The clamour for Igbo presidency is often linked to the perception that Igbos have been displaced from power in the centre since the Biafran war. Some Igbos and pro-Igbo political influencers believe that an Igbo presidency will heal the wounds of the civil war. They believe that the agitations for the secession of the region would be quelled by a sense of belonging enacted by an Igbo president. The Nigeria Presidential Project, The Ohaneze Youth Council Worldwide, and other Igbo coalition groups claim to be working assiduously to win hearts and minds within and outside the presidency towards the 2023 Election.
Meanwhile, the Coalition of Northern Elders for Peace and Development has urged Nigerians to support an Igbo presidency in order to give them a sense of belonging in the nation. They asserted that there is a ‘need for all parts of the country to be fairly and equitably treated in the nation’s political affairs.’ The coalition appealed to Nigeria’s prominent political parties, the All-Progressive Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), to pitch Igbo candidates in 2023 since it featured two Yoruba candidates in 1999, two Fulani candidates afterward, with a change in the arrangement being Goodluck Jonathan. The group’s National Coordinator, Zana Goni, and its National Women Leader, Mario Bichi, have said that it was important to ‘maintain the culture of the rotational presidency between the North and South, which has helped douse political tension in Nigeria’. This position rehashes the pronouncement of former Governor Shekarau who had called upon Nigerians to give Igbos a chance in 2023. From the outlook of the group, it appears to be a faction of Northerners who have become weary of the dominance of a North-West presidency.
It is noteworthy that a Yoruba group, Igbo for President Solidarity Congress (IPSC), begun soliciting support for the Igbo presidency eight months ago. Its national leader, Olukayode Oshin Ariyo, has founded the group’s strong views on the Federal Character Principle and the resolutions of the 2014 Confab that submitted that rotational presidency should be enshrined in the constitution. Unfortunately, the Federal Character Principle is meant for achieving equity in the appointment of ministers, directors, perm secs, and government appointees across the federal structure. Femi Fani-Kayode has also backed an Igbo presidency in 2023. He advised Igbos to seek ample support from political actors from other regions.
The Igbo elites seem to have heeded the advice of The Journal by soliciting support for Igbo presidency from other political actors. There will be an urgent need to do more of this nationwide if the dream of an Igbo president is to be achieved. Okwesilieze Nwodo, a former National Chairman of the PDP, noted that the Igbos are already speaking with one voice. He threatened that if the Igbos are denied the zoning of the Presidency to the South-East, it will justify the ‘unfairness’ that the Igbos have endured, and activate major transfers of support for the secession agenda of Nnamdi Kanu. This was corroborated by Chief Mike Ahamba, a renowned lawyer, who said that the defection of Umahi from the PDP has not removed the chunk of influence in the Party. Nevertheless, he enjoined the PDP and the APC to field candidates from the South-East. Ahamba also addressed the question of unity amongst the Igbos: ‘Is there any part of Nigeria that speaks with one voice? Too much is expected of us. Others are speaking divergently but everybody wants all Igbo people to speak in one voice. We don’t believe in dictatorship in Igbo land. So, whatever we do will be a consensual affair. Consensus is when people leave all their opposition to accept the majority voice. I believe the Igbo man will have a consensual approach to the Igbo affair. If any party nominates an Igbo man and the person nominated is saleable, he will be supported by Ndigbo’.
However, there are strong Northern voices who have asserted that they may not be ready to relinquish power to the South under any form of expectations, rationale, or principle. The late Mamman Daura had hinted this before he died. He noted that merit should be made to supersede such arrangements. While many have accused Mamman Duara of ‘shifting the goal post’, other prominent Northern voices have asserted that the presidency is for the finest of political gladiators who have received immense support from all the regions of Nigeria through negotiation and through collaboration. While many Northern voices have been heard, Governor El-Rufai seems to have spoken from two sides of his mouth on the issue. The Governor of Kaduna State had described the zoning formular as ‘opaque’, and insisted that only competent hands are meant to run Nigeria. However, the governor, in the same month, had emerged with an assertion that no Northerner should run in 2023. Many media reports have hinted that he may be vying for a vice-presidential slot in 2023.
The clamour for Igbo presidency has galvanised supporters this year because the rotational expectations of power are meant to return to the South after the eight-year rule of President Buhari, who is from the North. This Power Rotation Principle is an exception because it is not enshrined in the constitution; neither does it feature in any of the legal frameworks of any political parties. However, it hints at the urgency of the Federal Character and the clamour for tribal representations in power. This assumed regional agreement had always been a matter of necessity as seen in the election campaigns of the 1999 elections where former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae were the prominent participants of the elections because many members of the Northern elite felt that power should be given to the South-West to compensate the sub-region for the death of MKO Abiola, winner of the botched 1994 Presidential Elections.
In a previous analysis of The Journal, we have asserted that power is not given on a platter of gold neither is it won by making enemies of other tribes and peoples. Power is gotten through engagement and partnership with other tribes. For many Igbos who perhaps believe in the Nigerian State, it is time to seek the office of the president come 2023. Although no Igbo candidates have announced any presidential bid.
Recently, Dave Umahi, the Governor of Ebonyi State, explained to the press that he decided to defect from the PDP to the APC not because he had been promised the presidency by the president or the party, as rumoured by the public. He noted that he withdrew his political influence from the PDP because the PDP refused to back the emergence of an Igbo president since the dawn of the 4th Republic. It can be recalled that Governor Umahi and his state executives had given the PDP an ultimatum which demanded that the presidential ticket for 2023 be zoned to the South-East. Umahi’s defection was a response to the unmet expectations of Umahi and 23 of his state party members. A chieftain of the APC noted that if the Ebonyi State Governor harboured any interest in the position of the president in 2023, he would have to play politics on a level playing field that would see the survival of the fittest emerge from the entire South. For the Chieftain, there are many other Igbos whose political influence spread across the zone. Governor Umahi would also have to contend with political bigwigs in the South-West, like Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Kayode Fayemi, and Rotimi Ameachi.
Governor Dave Umahi had responded that his defection to the APC was to use his position to rebel against the PDP for its lack of support for Igbo presidency and to establish a formidable link with the centre so that Igboland will not be politically marginalised. The Eastern political bigwigs mentioned were Chief Uzo Kalu, Ogbonaya, Onu, and Rochas Okorocha. Other names rumoured to be interested in the presidency are former Governors, Chimaroke Nnamani, Sam Egwu, Achike Udenwa, and Peter Odili. The Ohaneze had told the public that formidable politicians from the East who had served as senators, ministers, and governors were interested in vying for the position without any rancor. This was validated by former Governor Rochas Okorocha who said that the Igbos were aligning irrespective of political party affiliations to present the best man for the job at the centre. While the Igbos are realigning themselves to pick a formidable tribal flagbearer, there are rumours that some groups may present former president Goodluck Jonathan to contest for only a single term in fulfillment of the constitution. The constitution restricts Jonathan from running another two-term as President of Nigeria.
It can be recalled that apart from the keenly contested presidential ambition of Chief Nnamdi Azikwe against Shehu Shagari in the 1970s, other Igbo presidential aspirants have received little or no support from the Igbos themselves. Most recently, the likes of Oby Ekwesili, and Kingsley Moghalu were largely disappointed by their kinsmen who divided their votes amongst former vice president Atiku Abubakar and President Mohammadu Buhari. Many pundits also claimed that the choice of Governor Peter Obi as vice presidential candidate to Atiku did nothing to influence victory or sway massively the votes of the Igbos in the last presidential election. This speaks volumes on the cohesion of the Igbos when it comes to politics and political choices.
While many Igbos find a nexus between the Nigerian Dream, there remain groups of Igbos who assert the need for Igbos to secede. The Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) headed by Nnamdi Kanu, and the Movement for the Actualisation for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), have been relentless in posturing that secession is the only way for the Igbos to prosper and have a good lease of life in the continent. Nevertheless, it seems that the MASSOB has shifted and aligned with the Ohaneze to canvass for an Igbo presidential candidate as the latter group organised a rally around five states of the region recently.
In many cases, the Igbos have accused other tribes of oppression, marginalisation, and destruction of the livelihoods of their fellow tribesmen. The dissension within the Igbos is another cause for worry as seen in the case with Nnamdi Kanu who declared a bounty on the head of Dr. Nyseom Wike, the Governor of River State. The Rivers State Government was therefore swift to place a ban on the group in the state in order to forestall violence. Such acts do not encourage other tribes and people of Nigeria to support or vote for Igbo presidency.
In September, the Ohaneze Ndigbo Youth Council (OYC) lamented that there was ‘an unholy alliance between Yoruba Activists and Biafra Agitators’ who were working assiduously to scuttle the chance of an Igbo presidency in 2023 by hurriedly creating the Oduduwa Republic in order to make it difficult for the nation to appease Igbo agitations. This also has the potential to heighten tribal loyalties and dampen empathy towards the Igbos at these crucial political times. There must be something the Igbos can do to unify the myriad of voices that assert different directions and curate different futures for the Igbo nation. So far, the Ohanneze has failed to galvanise all the different voices in Igboland. This may adversely affect the chances of an Igbo presidency. The Igbos continue to struggle with the question, ‘What Do the Igbos Want?’ as described by The Journal. Until there is a unity of purpose and a defined focus for the entire people, there is likely going to be a stymied political future for the Igbo political elite.
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