There are millions of us round the country who follow Muhammadu Buhari passionately. Some got enlisted in 1984 when the man was military head of state. Others joined along the line as the principal was Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) in the Gen Sani Abacha years, or when he joined partisan politics in 2002, ran for President a year later, also in 2007, 2011, and 2015, when he eventually coasted to power.
Over the years, some of the Buharists (as we are called), have fallen off, and even joined the opposition. Yet some others have stood sturdy, steady, resolute, as constant as the Northern Star. Stand up and take a bow, Engineer Joe Igbokwe, the man from Nnewi, in Anambra State.
President Buhari is possibly the most credible politician we have seen in the country in contemporary times, with a magnetic pull that draws people to him in droves. That was the point I was making last week in this column, but which an illiterate journalist with an online medium twisted to say I claimed Buhari was better than Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aminu Kano etal. He succeeded in his mission: generating hateful comments against me, but I leave him to God. For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God to answer for what we have done, including all forms of lie against a fellow man. Our profession, or political and ethnic affiliations would no longer matter then.
We were talking of Joe Igbokwe before the brief diversion. Yes, this man loves Buhari to bits. He loves Nigeria, and he loves his native Igbo land. And you know what? That is now a crime in our country. Igbokwe’s life has been severely and severally threatened, his family hounded, and on October 3 this year, his county home in Nnewi was set on fire.
Igbokwe is a nationalist. His education, primary, secondary and even university he had in the Southeast. But since he got posted for national service in Ogun State in 1985, he had remained in the Southwest, identifying with the people, their politics, their ways of life, while not repudiating his love for his roots in Nnewi, and the Southeast generally. No wonder he is popularly called Agbalanze, after that Onitsha cultural association.
When it was not popular for people in the Southeast to follow the Progressives, Igbokwe threw his hat into the ring. From Alliance for Democracy (AD), to Action Congress of Nigerians (ACN), to All Progressives Congress (APC), he stood to be counted. And if you count committed followers of Buhari today, the Agbalanze is in the number.
If there is anything he needs to clarify about government, or our principal, Igbokwe never hesitates to get in touch with me. I give him background information, and he is satisfied.
When some people from his part of the country began to retreat into ethnic cleavages, and wanted the intelligentsia to identify with them, the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Drainage and Water Resources made it clear he was a nationalist. And he stood by his conviction, speaking out against separatism and an attempt to balkanize the country. At the risk of so much, he opted for one Nigeria.
Igbokwe loves Igbo land. Yes, don’t we all love where we come from? Shouldn’t we? We should, we must, before we can even be good Nigerians. When strange things began to happen in the Southeast, people being decapitated, public buildings being torched, and security agents being murdered in cold blood, Igbokwe stood against it. Mum was the word from majority of the leaders of the region, but for Igbokwe, the man dies in him who keeps quiet in the face of tyranny. He spoke out.
He kept saying building bridges across the length and breadth of the country was the way to go, particularly for Igbo renaissance. He refused to join those who were retreating into ethnic cocoon, and stood for nationalism. It is either Nigeria or nothing! The man earned earned my deep respect. He stood for what was right, fair and just, for centripetal, rather than centrifugal forces in the country.
On October 3, I was in Ethiopia with Mr President, attending the inauguration of that country’s Prime Minister for second term in office, when we saw the sad news online. The regal country home of Igbokwe in Nnewi, where the man often retires for solitude, and where he had a vast library, had been set ablaze. Whodunnit? You know the answer. Unbridled hatred was on display, and a patriot was paying a heavy price for his convictions. When that magnificent white house erupted in smoke and fire, it was innocence that was burning. Patriotism was aflame, and love for motherland was ablaze. Thy glory oh Israel is slain upon the high places.
Gladly, no life was lost, because the attackers couldn’t lay their hands on anyone. But great was the loss, and I sorrowed for my brother Joe, and his wife (he calls her his crush) Dr Grace. What happened is what evil speaking does to a country. The lies and hate peddled by evil hearts have germinated, grown, and brought forth evil fruits.
You would expect a man who had been hounded, reviled, and attacked by arsonists, to return bile for bile, hate for hate. Threaten fire and brimstone. But not our Joe. What did he say?
“We paid the price for the good of Igbo land and Nigeria…By the grace of God, we will rescue Igbo land. It is my turn today, tomorrow it may be the turn of anybody. We must take Igbo land back from the killers and arsonists.”
I say a resounding amen to those prayers. We must take every part of the country from those who mean no good, concocting sorrow, tears and blood. It is Nigeria or nothing! In brotherhood we stand. No other option is acceptable, not even conceivable, otherwise, we would all lose, cutting our noses to spite the face.