Agitations for Igbo presidency has been on for quite a while. Talks of an Igbo presidency have received the backing of a few stakeholders and groups in the political space. Some Igbo and pro-Igbo political influencers believe that it is time for the South-east to bear the presidential mantle which has somewhat eluded them since the Nigerian civil war, over 50 years ago. They equally believe that agitations for secession will be quelled should an Igbo candidate emerge as president in 2023. With about 15 months to party primaries for the presidential elections, Nigerians are asking, where are the serious Igbo contenders?
Ohanaze and other Igbo leaders have made calls that the APC and PDP should field candidates from the South-east for the 2023 presidential elections. However, how many Igbo politicians or stakeholders have really indicated the zest or made serious moves to go for the presidential mantle?
The potential candidates for the presidential tickets under the APC are Vice-president, Yemi Osibanjo, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, National Leader of APC, Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, and Nasir el-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State.
Under the PDP, they include Atiku Abubakar, Vice-President, Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State, Aminu Tambuwal, Governor of Sokoto State, and Bukola Saraki, former president of the state. There are also moves to get former President Goodluck Jonathan into the race, who is still eligible for another term, having served one term in office. Reports about a bipartisan move by some groups in Northern Nigeria to return Goodluck Jonathan to power have further intensified the support for the former president.
From the above speculations, one sees only one serious-looking Igbo candidate from the two major political parties in the person of Peter Obi. With the coasts becoming very clear for politicians from the South, many politicians looking forward to this now have that opportunity of a lifetime to take a calculated shot at the number one job in Nigeria. Despite some level of support and backing, the clamour for Igbo presidency has received, Nigerians are yet to see any serious contender.
Peter Obi, who is seen as the biggest fish for the position, stated that it was not true he was planning to contest the presidential elections. He even added that the reports were becoming a distraction to him. When it gained traction online, Obi immediately distanced himself from a poster with his picture as the presidential flagbearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming presidential election in 2023.
Even the other candidates from the other zones are equally cautious. When quizzed about the possibility of him picking the APC ticket to represent at the presidential polls in 2023, Rotimi Amaechi stated it was too early to consider the 2023 presidential elections. His words:
“The best conversation to have now is how to deliver on the railway, maritime as it pertains to the responsibility assigned to me by the president.
“Why not allow me to complete the responsibility that has been given to me by the president which is being the minister of transportation.”
Former President Goodluck Jonathan also described as too early the talks about him returning as president.
Other names from the South-east like Dr Ogbonaya Onu, Dr Chris Ngige, Orji Uzor Kalu, Ike Ekweremadu, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Ifeanyi Uba, and Kingsley Moghalu have indicated little or no significant zest for the post of President.
Governor Dave Umahi who decamped to APC because there was an upswing of opinions in some circles in the PDP, especially among the Igbos that they should field a candidate for the 2023 presidential elections, stated categorically that his defection was not in any way a matter of living out the fantasies of his presidential ambition. According to the Ebonyi State Governor, his role was that of a lighthouse and forerunner:
“There are a lot of qualified persons from the South-east. Some people say I was promised lots of things by the APC, there was no such discussion. APC never promised me any position. They never promised the South-east any position.
“However, I offered this movement as a protest to injustice being done to the South-east by the PDP. Since 1999, the South-east has supported the PDP. At a time, the five states were all PDP. One of the founding members of the PDP was from the South-east, the late former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme.
“It is absurd that since 1999 going to 2023, the South-east was never considered fit to run for presidency under the PDP. And this is my position and will continue to be my position. It had nothing to do with me or my ambition.
Even when there have been various endorsements for Governor Umahi to run for the 2023 presidential elections from such groups as Nigeria Youths Assembly under the leadership of Mallam Umar Mohammad, he still hasn’t declared his intention to run. The Governor has left it on a blank note of “my future is in God’s hands”. According to him, I intend to leave politics in 2023 and because my life is owned by him, I need permission on anything that is called future.
“This is my own decision but God’s decision takes precedence over my own decision.”
Perhaps, it is pertinent to draw up the questions: if Umahi defected to APC over the opinions in some circles in the PDP that it was not planning to field any candidate for the 2023 presidential elections from the South-east, why is he not leading the way for such in APC? Why is he leaving it to fate?
Most importantly, the clamour for Igbo presidency has received endorsements from some quarters. The Coalition of Northern Elders For Peace and Development threw their weight behind the Igbo Presidency project, insisting that Nigeria’s 2023 presidency should rotate to the South East zone. The group noted that their support for Igbo presidency was borne out of the need for every part of the country to be fairly and equitably treated in the nation’s political affairs. The group posited that the Igbo had been marginalized in the affairs of the country, appealed to both the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP to field candidates of South East extraction.
The Coalition of Northern Elders for Peace and Development were responding to the demands of prominent Igbo elders, including former Aviation Minister in the First Republic, Mbazulike Amechi, former National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Okwesilieze Nwodo and Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, among others, who sought the assistance of other zones to bring to fruition the Igbo presidency in 2023. In spite of these, no contender of South-east origin has made any serious moves to take up the number one position in the country.
Perhaps, for someone like Peter Obi, the reluctance might be explained as him being cautious and trying not to step on toes or overstep his boundaries, especially having run as vice-presidential candidate alongside Atiku Abubakar at the last elections. That of Umahi may be as a result of the fact that he is new in the APC and will need to battle with strong potential party candidates from the South-west as Vice-president, Yemi Osibanjo, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, APC national leader, and Governor of Ekiti, Kayode Fayemi.
Recent reports revealed that Ohanaeze Igbo Youth Council Worldwide (OYC) claimed it has already raised $11 million dollars for the actualization of its projects for the Igbo presidency. The OYC diaspora said it was able to achieve this through freewill donation as part of efforts to ensure that the South-east produces the country’s president in 2023.
OYC President General, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, added in a statement that it has embarked on an aggressive lobbying of the two major political parties of the APC and PDP:
“Talks are on with the APC and the PDP to zone the 2023 presidential tickets to Southern Nigeria. First of all, the OYC had reached out through appropriate channels to major political parties for them to respect the gentleman agreement on rotational presidency between the North and the South. If it’s achieved, then it will be equitable for the only geo political zone which has never taken a shot at the presidency since 50 years after the Biafra war to be encouraged to produce all the presidential candidates for 2023.
“The OYC has already cemented agreement with middle belt youths, who are co-coordinating the Igbo presidency project. Talks are on with Yoruba Council of Youths and Afenifere Youth leaders on the journey for Igbo presidency.
“The Arewa Youth Consultative Youth Forum led by Alhaji Yerima Shettima has accepted to host our delegation by February 2020 in Arewa House Kaduna, for deliberation on the way forward.”
The OYC Worldwide has shown that it is making efforts towards the actualization of the Igbo presidency project, but is it enough to gather resources when there are no serious contenders for the 2023 polls.
The discordant voices amongst the Igbos impede hopes of the 2023 Igbo presidency project. The different Igbo political organizations such as Movement for the Actualization of the state of Biafra and Ohanaeze Ndigbo are yet to attain a common ground on this note. The Igbos are yet to reach a consensus on a particular group of candidates. Those that have been presented have indicated little or no interest. This is why foremost writer and critic, Chimamanda Adichie, waded in on the matter:
“Nobody has made a logical case for me, and quite frankly because I have observed the terrible leadership gap that we have in the Southeast. Igbo people cannot unite.
“If for example we said we want an Igbo President, Igbo people will not unite and then we are talking about Biafra.
“For me, there is a lot of work we need to do in the Southeast, a lot of political work, a lot of rethinking and how we can strategize politically.”
Ohanaze Ndigbo has always been of the opinion that Igbo Presidency is non-negotiable. The group has maintained that it will not rest until the Igbo Presidency project is achieved in 2023. Somewhere in August last year, the group stated that it was not interested in breaking away from Nigeria and that it was only particular about actualizing the dreams of an Igbo Presidency. According to Ohanaze, agitations for secession by IPOB stem from a feeling of marginalization which it argued continued since the civil war. The group noted that “it is coming to a point that Igbo presidency is becoming a right; no more privilege because it is only the South-east that has never tasted the presidency and we have been voting for everybody.”
Now that the stakes are rising on the side of the South-east, the question is what is being done with it? What bridges are the Igbos building across the other zones in the country to cement hopes of an Igbo president in 2023?
Ohanaeze and other Igbo groups might have to do more than just agitate. They have to start making calculated moves to actualize the hopes of Igbo presidency in 2023 from now because as it is, it doesn’t appear as though there are serious South-east contenders for the upcoming polls. Talks about Igbo presidency being a right appears irrational and unfeasible because Nigeria runs a democracy and every position is earned through the ballot.
Read Also: The Clamour for Igbo Presidency
No Southerner can emerge president on its own. Even if the APC and the PDP decide to field candidates from the South-east, it doesn’t necessarily translate to an Igbo presidency. A small party can throw up a candidate from elsewhere and still win the election, especially when they have the support of the North which obviously has the numbers. The Igbos have to reach a common ground on particular candidates and start building bridges in the other zones without which hopes of an Igbo presidency in 2023 might be dashed. With about fifteen months to party primaries, no time is better than now.