Igbo Presidency in Jeopardy?

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Segun James wonders if the political dynamics in the country will favour an Igbo as President of Nigeria

The call for Igbo presidency has become more strident in recent times. The agitation continues to receive a boost from eminent Igbos including the President General of the Igbo sociocultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. John Nwodo, even as there are dissenting views from equally influential Igbos.

Nwodo said that the raging debate over power shift and the argument for competence against zoning as self-serving, and not sustainable in the face of the electoral history of the country.

He contended that it was denigrating to talk of competence as a criterion for choosing the president in 2023 when it’s the turn of the South-east to take a shot at the presidency.

“Those calling for competence as a yardstick for choosing leaders of this country rather than the agreed zoning system are not sincere to themselves. Their agitations for competency shows they do not believe in the competence of Nigerians from the various zones of the country.

“I am confident that we have competent people in different zones of the country and the Easterners, whose turn it is to produce the next president of the country in 2023, have a lot of competent people that can rule our great country Nigeria. If the Easterners are given their rightful chance, Nigeria as a country will smile again. The restructuring we are talking about is to make state governments independent of the federal government in terms of control of natural resources in the state.

“Nigeria must develop its agricultural sector and should be able to export products out of her plenty cassava produce. The idea of importing virtually everything should be discouraged. We have cattle in abundance in Nigeria yet we still import milk, we have cassava in abundance and we still import flour. In today’s digital technology era, there are growth opportunities for agriculture, solar power and we are not exploring the opportunities around them.”

Over five decades after the end of the civil war, sectarian violence and drums of war are beating in Nigeria again with loud and worrisome echoes.

For an overarching explanation of what has gone wrong in Nigeria, a doctrine of trust is a good place to start. Trust can be defined as the expectation that other people will act in ways that are fair to you. That is what is now lost in the polity with other parts of the country refusing to respect the gentleman’s agreement reached when it came to the turn of the Igbo to produce the next president of the federal republic.

In the midst of this call for an Igbo presidency to fulfill one of the creed of the National Anthem that the nation must be a place where peace and justice should reign, the voices of some Igbo youths are calling for the breakup of the Nigerian nation.

Prominent among the proponent of this call is the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and the MASSOB who are strong advocates for a break away nation. However, in the map created for their new nation, these group of radicals included states like Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta as part of their dream country. But many leading figures from these states have faulted the assumption that they could be part of the proposed Biafra, without a proper understanding of their stake in the proposed Biafra.

After nearly eight years at the helm of Africa’s biggest democracy and economy, President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to hand over the rein of power to a southerner, presumably, an Igbo man in 2023. By that time, he would have completed his two terms of eight years. This would be in respect of the gentleman’s agreement between the north and the south; and between the two major ethnic nationalities of the south that power must rotate between north and south and between the southwest and the southeast.

This arrangement began in 1999 when the country political leadership agreed to allow for an all-Yoruba candidates in the election that ushered in the Fourth Republic in compensation and to assuage the feelings of the Yoruba people for their loss occasioned by the nullification of the June 12 election presumably won by Chief Moshood Abiola.

At the end of the eight years reign of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and even the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) acceded that power must move to the north, hence both parties fielded northern candidates, an action which saw the emergence of Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua of the PDP as president.

But things soon changed following the death of Yar’Adua. His deputy, a southern minority, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan took over to complete Yar’Adua’s tenure. But in a order to assuage the feeling of loss felt by the north and respect the gentleman’s agreement, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the successor of the ACN fielded Buhari as its candidate in 2015 and he won.

For most of the 2000s and the following five years, it seemed almost inevitable that the nation would become more integrated and borders even less bothersome. That was the dream that the coming of the Fourth Republic represents with the people. And that was the situation until the coming of Buhari. The reality has never been more nuanced.

Today he is on the last lap of his tenure. It is at this point that things are beginning to take a new dimension as power is expected to move to the south, and more particularly, the South east which has never had a shot at the presidency.

Not original, but certainly visionary, the plan to rotate the presidency between the north and south has helped to stabilize not only the polity, but the nation from falling into crisis. No people want to be under the subjugation of another forever. This was the reason for the break up of India, Ethiopia and the Sudan, and why the former Yugoslavia broke into many nations. It is also why the Scots want to break from the United Kingdom and the Catalans from Spain.

To escape this, Nigeria created a system for themselves – quota system, which has helped to stabilized the polity. But with the obvious abuse of the system in the last five years, the call for a breakup of the nation has become very strident.

When Mamman Daura, one of Buhari’s close allies suggested that the north would no longer respect the sacred political arrangement put in place by the nation’s leadership, he failed to realize that within the zoning formula, no party of the country can go it alone.

There is no doubt that the foremost challenge is political. Nigeria is a complex country. In the midst of these complexities, one reality is clear. No zone can go it alone when it comes to the producing the next president.

In the First Republic, it is true that the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) was favoured by the British colonial overlords to win the prime ministership. But they never could muster a majority.

Combined, the Southwest and the Southeast along with minority groups held more seat in the federal parliament. The NPC was forced to go into alliance with NCNC to form a government. If the leadership of the Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe led NCNC and Chief Obafemi Awolowo led Action Group (AG) had bonded together, they would have upstaged the NPC. That was the situation when the military struck.

In 1979, when the Second Republic was ushered in, no party in the country could go it all alone or unilaterally decide where power will swing. Although Alhaji Shehu Shagari won the presidency no doubt, but without the support and alliance with the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), governing Nigeria would have been difficult even though he won majority votes over Chief Awolowo. If the votes of NPP and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) were added together, it was more than that of Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

So Shagari had no choice but to negotiate with the NPP. The NPN had to concede the Speakership of the House of Representatives to NPP’s Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke with four ministerial positions to have a smooth sail into government.

Before the collapse of the Second Republic, the NPN wanted to do it alone. Instead of negotiating with other ethnic nationalities, the Fulani leadership of the party chose to call the short singly; telling southern political leaders not to dare contest.

They chose to regionalism or personalize their victory, forgetting that it was a pan-Nigerian mandate. Because there was no longer a broad collision, they were forced to engage in rigging with the claim that they have won the 1983 election by a landslide.

They never survived it as the military struck bringing catastrophic consequences as demonstrated by the administration of Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha.

For longer than most Nigerians have been alive, the military have had influence over the polity. The third republic was decreed into existence with two parties – the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Congress (NRC) by General Ibrahim Babangida. After the June 12 election, some people were not comfortable that Chief Moshood Abiola of the SDP supposedly won that election. Perhaps they felt that the presidency is the birthright of their region. The election was annulled. They again attempted to impose their will on other Nigerians. It failed terribly.

When they tried to put a Yorubaman, Chief Ernest Shonekan into position as a puppet, it led to a devastating consequence. The bottom line of it all is that nobody can sit down somewhere and determine who will run the country and where its leadership must come from, without taking the people along.

The stormy relations within the polity has been high throughout the Buhari administration. So far, some politicians, particularly from the south and the middle belt are already looking beyond the Buhari years; even though he is yet to complete his second term.

They are not expecting any radical change in the way things are handled and the way the president sees things from a sectarian and religious point of view. Instead, they want to see how a minority ethnic nationally will continue impose its will on the rest of the country.

Atiku Abubakar’s Challenge

Adamu Atiku-Abubakar, son of the Presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 Presidential election, in a bombshell interview said that his father, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar will contest for the number office, come 2023. This is coming despite the support that the Igbo had given his father.

Adamu who is the commissioner for Works and Energy in the administration of Governor Ahmadu Finitiri in Adamawa state made it clear that “personally, I don’t see anything wrong with my father contesting for the presidency. In 2023, my father will be aspiring to the number one office in the land because he has been an astute, strategic, master politician for almost four decades.”

Atiku has contested for the number position five times already and lost each time. He is now seen as a serial candidate. If he contests, especially in the southeast, he would be going against his most ardent supporters so far in his political bid.

But as contentious as the Atiku ambition may be, and as controversial as the position of presidential cousin, Mallam Mamman Daura may sound, it has support from the immediate past Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha who has said that come 2023, Nigerian must go for someone who has the capacity to create jobs, handle the affairs of the country and provide security.

Okorocha, insisted that there is nothing called Igbo Presidency in Nigeria, adding that what we have is a Nigerian Presidency or Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. Okorocha, who represents Imo North senatorial district at the National Assembly said it is possible for an Igbo man to become President in 2023.

He said, “Absolutely, democracy is about the people and the South East is not on its own. It is part and parcel of this country. And it is possible. I don’t think that there is anything called Igbo Presidency in Nigeria. We don’t have any of such nomenclature as Igbo Presidency. What you have is a Nigerian Presidency or Nigerian President. What you will be asking would be what do you make of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. I think that is the question you are asking. That is the question.

“Absolutely, democracy is about the people and the South East is not on its own. It is part and parcel of this country. And it is possible. But it is possible with supports of other states and other ethnic groups. There is nothing wrong with anyone contesting elections for the office of the President, Republic of Nigeria. But we have come to a very crucial moment in our nation’s political history to say that sentiments of where you come from should not determine the position you hold in this country. Rather, we should start looking for people that have something upstairs and who can afford to bring about development and the dividends of democracy in this country.

“You have a lot of them in Igbo land. There are many of them who can do that. So, you cannot just be a president because you want to be a president.

“If you want to be a president because you can guarantee security in this country, you can bring about harmonious co-relationship among the various ethnic groups in this country; and then you can put food on the table for the common man and create jobs for the youth of this country.

“This is what should be the criteria for the Nigerian President and not where you come from. Over the years, we have been in this tradition of where you come from as a determinant of what position you hold and that has not given us the best results.

“And so, we must grow above that and begin to think of people who have the capacity, the capability to handle the affairs of this nation and make it a giant of Africa that it should be.

“If it is on that note, I agree with everybody that we need a Nigerian President, but he is and should be for all Nigerians.

“The other challenge is that most of the time, we have allowed our primordial sentiments to control the political atmosphere of this country and that has not yielded the positive results. I must say at this point in time, let us look for credible people, let us look for somebody, at whatever level.

“Be it at the local government level, senatorial or be it at the governorship level. Let the people that have the capacity and can create jobs, handle the affairs of this country. That is what I believe in.”

Igbo Reaction

In his own reaction, a leader of the APC in the Southeast, Chief Longers Anyanwu believes that one of the ways to fast forward the Igbo presidential dream and give the people from the zone a sense of belonging in the ruling party is to allow the region produce the next chairman of the party.

“In contention also for the office National Chairman is the Southeast region, where the party is eager to make an impression. A key partner in the APC was the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), led by Chief Ogbonaya Onu, the Science and Technology Minister. With the surprise emergence of Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State flying the APC flag, the Southeast region is ready to stake all it has to occupy the top office in the party.

“It is believed that there will be a dramatic acceptance of the APC by the people of the Southeast in 2023, particularly if the President is able to deliver the Second Niger Bridge before the election year.”

He stressed that the proponents of a Southeast APC National Chairman are hoping that the President can persuade Labour and Employment Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige to exit the Federal Executive Council to serve as National Chairman of the APC. The snag, however, is that the position will automatically halt the quest for an Igbo presidential ticket in the APC.

Leading Igbo caucus members of the APC like Senator Rochas Okorocha who has never hidden his intention to take a shot at the presidency will find it difficult to sell a different narrative from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) assertion that the APC hates Igbos.

Meanwhile, a high-powered All Progressives Congress, APC, South-East leadership, comprising the five Ministers from the region, a former Senate President and member of the National Caretaker Committee of the party, Dr. Ken Namanni, and Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, rose from a meeting at the Government House, Owerri, and resolved to present an impregnable and united front ahead of 2023.

They also resolved to support President Muhammadu Buhari and collaborate with the Federal Government to ensure that the people of the South-East derive maximum benefits from the centre. Uzodinma, who briefed newsmen after the meeting, disclosed that the leaders were more than committed to work harmoniously with the Federal Government for the overall benefit of Ndigbo.

The ministers at the meeting were Minister of State for Education, Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba; Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige; Dr Ogbonaya Onu, Minister of Technology; Mr. Uche Uga, Minister of State for Mines and Steel, Development, and Geoffery Onyeama, Minister of Foreign Affairs. According to the Imo governor, the leaders were more than committed towards strengthening the APC in the zone so as to make it a party of choice for Ndigbo. He disclosed that Imo is the gateway of APC to the South-East, adding that the ultimate goal of the leaders was to ensure that the people of the five states of the region derive maximum benefits from the Federal Government.

“We need to re-examine our alliance strategies and see for ourselves which alliance trend has paid the South-East more: The first and second republics’ alliances we had or the ones we are having in this third republic”, the governor said.

Nnamani, on his part, said the choice of Owerri for the meeting was strategic because, as the only APC state in the region, Imo provides the launching pad for the APC in the South-East. According to him, the leaders came to show solidarity with the only governor the party has in the region and to congratulate him for making the APC proud through his laudable projects. Ngige assured the people of the South-East that those of them in the federal cabinet were alert to their duties and that everything due to the people of the region will get to them.

Over the next two and half years,the nation faces two challenges in relationship between the various ethnic nationalities – tribalism and religion. First and foremost, is the need to see beyond one’s ethnicity and secondly, the need to see beyond religious sentiment. These two have been the bane of the nation’s sociopolitical advancement.

As 2023 approaches, Nigeria will enter the period of break or win in its political life. The political situation in the country will be more tense and tolerance will be tested to the very limit of endurance.

QUOTE 1

Okorocha, insisted that there is nothing called Igbo Presidency in Nigeria, adding that what we have is a Nigerian Presidency or Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. Okorocha, who represents Imo North senatorial district at the National Assembly said it is possible for an Igbo man to become President in 2023. He said, “Absolutely, democracy is about the people and the South East is not on its own

QUOTE 2

Prominent among the proponent of this call is the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and the MASSOB who are strong advocates for a break away nation. However, in the map created for their new nation, these group of radicals included states like Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta as part of their dream country. But many leading figures from these states have faulted the assumption that they could be part of the proposed Biafra, without a proper understanding of their stake in the proposed Biafra