2019: Is Igbo presidency feasible?

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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo stirred up a hornet’s nest recently when he canvassed for president of Igbo extraction in 2019. Mixed reactions have trailed the comment. Prominent Igbo politicians appear to have reservations over the idea, insisting that the challenges facing Nigeria have gone beyond who becomes president. They say the best approach is to restructure the country and allow each region to develop at its own pace. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI and Assistant Editor LEKE SALAUDEEN examine Igbo’s quest for president. WITH the recent report that former President Olusegun Obasanjo has thrown his weight behind the emergence of a president of Igbo extraction in 2019, the quest for Igbo president has returned to the front-burner of national discourse. The former president gave the support when the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ogun State chapter, led by Bishop Tunde-Akin Akinsanya, visited him at his Hilltop residence, in Abeokuta for a special New Year service. He noted that injustice and marginalisation are the instigators of conflicts along ethnic and regional lines in the country. Be that as it may, a school of thought believes that the Igbo cannot be said to be serious when they vehemently argue that they are marginalised, because they have always been part and parcel of the leadership. After all, an Igbo man from Anambra State in the person of Dr. Alex Ekwueme was Vice President from 1979 to 1983. Another Igbo man from Abia State, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, also served as the de facto Vice President to military President Ibrahim Babangida, in his capacity as Chief of General Staff from 1985 to 1986. Besides, a number of Igbo sons and daughters have occupied sensitive positions in government since the return of civil rule in 1999. For instance, between 1999 and 2007, four Igbo politicians were Senate President. They are: Senators Pius Anyim, Evan Enwerem; Dr. Chuba Okadigbo; and Adophus Wabara. Anyim who hails from Ebonyi State was also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. In addition, the immediate past Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is an Igbo woman. Before her were Dr Chu Okongwu and Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, who served during the military era. Through dint of industry and hard work, the Igbo dominate the property market in Lagos and Abuja and they are found everywhere in the federation doing business and prospering. They appear to have put the bitter experiences of the civil war behind them and have moved on. During the last general elections, several legislators originally from the Southeast were elected to the House of Representatives, representing Lagos State. According that school of thought, the notion that the Igbo are unjustly treated within the Nigerian federation is therefore a big lie. But, another school of thought is of the view that the Igbo have been deliberately relegated to the background in politics. Such observers usually point to the fact that, except for a brief period (six months) in 1966 when the late Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi governed, following an abortive military coup, an Igbo has never governed the country in its 56 years of independence. They say the Hausa-Fulani has dominated the leadership of the country, particularly during the military era. This school of thought says whatever the Igbo has achieved since the end of the civil war could be attributed to their resourcefulness, industry and dint of hard work, particularly in the area of commerce. For this group, it is only when they see an Igbo son or daughter occupying the exalted position of president that they would accept that the third largest ethnic nationality has been forgiven for their perceived sins. The Igbo has been agitating for one of their own to emerge as president since the return to civil rule in 1999. But, such calls have not been strident enough, suggesting that they are not serious about producing the number one citizen in the foreseeable future. Critics say the undoing of the Igbo is that they lack the organisational acumen to close ranks and marshal out their strategy to occupy the number one position. But, in a sense, the Igbo is not alone when it comes to the cry of marginalisation; many ethnic nationalities are using it as a strategy to ask for a greater share of the national cake. Indeed, it has become a national pastime. For instance, during the Jonathan administration, the Yoruba were the ones complaining of being marginalised. During the First and the Second Republics, ethnicity was not a factor in deciding who occupies the number one position. It took the injustice meted out to the late Chief Moshood Abiola, a Yoruba from Ogun State and the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that was annulled by the military, for this to come about. In the First and Second Republics, the Yoruba were mainly in the opposition and did not have the opportunity to rule the country. But, owing to the events surrounding the June 12 debacle, Obasanjo who hails from the same state with the late Abiola became a beneficiary of the annulment in 1998, because he was released from detention and more or less handed the ticket of the then newly formed Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This was meant to assuage the feelings of the Yoruba, the second largest ethnic group in the country, over the June 12 saga. This came with the proviso that, after Obasanjo’s two terms of eight years, power was going to return to the North. In this way, the PDP enshrined zoning or power rotation in its constitution. The emergence of Jonathan, following the death of Yar’Adua, was an ‘accident’ and the North made it clear that it was not best pleased by what amounted to being sidelined politically. Though zoning or power rotation is not enshrined in the constitution, it is now widely accepted by all and sundry as an integral part of Nigeria’s political culture. The result of the last presidential election suggests that the North spoke with one voice, irrespective of party affiliation; with Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who hails from the zone, receiving an overwhelming endorsement of the electorate in that part of the country. Indeed, it was the breaking of ranks by some members of the PDP over the breach of the zoning arrangement among other things that caused the defeat of the former ruling party. According to observers, a charitable view of the benefits of Obasanjo’s clamour for Igbo presidency is only symbolic, because Baba as he is fondly called is hardly the right person to speak for them. Besides, the timing of his comment is also not the very best. According to critics, Obasanjo ought to have utilized the opportunity he had as an elected leader for two terms and his well-known single-mindedness of purpose in pursuing desired goals to lay a solid foundation for democracy. Rather, according to such critics, he used same to enthrone imposition and lack of internal democracy in the PDP. He engineered the emergence of his successor, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, who was paired with Dr. Jonathan to pave the way for the emergence of the latter in the corridors of power. This is based on the premise that the late Yar’Adua was ill at the time he was imposed on Nigerians; a fact that Obasanjo must be privy to. The Owu-born former president’s distortion of the power rotation arrangement was a key issue in the last general elections. As a result, many prominent Igbos are not amused by the former president’s latest sermon. For instance, human rights lawyer and social activist, Monday Ubani, questioned the credentials of Obasanjo in trying to champion the cause of the Igbo. He said he would be pleased to see an Igbo emerging president of Nigeria, but he cautioned his compatriots to be wary of the former president’s intention. Ubani said: “As an Igbo son, one of the signs I am looking forward to see in the nation as a clear sign that indeed the war against the Igbos is completely over is the emergence of an Igbo son/daughter as the elected president of Nigeria! I will like to see it materialise as quickly as possible. “However, in actualising that dream, I will like Igbo presidency to be result oriented; one that will not carry bags of liabilities. Recall that former President Obasanjo is not innocent of the present social, economical and political malady the country is presently engulfed in. He brought a sick Yar’dua to take over from him who later died. While it was not expedient and logical, he urged and campaigned for the ascendancy of former President Jonathan to the presidency, despite stiff opposition from the North that they needed to complete their eight years tenure. “We all know how President Jonathan ended with his tenure. The remote liabilities of the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari are also traceable to Obasanjo. While the fire he lighted is raging, he is stoking another fire by urging the Igbos to go for the Presidency in 2019. What manner of man is Obasanjo? What is his clear intention for Nigeria? Does his attitude for Nigeria befit that of a true statesman? “My Igbo people should reject his bait. Unless the two major tribes Hausas, Yorubas and other tribes are by consensus agreeing to shorten the journey of Ndigbo in 2019, the best, logical and incontestable period for Ndigbo to produce the president of Nigeria is 2023. Any struggle for it in 2019 may put Ndigbo in bad light and may even jeopardize their chances in 2023. Our efforts, statements, actions now should be tailored towards 2023. If we put our house together, unite and chose the best amongst us, the presidency is just there for our asking. No sane Nigerian will contest our right to produce the president in 2023.” Similarly, former factional National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Maxi Okwu, was skeptical about the motives behind Obasanjo’s support for Igbo presidency. He described the former president as a faulty messenger and recalled that he stopped former Vice President Alex Ekwueme and former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, from achieving their dreams of leading the country. Okwu said the issue has gone beyond who becomes Nigerian president, adding that the best approach now is to restructure the country and allow each region to develop at their own pace. His words: “When did Obasanjo suddenly start loving the Igbo? To me, some progressive Igbo like us see that the issue before us is not that of who becomes Nigerian president; let them restructure the country and allow us to develop at our own pace. We are seeking restructuring and if that fails, can we now begin to think about being asked ‘do you want to stay in Nigeria or not?’ – Referendum. This is what we want. Nigeria’s presidency is not the issue even to all Nigerians.” Former presidential candidate and Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, believes that Obasanjo’s comment can be interpreted in many ways, depending on one’s perspective. On the bright side, he said it tickles Igbo fancy, because it has helped to put the issue on the front burner of national discourse. He said he supports Igbo presidency, adding that is the reason his former party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), zoned the presidency to the Southeast in 2003, which enabled the late Biafra warlord, Chief Chukwueka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, to run for the position on the platform of the party. He added that the UPP has continued with that tradition. Okorie said: “Even though rotational presidency may not be the best for Nigeria at this point in time, my own position is that the Igbo should not be missing in action in the political arena. This is where I value Obasanjo’s statement, because except a party zones the presidency to the Southeast, the Igbo man may not have the latitude to run for the position. “But, on the other hand, what I expected Obasanjo to do was to tow the line of Ibrahim Babangida, who said if the Igbo present a candidate, he would gladly support such a candidate. From the look of things, the North would retain the APC ticket in 2019. On its part, the PDP has expressly zoned the ticket to the North in 2019. “As far as I am concerned, based on present experiences, Nigerians are now moving in the direction of referendum, restructuring the country, devolution of power, fiscal federalism and state and community policing. So, any political party that does not promote those ideologies will have challenges of selling itself in 2019. “The Yoruba socio-political organisation, the Afenifere, has already indicated that any party that does not have restructuring in its agenda, should not bother to come and campaign in the Southwest. That is the new direction that I am talking about. So, it is either a political party is for self-determination or for the maintenance of the status quo. “In fact, the chances of an Igbo emerging as the president in 2019 have never been brighter as it is today. The UPP has an advantage, because its manifesto promotes the ideologies I have enumerated.” Second Republic politician and one of the founding members of the PDP, Chief Guy Ikokwu, put it even more succinctly. He picked holes in Obasanjo’s call that the Igbo should be allowed to produce the president in 2019, saying it would suicidal for them to do so in the prevailing unitary structure of Nigeria, saying the way forward is to restructure the country, to unleash economic development from all parts of the country. Ikokwu said Obasanjo had a golden opportunity in 2005, when he convened his National Political Reforms Conference (NPRC), to restructure Nigeria and return the country to true federalism, but he bungled it. He added: “That would have meant devolution of power to the states and regions, which would have given Nigeria a very strong economic base and we would not have been in recession that we are now.” The season politician said given the current unitary system that the Igbo prefer restructuring of Nigeria to presidential ambition. He said: “The last Igbo man who ruled Nigeria under the unitary system was General Aguiyi-Ironsi. He was murdered in the July 1966 counter-coup. Why will another Igbo person want to assume presidency of Nigeria under a unitary system as we have today when the last person was murdered? “Ndigbo are not ready to make the same unsavoury mistake again. Majority of Ndigbo are not interested in the Nigerian presidency in our skewed and dysfunctional constitutional system, which is presently unitary, instead of truly federal. Therefore, the Igbo are at the forefront of the quest for justice, fairness, equity and equilibrium for all parts of Nigeria and the six geo-political zones, which will make Nigeria to become the pride of Africa and no longer the ‘big for nothing’ entity we are referred to in West Africa and the rest of Africa. “The restructuring of Nigeria can be done this year because all the documentation has been done by all stakeholders and groups in the country. It should not take more than two months; between now and Easter. The authorities can hold a referendum by June. The moment that is done, the economy of Nigeria will be turned around immediately, because there will be renewed hope from everybody. Let the best thing for the country to be done now. We should no longer postpone the evil day.” But, others like former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, hailed Obasanjo for his comments. He added that the former president was calling for Igbo presidency, because he understands the dynamics of the nation’s politics. He said: “Obasanjo is key to Nigeria’s politics; you may not like his social behavior; you may not like his political behavior; you may have many things you don’t like about him, but what you cannot take away from him is that he understands Nigeria’s politics. “I think God reveals things to some people, because it is obvious what he said is a reality. Some people know it already and have been hoping on it. But, one of the things you can praise him for is the knowledge that Buhari has debased Nigeria in seriously pushing down things out of Nigeria. Everywhere, at Aba, without any provocation people were killed; at Onitsha, while they were carrying their Bible, they were killed; now again for something not concerning Nigeria, but Donald Trump, 50 young men were massacred for no just cause. They were not carrying sticks, not to talk about knife or gun.” But, is Igbo presidency really desirable? Ideally, observers say where the president comes from does not really matter, as long as he presents himself as the president of the whole country and governs with that spirit. But, it is the way Nigerian politics is evolving that is making the Igbo to assert their right to govern the country. Such observers say the Igbo must put their acts together, if the truly want to produce the president when power reverts back to the South, because nobody would give you power on a platter of gold. Second Republic lawmaker, Dr Junaid Muhammed, frowned at Obasanjo’s call for Igbo presidency, saying the former president’s statement was irresponsible and was not made in good faith. Muhammed said though “every ethnic group has the right to aspire to produce president and every Nigerian that satisfies the constitutional requirements can aspire to become the president, but it cannot be at the instance of an individual”. The Kano-born politician said: “Already, we are having problems with zoning or rotation of the presidency between the North and the South, now you want add ethnic dimension that a particular tribe should produce president in 2019. I find Obasanjo’s advocacy troubling. In democracy, it is the people through their votes that decide who becomes president. “It is up to Nigerians to decide, not for Obasanjo to tell us where the next president should come from. He doesn’t have the power to determine the timeline when an ethnic group should produce president. Obasanjo’s statement was not made in good faith. “If we had relied on Yoruba votes in 1999, Obasanjo would never have become the president of the country then. He failed to win in his ward, local government, senatorial district and state, because he was rejected by the Yoruba people. He is not the type of person to advocate that one ethnic group should produce the next president.” For an Igbo president to emerge, Muhammed said the Igbo people should reach out to other ethnic groups, adding that they must also admit the blunder of their kinsmen in military that resulted in the killings of the Prime Minister, the late Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Premier of the North, the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello and the Premier of the Western Region, the late Chief Ladoke Akintola. Former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, agrees with Muhammed. He said though there is freedom of speech in the constitution, which allows individuals to express themselves on political issues, but no one has the power or privilege to say the president should come from a particular ethnic group. Babatope said it the peoples’ vote that will decide and that it is not what anyone can just decide. He added that every Nigerian has the right to become president and that this also applies to every zone or region, but not for an individual no matter how influential he or she may be. Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State may not fit into the mould of those insisting on Igbo presidency. But, all the same, he has been the rallying point for many of his compatriots who desire to see an Igbo becoming the president of Nigeria in the near future. Okorocha was one of those who had the foresight, by being a founding member of the APC; many of the Igbo politicians who defected to the ruling party in recent times and are now falling over each other today, to curry the favour of the party leadership for one position or the other, did not see what the Imo State governor saw, before the party was formed. After the APC presidential primary in 2014, he said his reason for contesting for the ticket is to give the Igbo a sense of belonging in the fold. Indeed, he has been urging the Igbo all along to rally round the progressive camp, because that is where they are likely to be given the opportunity to rule Nigeria. Speaking recently during the inauguration of the APC Southeast Ward Mobilizers and Supporters Club, at the Ahiajoku Convention Centre, Owerri, he said the Igbo presidency is feasible under APC. The Imo State governor said the former ruling had relegated the Southeast zone to the background, despite its contribution to the growth and success of the party. He said: “I am highly elated that our people are responding to this clarion call that has to do with our collective destiny and aspiration. It is a clear fact that the Igbo have been relegated to sixth position in the political equation of our nation, not minding the fact that we formed one of the tripods upon which the nation stands. “In a situation where no Igbo man occupies the seat of the President, the Vice President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chairman of the ruling party gives credence to the fact we have been relegated to the background by the PDP. But my assurance today is that our tears would be wiped away in APC as we have no doubt started well and will definitely finish on a very good note in this new party. “Let me state categorically that Igbo presidency, which appeared impossible in PDP, would be actualised under the platform of the APC. Therefore, I make bold to say that the APC is truly an Igbo party and should be embraced by the entire Igbos.” Source: The Nation
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