Nigeria: APC Rally: Sentor Ngige gives Igbo Tradition the Finger
By Ngwu Nweze
It is not clear whether the gods are to blame, but Senator Chris Ngige, the APC gubernatorial aspirant in the November 16, elections in Anambra State seems to have finally shoved his foot in his own mouth. Senator Ngige made headlines on Tuesday when against better judgement he decided to kick-off his gubernatorial campaign with a rally in the ancient city of
Onitsha on the same day that Onitsha people had set aside for the renewal of their pact with their Obi through a celebration of the anniversary of his coronation in a ceremony popularly known as “Ofala” in Igboland. Ngige’s decision to press on with the inauguration of his campaign on that day in defiance of the most powerful traditional ruler in Igboland, smacks of what the Igbo would equate to someone challenging his chi to a wrestling match.
And it is not even because Igwe Nnanyelugo Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha, is the most influential traditional ruler in Igboland; it is far more complex than that. The commercial city of Onitsha is the largest city east of the Niger and the epicentre of Igbo entrepreneurship. Onitsha and its royalty are distinctive icons of the Igbo race and are known to command the reverence of Ndigbo and their neighbours. Any act that seeks to strip the city and its proud monarch of their rightful place in Igbo worldview is bound to draw a negative response.
It was therefore not unexpected when in a widely reported moment of displeasure; the Obi of Onitsha placed a curse on Ngige over what he saw as a desecration of the land. Igwe Achebe was reported to have declared in a voice full of suppressed anger, “Today, a political party has chosen to launch its campaign for governorship in Onitsha at the same time the Ofala is going on despite the one-year notice we gave them. If anybody defiles the land, the land shall defile the person.”
It would seem that the gods had divined Igwe Achebe’s thoughts long before he made his weighty pronouncement on Ngige. This is because, on that fateful day, a heavy rain had emptied itself on the city right from the morning hours to late afternoon as if in protest against Senator Ngige’s act of defiance. Meanwhile, the day before, APGA, the dominant party in the state had held what would pass for a mega-rally in Awka, the state capital under the blaze of a benevolent sun. There was not a single drop of rain all through the day and party faithful, well-wishers, family and friends gathered at the Alex Ekwueme Square to cheer Chief Willie Obiano as he received the party flag and mandate.
Beside Igwe Achebe’s reaction, Ngige’s action has continued to attract different shades of analysis from indigenes of the state who seem dazed by the senator’s wayward act. Although it is a common knowledge that Senator Ngige is never far away from controversy, most political analysts are surprised that Ngige could still make such elementary mistakes in spite of his presumed wealth of experience in politics which his handlers are quick to make a song and dance of. But what seems to rub residents and indigenes of Onitsha the wrong way is the implied insult in Ngige’s needless muscle flexing with their tradition. To most Onitsha indigenes, Ngige’s act is pretty close to giving a vulgar sign with his middle finger to the people. And that is extremely strange because there was no provocation. Onitsha people are known for their expansive nature and their tolerance of plurality.
In fact, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnanyelugo Achebe is one of the most cultured and properly groomed gentlemen anyone could ever meet anywhere. He is thoroughly educated, well-travelled and a very urbane technocrat who retired to the traditional stool of his ancestors after a glorious career in Shell. With a Bachelor’s degree from Stamford University and an MBA from Columbia University, Igwe Achebe sits on the board of many blue-chip companies and can be considered deserving of respect as a successful man even outside of the traditional stool that he sits on. But it would seem that all these counted for nothing to Senator Ngige who chose to host a rally on the day that Onitsha normally stands still for their Obi.
Said Emeka Egbunike, an Onitsha indigene who is still at a loss at what he termed a deliberate desecration of the Onitsha tradition by Chris Ngige: “Senator Ngige has committed a sacrilege. He will not go unpunished. Although we are all familiar with his penchant for trouble and high drama, he has over-reached himself this time. Everyone knew the date of the Ofala twelve months before the D-day. So, Ngige had enough notice but choose to insult Onitsha people the way he did. We shall see how he can become the governor of Anambra State with this terrible attitude to what matters to the people.”
Egbunike is not alone. Obianuju Bosah, a lawyer, thinks that there might be “Something tragically wrong with Ngige, after all! How could one man make a habit of living permanently in a house of controversies? I had imagined that Ngige would be conducting a self-interrogation for justifying the deportation of our people in the middle of the night by the Lagos State government. But sadly, he has maintained an uncomfortable silence long after Governor Fashiola has apologized for his action. I sincerely think that Chris Ngige is incapable of any real act of deep reflection. Truly, such a man is not fit to govern Anambra State.”
“The question Ngige should answer Ndigbo is why the rally could not be postponed for one more time to allow Igwe Achebe enjoy his Ofala? Had it not been postponed twice before? Is Senator Ngige trying to tell Ndi Anambra and Ndigbo that he holds his new paymaster in higher esteem than the oldest and most revered traditional institution in Igboland?” asked Emeka Obumselu, a reputation management consultant.
For, Obumselu, it is somewhat bewildering that the honourable senator who had lacked the effrontery to push through a single bill in the Senate in two years could muster enough courage to challenge his own people. “Is this the kind of regime Senator Ngige will foist on us in Anambra State? Well, it is not entirely strange. After all, he once presided over the destruction of Anambra State. When he ruled this state with his stolen mandate, all the buildings and structures that symbolize the government of the State were burnt down by his estranged political bedfellows. It is even good that he is showing us himself now. We have enough time to stop him before he unleashes a reign of impunity on us all once again,” he reasoned.
Ngige’s intransigence has also been widely interpreted as his usual willingness to go beyond the boundaries of decency and good breeding while grasping for power. To some analysts, Ngige’s blind quest for power may have blinded him to the things that the people he wants to serve hold dear. It is known in some quarters that the APC rally would have taken place a long while ago but had to be postponed twice to ensure the presence of the party godfather and Nigeria’s emerging power baron, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu at the occasion. Before the rally, Senator Tinubu had been in the UK for medical checks.
Questions are also being asked of Senator Tinubu and Adams Oshiomhole, the Edo State Governor. Many people wonder if Tinubu would have allowed a political rally to disrupt the Eyo Festival in Lagos and whether Oshiomhole would have staged a circus in Benin City in the middle of the Igue Festival. To many Igbo people, the involvement of these people who revere their own tradition in Ngige’s callous political circus looks very much like a conspiracy to desecrate the most respected symbol of Igbo tradition.
In all, Chris Ngige seems to have finally bitten more than he can chew this time. It would be a miracle if he weathers this particular storm.