presidential campaign, published front page advertorials repudiating Buhari and saying he might die in office like Umaru Yar’Adua and some other North-Western leaders.

Our brand of democracy has no match anywhere in the world. The other day, it was the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, who threatened the Igbo to either vote the governorship candidate of the APC in Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, or perish in the lagoon.

The Oba was quoted to have said, “On Saturday, if any one of you goes against Ambode who I picked, that is your end. If it doesn’t happen within seven days, just know that I am a bastard and it’s not my father who gave birth to me…I am not ready to beg you. Nobody knew how I picked Ambode… If you do what I want, Lagos will continue to be prosperous for you, if you go against my wish, you will perish in the water.”

This hate speech was preceded by some other invectives from the staple of both the PDP and the APC. The Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Femi Fani-Kayode, for instance, used some harsh words against Buhari and the APC during the campaigns. Rather than lose, Buhari became stronger and went ahead to win the election.

In the same token, the threat by Oba Akiolu may end up working against his preferred candidate. And who told him that those Igbo who came to see him and pledged the support of Ndigbo for Ambode represent the Igbo in Lagos? Igbo people are republicans in nature and don’t really kowtow before any king, real or self-styled. The so-called Eze Ndigbo in Lagos or elsewhere speak only for themselves  and members of their families. The Igbo have their town union meetings where they take a collective stand on any given issue.

Sadly, what is happening now will only rubbish the noble legacy President Goodluck Jonathan wants to  leave behind for Nigerians. He lost the presidential election and quickly conceded defeat. But for this singular act, this country would have been plunged into a needless war.

My happiness is that there are still many well-meaning Nigerians around. A lot of people and groups, for instance, spoke against the threat of the Oba against the Igbo. Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, reportedly asked him to apologise. Socio-cultural groups like Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Aka Ikenga and Oodua Peoples Congress have condemned the threat.

Like the former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, who enthused after the peaceful presidential poll, that Nigerians had shamed their detractors, I pray that we make another positive statement by coming out en masse tomorrow to vote peacefully for a governorship candidate of our choice.

As for General Buhari (I never knew his name is Okechukwu), I can only say, beware of sycophants.