By Achile Enemaku Umameh
In the chaos of battle, when the ground beneath your feet is a slurry of blood,
puke, piss and the entrails of friends and enemies alike,
it is easy to turn to the gods for salvation.
But it is the soldiers who do the fighting,
and the soldiers who do the dying,
and the gods never get their feet wet (Centurion Quintus Dias).
Politics in Igala land is troubling in a hundred dimensions.
We have learnt nothing from the shared experiences of Dr. Stephen Achema and Prince Abubakar Audu. Achema was a political colossus with an incomparable boldness of voice, character and intensity of belief in unbending politics of the righteous individual. He was the self-appointed angry voice of the downtrodden against the elites. Prince Audu was always the flamboyant demagogue, experienced go-getter, self-possessed political authoritarian in whose shade no little messiah could bloom. He was the self-proclaimed benevolent elite sent to save the downtrodden. Achema and Prince Audu were two political tectonic plates grating perpetually against each other in fiery political rhetoric.
While Achema played the indefatigable political dynamite, Prince Audu was the messianic super-hero. This grandstanding brought us less. With the benefit of hindsight both represented the beginning of the golden age of Igala politics. Even though they left behind mixed legacies. Yet, that age was premature and faded as soon as they both died. They left nearly no enduring political architectures that could further their ideals. They left only a handful of inferior successors who have deviated from their political thoughts and civic imaginations. Their inability to reconcile with each other for the common good and synergise for the benefit of the entire Igala land was their Achilles’ heel.
Have we as well learnt anything from these missed opportunities? We have inherited the rotten aftertastes of their politics of division, politics of ego, unproductive individualism and we have added to it thuggery and violence to a point of foolhardy. The election season is here, and we have no leading voice, no rallying point, we have no shared agenda for what we want, we have no political framework for identifying what we need most and how to strategize to achieve it. Most of the Igala politicians are groping in the dark. The politicians are bickering without purpose, they are sending the Igala youths to premature death or courting life-changing injuries.
The Igala political tradition and heritage is hinged on a shade of democratic socialist polity. Much of the monarchy had an internal mechanism of rotational representative system of government. The rotational representative ascension to the throne among the nine royal families from which all Igala trace their origin, and the Igala age-grade with shared community obligations, the democratised women collectives and co-operative system of farming are indications of the age long Igala social democracy.
Democracy as it is practiced in Nigeria today, especially in Igala land is not a good system of government. If the architecture of government as it is practiced in Nigeria today is democratic, then away with it, away with it. The success of democratic governance is premised among other things on a robust civic education and safeguards for accountable leadership. In a nation where over 80% of the populace are uneducated, miseducated or undereducated to call our system of government today democracy is a gross misnomer and an insult to the memories of the founding fathers of the democratic principles. What we have today is jungle rule dressed in a stolen veneer of democracy.
Political thinkers, intellectuals of all socio-political leanings, especially those of Igala extraction, need to go back to the drawing board to rethink a form of inculturated democracy- a thought out merger of some democratic tenets with elements in indigenous system of government that ancient Igala civilisation is known for centuries before the rude colonial disruption. Herein, is our chance.
And it is not too late to stop brandishing needless hate against each other. It is not too late to sheath our political swords and temper the club of anger. Alu duu k’iwẹ ajuwẹ nana, ma du y’ọrọ n! No matter the magnitude of our anger, thuggery and violence, it will not bring development. What brings development is political synergy, forward thinking and altruistic devotion for achieving state-wide development, and especially in Igala land.
This is the win-win strategy we need:
Firstly, sustained civic education is one political ingredient for a win-win strategy. Politics is not a call to civil war. Uja-ibe iche: a call to critical strategic thinking on how to seize the moment and shrewdly tap into opportunities for the development of Igala land and its people. The needless destruction of property in Igala land must stop. Politics comes, politics goes; politicians come, politicians go; let the brotherhood of all Igala remain. For instance, pitting Ankpa against Idah in zero-sum competition is a waste of political capital. Much of our politics is a game of number, a game of financial muscle but also a game of shrewd intellectual calculations.
We must learn from the mistakes of the past, we must learn from the error of divisive politics between Achema and Prince Audu, it left us orphans. In the West, Tinubu is a political anchor, in the north Kwankwanso is a political centre of gravity, in the South-South Wike has become a political rock of Gibraltar, in the East, Obi is a moving train and Igala politicians are playing small. A sustained civic education remains one possible unifying global Igala winning strategy.
Secondly, the Igala must learn to transcend the self-defeating syndrome of identity politics. We belong together in Kogi State. If you know your basic Igala history: Ebira, Okun, Bassa, Kakanda and Gwari are our socio-cultural and historical cousins. You cannot write the histories of these ethnic groups without the Igala influences. While we celebrate our differences, let our diversity become an advantage for the good of the state. The creation of Kogi state has made the Igala a new majority, arising from an old minority status. We must not take this for granted. It is crystal clear that unless we forge a new bond of unity and very quickly too, this continued dissipation of energy on inter-ethnic rivalry, recurrent waste of valuable resources and endless eruptions of mutual suspicion and hate will never stop. Igala land can never develop with her feet firmly stuck in the marsh of retrogressive ethnic politics. Udama ch’ukpahiu! Alu ma mujọ n, ya fifo n! Igala neti! We need a politics of mutual accommodation.
The third pathway to a progressive Igala politics involves shunning the use of poverty as a weapon against our own people. Every Igala son and daughter who has had a little venture into politics becomes a tin god to be worshipped overnight. Thugs in the past political dispensations have all of a sudden become activists, comrades and freedom fighters. This induced amnesia must stop. This sham and foolery must end. Pelting youths and women with stolen wealth, arm-twisting the poorest of the poor in our land with dwarf bags of salt and rice and onions is weaponizing poverty against them. We ought to put an end to such retrogressive politics.
As we approach the presidential election, there is a growing despicable practice of vote-buying. Politicians and party agents are conniving with voters, thugs are already drawing bloods while the major gladiators and their children are shielded and safely tucked in the protected comfort of their homes. There is already an ongoing electoral manipulation, a growing ruthless desperation to win, sporadic shooting in Anyigba, Idah, Ankpa, Dekina and refusal to release PVC and unde-rsupplying polling booths with election materials, elsewhere, plans are up for ballot-box snatching and stuffing, and intimidation. Stand your ground where it is safe to do so.
No matter what is at stake politically, no Nigerian or Igala politician will die for you. Your life is as precious as the life of anyone on earth. To choose violence is to court death. Defend your votes with all the legitimate means you have, if violence begins to brew in your polling booth: Run! You heard me: Run to the safety of your home. Retrogressive and discordant Igala politics has brought us nothing. Igala politicians are showing once again that they have learnt nothing from the errors of the past.
A time is coming when a combination of peppered rhetoric, religion, politics and ethnicity will no longer align the stars in anybody’s favour. Learn from the fatally missed opportunities of Achema and Audu. Let us unite! In paraphrasing Quintus Diaz: I will say, it is the voters who do the fighting, and the voters who do the dying. The politicians never get their feet wet nor break a sweat.
Be wise. Be shrewd. Be Igala. Arise, O Compatriots. Until then, we are an orchestra in discord.