When an old woman carrying a basket stumbles twice, we must not only curse the ground, we must look into her basket. It’s time to look into our local politics and leadership selection. Vultures are wonderful birds. But they cannot be used as sacrifices for the gods. If we don’t rise and wipe our tears and take our destiny in our hands, Igbos politics will continue to be dominated by scavengers.

Vultures are patient birds. But because they lay hands on the dead and dying and live only bones, they are also symbols of greed, rapacity. While vultures are useful because their ‘greed’ cleans up the environment; politicians, bald or otherwise, who skin the poor, dead and dying, with their consummate greed, are not useful vultures. 

Igbo land has been marginalised. Perhaps that is retribution — the inescapable fate of the vanquished. Perhaps it is residual Igbophobia — a consequence of the victor’s paranoia. Perhaps it’s an exaggeration, a misconception — an artefact of an incurable sense of victimhood. Whatever may be the cause, local mitigation has been so absent that it has become the real demon. The local leadership is exonerated by the abiding illusion that Abuja is the witch. While flying the flag of victimhood, the local leadership bends low and strips their luckless kith and kin. The local leadership, wary of disillusioning their gullible kin, waves the flag and wails. Enchanted, the sentimental poor overlook the gluttony of their local leadership and throw all their curses at Abuja.

The marginalisation of the Igbo is complicated by the insouciant greed of local Igbo politicians. They wear Isiagu but act like scrawny one-eyed hyenas. They put the red caps on their heads and think only of their stomachs. True, they are not different from leaders from the other parts. The national political landscape is populated by a diversity of vultures. But if vultures attract dishonour for not making kills, for feeding on the dead and putrefying; those wingless scavengers who steal the commonwealth of the downtrodden and bleating kin, while singing them lullabies of marginalisation, must deserve special ornithology. 

Enugu airport was built by the colonial masters. It was initially an aerodrome. It was commissioned as a full-fledged airport in 1976. By the Fourth Republic, it had risen to a top-five position in passenger traffic in the country. But like all other aviation assets in the country of that golden era, it was allowed to rot. 

Enugu airport was where goats actually ate palm fronds on the head of the Igbo. Because Enugu airport rotted while Igbo politicians took turns in running the Aviation Ministry. In a country that promotes the federal character as a social justice system, an aviation minister from the South-East who has his head on his shoulders should improve aviation everywhere and improve aviation, particularly in the Enugu and Owerri airports. But when politicians, cheered into high positions by the poor, preoccupy themselves with filling their stomachs and pockets while brushing aside, with their feet, the needs of their constituencies, vulturism comes to mind.

President Jonathan can be excused. He gave appointments to Igbos. Igbos had significant control of aviation in the executive and the national legislature. The Enugu airport Buhari inherited was a disaster waiting to happen. At some point, a man came by the requisite audacity, and came with a horde of policemen and pulled down the perimeter fencing of the airport. He said he was enforcing a court victory over the ownership of the land. 

President Obasanjo’s government refused to accede to demands to make Enugu an international airport. Some officials of that government considered it a national security risk. President Yar’Adua approved the redesignation of Enugu as an international airport. Had he lived longer, the story of Enugu airport would have been different.

President Azikiwe Jonathan came and shut the dilapidated airport for redevelopment. They said they wanted to expand and extend the runway. People cheered. They scraped the old runway and laid a new runway. They went ahead and whitewashed the Arrival and Departure lounges. Then, they mounted a huge signboard to invoke Akanu Ibiam and announce the airport’s new international status. With an elaborate carnival to hoodwink those who weren’t already delirious, the international airport was commissioned. The new runway was a sham. It fell apart quickly. It had to; agbata-eke wasn’t just involved, it was the spirit of the transaction. 

The one international airline that came around, saw and refused to be complicit. It didn’t come back. It prioritised safety above political solidarity. Others stayed away. The airport wasn’t safe to be an aerodrome. Rickety water tankers supplied water to the airport. An abattoir sat by the fence filling the airspace with the vultures that came to feed on loose meat. That was Akanu Ibiam International Airport after Igbos had had four aviation ministers. That was the ukwu-nama democracy brought home for ndi Igbo after getting them intoxicated with aviation ministerial appointments, four times in a space of 16 years. One of those minsters might be an eagle, but the general picture is that of vulturism.  

President Jonathan can be excused. He gave appointments to Igbos. Igbos had significant control of aviation in the executive and the national legislature. The Enugu airport Buhari inherited was a disaster waiting to happen. At some point, a man came by the requisite audacity, and came with a horde of policemen and pulled down the perimeter fencing of the airport. He said he was enforcing a court victory over the ownership of the land. 

The Enugu airport story is only a symptom of widespread political disease in Igbo land. Our leadership recruitment strategy is pathetic, prodigal. The Igbo electorate needs clear-eyed sober reflection. We must continue to demand that as the eagle perches, the kite perches alongside, in Nigeria. But we cant continue sleepwalking while local leaders impoverish the region.

When the Enugu airport was shut in 2019, some champions of Igbo nationalism rose in arms. They said the airport should have remained open while being fixed. They blamed the planned long closure for repairs on Igbo subjugation and issued threats like the Egbesu Red Water Lions of Yenagoa. Some of those who had not squawked while Enugu airport was used for political abracadabra started fluttering and thrashing around in the National Assembly like hired mourners. Enugu State governor pushed politics aside and showed leadership. In synergy with the Federal Government, the market and its vultures were relocated. The perimeter fencing was reestablished. Those who do fundamental foundational repairs often get no accolades. 

The airport’s runway has been fixed. Enugu now has one of the best runways in the country. The airport’s clinic and water treatment plant are nearing completion. The airfield lighting system is being reinstalled. International airlines have scheduled a return. The work could have been completed at a much faster pace. But before the vultures return to claim the carcass of the glory of the redemption of Enugu airport, let them take a look around Igbo land. There is the Enugu airport story everywhere.

A goat shouldn’t die of hunger in a yam barn. Enugu airport slept in the barn for ages and yet suffered kwashiorkor. As such, let’s find out how water entered our political opi ugboguru. Only children should blame it on rainwater. The Enugu airport story is only a symptom of widespread political disease in Igbo land. Our leadership recruitment strategy is pathetic, prodigal. The Igbo electorate needs clear-eyed sober reflection. We must continue to demand that as the eagle perches, the kite perches alongside, in Nigeria. But we cant continue sleepwalking while local leaders impoverish the region. Some Igbos States are now used, fittingly, as national examples of bad leadership. 

When an old woman carrying a basket stumbles twice, we must not only curse the ground, we must look into her basket. It’s time to look into our local politics and leadership selection. Vultures are wonderful birds. But they cannot be used as sacrifices for the gods. If we don’t rise and wipe our tears and take our destiny in our hands, Igbos politics will continue to be dominated by scavengers. The electorate alone can’t stop the rot. Accomplished Igbo sons and daughters must shed reticence and troop into partisan politics as civic missionaries to reclaim the land. If we gather with good intention and urinate together, it will foam. 

Politics is a game. 2023 is here. Let’s play smart and take responsibility.

Ugoji Egbujo is a member of the Board of Trustees of Centre for Fiscal Transparency and Integrity Watch.

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