‘How Igbo president can emerge in 2019’
There have been suggestions by some Nigerians, including former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, that the Igbos in Southeast Nigeria should produce the next Nigerian president. Our correspondents gauge the mood from across the nation.
Shortly after Obasanjo’s proposal for an Igbo presidency in the foreseeable future, a group, the Southeast Youth Vanguard (SEYV), was unequivocal in describing the ex-president’s call as “a mischievous crusade.”
The group’s national coordinator, Jason Njoku, in a statement, said the comment was aimed at causing tension, ill-will and confusion in the country.
The SEYV said the call by the former president would have been seen as an act of a friend, benefactor and statesman if he had dealt well with the Ndigbo when he held the presidency for eight years between 1999 and 2007.
The group said Obasanjo’s insistence on a second term in 2003 at a time when their son, Second Republic vice president, Alex Ekwueme, wanted to get the job, jeopardized the chances of the South-east and other zones in the country.
On his part, the founder of the National Democratic Liberty Party (NDLP), Alhaji Umaru Mohammed Maizabura, said Obasanjo was not sincere on the matter.
“Please we should all forget about what Obasanjo said, he is causing unnecessary tension in the polity,” Maizabura, who is the national chairman of NDLP and its presidential candidate, said.
“Obasanjo was right to have advocated for an Igbo presidency, they deserve to produce the president but he fully knows that in the interest of peaceful coexistence, there is this arrangement that the North and South would be rotating the presidency after every eight years and so, why is he crying more than the bereaved at this material time?” Maizabura asked.
With this in view, the Nigerian political climate had for over a week or so been beclouded with an intense debate as to the desirability or otherwise, of the call.
Obasanjo, who urged Igbos to contest for the presidency in 2019 when he hosted the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ogun State chapter at his Abeokuta Hilltop residence on Tuesday, January 27, said he was in support of the return to regional governance, as it would solve the problem of marginalization.
“Irrespective of the thinking of the people ahead of 2019, I personally think that the South-east should have a go at the presidency too,” Obasanjo said.
It is understandably correct for the Igbos with six states including Anambra, Enugu, Abia, Imo and Ebonyi in the political balancing, to ask for fair representation, including producing the president
Clarion call at a contentious moment
Many believe that his “endorsement” of Igbo presidency by 2019 is more or less writing-off any expectation that he would repeat what he did to Buhari in 2015.
Most importantly, Obasanjo made the declaration at a contentious time when the South-east is politically unsettled amidst agitations by the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Emmanuel Powerful, the spokesman for IPOB, said they would reject the offer of Ndigbo to produce Nigeria’s next president in 2019, describing the call as a distraction from the real issues.
Mr. Powerful said they were not interested in Nigerian affairs any longer, adding that those flying the kite of Igbo presidency in 2019 were just trying to distract them. He added that what IPOB wants is the release of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, from detention and for Biafrans to be allowed to go.
Observers believe that if the agitations by the two groups-which include selfdetermination and sovereignty, are anything to go by, then the contemplation by the agitators or their political leaders to have a shot at the presidency may sound contradictory.
According to them, it is understandably correct for the Igbos with six states including Anambra, Enugu, Abia, Imo and Ebonyi in the political balancing, to ask for fair representation, including producing the president.
But for this to materialize, analysts believe that the zone must trash several issues, including whether they actually want to remain as part of Nigeria or not. They must also acknowledge the philosophy of “deferred gratification”, a situation whereby they would wholeheartedly support the candidature of other regions in anticipation of reciprocal gestures in the future.
Lack of consensus among South-east leaders
Since Nigeria’s political independence in 1960, apart from the country’s first president, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Igbos are yet to produce a president.
And while the secession move by the region that precipitated a civil war between 1966 and 1970 had, to greater extent, planted a vicious mutual suspicion between the South-east and other geo-political entities in the country, the Igbo’s are said to be oblivious of some of their salient advantages which, if properly harnessed, would take them to the promised land.
Arguably, and more than any other tribal entity, the Igbo nation has its people in almost all parts of Nigeria, pursuing various endeavours.
However, the zone has remained politically polarized as ever, unable to tap its ingenuity to substantially court other regions to their advantage. Their various political parties over the years could not have national spread and their leaders, with the exception of a few, are yet to believe in the power of collaboration.
For instance, shortly after Obasanjo’s “clarion call”, expectedly, a new political debate took the centre stage across Nigeria even though it was more pronounced in the South-east.
The governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, apparently not on the same page with Obasanjo, advised that the South-east should stop talking about an Igbo presidency until after President Buhari’s second tenure in 2023.
Okorocha, who is the chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum, while addressing State House correspondents after a 30-minute closed-door meeting with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, said this was not the time for power shift.
“What I do know is that Ndigbo should talk about presidency after President Muhammadu Buhari. I think we should support this government. President Muhammadu Buhari has tenure to work for four years or eight years according to the zoning arrangement, and everybody should follow the zoning although I am not an advocate of zoning,” he said.
It was at the same time that he said at least three governors from the South-east would soon join the ruling APC, a political statement seen by many as an attempt by Okorocha to bring his Igbo brethren into the national political equation for maximum advantage.
But wittingly or unwittingly, that singular “defection statement” opened a floodgate of a verbal war between Okorocha and his neighbour governors in the Southeast, notably Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State.
The two have already taken themselves to the cleaners over what should have been a point of convergence that would give them political advantage ahead of future elections.
Igbo presidency very possible – Chieftains
In Imo State, the pioneer chairman of APC, and now a PDP stalwart, Prince Marshal Okafor Anyanwu, said only the PDP can produce a president of Imo extraction.
He said the ideology of the APC would be difficult to have any Igbo man from it getting to the front-burner, adding that if both the Yoruba and the North see APC as their own, where does the power of Igbos lie in the party?
On the likely candidate of the party, Okafor Anyanwu listed the incumbent deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and Senator Enyinaya Abaribe as those that have better thinkings towards the liberation of the Igbo.
In his remarks, the national president of the National Unity Party (NUP), Chief Prey Oparah, said the likes of Senator Ken Nnamani, who recently joined the APC and Chief Mike Ahamba Esq are good materials for the presidency.
In Enugu State, a former factional chairman of APGA, Chief Maxi Okwu, said the presidency was not the issue among the generality of Nigerians, saying restructuring should be the subject of discourse for now.
The former president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, said it was quite possible to have a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2019 with God directing it.
“Everything is possible with God directing it. Many prophets and pundits and analysts predicted that Donald Trump would not be the president of America. But today those prophets and pundits and commentators have been proved wrong. With God all things are possible,” he said.
From Ebonyi State, Dr. Vincent Aban, the President General of Afikpo Welfare Association, said an Igbo presidency in 2019 is very possible, recalling that no one ever thought the South-south would produce ex-president Goodluck Jonathan.
But some concerned Igbos chronicled the political gimmicks, betrayals, disunity, acrimony and pursuance of wealth by some politicians instead of the region’s political aspirations as the ill attitudes hampering the struggle.
Chief John Odumenam, a resident of Abakaliki, is of the view that only political cohesion and speaking with one voice would bring to reality, the long expected Igbo presidency in 2019. He added that what transpired in the PDP’s 1998 presidential primaries should be a reference point.
In Awka, Anambra State, residents said an Igbo presidency in 2019 is possible but cannot be determined by the likes of Obasanjo, who according to them never meant well for the Igbos.
A politician, Iloabuchi, said the Igbos lost confidence in Obasanjo when he betrayed them in his choice of a running mate during the 2007 elections.
“He had the opportunity to make an Igbo a vice-president in 2007, but instead picked Jonathan. That was the time I personally lost confidence in him” he said.
Chuks Oraeke, a journalist, wondered what magic Obasanjo can perform for the Igbos “in this dispensation when he is more or less politically irrelevant.”
On a general note, the chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Anambra State, Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene, said the position of the socio-cultural group would be unveiled by the National President, Chief John Nwodo on the issue.
He said Okorocha was speaking for himself and not the entire Ndigbo.
“For me, the Igbo presidency is overdue, Okorocha’s statement was his personal opinion. How are we sure that 2023 will be guaranteed. I believe in the assertion of the former president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo that Igbos should position themselves for the presidency in 2019 and he gave reasons for his opinion,” he said.
The Igbos must first recognize Nigeria and then believe in its indivisibility. To me, their agitation is not real because they have created a suspicious atmosphere. How sure are we that when we support them they would not fragment the country and go their way?
The Igbos must believe in Nigeria first – Barr. Bello
An activist from the North-east, Barr. Mohammed Bello, said somebody calling for secession should not waste his time agitating to produce the Nigerian president.
“The Igbos must first recognize Nigeria and then believe in its indivisibility. To me, their agitation is not real because they have created a suspicious atmosphere. How sure are we that when we support them they would not fragment the country and go their way?” he asked. “We will support them when we sit and agree on pertinent issues,” he said.