The next presidential elections will take place in less than two years from now, and politicians are seen all over the country making alliances and building bridges across different ethnic nationalities. The possibility remains that political alliance, even if not palatable in itself, may be a valid means of achieving desirable ends.
Though partisans may rightly prefer to pursue their goals as independent player or groups, there may be circumstances that are better pursued in coordination. Yet, no serious candidate of Southeast extraction is seen in the current moves of bridge building and political alliances going on currently in the country that will ultimately produce a new president in 2023.
Though there has been a demand in recent times by some Southeast leaders for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition platform, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to zone their 2023 presidential ticket to the geo-political zone, but the body language of political gladiators from the region is not showing any sign of seriousness over the quest to clinch the much-coveted position in the country.
The call by the Southeast leaders for an Igbo presidency is coming against the backdrop of the raging debate over power shift to the South and the clamour for the next president to emerge based on merit and not zoning.
While the apex socio-cultural organisation in the North, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), has said that it would only support a candidate who understands the problems in the North, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) noted that competence would be its defining benchmark on how the next president will emerge.
Also, while leaders from the North Central zone have insisted that their region is best suited to occupy the presidency because it has not tested the presidency in a civilian setting, Southwest leaders maintain that their zone must produce the next president.
Recently, some leaders of the Southeast, including the Senate chief whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, former deputy Senate president, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, among others, at a meeting in Igbere, Abia State, asked the APC and PDP to zone their presidential tickets to the zone in the interest of fairness.
On its part, the Association of Middle Belt Ethnic Nationalities (ASOMBEN) declared that the Southeast region cannot deliver a presidential candidate in 2023, just as he called on the APC not to zone its presidential ticket to the region.
Secretary-general of ASOMBEN, Rev James Pam, said the Southeast gave President Muhammadu Buhari only five per cent of their votes in 2015 and only managed to win the Imo State governorship election in a controversial Supreme Court judgment.
According to him, Southeast has the least number of seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives with only five states among the six geo-political zones, adding that if the presidency is to be given to any zone, it should be the Northcentral.
Indeed, the controversy over which region should produce the next president in 2023 is already an issue and every zone of the country seems to have interest in the issue.
It is also believed in some quarters that, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is gearing up with some saying that he has an alliance within the ruling APC for power to return to the West through him in 2023.
Also on the line are Prof Yemi Osinbajo, the current vice-president; Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, and former Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun who are among those touted to have interests in the highest office in the country. There is also former governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State pushing his chances in the opposition PDP.
Southeast zone, the only zone in the Southern region that is yet to produce a president should be eyeing the position, but it seems lacklustre about it. Infact, analysts say whenever the issue of presidency of Igbo extraction comes up, it becomes difficult to decide whether the Southeast wants Igbo presidency, restructuring or Biafra.
Apart from former Anambra governor, Mr Peter Obi who genuinely and selflessly fights for the Igbo cause, as well as Senators Ike Ekweremadu and Enyinnaya Abaribe, many other politicians seem to have a lackadaisical attitude towards Igbo presidency.
Many of these Southeast politicians appear to be under the illusion that after Buhari would have completed his tenure in 2023, power would be handed over to the Igbos. But they have forgotten that power is not given, but taken.
Another factor that will distort the Igbo presidency project of 2023 is the fact that, the people are not united and cannot speak with one voice and on top of it, they are perceived to play what many call “bad politics”.
On its part, the North Central People’s Forum (NCPF) said it has as much right to demand the presidential tickets of APC and PDP in 2023 as the South East leaders.
The publicity secretary of the forum, Hon Sule Audu, said even though the Southeast is entitled to vie for the office of the presidency in 2023, the North Central is more favoured if the ticket is zoned to the North:
“If you look at it geographically, and based on the zoning system in the country today, the Southeast has never produced the president of this country, the same thing with the North Central, although the Southeast had Aguiyi Ironsi and Nnamdi Azikwe.
“I will put it that Azikiwe was an elected civilian president while Ironsi was a military Head of State, just as we have Gen Ibrahim Babangida and Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar in the North Central.
“But now we have six zones which are South South, North-central, Southwest, Northeast, Southeast and Northwest. The South produced Goodluck Jonathan while the South West produced Olusegun Obasanjo who was a military Head of State as well as elected president. So, if the Southwest has produced both the Head of State and elected president, it is not wise for them to demand for the slot again.
“However, the North Central and Southeast have the right to demand for the slot of president because looking at the balancing of the equation, the Northwest had produced three elected presidents; Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua and the current president Muhammadu Buhari and two military presidents of Murtala Mohammed and Gen Sani Abacha”.
According to Audu, the Northeast only had the former premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was from Bauchi while the Sadauna of Sokoto was the premier of Nigeria.
“So on the whole, the three zones have the right to demand for president, but to be more favourable, it should be the Northcentral. If it is the turn of the North-central, anyone coming out to contest for the office of the president from the Southwest and Northwest is a spoiler”.
In alll of these, the frontline presidential aspirants in the APC are from the Southwest and Northcentral. For strategic reasons and its own internal zoning, the PDP is looking up north for a presidential flagbearer.
At the moment, the Southeast has no known serious contenders who is hitting the roads on any of these two platforms. The politicians from other regions probably understand the political dynamics of the moment and the swinging of the pendulum. The political indicators in reality point to 2027 or 2031 as the closest possibility for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. It also seems most serious politicians from the Southeast are already prepared in their minds to live with this hard fact.