For justice, equity and fairness, the next president of Nigeria must be of Igbo extraction. That appears to be a popular refrain among some critical observers in the country. From North to South, East to West, prominent voices have lent credence to the fact that anything less than that would amount to injustice of the highest order. This crop of Nigerians believes that peace is not just the absence of conflict but the presence of justice, which in its true sense can only be achieved when all sections of the country are considered equal stakeholders in the nation.
Followers of events in the country argue that since the return of civil rule in 1999, the Igbo, one of the tripods on which Nigeria stands, is the only zone yet to occupy the presidential seat of the country. The Yoruba in the South West have occupied the presidency for eight years. The North represented by the Hausa/Fulani has occupied the position twice. The first was late Musa Yar’Adua who died in office after about three years on the saddle. Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw man from the South-South, as the then vice president completed Yar’Adua’s first four years in office, contested and won the presidential election in 2011, thereby serving another four years as president. Today, Muhammadu Buhari, another Hausa/Fulani from the North is on the saddle. He is already five months into his second tenure as president having won the 2019 presidential election.
Again, more than three and half years to the next general elections, few voices from the North are seriously angling for the retention of power in the region beyond 2023. Proponents of the idea argue that when Yar’Adua died and Jonathan completed his tenure, another Northerner would have occupied the presidency to complete the North’s share of eight years in office. They insist that the North was shortchanged when Goodluck Jonathan contested and won the presidential election in 2011. To them, that singular act of Jonathan brought to an end the issue of rotational presidency. As such, they believe that the South should be punished for that singular act by retaining power in the North beyond 2023.
But, the Yoruba of the South West are not giving in to such excuse as they are seriously scheming to have one of their own occupy the presidency after Buhari in 2023. The South West, like other regions, believe that the Igbo did not make the right calculations by not embracing the APC both in 2015 and 2019. Others contend that the Igbo are more interested in business than politics. Yet, some other people believe that the Igbo cannot speak with one voice and that if given the opportunity, they won’t be able to come up with a consensus candidate but a galaxy of both the serious and the unserious.
But, the Igbo have punctured this line of thought by reminding their traducers that in 1999, when Nigerians decided that the president must come from the South West to compensate for June 12, 1993 cancellation and death of Chief Moshood Abiola, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was chosen by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as its candidate and Chief Olu Falae, a Yoruba man also contested against him. People from other regions also contested against Obasanjo. It was also on record that Obasanjo could not even win election in his home state of Ogun in that 1999 election but he still was victorious because Nigerians wanted and supported him.
The Igbo are also quick to remind their traducers that in 2007, when Obasanjo served out his term and it was the turn of the North, the lot fell on Yar’Adua, but the current president, Buhari went up in arms against him. It was not only Buhari that contested against him, as there were other Northerners who slugged it out with Yar’Adua. But, when two Igbo candidates contest for the same position, it would be taken to mean that they cannot speak with one voice. Some commentators contend that when the Igbo speak with one voice by identifying more with the PDP, their political detractors would say they are putting their eggs in one basket but when otherwise, the narrative would be that the Igbo cannot work together.
In 2015 presidential election, they decided to ‘speak with one voice’ and voted for the PDP candidate, Goodluck Jonathan, who unfortunately lost to President Buhari. Not a few politicians went to town with the news that the Igbo do not know how to play politics and that they put all their eggs in one basket. Ahead of 2023, some are already insinuating that lack of unity may deny the Igbo the presidential ticket.
There is another group of analysts who think that perhaps, the most potent reason that has denied the Igbo the opportunity to occupy the number one political office in Nigeria could be the allegation that the Igbo cannot be trusted with powers. Some even have the ridiculous notion that when an Igbo man becomes the president of Nigeria, he would work for the actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra rather than work for the unity and progress of Nigeria. They would readily point to the Biafra/Nigeria civil war between 1967 and 1970 as a reference point of what the Igbo are capable of doing. To this group, the circumstances that midwifed the war are immaterial.
But, on hand to defend the Igbo from such conspiracy is an elder statesman from the Ijaw nation, Chief Edwin Clark, who would want to remind such people that at the end of the civil war in 1970, the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon declared that there was ‘no victor, no’vanquished, and that the Igbo had accepted it like that ever since.
“It is the turn of the Igbo from the Eastern region. They have contributed a lot to Nigeria. You cannot think of a Nigeria football team without the Igbo. In one team, you have eight Igbo playing and they are part of this country. We should not be unfair to them. The war is over. It ended in 1970. General Yakubu Gowon after the war said no victor, no vanquished. Why should we treat the Igbo as if they do not belong to this country?” he wondered.
It was also in a bid to deflate such fears that the Secretary of Arewa Positive Thinking, Mohammed Kabir, said in a recent interview with The Sun that the Igbo have learnt very difficult lessons and he believes they have mellowed down and accepted their fate somehow and have agreed to continue in this journey.
Mohammed Kabir insists that for equity, justice and fairness, power should go to the South East of Nigeria. He also reacted to the position of some Northerners who said that there was no national consensus on rotation of president between North and South.
He said: “One zone will not continue to rule and other people will just keep quiet and allow them to have a smooth sail. It can’t happen. We must look back at our journey so far. We used zoning formula to appease a certain tense situation in 1999 and it worked for the benefit of all. Why must we now jettison it? Is there no more tension in the country today? Are all the entities in Nigeria happy with one another?”
However, proponents of a president of Igbo extraction insist that since power would return to the South in 2023, it is only fair that the South East which has not produced the president since 1999 be allowed to do so this time.
In supporting a president of Igbo extraction in 2013, a prominent voice from the North, Balarabe Musa has described those clamouring to retain power in the North as selfish and unreasonable. He said: “Power should rotate at least among the four basic zones – the North, South-South, South East and South West. Now, the North has had it so many times; the South West had it twice, the South-South had it once and South East is yet to have it. For the sake of justice, and giving them a sense of belonging, the South East should have it this time. There is no sentiment attached to that. Let the South East have it so that Nigerians can compare what the South East will do with what the North, South West and South-South have done. As far as I am concerned, for the sake of justice, national unity, peace and progressive development in the country, the South East should have the presidency in 2023. Anybody who is preventing the South East from having it is definitely unpatriotic and is endangering the unity of the country.”
Again, another Northerner, but from the Middle Belt region and former presidential aspirant of the Social Democratic Party, Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, although, made a serious case for the Middle Belt region which according to him is the most oppressed in Nigeria, also said the Igbo deserve to be president in 2023. But, he added that there are things they need to do before that ambition can be actualised. He said: “I can’t speak for the South East. They deserve to be president of Nigeria and should be president when they are ready to negotiate with others. When they are ready to organise their leaders to act with dignity and not with mercenary spirit; when they can rein in their hubris and discipline their youths, then they can negotiate with other power centres.”
Also, a third time senator, representing the Southern Senatorial District of Taraba State, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha has equally lent his voice to the call for the next Nigeria’s president to emerge from the Igbo nation. “Personally, it is time to give the South East a chance. But, as I said, that is just my personal opinion and based on human thinking because God’s ways are different from ours and 2023 is still long way off. A lot can happen between now and then beyond what any of us is capable of thinking.”
In the South West, opinions are divided. While some want one of their own to go for a shot at the presidency in 2023, majority of the elders in the region believe that for equity, justice and fairness, the South East should have it. Prominent among such pro-South East voices from the West is the former Chairman of Transparency International, General Ishola Williams. He likened the event of 2023 to the aphorism, “man proposes, but God disposes,” because nobody knows what would happen then.
But, as a human being, he said: “I will keep saying that it is the turn of the South East to produce the president and the Middle Belt to produce the vice president in 2023. If it works out, then one day, maybe the Middle Belt will produce the president.”
Current development in South East
Although, 2023 is still more than 36 months away, the frenzy about the 2023 presidency has got the Igbo leaders thinking. This is to ensure that no stone is left unturned to actualise their dream of producing the next country’s presidency after President Buhari. The Igbo at home and in the Diaspora have been very vocal in recent time, calling on other regions of the country to support them to produce the next president in 2023. This, they believe would assure them that they are still part of Nigeria. Like the non-Igbo Nigerians have said, a 2023 president of Igbo extraction would address the glaring injustice on the Igbo, even as it would ensure the ever evasive justice for the Igbo and promote the spirit of brotherliness between them and other sections of the country. “It would be a soothing nerve if allowed to happened,” they argued.
To achieve the lofty ambition, Igbo leaders have already started searching through all the nooks and crannies of the five Eastern states to be able to smoke out a credible candidate that would be acceptable to Nigerians for the 2023 presidency.
Igbo leaders who are members of the search team include elder statesman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, and First Republic Minister of Aviation, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi among others. The team, according to report, is being led by Iwuanyanwu.
Iwuanyanwu, who confirmed that consultation had started, also said about 10 prominent Igbo sons, comprising professionals and politicians, have already been shortlisted across party lines for consideration. He equally revealed that one of the first criteria for qualification is that such a candidate must not be more than 70 years.
Although, he declined to mention the names of the shortlisted candidates, he said age was very important for the zone, even as he promised that the team would present a robust and energetic personality for Nigerians to elect as their president in 2023. “Such a choice candidate,” he added, “must be so detribalised such that he must see the 36 states and FCT as his territory and solve their problems, such as protecting their lives and property and ensuring prosperity and peace for everybody.”
With strong voices from across the Niger constantly harping on the need for other Nigerians to allow the South East to produce the next president of Nigeria in 2023, the Igbo seem to have seized the singular opportunity to break the jinx.