By Wilfred Eya
For those abreast with the times, one issue that will dominate public discourse this year in Nigeria is the 2023 general elections. Already, there is anxiety over who will succeed President Muhammadu Buhari when he completes the constitutionally guaranteed eight years in office next year. And characteristic of elections in the country, the signs of what to expect began to unfold early enough. From North to the South, the political space is heating up.
But one major contention from the ensuing political battle is the aspect of power shift from the North to the Southern part of the country. The argument has been going back and forth since President Buhari started his second tenure in 2019. While the majority of power brokers in the North seem reluctant to concede power to the South, gladiators in Southern Nigeria are insisting that power must shift from the North in 2023 for reasons of equity and balance.
Apart from other stakeholders, the Southern Governors Forum is at the forefront of insisting that power must shift to the South after President Buhari’s tenure.
At the end of one of their meetings held on July 5, 2021, the governors reiterated their commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agreed that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president should emerge from the Southern region.
For many, it is not contestable that the South has a valid argument in demanding for power in 2023 but those who understand the psychology of the gladiators from the region know that it would remain a tall dream. Why? Historically, many variables have continued to work against the South having a fair share of the nation’s power equation.
Since Nigeria gained independence in 1960, power had continued to elude the South as a result of the crab mentality syndrome among their power brokers.
The crab theory is a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you”. The metaphor is derived from a pattern of behavior noted in crabs when they are trapped in a bucket and none can escape as each tries to pull the other down.
For followers of historical events, the distrust between the Yoruba and Igbo is not only age-long but deep-rooted. The animosity dated back to the pre-independence era but was aggravated during the unfortunate civil war (1967-1970) and the perceived role the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, played during the war.
Most unfortunately, opportunist politicians have, over the years, exploited the situation and have continued to harvest parochial political fortunes, to the detriment of the majority of Yoruba and Igbo people whose collective political future is at stake.
Worse still, stakeholders from the two major ethnic regions have not been able to build a new paradigm between generations of Igbo and Yoruba who have been divided by hostile narratives which have sown seeds of discord since the beginning of the campaign for Nigeria’s independence.
And the permutation ahead of 2023 is that political power is there on a platter of gold for the South if only the gladiators from the region can speak with one voice and work towards one goal. But the snag there is still how to overcome the age long rivalry between the South East and South West. For obvious reasons, it would be easy for the South South to support a candidate from the South East but otherwise with the disposition of the South West against a candidate from the South East. Critical observers familiar with the cultural and historical dimensions of the nation’s politics agree that the cat and mouse game between the two major ethnic regions in Nigeria may likely continue in the politics of 2023.
Ordinarily, many would agree that for fairness, equity and justice, no other region is better placed than the South East to produce the next president of the country. However, in real terms, it would be difficult for the South West to support the quest for Igbo presidency. Already, politicians from the zone are hiding under one argument despite the facts on ground. And what is their position? It is that power is not served ala carte, hence must be struggled for. The thinking among the majority of power brokers from the South West is that having contributed and sacrificed a lot to make the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress(APC) to win power in 2015, it would be preposterous to imagine that they would support a candidate from the South East, a zone that is clearly in the opposition. But that will depend on if the APC where their strength is will win the next general elections.
However, since 1999, the leader of Afenifere, the apex Yoruba socio-cultural group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo has been making a case for a president of Igbo extraction but he is in the minority. Asked if he sees the possibility of presidency returning to the South West in 2023, Adebanjo had said, “you talk about unity, that is where you will know where the sincerity lies. If you are keen about unity, will there be a unit of the country that you will deprive presidency? What does that mean for unity?
“We are talking about people who want Nigeria to stay together. How can anybody who loves this country talk of the presidency coming to the South West in 2023? That’s why I tell you all these people are not serious, including Buhari. Why should you exclude the South East? Is South East not part of Nigeria?
“South West has had, South South has had, the North has had, why exclude the South East if you want them to be there? That is the point.”
But those who have been following the trends in the arguments of gladiators from the South West would agree that Pa Adebanjo’s position does not resonate with the majority in the zone.
For instance, a former federal minister of Works, and later day supporter of Bola Tinubu presidential ambition, Adeseye Ogunlewe speaking recently on Arive TV’s ‘The Morning Show’, said the inability of the people of South East Nigeria to come together under a leadership would hamper their chances of producing a president in 2023.
He said the Igbo of South East must invest in party politics to stand a good chance at the next general election.
Ogunlewe continued: “Another set of people that are appropriate, are the people from the South East but they have the problem of leadership. They are so endowed that they are spread all over Nigeria and they can gather a lot of votes, but they are too divided. An Imo person, an Enugu person, an Ebonyi man will not listen to themselves.”
But is Ogunlewe’s narrative on the Igbo right? Those who really understand the Igbo would say no but that is the argument being pushed forward to put the South East at a disadvantage politically ahead of 2023 general elections.
Another major stakeholder from the South West who is fully disposed to a president of Igbo extraction but who did not want his name in print was frank with Daily Sun when he said that the only reason why the North is still aspiring to retain power in 2023 is because politicians there know that the Yoruba would be reluctant to support a president of Igbo extraction. He also observed that the gladiators in the North are also aware that the Igbo would not support a South West candidate if the Yoruba would not support their well deserved quest for the presidency. Among the Igbo including artisans and those on the streets, the thinking is that the Yoruba have had a fair share of power since 1999 after eight years of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Professor Yemi Osinbajo who would be completing eight years as vice president in 2023. The dominant position among the Igbo is that it is only fair that this time, the South West and the South South should rally round the East to realize their quest for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction.
One of the commentators writing on the subject of a president of Igbo extraction, Okey Anueyiagu captured the situation better when he wrote: “Now, by natural justice and equity, that it seemingly appears to be the turn of the South East( The Igbo) to produce the President, the rest of Nigeria appears now to be bending the rules and distorting facts to prevent this from happening.
“There are many ways to interpret this disturbing trend, including the historical and hypocritical stance of the haters of the Igbo who are now deploying absurd and iniquitous theories of ethnicity not being part of our national politics; asking us to now consider the notion of Nigerian nationhood as an ideal for selecting or electing who will lead us.”
The calculation among critical observers is that in 2023, it would be easier for the North to relinquish power if they see politicians from the South rallying round a presidential aspirant from the Igbo extraction. Analysts argue that it would amount to a contradiction for the South West to demand power shift for equity and justice when the South East is yet to produce the president since 1999. So, the question is: can the South especially the South West and South East achieve a paradigm shift in their relationship this time? Only the events and outcome of 2023 presidential elections would prove that.