Politics

2023: South-East in strong push for power

Ndigbo seek to break political jinx  with 2023 presidency

 

FELIX NWANERI reports on the quest by the people of the South-East to produce Nigeria’s next president despite political maneuverings across the two leading political parties, All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as scheming by other power blocs ahead of the 2023 presidential election

 

The clamour for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction has always gained momentum every election year since 1999, but the questions most analysts have always ask against this backdrop are: How feasible is a president of Igbo extraction, and why did previous demands not translate to reality?

 

Though some Igbo sons have taken shots at the country’s number position since then but they did so under what many described as “fringe parties” hence they made little or no impact at the polls. However, it is another quest for Nigeria’s presidency by Ndigbo ahead of the 2023 general election.

 

While the list of political gladiators across the various geopolitical zones jostling to succeed Buhari keeps growing by the day, the Igbo of South-East Nigeria are insisting that 2023 is the time for one of their own to lead the country. They predicate their quest on the principle of equity and fairness.

 

According to them, besides Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was a ceremonial president (1963-1966) and Major General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, who was military head of state between January 16 and July 29, 1966, no Igbo has led Africa’s most populous nation in the last 50 years.

 

This and other perceived imbalances in the system, advocates of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction say, have left the people of the South-East to continue to cry marginalisation.

 

They, particularly, pointed out that the people of the South-East have over the years, insisted on an additional state to bring them at par with other zones of the country, with no one listening to them.

 

The zone has five states – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, while the South-South, South-West, North Central and North-East have six states each.

 

The North- West tops the chart with seven states. No doubt, Nigeria’s political landscape is awash with permutations, especially as to which zone and even individual, who will occupy the coveted position of Office of the President after Buhari, but Ndigbo seem not to leave anything to leave anything to chance this time unlike in the past.

 

The closest the Igbo have come to making it to power in the present dispensation (Fourth Republic) was the failed bid by former Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme (now late) for the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party  (PDP) during the build-up to the 1999 elections.

 

Ekwueme had rallied likeminded politicians and statesmen under the aegis of G-34 to stand up against the dictatorship of the then Head of State, General Sani Abacha, at a time most of his contemporaries were scrambling to curry the favour of the junta

. The former vice-president led the group to speak up for democracy and served the military a red card in 1998.

 

However, if Ekwueme’s display of raw courage marked him out as a hero of democracy, his strength of conviction, undying belief in party supremacy and the principle of politics without bitterness came to the fore at the Jos presidential primary election of the PDP he helped to form. He had been tipped to emerge the party’s flag bearer for the 1999 presidential poll, but a   last minute political horse-trading denied him the ticket.

 

He was defeated by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (a former Head State), who was not anywhere in the calculation before then. Obasanjo, who had just been freed from jail after being linked to a phantom coup against Abacha, was drafted into the presidential race by a cliché of past and serving military top brass, who were bent on having their anointed emerge as president in the post-military era.

 

Besides the role played by the generals and PDP’s internal politics that led to the emergence of Obasanjo as the party’s standard bearer, the other two parties at that time, All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD), entered into an alliance that saw to the emergence of a former Minister of Finance, Chief Olu Falae as their candidate.

 

The believe then was that allowing the South-West, where Obasanjo and Falae hail from, to produce a successor to General Abdulsalami Abubakar, would serve as a proper placation for the deep ethnic pride hurt by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, won by a Yoruba son, Chief Moshood Abiola.

 

It is against the backdrop of the 1999 experience that some political leaders as well as stakeholders across the country are of the view that allowing the South-East to produce the next president will give the people of the zone a sense of belonging in Nigeria. It was also advanced that such will promote national unity and cohesion.

 

Justified as the advocacy may be, discerning minds are of the view that only political neophytes would wish away the plot by some political leaders both in the North as well as the South to discard the zoning arrangement, which undoubtedly favours the South, particularly the South- East to produce the next president.

 

On paper, power is expected to shift to the South in 2023 given the zoning arrangement between the North and South, which took effect in 1999. However, indications are that the battle for the 2023 presidency may go beyond that if emerging developments in the polity are anything to go by.

 

The North, for instance, seems not disposed to relinquishing power after Buhari, while the South-West is making a strong. In To most northern political leaders, their region needs to hold on to power for at least another four years after Buhari’s eight years for them to be at par with the South.

 

The present democratic dispensation is 21 years old and the power rotation arrangement, though not constitutional, has seen the South had the presidency for 13 years through Obasanjo (South-West, 1999-2007) and Goodluck Jonathan (South- South, 2010-2015), while the North would have been in power for 11 years by the time Buhari completes his second term in 2023 (2015-2023) as Umaru Yaar’Adua, who succeeded Obasanjo in 2007, passed on barely three years in office.

 

South-East not deterred by intrigues

 

The schemes, notwithstanding, the

 

apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, had persistently maintained that the South-East should produce the next president if there must be justice and fairness in the system.

 

The campaign was started by the immediate past President General of the group, Chief John Nwodo, and his successor, Prof. George Obiozor, a renowned diplomat, has not failed to seize any opportunity to drum it that anybody who denies the fact that it is the turn of the Igbo to lead Nigeria after Buhari is deliberately throwing the country into chaos.

 

According to the apex Igbo body, “attempts to jettison the rotational presidency in 2023 and the North insisting to succeed President Buhari will be unfavorable and weaknesses towards sustaining the unity and stability of the country.”

 

However, whereas some Nigerians believe that the quest by Ndigbo is justifiable, the question against emerging political developments ahead of the 2023 presidential election is: Will the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) zone their respective presidential tickets to the South-East given the conviction that they are the only possible platforms to power at the moment?

No doubt, politics is a game of the possible in which nothing is foreclosed, but most analysts believe that the chance of the Igbo getting the presidential ticket of any of the two major parties hangs in the balance. Reasons for this are not farfetched.

 

Besides Imo and Ebonyi states, which the APC presently controls in the South-East, the ruling party has little or no political structures in the other states of the zone. Initially, the belief against this backdrop was that the ruling party, presently under the guidance of a caretaker committed headed by the governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, is more likely to consider the South-West, where it has a strong base (five out of the six states) than the South-East if its leadership decides to zone the 2023 presidential ticket to the South even as it seems now that the party will throw the contest for the presidential ticket open.

This, perhaps, informs the optimism in the camps of south western APC presidential hopefuls like the party’s national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi as well as some others unlike their south eastern counterparts. The same scenario is also likely to play out for the South-East in the PDP.

The party has declared that the contest for its presidential ticket would be thrown open to aspirants from both North and South despite the former producing its new national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, a former President of the Senate, who hails from Benue State in North Central.

While it may be too early to draw conclusions on where the political pendulum would swing to as regards the presidential tickets of the two major parties, some analysts, who weighed the options on ground, said the best either the APC or PDP will offer the South-East is a vice presidential ticket.

A member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Chekwas Okorie, who belongs to this political school of thought, told New Telegraph that it is clear that the two leading parties are not looking towards the South-East for their respective presidential candidates.

 

“Ndigbo are aware of the conspiracy against their quest to produce the next president, which is so glaring. Anyone who is pretending about that is living in a fool’s paradise but it would be disastrous for Nigeria if the gale of endorsement for a president of South-East extraction is not allowed to materialize in 2023,”

Okorie said. No doubt, the people of the South- East are at crossroad in their bid to produce the country’s next president given that the two main political parties are not looking towards their zone, but the question against this backdrop is: Will the position of a running mate be acceptable to them in 2023?

 

While postulation is the word for now over the 2023 presidency, findings by New Telegraph revealed that it has not only become obvious that the political loyalty of the South-East will go to any party that considers it worthy of its presidential ticket as it is more of an unspoken consensus that only the presidency of the country is good enough for the Igbo nation come 2023.

 

Already, prominent Igbo political leaders within the APC and PDP have started positioning themselves and their zone for the presidential tickets of their respective parties. The South-East APC boasts of notable personalities in both parties.

 

They include ex-Governor of Abia State and Senate Chief Whip, Kalu; former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige and the Managing Director of Nigeria Inland Waterways, George Moghalu. Others are Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu; immediate past governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha; Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Uche Ogah as well as Governors Hope Uzodimma and Dave Umahi.

 

Similarly, there are eminent Igbo sons in the PDP, who are qualified for the party’s presidential ticket.

 

Among these personalities are a former governor of Anambra State and the party’s vice presidential candidate in 2019, Peter Obi; former Senate President and erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim; ex-Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu; incumbent Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Ababribe and Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, among others.

 

At the moment, Kalu, Umahi and Okorocha have declared to vie for the APC presidential ticket, while Anyim and Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa are PDP member of South-East extraction, who have so far declared to contest for the party’s presidential ticket.

 

A former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, on his part, has declared to run on the platform of the African Democratic Congress (ADC). Despite these personalities across the two main parties and the declarations so far made by these Igbo sons, some political leaders in the South-East believe that lobbying is the way to go if their zone is to produce the next president.

 

A former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, who is among those who hold the view that lobbying is the way to go for Ndigbo ahead of 2023, even at a time, proposed that the people of the South-East are prepared to kneel for any region to garner support to clinch the presidency in 2023.

 

“The Igbo man does not kneel down but this time, we are prepared to kneel down to every part of Nigeria, every group, every ethnic group in Nigeria. We are prepared to even prostrate because we believe in this country,” he said. But, reacting to Ezeife’s proposition, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) described it as nothing but deception.

The group in a statement by its spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said the Igbo have by their conduct, denied themselves the opportunity to be trusted with power in the near future

 

. Chairman of pan Northern group, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Chief Audu Ogbeh, on his part, advised the people of South- East leaders and stakeholders to lobby if they want to produce the nation’s next president. According to him, the zone will not get the presidency if it resorts to threats and blackmail.

“Zoning of the presidential ticket to South-East is left for political parties to decide. We must be a united country. The South-East should put up their team, move around and lobby.

 

They have a genuine quest like every other geopolitical zone. If they lobby, they will be surprised what Nigerians will say and do. For ACF, we will always show understanding to whatever is in the best interest of Nigeria,” he said.

 

Expectedly, Igbo leaders and other stakeholders, who reacted to Ezeife’s proposition as well as the outburst by their northern counterparts, insisted that the people of the South-East will not prostrate before any region or individual because of political power.

 

They added that their zone, like any other, boasts of personalities, who have what it takes, not only to lead Nigeria, but the capacity to turn things around for good. It is against this backdrop that there is some level of optimism in the South-East that 2023 is likely to be the year for the Ndigbo to break the jinx in their quest for power.

 

The optimism, notwithstanding, the question many are asking is: Beyond declaration, will the likes of Kalu, Umahi, Okorocha and Anyim sustain the tempo given the fact that the Nigerian presidency comes not only at a huge cost, but most importantly, determined by highwire politics.

 

Umahi: Buoyed by performance

 

The Ebonyi State governor shocked most political analysts in November 2020, when he dumped the PDP through which he was elected governor of the south eastern state for two terms for the APC but he stated then that he joined the ruling party to protest the injustice the main opposition party meted to the South- East. According to him, the people of South-East have remained faithful

 

to PDP and voted for its candidates in the present dispensation, but have not been treated fairly by the party. While many, particularly chieftains of the PDP claimed then that Umahi’s move to the APC was informed by his 2023 presidential ambition, the Ebonyi State governor declared that he was not driven by selfish interests but because the South-East needed to protest against marginalization by the PDP.

 

However, it didn’t take long after Umahi joined the ruling party that a set of campaign posters, which showed that he would be pairing Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State for the 2023 presidential poll, surfaced.

The Ebonyi State governor, however, dissociated himself from such arrangement. He insisted that such bears the imprint of detractors and political desperados, who thrive on gossips, rumours, and have resorted in producing a smokescreen in their attempt to drag his name to the mud.

However, with the clock ticking fast towards 2023, Umahi has declared his interest to run for the presidency on the platform of the APC. The governor spoke on his ambition after a meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa.

The governor, who was responding to a question on whether his discussion with the President on politics had to do with his presidential political ambition, said he informed the President just like Tinubu, who disclosed his interest a day earlier at the State House.

He added that the President advised him to consult widely. His words: “Well, generally, yes and no. We discussed politics as the growth of our party, APC, in Nigeria, and South-East. And, of course, you know, the interest of South East, for the seat of presidency in 2023.

And, of course, I told Mr. President, that without prejudice to whatever will be the decision of the party, which we shall abide by, that if the party throws the ticket open or zones to Southern part of Nigeria, I believe that with what I have put in place in the past six years plus, I will be running for presidency on the platform of the APC.

“So, I told him and of course, he believes that whoever wants to run for president of this country must have to consult widely, go to all the leaders and that we must do everything to remove ethnicity and religion in our politics so that this country can grow.”

On his chance to emerge as the APC presidential candidate with the  likes of Tinubu in the contest, Umahi said: “The Bible that I swore with, a section of in 1 Samuel says that by strength shall no man prevail, and power and might belongs to God. He chooses whomever he wills and he will do that in 2023. I am not in contest with anybody. I am in contest with myself.”

 

Kalu: Believes in capacity to turns around

 

Kalu is a man of many parts and whose rise to national and international limelight was quite meteoric, making him one of the most visible businessmen, politician and philanthropist in present day Nigeria. A thoroughbred man in commerce, industry and administration, he became Chairman of Borno Water Board at a tender age of 25.

 

He also served as Chairman of Imo State Marketing and Supply Agency, and Chairman of Cooperative and Commerce Bank Limited in 1987 at the age of 27, making him the youngest person till date to assume such an elevated position in Nigeria.

 

As member of the House of Representatives between 1992 and 1993, he moved the famous Dual- Citizenship Rights Bill. He was elected the governor in 1999 and his achievements astounded even his most vitriolic critics. The then president,

 

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, during a visit to state described his as “Action Governor.” In 2007, Kalu contested for president on the platform of the Progressive Peoples Party (PPA), which he founded, but came third. However, the party went ahead to win the governorship position in two out of the five states (Abia and Imo) in the South-East.

 

The former Abia State governor is presently the Chief Whip of the Senate is expected to leverage on his goodwill, which cuts across all sections of Nigeria if he throws his hat to ring for the 2023 presidency.

 

Even former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida spoke of this, when he said in a recent documentary that it will not be a bad idea to give someone like Kalu a chance in 2023. “If we can have bright people like Orji Kalu, who will be interested in running the country, why not,” Babangida said.

 

Perhaps, it was against the backdrop of Babangida’s proposition that a group in the northern part of Nigeria under the auspices of Arewa Youths for Orji Uzor Kalu equally expressed support for the Chief Whip of the Senate to become the next president of the country.

 

The group described Kalu as the best presidential material for the 2023 general election and urged the APC to commence a process of adopting him as the sole candidate of the party.

 

Apparently responding to the call by the Northern youth group and similar calls for him to declare his 2023 presidential ambition, Kalu told Nigerians last week that he would do so if the APC zones its ticket to the South. He added that he has takes what it takes to match anyone who indicates interest from the region, including Tinubu.

His words: “I’m the most prepared presidential candidate in Nigeria. I’m capable health wise, I am capable as a person, I am capable in my pocket. I am capable to face anybody.

 

But the party is supreme. I will only wait for APC as a party. For me, contesting for president is not the issue. The issue is who is going to lead the country into an economic miracle, into a turnaround. I am not against Tinubu. If it is zoned to his area and the party said he should go. Well, the party is supreme. I am only waiting for the party.”

 

On what his presidency will offer Nigerians, the Senate Chief Whip, declared that the security of lives and property as well as growing a robust economy would be his priorities if he becomes the standard bearer of the APC and wins the 2023 presidential election. He said: “My first priority will be to give the Nigerian people a secured country.

 

From the edge of the Sahara Desert in the North to the Atlantic Ocean in the South, I’ll like to provide security and give Nigerians the freedom to go to anywhere they want to go because everybody needs freedom. “Secondly, is to restore the confidence of the Nigerian people in their country.

 

The youth need the confidence; the elderly people need the confidence; the men and women need the confidence to go to anywhere they want to go in the world. They should be able to go anywhere and say: I’m proudly Nigerian. We have not lost confidence in where we are coming from.”

 

Kalu also said that should he become president, Nigeria’s economy will undergo major reforms particularly in the power sector. According to him, he will pursue a policy of re-commercialisation of electricity to make it available and affordable to the populace.

 

Kalu also said that he will assemble a formidable economic team that will come up with policies to ensure that industrialists, bankers, traders, students and all other segments of the population have a feel of a wellmanaged economy.

 

Anyim: Experience as selling point

Anyim, who was President of the Senate between 2000 and 2003 and later served as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), declared his intention at the eve of the PDP national convention. He said he is determined to run for the nation’s top job whether or not there is zoning in the party.

 

This is the first time the Ebonyi State born lawyer turned politician, who joined politics in 1998, when he became a member of the defunct United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) would be taking a shot a  Nigeria’s presidency. Like his compatriots, Anyim also believes that he has what it takes to rebuild Nigeria. According to him, the experiences he had garnered over two decades in government places him in a vantage position to rescue the country.

 

“I have been privileged to understand our national problems and appreciate their enormity and peculiarities in the last 21 years from my vantage positions in both the legislative and the executive arms of government. Therefore, I have a clear view of the task ahead as well as the solutions needed to advance the cause of our country.

 

“My records as President of the Senate and as Secretary to the Government of the Federation clearly show that I am more interested in building strong institutions than seeking enhancement of personal power or position. My records show effective and efficient management of the nation’s diversity on the basis of equity, justice, fairness and inclusiveness.

 

“I am a committed believer in the rule of law; and will always promote and protect the sanctity of lives as well as the rights and liberties of all citizens,” he said. Okorocha: Believes he will unite Nigerians

The former governor of Imo State now senator representing Imo North Senatorial District at the National Assembly is the latest politician of South-East extraction to declare for the 2023 presidency.

He is however not new to Nigeria’s presidential contest. Before berthing his political ship in APC, he has criss-crossed several political parties between 1999 and 2013.

 

He contested the governorship primaries of the PDP in 1999, but lost. He moved to the ANPP, and lost its presidential ticket in 2003.

 

 

He returned to the PDP, and former President Obasanjo appointed him as Special Adviser on Inter-Party affairs. In 2005, he formed the Action Alliance (AA) with the intention to contest the 2007 presidential election before again returning to the PDP.

 

He made another bid at the presidency in 2015 but lost in the APC presidential primary to Buhari. Okorocha, who declared his intention to contest in the 2023 presidential election through a letter read at plenary by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, last week, stated: “As you are aware, the Independent National Electoral Commission has announced the timetable for the conduct of 2023 general election, including that of the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“With elections drawing nearer as the days go by, our citizens are concerned about the quality of persons to run the affairs of our nation, one who can address some of their major concern which includes; a detribalised Nigerian who can unite our country; a leader with a compassionate heart, who will care for the poor and downtrodden and the masses of our country; a visionary leader who can create wealth for our teeming populace, thereby addressing the issues of poverty, insecurity and youth restiveness.

“It is as a result of these concerns that I wish to hold a world press conference on my intention to run for the office of the President of our dear nation. I, therefore, wish to solicit for your prayers as I make known my intention.”

 

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