2023: How Igbo can win trust of Northerners, succeed Buhari –Mustapha Imam, President, Arewa Support Group | NN NEWS

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A political activist and Coordinator of Arewa Support Group for Igbo President, Mustapha Imam, in this interview, spoke on reasons a Nigerian of South East extraction should succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023.

He, however, explained that Igbo presidential aspirants, irrespective of their political party, must reach out to individuals, groups and interests outside their region to sell their agenda and win their trust.

What is the profile of your organization, Arewa Support Group for Igbo President?

Our support group was conceived and has been in existence since 2018, with the aim of pursuing our core interest, which is the emergence of an Igbo man as the President of Nigeria in the nearest possible time. The main goal of our group is therefore to ensure that in the Nigerian political space, there is justice, fairness and equity for all the players and for all the regions that make up Nigeria. One way we are going about realizing our objective is our present campaign and support for the aspiration of South-Eastern Nigerians to produce the next President. Let me state a few facts; one is that Nigeria is a country that comprises of people of different religions, ethnic groups and sub – nationalities and for the purpose of justice, fairness and equity as I earlier mentioned, it will be good that all Nigerians, irrespective of their tribe, language or ethnic group, enjoy an equal privilege and opportunity to lead this country. Each should have the opportunity, like any other group of Nigerians, to produce the president of Nigeria. That is why, at this moment, we felt that it is only the South-East, particularly the Igbo, that are yet to produce the President of this country since the end of the war and it would be right if they are allowed to occupy that position in 2023.

In specific terms, why is your group supporting the aspiration of Igbo people and their journey to the Presidency?

There are a lot of reasons that I can easily give you for our choice of an Igbo President, but let me cite a few for the benefit of space. Number one, Igbo is one of the major tribes in Nigeria. We all sincerely know, right from our infancy, that there are three major tribal groups in Nigeria. They are Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba tribes. And secondly, the Igbo people have contributed and are still contributing positively to the overall development of the economic, social and political well being of this country. They have been doing that ever since before the nation’s Independence. Today, I see no aspect or field of the economic, social and political development of Nigeria, where they did not leave a reputable mark. And so, to now say that because of numbers or whatever calculation or reason, they cannot lead this country, you have not been fair to them. Let us look at their contributions to the educational development of Nigeria. Igbo have been the foremost group of western scholars that emerged in Nigeria. They have contributed positively well. I could remember…. 1 am a product of Wudil Teachers College in Kano State. When I was a student at that level, most of our highly competent, highly versatile teachers at that time were all Igbo people. I can remember Mr. Ben Joel and Mr. Ikenna from the present day Abia State and some of them that I can no longer remember; they were good, good teachers. They taught us well and helped us to become our best in life.  Again, when you look at Nigeria, from its inception, up to its Independence and beyond, when you look at its development and from whatever perspective you may take, the contributions of the Igbo man is immense. In fact, it cannot be over emphasized or missed. Their contributions have been tremendous and it has been in every sphere of our national life. For example, let me draw an example from the legal profession, which is my field. If you look at the legal profession, the law aspect as a field, the Igbo have produced renowned legal scholars; they have produced legal minds of unquestionable intellectual height. You can say the same thing about their huge contributions to the healthcare delivery system, to the economy and commerce, sports and athletics, including helping to unite Nigeria as a country. Don’t forget that it is only the Igbo people that, no matter where you go, anywhere you go in Nigeria, in every town, city and village you turn to in Nigeria, even if the population of the village was only 100 people in all, you must find an Igbo man living peacefully with others, going about his businesses within that context. Yet, someone somewhere feels threatened, feels that they should not produce the President of Nigeria.  Haba! That is not fair enough! That is unjust! That is why for me and the members of our project, Igbo should be given a chance to produce the President of this country in 2023. That is why I feel- of course knowing the quality of people from the five South – Eastern states- it is high time for them to be given the chance to produce the President.

But there is the fear in Northern Nigeria and in some other parts of Nigeria that if you give an Igbo man the Presidency, he might not work for the unity of Nigeria; he will probably balkanize this country?

I disagree with this assumption and with those who nurture this fear. This is because the post- civil war events and experiences have shown that the Igbo people have since moved on. They have fully and really re-integrated themselves into the Nigeria project and a majority of them, I can tell you, would fight in favour of one Nigeria. I am sure of this. Forget about those noises here and there, majority of Igbo people would vote for a united Nigeria, where justice and fairness reign. I will give you an example from where we are today. Kano, as a cosmopolitan city, is a host to Igbo people and they are living peacefully. There is an area in Kano State called Jaba Area, situated behind the Airforce Base. This particular area was developed solely, 99%, by Igbo people in the state. They brought in their wealth, bought their lands, built their structures, and developed the area and made that place their homes. Now tell me… a people who have any ill- motive or who are planning to break away from the rest of the country would not invest and put their money in places where they hope to break away from in the nearest future. And this attitude is replicated in many parts of the North. In fact, if you looked across Northern Nigeria, you will surely see the positive imprints of the Igbo man, you will see his investments. Take a look at Lafia, the capital city of Nasarawa State, take the case of Jos, take Bauchi, take Gombe. And even take a look at Maiduguri, despite the Boko Haram insurgency, in every business there; you would see that the leading figures are Igbo. If Igbo people have a breakaway plan or motive as some people fear, they would not scatter their investments and interests across Nigeria. This claim against the Igbo people is nothing but some other people’s own perception. It is not the objective reality. The reality is that Igbo people want a united Nigeria.

Recently, you argued elsewhere that the two leading political parties, APC and PDP should reserve their presidential slots for the Igbo man. Can you elaborate on this?   

Yes, if you look at things, from 1999 when we embraced the present democratic dispensation, after the military had left, you will see that in 1999- I always make reference to 1999 because is so fundamental in Nigeria political history; on that occasion, the Nigeria political class wanted the Yoruba and a South – Westerner to emerge as the President of Nigeria. The parties simply mobilized themselves and at the end of the day, the major political parties at that material time, the APP and the PDP, adopted candidates of South-West extraction for the presidential election. That was how the system politely and wisely handed over power to the South West and of course, addressed the sense of alienation in that part of the country arising from the  annulment of June 12.  That same fate can be re-engineered today ahead of the 2023 elections in favor of the Igbo man. The major political parties can do it again for the purpose of the development, unity and the integration of Nigeria.

Do you have any political party in mind that you favour from where they would produce the Igbo president?

Honestly no!  No!! We don’t mind which party eventually clinches the Presidency at the end of the day. Our major concern is that an Igbo man, irrespective of which political party in Nigeria presented him for the contest, wins to become the President of Nigeria.

One thing is to say it, to mouth your desire for Nigeria to make an Igbo man the next President. But in clear terms, what are you doing to actualize the cause of an Igbo President?

In political arena, particularly the arrangement of Nigeria where you have many groups, many tribes and many interests, the first thing is to build alliance with others. You can hardly do it alone. That is a fact. You have to talk to different groups; you sit with people, come together, and build bridges. And through these endeavors, the people will know you very well, but most importantly, they would know what your mission and objectives are. And gradually, you will be able to secure their understanding of your point of view. That has not been easy, but we have been making progress in this direction to engineer trust for the Igbo man among Northerners. Don’t forget that Nigeria, as I earlier said, comprises of different people and getting the trust of others is not cheap to come by. You have to work for it. So by the time you build bridges at the end of the day, you will win and how do you win? When you are able to convince persons, when you make friendship from the North, from the West and what have you. At the end, you will get what you want through the alliance, through the bridges you had built. This is what we have been doing.

If you are doing all the things that you claim to be doing, how come you are not immediately noticeable on this project?

Our group has been around since 2018. With our little resources- we have not got any single kobo contribution from any human being; we have been promoting values of integration and trust among Nigerians.  In any programme, where we are involved in the region, be it  either marriage, naming or any other kinds of ceremonies, we normally bring in the Igbo dancers to demonstrate; they dance and entertain the guests. Sometimes, we sponsor programmes in some radio stations, programmes that provide opportunities for the Igbo people to sit and share and discuss with others. These are some of the areas we feel could be established to bring Igbo into alliance with others, into unity and friendship and fraternity with other major ethnic groups in Nigeria and this is what we have been doing since 2018. Let me say it again, we have been making progress, although these things take time.

It seems many Igbo, especially their politicians, have little or even zero knowledge of how politics is played in the North. As an insider, what will be your advice to them in terms of how to woo  the voters of Northern Nigeria?

Yes, they are. As I said earlier, Nigeria is a big and vast country. And in my view, the only thing to do to win the attention of voters of Northern Nigeria is for Igbo, their  presidential aspirants to sufficiently reach out to every nook and cranny of the country.You cannot stay in your house and your home and engage the rest of Nigerians on your interest. Relate to every tribe and to everybody in Nigeria with trust, just as you want others to trust you and your dealings. That is what other regions have been doing and it is working for them. These are the ways to go about it while seeking the presidential slot. This will give people, Nigerians, an opportunity to see you and understand you As I said earlier, when Igbo reach out to people across the 36 states, you will build bridges; you have people there, and at the end of the day, you will see people supporting you as we are doing now. We are from the Northern Nigeria and I assure you that from 2018 we have been on this. There is hardly a state in Nigeria that we don’t have a coordinator.

The IPOB stuff has created a regime of fear and anxiety against the Igbo people. What is your honest take on the activities of these young boys? What do you make of their impact in the quest for an Igbo President?

A: To be honest with you, when the IPOB issue persisted, it nearly affected our faith in this project. But because we have a clean mind, we were able to look at the issue objectively. As you know, in any organization, in any tribe, in any social setting of human beings, you can never have the entire people sharing the same view. You must have dissenting view. Ninety percent of Igbo are not in support of the activities of IPOB. Only a few elements among the Igbo people are behind them. These few elements cannot be allowed to spoil the chances or the position of the 90 percent that are not in support of them. Like I said, there is hardly a society where everybody is moving in the same direction. Take for example in the North, particularly the North East and North West, we have banditry, we have insurgency. Would you now say that because of these, all the Hausa people ` are bandits? Can you say that all the Northerners are in Boko Haram? No! In criminology, there is what we call “deviant, a particular people within a group that are deviants; that their behavior are not in line with the goals of the society and this type of people are available in all societies, not just in Igbo land.  IPOB are the same thing like  bandits in the North West and the Boko Haram. Ninety percent of the Igbo people are not happy with what is happening, they are feeling the bites of the activities of IPOB more than any other Nigerian. These are traders and yet every Monday, they cannot go to trade. They are compelled to stay at home and stay hungry for a whole day because of these boys. It is that bad for the Igbo themselves. On IPOB issue , the Igbo people deserve our collective  sympathy; not rebuke!.

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