2019 Presidency: Confusion in southeast over Buhari, Atiku

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A week to the presidential polls, the people of southeast are clearly divided over their preferred candidate for the number one seat in the country. The cacophony of endorsements for the two leading candidates; President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has left much to be desired. It began on November 14, 2018, when a group of Southeast leaders under the platform of Mkpoko Igbo adopted the candidacy of the PDP flag bearer, adducing pledge to restructure Nigeria and selection of former Anambra state governor, Peter Obi, as his running mate, as reasons for their decision.

Since then, it became some sort of hide and seek game between those for and against the endorsement, until January 24, when the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, after a controversial Imeobi meeting, also toed the path of Mkpoko Igbo by adopting the Atiku/Obi presidency.

A communiqué endorsed by the President General of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo said their decision was a result of critical and dispassionate appraisal of the issues and the visible fault lines in the polity, including the analysis of the election manifestos of the various contesting parties, especially with regards to the restructuring of the federation and continued relevance of the Igbo in the Nigerian geopolitical space.

Part of the communiqué states: “Ohaneze notes particularly that a major political party (PDP) by the nomination of our son Peter Obi as the Vice presidential candidate has given Ndigbo an opportunity for inclusivity. Ndigbo must seize the moment; That the presidential candidate of PDP Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has made an avowed commitment to restructuring of the federation and reconfirmed same during his recent visit to the United States in his meetings with high-level US officials;

“In consideration of the above and other relevant existential factors pertaining to the treatment of the Igbo in our polity, the Ime Obi Ohaneze, therefore, hereby ratify the decision reached at the Ohaneze National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting held in Enugu on Tuesday 22 January, 2019, to adopt the Atiku Abubakar/Peter Obi ticket in the 2019 presidential election. Ime Obi therefore endorses and embraces fully, this ticket without equivocation, especially with regards to the position of Ndigbo at the Awka Declaration which insisted on a complete restructuring of the Nigerian polity. Ohaneze urges Ndigbo to see their PVCs as their most potent tool to ensure a restructured polity and for a better society.”

The first to react shortly after was the Anambra state government which challenged the process leading to the Ohanaeze’s endorsement of the former Vice President, saying that prominent Igbo sons and daughters were clearly excluded from the Imeobi meeting. Secretary to Anambra State Government (SSG), Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, who led the state’s delegation to Nike Lake Hotel, venue of the Imeobi meeting, only to be told that it did not last more than 30 minutes, expressed surprise that the meeting could hold on a day President Muhammadu Buhari was in the zone, among other things, to inaugurate a mausoleum in honour of Nigeria’s first President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.

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“We had expected Ohanaeze leaders to participate actively in the commissioning ceremony of the Zik Mausoleum, Onitsha, Anambra State. The mausoleum, which was started by the General Sani Abacha Government, took a whole 23 years to complete. We have read bits of the communiqué purportedly issued by the Ohanaeze leadership. We regret that they do not reflect the position of the people and Government of Anambra State.

“The position of the Anambra State Government is that Ohaneze should remain a united organization umbrella for all Ndigbo, and should not take sides with any party. There are major leaders in all political parties, including the three major ones in Nigeria, namely, APGA, APC and PDP. It is deeply regrettable that the Ohaneze leadership has chosen to go down a divisive trajectory capable of setting back Igbo unity for several years”, the SSG stated.

Similarly, Secretary General of Ohanaeze, Uche Okwukwu has since disowned the endorsement of Atiku describing it as a nullity. He also said that the endorsement was not in the interest of the Igbo. Okwukwu told Saturday Sun that Nwodo was on his own because the said communiqué was authored without the knowledge and imprimatur of the secretariat.

“I must say as the Secretary General that I sign the communiqué with the President General; that one never took place, I never saw any communiqué, in fact, no communiqué was drafted. And that’s why I said that the purported endorsement of Atiku is invalid. Beyond that, it’s not even in the interest of Ndigbo to adopt anybody,” Okwukwu said.

One striking thing about the unfolding political trend in the South East is that, it is not only the socio-political groups that have been divided, the cultural and traditional institutions there have equally been fragmented along party lines. The Association of South East Town Unions (ASETU) after its extraordinary expanded National Executive Committee (NEC) in Enugu, on February 2, backed Ohanaeze on the adoption of Atiku/Obi.

They said, as custodians of the grassroots, that the “Town Unions shall rise up in defence of the wishes of the majority of our people and stoutly resist any attempt by a few discredited individuals and political merchants who are attempting to trade off the Southeast for their personal pecuniary interests”. A communiqué signed by the National President, Chief Emeka Diwe, National Secretary, Gideon Adikwuru and Chairman, Board of Trustees (BOT), Chief I. I. Onwubuya, enjoined Ndigbo living across the country to take their destiny in their hands by coming out en masse, to vote for the Atiku/Obi joint ticket.

Others who signed the communiqué were the state chairmen in the five south east states of Ebonyi, Chief Ugochukwu Akpa; Enugu, Chief Paully Eze; Anambra, Chief Jimie Asoegwu; Imo, Chief Monday Ikokwu and Abia Sir G. U. Mgborukwe, respectively.

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To show the extent of division in the region in the build up to the presidential poll, the Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU) has since distanced itself from the decision of ASETU. ASATU which said it stood with the Anambra state Government in disowning the adoption, said that it has nothing to do with ASETU hence was not part of its meeting and communiqué that endorsed any presidential candidate.

National President of ASATU, Chief Alex Onukwugha told Saturday Sun, that Chief Jimie Asoegwu who purportedly signed for the state did not have the mandate of ASATU to attend such meeting or sign anything on behalf of the state. Onukwugha said that the association does not support Ohaneze Ndigbo dabbling into partisan politics.

“ASATU is not affiliated to ASETU, we are not their members, we have a firm position in Anambra state here that we are not part of them, so whatever they are doing we are not sending anybody and we did not send anybody to participate in whatever they did that gave rise to a press conference, we are not part of their press conference and that is the position of ASATU today in Anambra state.

“Let me say again that Chief Jimie Asoegwu cannot sign for Anambra except he is signing for ASETU, so he cannot sign for ASATU because he is not of ASATU. He is not an officer of ASATU, he was a former President General of his community and he has seized to be President General of his community for long ago, he is not an officer of ASATU so if he is signing anything he is not signing for ASATU, that is the clarification we want to make,” he said.

Not left out in the controversy is the traditional institution as traditional rulers in Ebonyi and Imo had endorsed the candidacy of President Buhari. However, a twist was introduced in the Ebonyi case as the monarchs few days after made a U-turn and adopted his closest rival, Atiku Abubakar. Another prominent Igbo group against the endorsement of the PDP candidate is Igboezue Cultural Advancement Initiative. National leader of Igboezue, Chief Chekwas Okorie said that it was politically expedient for the Igbo electorate all over Nigeria to vote massively for President Buhari.

“We must not be the odd group out of the imminent victory celebration. As a critical stakeholder, we must earn our claim to be supported to produce the President of Nigeria in 2023. Ndigbo are not cut out for the opposition.

“The very political leaders in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who are misleading our people into putting all their eggs in the PDP basket will be the first to jump ship and abandon them and relocate to the ruling party. We are used to their kind and we know them,’’ Okorie said.

Chairman of Enugu State chapter of All Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), Hon. Adonys Igwe also urged Ndigbo to ignore Atiku’s endorsement by voting their mind on election day. He said: “We hereby strongly disassociate and distance ourselves from the so called endorsement. We ask Ohaneze, as a matter of extreme urgency to apologize to the Igbo and the good people of Nigeria for their misconduct. I hereby advise the good people of the Igbo nation to use their PVCs wisely; since we as a people cannot put our eggs in one basket. There are Igbo in all the political parties in Nigeria.”

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However, many other socio-cultural groups have queued behind the apex Igbo body. They include Nzuko Umunna, Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), Igbo Bu Igbo Foundation, World Igbo Assembly (WIA) as well as the political committee of the Enugu state chapter of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), among others.

While the fireworks raged, one major factor in the election in the southeast is the insistence by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) that people should boycott the polls. IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu in his latest broadcast on Radio Biafra called on Igbo people and indeed their members to shun the elections and instead scheduled to hold a referendum on February 16, the day of the presidential and National Assembly polls.

Many see the push for election boycott as likely to affect the participation of people in the region. In fact, Ohanaeze and some other Igbo organisations have increased campaign on Ndigbo to ignore the call for boycott. Secretary of the Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA), Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, who has called on the Igbo to vote massively for Atiku noted that the IPOB’s call for boycott would give edge to Buhari.

Regardless, the World Igbo Union (WIU), an umbrella body of Igbo town unions in Nigeria and the Diaspora, has called for caution even as it said that the tussle in Ohanaeze over endorsement of the PDP candidate was a show of shame.

President General of IWU, Sir Meshak Nnanta, said the Igbo nation at home and the Diaspora are yet to endorse any presidential candidate and, as such, any so-called endorsement by any group is a one-man show.

“Such a one-man opinion can never represent the view of Igbo nation,” he said, and added that “When you see these people rushing to endorse a particular candidate, then, you know money is involved. This was the same mistake they made in 2015, when Ohanaeze endorsed former President Goodluck Jonathan, and when he lost the election, the Igbo nation went down with him. You and I are living witnesses to such avoidable mistake made by our so-called leaders”.

For a youth leader, Comrade Temple Chinedu, “Ndigbo have become first casualties of a contest between two Fulani even before the shot is fired.”

Of the contending forces, one will surely win and the others lose. And that will no doubt be determined next Saturday, February 16, 2019.

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