Amidst the gathering campaign for a president of Igbo extraction in 2015, Emmanuel Onwe examines the factors that will facilitate or inhibit the realisation of the dream.
A Goodluck Jonathan presidency beyond 2015 will defer a potential Igbo presidency to 2027 or, more realistically, 2039. It’s blatantly clear that President Jonathan will not handover the presidential seal to an Igbo man either in 2015 or 2019. Anyone who entertains the notion that he is thus disposed is in a delusionary state.
Rational people who place stock by reality now accept that the upcoming presidential contest will be a straight battle between the Ijaw nation, superbly and preferentially led by President Jonathan, and the North, led by no one at the moment. The authentic power broker, sitting pretty in the middle, is the West, occasionally rancorous but strategically led by Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu. But who leads the East in this political coliseum?
President Jonathan will need to sustain the broad coalition that propelled him to victory in 2011 in order to retain the presidency in 2015. This means that he must count on the seven Northern states that he carried in 2011 plus five Western states, five Eastern states to add to his six South-South states to prevail again. The margin for error is razor-thin, given the constitutional requirements. The 19 northern states gave Jonathan over 8.3 million votes or 37.1% of the total votes allocated to him in 2011.
This reality, augmented by demography and a Boko Haram-altered realpolitik, exposes President Jonathan’s electoral indebtedness in degrees. The North is first in line for his reciprocal support - a gesture that, some might argue, carries greater credibility than the intellectually feeble and anti-democratic politics of “zoning” or arbitrary power-concession. The debt he owes to the North must be repaid. And it will take precedence over all others. The only question is: which presidential election cycle – 2015 or 2019?
Thereafter, both the East and the West will have a competing claim to the presidency. And no thoughtful Nigerian will bet on the East prevailing in that competition, given the customary chaos that often defines its politics. So, it could be a man or woman from the West in 2023 or 2027. It will, then, take a national wave of pity to deliver the presidency to the East in 2039 – in the unlikely event that there occurs a national awakening whereby an Igbo cause is recognised as worthy of national sympathy.
Consider a different scenario, decoupled from the PDP’s internal arrangements. If the proposed merger of the main opposition parties were to deliver the presidency to the North with a Vice President from the West in 2015, we might, to all intents and purposes, have a president from the West in 2023. This presents a genuinely viable prospect for 2015. CPC or its successor in title will simply need to repeat its solid performance in the twelve states it won during the 2011 presidential cycle.
A switch of support by ACN from PDP to CPC will give the alliance 20 states, excluding Edo State, which might most unlikely go against Jonathan, but including Ondo State, which will remain dependably progressive. Again, fortune will befall the West because its political leadership is smart and possesses a first class understanding of the dynamics of Nigerian politics. No sane and fair minded Nigerian will begrudge them.
The Igbo scenario is rather more complicated, abetted by the indifference of a fiercely self-reliant but disillusioned population which has grown to see all central governments as fundamentally anti-Igbo and its own leaders as merchants of self-interest. Unlike the West, where there exists a viable and confident opposition to the centre, the new conservative politics of the East is generally pro-Jonathan, with a residual sceptical and progressive elements operating at the fringes. To this extent, therefore, its path to the presidency is extremely circumscribed.
The All Progressives Grand Alliance could be the vehicle that contains the essential ingredients for a cross-Niger coalition. But APGA controls only two states and is currently under the ruinous grip of its own internal contradictions. Within the PDP itself, it’s inconceivable that any candidate who stands against President Jonathan in a contest for the Igbo delegates votes will fare any better than former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in the 2011 presidential primaries - unless there is a radical shift in emphasis to Igbo-specific priorities.
Bowling for Idealism and Democracy
This brings me to a personal declaration: I am entitled to speak on this matter not just because I am a bona fide citizen and a progressive Igbo man, but because I have paid my dues and earned the right to take a stand.
The PDP presidential primaries dawned only 6 months after I took oath of office as a senator representing Ebonyi Central Senatorial District, having spent the previous three and a half years in court battles to claim my mandate – a story for another occasion. I witnessed, from the front-row, how the weeks prior to the primary election exposed the disarray and total absence of a centre of gravity in Igbo politics. To quote the late Bashoroun MKO Abiola, “We are damaged!”
I have, since June 2010, been constant and consistent in defending President Jonathan’s right to contest the presidential election. Not only has our constitution conferred on him that fundamental right, but the personal sacrifice which he was called upon to make was grossly unfair and unjustified.
With what explanation would he return to the Ijaw people? With what logic would he make them see the wisdom in walking away from the presidency - an office to which they may never have another opportunity to lay a claim for at least a generation? And the only lesson he could glean from history was a sobering and dissuasive one: the last man to voluntarily relinquish the top office in Nigeria ended up flirting with poverty and ultimately wound up in jail.
I was therefore resistant to the entrenched PDP tyranny of corralling everyone to play a minor role in the coronation of a candidate. This was not naive. Rather, I took my one step where a million steps needed to be taken. Those who failed, those who were truly naive, were those who, when called to a duty greater than service to self, failed to take their one step. Igbos must recognise that only those who dare to lose greatly can achieve greatly and that power concedes absolutely nothing without a demand.
Planning for Oblivion
The prevailing attraction to readymade power testifies to a growing political culture of self-sabotage, individual greed and the absence of foresight among many in the Igbo community. It’s a clear path to political oblivion.
The West presents a sharp contrast to this attitude. When a Yoruba man had presidential power thrust on him in 1999, Yoruba people, rightly suspicious of the machinations that brought about that state of affairs, contemptuously delivered a crushing defeat to the PDP in the West, coalesced around the Action for Democracy as a deliberate measure in asserting their regional autonomy and projecting a unique vision of their proud place in Nigeria. When they were duped and almost crippled in 2003, they took the hard knock with exemplary courage, returned to the drawing board and rebounded in a most spectacular fashion in 2011.
Thus, Senator Tinubu, the national leader of ACN, emerged as the most significant power broker in this nation since the era of military hegemony. But in order to lead this renaissance, Lagos State paid a particularly heavy political price. The leadership of the West remained resolute, understood the task at hand, and had a winning strategy and foresight. If the West continues in this manner, it will ultimately become the dominant force in Nigerian democratic power play for a generation to come.
A Fractured North
No northern Muslim presidential candidate of any major political party can ever again count on the 19 northern states as a monolithic electoral route to power. Those days are gone. It’s now clear, thanks in equal measure to a massive shift in generational consciousness and the Boko Haram insurgency that peripheral northern states such as Plateau, Taraba and Benue would almost always consider their positions very carefully. In between these three, Kogi and Kwara states present a required further study and the next presidential election cycle will furnish additional information to reach a more considered conclusion.
Regardless of whatever variables you may wish to take into consideration (including, undoubtedly, rigging, electoral corruption and a disgraceful INEC), the new science of the politics of the North is evolving, and its implications for Nigerian politics are seismic.
Triumph of the Ijaw Nation
Since the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa on 10 November, 1995, the people of the Niger Delta generally, and the Ijaw nation particularly, have upped their game and have played an absolute blinder in the crucible of Nigerian politics. More than any other minority group in historical and contemporary Nigerian politics, they articulated a coherent case of injustice and exploitation that was as persuasive as it was compelling. Consequently, they have, unequivocally, emerged as the supreme advocates for minority rights.
Admittedly, bullets and bombs might have aided the cause but those were, arguably, the desperate measures that arose from desperate circumstances.
Their demands, be it in connection with resource control or control of the prime political office in the land, have always appeared legitimate and just. Whether their tone was strident or measured, they have had a consistent and unified message. Their plights and their aspirations were heard in foreign capitals across the globe. Occasionally, their causes were even adjudicated at the highest levels of the United States’ judicature, with unprecedented success. Their political operation was so smooth it almost legitimised the violent militant component.
The Ijaw people are unrelenting. Their current sleek, forceful and cacophonous “operation 2015” has driven some senior northern politicians to distraction, some to secret endorsement of the President’s 2015 ambition from far away foreign capitals, and the Igbos to acquiescent silence. Many Nigerians have been utterly astonished by some of the public utterances coming from respected figures from northern Nigeria.
Friendship Forged in Blood
No tribe in Nigeria has a better, albeit incomplete, knowledge of the people of northern Nigeria than do the Igbo tribe. I have travelled extensively and lived nomadically in northern Nigeria and, to my amazement, found Igbo people in their droves in the most unlikely nooks and remotest crannies of the region. Many had become acculturated, even while retaining their fundamental Christian indoctrination. Among the Kanuris of Borno State, I found the most honourable, decent, generous, spiritually devoted and patriotic Nigerians. And this is precisely why the Boko Haram phenomenon, with its roots in this noble warrior land of the Kanem, is utterly bewildering.
The Igbos must not only raise their collective voices but must be at the forefront in condemning the atrocities of Boko Haram; but we must do so without holding the generality of northern Muslims liable for the excesses of a small criminal bunch. Igbos have predictably, suffered immense losses. But, as the violence soars, as the casket counts escalate and a repetition of the ugly history of abandoned property looms, let us remain constant in our covenant with the Lord. This moment calls for the strength of our example. Let us respond by channeling the flow of our kin’s blood to a purpose greater than ourselves, greater than retribution and, certainly, greater than the warped aspirations of those who seek to murder us.
In the broad sweep of history, 2015 would be seen as the year that defined the politics of modern Nigeria and its democracy for the next half century. Those who caution that this is not the appropriate time to discuss the politics of 2015 are being disingenuous. Yes, it is, perhaps, not the time to launch candidacies or open campaign offices, but it sure as hell is the time to engage on the potential dynamics of 2015 – not the apocalyptic year of disintegration but the year for the realisation or strengthening of democratic solidarities and the reciprocity principle.
Let us engage- East and North. If we struggled and failed, history’s verdict would be less than harsh. After all, if President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had lived, he would right now be in the second year of the second tenure of his presidency which would probably have given way to a James Ibori presidency in 2015. That in turn would have terminated in 2023, leading to another northern presidency all the way to 2031. But the Igbo marginalisation is not, apparently, ordained by God. The fault, Ndigbo, is not in our stars.
*Onwe is the Director of Operations, National and Diaspora, Njiko Igbo