Oyo Politics: Igbo cry of marginalisation | photo

Oyo Politics: Igbo cry of marginalisation | photo
Oyo Politics: Igbo cry of marginalisation | photo

OYO Politics: Igbo cry of marginalisation

  • Why we’re not making waves like our Lagos counterparts – Eze Ndigbo

Kate Ani-Ogunpitan

Igbo politicians in Lagos State seem to be breaking the jinx when it comes to non-indigenes of a state contesting and winning elections in their constituencies. They also hold key political positions in the cabinet of the government of their host state. For instance, during the last general election, three Igbo candidates won elections into the House of Representatives to represent Lagos State.

Chief Oghene Egboh, Mrs Rita Orji and Mr Tony Nwulu had contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and won the House of Representatives seats for Amuwo/Odofin, Ajeromi-Ifelodun and Oshodi/Isolo Federal Constituencies, respectively. Egboh had defeated the former occupant of his seat, Ganiyu Olukolu, an All Progressives Congress (APC) member. . The victory of the aforementioned Igbo lawmakers in Lagos State was, however, not unprecedented. There had been such feats in the past.

However, the same cannot be said of Oyo, another state with very strong Igbo presence. A popular belief among the people is that hell would freeze before an Igbo man can be appointed a commissioner or elected into a political position in the state. The population of the Igbo in Ibadan in particular and Oyo State in general is quite considerable. They dominate many businesses there, including automobile spare parts, building materials, clothing and electronics. Some of these Igbo merchants have spent decades in the state with some of them conferred with honorary traditional titles.

The Eze Ndi Igbo of Ibadan and Oyo State, Dr Alex Chukwudum Anozie, has lived and worked in Ibadan as an optician for 41 years. He spoke with Saturday Sun on why the Igbo shy away from joining politics in the state. According to him, for the past 20 years, he had served as the mouthpiece of the Igbo-speaking people living and working in Ibadan and Oyo State. During this period, he said several appeals made to the successive administrations to give Igbo people living in the state a chance to serve in public office were rebuffed.

On why he doesn’t want to join politics in the state given his popularity with the political elites in the state and despite having lived for so a long and achieved so much in his business in Ibadan, Dr Anozie simply said that his destiny did not align with politics.

On why some influential Igbo men and women, who have done extremely well for themselves in business, community building and have in one way or the other contributed to the development of Oyo State, are not showing interest in joining politics like their Lagos counterparts, Dr Anozie stated that it was not that they were not interested but the system had not made it easy for them to participate.

“In the whole of the South-West, after the indigenes, the next higher in population living in those states are the Igbo people, before any other tribe. I am happy that Lagos has blazed the trail as far as the political participation of the Igbo is concerned, which is one of the reasons the state is home to every Nigerian. It should be so all over the country.

“Whenever we called for the accommodation of one or two Igbo persons in the political arrangement, such calls were always turned down. That is enough to discourage us from politics in the state. Lagos State began to succeed more when the government started appointing Igbo people into the cabinet. This made the interest of the Igbo in the Lagos State politics to increase. For example, during the time of Senator Bola Tinubu as governor of the state, Mr Ben Akabueze was appointed the Commissioner for Economic Planning, while Mr Joe Igbokwe has been the spokesperson of the ruling party in the state. This has caused the Igbo in Lagos State to develop interest in politics and they are now occupying seats in the state House of Assembly and the National Assembly. They have been given the enabling environment and a level playing ground in politics. But we have not seen such in Oyo State. We have been calling for such but there has been no response.

“There was a time we submitted to the government, names of Igbo people who were successful and were eager to get platforms to contribute to the Oyo State politics but the government refused to respond and there was nothing we could do.

“During the last election, the Igbo people in Oyo State voted for this present administration but, according to what I gathered, the government does not believe that we voted for the APC. This is another issue we are facing in this state. They tend to dictate to us what party to vote for or risk being marginalised, which is not supposed to be. We should be given the freedom to choose whoever we wish to vote for and still have a say,” he said.

Dr Anozie noted that the contribution of the Igbo people to the development of Oyo State speaks volumes and cannot be overstated. “The average Igbo man in this state has a landed property, unlike a Yoruba or Hausa man living outside his native state. A landed property could also be in the form of completed structures. Igbo people invest everywhere they live and do their businesses. That is why we will continue to say that the Igbo are frontline Nigerians. They are more Nigerian than all the other tribes that are claiming to be Nigerians, because we invest everywhere we live. But, unfortunately, we have always received the negative side of things in the country. Igbo have contributed so much in Oyo State, what other development are you expecting the Igbo to do to the state to show their appreciation? Go to so many business areas in Ibadan and, indeed, the state, so many buildings are springing up and most of them are owned by the Igbo. It is like that in Lagos, Abuja and every other part of the country where Igbo people are living and doing business. The Igbo people are doing very well in Oyo State. Even the governor of the state can testify to that. If you count the landed property in Oyo State, if there are 100 of them, at least 30 belong to the Igbo people. That is a commendable contribution to the development of the state. If the Yoruba and the Hausa are doing such in Igbo land, you can imagine how things would look like.

“When Governor Abiola Ajimobi was canvassing for our votes during the election period, we gave him the assurance of massive support from the Igbo community and in exchange, when elected, he would give us political appointments. After he was sworn in, he told us to send names of Igbo people who were capable of occupying political positions in his administration. We compiled names and sent a list to him. We kept reminding them but they have never said anything about it up to today,” he stated.

Lack of unity among Igbo

There is a lack of unity among the Igbo people in the state. The Eze Ndi Igbo title tussle between Anozie and Chief Aloysius Obi, another successful businessman in Ibadan, which had been in court, has led to two Igbo factions in the state. Although the court has pronounced Dr Anozie as the rightful holder of the title, Chief Obi has refused to back down. Dr Anozie, however, said the issue cannot be a barrier to having the Igbo people recognised in the scheme of things in the state, because, according to him, there is no tribe that is not divided in any state.

“The Hausa in Oyo State are not one; they have their own rift and division. Even the Yoruba are not so much united; they are equally divided. Therefore, that shouldn’t be an excuse. The court has ruled in my favour that I am the Eze Ndi Igbo in Ibadan and Oyo State and told the other party to stop parading himself as such. Whenever there is a meeting that requires a leader representing the Igbo in Oyo State, they send me an invite. But unfortunately, that is where it stops; the government doesn’t want to give us what we have been demanding from them, which is to incorporate us into the affairs of the state,” he added.

Our challenges

Some wealthy Igbo businessmen who have spent decades doing business in the state told Saturday Sun that it is easy for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for the state to give them political appointment or be voted for by the indigenes, if they plan to go into politics.

According to Chief Mich Orji, an importer and exporter, “Oyo State is the centre of the Yoruba race, therefore, a Yoruba man can never give you any chance to perform better than him, especially if you are a non-indigene. Even for employment into the civil service, they don’t even accept any other tribe, not to talk of integrating us into governance or political appointment. That is their nature. The Ibadan indigenes can never give us that opportunity. I am not speaking under assumption, I can say it anywhere anytime: the Ibadan people cannot give any political appointment to a non-indigene. They can never appoint an outsider as commissioner; I have worked in this state for over 20 years, therefore I know what I am talking about.”

Chief Emmanuel Ezenwamma, building material merchant and Chairman, Iwo road traders association have this to say, “I have been living and doing business in Ibadan for the past 30 years. It is not everybody that is good in playing politics as in places like Lagos State. The population of the Igbo people there are almost more than the indigenes. If you do politics in Lagos, you will sell well but here in Ibadan, the indigenes here are more than us. Therefore, there is no way that we would do politics here and succeed. Although one of our sons came out recently, declaring his interest to contest for the position of a councilor. We supported him and urged him to go ahead but later on, he backed out. He complained of the way he was treated in his party and therefore, he said he was urged to drop from the race. For me, it is only the act of business that I know best, I am not interested in joining politics. I have been in business for over 30 years and know it like the back of my palms but in politics, I don’t know anything about it, the little one that I am doing as the chairman here, you can’t call that politics anyway. If you want to go into a political party, so many things are required, and in fact I can say that it is the business that takes so much of our time that we hardly think about joining politics. Politics requires time and of course resources because you can’t join politics with an empty pocket. We don’t belong to any political party because for slots to be given to us, we ought to become part and parcel of them. And I don’t think our people will give their time to participate in politics.”

For Chief Agu Okolie, an automobile business mogul and philanthropist, “I have spent 53 years in Ibadan and have been given a chieftaincy title, the Atunluse of Aro-Meta in the Eleyele area of the city, which happens to be my community. The title, approved by the immediate past Olubadan of Ibadanland, was presented to me by the Baale of my community. I have received awards from the Oyo State government for my contributions to community development. I have been honoured by the Nigeria Police, Igbo, Yoruba and several other groups for my philanthropic gestures towards my community. But despite all that, I have never nursed the idea of getting involved in politics. There is what we call job satisfaction. I don’t want to be probed for the source of my wealth as it is being done to politicians. Besides, my father, before he died, warned us, his children, not to be two things – a lawyer and a politician. He said lawyers are liars, while politicians are thieves. I have tarred several roads, provided pipe-borne water, dredged drainages and several other community projects as my way of contributing to the development of the state but I can’t join politics because I don’t want anything that will tarnish my reputation.”

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