By Wilfred Eya
Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mohammed Abba Gana believes that for fairness, equity and justice, Nigerians from different ethnic divides should support a president of Igbo extraction in 2023. He particularly urged the South West and South South zones of the country to throw their weight behind the South East in 2023 just like politicians of Northern extraction sacrificed their ambitions in 1999.
What are your reflections on the state of affairs in the country ahead of 2023 general elections?
The political issues are daunting enough. I know that if we get our politics right, all other things would fall in place. And unfortunately, members of the All Progressives Congress(APC) have refused to learn. They refused to go to school but they want a degree. If you refuse to learn, you keep making the same mistakes and new mistakes which you could have avoided. That is the problem. In 1999 when former Head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar came, he released former President Olusegun Obasanjo and pardoned him. Abiola and Abacha had died. Gen Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was also dead. The situation was such that the North had felt it had had enough of power and that was why people like Adamu Ciroma, Aliyu Shinkafi, Bamanga Tukur, Olusola Saraki, Liman Jibril and all other presidential candidates from the North decided to make some self-sacrifice. They willingly declined from contesting the presidential race and said let the South produce the presidency of the country. They agreed that it could be a Yoruba man, Igbo man, Ibibio man, Ijaw man and so on provided the person was from the South. But the important thing was that good Northern politicians declined and sacrificed their ambitions for the sake of peace, unity and stability of the country. If you want peace, unity and stability, you must work for it. So, when Adamu Ciroma and other Northerners sacrificed their ambitions, it was for the peace and stability of the country. Nigeria got it right then because of their sacrifices. That was how we ended up with Yoruba Olu Falae on the Alliance for Democracy(AD) and All Nigeria Peoples Party(ANPP) ticket, and Obasanjo on the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) platform. Also, Alex Ekwueme, may his soul rest in peace; he was the leader of G34. He was the most suitable presidential candidate of all of them and not even among the Igbo alone. But he could not make it through the primary of the PDP. He did not defect; he was not annoyed and he became a real good loser and example for the whole country. He accepted and supported Obasanjo’s victory. Obasanjo just came out from the prison and was not even part of the PDP as such but he was adopted as the candidate of the party by all. The PDP won that election landslide. That situation happened about 20 years ago. So, I am saying that the same sacrifices made by the Northern politicians should be made now to achieve peace, unity and stability of the country. Political stability would not come on its own; you must work for it.
So, as we approach the 2023 general elections, Nigerians must deliberately and with caution work for the peace, national unity, political stability, national integration, justice and fairness in our dear country, Nigeria.
This can be achieved by leading politicians from the southern part of Nigeria, particularly from the South West and South South zones sacrificing their 2023 presidential ambitions for the sake of justice, fairness, peace, national unity and integration and political stability of our dear country, Nigeria. In this dispensation, the South West zone has produced the President for 8 years, the VP for 8 years; the South South zone has produced President for 5 years and VP for 3 years. So, if we want justice and fairness South East zone should produce President in 2023.
Such sacrificing of high ambitions and exercising of self denial was done by leading politicians and political leaders in 1999 from the northern part of our country like late Adamu Ciroma, late Aliyu Shinkafi, late Olusola Saraki, Bamanga Tukur, Lema Jibril, Bashir Tofa and few others.
By that decision, major political parties went to the Southern part of Nigeria to look for their presidential candidates. Up till now, we the political class unfortunately refuse to believe the reality that the politics and the ethnic structure of Nigeria dictate rotational presidency as now practiced in Switzerland. We cannot continue to deny this fundamental peculiarity of our country without creating injustice and lack of fairness and subsequent political instability.
This is the reason why the 1994/95 constitutional conference recommended rotational presidency with 2 VPs, one of whom must be from the same zone with the President and was accepted and approved by the government. And also rotation of governorship among 3 senatorial districts provided for in the 1994/95 constitution.
Therefore, the Nigerian political class must accept and accommodate this provision of rotational presidency and rotation of governorship seats among 3 senatorial districts
in the ongoing review of the 1999 constitution. Once this is done, an era of political stability would set in our country with less and less bickering in every general election.
So, in your view, you are saying that the North should concede power to the South and particularly to the South East that is yet to produce the presidency of the country since 1999?
The North should concede power to the South. It is not good politics for the North to say they are interested in 2023. Similarly, it is not good politics for the South West after eight years of President Obasanjo and after eight years of Prof Yemi Osinbajo as vice president to go for the presidency in 2023. It will not enhance fairness, justice and equity for the Yoruba to produce the president of Nigeria. The political leaders in the South West should do what the Adamu Ciromas in the North did in 1999 by sacrificing their ambitions for the peace, unity and stability of the country. It is good for the sake of fairness and national integration. People like Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo and Ebenezar Babatope, they have canvassed the same idea. There are a lot of other Yoruba who are saying so. But not many people are bringing in this argument. Look at it this way –people like Awolowo, Azikiwe, Aminu Kano, Waziri Ibrahim, Gen Shehu Yara’Adua, MKO Abiola and many others who were very qualified but they could not actualize their ambitions. So, what is the big deal about anybody else in Nigeria not realizing his ambition for the peace, unity and stability of the country? Is there any greater Yoruba man than Awolowo? But he could not realize his ambition of becoming the president of Nigeria. He was intelligent, well read, knowledgeable and he fought hard to be president but the lord did not allow him to achieve his ambition. Azikiwe the same; he was among the few Nigerian leaders in history but he did not realise his dream of becoming the president of Nigeria. Aminu Kano, a progressive from the North was qualified, worked hard for it but could not realize his ambition. You had Joseph Tarka; you had Olusola Saraki, a leader from the Middle Belt also who could not make it. There was Solomon Lar, Abubakar Rimi, Bamangar Tukur; all these were great leaders who never realized their ambitions of leading Nigeria. Are there greater Nigerians than Azikiwe, Awolowo, and others. If those two could not realize their ambitions before they died, why can’t others do the same?
Do you agree with those who insist that the only thing that can reintegrate the South East after the Nigeria civil war would be the emergence of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in 2023?
The truth is that the South East could have got the president long, long ago. I am sure that if the coup of 1983 did not happen, Alex Ekwueme could have succeeded Shehu Shagari. Nobody actually denied the South East the presidential seat deliberately. It is just that the political current always worked against them. If in 1979, which was nine years after the civil war, an Igbo man could become the vice president, it shows you that they could have got it. Not that there was a deliberate conspiracy to deny the Igbo the presidency. Shagari pardoned Ojukwu and brought him back to Nigeria. He even contested to become a Senator. He also could have been a president under APGA. But if in 2023 the Igbo are denied the chances of producing the president of Nigeria, it will appear that it is because of the inordinate ambitions of other Nigerians. That is why I insist that we should put the rotational presidency into the constitution. That is the solution. It was done in Switzerland. Every country, there is something peculiar or unique and they must take them into account. So, we should put our own peculiarity into the constitution. In the 1994/95 constitutional conference, we put it there and it was accepted to the extent that we allowed for two vice presidents. It was so that there would be vice presidents from the North and South; one of them should be from the same zone with the president. If we were operating that constitution, when Umaru Yar’Adua died, another person from the same North West could have become the president. There would not have been any problem. That could have taken care of most of the peculiarities of Nigeria.