IN December 2012, the Item community in Abia North honoured Arumma Oteh, then Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC. I attended that ceremony in the company of the then CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi; Alex Otti, Diamond Bank GMD and other friends. Then-Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi, flew in with a helicopter.
The highlight of the event, for me, was when Item High Chief, Prof. Joe Irukwu, took the microphone to personally honour and introduce Amaechi when it was his turn to say a few nice words for Arumma. Irukwu described Amaechi correctly as the “high-performing” Governor of Rivers and a “true Igbo son”. But when Amaechi took the mike he “corrected” Irukwu and emphasised: “I am an Ikwerre man!” That really ruffled feathers.
Fast-forward to the 2015 electioneering activities. Amaechi’s preferred traditional attire had changed from the Bonny/Opobo regalia to the core Igbo one of “Isi Agu” and red cap. It has remained so to date. Amaechi, one of the founding fathers of the All Progressives Congress, APC, brought Muhammadu Buhari, the party’s presidential candidate, to Aba.
They were rousingly received by the Aba paramount ruler, Eze Isaac Ikonne, who bestowed the title of “Ogbu Agu” on Buhari. Ikonne at that time was under ostracism by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, government in Abia State. The honour he gave Buhari was seen as a “message” to his jilters. Till today, the Ikonne family remains close to Buhari because they embraced him when the Igbo nation shunned him.
Amaechi addressed the APC Aba rally in pure, “central” Igbo. His hometown, Ubima, is on the border with Imo State. Amaechi, in fact, claimed that if it was an issue of ethnicity, he was Igbo and should be entrusted with Igbo votes for Buhari, unlike Jonathan who was not even Igbo. On different occasions, Amaechi said yes and no. Which do we take?
Amaechi is from Ikwerre. Therefore, he is Igbo, just as I am from Abiriba and, therefore, Igbo. Whether I accept it or not is neither here nor there. Former Rivers State Governor, Peter Odili, used to shout on rooftops that he was a “Rivers man”. But when he started running for president in 2006, Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, reminded him that as a Ndoni man, he was Igbo and not an “authentic” Southern Minority to benefit from their agitation for the presidency.
The same thing will happen to any person from the Igbo dialect groups in the South-South who claims not to be Igbo today. The day will come when they will either voluntarily “come home” or be forcefully “sent home” where they really belong. Your cultural identity is beyond your choice. It is a providential endowment or heritage.
You cannot run from your shadow or bath to change your skin colour. Chibuike Amaechi, as an Ikwerre, is Igbo; just as other eminent Ikwerre personalities like Senator Obi Wali, Francis Ellah, HRH Eze S.N. Woluchem (the late Rebisi of Port Harcourt), HRH Eze Chukwuemela Nnam-Obi, High Chief Okogbule Wonodi, Barr. Uche Okwukwu and other Ikwerre sons who were/are hardcore pro-Igbo activists.
The question today is: if the political permutations in the APC favour Amaechi for the presidency in 2023 and he seeks the support of the Igbo nation, should they accept him? My answer is a resounding “Yes”! He is eminently qualified in terms of ethnic affinity, regional consanguinity and a proven record of competence.
Ordinarily, competence should stand above the rest, but are we there yet? How I wish we were! If the consideration is ethnic, I have made the point that the Ikwerre is a dialectal group of the Igbo nation. Their Igbo is even easier than my Abiriba because we (Abiribas) migrated late into Igbo land.
I strongly believe that the Igbo nation should think beyond the South East geopolitical zone when it comes to the pursuit of their strategic political interests. The South East is a copy of the defunct East Central State which was imposed on Ndi Igbo after the war to abnegate the true size of the Igbo nation. Clinging to it is like deifying what your enemy gave you as your portion. An Igbo person anywhere, irrespective of the circumstances of history, is still Igbo.
I also believe that ethnicity as an ideology is neither the original Igbo political template nor is it in the strategic political interest of the Igbo nation. It may work for some, but it will never get much for the Igbo people. Igbo need allies (just as the allies need Igbo), and they must go out and acquire them. Whether as Nigerians or Biafrans, Igbo must work with their immediate neighbours in order to command the full reckoning of the rest of Nigeria.
In 1999, retired Commodore Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe founded the Council of South-East and South-South, COSESS, with other leaders from the former Eastern Region to eschew tribalism and forge a united political front. It produced a regional alliance now popularly known as South-East and South-South, SESS. Before COSESS, the Igbo and their neighbours were fighting one another like crabs in a basket.
The SESS alliance was firmly fronted by the Igbo nation for the benefit of former President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw. Till date, the Igbo remain Jonathan’s most avid sympathisers, perhaps even more than his kinsmen. This has built invaluable bridges between the Igbo, Ijaw and the Southern Minorities, even within the Biafra movements.
The Igbo should emulate the North which always subsume their individual ethnic identities and present a common political front even within their various political camps. The North is strong because of this factor. The political East (SESS) is weak and exploited because of the splinter mentality of its peoples. The South-East and South-South share almost everything in common except language and dialects. They are more of one people than even the North.
In my opinion, if the political calculations favour anyone from these areas, once the competence factor is established, they should be supported. If Amaechi runs for president in 2023 and seeks Igbo support, he is eminently qualified. Let the requisite memo of understanding be agreed. It will further unite the family. Igbo is certainly bigger than the South East!