By Sunday Ani
For many critical observers, perhaps 2023 provides the best window for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. The aptness or otherwise of an Igbo man from the South East geo-political zone becoming the next president of Nigeria after President Muhammadu Buhari, continues to gain traction and momentum across the nation. Different ethnic nationalities, political groups, students, artisans, captains of industry, religious groups among others are all involved in the conversation, which has remained a topical issue for more than one year.
The Igbo in the South East have been crying blue murder over the level of injustice being meted out to them since the beginning of the current democratic dispensation, particularly as it relates to the presidency of the country. The argument in some quarters, which the people of the South East also hold dear to their hearts, remains that the Igbo, as one of the three major ethnic groups that fought for the independence and foundation of the entity called Nigeria, ought to have taken a shot at the presidency after their Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani brothers have had their turns.
Political historians all agree that Nigeria was built on a tripod of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, which informed the coinage ‘Wazobia,’ representing the word ‘come’ by the three major ethnic groups. But, unfortunately, after the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani had had their turns, the Igbo, the third leg in the tripod, is yet to ascend the presidency. The Ijaw ethnic nationality, a minority tribe in the South-South region, represented by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has also occupied the plum position.
Long before the 2023 presidential primaries by political parties, the Igbo again made it clear that after the presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a South West Yoruba; late Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, a North West Hausa/Fulani; Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, a South-South Ijaw, and now, President Buhari, a North West Hausa/Fulani, an Igbo man from the South East should be supported by other parts of the country to become the president in 2023, in the spirit of equity, fairness and justice.
However, other Nigerians have always reminded the Igbo that power is not served a la carte but taken through a high wire politics, anchored on building bridges with and among other ethnic groups in the country.
But, the Igbo would not give up on the gospel of equity, justice and fairness. Their argument is that their patriotism and nationalism cannot be questioned since they are the only ethnic stock in Nigeria that invests in all parts of the country. Their investments are scattered in the North, West, South and East; a point they adduce whenever some people entertain the fear that they would divide Nigeria to gain Biafra if given the chance to rule the nation.
Despite the plea by the Igbo that the major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), should cede their presidential tickets to the South East, they were still not accommodated as the contest was thrown open to all regions, leading to the emergence of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for the APC and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for the PDP. Some Igbo politicians, particularly those in the APC, like the former Minister of Science and Technology, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, during the primaries of the party could not contain their frustration at the level of injustice to the Igbo as he exploded, reeling out the sacrifices that the Igbo have made for Nigeria and the APC.
But, as hope was ostensibly dimming once again for the people of the South East, a lone voice of the former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, who was frustrated out of the PDP into the Labour Party (LP) wafted, and like a gentle breeze, continued to etch in the minds of Nigerians. Gradually but steadily, Obi’s message of a possible productive Nigeria as against the current consumptive Nigeria began to resonate with the people, irrespective of party affiliation, ethnicity, religion or profession. And like a wild fire, Obi and his message spread across every nook and cranny of Nigeria and an obscure LP suddenly became a major political force that has continued to attract the high and mighty as members. Obi and LP suddenly became household names that provide succour to millions of Nigeria wherever and whenever they are mentioned.
With Obi in the picture and considering his soaring popularity, the hope of an Igbo man becoming the president in 2023 has rekindled. Obi’s message has demystified religion and ethnicity as the two strong campaign tools that politicians have been using to divide the country in order to win elections since independence. As it appears ahead of 2023, Nigerians no longer want to hear anything about the candidate’s religion, ethnic background or party affiliation; instead they are interested in what the candidate can offer them.
Close watchers of recent political developments in the country insist that the argument of fairness, equity, and justice has become so potent such that not only the South East Igbo but also people from other regions are championing the cause. The apex Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, which recently came out to declare that it would throw its weight behind the candidacy of Obi, an Igbo man from the South East, is a reference point. According to the leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the support for Obi was fueled by justice, equity and inclusiveness.
The 94-year-old Adebanjo noted that aside from trying to uphold the principle of equity, justice and fairness, the group has decided to support Obi because he is the best among all the presidential candidates. According to him, Obi is young, energetic, highly educated with high integrity, prudent, and has demonstrated capacity to manage the resources of Nigeria to bring about a rapid socio-economic, political and technological growth and development of Nigeria. He concluded by saying that if Nigerians were sincere about keeping Nigeria together in peace, the slogan should be, “To keep Nigeria one, everyone should be Obi/Datti compliant.”
The Yoruba group, Afenifere, is not alone in the struggle as their counterpart in the Middle Belt region has also joined the fray. The Middle Belt Forum (MBF), a conglomerate of all the ethnic groups in the North Central zone, has equally thrown its weight behind the candidacy of Obi, also on the grounds of equity, justice and fairness.
The group, like its South West counterpart, according to its president, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, is also saying that their support for Obi transcends just trying to uphold the principle of justice, equity and fairness, but include the fact that Obi is young, knowledgeable about the 21st century economic matrix and has no corruption baggage like the other candidates.
Analysts argue that the rally held across the major cities in Nigeria and even in London, the United Kingdom, on the Independence Day, October 1, which pulled together Nigerians in their hundreds of thousands to express their support for Obi’s presidency, is a pointer to the fact that 2023 may probably be the long awaited time for the Igbo to clinch the presidency. From the streets of London back to Lagos in Nigeria, Uyo in Akwa-Ibom State, Kaduna, Aba in Abia State, Asaba and Warri in Delta State, Enugu and Benin, among other cities in the country, Nigerians of all ages, sex, professions, religions, regions and ethnicity, marched in solidarity for Obi/Datti presidency, with the slogan that they were ready and willing to take back their country from those who have held them down for over two decades.
Prominent Nigerians across the country, irrespective of religion and ethnicity, are also beginning to speak up in support of Obi presidency. Retired Major General John Enenche is one of such Nigerians who have expressed support for the LP candidate. He lamented that Nigerians have depended so much on political parties for the choice of presidential candidates; a decision he said has not produced any positive results for over two decades, and urged the people to try another model, especially in line with the current mood of the country. “And this should be in the form of mass concurrence on the type of a president Nigerians need, not the one they want,” he added.
He noted that the factors to consider this time around before Nigerians choose their next president should be integrity, competence, sound economic knowledge, zero corruption records, whether convicted or not, and above all, good health to withstand the pressure of the office of the president. “And this should be devoid of ethnic and religious connotations. On this note, I recommend Obi/Datti ticket for Nigerians,” he submitted.
However, there is also a belief in some quarters that the PDP’s performance in its 16-year-rule described as locust years by some Nigerians, particularly those in the APC, and the APC’s abysmal performance in the past seven years, have left Nigerians with no choice but to try another political party and candidate, which LP and Obi appear to be representing.
On his part, Obi, apart from his message of economic hope to Nigerians, is also building political bridges across the Niger, since the South East alone cannot make him president of the country. He has been visiting prominent traditional rulers and political leaders across various ethnic nationalities to sell his message of hope to them. He has promised to build a Nigeria that would favourably compete with the advanced economies; a country where Nigerians would once again be proud to call their own; a country where religion, region and tribe will no longer be used to divide Nigerians; and a country where peace, love and progress would reign.
But, the question on the lips of many worried Nigerians is: will the powers that be or those that arrogate to themselves the title of kingmakers allow Obi to ascend the presidential throne even after the Nigerian voters must have spoken with their votes? This fear is expressed considering some alleged subterranean moves in some quarters to ensure that the will of Nigerians does not stand. However, the signs on the political horizon are all lending credence to the fact that 2023 will present the best window for the Nigeria president of Igbo extraction.