League of Idoma Professors and the Idoma Factor By Adagbo Onoja

There is a case against an emerging micro-nationalist tendency being organised around Senate President, David Mark by the advertised name, League of Idoma Professors. This is not a condemnation or ridiculing of the league but a caution against an exclusivity with a domino effect potential which could result into a League of Idoma Journalists, League of Idoma Engineers, League of Idoma Legislators and league of Idoma whatever across the country very soon. The first time the league came out was when its masterminds said it was buying the nomination form for Senator Mark with contribution from their own salary. Since this gesture was coming after General Mark had already become Senate President, its innocence was automatically suspect. Then during the recent 64th birthday celebration of the Senate President, the League of Idoma Professors came up with an advertorial in its own felicitations with the celebrant.

Innocent as that solidarity might look, theirs stood out from all other individuals and groups that joined the razzmatazz. And my contention is that this politics goes against almost everything ennobling. At a very difficult and complicated time more than ever before in the history of Nigeria, the position of the President of the Senate transcends the legislative ritualism embedded in the chambers of National Assembly. The obvious and latent functions of that office at this moment also encompass a more deft management of the national question which is almost exploding arising from the zoning crisis of ‘our great’ party.

There is an added value when the incumbent, David Mark, is a retired military officer who, along with others, notably General Babangida and Colonel Abubakar Umar, (rtd) recently read the riot act to incurable victims of the false consciousness that break-up of Nigeria will solve any problems.  In other words, the thesis of Nigerian politics in terms of an incoherent and anti-development elite has worked into an anti-thesis in which David Mark and people in positions like his, (Speaker, House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Federation, the governors, etc) are bound to play a role in the impending re-negotiation of elite consensus or in managing the consequences of failure to do so.

That means that occupants of such critical offices must exhibit powerful symbolic nationalism at every moment. Or must be helped to move in that direction. It is a process in which nothing can be considered too small or too big but one which any infraction, no matter how small, must be decried. This goes against the ideology of the League of Idoma Professors.

One could also add that it is most unstrategic if the idea is to give ethnic backing for Mark’s speculated presidential ambition. There is no harm in any prominent politician of Mark’s standing planning and positioning for higher responsibilities, in 2015 or any other time but one would have thought that it is premature for any ethnic outpouring yet when Nigeria itself is having problems securing 2012, not to talk of 2013, 2014 and 2015 itself.

All the factors above pale into insignificance when the micro-nationalism of the League of Idoma Professors is paired along the Idoma factor in Nigerian politics, if I am permitted this much of Idoma chauvinism. The core of the Idoma factor in Nigerian politics is the national acceptance of such a relatively small ethnic group by other ethnic groups across Nigeria, big and small, on the basis of basic honesty, trust and excellence. The result is an Idoma pervasiveness at every point in time at the centre and in the professions, from academia to the military; to the bureaucracy; to Diplomacy and, of course, politics.

There is no regime, for example, since the First Republic in which there wasn’t an Idoma henchman (not the women yet) at the very peak. In the Northern regional government, Idoma had two ministers. Under Gowon, an Idoma was a service chief and Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

There have been several military governors or administrators in each successive military regime since Murtala’s coup, climaxing under General Babangida when there were no less than three of them at every one time, including in the Abacha regime. In the Second Republic, Senator Ameh Ebute and Chief Audu Ogbeh were prominent players at the centre, with Ebute becoming Senate President under the Interim regime headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan in 1993 while Audu Ogbeh was to become PDP National Chairman in the current republic. In the early part of the Obasanjo Presidency, the Head of Service was an Idoma. Today, David Mark has been the longest Senate President Nigeria ever had. However he did it, there is no way it could have been possible if his colleagues from other ethnic identities didn’t trust him.

When we look at this trajectory, the idea of a league of Idoma Professors sends sickening signals as the national acceptance of Idoma must be due to their liberal attitude as opposed to any traces of insularity, aggressivity or duplicitiousness. It, therefore, doesn’t make sense for any set of professors to, consciously or unconsciously, project Mark or any Idoma sons and daughters as tribal achievements. There can be no apologizing for our Idomaness but, at this point in Nigeria’s development, we need more of acceptance and less and less of exclusiveness.

And the responsibility for this is with those who are up, up there because, down where we, the people are, there are no problems as such. This is my conclusion from what I saw each time we went for electioneering campaign in Jigawa State, for example. In that small settlement in the middle of nowhere, the only shop or stall selling tablets of soap, candle sticks and the likes is certain to be owned by an Igbo or Yoruba woman. And at the Zoo and other relaxation points at the University of Ibadan, for another example, the suya sellers I see there are of Hausa-Fulani identities. Their own world is different from the world of we, the greedy elite shouting regional, ethnic and religious fire and brimstone in the media every now and then.

In this context, symbolic gestures from top leaders of the country can make all the difference, particularly in the light of the impeccable legacy of the late Sardauna, late General Shehu Yar’Adua, General Babangida and Atiku Abubakar in this regard. No matter what anyone may say for or against these gentlemen, they were good in attracting people of divergent identities to themselves.

The Sardauna was in a class of his own here. Under him, no group in the North was excluded. From the examples of the progress of the Sunday Awoniyis, General Yakubu Gowons, Professor Ishaya Audus and many more, it could be said that even if you were from Sokoto and you did not deserve, the Sardauna wouldn’t give it to you. This was how the North which is a very diverse entity, was made homogenous. I still don’t understand why IBB’s record in this regards seems overshadowed by other negative scorings but the way he aggregated diverse people and gave them crucial responsibilities in state affairs when he was in power certainly had its own symbolic import worth recognizing in his favour.  The last time I followed Sule Lamido to the dining table of Atiku Abubakar during the death of the late Lamidon Adamawa, it was Nigeria at the table.

General Mark might not match the diversity aggregation profile of the men in the above club but he certainly isn’t a non-starter in this respect as many of his personal staff are not of the “Okpani”, “Okpani” conclave, (‘Okpani’ is Idoma word for ‘oga’). Could the League of Idoma Professors, therefore, yield ground to individuals, school mates of Mark cutting across diverse ethno-religious and racial universe, his age-group, fellow retirees and political collaborators and let Mark be?

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