Chief Ken Nnamani is one politician of Igbo extraction I hold in high esteem. My respect for him began shortly after his election as Senate President in the second tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo. That was between 2005 and 2007. I had not met him in person, but our paths seem to have crossed in our serendipitous journey to uphold the truth and do the needful.
What brought us together and deepened the relationship was our love for our country manifested in our common hatred for the Third Term Agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. That agenda was one of the most turbulent and contentious periods in Nigeria’s history. It had teetered the country on the cliff edge of political anarchy. We were almost imperilled if not for the deft political manoeuvrings of Senator Ken Nnamani.
I had written a 20-page letter to my Senator, who then was Senator Agboti—a very dear friend of his— on why he (Agboti) should vote against the Third Term plot which Nigerians considered as off-kilter and an aberration.
But when the National Democratic Movement in the United States of America saw it, it considered it so powerful enough that every Senator and indeed every Nigerian should have a copy of it. They duplicated it and sent to every member of the National Assembly including Nnamani. That was where the journey began.
The manner he navigated through the maze to defeat the evil and self-driven plot of Obasanjo and take Nigeria out of troubled waters earned him my respect, and I think, the respect of many Nigerians. He emerged not only as a hero of that treacherous madness but also as a patriot who stood by his country in her most trying time.
Taciturn and hardly chatty, Nnamani’s demonstration of patriotism at that times was instrumental to the peace we enjoy now, and to my perception of him as a principled politician of undefiled integrity. That was how he endeared himself to me and to many Nigerians.
But today, I don’t know what to make of him now.
That perception has changed. That respect I had for him has been swallowed up by a concatenation of events since he drifted into the amorous dalliance of strange bedfellows.
Some few weeks ago, Nnamani officially defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress after hobnobbing with the party for some months. When asked by journalists why he left PDP which he was a founding member and under whose platform he was catapulted to national political limelight as Senate President, Nnamani, like a typical Nigerian politician, rationalised that he did so in response to the intense demand from his constituents. “I have to do what my constituents demanded by joining the APC at ward level,” he said. “I do not believe,” he went further, “that I should continue to be a member of the PDP as it is defined today. This is certainly not the party I joined years ago to help change my country.”
And just few days ago when the issue of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction (apologies to late Ojo Maduekwe) came up in a fora, Nnamani was quoted by the press to have said that it was a wild goose chase for now, that the Igbos should forget it until 2023 when Buhari must have completed his second tenure. He did not end there, he went further to call on Ndigbo to join hands with him to flesh out this dream!
While I grant Chief Nnamani the right to belong to any party or association he feels like as the constitution provides, I see his defection to APC as part of the politics of prebendalism that the Igboman has been noted for. Since the demise of the Nigerian Peoples Party NPP and its founder, the Igboman has been in political disarray, unable to sink his petty individual ambitions for the higher and collective good of the region. The driving motivation in their political decisions is usually not far away from the urge for instant gratification, what they stand to gain at the moment, which does not bode well for our political aggregation. It is within this context, not the context of what “my constituents wants me to do,” that I locate Nnamani’s defection.
Since Nnamani joined APC, there appears to have been an exodus of prominent Igbo politicians from PDP to APC. From Rochas Okorocha to Orji Uzor Kalu, from Jude Idimogu (Igbo PDP lawmaker representing Oshodi/Isolo Constituency in the Lagos House of Assembly) to Senator Andy Ubah, Jim Nwobodo to Igbo politicians are leaving for APC with the same speed they joined and formed PDP in 1998. And their reason, which has always been the same refrain from the days of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in the NCNC heydays to the present, has never changed: to take Ndigbo to the mainstream of Nigerian politics!
However, what I cannot understand is this craze and penchant among the Igbo political elites to always be at where the sauce is. In fairness, there is nothing intrinsically bad in playing at the center with an eye on the coveted trophy which is the Presidency, but so many years after the death of Zik, Igbos are still in political wilderness, unable to reach their political promised land. And they are unable to learn from the mistakes of Azikiwe who was busy playing politics of one Nigeria when Obafemi Awolowo was busy empowering his people and making them a bride to be wooed with his regional Action Group. This political harlotry which is always informed by individual interests and the need to be relevant— what Governor Ayo Fayose has aptly called ‘politics of stomach infrastructure‘—is the reason Igbos cannot band together under one umbrella and domesticate a party in the East through which they can channel their political aspirations like what the Yoruba is doing with Action Congress (AC).
We missed that opportunity in APGA. There was a time the All Progressives Grand Alliance controlled three states in the East, but one by one they all, with the exception of Anambra, drifted to what they call the center.
Today, another opportunity is beckoning on Igbos now. There is no reason Igbos should desert PDP to an already crowded center, where, like Nnamani, they will be given one obscure appointment like giving a sop to Ceberus.
In its heydays, Igbos formed the fulcrum of PDP, they made the party a national party because of the presence of Dr. Alex Ekwueme who was its first National Chairman and many other prominent Igbos. Igbos everywhere in Nigeria and in the diaspora embraced it and gave it a stamp of national authenticity. That was why they played a major role in the party and got rewarded with juicy appointments from the tenures of Obasanjo to Goodluck Jonathan, even though the appointments did not bring any tangible thing to the table in Igboland.
Now that PDP is sailing in troubled waters and everyone is running away from the sinking ship, Igbos should not join the bandwagon, it is already the most acceptable party in the zone especially with the dismal outing of APC as evident in Buhari’s visionless and lack-lustre performance.
Igbos should unite and domesticate PDP as an Igbo party, if need be, and use it as a bargaining point as the Yorubas are doing. It is only when we have a formidable regional party through which we can articulate our interests that the rest of Nigeria can take us serious in our quest for national integration. Let the exodus stop.