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Columnist Ogbuagu Anikwe focuses on how to grow group consciousness and shows how Igbo delegates at the PDP convention are not to blame.

It’s shocking and disappointing that influential Southeasterners accuse Igbo political party delegates of “selling out” on the Igbo presidency quest. They are angry that 80 of the 95 Southeast PDP delegates voted against Igbo aspirants at the recent presidential convention. Based on announced results, Southeast aspirants won only 15 votes. Anyim Pius Anyim scored 14 delegate votes while the erudite Sam Ohuabunwa went home with a lone ballot. This result, as one commentator put it, demonstrates absence of “group consciousness” among Igbo PDP delegates. Moreover, he says that their action sends a message to Nigeria that winning the presidency is not a priority for Ndigbo. Finally, the delegates merely came to Abuja to pursue their selfish interests.

These are weighty accusations but are they justified? Igbo PDP delegates who voted against southeast candidates in the May 2022 party convention in Abuja are not to blame. We should not burden them with ownership of the responsibility they discharged in favour of their Igbo paymasters. Mounting an argument in support of this accusation is like closing a stable door after the horses have bolted. It is also a red herring, seeking to distract attention from the real issues. The Igbo delegates are not to blame.

Who were the delegates anyway? Did the PDP governors and party leaders publish a list of the delegates that they selected for the convention? How many of the Igbo patriots complaining about the action of PDP delegates saw the list of delegates from Enugu and Abia, the two remaining PDP states? Beyond its intermittent media advocacy for the Igbo presidency, did they, for instance, interface with Southeast governors and political leaders on delegate voting at the convention? Were non-governmental or community-based organisations privy to the list sent to Abuja as national delegates? If they were, what role did they play to sensitize them before they left for the convention?

The Igbo delegates are not to blame. Blaming the delegates elevates them into something that they are not – champions of Igbo political resurgence. To most observers, PDP state governors constituted and imposed delegates on their state party leadership. In states where they hold sway, the governors simply compiled a list of hangers-on and submitted them as “elected” delegates. Election monitors from the national headquarters were happy to receive the list, of course with accompanying bags of consideration. Delegates did their masters’ biddings, with one eye on current benefits and another on future patronages.

It is therefore presumptuous to accuse these lackeys of lacking in “Igbo group consciousness.” Is it fair to blame the delegates while giving their masters a free pass? We saw these masters – PDP governors and leaders from non-PDP states – embrace non-Igbo candidates long before the primaries. They avoided meeting with credible Igbo aspirants while hobnobbing with non-Igbo contenders. And one of these masters – the governor of Abia State – has publicly justified their collective action, hasn’t he?

If it is about group consciousness, this is also a good reason to exonerate the action of Igbo PDP delegates. Promoting group consciousness is never the responsibility of ordinary folks looking for daily bread through political patronage. It is a high-minded pursuit of group socioeconomic or political survival by elite classes. The Southeast political elite class exercised their group consciousness by organizing and selecting delegates to vote for the PDP aspirants. Their actions and inactions influenced voting pattern of Igbo PDP delegates during the convention.

The Igbo delegates are not to blame. We should rather focus on the lessons to learn from the action of the political elite and how to prevent them from hurting Igbo interest in future elections. One of the greatest lessons from what happened in the Abuja PDP Convention is the danger of group apathy. Group apathy has become an endemic disease that has eaten deep into the community level. Group apathy hurts Igbo interest from the grassroots to the national level.

Every “autonomous community” has roughly three parallel organisations that should promote or facilitate local development efforts. The cultural institution (represented by the Igwe- or Eze-in-Council) manages community conflicts and promotes cultural renaissance. Community-based organisations focus on infrastructure and human resource improvements. However, often ignored in the community development equation is the ward executive of the ruling party in the State. In most communities, the business and culture elite do not interfere in the affairs of community party organisations. Instead, they invest efforts and resources to influence who becomes president-general or traditional ruler. None of them cares to know when election for Ward executives of the ruling political party takes place. They will rather take pride in promoting themselves as “non-partisan” individuals and organisations in their communities. Consequently, political party organisations become orphans, ignored by the cultural and business elite classes which champion grassroots development projects.

Why do the community elite ignore the local politicians in community development matters? In most communities, “local politician,” is a euphemism for never-do-well or a self-centered person. The popular perception is that many jobless people who gather to clap and dance for elected representatives and top political appointees. Additionally, elected representatives and top political appointees from the community do not help matters. They prefer to identify with the business and cultural elite class in making community contributions, leaving the party organisation in a continued state of bereavement. What grand visions can anyone expect from a member of this group suddenly nominated as a councilor or party delegate?

Blame not the Igbo delegates

Group apathy manifests in prejudice, disregard and disdain by business and culture elite for members of the community political organisation. And this is the reason why Igbo PDP delegates voted the way they did in Abuja. When the local elite become interested in affairs of their local political organisation, the right delegates and councilors will emerge. Delegates will no longer emerge on the whims of governors but on discussion and consensus of local community leaders. Community executives of the ruling party will effectively interface with chief executives of their local governments. Depending on individual capacity and influence, and with global community support and ownership, local political leaders will complement community development efforts. The community will continue to make slow progress if local business and culture elite continue to avoid politics at the community level where they have massive influence.

Interestingly, this aversion to politics among the business and cultural elite is a post-civil war phenomenon. It was not the case among Ndigbo of the colonial and post-colonial period. Community development was not divorced from politics at that time. This is because pre-war community growth efforts were not reactions to willful neglect of communities by the authorities. They were rather complementary efforts in support of leadership mobilization and sensitization of citizens for accelerated human and infrastructure development. In other words, community development efforts complemented the drives of Igbo leaders (who were also politicians) in their collective race to accelerate the pace of development of the Eastern Region. Therefore, it is powerfully tempting to conclude today that group relegation policies of the Civil War, sustained through decades of prolonged military rule, altered Igbo perception of community development.

This perception gap created the loophole to hijack leadership selection by those I choose to describe as neopoliticos – the self-interest group that currently holds Nigeria hostage at all levels of governance. Political leadership selection was not left for politicians during the colonial period and much of the First Republic. At the grassroots level, this was squarely the responsibility of each community. Two examples will suffice.

On occasion, ruling NCNC candidates lost at the polls as communities voted for independent candidates that they adjudged more capable. Additionally, I remember that in my hometown, the practice of selecting local government councilors to represent my community was a community affair. The position rotated among the villages. The concerned village may decide to invite a son or daughter who lives outside the state (and was not a politician) to take up the role. Such nominations were usually unopposed. Today, the process remains the same in terms of micro-zoning.

Today, the ruling party hijacks the process through its Ward Executives. In some cases, these Local and State Government hijackers may decide to import a local thug or gangster to take the position. And, as is often the case, the resulting choice of appointees will not reflect community desires or interest. The godfathers make their choice with an eye on the recipient’s capacity to enforce the choice, no matter how unpopular it is.

The takeover of local political positions by elected public officers happens because of the disinterest of community cultural and business leaders. This is how they selected the Igbo PDP delegates – from the ranks of those who owe allegiance to the state governor and the political godfather. From this point, everything depends on the governor. It is hard to predict a governor’s whims at the crucial decision point. Local political leaders and jobbers will continue with this “game” while business and cultural elite classes continue with their onerous burden of developing their various communities.

Apathy from business and the cultural elite is the bane of Igbo politics. They should wake up and smell the coffee. And if they want us to spell it out, it is APILS – All Politics is Local, Stupid.

An apology

I offer to you, dear reader, sincere apologies for staying away from this column for two weeks. The popular saying today is that “Nigeria happens to us,” whenever we encounter something we least expected. I found myself with a sudden health challenge. It was such that writing a column receded in the background. All is well, however, and life goes on.  Thank you for keeping the faith, and see you next week, when we shall return with another alternative viewpoint on popular issues.