By Osita Okechukwu
Two events prompted this intervention. One was a wedding in Lagos, which took place mid-April. Then, penultimate week, yours truly attended the local Inwa Ekwe Nshi, an annual traditional ceremony, which signals the commencement of the famous Nshi (Egwu Abia) festival of my hometown, Eke, in Enugu State.
I was fascinated by the nature of the conversation among our people. It happened that the nagging question on the lips of the local folks was where the All Progressives Congress (APC) stands on the issue of rotation convention.
They expressed frustration with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), lamenting that the party shamelessly abandoned the rotation convention by throwing open the presidential contest. It was amazing that the people knew that PDP expressly provided for rotation in its constitution.
Their regret was that the party had to throw open the presidential primary at a time it was obvious that 2023 was the turn of the southern belt, particularly Ndigbo.
Further, they noted that our brothers and sisters in the South-South and South-West had had their turns, having presided over Nigeria at different times since 1999, which they argue is the valid reason why Pa Ayo Adebanjo of Afenifere, Pa Edwin Clark, Senator Emmanuel Essien of PANDEF, Dr. Bitrus Pogu of Middle Belt Forum and a host of eminent patriots are canvassing for Ndigbo.
This made me to jokingly remind them of the old saying that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
That was exactly what Ndigbo did when they shunned the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) only to put all their eggs in the PDP basket. On the debate that the record of South-East registered voters is poor, they dismissed it pointing out that Ndigbo have dormant PVCs in North-West, South-West, South-South and Middle Belt. Having made my point, I consoled them with the assurance that lobbying and appeal were still going on and that, as patriots and believers in social harmony and unity of Nigeria, APC will most likely choose its presidential candidate from the southern belt.
At Obalende Army Mammy market joint in Lagos, where Nigerians from all tribes and tongues converge in the evening hours, the story of the huge nomination fees of all the political parties was at the center of discussions. The Mammy market is much like the freedom square and remains so up to date.
That explains why it was my preferred joint in the eighties, when I was residing in Lagos. While the bashing over the high nomination fees were targeted mostly at APC and PDP, the smaller parties were not spared. They were accused of complicity, lack of ideology and the less than elegant penchant of defection to the big two.
But, bemused by the bashing of the two dominant political parties, yours sincerely kept quiet all along while the salvos were being hauled at my great party. When at last they urged me to speak, as someone from Abuja, I simply said that in Nigeria’s political stock exchange or market, APC ranks as brand A1, while PDP is rated as brand A2, just as others range from B to C.
I therefore advised them not to blame APC and PDP, because they will be happy if a friend like me emerges as the Presidential candidate of APC. Further, I hinted that such emergence will mean that my chances of becoming the President will hover around 60-70%. In contrast, I said, should I emerge as Labour Party presidential candidate, for instance, my chances will swing around 20-30%.
When it came to the choice of Presidential aspirants, opinions were sharply divided among the various tribes and tongues assembled. Yet, on the issue of rotation of President, surprisingly, many of those at Army Mammy Market that evening, were highly in support of the rotation.
They were united in the belief that rotation helped to lay a solid foundation for Nigeria’s fourth Republic. Surprisingly most of them recalled how the race between Chiefs Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari, as well as Muhammadu Buhari versus Atiku Abubakar in 1999, 2007, and 2015 Presidential elections helped to stabilise the polity.
Indeed, one army officer from the core north, said one of the main reasons why ex-President Goodluck Jonathan lost the 2015 Presidential election was because he breached the rotation convention. He declared that in same vein, any of the two major political parties that breaches the rotation convention will surely lose in 2023. Everybody joined to say Amen.
To test their preferences and understanding of Presidential aspirants, majority of those who supported rotation convention placed Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as their first choice in APC and Peter Obi as their top choice in PDP. And, with the discussion becoming upbeat, I cajoled them to pay more attention to APC.
My argument was that in liberal democracies, electoral contest remains a game of numbers. Based on that I informed them that an APC Presidential candidate has a better chance of winning than any other party, since we control 22 states out of 36, have more Senators and members of both Federal and State Houses of Assembly.
Again, that ideologically, there is a thin line of separation between the two parties.
I was interested in ascertaining why Amaechi was their preference. Those who spoke cited the focus and devotion he displayed in the construction of model schools and hospitals in Rivers State when he served as governor and the Railways project during his time as minister.
Otunba Iji Odumosu was more forthcoming. He narrated how he commutes from Ibadan to Lagos, saying the development has made a difference in his life. According to Odumosu, he sleeps in Lagos at will, unlike before when he was consigned willy-nilly to the hustle and bustle of Lagos life.
The encounter reminded me of my stay in Birin Kebbi, the Kebbi State capital, when I attended the appeal committee screening of delegates to elect members of State House of Assembly during the APC primary in the state.
Mingling and interacting with Nigerians with diverse ethno-religious backgrounds in the above places and Abuja, where one resides, one recurring observation was the unprecedented massive support that the former Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has continued to generate in the northern part of the country, few days to the APC Presidential primary.
I observed that support for Amaechi was gaining traction, especially given that many Northern governors are subtly endorsing him. They include, Governors Nasir El-Rufai, Solomon Lalong, Abdullahi Sule. They all praised Amaechi’s doggedness.
Jigawa Sate governor, Alhaji Badaru Abubakar, was blunt. He said, “Amaechi and I are APC family members.
We also belong to the Muhammadu Buhari school of thought. Amaechi and I joined hands with others for APC’s success in both 2015 and 2019. So if our father Muhammadu Buhari, asks me to step down for Amaechi, I will not hesitate to do so. Equally, I believe if he asks him to step down for me, he will do so.”
As a person I was particularly impressed that contrary to insinuations that Amaechi is not core Igbo, the former Minister is well received by our people. For instance, when I met Chief Okorie Ekwuno, Igbo Chief at Gwandu and a host of other Igbo elements in Kebbi State, they said their happiness is fueled by the unprecedented support Amaechi enjoys in the northern region.
Chief Ekwuno’s passionate support is infectious. He told me: “I have not met Amaechi in my life, but when I hear my neighbours, the Hausas showering support repeatedly on Amaechi I changed my mind. Since then, I have joined in spreading the good message.”
On what they think could be why the north is supporting Amaechi, they said he has the benefit of focus, meaning that their buy-in is premised on the uncommon commitment and devotion the former Minister put into the supervision of the railway construction.
Some recall that Amaechi, like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Dr Bukola Saraki et al added the critical supplement to President Buhari’s 12 million Vote-Bank which immensely contributed to his election in 2015. It was Alhaji Hassan Kasuwa who reminded me how Amaechi embraced Buhari at the expense of his brother, saying that they see that a big demonstration of patriotism. Kasuwa noted also that as a two-time Director General of Mr President’s campaign, Amaechi showed trust, integrity and determination.
Those folks maintained that if Amaechi could devote such energy, he could do much more as a President. Attempt to remind them that Amaechi has not done much on the Eastern corridor of railways did not cut ice with them. Chief Amaefuna, a prominent building materials merchant at Birin Kebbi thought differently. He stated: “My brother, it is not only doing one thing at a time, but that it was Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who commenced from the western corridor railways and luckily President Buhari also comes from the western corridor. Do you expect them to abandon the corridor in their zone?”
But, a young man, Mr Jideofor Amu, frowned at the rationale behind extending the rail line to Maradi in Niger Republic, another country, while the Eastern corridor was comatose? It was then that I asked him pointedly, do you think Amaechi as a President will not approve the Eastern corridor railways?
Challenged that the Eastern corridor should be the more reason why he should root for Amaechi, the young Amu nodded, but asking me to be rational, he stuck to his stand that charity should begin at home. Although one was not persuaded, one was humbled by the young man’s native and common sense narrative.
My encounter with Alhaji Aminu Zuru, ward chairman of Zuru Ward III, a staunch supporter of Amaechi was very exciting. It was exciting in the sense that one admired his unflinching hope for a better future.
Aminu said he is a beneficiary of the Rice revolution, which is among President Buhari’s Agrarian Revolution, and the soar away boost it received from the Kebbi State governor, His Excellency, Senator Atiku Bagudu.
Aminu said he hopes that one day the modernisation of railways will reach Kebbi, saying that despite the complaint of paucity of funds, Amaechi knows how best to source for foreign loans. Expressing his resolve to vote for Amaechi during the Presidential primary, Aminu said he believes that if elected, Amaechi will extend rail line to Kebbi.
However, one diligently informed Aminu of the snag that officials like him can only vote for Amaechi if the APC national leadership opts for direct primary. For APC’s Constitution and the 2022 Electoral Act provided for direct, indirect and consensus as the three modes of primary elections.
Aminu was downcast that he and other ward chairmen were not delegates to Presidential primary, but delegates to gubernatorial and parliamentary primary elections.
Aminu pleaded that President Buhari and the APC national chairman, Distinguished Senator Abdullahi Adamu, should consider the need to adopt direct primary so that he could participate and vote for Amaechi. I cautioned him that one would have like him supported direct primary for popular participation; however we do not have the machinery and expertise to conduct free, fair and transparent direct presidential primary election.
•Okechukwu, the Director General (DG) of Voice of Nigeria (VON), writes from Abuja