National Coordinator, South South Elders Forum (SSEF) and National Publicity Secretary of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), High Chief, Anabs Sara-Igbe, has said that any attempt by the North to retain the presidency in 2023 will precipitate crisis in the country. In this interview, he speaks on various issues.
Though 2023 elections are still far but the agitation for who will be the president is on. The South West is itching for the slot and the South East is doing the same. What is the position of the South South?
First of all, I speak here for the South South Elders Forum; I am also National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, but for today, I am speaking for the South South Elders Forum. For us, the race for the presidency has started and it is a clear fact that there is an unconventional agreement that the presidency should go North and South. Presently, the presidency is in the North and they have completed their two tenures. It implies that the presidency will come back to the South. In the South we have three zones, the South West, the South South and the South East. The South West have had their complete tenure through President Olusegun Obasanjo, the South South had had one tenure through President Goodluck Jonathan, the South East has not got it in the new dispensation.
But if you are talking about the global Nigeria, the North has ruled for 40 years, South West has also ruled for almost 12 years; the South East has ruled for six months and the South South has ruled for one tenure. And so obviously, it is right for the South South to complete their two tenures, thereafter the South East will have a clinch of it. But besides that, the South East today is insisting on Biafra, they are not insisting on presidency. We in the South South believe in the restructuring of this country but we are also interested in the presidency. So, we want to complete our second tenure.
And considering our role in Nigeria, the economic development of Nigeria, we believe that we are the hub carrying Nigeria; the nation should be fair to us by allowing us to complete our second tenure. It is when we complete our second tenure that we will believe that Nigeria is with us.
We are not interested in dividing Nigeria but repositioning Nigeria. We can assure Nigerians that the present feelings of the Igbo, when the South South man comes, he would douse it. Because, the South East and the South South are brothers. They are of the same mother and the same father. While the South West and the South South are also brothers of the same father but different mothers. So, we believe that when the South South man is completing his tenure, he will talk the Igbo out of Biafra.
Although the three regions – South East, South South, South West in the South and the Middle Belt in the North believe in restructuring, the South South is willing to stand by restructuring but that does not mean that we will throw away the presidency. So, we are appealing to Nigerians to please do us that small favour of giving us the second term. We know that Nigerians can do it like the Yoruba did when they agitated. All the parties then allowed the Yoruba to vie for the presidency – Obasanjo, Falaye and co. So we are saying all the parties in Nigeria should field South South persons. Nigerians can then choose the best amongst them. If a South South man comes, it will help Nigeria, our oil production will increase, our gas production will increase, and we will also give intellectual contribution. We will carry everyone along, we will have intellectual think tank that will assist the president in ensuring that every part of this country in adequately managed, represented and favoured. We believe in one Nigeria and that is why we are appealing that Nigeria should work with us so that we will not divide this country. There is no need to divide ourselves; there are misunderstandings which can be resolved. There are complex countries in the whole world, yet they come together, they work together. Even America that we are celebrating was not one country; it is an amalgamation of so many states and despite their differences, they have fiscal federalism, because the economy is restructured; they have financial autonomy, everybody is on his own doing his own thing and that is what Nigeria needs.
So we are appealing to Nigerians to please do us this favour of allowing us to produce the President.
The North is talking about 2023 presidency and are also urging every party to field a Northerner. In the South South, what effort is the zone making to engage other zones to buy into your interest to contest for the plum position?
Before the end of this quarter, you will see the South South coming out fully. We are going to come out, different persons will speak, former governors, former senators, traditional rulers from the region will come out to demand this. But thereafter, we are going to make contacts, we are going to lobby the various ethnic nationalities, political parties and the political class.
For the North to insist on the Presidency again, they do not mean well. And that is why the Arewa group came out boldly to condemn the North advocating for another tenure and they put their weight behind the South South presidency. Because, if you want stability in this country, you must be fair to all and don’t underrate anybody.
When Yar’Adua was here, he wanted to use military might against the Niger Delta and within months, the economy was crippled. He rather begged for amnesty and gave us the things that we required. Buhari came and thought he could use military might and the economy was crippled, we went into economic recession until PANDEF came and salvaged this country. So, you cannot say anybody cannot do anything; even the Igbo today that are not happy can do something. The Niger Delta can do something, the Middle Belt can do something, every part of Nigeria has the potential to do something because we are a union. And we don’t want crisis in this country. If the North wants to hold on to power, then they don’t want peace in Nigeria and I think the North will not do that.
In 2023, should the North insist, what do we expect?
Except they want chaos in this country, then they can insist. But I can tell you that the South South is a stabilizing force in Nigeria; we will stabilize the country and we will not allow Nigeria to get to that level where there will be conflict. We will try as much as possible to marry all the groups. We can contain all the groups to ensure there is stability, peace and understanding amongst ourselves.
Is it just about getting your share of power for just the sake of it?
No. On whether it is too early, you are all aware of when some political groups came together and were forcing Mr. President to go for third term like what happened during Obasanjo era and Mr. President has graciously come out to say, I don’t want chaos in Nigeria. I am not going for third term, nobody can push me to go for third term. It means people have started agitating and if we don’t put the things right early enough, people will be misled into believing like this issue of the North wanting to hold unto power. I don’t think the North wants to hold unto power. The North is comfortable with the South South; we have been very close allies all the while and if you look at our voting pattern all these while, the North had more confidence in the South South than any other region. So, I don’t think the North will be against the South South; what is important is a Nigerian nation. Even if the North supports the South South, what of our brothers in the West and in the East? And that is why we are appealing to all even the Middle Belt, we are appealing to all sections to please bury their hatchet and work with us, let us anchor our second tenure and thereafter peace will return to Nigeria and then others can take.
This trending pattern of every zone clamouring to have a shot at the presidency, does that not portend nepotistic tendencies? Is that how to portray fairness?
You see, you must see Nigeria in the true contest of how we behave. Nigerians as they are don’t believe in true federalism yet; we are not operating the federal system like America, wherein anywhere you live is your home. Nigerians still believe in ethnicity, tribalism, and therefore it is like a family, a man had children from different women, and one section is always allowed to rule, the other section will loudly protest.
Our constitution is very clear and our understanding in 1998 was very clear. Even the various conferences that took place after 1999 was very clear that presidency must rotate between the North and South. It is an uncommon philosophy, it is an agreement that is ruling Nigeria. So, if we say we should rule, I am not the one saying I should rule. I don’t even know who is the president coming from the South South but we will be more fulfilled that as Nigerians, we have been given our due rights. Yes, as Nigerians, we have been accepted by Nigerians, yes as Nigerians people believe in us. If we believe in that, then we can be working with Nigeria. You cannot produce all the revenue that the presidency will use to run this country and you will not be allowed to taste it.
We are happy as South South that at least today, in the national council of state meeting that we have one president, in the past, we didn’t even have one. So, every part of this country wants to belong to the highest club of presidency. And we are saying, if the constitution which is the force binding all of us says two terms, then we should be allowed to go for two terms. And we will know that our brothers and sisters are with us. But if you don’t allow us to go two terms and you have gone two terms, how will it work?
You said the South South and South East are of the same parents but for the sake of equity, assuming the South East indicates interest to run for presidency in 2023, will the South South support them?
Of course the South South will not oppose the South East but in the present condition of Nigeria, if we do not want the North to hold unto power, then the South East should forget it. Because, we know the North will not give power to the South East now because of the fear of Biafra. And the North will not give power to the South West, they also have their fears. So, the only people they are comfortable with now is the South South. And if the South South is not allowed, the North will use that as an excuse to hold unto power. It is very clear, anybody who is political can read it. No northerner is comfortable with the Igbo presently. And don’t forget that the 50 years celebration of Biafra is also a memory of what has happened. So, there is that fear that we dealt with these people, when they get to power, they may deal with us and so they can use that as an excuse not to support any Igbo man.
So if we lose it, they (South East) will lose it but if they allow us go now, we will be able to pave the way and reintegrate them into Nigeria and ensure that we stay behind them. And we will not have any right or justification to come and agitate because, at that time, we would have done our own second tenure. We will clamour and support them to get it.