Ala Aburo Otu: The Cracks of Igbo Youth Voting As One

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OpinionThe 2019 Elections

At an assembly in the Coal City, their grey-haired, red-cap wearing parents and teachers declared for the Umbrella because it now covers one of their popular and best performing sons, Peter Gregory Obi. So, will the average young Nigerian of Igbo origin simply pay attention, be grateful and obey?

History teaches that political influence does not happen that way anywhere. Going into the 2019 elections, it will be no different. After the Ohanaeze Ndigbo declared this Thursday that it will append its hope for the continuity of the eternally marginalized Igbo race on the Atiku/Obi mandate of the People’s Democratic Party, a so-called Ohanaeze Youth Council Worldwide appeared not to have got the memo (or shredded it immediately the notification pinged!).

According to The Guardian, the youth group released a statement by its national president Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro to the effect that “the region had not decided on who to vote in 2019, adding that both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and PDP have equal chances of winning the zone”. The group is hesitant in following the recommendation of its “outdated leaders” who, they claim, mortgaged their future in 2015 and are plotting an encore.

The latter quotes from that statement are rather harsh and revisionist, probably factually erroneous. But you could easily imagine many young Igbo people who are truly non-partisan and distant from Ohanaeze muttering a more polite yet serious version of the dissenting Youth Council’s opinion:

‘While our elders have the right to camp behind whom they will, we are not throwing our weight behind their decision just yet; we are still fact-checking the evidence before us and running analytics’

If that be the case, it is a welcome train of thought. It would be worrying that they follow suit without, as young people for whom the decision is being made, taking time to make dispassionate evaluations of the candidates about to be raised to their altar for compulsory veneration. Not all of those at the Ohanaeze consultation in Enugu are persons with impeachable or even excellent political and public service records. Achike Udenwa, Azubuike Ihejirika; these are distinguished people from the South East but not a lot of young Igbo people will pretend to hold them up as examples to be followed for their own careers.

To be sure, there are the Agbakobas, Nwosus and Anyas whose careers have been stellar in democratic activism, scientific knowledge development and translation, and in mentoring future leaders. Prof Ben Nwabueze is an icon of the legal profession in Nigeria and nobody is in a hurry to see him join his ancestors (the photo of him looking frail while locked in an embrace with Atiku Abubakar is rather chilling). Their commitment to the Nigeria project over the years has been visible and largely admirable.

But the rising class of Igbo youth with diminishing memories of the Nigeria-Biafra war and exclusion of Igbos from public office in the military era are not going to be quick in making their decisions on electoral matters. In the grand calculations of how the South East will swing in three months time, remember that “Igbo enweghi Eze” is especially true in the age of greater decentralization and independence of opinion fostered by social media and the gig economy. The Igbo youth will not vote as a bloc regardless of what their elders say.

There will be socio-economic reasons for that and perhaps it will not be a long list given the Buhari administration has not been any more favorable to Igbos than any previous one. There may be intellectual resistance by those who will not be impressed that Prof Nwabueze had once bestowed elderly benediction on the secessionist leader of IPOB. But do not underestimate the persisting anti-Anambra sentiments that first rocked Peter Obi’s position as Atiku Abubakar’s running mate even before it was officially announced. The dissenting Youth Council releasing their statement from Abakaliki (home of David Umahi who chaired the first Obi-phobic meeting of South East leaders) is perhaps a statement in itself. It is not worth reading much into but genuine belief in certain quarters that Anambra has had too much of an edge as the region’s representatives in national affairs exists. We can agree on this without going into the shameful spectacle in the Catholic diocese of Ahiara where the dust has only begun to settle.

Why does the “Nkea bu nke anyi party only thrive in one state? Maybe because Igbos love to lead but hate to be dominated. It should not be weird that someone somewhere in Arondizuogu or the University town of Ndufu Alike Ikwo will prefer a shot at the Presidency in a couple of years than let an Anambra person replace Alex Ekwueme and Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu as the most celebrated Igbo-speaking figures their children’s (future) history textbooks will describe.

Such people – whether articulate or barely literate – and their political idiosyncrasies may prove crucial in the final counts as the day winds down on February 16.

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