With the gale of declarations for the presidency so far, RAPHAEL EDE writes that the journey towards achieving a president of Igbo extraction by 2023 will not be a ride in the park

The past few days have shown that the race for the 2023 presidential election has begun, especially with the declaration of some prominent Nigerians from the southern part of the country.

Apart from former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, who had announced publicly his intention to succeed the incumbent President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), come 2023 former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, recently visited Buhari in Aso Rock to formally inform him of his ambition.

While Tinubu will obviously be vying on the platform of the APC, Anyim, who was the first to declare his ambition, will test his popularity on the podium of the Peoples Democratic Party. It was after the declaration by the former governor of Lagos State that the Ebonyi State Governor, Chief David Umahi, and former Governor of Abia State and Chief Whip of the ninth National Assembly, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, and publisher, Dele Momodu, joined the train.

A former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, has also declared his intent to become Nigeria’s president. Moghalu, who aspires to contest on the platform of the African Democratic Congress, was the presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party in 2019. More are expected to join the race ahead of the 2023 presidential poll. Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar are expected to declare their presidential aspirations in no distant time.

Tinubu had said after his meeting with the President that, “I’ve informed the President of my intention, but I have not informed Nigerians yet. I’m still consulting. And I have no problem consulting. I’ve not set a parameter of limitation to the extent of how many people I will consult. You will soon hear; all you want to hear is the categorical declaration. You’ve got that truth from me that I have informed Mr President of my ambition, and you don’t expect more answers than that.”

But among those who have declared their ambition for the number one position so far, those from the South-East are more in number. This could be an indication of the readiness of Ndigbo to take over the mantle of leadership in 2023 after Buhari must have completed his two terms in office.

Anyim, while declaring his presidential aspiration at the South-East consultation with the PDP stakeholders in Enugu, said the South-East stakeholders had repeatedly made a case for zoning the presidency to the region for equity and fairness. He said, “I was emphatic that I will contest whether the presidency is zoned to the South or not. If the presidency is zoned to the South-East, it will satisfy the just demand for equity and fairness. If it is not zoned to the South-East, it will remain a burden on the conscience of the nation.”

Interestingly, on January 11, Ebonyi State Governor, Chief David Umahi, declared his aspiration to contest the presidency, less than 24 hours after Tinubu had declared his ambition. Briefing State House correspondents after consulting with Buhari, Umahi stated that he was not contesting the position with anybody.

Although Kalu has declared interest in the presidency, he, however, implied that he would be more committed to his aspiration if his party, the APC, zoned the presidential ticket to the South-East.

 However, some are of the view that the realisation of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023 will be dependent on whether the major political parties will zone the presidency to the South-East, otherwise their declarations would amount to nothing.

Recall that the former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, had on January 7, 2022 said the PDP had agreed to re-zone the presidency to the northern region despite its agreement that any candidate could contest the election.

Aliyu, who stated this when  the Atiku Support Organisation visited him in Minna, had said, “In our zoning agreement, we have agreed to re-zone to the North as requested by others, but we have agreed, and written openly as a result of what has happened that any candidate from any part of the country can now contest this election.”

Nevertheless, the PDP National Secretariat denied the claim, clarifying that it had not zoned the presidency to any zone. The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, in a statement said the party had yet to zone its presidential ticket for the 2023 general election, describing the claims by certain persons as misleading.

Even with the placating words from the PDP, the road to achieving a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction appears not to be a smooth one as none of the two major political parties has declared which zone should produce the next president. Again, some are of the view that the Igbo are obviously not thinking of forging a common front by presenting and supporting one candidate.

Speaking on the chances of the South-East zone, the Chairman, Alaigbo Development Foundation, Abia Onyike, said, “It does not really depend on what the Igbo do or what they will say, it all depends on the kingmakers of Nigerian politics to decide whether to give it a try or not. The Igbo can consult, lobby and reach out to other power blocks on their quest for the Nigerian presidency, but it depends on the inclination of the Nigerian kingmakers to take up the issue for its actualisation or to vehemently oppose it.”

On his part, a professor of Political Science, Obasi Igwe, said many believed that Ndigbo deserved to produce the next President as a continuation of the affirmative actions in the process of the healing and mutual accommodation in Nigeria.

He said, “Many Igbo appreciated this prospective gesture and genuinely believed that that was one direct and easy way to reassure our youths and bring the angry agitations to an amicable close.”

But some wise individuals went behind and started arguing that the political palliative or affirmative action is for a ‘South-East’ not for the Igbo as a whole. Many of the most brutal episodes of the unfortunate civil war were in the riverine/Mbammiri and Anioma areas. So, how can a true Igbo healing process exclude them yet again when South-South zonal stalwarts had already been saying or implying that the Igbo cannot take a double share both in South-South and South-East?

“Abiola contested as Yoruba albeit unofficially, and Obasanjo was an affirmative action for the Yoruba, not South-West only. Jonathan was affirmative action mainly for the Ijaw and allied Niger Deltan agitations.”

Igwe, a former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nigeria, nevertheless, warned that the Igbo elite must speedily rescue themselves now, by returning to the original principle of Igbo, not “South-East” presidency, throw the competition open to everyone that is Igbo – it may well be that an Owerre, Elele, Agbor man or woman or whoever else gets nominated, but let there be justice and fairness to all.

A legal practitioner and human rights advocate, Chief Nnamdi Asomugha, said, “Nigerians were actually ready for an Igbo presidency following the formation of the Peoples Democratic Party in 1997/98 when Alex Ekwueme was almost certain to emerge as the political party’s presidential candidate, having led it from its formative period. However, the military wing of Igbo haters carried out a coup against Ekwueme at the Jos PDP convention that threw up Olusegun Obasanjo from nowhere in the political equation at the time,” Asomugha said.

For the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the 2023 is the time for other ethnic nationalities to support Igbo to produce the next president, arguing that Ndigbo have supported other ethnic nationalities to produce president.

Ohanaeze spokesman, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, speaking with our correspondent in an interview, explained that since southern Nigeria was standing on a tripod, if the South-West and South-South had produced president when the presidency came to the region, it was natural that the South-East would produce next whenever the presidency got to the South again.

He recalled that in June 1998, when General Sani Abacha died and General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.) took over, the late Dr Alex Ekwueme group pressured Abubakar to specifically extract a handover date by the military to the civilians.

“Ekwueme, including Jerry Gana, Isa Kaita, Sule Lamido, Abubakar Rimi, Bola Ige, Solomon Lar, Iyorcha Ayu, Sunday Awoniyi, Adamu Ciroma, among other noble patriots held a meeting and conceded to zoning and rotation of political offices such that it will be fair to all the geo political zones in the country. It was then agreed that the presidency should rotate to the South after the time of Abdulsalami,” Ogbonnia added

He said the major cause of the agitation in the South-East was the alienation of the people from the various centres of power, which he stated, had attained its crescendo under the present APC-led regime.

He said, “The extreme form of the agitation are the yearnings for secession by groups such as the Indigenous People of Biafra led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. Evidently, the ongoing activities of IPOB in the South-East should be of great concern to every patriotic Nigerian. For the avoidance of doubt, the followers of IPOB insist on leaving Nigeria for a country of their own, if the injustice against them persists. On the other hand, the more deprived the South-East, the more the crises in the region.

“Unfortunately, some Nigerians outside the South-East are playing the ostrich. When confronted with danger, the ostrich instinctively buries its head in the sand dunes in the hope that it is shielded from the enemy. The ostrich often forgets that the entire body is exposed to danger. In other words, it is foolhardiness to believe that the ripple effect of the South-East agitation and restiveness will not affect the entire Nigeria. My fear is that to deny the South-East the very opportunity and in fact, the right to produce the next president of Nigeria will increase the agitation and ultimately spell disaster for the country.”

But there is almost a general belief that an Igbo presidency will not come on a silver platter as Ndigbo need to buckle down. That may have made the former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, to say Ndigbo were “prepared to kneel or bow before every ethnic group to clinch the 2023 presidency”.

However, such a move, some have said, was not necessary as Ndigbo had not wronged any ethnic nationality in Nigeria to warrant that, more so, when the Coalition of Northern Groups described their humility as “no more than deception”.

The group, while responding to the noble gesture of the elder statesman said “the Igbo have by their conduct denied themselves the opportunity to be trusted with power in the nearest future. The bitter truth is that no matter how low the Igbo are willing to go or how long they are willing to keep their knees on the ground, it will be unreasonable to expect other Nigerian tribes, not least the North, to risk entrusting the presidency to them.”

But the leadership of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra has opposed the appealing tendencies of the Igbo elders while also condemning what it described as the “insensitive and insulting remarks of the coalition against the Igbo nation.”

A public affairs analyst, Chimbuko Duru, advised those gunning for the presidency in the South-East to present a common front and stop creating the impression that the people from the zone were divided or disunited in pursuing a cause. Duru explained that it was better to put up a good showing than perform poorly due to avoidable mistakes.

“Ndigbo are known to be enterprising. But this has not been shown in the way we play politics. That is why the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe remained the best politician living or dead from the South-East. The Igbo should take the 2023 presidential election seriously and present a person known to be a lover of truth and all Nigerians irrespective of their tribe. There must be a common candidate from the South-East that the majority of Nigerians will love to support. It is wrong to present Emeka, Ifeanyi, Njoku and Eze at the same time. That will only signify one thing; division.

Speaking further, the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, Uchenna Madu, said in an interview with Saturday PUNCH that “a beggar only begs for something that does not belong to him and is always inferior to the giver, but Ndigbo are not beggars.”

He explained that it would be an abomination for Igbo elders to kneel down to another to beg, even when the lives of Ndigbo are at risk. “We can never beg, rather we devise our own means of fighting back because Igbo must survive. Ndigbo are not cowards or weaklings,” he said.

Madu advised Igbo elders to stop making disgraceful and condescending utterances in their quest for the presidency, insisting that occupying the seat of the President of Nigeria was not the greatest need of Ndigbo at the moment, rather they should embark on convincing thousands of Igbo entrepreneurs, estate developers, international businessmen, captains of industries, great researchers, world class engineers, and religious leaders to start rapid development and investment in Igbo land to create jobs for her people.

“Being a president of Nigeria for four or eight years is not our ultimate desire. How do you think that your enemies will trust you, even if you kill your wife or children to show your loyalty to them, just as our so-called Igbo/Abuja politicians are killing our brothers to please the northern caliphates, still they never gained the trust of the North? MASSOB wants to make it clear that those clamouring to be president of Nigeria come 2023 are fooling themselves because there may be no election in the entire Biafra land.”

From the stakeholders’ belief, it can be easily deduced that though the move for a president of Nigeria from the South-East remains a welcome development, achieving it remains a different ball game.

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