late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe
There is no gainsaying the fact that the Igbo deserve to also rule the country. Of the three major ethnic groups in the country, the tripod on which the nation stands, only the Igbo race is yet to have a shot at the presidency. Since independence, no Igbo man has mounted the exalted office in the real sense of it, though General Aguiyi Ironsi as the most senior military officer took over after the first military coup of January 15, 1966, which though succeeded in toppling the civilian regime was not really successful. Ironsi was on the seat for barely six months before another coup, a counter coup in July 1966 ended his reign and terminated his life. So, to say the Igbo have not been fairly treated in the scheme of things as far as the presidency is concerned is to say the truth, but by who, some may add. It is not for want of trying that one of the Igbo men or women hasn’t mounted the topmost office.
The Igbo were close to it a couple of times. In the First Republic, the NPC had to form a coalition with the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s NCNC to be able to form the government. Under that parliamentary democracy, the late Zik of Africa emerged the president, albeit a ceremonial one. In the Second Republic, the NPN also went into an alliance with Zik’s NPP. Apparently buoyed by support from the NPP in the South-east, President Shehu Shagari emerged president, the first civilian president in 1979. Those who wielded power in the NPN would say later that if the military had not intervened again in 1983, the presidency would have headed Southwards by 1987, perhaps to the South-east.
But by far, the closest the Igbo have been to the presidency was in the build-up to the renascent democracy in 1999 after almost 16 years of unbroken military interregnum. Former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme, who had played a yeoman’s role in the founding of the PDP had thrown his hat into the ring for the presidency, contesting for the party’s presidential ticket at the Jos convention. He was widely seen as the candidate to beat. If he had won the party’s ticket, he would have been headed for Aso Rock as president. But a former military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was languishing in Abacha’s gulag had earlier been brought out after the death of General Abacha in June 1998, given a state pardon and drafted into the presidential fray by a combination of military and political leaders mainly from the North. He defeated the great Ekwueme at the presidential primaries and was elected president on February 27, 1999. The rest, as they say, is history.
So when will a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction emerge? When will the Igbo race produce the nation’s president? Some would say 2015. But it seems to me the Igbo have a dilemma or have been presented with a dilemma over 2015. The South-east threw its weight behind President Jonathan, voting massively for him in the April 2011 election, perhaps believing that the president would spend only one term in office. But it is becoming increasingly clear that President Jonathan would seek a second term in office, which is a problem for the Igbo race. If President Jonathan were not running for a second term, it would not mean the South-east would not have a challenge with the election. But the matter seems compounded now for the Igbo race. The South-south where the President hails from has endorsed him (Jonathan) for a second term. And the North is getting increasingly restive having been out of power since 1999, save for the three years of late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s presidency. So the Igbo have an uphill task. The challenge for the Igbo is now what to do in respect of 2015: swim or sink with President Jonathan in the hope that if he wins again, the zone would get a better deal under his presidency and then prepare grounds to contest in 2019, (which time would also be a tough one for the zone whichever way you look at it) or go for broke now by throwing its hat into the ring.
It would appear that at least three perspectives on what to do have emerged, though a large number of Igbo leaders are not speaking out at present. Some Igbo think the South-east zone should back Jonathan in 2015. Some of those canvassing this position would even inundate you with tales of how President Jonathan from Otuoke in Bayelsa State is more or less an Igbo man, with an Igbo name Azikiwe. Leading this pack or prominent in this group is Anambra State Governor Peter Obi who is said to have already endorsed President Jonathan for a second term. He has reportedly asked the President to declare for a second term. Obi was said to have endorsed the President’s yet-undeclared second term ambition at the private meeting President Jonathan held with political stakeholders from the South-east zone in Awka, Anambra State, during his recent visit to the state.
There is also the position by former Abia State governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, who has asked any Igbo interested in the race to immediatelyhit the road. He had said in an interview with THISDAY: “Anybody who wants to run for the presidency should prepare to run. Why should they wait for anybody to tell them whether he will run or not? That is part of the things that are not right in our democracy.” But there is also a third position, the one canvassed by Senator Annie Okonkwo, who is leading Committee 21, a so-called non-political organisation founded to push the Igbo political agenda in 2015. Okonkwo, formerly of PDP but now in APGA, had said the Igbo should run for the presidency in 2015. In an interview with The Nation, the Senator said the purported moves by some prominent Igbo politicians to adopt President Jonathan for the 2015 poll was against the overall interest of the Igbo people. He said: “The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has already made it clear that it will present a candidate for the 2015 election. The chairman of the party, Chief Victor Umeh, expressed this in strong terms. If the PDP decides to adopt Jonathan, let it be; that is a party affair, but as for the people of the South-east, we are determined to push for Igbo presidency.”
In all of the above what do I think? I think this is not the time for undue political grandstanding. If the Igbo are desirous of contesting in 2015 or at any time at all, it must identify some of its very best, put them forward in a leading political platform, prepare for the race and contend with other candidates from other areas. It’s a rigorous task I agree and may not be as easy as I’m making it to be. But what I’m saying is there is need for some rigorous planning, consultations and negotiations. Power is never granted on a note of sympathy: those desiring it must go for it and engage and negotiate for it with others.