The current defection of the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, from PDP to APC has revealed the conflicting political interests of Ndigbo as we approach 2023. At stake is the Presidency of Nigeria, the application of the federal character principle, rotation and shift of political positions and powers between North and South and among the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. The federal character principle is enshrined in Section 14(3) of our Constitution. Although the six geo-political zones did not find their way into our Constitution, they have long been legitimatized by the Federal Character Commission Act. The Act stipulates that positions which are not up to 37 in accordance with the 36-state structure and the FCT, should be shared on the basis of the six geo-political zones.
The political parties in 1999 adopted this position and ensured that the first six political posts in Nigeria were shared among the six geo-political zones. The PDP, which was the only major political party by 1999 that is still existing today, vowed in Preamble 2(d) of its Constitution “to conform with the principles of power shift and power sharing by rotating key political offices amongst the diverse peoples of the country”. The APC, which is one of the major political parties today, swore in Article 20(v) that “… the National Working Committee shall subject to the approval of the National Executive Committee make rules and regulations for the nomination of candidates through primary elections. All such rules, regulations and guidelines shall take into consideration and uphold the principle of Federal Character, gender balance, geo-political spread and rotation of offices, to as much as possible ensure balance within the constituency covered”. In the issue of the President of Nigeria, the entire country is one constituency. This simply means that the post of the president should be shifted and rotated between North and South and among the six geo-political zones of the country.
Ndigbo have been loyalists of PDP since 1999 until now. They have followed the PDP with both their heads and hearts without reservations, conditions and rationality. No other ethnic nationality has done that since 1999 and they have a catalogue of prices to pay for the lack of political astuteness and foresight needed to navigate modern Nigerian political terrain. By 1999, the Yoruba were found in both PDP, AD & APP making it possible for Nigeria to choose presidential candidates from Yoruba extraction for both PDP & APP, after AD & APP went into alliance, to heal the wounds of June 12. If there were no Yoruba on either party, it would have been impossible to choose Yoruba for both parties. By 1999, the Yoruba were 98 per cent members of AD. In 2003, the Yoruba, for the first time in Nigerian history, abandoned AD 100 per cent and supported PDP 100 per cent in the presidential election in order to retain the presidency. AD decided not to field any presidential candidate in order to ensure that a Yoruba man retained the post of the president. They did this to ensure that Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who had a cult following in the North, and registered his interest to contest under APP, did not win President Obasanjo. The Jagaban, Bola Tinubu of AD, publicly displayed his ballot paper to show that he voted for Obasanjo of PDP. Although, this action led to AD losing five Southwest governors to PDP, it also led to the Yoruba retaining the presidency and all the six states in the Southwest because whether AD or PDP, all the six Southwest governors were still Yoruba. It was a win-win situation for them. The only thing that changed was party, but Yoruba interests were enhanced.
Contrast this with the political calculation of Ndigbo. PDP was formed in-between the legs of a powerful Igbo political chieftain, Chief Dr Alex Ekwueme. He was the chairman of the G32 which metamorphosed into the PDP. He contested the post of the president in 1999, but was understandably denied because the majority of Nigerians wanted to lay the ghost of June 12 to rest. In 2003, on the understanding that each geo-political zone should have only one term to make way for the post of the president to rotate among the six geo-political zones within 24 years, Chief Alex Ekwueme re-contested for the presidential primary of PDP and was rejected. Ndigbo took no action. At the same time, Gen Muhammadu Buhari offered Ndigbo the office of the Vice President in the same year under APP. Again Ndigbo took no action to support him, even if it is to protest the way Dr Alex Ekwueme was treated in PDP in 2003. After the 2003 presidential election, Ndigbo commenced their journey to political irrelevance in the Fourth Republic. They were seen as toothless bulldogs. They were denied the president and the vice president in Nigeria in 2003 and as a majority tribe there was no consequence. Little wonder in 2007, President Obasanjo neglected them in choosing the president and the vice in PDP because he knew Ndigbo will do nothing and he was right. They did nothing. They still supported PDP shippishly. President Buhari again offered them the vice presidential slot under ANPP in 2007. Yet Ndigbo could not support him. After the 2007 presidential election, Ndigbo journeyed from political irrelevance to political wilderness in a self-inflicted political miscalculation and misguided loyalty. They were given the position of the deputy Senate president by the PDP, a demotion from their earlier position of the Senate president and nothing happened.
In 2011, President Muhammadu Buhari chose a Vice Presidential candidate from the South West, Pastor Tunde Bakare, but without consultation and agreement of the political elites from the South West. The South West refused to give him full hearted support and he lost. They did this to teach him that it is not enough to pick a Yoruba man as Vice President, it must be with the permission of the Yoruba. He was punished for that, making him to retire from politics in tears. This time, Ndigbo have become politically stagnated in the pocket of PDP with no political offices or infrastructures in the South East to justify their blind loyalty to PDP.
By 2015, some powerful political juggernauts from the South West persuaded President Buhari to take another shot at the Presidency on the understanding that he will cede the Vice Presidential ticket to them in the South West. He did and eventually won the presidential election against an incumbent President, the first in history. Yoruba, since 1999, have consistently put their interests first before political parties. They have metamorphosed from AD to PDP to AC to ACN to APC within 16 years at an average of a different party every 4 years in order to sustain their interests and they succeeded. Within 16 years of our current democratic dispensation, they have produced the President, Vice President, Speakers of the Federal House of Representatives and tangible infrastructures to show for it which includes Lagos – Ibadan express way, Lagos – Ibadan railway line etc. They have fulfilled the long held political assertion that in politics, there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends but permanent interests.
After 2015, as a Nigerian from Igbo extraction, I have had enough. I examined my head and knew that my children will question me, if after supporting a party hundred percent for 16 years, in a country where I am a member of the majority tribe and had nothing to show for it and I was still there. By this time, Ndigbo travelled through forests to bypass all their express roads that had failed and became impassable. In 2016, after analysing the political fortunes of Ndigbo, I made a determination that it’s time for Ndigbo to assess their membership of PDP and begin to make choice of political parties based on their interests. The days of shippish followership was over. I resigned from the PDP and joined APC officially in 2016. In 2018, with the approach of the 2019 general election, I made the famous broadcast which stated, “if the South East shall support any other person for the presidency, they are going to wander for the next 8 years in wilderness. It is agreed that it is their turn after President Muhammadu Buhari. So you know our slogan there, our slogan is Ndigbo for President Buhari 2019 then President Buhari for Ndigbo 2023. After the war in 1970, it took the Igbos 9 years to become the Vice President. Since 1999, with PDP in power, 16 years after the coming of this democracy, no Igbo man was President, no Igbo man was Vice President, not even our infrastructure was built. If you are from the South East, will I not check your mental ability if you do not want to change course. I am changing course”. I warned them about the power grabbers who will deceive them not to listen to me. 2019 election came, President Buhari won as I predicted he will. Although support for him increased in the South East, majority of the votes still went to the PDP, even when the party picked a Vice President of Igbo extraction, without consultation with any South East political, traditional or social-cultural organisation. If Atiku Abubakar had won the 2019 presidential election, South East wouldn’t even have been discussing about the Presidency in 2023 because Atiku would have been there for two terms. The victory of President Buhari in 2019 was what created the vacancy in 2023 for Ndigbo to even contemplate the Presidency in 2023. This also informed my decision in 2016 to join APC.
The political fortunes of Ndigbo continued to degenerate and today it’s at the lowest ebb. Indeed, we are now in the political desert. We are not counted worthy of the first 7 most powerful political offices in the land – President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In all these, Ndigbo remained shippishly loyal to PDP. Today, even politicians from the hitherto areas regarded as minority can now point their fingers in the face of Ndigbo to tell them openly that they are not qualified to be anything in Nigeria. Gabriel Suswan openly made it clear that PDP will not consider zoning the President to South East because according to him, until the North realise its ambition to become President again under the PDP, it will not rotate to any other zone. Gov Wike, while reacting to the defection of Gov Dave Umahi to APC, on Channel TV programme “Politics Today” openly said that Ndigbo should be grateful to PDP because PDP gave them the office of the Chief of Army Staff and some Ministerial posts which they would not have been able to get in their lives. This statement, apart from being factually incorrect, is one of the most denigrating statements ever made by a politician against Ndigbo, since the advent of the fourth republic. First, Gov Wike may have forgotten that the first crop of leaders of the Nigerian army were Igbos and indeed the first indigenous General Officer Commanding of the Nigerian Army, the first Supreme Commander of the Nigerian military and the first Head of State of Nigeria was a Nigerian from Igbo extraction in the name of General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi. He was appointed to the office of the GOC of the Nigerian Army, the highest Military position then, by the Hausa-Fulani led Northern People’s Congress (NPC) to underscore that the appointment was on merit. By 1979, an Igbo was democratically elected the Vice President of Nigeria in the person of Dr Alex Ekwueme. It may interest him to also realise that ministerial appointments to Ndigbo is a constitutional requirement not a favour to Ndigbo. The mere fact that these are the only achievements PDP can point to as rewards to the shippish loyalty of Ndigbo for 20 years lays credence to the belief in Igboland that their membership of the PDP is a “one chance” adventure. Ndigbo have been duped by the PDP.
So it is a welcome relief that some of them are now seeing what I saw years back and are examining their heads. Gov Dave Umahi actually confessed that his entrance into APC was to protest the injustice meted out on the South East by PDP. I wish he and all his colleague Governors did this before 2019, a President from Igbo extraction would have been automatic in 2023. It is better late than never. At least, parties are getting the sense that the days of taking the loyalty of Ndigbo for granted is gone, whatever the outcome of the 2023 presidential election, which for now is in the hands of God.