The waiting game seems to be over. Southeast may have lost the opportunity to produce the next president of Nigeria under the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), as the 37- man zoning committee headed by Gov. Samuel Ortom of Benue state, has adopted the contentious Gov. Bala Mohammed’s Report, which recommended open contest for the party’s presidential ticket.
Most people, including social cultural organizations, such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF, and Middle Belt Forum, have canvassed for Igbo presidency in the interest of equity, justice and fairness, as the zone is the only majority group without s shot at the office. The Igbo have campaigned on the morality of their position, especially in the PDP, which they had backed since 1999, and in its period of crisis after 2015, an action that has cost them dearly under the APC government led by President Buhari.
The issue of zoning had sharply divided the party between north and south, especially after the Southern Governors’ Forum, demanded it. However, the north, whose candidates in the party, sensing an opportunity to lead the country given APC’s woeful performance and low popularity, have insisted on open contest for the ticket. Notable among them is foemer vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who flew the party’s flag in the 2019 polls losing to Buhari.
Their arguments, self serving and provocative, were that the party is not in power and therefore, cannot zone what it does not have.
Secondly, they argued that there is nothing like zoning in the party’s constitution, which is untrue. Thirdly, they insist that as an opposition party, it needs its best materials to contest to be able to defeat the ruling party, as APC did to it. Finally, the stated that only the person with guaranteed northern vote will win the election.
Southeast has thrown up some candidates such as former senate president, Pius Anyim, former governor of Anambra state, Mr. Peter Obi, and Mazi Sam Ohuabubwa. But the north parades more formidable candidates, such as Atiku Abubakar, former governor and senate president, Bukola Saraki, and to less degree Gov. Aminu Tambuwal.
The Southeast may have little hope in the event of open contest, which may be the stimulus for the intervention of Gov. Nyeson Wike of Rivers state to contest, which is a bitter-sweet for the Igbo, because he is the only Southern
candidate with the muscle to effectively challenge the north; but his participation also seals Igbo ambition.
This may have brightened Mr. Rotimi Amaechi’s chances for the office, hence he doused the growing uncertainty over his candidacy by declaring at the weekend. Although his belated claim of Igbo-ness may be opportunistic, it is likely to resonate with the region if he plays the right card. APC leadership may not easily concede power to Southwest, which boosts his chances. But that may mean voting APC which the zone has loathed in the past eight years.
Though a number of other governors in the South-South, notably, Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom state and Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta, were said to be interested in the contest, with the former having already obtained nomination form, they were not considered much of a threat to the aspirations of the Southeast, even as many had pointed out that Okowa’s ambition was still in line.
However, the declaration, on Sunday, by Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State, of his intention to run for president in 2023, and the consequent momentum his ambition is gathering, have rattled some stakeholders of the party in the zone.
“At this stage, everyone is confused,” said a top party source in Enugu who craved anonymity. “You can’t deny the fact that he (Wike) is a big player in the PDP. He certainly stands a good chance, especially when you consider that he’s be the party’s major financier for a while.
“Our agitation has been that the ticket should be zoned to the South in the understanding that the south will micro-zone to the Southeast since it’s the only zone yet to taste power. But Wike’s move may change all that.”
The Rivers governor, in the last seven years, has remained the most influential figure in the opposition party, having been its financial bulwark since it lost power in 2015, particularly with the likes of former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; former senate president, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, among others, initially abandoning it for the emergent ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2014.
He evidently sees 2023 as an opportunity for the party to reward him for his effort, and had insisted while declaring his intention to run for president on Sunday in Benue State, that he deserved the ticket for standing up for the party when others ran away.
“Those who want to be president now were the problems of the party in 2015. They ran away when the party needed them most,” he had said.
“But I have stood and worked for this party. I have nowhere to run to because I take it personally that the party should not die. And I challenge anyone to a debate what they did for PDP.”
Wike’s ambition sources said, has divided party stakeholders in the Southeast, even as he is said to have secured the backing of the two governors of the party in the zone, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu.
The governors were said to have endorsed Wike at an Enugu state special PDP stakeholders meeting organised by Ugwuanyi on Sunday, March 27.
Sources said during the meeting, which Wike allegedly funded with N50 million, Ugwuanyi prompted attendees to adopt a resolution endorsing the Rivers governor as their choice presidential candidate for 2023, a development that has since led to many accusing them of betrayal.
“Obviously, it’s a case of betrayal and it’s very unfortunate,” the party source said. “It’s even more painful when you consider that Wike has often used every opportunity to deny sharing any cultural identity with the Igbo. But as you know, these governors don’t care.”
Though many in the Southeast, especially within Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo sociocultural group, seem open to the option of an Igbo candidate from the South-South geopolitical zone, with the group, for instance, on a number of occasions, encouraging Rotimi Amaechi, who like Wike, is of the Ikwere stock in Rivers State, to run for president, the incumbent governor’s open rejection of Igbo identity is particularly responsible for the inability of many in the Southeast to identify with him.
The case, however, appears different with Amaechi, who has also joined the presidential race, while maintaining that he is Igbo and can run on the Igbo platform.
Amaechi in his yet-to-be formally unveiled 86-page manifesto brochure titled, Qualified to Serve, which is his pitch for the APC ticket, made a case for a president of Igbo extraction in 2023, while noting that he decided to contest on account of his competitive advantages, broad and deep experiences in governance, nationalist outlook, geopolitical considerations, political prowess, personality and leadership, track record of performance, highlights of achievements as Rivers State Governor and Minister of Transportation and what he called hallmarks of Amaechis leadership.
Amaechi said in the document: “We must give meaning to democracy so that every Nigerian can find a place and a voice in a land of free men and women. We must deploy our diversity to increase our strength.
“We must make our streets and highways, and now forests and farmlands, safe again for all Nigerians to fulfill their individual dreams of a good life so that, together, we can actualize the manifest destiny of this blessed land.”
Itemising the focus of his campaign, Amaechi said, “We need to quickly replace the politics of impressions and personalities with the politics of issues and ideas. We must seek common ground on broad national issues on a bipartisan basis, not on the basis of personalities or geopolitical zones, tribes or factions.
“The common ground must be based on a dispassionate grasp of national problems: how do we educate our children, heal the sick, give hope to those in despair, provide succour to the needy and find work for the unemployed? How do we build infrastructure that will quickly transform and modernize our economy for the good of all Nigerians?”
Particularly addressing the question of his Igbo identity, he said, “My birth names are Igbo names Chibuike Amaechi. I am an Igbo man. Let no one deny me my Igbo heritage, birthright, ancestry, please!
“Unless you want to be sectional and deny the Igbo people. I have made myself clear repeatedly, that I, Chibuike Amaechi from Ikwerre, am an Igbo man. Our people are Igbo people.”
The minister further urged his party, the APC, to look towards Ndigbo for the 2023 presidential ticket.
As APC prepares to conduct the primaries to choose the party’s flag bearer, they must pay attention to all the geopolitical factors at play.
Understandably, there is a strong push for power to shift to the South in 2023 and specifically to the Igbos. Igbos have not been at the centre since the Second Republic more than 40 years ago, when late Alex Ekwueme was Vice President in the Shehu Shagari administration. Not surprisingly there is loud agitation from the Igbos that they should have their turn to lead the government.
Other groups are also pleading the case of the Igbos in the name of equity and the stability of the country. Leader of Pan Yoruba sociopolitical group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, has warned that Igbos should produce the president in 2023 election, if Nigeria hopes to enjoy peace. The Association of Arewa Community in Igboland has also urged Nigerians to consent to an Igbo becoming the President of the country in 2023.
Chibuike Amaechi is an Igbo man of Ikwerre stock. His hometown Ubima is on the border of Imo State and the fact that Nigerias modern geopolitical map places it in the South-South region does not change the fact that Ikwerre are a dialectical group of the Igbo nation. By ethnicity, language and heritage, Amaechi is no less Igbo than a man from Abriba, Owerri, Ebonyi, Awka or Enugu-Ukwu.
Addressing those who insist that only Igbo from the Southeast are qualified since zoning is done on regional basis, the brochure said Amaechi coming from South-South gives him a unique advantage.
In addition, he also has the unique advantage of being not only Igbo but a Niger Deltan. This means that Amaechi could also find favour with those currently insisting that the next President should come from the South-South on the basis that their region only completed one elected term under President Goodluck Jonathan.
There are some in other parts of the country who may find it more politically expedient to throw their lot behind a South-South candidate than behind a traditional Igbo man.
As much as Amaechis tribe and geo-political zone give him an advantage, he also has the advantage of being a candidate who is a true national figure — recognized all over Nigeria, with friends and allies across the length and breadth of the country.
Some people vying for office also have recognizable names but are identified so resolutely with their tribe or zone that they cannot be effective national consensus candidates.
Few of Amaechi’s contenders have had the same opportunity or share the same disposition that allows him to travel to every state of the Federation, forge alliances and build relationships.
Beloved by his people in the Niger Delta, he is also embraced by the South East as a true Igbo son and lauded in the South West for providing the Lagos — Ibadan railway system which has been a source of pride and renewed economic activity in the region. The North see him as a friend, a truly detribalized Nigerian who does not discriminate against tribe or religion and who has worked tirelessly to support President Muhammadu Buhari.
Amaechi said the cap fits him because he has a thorough understanding of the complexities of the nation — the challenges of balancing the interests and influences in a country of different persuasions, traditions, cultures, religions.
While others fan the flames of ethnic tension for their own selfish political advantage, Amaechi has consistently championed national unity, identifying ethnic divisiveness as an obstacle to progress.
Indeed, many in the Southeast will easily agree with the minister and accept his bid as an Igbo bid for power, even if he had denied his Igbo identity in the past.
On many occasions, Ohanaeze had expressed readiness to back the minister as one of the Igbo sons seeking power in 2023, and had particularly praised him effusively when he was given chieftaincy title by the Emir of Daura in February.
For Wike, however, the case appears different. While a section of the political elite, notably the two governors of PDP in Southeast are said to be backing him, the zone’s street doesn’t seem to identify with him.
Regardless, the governor seem determined to push for the ticket and appear to be getting somewhat more broad-based southern support.
Beyond the Southeast, he is said to have also secured the support of party stakeholders in the Southwest, with two key figures of the party in the zone, Seyi Makinde, governor of Oyo State and Ayo Fayose, former governor of Ekiti State said to be strongly behind him, as he looks set to achieve wider support in the South.
Indeed, last week, Fayose called on other members of the party to support the governor’s presidential ambition, describing him as a man with exemplary character.”
Mr. Fayose who spoke in Port Harcourt when a group of party chieftains presented the presidential nomination form to Wike, said, “As an elder statesman, I know what is right and just. I am here as his brother, his friend, to a man with exemplary character. For Governor Wike, what you see is what you get.
The bible says, God to so many is righteousness. The fierce-looking man, Wike, has a good heart. His problem is that he has to say it the way it is.
“But it is not enough to judge a man by what he says because there are so many people who are quiet but they are wicked,” continued Mr. Fayose whose remark drew applause from the people at the ceremony.
Governor Wike accepted the nomination form, thanked those who bought it for him, and said he is prepared for the assignment.
He said, “All of us are aware of the problems we face today. It is not going to be an easy task, but its a task that is surmountable, with commitment and passion. And by the special grace of God and with your support, we shall surmount the problems facing Nigeria.”
Speaking further, Wike emphasized that he had done well for the party and deserved to be given a chance, even as he noted that he would still back the party and ensure it emerges victorious in 2023 even if he doesn’t get the ticket.
He said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should prepared for transparent election, once he gets the PDP presidential ticket.
“I will not be rigged out. Nobody can rig me out in this election. So it is left for the PDP, it is left for the delegates. If you want us to just be on the ballot, its okay. But if you want PDP to come back to power, give me the ticket,” he said.
But his ambition is one that seem to be coldly received in the Southeast, with a number of stakeholders insisting that he should step down from the race and back someone from the zone in the interest of justice and unity.
“I expect Wike, and indeed, the people of the South South to collectively back the Southeast in 2023,” said Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, former PDP chairman and one time governor of old Anambra State.
“We have been with the South South all the way. We fought with them to ensure that they get a fair deal from the Nigerian state. We were with them and made sure they got 13 percent derivation from oil. We backed Goodluck Jonathan all the way. We have always been with them. So, I think it’s only proper for them to reciprocate the gesture this time and I hope Wike reconsiders his position.”
Zoning Controversy Persists
Meanwhile, attempts by the opposition party to agree on which zone should get its presidential candidate in 2023 have so far failed to materialise as stakeholders from both the north and south have continued to insist on the position.
Though the party’s 37-member zoning committee inaugurated on March 24 was supposed to submit its recommendations last week, it failed to do so, even as its governors continue to engage in a game of wits over the mode of primary elections that should be used to nominate the presidential candidate for the election.
With the committee apparently unable to come up with a resolution on zoning and mode of primary, there are already suggestions that both may eventually be referred to the National Executive Council (NEC).
Sources say the committee met twice in Abuja earlier last week but was unable to agree on the thorny issue of zoning, with members sharply divided on whether to cede the presidential ticket of the party to the southern part or throw the contest open for aspirants from all parts of the country.
The last meeting was hurriedly adjourned when it became obvious that committee members were not going to agree on a position on the matter, with further deliberation fixed for Tuesday.
However, chairman of the committee and Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, assured party supporters that they would come up with an arrangement that will be acceptable to all.
The meeting is yet to be concluded. We have adjourned till Tuesday next week at the same time, at the same venue. And until we conclude the proceedings, there is not much to say, he said.