Igbo presidency, Uzor Kalu, Uzodinma and the allegory of ‘Tower of Babel’
Three years to the next round of Nigeria’s general election due 2023, the turn-by-turn gentleman agreement or what has come to be known as rotational presidency appears to have thrown the country into a “Babel” of sorts. For those not familiar with the story about the Tower of Babel, as recorded in the Book of Genesis 11:4-9, it was at that project that, according to the scriptures, God frustrated the desire of the builders by causing them to misunderstand one another.
The builders had said to one another, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
When the Lord saw the city and the tower which mortals had built, He said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”
So, the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth and they left off building the city. Therefore, it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
In recent times, there has been raging clamour on the need for the presidency to be zoned to Southern Nigeria, specifically to the Southeast geopolitical zone of the country.
Some political leaders and other stakeholders across the country have argued that it would be unfair to continue to deny the region the presidency even after the other major ethnic groups had occupied the position since the return of the country to civil rule in 1999.
They say for the sake of equity and justice power should automatically shift to the Southeast in 2023 when the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari would complete his second tenure in office.
Although rotating the presidency is not constitutionally backed in Nigeria, political leaders say it is, however, necessary considering the heterogeneous nature of the country as a way out of complaints of marginalisation by the three major ethnic groups of Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa.
But the idea of a rotational presidency has become contentious ahead of the 2023 presidential election, with prominent Nigerians openly supporting or opposing the proposal, those against it say that Nigerians, irrespective of tribe, should be able to aspire and contest for the presidency when the need arises.
Last month, Mamman Daura, President Buhari’s nephew, had in an interview with the Hausa Service of the BBC, recently kicked against the rotation of the Presidency, saying that zoning arrange
ment should stop since it had been rotated thrice in Nigeria.
“This turn-by-turn, it was done once, it was done twice, and it was done thrice, it is better for this country to be one, it should be for the most competent and not for someone who comes from somewhere,” Daura had said.
Daura’s comment, however, did not go down well with the apex Igbo socio-political groups in Nigeria, Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Nnia Nwodo, president-general of the group a few days later said the comment by Daura was out of selfish interest, insisting that Igbo presidency was actualisable.
“Buhari came into power in 2015 because the North felt they had been deprived of their turn. Having benefited enormously, he now wants zoning jettisoned because it is the turn of the South.
“Talking about competence or the most qualified, was President Buhari the most qualified Nigerian when he ascended the Presidency?”
According to him, “Has he proved to be the most competent? Are the service chiefs the most competent among their colleagues to warrant their being retained beyond their tenure?
“Obviously, no; because occurrences in the country since he became President have proved him to be incompetent, now that it is the turn of the South, precisely the Southeast, he is mouthing the most
qualified and competent.”
Nwodo emphasized that “Equity is a constant flagship for peace and good governance. Without it, there will be continued agitation and crisis.”
The real ‘Babel’
But what many observers have considered as worrisome are the comments by some notable politicians of Igbo extraction, who appear to see things differently from the perception of many of their people in relation to the sacrosanctity of the Igbo presidency project.
This variegated stands among the Igbos themselves, analysts say, is the real Babel; a case of a house dividing against itself.
Last week, Orji Uzor Kalu, a former Abia State governor and chief whip of the Senate, warned those clamouring for power shift that there was no zoning in the constitution of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
He said it was erroneous to believe that after the eight-year tenure of the President, Muhammadu Buharis, power would automatically be transferred to the South.
“Most people are not aware that there is no zoning of the position of the President in the constitution of the APC; Nigerians from every part can contest for the office of President,” Kalu, who recently braced the rope of freedom from prison, stated.
By the same token, Hope Uzodinma, governor of Imo State, speaking last week after a meeting with President Buhari, said that the choice of who emerged presidential candidate in 2023 would be based on political party and not by tribe.
“You know that the position is not vacant now; there is a sitting President and we are practising partisan democracy and not tribal democracy,” he said.
“So, the emergence of a presidential candidate will come on party by party basis, not tribe by tribe basis,” he espoused.
“But if there are other internal factors that will form part of the considerations for parties taking decisions, of course, that will be entirely the job of the leadership of those political parties and I think that is the right thing to do,” he further said.
Reacting to Orji Kalu’s comments, the Southeast for President 2023 Movement (SEFORP2023) asked him to “embrace realities”.
National Coordinator of the group, Rev. Okechukwu Obioha, in the statement expressed the group’s disappointment that the representative of Abia North in the Senate said any person in the APC was free to contest the 2023 presidential election.
Obioha said: “SEFORP2023 is grossly feeling disappointed that the above statement is coming from a supposed representative of people of the South East as a senator and no less a position as the Chief Whip of the Senate. It is to say the least very unfortunate.
“SEFORP2023 must remind him that he is ignorant of history to note that till date, the six zonal structures which are now the basis for revenue formula, political, economic and social sharing are not yet embedded in our constitution; yet it is an acceptable formula and a norm.”
According to the group, “The Senator, we regret to say, is economic with the truth and realities here. If he will forget so soon what and how he secured the position of Chief Whip in the Senate, let us remind him that he had argued and canvassed vehemently that the South East must be given a principal office in the red chamber as part of zoning before this position was given to him. Is that in the
constitution of the APC?
“We advise him to reconsider his position as stated and know that the Presidency residing in the North will come down to the South and that it will morally be the right and turn of the South East zone. Kalu should better embrace realities and stand for what is right for the collective interest of Nigeria than play the ostrich.”
The group argued that electing the President of Nigeria has been done on zoning procedures since 1999, stressing that the South East should be allowed to produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023.
Obioha said: “This is the position of SEFORP2023 and why we debuted since February 2019, telling Nigerians, particularly the likes of Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, political parties and the powers that be to do the needful.
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The South East zone is not a spectator in this country. Come 2023, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria must come from the zone. This is equitable and justifiable in all fairness.”
Recall that the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), then the ruling party started the zoning arrangement in 1999, in which the nation’s number one position was zoned to the Southwest in which Olusegun Obasanjo won the presidential election and emerged the president after defeating a
fellow Southerner, Olu Falae, incidentally both men also hailed from Ogun State.
Obasanjo had earlier ruled the country as a military head of state from 19761979.
After Obasanjo left office in 2007, Umaru Musa Yar’adua, also from the Northwest, former governor of Katsina State won the presidential election and assumed office to succeed Obasanjo.
He had defeated several other candidates which included Atiku Abubakar, who was candidate of the the Action Congress (AC), among others in an election he admitted was poorly conducted, promising electoral reforms.
However, Yar ‘Adua’s stay in office was cut short after he died in 2009. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who was his vice, and who hailed from the oil-rich state of Bayelsa took over as president of Nigeria.
After winning a fresh four-year man
date in 2011, Jonathan’s bid to win re-election after six years in office was stopped; he lost the presidential election in 2015 to the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari who was the candidate of the then newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, the Southeast geopolitical zone has only produced a vice president since after the end of the brutal Nigeria’s civil war in 1966, in which the late Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme was the first elected vice president of Nigeria from 1979 to 1983 during the Second Republic serving under the late president, Shehu Shagari.
Observers believe that the continued marginalisation of the region for the nation’s president position may have given rise to groups such as Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), both of which are agitating for the same thing- secession.
Chekwas Okorie, a former national chairman of the Unity Progressive Congress (UPP) in an interview with BDSUNDAY, said that for fairness and equity power should shift to the Southeast in 2023, stressing it was, however, necessary that the region put its house in order if it wants to win.
“2023 is for Igbos to win and lose. If they put their house together they may win, if they don’t they may lose it; because they have risen to the occasion before. And I can tell you that when it matters most Igbos always unite and there is nothing that says Igbo cannot unite in 2023, when things come to a crunch and when they unite, it would be like a movement,” Okorie said.
“Look at the type of unity they showed even when we had Peter Obi as a running mate to Atiku, Atiku won in FCT because of Igbos’ votes,” he added.
A call for justice, fairness
A leader of Yoruba pan-socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Ayo Adebanjo recently supported the clamour for Igbo presidency in 2023, saying that it was necessary for the unity of the country.
According to him, “We are talking about people who want Nigeria to stay together. How can anybody who loves Nigeria be talking about the presidency coming to the Southwest in 2023. That is why I said all these people are not serious, why should you exclude the Southeast? Is the Southeast not part of Nigeria”?
Orji Uzor Kalu