The agitation for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction has gathered more momentum recently. Segun James and David-Chyddy Eleke report that the path to achieve this is still strewn with a lot of political intrigues
Today everyone is talking about how the nation needs a change. What nobody is talking about is change for what, when, how and most importantly, why? Barely two and a half years to the 2023 election cycle, the believe is that the election would be between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). As things stand, the winning pendulum swing either way.
Politics in Nigeria is notorious for spectacular changes of allegiance, with former adversaries making improbable deals and close allies suddenly becoming bitter foes. This may be responsible for the movement back and forth from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) among the political elites.
Few events in Nigeria’s recent political history have had a more crushing effect on morale as the outburst by a cousin to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mamman Daura that the north may not support the South-east push to produce the next president of Nigeria.
Daura opined that instead of abiding with the gentleman’s agreement among the political leaders, which zones political positions among the six geopolitical areas and rotational of the presidency between the north and south, merit should now be the criteria; and that the next president can come from any part of the country.
This had created some imbalance in the system. Such imbalance are not inherently bad, it makes sense if merit, ability, capacity and capability is the consideration, but Daura’s call becomes very perplexing given that the Buhari administration is arguably the most incompetent in recent Nigerian political history; where merit has been sacrificed on the alter of tribalism and religious favoritism.
To most southerners, the Daura call is like shifting the goalpost when the game has already started. They complained that this position is capable of setting the nation back and eroding the gains of the last 20 years of the nation’s democratic governance.
This position of Daura is particularly telling given the fact that the South-east region, largely populated by Igbo ethnic group has always given the north the support and advantage it needs at the most critical point in the nation’s political process. The Igbo always aligns with the north against the Yoruba of the South-west.
It was the South-east’s support that ensured that Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) candidate, Tafawa Balewa became the first and only Prime Minister of the country in 1960. It was also the South-east support that helped Alhaji Shehu Shagari the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) candidate to office as president in 1979.
Forty years later, the South-east is asking for similar goodwill from the north. But the northern region is now unwilling to return the favour. To the people of the South-east, this is the most unkind gesture and display of treachery for loyal friendship that has lasted the entire recent political history of the country.
Sometimes it’s a reason; sometimes it’s an excuse, but ask the average Igbo politician why they endorse and pander to the north so much, they often answer with a question of their own:
“Do you have any alternatives?”
“What about the South-west?”
Then their face changes “No. We don’t trust them.”
This is the situation as the South-east prepare again for the presidency in 2023, the proverbial year that is going to decisively determine the continued relevance of the Igbo ethnic nationality in Nigeria.
Today, the South-east needs the South-west’s support if it is to realize its dream of also producing the leadership of the country. But will the north back down on its avowed determination to ensure that power remains with their people? Well, it is hard to predict.
New challenges await all the players in the polity. The next two years promises to be the most exciting yet for the Igbo nation. There is serious anger among the people, especially among the youths that much of what is happening in the polity may be due to the lack of foresight and leadership among their political elite. How could they be too trusting and shortsighted even though they have been shortchanged by successive governments in the past despite the massive support from Igbo people?
This may be the reason for the agitation for Biafra among the youth. A feeling of if we have nothing to gain, then, we have nothing to lose. That has been the allure for the youthful supporters of the militant group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a group that agitates for a breakaway nation from Nigeria. The support for IPOB among Igbo youths has been massive. The activities of the group have been of grave concern to the federal government.
The concern in the political circle is this, what will happen to Nigeria if the Igbo people are denied the opportunity to rule Nigeria in 2023? Right now, the Igbo political elite is concentrated in the PDP. They make a minuscule percentage in the ruling APC, and the party has performed poorly in the South-east. With a scenario like this, it would be hard for the APC to give its presidential ticket to a candidate from the South-east, except the party is planning to fail and has decided to gift the presidency to the PDP without any fighting chance.
The Igbo are more inclined towards PDP, where most of their governors and legislators pitch their tent. Except for a freak legal toss-up in Imo state, the APC stands no chance in the region. Even if the PDP seeds its presidency to the South-east, it would be difficult to win as the APC which is more dominant in the South-west is not likely to move in that direction.
So where will the Igbo candidacy come from? What chances do they have in an election in which the Yoruba of the South-west is also very interested? These are the questions as the Igbo reappraise their chances in the election that may make or break Nigeria.
Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, a saying goes. This seems to be particularly true in politics. Geographic balance is, relatively speaking, the strength of the Nigerian political world. Whereas this has been maintained by successive government, it is the inability of President Muhammadu Buhari and the northern Fulani dominated leadership to imbibe this time tested system that is now undoing the nation.
Nigeria is a country that finds it strangely hard to get along with its constituent parts; rubbing many the wrong ways with assertive territorial claim and high-handedness. Yet, political tension obscures the regions intense economic links, particularly that, an astonishing number of people from the South-east are responsible for the economic diversity and development of the north.
Until now, it has been widely assumed that politics in Nigeria can be controlled, hence the gentleman’s agreement between the geopolitical zones to rotate the presidency, but now, the reality suggests otherwise.
Politics of the past, present and future in Nigeria swirls around the presidency. Now the focus is on 2023 and which ethnic nationality’s turn it is to produce the leader of the country? The Igbo ethnic group believes it is their turn. They believe that they have sacrificed so much for the unity and the continued existence of Nigeria as a nation.
They are insisting that other parts of Nigeria respect the gentleman’s agreement agreed by political leaders that the presidency should be rotated not only between the north and the south but also between the South-east and the South-west. This they insist has been strictly adhered to religiously until now when it is the turn of the South-east to take a shot at Nigeria’s presidency
The South-east is bustling with optimism. Threats of different kinds, from blackmail over the call for Igbo presidency to the prospect of a possible Igbo exit from the Nigerian union as championed by one of her sons, Nnamdi Kanu.
For the first time in recent Nigerian political history, the call for an Igbo leadership of Nigeria has never been more strident. It has grown not only among the Igbo but also among other ethnic nationalities. To most people, this is the best time for a paradigm shift in a he political arena.
On 5th of October 2020, a group, Global Movement for Igbo President 2023 (GLOMIP 2023) was launched. It is a movement to help people of the South-east of Nigeria produce the next president of the country. The group drew together political bigwigs from Igboland to the launch. Senator Ben Obi, former old Anambra State governor, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former Aviation Minister, Mrs Kema Chikwe, former Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs Josephine Anennih, business moguls and members of the intelligentsia were all willing to throw away political affiliations to work for a common goal.
Coordinator of the group, Mr. Kennedy Iyere who spoke during the inauguration said Nigeria needs the touch of an Igboman to return to the path of greatness. “We have seen the best that the North can offer, we have seen the best the West can offer and we have seen the best the South-south can offer. This is the time to try the South-east. This movement for Nigeria President of Igbo extraction will be a global project which will be presented to the British and European Union parliaments as well as government agencies of the world. It will be funded internationally, and the idea is that a presidential candidate that will emerge from this platform will not spend his money to campaign, because if he does that he will be forced to recoup thereby leaving Nigeria worse than he met it,” he said.
It will not be the first time that the people of the South-east would be agitating for the presidency of the country, but perhaps, it may be the first time that all and sundry are agreeing that the Igbo people of the South-east extraction need to occupy the highest office in the land. From governors to former governors, lawmakers to former lawmakers, ministers to former ministers, members of the academic and even the business world, the quest seems to be gathering momentum, and everyone is in sync with it.
Senator Ben Obi, a leading Igbo voice for the actualization of the Igbo presidency project during the launch of GLOMIP 2023 said, “Ndigbo cannot elect President all alone, rather, they should intensify fierce and deliberate lobbying of the North-west, North-east, North-central, South-west and South-south. After reaching out to other zones, the next hurdle would be the political parties that have the constitutional right to sponsor people for elections.
“For the Igbo presidency to be realized come 2023, the two major political parties, that is the ruling All Progressive Congress and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, must zone their presidential tickets to the South-east zone and allow Nigerians choose whoever they want. Mobilizing our people to be on the same page and speak with one voice on the sole project rather than having different demands and agitations outside the call for an Igbo President, so that we shall not be looked upon as a confused people.”
For Mrs Josephine Anenih, a former minister, she regretted that Igbo have been marginalized for too long.”The country is made up of a tripod, but one leg of the tripod is not functioning and that one leg is the Igbo. No Igbo man has governed Nigeria before. Goodluck Ebele is not an Igbo man. I worked for his reelection, but later I realised that the Ebele we see there is not the Igbo version, but short for Ebelemi, which is an Ijaw name. We must work for this project.”
Former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife described the issue of President from Igbo extraction as long overdue, adding that South-East zone should fight harder as power is taken not given. “We shall send our Steering Committee members to Bola Tinubu and other Northern aspirants to see a reason why Igbo should produce president and have a rethink. More people outside South-East support Igbo Presidency. We must have a strong body of elder statesmen to go to people of influence to lobby.”
Meanwhile, a group, Igbo World Assembly (IWA) has begun plans to hold an elaborate solidarity march in all the state of the South-east, with people of all strata of the society to be involved, as a way of drawing attention to the quest by the people of the South-east. Chairman of IWA, Dr Nwachukwu Anakwenze, a prominent Igbo leader who is also chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Diaspora Committee, who spoke to journalists in Awka, Anambra State said plans are in top gear to ensure that church leaders, political leaders, business leader and indeed everyone takes part in the march.
“Come 27th of December Igbo states will have a solidarity march. Bishops from the Anglican, Catholic and Pentecostal churches are involved. Politicians, academics, business moguls are all involved. The march will be through a prescribed route and in each state, the procession will end their walk by presenting a letter each to the governor of each of the states. A message will also be presented to President Muhammadu Buhari, while one letter each will also be presented to the chairmen of the two leading political parties in Nigeria, urging them to field Igbo candidates in their parties.
“All the regions of Nigeria have produced presidents, and it is now the turn of the South-east zone to produce good leadership for the good of all Nigerians to move Nigeria in a positive direction. We should be our brother’s keeper. For the good of Nigeria, we believe that our geopolitical interests should extend to ethnic regions in Nigeria that aspires to its mission of uniting all Nigeria of like minds, through the concept of standing together for the betterment of entire Nigeria.”
“An alliance with other groups, neighbours is the key, regardless of the fear of a hidden agenda of Igbo domination. This fear of Igbo domination has kept people from working with us. We believe in a alliance. We cannot get presidency by ourselves, even if all the Igbos vote. We (Igbo) have always been engaged in making Nigeria better. We have always helped in building other places and now, we want to build Nigeria. We’ll pick Igbo president from a past leader who did well in their assignment. Nigeria is a blessed country. We have everything in Nigeria but we are cursed with bad leadership. Good leadership is what lays a foundation for people to thrive and we will hope for the best leadership from an Igbo son,” he said.
In the South-east, however, some names have been dropped as possible candidates that can lead the zone to victory in the 2023 presidential election. Though none of the presidential hopefuls from the zone has come out to openly declare their intention, some of those touted to be harbouring intentions include former governor of Anambra State; Mr Peter Obi, former governor of Imo State; Senator Rochas Okorocha, former Abia State governor and Minister of Science and Technology; Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, Ebonyi State governor, Engr. Dave Umahi, former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, former Abia State governor; Senator Orji Kalu and former Anambra State governor and minister of Labour and Employment; Dr Chris Ngige.
One presidential hopeful, Prof Peter Umeadi has however shown boldness by announcing his intention to lead the country. Umeadi has also gone further to hold consultations across the country and has begun to mobilize heavily for his intention, just as his posters dot every state of the country today. Umeadi who hails from Anambra State is a professor of law and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and hopes to actualize his ambition on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
Recently, over 200 members of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anaocha Local Government Area (LGA) of Anambra state where he hails from, dumped the party to pitch tent with APGA. The decampees were led by former President General, Nri ancient kingdom, Chief Frank Obiekwe Oraeki. Oraeki said the movement to APGA was in readiness for the 2023 presidential election, where their son, Prof Umeadi would be running for president. “Charity begins at home. We want everybody in this local government to move to APGA. If Prof Umeadi must win in 2023, his victory must start in his community, his local government and his own state Anambra, before we go ahead to win the entire country,” Obiekwe said.
The member representing Anaocha 1 state constituency in the Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon Ejike Okechukwu, who received the new entrants said APGA was a formidable force to reckon with, being the third-largest political party in Nigeria, and urged the people to join the clamour for South-east to produce the next president of Nigeria, by supporting the presidential bid of their illustrious son, Prof Peter Umeadi.
The APGA presidential aspirant, Prof. Peter Umeadi, who was also at the event choose not to speak about his aspiration for now. He urged Ndigbo to support APGA as the surest vehicle that would take a south-easterner to the presidency, come 2023. Even though political parties differ, most speakers have also added that what is more important to Ndigbo is clinching the presidency in 2023, and not which political party did.
Politics, however, is a dynamic game. What is the mood of the other geopolitical zones to the Igbo presidency quest? Although this should normally not matter given the fact that the Igbo are the only major ethnic nationality that has not tasted the presidency since the coming of the fourth republic.
But today, Igboland is resonating a new voice – Igbo Presidency come 2023! It is the new thinking that is gaining support among the people. It has created a movement that is anti-divisive. This movement can be described as populist, but it is indeed an embrace of the new order as exemplified by Global Movement for Igbo President 2023 (GLOMIP 2023).
For the Igbo presidency to be realized come 2023, the two major political parties, that is the ruling All Progressive Congress and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, must zone their presidential tickets to the South-east zone and allow Nigerians choose whoever they want. Mobilizing our people to be on the same page and speak with one voice on the sole project rather than having different demands and agitations outside the call for an Igbo President, so that we shall not be looked upon as a confused people
They are insisting that other parts of Nigeria respect the gentleman’s agreement agreed by political leaders that the presidency should be rotated not only between the north and the south but also between the South-east and the South-west. This they insist has been strictly adhered to religiously until now when it is the turn of the South-east to take a shot at Nigeria’s presidency The South-east is bustling with optimism. Threats of different kinds, from blackmail over the call for Igbo presidency to the prospect of a possible Igbo exit from the Nigerian union