I am as excited about an Igbo presidency as much as any other person who is dreaming about the prospect. What if, by some luck, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) each decide to field an Igbo for President in 2023? The idea is not far-fetched; a similar scenario played out in 1999 when three major candidates vied for the seat and one of them, an Igbo, was prevailed on to step down so that the others, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (PDP) and Chief Olu Falae (AD), would make it an all-Yoruba affair. The All Peoples Party (APP) candidate, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, current Minister of Science and Technology, dutifully withdrew from the race to allow Chief Falae fly the flag of both AD and APP. Falae lost to Obasanjo but Nigerians did not mind, as the goal was achieved; heads or tails, a Yoruba ascended the throne to compensate the ethnic group for MKO Abiola’s 1993 election victory that was inexplicably annulled by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
Could a similar scenario play out in 2023 to almost guarantee that a President of Igbo extraction will be sworn into office on May 29, 2023, in 28 months from today?
We have discussed the highly coloured versions of our past, which constitute a hurdle to choosing a core Igbo as President. Today, we interrogate how Nigerian politics has coloured the lives of most Igbo people, and what the results portend.
There are two primary colours – yellow and green – that are currently playing tricks on my vision as I look into my political crystal ball. What these colours signify is the reason I have pulled away from the optimistic crowd currently gathering at the public square to salivate over the prospect of an Igboman becoming President any time soon.
First, can the Igbo present anyone who is anything but yellow? Second, is it possible for Igbo politicians to remove the green in their eyes as they jostle for the position?
Let me begin by saying that Igbo presidency is achievable. Igbo politicians can accelerate the process of choice for the Nigerian electorate by removing the green in their eyes as they jostle for the prize. Are they willing to unite and quit constant in-group jealousies that make them vulnerable in a country where their people have harvested more than a fair share of tears and blood? Above all, are they willing to search far and wide for a saleable Igbo, whether he or she comes from Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Edo or Rivers State, as long as they settle on someone whose choice will seize popular imagination?
Today, Nigerians look on with bemusement as South-East Igbo – in anticipation of the unthinkable happening – continue to serve notice that the blood of their cousins across the Niger and Benue Rivers may not be thick enough for the task of leading Nigeria on behalf of the ethnic group whose turn it is to rule. It is akin to asking the Yoruba to allow their kin from Kwara or Kogi states to represent them when it is their turn to rule again. The mindset is, therefore, not peculiarly Igbo; it is Nigerian, political and selfish.
This mindset is alive and well in Igboland as can be seen from recent public statements and letter from Ohanaeze people on the appointment of an Ika Igbo as Chief of Defence Staff. While the immediate past president of Ohanaeze flatly denied that an Igbo was among the new service chiefs, the current president diplomatically thanked the President for appointing the new CDS but pointed out that the South-East continues to be left out in the commanding heights of security management in Nigeria. And one is left to wonder: what will happen if one of the major parties decides to field an Igbo Muslim from any of the South-East states for the 2023 race? Will Ohanaeze author another letter to remind Nigeria that South-East is dominated by Christians?
In this matter of jealousy among politicians, the Igbo face two challenges: one is accepting that their cousins across the Niger and Benue rivers are equally entitled. The other is ensuring that whoever gets the ticket is backed by all. When Gov. Peter Obi, who almost single-handedly managed to present himself to Nigeria as a saleable candidate for President, became running mate to a major party candidate who had the opportunity to win the presidency in 2019, all hell broke loose in Igboland. Although Igbo masses voted overwhelmingly for Obi and his principal, he could not shake off attacks of Igbo political rivals from two leading parties in the region – PDP and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). In Anambra, his home state, for instance, it was clear to everybody that the language of the APGA leadership indicated a clear preference for a rival party candidate.
Is it possible for current Igbo political and cultural leadership to remove the green in their eyes and become pragmatic and strategic in the choice of candidate to present to the nation from the two parties? The objective should be an all-out effort to reinstate the Igbo fully into the mainstream of Nigerian political and economic life, not draft a candidate from the conclave who will serve the selfish interest of the Igbo political class. Will Igbo politicians look beyond the ambitions of the current men who wield power and influence to select a candidate whose endorsement will unite the South-East, South-South and a rump of the Middle-Belt (Benue and Kogi) behind the chosen candidate(s)?
Being pragmatic means taking a practical, realistic, hardheaded, and logical look at the prospects of a “core Igbo” candidate, versus an Igbo candidate from the “periphery,” who could resolve the Igbo challenge in Nigeria by creating a level-playing field that allows everyone to thrive. If this option fails, will Igbo leaders consider backing a non-Igbo candidate who is sympathetic to the Igbo cause and commits to create a level playing field for the Igbo (as did OBJ and Goodluck Jonathan)? Or shop for a sympathetic non-Igbo who is also willing to field an Igbo from any of the dozen listed states above as running mate?
My fear is that, if the strategic interest of the Igbo were to be discarded in the search for an Igbo President from the South-East, we will almost certainly lose out or end up with a yellow candidate.
Among South-East politicians who are positioning for consideration as candidates, do we have any that inspires confidence that, if made President, will summon the courage to take hardheaded decisions that Nigeria needs today to get back on track as a developing nation? Can he, for instance, back states that have enacted laws against open grazing and encourage every other state to set up proper ranches, rather than allow Bush Fulani to retreat into forest isolation camps called Ruga?
Which of them will have the courage to dust up our serial constitutional conference reports and read them for what can be extracted to immediately begin the implementation of restructuring? Is there anyone who will indiscriminately select and place only competent individuals in MDAs where they will add value, rather than share leadership of these public agencies as spoils of office?
The reason why we think they won’t dare is because, with few notable exceptions, many South-East politicians have shown a marked aversion to disrupting the status quo; to the majority, the safest line is always the line of least resistance.
When we mix the colours yellow and green, what we have is lime. As the days draw nearer when the Independent National Electoral Commisiion will call the parties to choose candidates, Igbo politicians will be in the limelight. The Nigerian media have a duty to understand and to communicate to the masses the true colours of any Igbo that pushes or is pushed forward, in order to empower the electorate with knowledge and understanding to make choices that support our march to national rebirth.