Chief John Nwodo, President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo

… as North’s plots against power shift

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

The clamour for president of Igbo extraction has become more strident and louder than before in recent times. This call, widely seen as legitimate was long overdue given that the Southeast has not had fair share of political inclusion, and has not produced a president of the country in spite of the enormous contributions of the people since the end of the civil war in 1970.

As the subtleties of the 2023 manoeuvres simmer in underground political realignment, there are feelers that the Southeast may have become a political bride as a counterpoint to the Southwest, which is jostling for the position of president come 2023.

Though, none of the major parties have made policy pronouncement on where the presidential pendulum  will swing, groups and individuals sympathetic to Igbo presidency among powerful northern political establishment have lent their voices to the moral imperatives of supporting a candidate of the Southeast to emerge president  in the next dispensation.

One of the northern groups making the case for Igbo presidency is the Coalition of Northern Elders for Peace and Development. The group recently threw its weight behind an Igbo presidency, insisting that the position should be zoned to the region.

The group rationalised its position on Igbo presidency on the basis of fairness and justice, saying it was  borne out of the “need for all parts of the country to be fairly and equitably treated in the nation’s political affairs.”

It argued that  the southeast region had been marginalised in the scheme of things. It therefore, made a passionate appeal to both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to field Igbo candidates come 2023.

The group appealed to other zones to back Ndigbo in their quest to produce Nigeria’s first citizen in the next political dispensation.

In a statement recently, its National Coordinator, Zana Goni, and National Women Leader, Mario Bichi, the group insisted that southeast should produce the next president “to maintain the culture of the rotational presidency between the North and South, which has helped to douse political tension in Nigeria.

“We, therefore, recommend that it should be continued for now for the good of the federation.”

The group noted that “since President Buhari is from the north, the right thing is that after his eight-year tenure, the next president should come from southern Nigeria. And since South West and South-South have occupied the office in the current dispensation, the South East is next in line in the spirit of the rotation principle, fairness, equity, and justice.

“This will bring an end to the manifest marginalisation of the South East. This will foster national unity and also bring to a close the bitterness of the Biafra civil war, which has lingered for 50 years since the end of hostilities and engender unity.”

They lauded leaders of southeast extraction for not taking cessation as an option despite the “inglorious activities of the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB) Mazi Nnamdi Kanu,” which the coalition accused of attempting to “destabilise Nigeria’s unity by hiding under the delayed Igbo presidency.”

Many individuals in the North have similarly expressed support for Igbo presidency. Some people in Southwest have also said for equity sake the Igbo should be  given a chance to produce the next president.

Igbo Presidency Solidarity Group, a Southwest-driven group sympathetic to Igbo presidency has recently suggested 11 politicians from the South-Eastern states that are “qualified to be presented as presidential candidates in 2023 general elections”.

The president of the association, Dr. Olukayode Oshiariyo, announced the names after the meeting of the congress in Abuja recently.

“IPSC has come to the conclusion that in 2023, a man or woman of Igbo extraction will become the president of Nigeria. IPSC will engage in consultations across the six geo-political zones, visitation to Emirs, Obas, Eze, Obi and chiefs, to discuss and examine the characters and integrity of the eleven persons suggested,’’ he said.

Among persons suggested by the group are Dr. Ogbonaya Onu, Mr. Peter Obi, Dr. Chris Ngige, Rochas Okorocha, Dave Umahi, Orji Uzor Kalu, Ike Ekweremadu, and Enyinnaya Abaribe. Others are Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Ifeanyi Uba, and Kingsley Moghalu.

“Since 1999, South-West, North-West and South-South have produced presidents; conventionally, power rotates for equity and justice as implied in the Principles of Federal Character.

 “Therefore, in 2023, passionate consideration should be accorded the South-East as the only zone in the Southern region that has yet to produce a president,’’ Oshiariyo added.

Former deputy President of the Senate, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, added his voice to calls for ceding the presidential tickets of the major political parties to the South East, saying while it is possible to have a president of Igbo extraction in 2023, the zone must engage the northern part of the country in dialogue.

Ekweremadu, a senator representing Enugu West Senatorial District, made this known penultimate Wednesday at a book presentation in Abuja. He said, “there is clamour for Igbo presidency today. And I believe it can only be realised if we engage ourselves in conversation with northern Nigeria to buy into our initiative”.

Disturbing signals

But as most Nigerians feel the moral imperative to support the Igbo presidency agenda, there are some disturbing signals from powerful quarters that may need to be clarified for the agenda of Igbo presidency to have a smooth sail.

However, there may have been a counter move by the President Buhari camp with his cousin, Mamman Daura’s outburst that the north may not support the South-east push to produce the next president of Nigeria. This regime has not hidden its disdain for the Igbo, and has even aggravated the outcry of marginalization by the Igbo.

Daura averred 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.

Though this disturbing outbursts made on his visit to London was widely condemned by Nigerians, many believed it may have reflected official thinking in Aso Rock.

Dr. Thomas Ayorinde, a political scientist said “To most southerners, the Daura call is like shifting the goalposts when the game has already started.”

Professor Samuel Abidemo of Nasarawa State University told BusinessHallmark that the North has moral imperative to support the Southeast in the region’s bid for presidency since the region has always queued up behind the north.

“The North has a moral duty to support the Igbo presidency. You know the Southeast has always supported the North, always extending to them 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.”

“We can recall vividly that it was the South-east’s support that made it possible for the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) candidate, Tafawa Balewa to become 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.”

Yoruba position

While the Yoruba as a collective has not taken a formal position as other  ethnic nationalities in the country, there are indications that some powerful elements within Yoruba fold are sympathetic, but already disagreements have started to emerge among the Yoruba political elites over the Igbo aspirations.

Already,  two prominent lead¬ers of pan-Yoruba so¬cio-political organisa¬tion, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Aremo Olusegun Osoba, a former governor of Ogun State, recently exchanged crossfire  over the zoning of the 2023 presi¬dency, especially the Igbo presidency and whether or not the South-West should boycott the general elections.

Recall that Adebanjo belongs in the Reuben Fasoranti-led faction of Afenifere, Osoba is a member of the faction led by the late Senator Ayo Fasanmi.

Osoba pointedly said recently that Ade¬banjo’s position that the 2023 presidency should be zoned to the South-East is wrong as the statement was his personal opinion and not the general position of Yoruba leaders.

He said the Afenifere lead¬er had no power to take uni¬lateral decisions on such a sensitive matter without the input of other Yoruba leaders. Osoba, who described Ade¬banjo as a dictator, said the latter had no right to force the Yoruba to support Igbo presidency.

In his view, while the Igbo have a right to contest for the position of the highest office in the land in 2023, the Yoruba and other Nigerians also have a right to do so.

 “There are two is¬sues that I disagree with Ade¬banjo on. For example, in his own dictatorial way, he says he has now zoned the 2023 presidency to the Igbo. I want to query him – who is he to zone the Yoruba race out of the presidential race in 2023? Who is he?

“Where did we meet as Yoruba to say that we are ced¬ing the presidency to the Igbo?  Awolowo will not behave like that. There will be a meeting where there will be consensus. Of course, the Igbo have a right to contest in 2023 just as I, as a Yoruba man, also have a right to contest.

“But he (Adebanjo) has unilaterally zoned it to the Igbo. That is part of his dicta¬torial attitude. He is a dictator. Two, he says we must boy¬cott the 2023 elections. Where did we sit down to decide that the Yoruba will boycott the 2023 elections?

“He doesn’t read history, even the history that he was part of. In 1964, he was then still in exile in Ghana. These are two major is¬sues that Adebanjo is preach¬ing, which are unrealistic and which Awolowo would never have supported. Awolowo will never in his life support boy¬cotts.”

One of close governors to Buhari, Nasir El-Rufai, Kaduna State governor has made some remarks in the last two years which analysts point at as signs that the North  may have been playing dice with power rotation.

Last week, el Rufai said 2023 zoning won’t solve Nigeria’s economic woes. The governor, who is widely believed to be interested in contesting for president come 2023, has been speaking from both sides of his mouth.

Last week, he argued for cancellation of zoning, but the same el-Rufai had said in 2019 that no one from the north should contest the presidency in 2023. Governor el-Rufai said this on last Tuesday when he spoke at a plenary session on “Rethinking Sub-National Competitiveness” at the ongoing Nigerian Economic Summit.

Although the Nigerian Constitution does not provide for zoning of political leadership, key political offices at the federal and state levels are often ‘zoned’ by the political parties to allow for fairness within regions and among ethnic groups.

But the Kaduna governor, while delivering his remarks, suggested that “everyone should be given an equal opportunity” to run for office, and not based on ethnicity. He stated that: “Zoning in political parties cannot solve the economic problems we are facing. Selecting the best person to get the job done will benefit everyone.”

“The best we can do is to give everyone an equal opportunity,” he added.

Jonathan angle

In the midst of this political uncertainty over 2023, there are indications that the Buhari handlers are interested in returning former president Goodluck Jonathan to power. Buhari supporters are said to be considering backing former President Goodluck Jonathan for 2023 presidential run.

The thinking is that it will satisfy the increasing clamour for power shift to the South. Buhari’s close loyalists believed that Jonathan would be harmless to their group interest and as such the right person to take over if power were to shift to the South, “he handed over power peacefully and nursed no bitterness against anyone and therefore will not be a threat to the interest of the north,” a source close to the group was quoted as saying.

The attraction to Jonathan’s possible candidacy is that he will serve just one term of four years.

Nevertheless, various Igbo groups are said to be working assiduously in furtherance of consultations within themselves and with powerful blocs outside the region to actualize the dream of  Igbo presidency.