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Was John Nwodo Overrated?

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Mr John Nnia Nwodo is a very intelligent person who is also a very good speaker. In the second republic, President Shagari made him his Special Assistant when presidential assistants were real presidential assistants. President Shagari subsequently appointed Nwodo as Minister of Aviation in his second term. All these ought to have made Nwodo have broad national outlook. But his utterances of recent are anything but decent. He appears to be burning all the bridges he had built over the years.

Nwodo went to Chatham House in UK where he took the last military regime to the cleaners in that foreign land. He conveniently forgot that he was Minister of Information in that regime. Two weeks ago he was beating his chest that he was a Lieutenant in the Biafran Army during the civil war, obviously burnishing his Biafran credentials so as not to be outdone by upstart Nnamdi Kanu. Then he made a ridiculous statement that the recent fuel scarcity in the country was targeting the Igbo as if they are the only ones who suffer from the scarcity.

Nwodo has turned Ohanaeze into a political platform since getting the mandate of Senator Ekweremadu to head it. After all, he never won any elective office in his entire public career and he now hates those who gave him all the public appointments he ever held. Those who claim to be leaders ought to make conciliatory and not incendiary statements. He ought to have been recognized as the clan head he is and not a national leader. In other words, he has been over rated all along. My elder cousin, Dan Agbese wrote a nice piece on this last Sunday titled: Nwodo’s Strange Conspiracy Theory which I hereby share with you below:

I first met John Nnia Nwodo when he was minister for transport, as junior ministers were called in Shagari’s second term. I was editor of the New Nigerian at the time. We struck a beautiful friendship. Each time I drove with him in his car, he played Dr Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream, the speech many believed galvanised black leaders to do more than dream of a better America and instead take steps to bring about the needed changes in the world’s most unapologetic racist nation.

I could see that John was in love with the speech. I had a sneaking feeling he must be entertaining the hope that someday he too would make a similar, memorable speech to help move this country of ethnic enclaves into the centre and a new nation forged from the anvils of our collective commitment to right the wrongs that divide us would rise from the ashes of the wrongs.

John oozed political ambition. He was young and full, obviously, of the dreams of a young man in such a high position in government. He struck me then, and this was confirmed in our subsequent but occasional meetings after the military cut short the life of the second republic at the end of 1983, as a young politician with a different take on how to really unite Nigeria and make it great and the Nigerians proud. I thought tribe mattered less to him than what the individual makes of his opportunities.

I am now forced to moderate my thinking along that line. It seems to me that being an Igbo and promoting Igbo interests have become more important to John than what I saw as his broad-minded take on national issues. There is nothing strange about this. Ethnic championship is still the sure path to fame and fortune in the country. Not many men are prepared to miss the opportunity, whenever it offers itself, to stand up for their tribes, right or wrong.

John is now the chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the politico-social Igbo body committed to the protection and the promotion of Igbo interests. In that lofty position, he has never failed to respond to what he regards as or suspects to be patently against Igbo interest perpetrated by other tribes or the Nigerian state itself. In his exalted position, he is the promoter-in-chief of his ethnic interests. We can all understand that.

My problem, and it is not for lack of understanding, is that my good friend thinks it is worth his while to promote an Ndigbo victimhood and the conspiracy theory that goes with it. Victimhood is a very sensitive issue. All ethnic groups, including the minorities, truth be told, have had to resort to victimhood to make their case before the Nigerian state. The Igbo victimhood has been playing in our nation’s political space since the crises of 1966 that eventually led to the civil war. It has become even more so since the end of the civil war in January 1970. Victimhood is usually reinforced by a conspiracy theory –a theory not usually subject to the empirical evidence of proof.  It rides on the crest wave of emotions.

I was quite surprised when John played up this again in the face of the fuel crisis that has virtually paralysed the country since the last week or so to Christmas. He said the fuel scarcity was a deliberate policy by the federal government to punish Ndigbo. It means the rest of us whose travelling plans and businesses were thwarted by the fuel crisis are merely suffering the collateral damage from the bazooka trained on Ndigbo by some sinister, Ndigbo-hating forces in the Buhari administration. It boggles the mind.

It may seem difficult to believe that someone of John’s social standing could claim that the federal government would induce fuel scarcity to punish the Igbo and in the process punish the entire country. But the purpose of a conspiracy theory is not to tell the truth or even be reasonable but to sow doubt in the minds of people and cause them to scratch their heads, wondering where the fiction ends and the fact begins. If this had come from someone else, I would have had one word for it: irresponsible.

It is not difficult to understand why John chose to weave this strange conspiracy theory about the fuel crisis still biting us. It is true that more Igbo people travel home during the Christmas/new year periods than other people. This period is wired into their cultural DNA. It is when most of them marry; it is when many of them who live abroad come home and, to put a fine point on it, it is when those who have made it outside Igbo land go home to announce themselves as newly-minted millionaires. So, naturally, they invest a lot in going home. So, naturally, when there is a biting fuel crisis, such as we have now and have had ever since Noah was a sailor, more Ndigbo bless from its bite in term of absolute numbers than say Agila people going home for Christmas.

A conspiracy theory is a dangerous propaganda but make no mistake, it never lacks takers. Perhaps the Ohanaeze boss might wish to consider these facts:

One, fuel scarcity in the country during the Christmas and the New Year periods is a perennial problem in the country under all forms of government. But this is the first time anyone has had the presence of mind to interpret it as a federal government conspiracy against the Igbo.

Two, Ndigbo are among the independent fuel marketers; perhaps many of them are in this lucrative line of business. They are, therefore, part of the cabal that controls the importation of our fuel and, therefore, complicit in the induced fuel scarcity and the high prices we pay for fuel. It would be such a great pity if such people were recruited into effecting the fuel scarcity policy against their own people.

Three, most of the transport owners are Igbo. They routinely hike transport fares at this time of the year. I am willing to bet they are not unaware of the fact this hurts their own people more than other tribes in term of numbers. I do not think they hike transport at the behest of the federal government in order to punish their own people.

Fuel scarcity is part of the spotted face of our social and economic management. We are all victims; none more victimised than the others. A major oil-producing nation like Nigeria ought to be able to keep its four oil refineries humming at full production capacity and free itself from its total dependence on fuel importation. A wish, surely. It is wrong to see a national failure and incompetence such as this as a deliberate punitive measure against Ndigbo. This sort of conspiracy theory gets media attention but it actually falls flat on its face. It is beneath the exalted social standing of my good friend, John Nnia Nwodo, to peddle this strange conspiracy theory that takes something away from what I knew of his sound intellectual analysis of what ails us as a nation.



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