Former President Olusegun Obasanjo hit the right chord this week when he observed that the South-East geo-political zone is ripe enough to produce the country’s next president. The pronouncement which is a personal view of the elder statesman is anchored on the principles of equity and natural justice.
According to him, “the problem of justice and marginalization had been major source of conflicts between ethnic and regional divisions in the country.” Obasanjo also said: “But irrespective of the thinking of the people ahead of the 2019, I personally think that South-East should have a go at the Presidency, too.”
Although Obasanjo said this in his personal capacity, it represents the views of most Nigerians including the people of the South-East that has been politically marginalized and emasculated since the inception of Nigeria, especially since the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970 till date. The marginalization is not only political; it is social, economic, cultural, and structural.
The South-East is the only zone in the country with the least number of states, local councils and political wards. The marginalization of the zone was apparent in the recent recruitment of constables into the Nigeria Police Force which was erroneously based on local governments. The North with 419 local governments took the lion’s share while the South trailed behind with its 355 local governments.
The South-East with 95 local governments had the least police constables in the country. The South-East has had marginal presence in the headship of security agencies in the country since after the civil war. The absence of South-East in headship of security agencies is more visible since the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in May 2015. Any federal government recruitment whether based on equality of states or local governments does not favour the South-East in any way significant.
Federal presence in the zone is close to nil in terms of industries, infrastructure and security institutions. The Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu is only international in name. Except Ethiopian Airline that uses that route, no other foreign airline from Europe, America and Asia has landed in the airport.
The Nigerian president of the South-East extraction has been a long time dream of the people of the area. Since 1979 when the then military leadership lifted the ban on political activities in the country to usher in the Second Republic, prominent South-East politicians did not shy away from contesting the presidency.
The late nationalist and elder statesman, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe tried it in 1979 and 1983 before he quit the political stage. The late Biafran leader, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu also contested for the post. Former Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme has contested for the post about twice. Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha contested some presidential primaries.
There are many South-East politicians that have contested the presidency in almost every election, including the 2015 presidential poll. So, the problem has nothing to do with the South-East politicians’ willingness to vie for the biggest political post in the land, it is the willingness of the Nigerian power establishment to zone the presidency to the South-East.
The South-East for now is the only zone that has not produced a Nigerian president. Dr Azikiwe’s presidency in the First Republic is ceremonial and therefore will not count in this analysis. In the history of Nigeria’s presidency, no one zone can on its own produce the president of the country. The provision of the 1999 Constitution makes it impossible for one zone to produce the president without the tacit support of some of the other zones.
Even during the First Republic, it took the alliance of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) to produce the leadership of the country, Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister while Dr. Azikiwe became the President while Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group (AG) became the opposition leader.
The military truncated this arrangement in 1966 and the rest is now history. In 1979, it took the cooperation of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) to form the government of the Second Republic of President Shehu Shagari. In 1999, the presidency was zoned to the South-West following the ugly fallout of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential poll largely believed to have been won by the late business mogul, Chief MKO Abiola.
Despite the fact that Obasanjo’s kinsmen did not give him much support, he won the presidency with the tacit support of other Nigerians. Obasanjo was privy to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua coming to power. The fact that Obasanjo knows much about how people attain the presidency of Nigeria and the power play that goes into it shows that he knows what he is saying.
Without fear of contradiction, he played a major role in former President Goodluck Jonathan’s ascension to power. He also played a role in President Muhammadu Buhari coming to power. So, if Obasanjo says that 2019 is the turn of the people of the South-East, it is highly acceptable and so be it. It is even long overdue.
Let other right thinking Nigerian patriots work along the Obasanjo line of thinking so that the people of the South-East will be given a sense of belonging and treated as the other zones have been treated. Equity demands that the injustices of the past must be righted for Nigeria to move forward. One of the best ways to correct such mistakes of the past is to zone the presidency to the South-East.
This project must be given the tacit support of the other geo-political zones. The people of the South-East have supported the other zones in their quests for the presidency. Therefore, it is right and just that they support the zone now to get the presidency. Obasanjo has flown a kite, the politicians of the South-East should take it up from there and make pragmatic quest for the nation’s presidency.
Power, especially political power, is not given without asking for it. They should work with politicians from other zones to make this dream a reality. The South-East politicians should see this project as a pan-Nigeria one that needs broad-based consensus building, negotiation and cooperation. They should attend to it with a high sense of responsibility and commitment.