November 14, will go down in history as another watershed in the political annals of the people of the South-East as their leaders met in Enugu to take a stand ahead of the 2019 presidential election, KENNETH OFOMA reports
Perhaps, only those invited and the planners of last Wednesday’s meeting of South-East political leaders were aware of the gathering as it was devoid of huge pre-event publicity that heralds such momentous occasion. It was kept under wraps, possibly to achieve maximum effect. Yet, as early as 9.30am, the Nike Lake Resort Hotel Enugu, venue of the gathering was already abuzz with activities, with long line of vehicles streaming to the iconic hotel built in the 80s by former governor of old Anambra State, Senator Jim Nwobodo.
Meanwhile, a large number of overnight guests, who apparently traveled from far, and took residence the previous night, were already having a banquet breakfast at the expansive restaurant of the hotel. They were joined by the new arrivals as emotional, combustive but affectionate banters kicked off from old friends, who were meeting after a long time. It was a potpourri of camaraderie and brotherly reunion expressed in jollity and laughter.
The people converging are eminent Igbo political leaders, religious leaders, traditional rulers, technocrats, university professors, retired military brass as well as women leaders. Even journalists, who were alerted at the 11th hour were taken aback to behold such gathering of array of Igbo who is who. Their journalistic instinct kicked in. They started nosing around and murmuring among themselves as to what could be the reason for the gathering? But, it didn’t take long for them to begin to decode.
Soon the leaders entered a closed door meeting. And the word filtered in that the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his running mate, Mr. Peter Obi were being expected at the venue.
The meeting ended with a five point resolution, which endorsed the Atiku/Obi ticket ahead of the 2019 general elections. It was a coup! And like icing on a cake, the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku and his running mate, Obi, as if on cue, arrived the venue of the summit with their high powered entourage! The venue became charged with excitement!
Expectedly, the development generated and is still generating mixed reactions. The questions being asked are: Is the endorsement premature? Have the Igbo leaders committed another political blunder? Or, have they hit the political bull’s eye?
While only time will unravel these puzzles, the first and obvious responses to the endorsement were from the flanks of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), Director of Media and Strategy Communication of President Buhari Campaign Council and a group known as “Zikist-Buharist Movement” (ZBM) kicked against the endorsement.
In a five-point communiqué issued at the end of the summit with the theme “Ndigbo 2019 and Beyond”, the Igbo leaders said their decision to endorse the PDP candidates was based on the restructuring agenda put on the table by Atiku/Obi, which four zones of the country have agreed on.
The communiqué read by a legal luminary, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), stated: “The Igbo people of Nigeria held a one day non-partisan and inclusive summit convened by elders, traditional and religious leaders on Wednesday November 14, 2018 to consider Ndigbo’s place in the polity especially in light of the forthcoming 2019 elections.
“The summit deliberated on the state of Ndigbo in Nigeria today, especially after years of exclusion from the centre. This country has never been so divided as it is today. We, the Igbo have always yearned for a level playing field with justice, equity and fairness.
“The summit recognised the nomination of His Excellency Mr. Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State as the vice presidential candidate of the PDP and fully endorses this nomination. It was acknowledged that this nomination puts Ndigbo back in the center of governance. It is therefore important that Ndigbo should rally behind the Atiku/Obi ticket.
“We identify with the Atiku/Peter Obi ticket on the restructuring agenda as has been reiterated by four zones of the country namely: South-South, South-West, North Central and South-East. We believe that as long as the federating units remain weak, the center will continue to be weak. We equally move to appreciate the position of the Atiku/Obi ticket in promoting national unity.
“In conclusion, the summit reiterated that the time is now for Ndigbo to mobilize and organise effectively to realize the Atiku/Obi ticket. We are not campaigning against anybody; we are simply campaigning for our very survival. Igbo votes must count wherever Ndigbo live in Nigeria.”
In welcoming the PPD presidential flag-bearer to the summit, the President-General of Ohaeneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo thanked him for the choice of Obi as his running mate. He assured him that Obi is one of the best in Igboland, who redefined governance in Nigeria through his seminal achievements as governor of Anambra State by moving the state from the worst to the best in education, health, road construction and other sectors.
Nwodo urged Atiku, if elected president, to revive the coal industry and Akanu Ibiam International Airport, saying that the runway is in a terrible shape. He also charged him to do something about the seaports within the South-East and South-South zones of the country in order to make them viable.
Nwodo said that although Ohanaeze would meet in January to decide the way forward for Ndigbo, Atiku performed better than other presidential candidates interviewed by his committee. He said that there are four million Igbo residing in Lagos; 11.6 million in the North and 500,000 in China, among others, pointing out that Igbo votes can make the difference if counted.
The meeting chaired by renowned constitutional lawyer and elder statesman, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, was attended by a cross section of Igbo leaders including former Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Azubuike Ihejirika; General Obi Umahi (rtd); Obi of Onitsha, HRM Alfred Achebe; chairman of Enugu State Traditional Rulers Council, HRH Lawrence Agubuzu; Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; Prof. Anya O. Anya; Admiral Alison Madueke (rtd) and Emeritus Arch. Bishop of the Niger Anglican Communion, Maxwell Anikwenwa .
Others are Amb. Prof George Obiozor, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, Senator Ben Obi, Okwy Nwodo, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd), Chief Guy Ikoku, Prof. ABC Nwosu, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, Senator Adolphus Wabara, General Ike Nwachukwu, Prof. Uche Azikiwe, Chief Osita Chidioka, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, ex-Governor Achike Udenwa, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, Ndubisi Nwobu, Obiora Okonkwo, Amb. Frank Ogbuewu, Chief Lawrence Nwuruku, Senator Chris Anyanwu, and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe and Senator Theodore Orji, among others.
Nwabueze in his opening remarks said the meeting was for self survival of Ndigbo in Nigeria. He called on Ndigbo at home and in Diaspora to rally round Atiku and his running mate, Obi, saying their presidency will address marginalization of Ndigbo.
He noted that although he is at “the departure lounge” of his life, he will continue to work with the people until Igbo liberation is achieved.
His words: “Self survival is the first law of nature. We are here for self survival. Who doesn’t know that the Igbo are relegated to the background? Ho doesn’t know that Ndigbo are not reckoned with in the scheme of things in Nigeria? Yet the Igbo were at the forefront of the struggle for Nigeria’s independence.
“We must survive in this country, we want Nigeria to continue to exist, but we must strive for self survival. We are talking about the ticket of Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi. We are here today to tell ourselves that we must work for the actualization of the Igbo dream. We are not against anybody, we are striving for our survival and we must achieve it.
“The ticket of Atiku and Obi; we must strive to mobilize the entire Igbo race to support that ticket. Please do me the honour of achieving that ticket before I die. Thus means when you leave here, go back to your village and spread that we must ensure self survival of Igbo race in race in Nigeria.”
Amb. Obiozor, who is a former Director General of the Nigeria Institution of Intentional Affairs (NIIA), said that the Igbo is like a Phoenix, which “no matter what you do we’ll rise up again.”
Atiku, in his remarks, vowed to work for the ouster of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) from power in order to save Nigeria from disintegration. He said Nigeria has never been so divided as now.
The PDP presidential candidate, while appreciating Ndigbo for endorsing him, deplored the lopsidedness in appointment of heads of the security architecture of the nation, as well as collapsing economy, promising that with Obi as his vice president, they will fix the problems if elected.
He said: “This is a historic gathering and moment for the Igbo nation. Our economy must be fixed and a combination of Obi and myself, I think you can trust us to fix it. Security architecture must be balanced. This nation has never seen this kind of disunity, not even during the civil war. I think you can trust us to fix this nation. For me, I know I will fight to the last, whether I am president or not to make sure that Buhari goes; so Buhari must go.”
The former vice president urged Nigerians not to believe President Buhari and his party APC, saying they are deceitful with issues of restructuring in the country. He promised to revive the coal industry in Enugu in order to generate enough power for the zone known as home of industrialization, even as he promised to also fix the rail system in the country using the private sector.
Atiku, who was accompanied by the National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Uche Secundus and other PDP big wigs such as Senate Presidnet, Bukola Saraki, ex-Governor Babangida Aliyu, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, former Governor Gbenga Daniel, Chief Tom Ikimi and Senator Dino Menaya, further assured the Igbo that he will work towards their demands, which were already in his policy paper. He later paid courses visit to the Governor of Enugu State, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi before departing.
But, reacting to the endorsement, Director of Media and Strategy Communication of President Buhari Campaign Council, Barr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), said the President believes in the ability of Nigerians, not that of Igbo leaders, in determining his fate.
“We want to rely on the very masses of the country as a whole. As important as leaders are in the modern world, the masses will still have to make their decisions. All of those individual leaders, their influence may not go beyond their immediate environment. So, at the end of the day, the very good people of the South-East would have to make up their minds whom to vote for.
“Don’t forget that there are so many leaders from the South-East, who are also in support of President Muhammadu Buhari. So, the people you saw there are leaders in their own right, but they are not the only leaders in the South-East. Don’t forget that the former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former governors, present and past senators and prominent Igbo sons are supporting the President. So, what happened is not more than a section of the South-East, who believe in Atiku, endorsing him and those who believe in President Buhari would endorse him.”
In a similar reaction, the Zikist-Buharist Movement (ZBM) advised Prof. Nwabueze and members of his group to desist from putting their eggs in one basket by opting for Atiku in the 2019 presidential election.
In a statement by its Acting Secretary, Godwin Onwusi, ZBM recalled that when a similar situation arose in 2015, Ohanaeze Ndigbo opted for Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP and it turned out to be a fatal decision for Ndigbo as a nation to put our eggs in one basket.
“History will not forgive Igbo leaders if we willfully put all our eggs into only Atiku’s basket and drop the more fruitful Buhari basket,” ZBM stated.
As mixed reactions continue to rail the endorsement, Atiku and Obi as well as the PDP will continue to revel in the euphoria of the “political goal” while APC is expected to work harder to establish a firm foothold in the South-East ahead of 2019.
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