POLITICAL GLASS CEILING IN NIGERIA
by CAJETAN IWUNZE
January 20, 2009, was hailed by many as a turning point in the annals of history. In the United States, what seemed improbable, as recently as only a few years ago, came to pass.
Barack Obama, the son of an African immigrant, became the 44th president of the United States. Before then, many, the world over, did not believe that they would live to see a person of colour emerge as the president of the United States but the country proved, once again, that it is a land of positive surprises.
The reaction from people around the world, to Obama's victory, was overwhelming. BBC carried images of people, in remote countries, around the world, glued to their TVs, watching history being made. Ordinary Nigerians expressed their feelings regarding the election. They asked probing questions about it and expressed their joy that the son of an African immigrant had given them reason to hope. They were not expecting Obama to perform wonders for Africa but the symbolism of the removal of what seemed like a glass ceiling for the black race the world over, meant a lot to them”.
Compared to what many have said, the greatest significance of this development is that the dream of the young black child or any child of colour, in the United States, would henceforth know no bounds. My children can also dare to dream about being whatever they set their minds on in the United Kingdom. If, for some reason, they fail to reach their God-given potentials, it will no longer necessarily be because of the absence of opportunities but it will have more to do with the level of effort and determination they put in. In other words, they can dare dream and possibly reach the pinnacle of the political pyramid in Britain.
As if not to be outdone by ordinary citizens in their appreciation of what happened in the United States, Nigerian politicians, both past and present, some of whom were said to have shed tears of joy, were full of effusive praise. They openly noted that the word racism was on its way out of the world lexicon because it would no longer be needed. They freely quoted Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech and jubilated that the dream of a land where people would no longer be judged by their race but by the content of their character, had been realized.
The unbridled joy of some of these people, about the Obama phenomenon, made good press but as I watched them, I could not help but wonder about the hypocrisy of their actions. They needed to be reminded about the biblical admonition that one must remove the log in one's eyes to see clearly to remove the small speck in the eyes of one's neighbour. There were jubilations about what was going on 6000 miles from them when Nigeria still had a giant political glass ceiling for people from certain parts of the country. In spite of their theatrics and grandstanding about Obama's victory, Nigeria was still a nation where someone's political and economic success, depended on that person's region or tribe of origin. You have better chances of becoming the president of Nigeria only if you hail from certain regions or tribes. This has been the case for almost 40-years and I will elaborate below.
In January 1970, at the end of the Biafra War, the then head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, declared that there was no victor and no vanquished. This singular declaration gave hope to the Jews of the eastern region.
In a country that boasts of many regions and tribes, the baton of the presidency is being passed back and forth, sometimes forcibly, amongst the same regions. The question that any person of goodwill should ask is this: where are the rest of the regions in this presidential equation? Are they less intelligent than the rest of Nigerians? Are they less hard working? Are they less ambitious than others? Do they contribute less to nation building than the rest of Nigerians? If the answer to my questions are no, as I know it is, then someone has to call the situation what it is- a political glass ceiling for other regions for the presidency as it is enshrined into the constitution of the federal government of Nigeria.
The truth is that if you are not from Yoruba or Huasa you dare not nurse presidential ambition. If you do, you are seen as a joke or unrealistic person. In light of this, people from other regions have turned into political lackeys and harlots, always aiming to join political parties headed by people from more privileged regions for a shot at the corridors of power not the helm.
In the past, some have tried to address my concerns above by saying that after a war,
the winner takes home the spoils or booty. To them, the triumphant regions are keeping the presidency of Nigeria as part of the spoil of war. I have even heard people; including silly internet bloggers and politicians harangue that the Easterners should be glad that they are included in government at all. To them, perpetual subjugation is the penalty for being a Jew.
Their assertions and political chauvinism have been acted out at the Nigerian Mission in Washington DC. The former Nigeria's ambassador to the United States, Rtd General Oluwole Rotimi, was relieved of his job by Nigeria's president. This was because he refused to subordinate himself to and take orders from his boss, the External Affairs minister, Ojo Maduekwe. The more outlandish thing was not that Gen Rotimi refused to respect Ojo Maduekwe but had the audacity of writing to Maduekwe, boasting, on how he lead and spearheaded the genocids of the Jews (Igbos) he went on to tell Maduekwe “you are a ragtag Jew "I have dealt with people like you in the past. I was the Adjutant General of the Nigerian army that thoroughly defeated your ragtag Jewish Biafran army.
It turns out that he is one of those Yorubas who believe that Jews (Igbos) should remain in perpetual subjugation and should never rise politically; any attempt to integrate them into the Nigerian society would be met with brutal resistance by the Yorubas. What this despicable man wrote, epitomizes how some still feel in Nigeria but cannot utter openly despite the fact that Yorubas contribute nothing to the Union.
Let us assume that we agreed with the people like Oluwole Rotimi, who feel that some of their fellow Nigerians should be happy with political crumbs that fall off the table of people like him because he defeated their "ragtag army". The big question that begs for answer is this: On what moral deification do the Oluwoles stand when they boisterously say that the last political barrier in the world, for blacks, have been removed with the election of Obama? What happened to the barrier that currently exists in Nigeria and which people like him routinely uphold? How could Yorubas, that encourage what amounts to tribal subjugation and chauvinism, be pointing elsewhere for the shattering of political glass ceiling when a bigger and tougher ceiling, created by people like them, exist in Nigeria? Rather than talking about shattering of glass ceiling in the United States and pretending that all is well, Nigeria should use the opportunity presented by Obama's victory to seek true inclusiveness where everyone, regardless of tribe, would have equal political access.
Their hypocrisy is so conspicuous that I am almost certain that on January 20th, they must have been glued to their TV, cheering wildly about Obama's victory and mouthing off about how it "has broken racial barriers in the world".
My question for them: what about the barriers people like them have erected in Nigeria because of petty tribal sentiments? I am sure they is a Christian so it boggles the mind that we profess to be God's children and hope for equal treatment from God and yet work hard to block the paths of fellow humans. If Nigeria and Nigerians must have a superior moral pedestal to talk about the so-called racism that has been broken elsewhere, we better break down the bigger barriers we have erected in Nigeria.
The idea that everything in Nigeria has to be looked at through a tribal lens, even by Nigerians in western countries who should know better, is most unfortunate.
Going back to the reaction of Nigerians in the chat rooms, I was disappointed that the level and type of criticism that Nigerians level against elected officials depend on where they come from. It boils down to the fact that there is no consistency in the way we judge elected officials. What we see as bad today could be adjudged as good tomorrow when the hat is on another head. Take for example, General Buhari a dictator who was notorious mass killing of Igbos through firing squad and repression of the press has been appointed by Oni of Ife as the best candidate to rule Nigeria. We have different barometers for measuring its destructive effects on nation depending on where the perpetrators come from. With this type of biased national outlook, I am sad to observe that Nigeria is going nowhere fast as far as development is concerned.
Since after the civil war, it has mainly been the Yorubas that continually reminded the Igbos about their defeat during the war. Very good examples are General Julius Akinriade and General Oladipo Diya. These Yorubas at one point or the other have made derogatory statements against the Igbos during their time in office reminding them that they are the defeated people and slaves whenever they demanded for their rights.