Political players and their proteges, both in Nigeria and the world over, never forget to remember that, in politics, there are no permanent enemies; only permanent interests. In the instance of Nigeria, the political wheels have always been driven and oiled, before and after Independence, by a metaphorical lubricant of alliance. The political history, context and climate of Nigeria have been shaped and reshaped often by constant alignments and realignments, depending on what side one belongs and what the crystal ball of political permutations is dictating at a particular point in time in any political dispensation.
Many political scientists and social critics tend to agree on the view that the establishment of alliances is one of the perpetual characteristics of the political landscape in many multi-ethnic states. In the Nigerian example, the federal nature of the nation provides the basis of competition for natural resources and economic opportunities, which makes certain dimensions of ethnic rivalry to play out among the federating units. In the view of some political scientists, a slant of competition is frequently observed in how factors such as ethnicity and competition for the control of the structural frameworks of the state as well as reward system, often prevent the existence of national or nation-wide political associations and the emergence of nationally acknowledged political leaders. This is not to say that a country such as Nigeria has not, at some point or the other, created histories of alliances in its political matrix. However, alliances are always made with the consciousness and guiding intention of guarding against the domination of one group by another. It is to this effect that the legal structures or constitutions of many multi-ethnic states usually provide that the central governments must be formed by the parties or candidates with the overall majority of either parliamentary seats or total votes cast in general elections.
In a political arrangement like Nigeria, the importance of political alliances at party levels and the formation of alliance-governments at both state and national levels, cannot be over-emphasised. While constructing alliances across ethnic and regional divides, lots of political plotting, manoeuvrings and intrigues often take place. Political coalitions often take the form of consensual agreements and the formal cooperation of two or more ethnic groups or political parties with the aim of reaching political objectives, which include the short-term aim of winning elections and mid- and long-term objective of controlling state resources and reward systems. Most often, these political covenants and arrangements have consequences that shape the direction not only of the fates of political actors, but of the federation as a whole.
Historically, Nigeria’s First Republic was widely characterised by the regional dominance of political parties. Political parties mostly won elections based on their popularity among the people of a region, rather than by the formation of alliances. The unity of Nigeria appeared quite vulnerable as a newly independent country and young democracy. In 1964, two dominant political alliances, which reflected the country’s regional arrangement, contested the federal parliament seats in the country’s first national elections. The large Northern region which was clearly the stronghold of the National Nigerian Alliance (NNA), contended with the three smaller southern constituents, apparently a stronghold of the opposition United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). As with any political calculations, the stakes were high for the region that had control of the federal parliament. There were the prospects of job patronage, industrial and trade contracts, and the lobbying for the location of new industries in the constituencies of political stalwarts.
It was understandable that the Northern region, which was less economically advanced, had maintained the control of political power due to its size and large population, while the three regions of the south with a supposedly extensive contact with Western civilisation, had unsuccessfully attempted to make political inroads to the centre. The Northern Region’s NNA, with a majority in the federal parliament, formed the government at the centre under Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
These political intrigues highlight the stiffness of competition among political actors when the contest for power and state resources is in question. However, in the current political dispensation of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, lessons seem to have been learnt that no one region has singlehandedly helped itself to the nation’s presidency except through a well thought-out, formidable and workable alliance with other groups or parties, as well as tactical inter-ethnic ‘handshakes across the Niger.’ The merger of a number of political parties in Nigeria into one party – the All Progressive Congress (APC) – in 2013 ahead of the 2015 presidential election re-awakened an already recurring tendency and trend in the Nigerian polity.
In view of Nigeria’s political history, it would seem that there have been more instances of formation of alliances between the Northern and South-western sections of the country than between any other two sections. Unlike the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which had laid constant claim to being a national party on account of its national spread, the emergent APC of 2013 was an amalgam of all major opposition political parties before the 2015 elections. The political alignments and alliances that preceded the 2015 election are an archetypal reference on how the confluence of national spread and strategic ethnic, regional and party alliances can determine the pendulum of an election in Nigeria.
To these ends and in view of the current political atmosphere in which there are rising calls in certain quarters for a possible Igbo President, it is important to ask to what extent the Igbo are willing to go into making alliances, just as the South-west and a large section of the north did in the recent past. What are there obstacles, complications or other factors that may prevent the South-east from achieving this feat? Could the acephalous nature of the Igbo as an ethnic group be a debilitating factor? Contemporary history has shown that a major challenge for the Igbo has been the inability to have a common front and direct all energies and synergies of money, materials and alliances towards a shared goal.
In the annals of Nigeria’s history, power has always been contested, rather than served á la carte. The regions that have hitherto got the presidency had contested for it. Even when, upon the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua in 2010, there were positions and counter-positions about the legality of a ‘doctrine of necessity’ and the constitutional logic of having a Vice President succeed the late President, the succession process was yet subject to contestations of different kinds, preceding the subsequent emergence of Goodluck Jonathan. The massive support by the Igbo for President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential elections did not produce the needed result, majorly because of the negative indices in the economic and developmental graphs of the country at the time.
However, in the run-up to the 2019 presidential elections, the Igbo section of the country was yet found to have had about three of their own contesting for positions related to the country’s presidency – Oby Ezekwesili and Kingsley Moghalu were presidential candidates, while Peter Obi was a running mate to the PDP’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. This had the strategic implication that bloc voting was made impossible for the Igbo. Also, the possibility of a well-fashioned alliance with other regions of the country, politically and ethnically, was completely upset! In 2019 as in 2015, the Igbo did not play their cards well, going by the results of the elections.
Whether the South-East has learnt any lessons about their past failed attempts at the presidency, or whether they have reasons to count their political-cum-electoral losses and fashioned new directions for actualising this political ideal, remains for time to reveal. Not too long ago, a faction of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, led by Uche Okwukwu, had come forward to apologise for enlisting their support for Peter Obi in the last elections. In another vein, another Igbo group, the Centre for Equity and Justice, recently released a list of nineteen possible Igbo candidates for the 2023 presidential election, with six potential Northern vice-presidential candidates. The Igbo Leadership Development Foundation (ILDF) also recently released its own list of potential Igbo candidates for the 2023 presidential elections.