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Immanuel James: Partisanship Over Patriotism? Reviewing Joe Igbokwe’s Loss of Credibility



Igbokwe‘We have just lost another activist to the devil!’, snapped a young man at the news that Reuben Abati, fine public commentator, had just been appointed into the Jonathan administration. The devil in question was not Goodluck Jonathan. It was a symbolic remark, in which case civil society meant the arena of populist, Godly pursuit, partisan politics being the wicked opposite. It is difficult to believe that a Nigerian activist will join mainstream politics and come out completely human. It is more difficult to believe that, just years ago, Joe Igbokwe, Lagos APC publicity secretary, was a shinning member of rights advocacy and civil society groups in Nigeria.

For starters, Igbokwe’s current evangelism is that the Supreme Court justices, who overturned appellate decisions on contested governorship elections in Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and other states, should be investigated for corruption. His strongest point for this position is that there was violence in those states, for which reason, citing the dead, he believes those elections should have been quashed. You’d begin to think there was no violence in the presidential and other elections in which his party won. A valid submission, perhaps; but we must first examine the biography of his bias before we begin to nod credulous affirmation.

Igbokwe is the author of a shameful pile of rants littered all over the media, insulting genuine government critics, defending apparently indefensible government gaffes, spewing tantrums against imaginary anti-Tinubu forces, etc. He was the one who frantically defended the deportation of Igbos from Lagos, even as former governor Fashola, chief actor in that saga, later admitted error and apologised. He was the one who pilloried Professor Okey Ndibe over a piece that tasked President Buhari to accelerate pace, accusing the professor of being a PDP agent, never mind that the learned columnist had held sway as a tireless PDP gadfly.

Igbokwe has always been like that, an industrious, cane-wielding provost shouting down invented APC and Tinubu detractors. An activist of colourful, deliberate omissions, he has since chosen partisanship over patriotism.

We must not throw away the baby with the bathwater, someone may caution, over his recent opinion; to which we must reply that a political message must always be examined with respect to integrity of source. While we may grant validity, if any, to the suggestions of a biased citizen, we must also not let him go home with the glory of speaking the truth. Let Igbokwe say his mind, but let us also not forget the character of that mind in public commentary.

There is a sad implication in Igbokwe’s mutation from a credible activist to a pathetic power apologist: genuine political discourse and activism now suffer public skepticism. Sad also is the desperation to criminalise every critical take on the APC. It is thus dangerous to let Igbokwe and his classmates continue to shut up, bully and pollute valid conversations with cretinous twaddle.

Meanwhile, it is necessary to interrogate the ancestry of Igbokwe’s Goebelian hobby. An Igbo man, he occupies a juicy minority position in the APC. He is desperate to solidify his relevance first, by sustaining an ethnic mutiny against his kinsmen, and second, by keeping himself thoroughly busy with imaginary fights for his party. It is the case of a man doing all he can to show gratitude for a huge political charity he did not expect. It will be disingenuous to always assume that Mr. Tinubu and the APC send him on these shameful errands. Perhaps both may even often be embarrassed by the wild dimensions of Igbokwe’s volunteer work, but may be keeping quiet out of courtesy or pity. At one time, following his unruliness, an Igbo group ‘barred’ him from visiting the South-East; at another, the OPC gave him a seven-day ultimatum to withdraw an insult against the organisation or risk having Yoruba gods invoked upon him.

But Igbokwe’s work is just a tip of a new, massive culture of political bias in the country. His spot is made remarkable by his ethnicity and position as his party’s publicity secretary. Many Nigerian intellectuals, activists, and rights advocates, who championed the current political change, are yet to reverse themselves from partisanship. Given the dire nature of the presidential election, it was understandable, even necessary, for otherwise neutral entities to join the opposition to neutralise a locust PDP. Such partisanship should, however, end after the election, so that proper surveillance can be directed at the new source of concern.
In a bid to ward off taunts of bad electoral choice from PDP sympathisers, many intellectuals have become self-appointed spokespersons of the current government, gratuitous defenders of apparent errors. Vandals of truth, they have failed to realise that as stakeholders at the sidelines, their primary allegiance is to the nation, not to party or individual constructs. President Buhari’s boots bristle from the sanitation of their partisan tongues. Perhaps some, as sometimes alleged, have chosen to be blindly subjective on the terms of a secret employment to that effect. This is sad, a shame.

It is a shame, this choice of partisanship over patriotism, with Joe Igbokwe as one of its most notorious icons. It is sad for good men to keep quiet while an otherwise noble activist is possessed by a strange spirit. Igbokwe needs to be saved from himself in the interest of objective commentary and good governance. We have lost too many activists to the proverbial devil. We need to begin to reclaim them from that unwholesome territory and, for those whom we can’t, we can begin to insist on tarring them with the same brush we had reserved for incorrigible politicians. Let us start with Joe Igbokwe, the man who, like Reuben Abati, reminds us that credibility is lost and never to be regained in that activist who mutates into an invested mascot of power.

Writing is my means of saving me from myself! Immanuel James, author of 'Under Bridge', is the winner of the 2014 ANA National Prize for Prose.


  1. Kadara

    February 8, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    The writer himself is just as biased as the man he is attacking “He was the one who frantically defended the deportation of Igbos from Lagos, even as former governor Fashola, chief actor in that saga, later admitted error and apologise” The writer is attempting to re-write history by leaving out the fact that people from all tribes were deported in that saga. Non Lagosian Yorubas were also deported to their states of Origin e.g Oyo state. What every responsible non-partisan person condemned was the deportation of any Nigerian from any State of the Federation. Instead some oppourtunists like the writer tried to make it about tribe as usual. This deliberate omission on the part of the writer makes it clear he has an agenda himself.

    • Anon Today

      February 8, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      BNers can we not make this a post about tribes? Can we not make it Igbos came Yorubas went kind of article? And it’s not that kind of article. Please!

  2. ElessarisElendil

    February 8, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    So having toiled through this piece I’m confused why the writer seems to be against Mr Igbokwe for dong his job well.

    As he clearly states “Joe Igbokwe, Lagos APC publicity secretary, was a shinning member of rights advocacy and civil society groups in Nigeria.”. Now his job is to defend the APC not be a shinning civil society guru, who am I to begrudge another Man his daily bread, he should be praised even for his commitment to his job.

    S/N Lagos’ booming population is unsustainable, as long as other states continue to drop the ball, those who have no legal business in the state should be shipped off. My opinion.

  3. molarah

    February 8, 2016 at 6:57 pm


    What was this I just read???

    So, when tribal warlords are tired of spewing their bigotry and hatred all over social media and sharing fliers filled with lies and hate in the local car parks, this is the new method they employ? Shaming sane kinsmen who speak the voice of reason?

    Mr Author, you made perfectly no sense! None at all! Mention one thing that Joe Igbokwe said that showed he chose the side of partisanship over patriotism. No really, ONE! Just one! This was a rant – in its pure and undiluted form.

    I’m done. This is so sick and nauseating.

  4. Ernie

    February 9, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Some writers may set out to write quite incisive pieces but midway into their construction or deconstruction begin to drift. Be that as it may, the topic can lead you the reader back to the writers intention. In this case, activists in Nigeria are known to use their platforms to embellish their profiles in their quest for political appointments. Joe Igbokwe has always been a politician even when he wasn’t a card career before his foray into NADECO. In the actual sense, he is a politician and not an activist and politicians don’t seek permanent friendship but permanent interests. Joe Igbokwe has not been consistent in principles and ideology. It’s not about “shaming sane kinsmen.” Nigerians don’t have sane discuss without sounding caustic and abusive. It’s a product of our realities as a nation where impunity thrives even by those who once accused governments in power then of impunity.

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