The South East believes that there is a grand accord since after the war to keep them at bay from the Presidency and sensitive positions.
For a few days now, South East leaders, especially leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in that region, have taken flak from some Igbo for allegedly “opposing” the choice of Peter Obi as Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s running mate. The impression out there is that they don’t want Obi as vice presidential candidate.
These sentiments are understandable because the Igbo have not been favoured in Nigeria’s power equation. The South East believes that there is a grand accord since after the war to keep them at bay from the Presidency and sensitive positions.
In a detailed interview granted in October 2016, former Vice President, the late Chief Alex Ekwueme, revealed that he was the major target of the 1983 coup; that it was simply to stop an Igbo from succeeding Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Former Special Assistant to ex-President Shehu Shagari, Prof. Pat Utomi, reinforced this view in a newspaper interview last July.
Even under the military, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, who managed to become the Chief of General Staff and deputy to former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, retired in questionable and controversial circumstances.
Again, when it seemed Chief Ekwueme had clinched the presidential ticket of the PDP in 1998 to become President, the Igbo watched helplessly as he was literally chased out of the house he built from the G34 structure. A stranger in the person of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was dropped into the house from the roof by Nigeria’s power brokers to displace the landlord. The rest is history.
So, it is understandable that Igbo are so ecstatic about Obi’s nomination as Atiku’s running mate. Even those who were initially unenthusiastic about Atiku suddenly became “Atikulated.” It was in the midst of this euphoria that news filtered in that South East PDP leaders, governors, etc, were allegedly opposed to Obi. A meeting was called to handle the bad situation so it doesn’t escalate. That was able to rein the hardliners. Governor Dave Umahi told journalists after the meeting that they weren’t opposed to Obi’s nomination, but leaders when the python danced, etc? Facing the real issues, the question is: Are the South East PDP leaders really opposed to Obi? Not to my knowledge and from what I have read so far. Their grouse was that they were not carried along/ consulted. Was that too much to ask for in a political atmosphere? Importantly, they know that such exclusion so early in the day portends danger for the region in the near future, if the Atiku/Obi ticket wins.
While the vice presidential ticket is a very welcome relief for Igbo, it is not what they are after. Several Igbo socio-cultural organisations and elders have repeatedly emphasised that South East was more interested in restructuring than the presidency. One of the most respected Igbo statesmen, constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, re-echoed this position as recently as last August. He stressed that: “The primary need of Ndigbo now is restructuring, not Igbo presidency. We want a restructured Nigeria because that is the only way we can get what we want, and every zone would be satisfied. If Nigeria is restructured, that will go a long way to satisfy our demands. As the country is today, we cannot get anything until Nigeria is restructured. We can begin to talk about Igbo presidency only when Nigeria is restructured.”
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Now, it is no longer news that Atiku ran for the PDP ticket on the strength of restructuring. He also consulted Ndigbo ahead of the Port Harcourt convention. One of the governors confided that although the governors and other party leaders had their preferred aspirants, they agreed to meet with their South South counterparts in Port Harcourt to agree on a common candidate. But when the South South arrowheads weren’t forthcoming, possibly because they felt cock sure of securing victory for Governor Aminu Tambuwal, the South East PDP leaders went ahead to meet in the hotel room of Senator Ekweremadu in Port Harcourt.
They analysed the capacity of each aspirant to dislodge Buhari, commitment to restructuring, and Igbo presidency come 2023, and settled for Atiku. Ohanaeze Ndigbo bought into it. The delegates went to the field and executed the decision, whose outcome was the emergence of Atiku.
So, to be fair to the party’s leaders in the South East, I must say that if Atiku consulted them to get a block vote, it was only right that they should have also been consulted in filling the position of the VP ceded to them. To sit with forces outside the region is most unfair.
Much as it is a candidate’s prerogative to choose his running mate, I am just wondering if it was possible for President Muhammadu Buhari to have just picked Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as his running mate in 2014 without consulting South West APC elders, like Bola Tinubu and Bisi Akande.
Some Igbo disparaging their leaders on social media over the displeasure and concern expressed by their leaders over the manner the position ceded to the region was filled miss the point. South East leaders want to make it clear that Obi is there on behalf of the zone.
The other worry is: How do Igbo leaders get Atiku to honour the major understandings for which he got South East support in Port Harcourt, restructuring, one term/ Igbo presidency 2023, etc? Igbo must know that a Vice President will always be a Vice President, useful or useless as the President wishes. Ask Atiku, Goodluck Jonathan, and Osinbajo.
These are the hard facts the Igbo leaders must be worried about and which the South East must not sweep under the carpet, if it wants a bright future within the Nigerian nation.
Unfortunately, Atiku appears to care less about correcting this early wrong impression. As at the time of writing this piece, Atiku was yet to call any of the aggrieved leaders. If our leaders are excluded from important decisions when we are preparing for the hunting expedition, what will be our fate when the meat starts cooking on the fire? They must put their foot down and extract firm commitments from Atiku on the key issues, as agreed ahead of Port Harcourt convention.
Chibueze writes from Aba, Abia State