By FEMI ADESINA
At his incarnation, wise men gifted in astronomy came from the East, all the way to Bethlehem, in the south of Jerusalem, to worship Jesus Christ. They are today known as the Magi, who gave the newborn gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
There is a lot to say on the significance of each gift item, but that is not the purpose of the writing today. Maybe, another day, as the need arises. What we need from that nativity story is that the wise men came all the way from the East, following a star that led them to Bethlehem. In our country Nigeria, we have the geo-political zone called the South-east, and wise men still come from there. In plenty numbers. This week, it was brought out in bold relief.
President Muhammadu Buhari was in two states of the South-east on Tuesday and Wednesday, and what a delightsome, myth-shattering visit it has become. It is one visit that has torpedoed the negative narrative deliberately conjured by some mischief makers over the years, that President Buhari does not like people from the East, and neither do the people like him.
Now, that assertion is fiction, pure apocryphal, conjured and concocted by some people to serve narrow political ends. In his first shot at the presidency in 2003, who was Buhari’s running mate? Dr Chuba Okadigbo. Where did he come from? Ogbunike, town of the famous cave, in the South-east. And in 2007, candidate Buhari looked towards the East again. He picked Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic, as running mate. And in 2011, I remember very clearly. Buhari was on the march again, and needed a running mate. Socio-political leadership of the South-east forbade any of its sons from being running mate to anyone. Their candidate, they said, was Goodluck Jonathan, who then was completing the term of Umaru Yar’Adua. So, Buhari looked westward, and picked the cleric, Tunde Bakare. But did he demonstrate any animus towards the East? Not at all.
In 2015, the man, easily the most colourful politician, greatest crowd puller of this season in Nigeria, threw his hat into the ring again. The East was still in bed with Jonathan, completely besotted, vowing to swim or sink with their brother, Ebele Azikiwe.
Buhari looked westward again, picked Professor Yemi Osinbajo, as running mate. A large part of the East was dug in, not minding to play what may be called ‘poor politics’ in the process. When the dust of the elections settled, Jonathan was holding the shorter end of the stick. Buhari coasted to the presidency, but the entire East had given him just about 180,000 votes, less than what some local councils gave in other parts of the country. To make matters worse, the East had refused to re-elect its own son, Dr Chris Ngige, as senator. If Ngige had been given a mandate, he would have effortlessly emerged Senate President, and see what the region would have benefitted. But the large number opted for self-immolation, voted Ngige out, and later began to scream marginalization. But if you ask me, it was a self-inflicted wound. Result of poor politics.
That was the background that some people twisted, and used to paint the scenario that President Buhari does not like the South-east.
But happily, there had been voices of reason from the region, pre-2015 presidential election. The Ralph Obiohas, Chris Ngiges, Festus Odimegwus, Fr. Ejike Mbakas, Orji Uzor Kalus, Osita Okechukwus, J.C Ojukwus, and many others, had warned their people not to put their eggs in one basket. And they have turned out to be wise men, being joined today by thousands of other wise people.
You know what the mistakes of 2015 did to Ndigbo? It consigned them to perpetual opposition politics, playing in the periphery. For such an illustrious and enterprising people, that was unfortunate, if not tragic. If they continued that way, there was no silver lining in the sky for the future. Nigeria is configured in a way that the person who builds the largest coalition is the one who can emerge President. The Igbo should naturally produce the President one day, that is what fairness demands. But how would that ever happen, if they continued to play poor politics? If you continue to swim in small pools, you stand the risk of being submerged in bigger waters. But now, things are changing. The wise men are making a difference.
Back to Ebonyi, the famed Salt of the Nation, where we arrived last Tuesday. Governor Dave Umahi is of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and he is also Igbo. If he were to play narrow politics, he should have nothing to do with President Buhari. But the Ebonyi State helmsman has proven himself a wise man from the East. He has cultivated a good relationship with the President, and achieved the feat of being the first state in the South-east to host the President on a State Visit. President Buhari consented to the visit, thus showing him to be a pan-Nigerian leader, true father of the nation. If overriding sentiments had prevailed, then the President would not have chosen a state controlled by the opposition PDP for his visit, and definitely, not a state in a ‘hostile region.’ But not President Buhari, who has always maintained that no part of the country would be treated unfairly under his watch.
Landing at Enugu airport, before proceeding to Abakaliki, capital of Ebonyi State, by chopper, was the first breath of fresh air. The airport was gaily decorated, with banners, billboards and posters of the President and Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, who was also on hand to receive the President. He is also of the PDP, but a wise man from the East. You don’t play the politics that shuts you out of the national grid, lest you get sentenced to perpetual half current, or no current at all. The reception at Enugu airport, and , indeed, in all the places we visited, Abakaliki and Awka, would make you relish and savour the aroma of brotherhood and national cohesion.
Before the visit, there had been attempt by those behind negative narratives, to frighten the President away. They forgot he was a General, and such people don’t scare easily. However, the reception and applause all round gave a true picture of what subsists in the country. This is a President widely and massively loved-in the North, the South, East and West.
Not only is Gov Dave Umahi a wise man from the East, the royal fathers in his state are of the same mind. They gave President Buhari the traditional title of Enyioma 1 of Ebonyi, meaning Trustworthy Friend of Ebonyis. Commendable.
Also joining the train of wisdom, are the traditional rulers of South-east, as a body. They gave the President the title Ochioha Ndigbo, meaning Leader of Igbo People. I tell you, this is the way to build a cohesive nation, promote brotherliness, and guarantee fairness and equity, rather than the poor politics of the past. More than at any other time, the wise men from the East have given a handshake across the Niger, and only the future will show the positive impact of that initiative.
Former Ebonyi State governor, Sam Egwu, immediate past governor, Martin Elechi, former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, former Culture Minister, Ambassador Frank Ogbuewu, former senator, Julius Ucha, and many others, were part of the healing process in the East. Ogbuewu said President Buhari, by the visit, had proven that he was not truly for some people, but for all Nigerians. Egwu, on his part, disclosed that Gov Umahi had charged those of them currently in the National Assembly from Ebonyi, to always give support to policies of the Federal Government, despite belonging to different political parties. That’s the way to go.
The traditional rulers of the South-east, through their leader, Eze Eberechi Dick, commended the President for fighting insecurity, for fighting corruption, promoting agriculture, and generally bringing hope of a better future.
“You are a great leader. We love you so much. We are solidly behind you,” the monarch said.
Trust the President to throw in a wisecrack. After being decorated with the paraphernalia of chieftaincy, he said:”I will tell my personal photographer to frame the picture, and I will put it in my sitting room in Daura, where I will eventually end up.” That’s a man who knows the transience of power and official positions. East or West, home is the best. Daura would always be home.
When the President entered the township stadium in Abakaliki, the applause was inspiring. One was tempted to ask, is this not in the South-east, where they say they don’t like Buhari? The same thing was to repeat itself in Awka, when the President entered the Alex Ekwueme Square, where the campaign for Anambra governorship holding this Saturday was being concluded. It was applause all the way, signposting the fact that the East was ready to jettison poor politics, and return to the mainstream. It was a roll call of who is who in Nigerian politics from the South-east, who have now teamed up with the All Progressives Congress (APC). Emeka Ojukwu junior, son of Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who used the occasion to publicly join the APC, summed it all up, by pointing out that when his father came back from exile in the early 1980s, he did not join a regional party, but opted for a national one. He concluded: “It is time to stop operating in the periphery. It is time to leave the shadows for light.” Home truth for all Nigerians, and for Ndigbo particularly, if you ask me.
There is no way you can tell the Igbos not to aspire for presidency of Nigeria at a time in future. It will be contrary to fairness and justice. But then, the region must start playing astute politics. It must leave the shadows for light. It must sustain the hand of fellowship it has extended to the rest of the country, as shown in the warm reception for the President in Ebonyi and Anambra states. Wise men abound in that region, I say again.
During the reception in Ebonyi, Governor Umahi announced a gift of 2,000 bags of rice, 2,000 tubers of yam, and a white horse for the President. I saw the Enyioma 1 of Ebonyi open his mouth in amazement. While thanking his host for the gift, he promised to send the cargo to Daura, his hometown, for the people to share. Trust me, I told Mohammed Sarki Abba, the President’s senior aide, seated beside me: “I’ll ask Mr President for 50 of those bags of rice, before you send them to Daura. I’ll then distribute them to my own friends in the name of Ochioha Ndigbo.”
And that’s exactly what I’ll do. The Enyioma 1 would surely oblige. Lol.
*Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari