My Ten Cents

Monday, May 28, 2018

Nigeria: Ndi Igbo and the Politics of Miscalculation

 “No, my brother; it was you people who voted him in. We gave you Falae, but you people chose Obasanjo”

The above was in response to a question I put to a Yoruba socialite in Lagos in 2001. I had wanted to know why they thought Olusegun Obasanjo was the best they could offer in 1999 for the presidency. The “you people” in her response refers to South-easterners, specifically, Igbos. This claim can only be true if one adds the South-south votes, because the total Southeast vote for Obasanjo in 1999 was 2.3m out of a total 3.3m votes cast in the region.

Let us review the political succession scenario of the PDP, and how it was supposed to benefit the southeast; if Obasanjo and Atiku had a good working relationship, Atiku would have succeeded his boss in 2007, and would have picked someone from southeast or south-south as his vice-president. If that scenario had played out, by 2015, whoever was the vice-president would have become the president. Which means that a southerner would have been Nigeria’s president today, though the likelihood of that president coming from the South-south or the Southeast was a 50:50 coin toss. Of course, this did not happen as envisioned, or even written.

As it turned out, Atiku was sidelined, Obasanjo picked Yar’Adua to replace him, and the rest is well-documented. However, we will continue to construct this scenario to determine, all things being equal, when Nigeria could have had an Igbo president. With Yar’Adua’s emergence as president, the vice-presidential lot fell on the South-south, instead of the southeast; assuming that he was able to serve out his two terms, Goodluck Jonathan would have taken over in 2019, and served till 2027 with a Muslim vice president of the Southwest extraction, to balance the political equation. Obviously, with the selection of a vice-president from the South-south, the Southeast was effectively, eliminated from possibly ever producing a Nigerian president. Yet, the Igbos never expressed any form of anger or frustration at this PDP succession scenario. Maybe, they never read or accurately interpreted the tea leaves.  

However, the Southwest was making its own calculations based on the above scenario; realizing that with a continued PDP rotation system, the earliest they could get back into the corridors of power at Aso Villa would be in 2027, they decided to stage a coup. After the 2011 elections, and the dissatisfaction of the northerners over the loss of their rightful turn to complete their two terms, Tinubu saw an opportunity to form a coalition of strange bedfellows to not only wrest power from the PDP, but to return the Southwest to the corridors of power much earlier than projected and, in the process, inadvertently create an opportunity for Igbos to have a shot at the presidency. That is, if the coalition manages to last beyond two election cycles. Currently, things seem to be falling apart. However, there is nothing wrong in evaluating the chances of an Igbo presidency in an APC political arrangement.

To garner the votes of the northern electorate, the newly-formed political coalition dubbed All Progressives Congress, with little or nothing progressive about them, needed a popular northern candidate, and they settled on Muhammadu Buhari. The South-south, with an incumbent president, expectedly, stuck with their man. However, and surprisingly, the Southeast elected to stick with Jonathan and the PDP, even though the region was devoid of any form of evidence of Jonathan’s six-year presidency. Here, the southeast opted to stay with the devil and the party they are comfortable with than join the one where, seemingly, their chances of producing the president in the near future is much better.

So, how would have the Southeast fared if they had switched political allegiance in the 2015 elections? All things being equal, if Buhari serves out a second term by 2023, it is expected that one of two things will happen: either Osinbajo will run for office, or an APC candidate of Igbo extraction will be selected. The latter is more likely to happen than the former, because the rest of the regions in Nigeria will demand it of the APC, given that only the Southeast, of all the major tribes, would have been without a president since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule. So, the question is, why did the Igbos not imagine this scenario and support the APC, considering that their route to attaining the highest elected office in the land is shortest through the APC than the PDP? Was it a case of political non- or miscalculation? More surprising is the fact that after three years during which the Igbos would have realized the error of their ways and re-calculate their political equations, they are still deeply entrenched in PDP and vehemently opposed to the APC, continuously deriding their brothers and sisters who serve in that government.

One might wonder why this is the case, given the current presidential set up in the PDP where the 2019 candidate is to come from the North? The expectation is that whoever the flag bearer of the PDP is will pick his vice from the Southeast, and by 2027, after he would have served his 8 years, his vice, an Igbo, will take over. So, the Igbos are willing to sacrifice four more years before making it to Aso villa in 2027, instead of in 2023. Here is a wrinkle to this scenario; by 2023, the Southwest would have been without the top political post in Nigerian for 16 years, and may not be willing to wait for an Igbo presidential candidate in 2027 who may, or may not, pick his running mate from the Southwest. So, another palace coup involving a coalition of another set of strange bedfellows, which will ensure the emergence of a Yoruba president in 2027, will be effected. It will be like the 2015 arrangement, only that the two top positions will be switched, with a northerner as vice-president.

Yes, these are all scenarios and calculations some of which had already played out, and others still to, or may not, play out. What is evident, and has been for a while, is that Igbos seem to lack the foresight and the political calculating skills of the rest of the regions; dismissing that, then, one might say they are comfortable playing second and third fiddle to everyone else, and blaming their political misfortunes on some form of marginalization scheme by the rest of the hundreds of tribes that make up the Nigerian nation.

There is always the likelihood of a political earthquake in either 2019 or 2023, which will make nonsense of all the scenarios and calculations; now, if such were to be the case, where will the Igbos be, and what role will they play in effecting that earthquake? What happened in 2015 was akin to a political earthquake, and it took deft political moves, negotiating skills, and the offering of carrots for those involved to pull it through. Some truths are evident in the Nigerian political scene: any candidate from either the southwest or the Fulani north can win without the Igbo votes; MKO Abiola proved that, and so did Buhari in 2015. Again, all it takes is knowing how to balance the regional equation. Before the 2011 elections, a group of political analysts successfully predicted the voting pattern of that election; the same thing happened before the 2015 presidential elections, and, currently, a team is analyzing the 2015 voting pattern and realigning the numbers to predict the eventual winner in 2019. All of this work is important and politically beneficial to all the regions interested in the presidency, because you can narrow your campaign focus to those key areas and states.

A political earthquake prior to 2023 might include a restructured Nigeria which will result in regional autonomy, though, realistically, I do not see that happening any time soon. No one, having attained the presidency of Nigeria, will dilute his own power and influence. Another option might be a secession by one or more of the regions, most likely the South-south and the Southeast. This, also, I do not envision, except when oil becomes the 3rd largest revenue earner for Nigeria. Finally, the earthquake could involve the return of the military, in which case every region will be taken 20 years backwards.

Whatever the case may be, and however the projected scenarios may play out, the Southeast needs to begin the process of creating political alignments, building trust with more than just one region – the neighboring south-south, and shedding the well-worn toga of a marginalized people; because, believe it or not, the rest of Nigeria is losing interest in the Igbo man’s plight, and are increasingly seeing them more as trouble makers than innocent victims. Currently, the Southeast is politically irrelevant at the national level; it must find a way to regain the relevance of the second republic by being in the mainstream, and not on the sideline.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

"If We Build It, They Will Come"

Yesterday, March 24th, was the Igbo Community Association of Nigeria (ICAN), Dallas, Business Banquet, and it was an interesting one; preceding that the night before, was the meet-and-greet event to welcome the members of the Board of Directors of World Igbo Congress (WIC) to Dallas of the Professor Anthony Ejiofor-led administration for their first Board meeting. I had an obligation, as a parochial president, to attend both events which offered an opportunity to meet, interact with, and listen to some of the speeches and questions by some prominent Igbo sons and daughters that evening

I was not able to attend the WIC Board meeting earlier on the 24th, but if the questions of the 23rd night was to serve as a precursor, then the meeting proper was, or must have been, quite eventful. However, I was early enough to the Business Banquet to listen to, and analyze, the speeches and addresses of  most of the guests from Nigeria on the theme of the event: If We Build It, They Will Come".

The first to speak was Professor Obi Nwakanma of Florida Central University; a noted historian of international repute. He delved into history to remind us of the successes of the Michael Okpara administration of the First Republic and up to the Mbakwe successes of the Second republic; he traced the history of Igbo business successes, the reasons for those successes, and the opportunities which still exist beyond the shores of the Nigerian nation, all the way to the Congo basin, where untapped mineral and natural resources are in abundance waiting for the brave at heart to venture into. He decried the situation where Igbos build mansions in Abuja and Lekki, while erecting chicken coups in their villages, and lamented the fact that since the demise of African continental Bank (ACB), there is no Nigerian bank, or any other major financial business, headquartered in the Southeast, even the ones owned by Igbos.

After the good History Professor came the Consular-General at the Atlanta Consulate, Mr. Laro. He reminisced on his months as a youth copper in the east serving in a small boundary town between present day Imo and Anambra state; his witness of the hard work and resilience of an average Igbo business man on his trips to Onitsha and Owerri, and their determination to make something out of nothing in any environment. He praised the desire, in spite of all odds, to venture into areas and business ideas that others are either afraid, or refuse, to go - even to his home state of Kwara. He elaborated on the business opportunities both in Nigeria and within the Diaspora community, the available government assistance in both exports and imports promotion for prospective entrepreneurs to tap into, and the desire of his office to assist the Nigerian community in both consular and business services.

After the Consular-General, Chief Joe Madu introduced the Chief Executive Officer of Knightsbridge Property limited (KPL), the main sponsors of the night's event, who made a case for investing in real estate. Statistically, he said, Nigeria needs about 17-20 million houses to be able to provide affordable housing for all its citizens. With these needs come opportunities to invest in not only property development, but in management also. He urged prospective investors to look into areas of real estate where they can put their money in an effort to meet this housing challenge.

Finally, came the big masquerades of the night; the speakers everyone have been waiting for, and the reasons why most of us stayed up later than our bedtimes. First to speak was the CEO of Master Energy, Dr. Uche Sampson Ogah. There is no need to go into too much details about his speech, because it was very long, but necessary; however, one thing of note is his reason for embarking of the industrial city project at Uturu. Now, it must be noted that Master Energy has about 100, 000 employees in its payroll, but its offices and services are mostly outside the southeast. His reason, according to him, was that he got too tired of people trooping to him to ask for employment, every time he goes home, that he decided that, instead of building this industrial complex in Ogun state, where he has a sizable parcel of land, why not do it in his hometown. The complex will not only create 4500 direct employment in Uturu, it will feed accessory businesses that will not only support the community but the industrial complex also. He encouraged others - individuals and groups of investors alike  - to do the same. He also praised the business decision of Nnewi people to always headquarter their businesses in their hometown, and wished that many others outside Nnewi will do same.

I could not leave the event without hearing from the last speaker for the night, even though it was almost midnight. Dr. Bart Nnaji's speech was not long, because, according to him, most of the grounds have already been covered by Dr. Ogah. He listed 4 projects which was born out of a meeting of prominent some Igbos that was held sometime in December of 2016. That meeting led to the formation of Southeast Nigeria Development Corporation (SENDEC), which was tasked with looking into areas where private investors can augment government efforts in developing the 5 southeastern states. The group came up with 4 areas of critical need:
1. A major hospital which will serve as an anchor for rural and communal healthcare delivery
2. A standard gauge rail system that will connect the major economic hubs of the southeastern states.
3. Adequate power generation and distribution to provide uninterrupted power supply to the major business towns of the region, so manufacturers can locate their businesses in the southeast.
4. Provision of adequate housing and commercial property development in the Southeast.

To fund these projects will include public-private partnerships, joint ventures with both local and international investor, and crowd funding - which is where every Igbo is expected to be involved.

According to him, some of these projects are already at advanced stages of planning and logistics, and for some others, funding negotiations are already going on.  He informed the audience of plans by the CEO of Crown Property Development to build a business city, Aba Business City, on the outskirts of Aba, mirroring what Dr, Ogah is doing in Uturu. Finally, Dr, Nnaji narrated his experience at the hands of the previous Jonathan administration, when he and some investors were trying to provide stable power supply to Aba, and praised the Buhari administration for stepping in to their rescue, and saved them from a loss of about $560m. He promised that by October, the Geometric power project in Aba will come into full stream. Also, plans are underway, working with General Electric, to build other power plants outside Aba, while working on expanding the wattage output of the Aba project.

All in all, it was an eventful night, and most of the things I heard were music to my ears. One thing was clear from all the speakers: opportunities exist for business in Nigeria, especially the southeast, and investors should not be cowed by fear of insecurity. As one investor asked me in a side comment: "why is the white man who is in your village working for a company making money not afraid; yet, you the owner of the villager is afraid to go home?". Something to think about.