Igbo pres­i­dency, Uzor Kalu, Uzod­inma and the al­le­gory of ‘Tower of Ba­bel’

Business Day (Nigeria) - - POLITICS - INIOBONG IWOK

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.”

The gen­e­sis

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”?

Hope Uzod­inma

Orji Uzor Kalu

Nnia Nwodo

Chek­was Oko­rie

Ayo Ade­banjo

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