The outlook for the 2023 presidential contest has remained as hazy as it can be. Bookmakers have never had it so rough. They are working hard to crack the tough nut. Yet, the issue remains confounding.
The two major political parties, one of which must win the presidential election, are not making the issue easy. The speculated modes of choosing their presidential candidates as well as the zoning conundrum have remained a Gordian knot. What should the people expect? No one has been able to put the matter in a straitjacket. Regardless of the uncertainty that pervades the political atmosphere, the presidential aspirants are bringing a lot of verve and vibrancy to bear on the scenario. They are telling their stories with gusto.
The other day, it was the turn of Chibuike Amaechi, one of the presidential aspirants on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). His offering was original and well considered. As an Igbo of South-South extraction, Amaechi knows what the initial hangups could be. And so he set out to demolish them with a view to setting sail.
What is at issue here? Amaechi understands, and rightly so, that the prevailing agitation in the polity at moment is for Nigeria to have a President of Igbo extraction. The South-East geopolitical zone, which is home to an overwhelming majority of the Igbo population, has an unassailable argument in their claim to the presidency. Non-Igbo Nigerians know that the zone has a strong argument. But a good many of them are reluctant to acknowledge it. Rather than consider giving the Igbo a chance, many of them are inventing disingenuous arguments to torpedo the Igbo quest.
As a matter of fact, some have chosen to expand the frontiers of the debate for Igbo presidency. This group is mainly populated by those who argue that Igbo presidency is not synonymous with South-East presidency. By this they mean that if the presidency is eventually ceded to the Igbo, the Igbo-speaking South-southerner is as qualified as his South-East counterpart to vie for the office. The Igbo of South-East extraction think otherwise, but they are not making a big issue out of it.
It is in this atmosphere of all-Igbo presidency that Amaechi has stepped out. In doing this, Amaechi began by declaring and asserting his igboness. He said: “My birth names are Igbo names, Chibuike Amaechi. I am an Igboman. Let no one deny me my Igbo heritage, birthright, ancestry, please. I have made myself clear repeatedly, that I, Chibuike Amaechi, from Ikwerre, I am an Igbo man. Our people are Igbo people.”
Arguing his case further on why Igbo presidency should not exclude him or anybody from the Igbo-speaking areas of the South-South, Amaechi explains further: “Chibuike Amaechi is an Igbo man of Ikwerre stock. His hometown, Ubima, is on the border of Imo State and the fact that Nigeria’s modern geopolitical map places it in the South-South region does not change the fact that Ikwerre are a dialectal group of the Igbo nation. By ethnicity, language and heritage, Amaechi is no less Igbo than a man from Abriba, Owerri, Ebonyi, Awka or Enugwu-Ukwu.”
This is the pedestal on which Amaechi is standing. But he is not relying on his Igbo argument alone. He also leans somewhat towards the Niger Delta, whatever it is worth. Regardless of the fact that the Igbo quest is standing on a very strong footing, Amaechi recognizes that it is, sometimes, canvassed in certain quarters that the South-South zone where former President Goodluck Jonathan hails from can legitimately lay claim to the presidency in 2023 because the former President served for only one term. Amaechi says he can conveniently key into this caveat in the unlikely event that Igbo presidency does not sail through.
The Amaechi narrative is well argued and it is well taken. What makes it even more tolerable is that Amaechi does not have any known record of denying his Igbo identity. This is in spite of the fact that most Igbo-speaking people of the South-South region are easily given to denying and repudiating their Igbo identity. They do this for reasons that are clear to us, but we will not dwell on that here. Suffice it to say that Amaechi has cleared the air, not just for himself but also for other Igbo-speaking South-southerners who may have reason to use their Igbo identity as a bargaining chip not just for today but also for future engagements. The joke is only on those Igbo who claim a separate ethnic group like Ekpeye (Rivers) or Ndokwa (Delta).
But what does the Amaechi quest portend? Does it say something about the possibility of President Muhammadu Buhari ceding power to the Igbo but not necessarily of southeastern extraction? Considering the fact that the APC government of President Buhari cannot possibly cede power to the South-West, the race for the number one office becomes that of the two remaining regions of the South. So far, no southeasterner is seriously bidding for the presidency in 2023 on the APC’s platform. One or two have merely dropped hints that they would be vying for the office of the President. But there has neither been a formal declaration nor strong pronouncements that suggests any seriousness on their part. If the Igbo of the South-Eeast in APC continue to fight shy as they are doing, then the coast will become clear for the Igbo of South-South extraction such as Amaechi. This is when the Amaechi narrative will begin to have a stronger appeal.
The race will become even keener and more dramatic if the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is at moment bogged down by zoning, decides to look southwards. If the northern elements who are currently neck-deep into the contest for the PDP ticket back down, it then would mean that a southeastern Igbo will pick the party’s presidential ticket. Is the stage being set for Igbo-Igbo presidential tickets, one of the APC and the other of the PDP? Only time will tell. But whatever the scenario may turn out to be, Amaechi appears to have positioned himself properly for the race to come.