By SKC Ogbonnia, Ph.D.
Any political system without dynamic opposition necessary for the essential competition, accountability, and checks and balances is tantamount to dictatorship and abuse of power. But that has been the case with the presidential politics of the Southeast (SE) zone of Nigeria since the recent democratic transition. The rationale is that a wholesale support for the national ruling party offers best hope, and any counter opinion is a naked sin.
This idea had seemed like the ultimate game-changer. For the various national governments quickly reciprocated, offering rounds of elite portfolios to politicians from the Igbo Southeast. The different presidents also backed their agenda with promises and policies that usually appear like the erudite solution to the Igbo’s ageless cries for marginalization. Yet the condition of federal amenities in the zone remains a bad dream told in a hurry.
To make matters worse, the vulnerable masses are usually told to stay the course, with most of the SE governors begging President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan not to campaign in the zone this time. To them, the Igbos should stand 100% behind the president, regardless of whether he delivered on past promises or not. They would argue that, even if not for performance, the people should lend their support based on the parochial mantra that Jonathan also bears Igbo names—“Ebele and Azikiwe”.
The obvious implication is that there is no day of reckoning in this part of the country for broken promises or the various projects funded but either poorly executed or totally abandoned by contractors in cahoots with their Igbo cohorts in the Jonathan regime. Worst of all, the mood of the governors had also hoodwinked the opposition parties to assume that SE votes were firmly in the president’s corner thus clearly negating the all-important competition and checks and balances fundamental for a true democratic culture.
Consequently, there is no strong voice alert to expose the failures of the federal government toward effective leadership in the SE zone. The quagmire becomes more glaring when considered that their two premier pressure groups, the Ohaneze NdiIgbo and World Igbo Congress, have become infiltrated by political buccaneers who sing the president’s praises at home and abroad. Perhaps individuals can raise pertinent issues, but a salient problem with the Igbos is that since the death of Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the zone has not identified a leader with mass following who could call a spade a spade.
Enter Rev. Fr. Camillus Ejike Mbaka, the dynamic Roman Catholic priest, whose words are enough to mesmerize his fiercest opponents, let alone the Christian faithful, including politicians, who throng day in and day out to his Adoration Ministry in Enugu for spiritual healing—and from far and wide.
One of such faithful is no other person than Dame Patience Jonathan, the ebullient First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who visited the priest on November 9, 2014 to seek heavenly blessings for the husband’s forthcoming 2015 presidential election. Given the dominant support the president enjoys in Igboland and within the Christian Association of Nigeria, Fr. Mbaka glowingly eulogized President Jonathan to the high heavens while invoking the Holy Spirit to stoke a fiery swipe at the opposition, brazenly associating the leading opposition party to the deadly Boko Haram insurgents terrorizing Nigeria. Lo and behold, the First Lady and the teeming congregation roared with a deafening Amen—in total agreement. The open aspersions on the opposition and consequent anointment of the sitting president easily served as a pious reminder that there would be no cause for competition for Igbo votes in the presidential polls. Even more, the supporters of the president across the country quickly hailed, lustily drumming the ocassion to further legitimize the reverend gentleman as an unsung saint. But that was then.
Fast forward to December 31, 2014, a day the priest had reserved for unveiling his traditional New Year blessings and prophecies. Fully informed by the true condition on the ground as it affects his adoring worshipers and the common people of the Southeast; and, more instructively, exigently inspired by the Holy Spirit; the Fr. Mbaka in his sermon, “From good luck to bad luck”, lampooned President Goodluck Jonathan, whom he initially endorsed, and equated him with failure on all accounts. The bottom line is that the Roman Catholic priest has swiftly switched his support from the president, a fellow Christian and Southerner, to his closest rival in General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), who is not only a Muslim but also from the far North.
As expected, the prophecy sent shock waves throughout the breath and depth of the Nigerian polity. While the opposition embraced it with pomp and pageantry, the ruling party and its supporters have castigated the priest, now comparing him to the biblical Judas Iscariot.
But the two camps should have no cause for alarm. Prophecies can manifest in miraculous ways. Besides, objective criticism or competition should not discourage but challenge human efforts to greater purpose and possibilities. President Jonathan can overcome the trepidations of the prophecy by doing the needful, exhibiting true leadership, challenging himself to the greater possibilities, starting by producing a believable game plan to address the legitimate questions highlighted in Mbaka’s sermon. Similarly, Buhari can capitalize on the prophecy to provide a competitive manifesto, demonstrating how he can realistically tackle the concerns put forth by the priest towards a better Nigeria, including the Igbos.
Either way, Nigerians, particularly the Igbo masses are the true winners.
The objective fact is that Mbaka’s prophecy is far beyond the banal sentiment of promoting Goodluck Jonathan or Muhammadu Buhari as we know it. Rather, the prophecy has profoundly resurrected democracy in Igboland for the greater good of the people. For the first time in a long time, the Igbo masses are witnessing in presidential politics a semblance of opposition and the competition vitally essential for democracy, and their votes will not be taken for granted this time. President Jonathan, who was previously dissuaded from campaigning in Igboland, is now truly asking for votes in the zone, rendering accounts of his stewardship, offering new promises, and splashing expedient presidential goodies as well as portions of the huge war chest. It is also a win-win for democracy that General Buhari, having previously written off the Igbo votes, now sees a huge opening and has begun to vigorously campaign in Igbo cities, countering with alternative solutions and his own promises.
The immediate effect is that the Igbos have rediscovered their true DNA and are more emboldened than ever. The Ohaneze, which had maintained a naïve posture, has now discarded its original idea for blanket endorsement and instead opted to list conditions for the people’s votes. The pro-Igbo party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which had already endorsed President Jonathan, is also seriously reevaluating. Even Alexander Ekwueme, an eminent Igbo figure of the ruling party and a former Vice President of Nigeria, never known for careless vituperations, has erupted with his own salvo, admonishing Jonathan for actions instead of mere words.
The Igbo masses are not left behind on the heightened awareness. They have begun to ask pertinent questions, and openly and rightly so, on numerous abandoned or phantom projects, most of which are fully funded but nothing to show on the ground. They are also asking about mass unemployment and kidnapping in the zone, the state of federal universities and teaching hospitals, the quality and state of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, 2nd River Niger Bridge and its PPP/Toll implications, Onitsha Seaport, the sixth state for South East, revitalizing Coal-for-Power, Gas Pipeline across Igbo mainland, inclusion of more Igbo states in OMPADEC, the Southeast/Southwest Rail Line, the endless massacre of Igbo Christians by Boko Haram under Jonathan’s watch; and the state of other infrastructures, particularly the two most important thoroughfares in Igboland: the Enugu/Port Harcourt and Enugu/Onitsha Express roads, constructed under Obasanjo’s military regime, but have remained death traps for decades, even after billions have been allocated.
These dateless but largely ignored projects, ordinarily the anticipated democratic dividend central to the welfare of Igbo masses, are squarely resurrected as part of the national debate; Thanks to the prophecy of Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka!