THIS issue was not into reckoning until after the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Imo State, Professor Francis Ezeonu, finished addressing the press recently, in Owerri.
Although Professor Ezeonu’s address centred on “the roll-out of the online registration portal for the resumption of the Continuous Voter Registration, CVR”, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, it however, brought to the fore the fabled and sad, ‘I-don’t-care attitude’ of Ndigbo to the civic responsibilities of bona fide citizens to things like census and continuous voter registration exercises.
While explaining that the press briefing was part of the Commission’s effort to keep the citizenry posted with its activities, as the nation prepares for the 2023 general elections, Ezeonu also said that 1,235 new polling units had emerged from the previously existing 3,523 polling units in Imo State.
His words: “The locations proposed for siting the new polling units and their Global Positioning System, GPS, coordinates, which had been mapped for geo-referencing, has been verified by the Commission. I am happy to inform you that the exercise has been completed and both the old and new polling unit names and delineated data has been published on the INEC website. This exercise was purposely designed to precede the Continuous Voter Registration exercise, so as to make new polling units available to voters.
“The Commission has continued to improve on its operational strategy and deployment. It was the desire of the Commission to roll-out both the physical and online registration exercise at the same time, but we are encumbered by the security challenges in the country.
As you are aware, the Commission has had the sad experience of recent attacks on our offices across the country. Although the attacks have subsided, the Commission is still deeply worried by the threat that they could pose to registrants and INEC staff, during the CVR. Following nationwide consultations, the Commission has agreed with stakeholders on a phased deployment of the CVR.”
This brings into focus the staggeringly low figure ascribed to the South East geo-political zone. It also brings into focus, the probability that Ndigbo are not conscious of the ongoing exercise and/or, if they do, what they are doing to change the narrative. It also raises the question about the preparedness of Ndigbo to jump at the current CVR opportunity to redress the sad reality that the South East takes the unenviable back seat, after each registration of voters and national census exercises.
We all, especially the careful political watchers, can vividly recall that in the 1955 national census conducted by the colonial administration, Ndigbo recorded the highest population figure! So, what has happened to this ranking? The Nigeria/Biafra war may be an issue, but it is unthinkable that Ndigbo died so much that they started procreation afresh! Pertinent questions to ask again at this juncture are: Has any government policy contributed to this ugly development?
Did Ndigbo at any point shoot themselves on the foot and for whatever reason? Nobody is in doubt that Ndigbo are everywhere, and in their numbers too. It has also been variously said that anywhere you go and don’t find an Igboman there, the best thing to do is pack your load and leave the place immediately. This is a sure proof that Ndigbo are everywhere, including every community in Nigeria!
The Igbo belief that “ebe onye bi ka onawachi” (make your place of abode your home), is no longer helping the people. Ndigbo should please, have a rethink about this. It has done colossal, collateral damage to Ndigbo, but will they ever learn from their past and bitter experience? This remains the greatest worry of Igbo patriots.
The Igbo psyche could not have been so myopic to some that they have so soon, forgotten that at the end of the Nigeria/Biafra war in 1970, the issue of abandoned properties in Rivers State sadly came into the Nigerian socio-political and legal lexicon. In case they have forgotten, it is good to remind them again about it.
Anybody that refuses to remember the past, especially the pitfalls and what caused it, also stands the risk of repeating the same mistakes and suffering deeper consequences! As in the abandoned properties of Rivers State, so it was in so many areas across Nigeria. Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu also went to court to recover his late father’s property in Lagos.
Some state governments have since formed the habit of giving Ndigbo virgin areas to inhabit. Ndigbo expectedly skinned themselves to make the place habitable and enviable. However, and in almost all cases, possibly within a few years duration, the same government will sack them from the place and give them a new location. In Owerri, for instance, a segment of Owerri municipality is called “Ama Hausa”. This place was given to them in 1902.
It has remained virtually the same till date. Again, the story is the same at Lokpanta, Abia State, where Orji Uzo Kalu gave Hausa/Fulani cattle dealers to stay and carry out their business. Can anybody explain why this is so? Conversely, it is a truism that in virtually all the troubled regions of Nigeria, Ndigbo have properties which they cannot access now.
Whether such investments have become abandoned properties again, or outrightly forfeited, is anybody’s guess. Look at what happened in South Africa, even if as a footnote. How many Nigerians were killed during the ugly schizophrenic attack on foreigners? How many of them were from the Igbo nation? Again, the happenings in Ghana is another serious pointer that Ndigbo should think home.
Now, let us get back home and take a hard look at the nation’s population census and the continuous voter registration. The two exercises point to the real strength of a people. Today, there is no space in the national population data which indicates a citizen’s place of birth.
We have also heard some state governments threatening non-indigenes that if they go to their respective places of origin to get counted during census, they should not return to where they stay and do their business. This threat is unnecessary, but they know that it will help to boost their voting strength and/or their population, during any national headcount. It is a plus for them and a minus for Ndigbo.
Once upon a time, the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, won the keenly contested elections in Western Nigeria. History narrated what happened thereafter and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe returned to his Eastern Regional home. Was any lesson learnt from this?
Again, during the current electoral engineering, some residents of Lagos State, who are of Igbo extraction, won elections in both the State House of Assembly and the House of Representatives. But, what happened in the last general elections? There were very clear evidence that mayhem was let loose in areas Ndigbo had good voting power.
They were, thus, tactically disenfranchised. Has anybody learnt from this? Is there any plan on ground to ensure that this does not happen in 2023? When will Ndigbo learn that no matter what they do for the children of their concubines, they will never be taken as their biological fathers? The questions begging for answers are endless.
This current voter registration exercise is another opportunity for Ndigbo to think home. It is a time to boost the numerical strength of Igbo voters at home. It is a time to change the narrative. It is a time to lift the Igbo nation from the last position on the log, to where they really belong. Egg heads in Igboland should take up the challenge. Everybody should be sensitized to register now, before the exercise ends.
Unless Ndigbo decide today to think out of the box, the current history will remain unchanged. Thanks be to God that INEC has made it possible and very easy to register and/or change polling units online.
Igbo leaders at all levels are urged to take up the challenge of properly educating their relations and friends, on the urgent need to think home. Ndigbo, please think!
Chief Nkwopara, a journalist, wrote from Owerri, Imo State