FEATURE ARTICLE

Friday, June 8, 2018
[email protected]
New York, New York, USA
THE RISING SCOURGE OF SECTIONALISM IN ABIA POLITICS

ike many right thinking and fair minded Abia citizens, both at home and in diaspora, I was disgusted and alarmed when during the 2015 gubernatorial elections some high and low ranking supporters of the Ikpeazu campaign, including the candidate himself started a disinformation campaign for purposes of political benefit against Dr Alex Otti with the insinuation that he was not a true Ngwa man because of his ancestry while ignoring the fact that he was born in Ngwa land, grew up there, went to school there and built a massive mansion there. It was convenient for them to also ignore the fact that in recognition of his many philanthropic gestures and contributions to the larger Ngwa community a number of prominent Ngwa traditional rulers came together and conferred on him the title of "Ugwu Ngwa". So to hear many in preparation for the 2019 Governorship election raise the issue of Dr Otti's ancestry as a qualifying or disqualifying factor in his quest to be Governor and using the issue as a rallying cry to seek political support for Dr Ikpeazu amongst the larger Ngwa community was not only abhorrent but despicable.

That 2015 disappointing vile act of political malpractice by the Ikpeazu campaign did not only highlight the stifling sweatbox quality of contemporary Nigerian politics and political discourse as Dr Otti himself recently elaborated in his essay published in ThisDay magazine titled, " A Discussion Between Mediocrity And Meritocracy" in which he bemoaned the introduction of zoning into our political system for selfish, ethnic and religious reasons, " it was also a frightening development in Abia state considering the fact that, for those who might have forgotten or not aware that there was a time in the old Eastern Nigeria or earlier when a Northern Moslem was the Mayor of Enugu and a man named Eyo Etta from what is now Akwa Ibom state was a top NCNC leader and if my information is correct, Premier. In most democracies, there exist essentially two grand planks candidates stand on when running for office. The first one is the argument that the person in office is doing a horrible job and needs to be thrown out. The second, being the need or promise to bring the people together in peace, unity, brotherhood and harmony. It will be recalled that Dr Ikpeazu ran on neither. Rather Dr Ikpeazu ran solely on the mantra, "its own turn". History and posterity will hopefully someday render judgment as to whether a sense of communal entitlement is a major qualification to run for office instead of ability, experience and vision Be that as it may, the tactic worked for him at least in large part within a section of the Ngwa community. It is no wonder they are now trying to reprise the tactic, only this time there is a new dimension to it, which is that, "he deserve a second term as did other Governors before him from other geographical zones' as if this again is a relevant requirement for the re-election of someone who did a poor job in his first term. Not even the purported comment by former first Lady Mrs Jonathan, as idiotic as it sounded, that "a student who failed in a previous class should be given the chance to repeat the class" applies here.

It is very disheartening now in 2018, as we approach another election, to hear whispers of a resurgence of the ethnic or sectional discriminatory rhetoric by the same ethnic hustlers in their eternal quest to re-elect Dr Ikpeazu by casting Dr Otti once again as this illegal alien from who knows where who landed in Ngwa land trying to claim Ngwa citizenship for the purpose of contesting an election. It is true that duality and polarity are imprinted in everything in nature, in all humans and within ourselves but for a politician or group of haters to try to exploit this inherent flaw in human nature for political benefit is a disservice to mankind as a whole and to the Ibo race in particular. By the way if there is any truth to the rumor that one part of the Governor's ancestry was from Akwa Ibom, one begins to wonder who between the two men is a 100% Ibo man.? Again the fact that I mentioned this rumor bereft of any proof of evidence I am personally aware of is indicative of the absurdity and irrelevancy of this entire ancestry nonsense. The reality is that voting choices based solely on ethnic loyalty and pride rather than ability and competence in the long run delay human development and political sophistication while also causing enough damage that may be difficult to reverse. In my opinion, ancestry should have no place in our state politics just as "Place of Birth" should take precedence over "State of Origin" in our national politics and job opportunities. Just as Dr Otti opined in his essay, the entire policy and practice of the Federal character requirement in our employment, political appointments and Federal educational institutions has resulted in the sacrifice of ability on the altar of mediocrity and incompetence. Need I say more.

Their nefarious efforts notwithstanding, one thing these ethnic hustlers seem not to realize is that after 3 plus years of Dr Ikpeazus rule there is growing evidence that the views and opinions amongst the larger Ngwa electorate has changed significantly. There now seems to have developed within this period of time a common ground between most Ngwa voters and the larger Abia community in terms of shared experiences of a lower standard of living, non- payment of salaries, failing and decrepit schools, jobless youths etc. The sociological transformation of the larger Ngwa electorate as do the rest of the state into a more politically aware voting group means that the Governor's base has more in common economically and in their socio-economic well- being with the average Abia citizen in Abia North or Abia Central. I guess many have come to realize just like Dr Otti pointed out in his referenced essay that, "the fact that someone from your locality is occupying a position does not mean that you will benefit from that position". Again, the secularization of the Ibo society also means that the religious and church going Seventh day Adventist Christian worshipper share a metaphysical worldview not only with their Catholic, Protestant or Presbyterian counterparts but that all men and women irrespective of their ancestry, place of birth, culture or language are all God's children with the same inalienable right to personal and political pursuits.

To those who may feel some righteous indignation about this write-up or accuse me of being biased in my assertions, all I can say is that nothing is further from the truth. The reality is that what these people are doing or trying to reprise is a shrewd political tactic. Anyone who knows anything about politics will attest to the fact that appealing to people's emotions is a surer way of gaining their electoral support than campaign promises. Besides, politics is an imitation game. If a tactic works the first time there is not only the tendency to repeat it but also the heightened possibility that some future politician will replicate the same tactics. There's the danger and future consequence of this attempt at ethnic discrimination, sectionalism and alienation.

Will this all matter in the long run as the 2019 election approaches? who knows but, it is pertinent to point out that Dr Alex Otti, if he runs again as many expect him to, will not be running as an Ngwa or Arochukwu man, rather he will be running as an Abia citizen and as an individual who strongly believes as many Abians do that he has the smarts, the experience, the vision and the ability to do a better job of governing the state than the present occupant of the Government House in Umuahia. After his 2015 quest for the office, a majority of the Abia people have come to know him as a man of integrity, a financial genius with the Midas touch to transform the state in this 21st century. The people also want a chance to redeem their mandate which was stolen from them, hence they believe that individual ability and competence matters most than ancestry. Will Dr Otti respond in kind to this hater mongers? I guess he has already done so by authoring the essay I referenced, in which he laid bare the absurdity of the zoning practice as it relates to our politics. His approach to politics also informs us that he is someone who sees beyond our ethnic, sectional, political divide and differences and that should he run again as we all expect him to, his campaign will be one which will be predicated and anchored on his ability, a burning desire to transform the state and above all his abiding love for the Abia people irrespective of religious inclinations, ethnic background, communal loyalty, place of birth or party affiliation.

One question that needs to be asked in this climate of ethnic bias, smear campaigns as recently exemplified by the shameless liars and hypocrites who tried to tarnish Dr. Otti's reputation and image with a Facebook posting alleging his involvement in the forgery of a will is this, how low can one go in seeking political advantage over an opponent ? Can we just put a stop to this sectionalism nonsense and if we desire to do so, from where should we start? The reality is that, it has to start from the top hence the tone starts from there. It is no secret that we have a Governor who has extracted enormous personal and political rent from power. He has not only imposed inefficient policies but has also indulged in pervasive patronage spending, nepotism and exploitation of our differences, politically and otherwise to his benefit. He and his fellow sectional pedestrians have rigged our entire system of living in harmony with nature against ourselves. The result is that we have become tribal and political slaves instead of independent thinkers. We have an administration whose actions and politics has heightened our differences, encouraged our biases, made us ignore obvious facts and empirical evidence, reject the truth, pitch one group against the other as well as enhance polarization and ethnic identity.

It is also obvious that the Governor is an exaggerated indication of the political climate in the state. What this Governor does not realize is that when you are elected to a position of authority it is not only your pleasure , it is also your responsibility and obligation to use the position as a force for good, to set a tone for peace, harmony , justice and nondiscrimination amongst the citizenry. It is your responsibility not to deepen our ethnic fault lines. It is imperative that you stand for the truth and to speak up in condemnation of any attempt to exploit our ethnic and cultural differences for political gain. The Governor has to stand up and condemn the actions of any group or individuals within his support base who are resurrecting this ancestry diatribe against Alex Otti and if he does not, it will be indicative of who he is and what he stands for. He has a choice to either douse this flame of sectional bias or conflagrate it. The reality is that when the Governor takes an oath of silence in the face of deliberate misinformation, character assassination and the stirring of sectional hatred he becomes complicit in the smear.

On our part as a people we have to fight these Svengali sycophants and purveyors of sectionalism, condemn them for stirring the cauldron of ethnic discrimination hence we cannot cede our state to them or normalize their smear campaign tactics. These people are evil and are not serving the better angels of our nature. What they are doing, is deliberate, it is purposeful, premeditated, repugnant and not by any stretch of imagination a coincidence. You cannot change people's heart most of the time but you can change their behavior. A majority of the Ngwa people are very decent people and despite all the smear campaign against Dr otti in 2015 he commanded and still receives the support of voters from Ngwa South and elsewhere in Ngwa land but that does not mean we should ignore the discriminatory antics of a few who feel that using ancestry as qualification for leadership or the pursuit of political ambition is good politics, since the long term consequence of this is that we will begin to lose our moral argument for an Ibo presidency.

This is a moment in time when moral leadership is needed from not only our political leaders but also from all people of conscience irrespective of ethnic affiliation or political identification because if we compromise our moral principles for political gain we stand for nothing and will be lacking in virtues to pass on to our children and future generations. I will conclude this essay with two quotes from a retired and a sitting U.S Supreme Court judges. The first is from retired Justice Sandra Day O'connor who said and I quote, "In other to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every background, race and ethnicity". The second quote is from Justice Sonia Sotomayer who said, "As you discover what strength you can draw from your community in this world from which it stands apart, look outward as well as inward. Build bridges instead of walls". My prayer is that come the 2019 elections we desist from the emphasis on political zones, ancestry and the like in making our electoral choices but rather place more value on competence and character. We must also realize that we Ibo's are a special people united by a common race and bound together by common values and that it is those values we must hold close to our hearts and not let political opportunists destroy. What should be most important come the 2019 Gubernatorial elections in Abia state is that all Governorship candidates be Abia citizens irrespective of birthplace, ancestry or political zone. So also should be competence and the ability to do the job.


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