By Ike Abonyi
“There is no way Igbos would all speak with one voice. But let one be more slightly strident than the others. That’s what I look for” – Emeka Ojukwu.
Anambra born business mogul, Chief Arthur Eze, is easily one of the foremost philanthropists in this country. He has not lacked possibly because he keeps giving apparently in line with the biblical injunction that ‘givers never lack’. Winston Churchill has his likes in mind when he said that ‘we make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give’ Yours sincerely was once a beneficiary of Arthur Eze’s philanthropy by chance.
In 2001 shortly after the introduction of the N500 note, I was in Eko Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos to keep an interview appointment with a Northern politician when I ran into him in the hotel elevator. I was the only person with him going to the last floor. As I greeted him in Igbo language, he said young man who are you? ‘I’m Ike Abonyi, a journalist,’ I replied.
He dipped his hand and brought out N5,000 mint in N500 denominations. He probably pre-arranged the money because he did not count it and handed it over to me as he bid me good bye. To me it was more than the amount because N500 was still very fresh. I told myself that only a professional giver like ‘Arthur 1000’, can give so freely by chance that way. Since then I have always followed his extraordinary philanthropy, but that is not the reason why he is featuring in Political Musing this week. Although he is not a politician to easily merit a place in this platform but more often than not he has found himself in the political fray making failed attempts to install his choice person as governor in Anambra, his state of origin. Lately he has found himself venturing into national politics where he has been trying to position himself as the route through which a Nigeria President of Igbo extraction will emerge. What that means is that any ambitious Igbo hoping to make it as President should focus his gaze on him.
He has even allegedly assured a South-East Governor of the position courtesy of his friend, President Muhammadu Buhari. Who should be surprised at all these, in politics, fantasy and clairvoyance are rampant and like every soothsaying when they fail, there would always be handy excuses why it did not materialize.
That explains why in politics like in marketing, buyers are advised to always beware. In the political jungle they say ‘look before you jump’. What informed this memo actually is the recent utterances of Chief Eze ahead of 2023 which if not stemmed is capable of sending wrong impression of people about Ndigbo. Arthur and his likes have continued to run with the commentary that Ndigbo do not love themselves and that they are always divided politically. It’s worrisome because this dangerous assertion is not supported by any empirical evaluation.
They always referred to 1999 to 2003 when the Senate Presidency zoned to the South-East recorded unprecedented turnover of Senate Presidents in the country. But they forgot that the region was and still is in minority in the parliament and their position was immaterial if it goes against the Presidency of the time which was what happened when then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s choice never tallied with that of the region and his also never lasted. Because the Igbo have not tested the Presidency they have remained at the receiving end of not being at the commanding height in the nation political power equation.
And rather than view them from the point of this handicap, a lot of people being helped by the likes of Arthur Eze are seeing Igbo as politically uncoordinated people, an assertion which is not true. I don’t know of any ethnic group in this country that has not been subservient when they are not in control of political power? When a minority Ijaw man was in power during Goodluck Jonathan’s era we saw all the major ethnic groups, Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo all falling on each other trying to impress him.
Even the almighty Prince of the Sokoto caliphate lobbied and got appointed as his Security Adviser. Since Obasanjo left office in 2007 has there been any united Yoruba front politically? Was it not disunity that led them into this romance with Buhari that is about getting sour? Not even the Fulani who are in power at the moment enjoy the desired unanimity, not with a leader like Buhari who is believed to have come from outside the main fold and running a skewed administration. Therefore, this continuous echoing of Igbo not being united is rubbish and should not be allowed to flourish. Also to be halted is the talk that Igbo don’t like themselves, this is another unsubstantiated fallacy.
If Igbo don’t like themselves, how come they unite and form town unions and hold meetings every month all parts of the globe. They even ensured that no Igbo who dies aboard is buried outside Igboland. Over 90% of Igbo successful businessmen rose through the tutelage of fellow Igbo. In Nnewi, Onitsha, Aba and Lagos nearly all young billionaires of Igbo extraction in hundreds were made by their brother Igbo. Few persons like Arthur who rose through the help of some Northerners who were in power should not make us forget our positive side.
Even Arthur got attracted to the Northerners after he was elevated by an Igbo in the Second Republic. It’s a mark of inferiority complex to keep heralding the North as better than our people in terms of charity. If they are so charitable being in power in over 44 years of the nation’s 60 years, why are there still lots of literarily abandoned youths migrating to the South in such numbers in search of good life? Aliko Dangote, a Fulani, Africa’s richest man got to where he is through some waiver support from non-Fulani leaders like Obasanjo and Jonathan, yet nobody has read him lavish credit to these people, instead he eulogizes the business prowess of his parents and grandparents. Mike Adenuga of Globacom is what he is today through his friendship with former President Ibrahim Babangida, ditto Nigeria’s richest woman Folorunso Alakija yet we have not heard them shout and condemn their Yoruba people, instead they talk more of the traces of Ijebu blood in their success story.
Even politically, Igbo’s Onye Ayana nwene spirit has always been there since Second Republic when they stuck to their Presidential candidate, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the defunct Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), knowing too well he was not going to win. In the current dispensation, majority of Igbo sticking to the PDP are merely identifying with the rest of their people.
In the last general election did they not pour all their votes to the PDP in support of their son, Peter Obi who was the Vice Presidential candidate of the PDP. In Arthur Eze’s state of Anambra where Obi also hails from, did the people not brush aside the position of the sitting government of APGA to give over 95% of their votes to their son, the highest votes in terms of percentage throughout the country from a state? Didn’t the South-East not record the highest percentage vote for their brother Obi in that election? Was it not threat of Igbo solidarity that led to the destruction of Igbo votes in Lagos in 2019? My take here is that while it’s good and in line with the Igbo spirit to appreciate benefactors, Arthur and his likes while celebrating their breadwinners or mentors who are not Igbo should stop running the race down. It’s defeatist and mark of weakness to continue looking down on yourself because somebody from another tribe helped you. We should venerate our ingenuity and stop playing down our inventiveness.
If Igbo can be what they are in this country socially, economically and even politically despite what they have been going through, you can imagine what will become of them if they enjoy equal political benefaction in this country. One obvious minus of Igbo wealthy men in business is that they don’t mind their areas, once they have the money they begin to arrogate political influence to themselves in their believe that money is everything. The Adenugas, the Dangotes of this world have secretly supported politicians from their area without the noise of letting the World know. If only Arthur can concentrate on his business and philanthropy, establish industries and create jobs and leave politics for politicians. In doing so his influence will speak volume rather than his nuisance.
In case Arthur is unclear who we are as Igbo, our highly revered iconic leader Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu summed us up this way: “We are people who chose to hunger a little to remain alive instead of feeding fat to become respectable corpse.” This is not arrogance but facts.