Dear President Muhammadu Buhari,
What have we done to you?
When I say ‘we’ I mean the Igbo people, those ones from the South Eastern part of Nigeria – that place you have deliberately refused to visit since you became president in 2015.
What have we done to you?
Before you assume office, I am one of those wailers who do not see anything good about your government, let me give you some background.
Sometimes in November 2014, I was in Abuja for a meeting, and coincidentally my father was in Abuja too. I went to say hello to him and I met some of his friends. We were all drinking and talking when the 2015 elections came up. I mentioned that I was supporting Atiku for president and one of them took me on. He asked me why I would support a northerner over ‘our’ own and I reminded him Goodluck Jonathan wasn’t Igbo. I also mentioned that even if GEJ was from Ohafia, our hometown, I still would not support him because I did not like how he was running the affairs of the nation. I listed all the things GEJ hadn’t done for Igbo people, and Nigeria as a whole and assured him that Atiku would do better. He asked me why I was so sure, and I told him I had met Atiku, listened to him speak passionately about Nigeria, read his plans, how articulate and feasible they were, and I was convinced he would be a fantastic president for all.
My uncle (that is what we call our father’s friend) smiled and told me he admired my zeal. But he said he didn’t trust northerners, because of history. He brought up the civil war, the marginalization of Igbo people over time, and said even if Goodluck Jonathan wasn’t Igbo, he was safer than a northerner, and his presidency would not hurt us in the east. I was irritated by his reason but I masked it. I thought he was being backward, recalling a civil war that ended in 1970. I thought he was regressive basing his votes on tribe. My assurance that Atiku would be a president for all Nigerians may have been condescending, but, yeah, I told him that and he wished me goodluck (no pun intended).
Fastforward a month later, you won the APC primaries, resoundingly too. Everybody knew I was a huge Atiku supporter, and I had my personal reservations about you – circa HOS 1983 – 1985, PTF Chairman 1994 and how you’d seemingly not done a lot to improve the world around you since you left power. But I also had a personal belief that rewarding someone who had performed woefully with my support/vote would be sending a wrong message to other politicians – that they can do what they like and we would vote them anyway. So, I pitched my tent with you. My uncle, relatives and friends who understood my campaign for Atiku were flummoxed. What was I doing campaigning for you, a former dictator? I told them I believe 30 years was enough to reform any individual and the Buhari of 1985 was no longer the Buhari of now. I told them you were a reformed democrat, incorruptible, stern, a former soldier who would decimate Boko Haram, and so on and so forth. I showed them that photo of you smiling in Isi Agu – you looked so good.
As expected, I received a lot of abuses and insults from my people. If my father was not the traditional ruler of my hometown, maybe I would have been banished too. Some friendships I had degenerated and ended because of my support for you. But it didn’t matter. My slogan then was, “#IHaveDecided to vote out GEJ”, and I did everything in my power, online and offline, to see him go.
March 28, we voted. And you won. And I was ridiculously happy. Change had come, and while I knew things would get hard – because of all the weeding and hard-resetting that were bound to happen – I was positive the suffering would be temporary and the enjoyment, permanent.
A lot had been said during the campaigns, certain ethnic groups had been polarized and I thought the first thing you would do as president was to reunite the nation.
Boy, was I wrong?
I cannot count the number of messages I received when you said:
“(Going by election results), constituencies that gave me 97% can not in all honesty be treated, on some issues, with constituencies that gave me 5%. I think these are political realities. While, certainly there will be justice for everybody but the people who voted, and made their votes count, they must feel the government has appreciated the effort they put in putting the government in place. I think this is really fair….”
I tried to rationalize it by saying the statement was misconstrued. I mean you mentioned that everyone will get justice and all. But I won’t lie, that was when doubts began to set in. Then you delayed in appointing ministers, and when you finally did, the list had me like ‘mogbe’. But that is not even why I’m writing you this letter. I want to talk about the people who gave you 5% of the votes you received in 2015. And I ask again, sir:
What have we done to you?
Oh wait. Are you actually angry that we only gave you 5% of the votes? Sure you must know that in every nation, certain regions will vote A while others vote B. And that is alright. But soon as a president is elected, he or she goes to work mending fences, building bridges and reuniting the nation. That is how it is done sir. I’d have thought you would know that, and try to assure South Easterners that you will be president for all – especially after the crude 97% vs 5% statement. I thought you would have maybe visited – Imo State at the very least, seeing as Governor Rochas is in the same party as you. Okay, while a visit would do a lot to foster a relationship, it really isn’t that big a deal. Frankly, most Igbo people I know do not really care for visits. We would have appreciated infrastructure projects in our states though. We may be educationally advanced (relatively), but we lack certain infrastructure. For a start, the 2nd Niger Bridge would have been great. A port in Anambra would have been awesome too, to take some pressure off the Lagos ports and reduce cost of getting goods to our merchants in the east. Okay, if those are too much, how about roads sir? Surely those are not too much. Last time I visited my village, I spent too much time driving from Port Harcourt to Ohafia. In fact, the road to my village (which is in the same LGA as the Goodluck Jonathan Army Barracks) is now so bad, we have to pass a dirty road through another village before we get to ours. This costs us 3 times the time the normal road would have. No, the state government cannot fix it because it is a Federal Road.
You see sir, we are not asking for too much. We are not asking for a refinery like the one in Kaduna. We just want good roads. But if you won’t do this for us either, how about you use your Commander in Chief powers and instruct the security agencies to leave us alone? How about you ask the Army, Police, Customs and Immigrations people to allow us travel in peace?
There is a reason Igbo people love traveling home for Christmas. It is a yearly ritual that would not end any time soon. These tweets by my friend Ugo is brilliant background on why the average Igbo person may live in a rented apartment in the city, while he/she owns a mansion in their village, where they go to ‘chill’ every holiday.
But in the last few weeks, travellers going to the East from Lagos and other south-western states have been harassed, bullied and ripped off their hard earned money at road blocks mounted by Customs, Army and Policemen.
I have heard that these security agencies, particularly the Customs sometimes seize the bags of rice our people travel with. Those not ready to let go are made to cough out from N5,000 to N20,000.
As if that is not enough, there is like a roadblock on every other kilometer in eastern states. I mean, you could drive all the way from Lagos to Delta and encounter 10 roadblocks in total, but between the Niger Bridge and Imo State, you would encounter over 70 checkpoints mounted by Police, Army and/or Customs. Travellers are made to face harrowing traffic jams because of these roadblocks, harassed by the uniformed men and sometimes extorted.
Pardon my language sir, but this is madness!
Again, what have we done to you?
Why are there so many security men in our land? Are we a threat? Last time I checked, (apart from the lack of federal benefits), the only threats we are facing in the southeast is the menace of herdsmen. Why do these soldiers not just round up all the herdsmen and put the fear of python dance (whatever that means) in their hearts? Why mount ridiculous roadblocks, intimidating and making life difficult for our people? Are they checking for bombs? That will be funny because we all know where bombs are being detonated in Nigeria. How there are no roadblocks mounted every mile in the north (where thankfully the terrorist menace is reducing) but that there are roadblocks everywhere in the south-east gives the impression that you want to push us to the wall.
Sir, what have we done to you?
Know what, I’m tired. Whatever we have done to you, we are sorry sir.
Please ask your men to reduce the roadblocks and stop harassing citizens who just want to visit their families and make merry, despite the recession we are in.
Another day, we will talk about Nigeria as a whole, and on that day I will show you this tweet.
See testimonies from my fellow countrymen, who are agitated by this mistreatment of Igbo people. I hope you do something sir.
Chidi Chydee Okereke.