From Judex Okoro, Calabar
The Igbo of South East Nigeria have a strong identity. They are established in all spheres ranging from academics, business, trade and commerce, education, banking to politics. Historically, they have contributed to the socio-economic and political development of the nation. They have produced seasoned leaders and eminent personages in all fields of human endeavour. It is little wonder that from the length and breadth of Igboland, the cry of ‘it-is-our-turn’ continues to resonate amongst the people ahead of 2023 general elections. Since the reintroduction of democracy in 1999, the South East is the only zone in Southern Nigeria that is yet to produce the president of the country. So, many argue that the muffled voices have climaxed in the present APC-led administration and no time is better than now to redress the wrongs against the South East zone.
To an average South-Easterner, it is an axiom that Southern Nigeria stands on a tripod, and if the South-West and South-South had produced a president between 1999 and 2015, it is only natural that the South-East should produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor since the North will be completing eight years in office in 2023. Some critical observers agree that since the major tribe of Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani have taken their turn, it is the turn of Ndigbo in 2023 to assuage the cries and alleged exclusion of the people of the zone from the scheme of things in Nigeria. Few others aver that Nigeria, being a vast and heterogeneous nation, the political actors must at all times consider the interest of those who make up the federation in the sharing of political power to assuage feelings of alienation. To South-Easterners, this is the hour of need and many believe that the position of the Igbo is: “send us to give us a sense of belonging as partners in the Nigeria project.”
To demonstrate its readiness for Igbo Presidency, Igbo leaders led by Ohanaeze, Aka Ikenga, World Igbo Congress, Ala Igbo Foundation, and other interest groups have been criss-crossing from one zone to the other soliciting support for a president of Igbo extraction. They argue that 2023 is their turn to lead the country after about 50 years of fratricidal war.
And ready to take up the gauntlet, some credible Igbo politicians have indicated interest to run for the Presidency. They are former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Sen Anyim Pius Anyim, (PDP), Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State (APC), former governor of Abia State and Senate Chief Whip, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu of African Democratic Congress (ADC). Others speculated to join the presidential race include former governors Peter Obi, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu and Sen Rochas Okorocha of Anambra, Ebonyi and Imo states respectively.
Those who have also joined the train from outside the South East include the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (APC) and publisher of Ovation magazine, Dele Momodu. Some groups have also started campaigning for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, ex- Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President, Dr Olusola Saraki, Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello and Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State.
Why Igbo in 2023
The history of the country won’t be complete without mentioning the significant roles played by the like of late Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria and the founder of the first national party, the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC); Nigeria’s first military head of state, Major -General Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi; Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary General.
Other notable Igbo persons that have made their mark in various leadership positions entrusted to them are Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam, former Governor of Eastern Region and, Micheal Okpara, Premier of Eastern Nigeria, Alvan Ikoku and Chief Ozumba Mbadiwe. These array of names and others not mentioned are a testament that the Igbo nation is blessed with abundant human capital that can lead the nation out of the woods in the nick of time.
But since after the civil war, South-Easterners have been consigned into the trash can of history and have been treated as a conquered territory government after government. Subsequent administrations have marginalised and alienated Ndi Igbo in virtually all segments of the nation’s socio-economic and political milieu as evidently witnessed in the present APC-led administration. Some public commentators have argued that it seems the Buhari-led government is secretly engaged in a war of attrition with the South-East. The situation, many believe, has led to agitations by various groups including the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
But as the beagle for the 2023 General election is blown by INEC, the South-East has come out to demand that this is the time to right all the wrongs meted out to the zone by successive administrations. The major argument is that the zone in the past has supported other zones and now is the auspicious time to also lend support to the region for equity, fairness and justice.
It needs to be recalled that the South-East has played second fiddle to other zones. In 1979, late Dr Alex Ekwueme, was a Vice President to Alhaji Sehu Shagari, late Dr Chuba Okadigbo was a running mate to Maj-Gen Muhammadu Buhari in ANNP and in 2019, Dr Peter Obi was a running mate to Alh Atiku Abubakar. The closest Sout-East came close to clinching the Presidency was in 1998 Jos PDP presidential primaries when Ekwueme was a hot contender until the conspiracy of the cabal in PDP truncated his ambition.
Booby traps against Igbo Presidency
While the calibre of people who have indicated interest for the Aso Rock job from the South-East is an indication of the readiness of Ndigbo to take over the mantle of leadership in 2023, it seems some Nigerians are not comfortable with a president of Igbo extraction for some inscrutable reasons.
In an interview with an APC chieftain and former member, Ken Nnamani Presidential Committee on review of the Constitution and Electoral matters, Chief Utum Eteng, he said an Igbo man should be the President of Nigeria as others, but expressed fear that it will take the grace of God like it was in all cases of other tribes for it to happen given Ndigbo’s limited acceptability for that purpose by other Nigerians.
Eteng, a Council member, HYPPADEC,MINNA, shares the views that “IPOB and its attendant violence has compounded the suspicion of other Nigerians that giving power to the Igbo may lead to a tactical step to dividing Nigeria, an unpopular act to many, especially to those past leaders as Presidents Muhammadu Buhari, Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen Ibrahim Babangida and Gen Andulsaleemi Abubakar and all those who once sacrificed their lives to keep Nigeria one.
“It is pertinent to remind Ndigbo that power has never been given on a platter of gold. Ndigbo must struggle for it and be seen to be transparently going for it. We all pray for it to happen but they must also work together, speak with one voice and be seen to be pursuing a common agenda in any of the main political parties.”
So for some critical observers, zoning the presidency to the South-East is like a camel passing through the eye of a needle. As it appears, the elite and the political class double-speak on rotational presidency arrangements in view of the fact that when it favours some power-brokers, they kick against zoning and try to set non-existing standards for contestants to the exalted office and support it and threaten to bring down the roof when zoning is in their favour.
The recent communique issued by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) kicking against zoning, saying it is anti-democracy is a clear case in point. The communique signed by the chairman, Communique Drafting Committee, and former Vice Chancellor, Plateau State University, Prof Doknam Danjuma Shenni, after its meeting with Northern Leaders of Thought, advised that the 2023 presidential contest should be left open to every region of the country for the best candidate to emerge.
They agreed that it is “the fundamental right of all political parties to field candidates of their choices, and the right of voters to freely exercise choices over who leads them cannot be compromised. Northerners have equal rights to aspire to all offices, but they must be competent, evidence of personal integrity and commitment to rule of law above all considerations.”
But thesame Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) at a news conference held in Zaria, Kaduna state, on Thursday, January 8, 2015 berated the leadership of PDP for not standing on its zoning arrangement agreed to in 2011 with former President Goodluck Jonatahn and declared total support for APC Presidential Candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, in the general elections.
Ango Abdullahi, the spokesman of the forum, said they took the decision due to the “unfair and unjust manner” the PDP had treated the region, adding that “in 2011, some people including some governors supported the incumbent president to contest; it is a disrespect for the party’s constitution and in 2015, they present him as a sole candidate.
“This forum is agitating for a candidate from the North and no party has fulfilled such a condition except the All Progressives Congress (APC). The PDP had not only denied its zoning agreement as enshrined in its constitution but had succeeded in dividing the country based on sentiments.
“This PDP constitution hinges on fairness, equity and justice to all and that was what made PDP the greatest and biggest party then. Therefore, I am in a better position to give account of the party and zoning is part of the party’s constitution and must be obeyed,” Abdulahi added.
Reactions trail anti-Igbo sentiment
The South-East politicians seem to have got used to the war of nerves when it gets to electioneering over who gets what, when and how. They are not much worried about the incongruous manners of the NEF and its allies in the political parties who are trying to set up booby traps against zoning ahead of 2023.
Their position on zoning is a clear case of saying every man to himself. And that is why the former Senate President, Anyim, while declaring his presidential aspiration at the South-East consultation with the PDP stakeholders in Enugu, said the South-East stakeholders had repeatedly made a case for zoning the presidency to the region for equity and fairness.
Ayim, who remained sanguine about his ambition, said, “I will contest whether the presidency is zoned to the South or not. If the presidency is zoned to the South-East, it will satisfy the just demand for equity and fairness. If it is not zoned to the South-East, it will remain a burden on the conscience of the nation.”
Although the Senate Chief Whip, Kalu has declared interest in the presidency, he, however, implied that he would be more committed to his aspiration if his party, the APC, zoned the presidential ticket to the South-East. His argument is also based on the fact of equity and justice considering that the South East is yet to produce the president since 1999.
On his part, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State has called on Nigerians from other regions of the country not to be afraid of Igbo Presidency. Speaking at a reception organised on his behalf at the Christian Ecumenical Centre, Abakalik, he noted that “Ndigbo are not known for causing destruction but growth and development in any society,” maintaining that “the Igbo man with lots of investments in different parts of the country was better equipped to develop the economy of the nation.”
Also kicking against moves to scuttle Igbo presidential bid, the Coordinator of Presidency Back to South-East Movement (PBTSEM), Chief Odinaka Nwankwo Oko, noted that the Northern Elders Forum is known for prevarications when it comes to issues of national interest and especially when it concerns them, adding that their recent statement against rotational presidency is a sharp contrast to their position in favour of joining in 2015 ahead of the general election.
Oko, an activist based in Abakaliki, said it is a disingenuous excuse to say that an Igbo presidency would divide the country, accusing those championing against rotation at this crucial time as rather ethnic irredentists who have imperious dispositions towards other groups.
He said: “Those standing against the South-East in their quest for the Presidency have vague recollections of our political trajectory, especially since the advent of the Fourth Republic. They have forgotten that after the South-Wes, South-South and North have taken their turns, it is natural and for equity that the South-East take the next turn in 2023. This rational argument is as clear as mud.”
Oko, who insisted that the movement would take the battle for Igbo Presidency to any level to ensure its realisation, said it would be cataclysmic to deny South-East the presidency in 2023 and expect them to continue to play the “good boy” in the Nigerian federation, adding “Igbo presidency is a litmus test for all lovers of justice, equity and fairness.”