Increased demands for Nigeria’s President of Igbo extraction and varying reactions to the call have elicited early interest in how Africa’s most populous country will likely chose its president in 2023. Though three years away, the demands and subsequent reactions have not only brought the politics of 2023 presidency to the fore, they have also raised the question of the chances of Ndigbo to produce the country’s president in 2023.
Chiedu Okoye, a poet, in his contribution to the chances of Ndigbo to produce Nigeria President in 2023, pointed out two critical issues of interest when he said: “In the Fourth Republic, the Igbos fluffed a golden opportunity to produce a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction when they betrayed the late Alex Ekwueme at the PDP Convention in Jos in 1998. At that time, he was in a pole-position to emerge as the PDP Presidential candidate in the run-up to the 1999 Presidential election.
“Had he won that PDP Presidential ticket, he would have become the President of Nigeria as PDP was the most formidable political party in Nigeria, but his Igbo compatriots, who were top members of PDP, sold him down the river for pecuniary and selfish reasons.
“Since the end of the civil war, the Igbo people have not reached a consensus on an issue, not to talk of their fighting to achieve a common objective with single-mindedness and uncommon resoluteness. Now, they work at cross-purposes regarding issues that are critical to the development of the Southeast; this has become a major drawback in their quest to produce a Nigerian President of Igbo origin,” he said.
As Okoye pointed out, it has become clear that the Igbo as a major ethnic group in Nigeria, with abundant high quality human resources, stands a very good chance of producing Nigeria’s president in a free and fair election. The challenge therefore seems to lie mainly on the attitude of Igbo political leaders and the kind of politics Ndigbo have chosen to play since independence. It is instructive that in spite of the foremost role Ndigbo, led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, played in the struggle for independence, when it was time to share political offices, they lost out because of reasons still being debated by political scholars.
Also, since after the bloody civil war, when Ndigbo lost their prime leadership position in government and public offices in Nigeria, some informed observers have blamed top Igbo leaders for alleged failure to reach out to other ethnic groups so as to regain their trust. They are also blamed for seeming clearly divided on things that concern their region and people, like the things that transpired in PDP Convention in Jos in 1998 where Ekwueme lost out mainly because his people allegedly dumped him at the last minute.
Whether these allegations are true or not remains to be seen. But two things many seem to agree on are that for an Igbo man or woman to emerge the president of Nigeria, Igbo elite must first unite and play the primary role of winning the trust and support of the leaders of other Nigerians.
How much support from the North?
Over the years, there has been the impression that the major opposition for the emergence of Nigerian President of Igbo extraction is from the north. This impression was heightened in 2019, when the leader of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima, said President Muhammadu Buhari would be succeeded by another northerner in 2023, adding, “I know we need to work together as a country, but you also know that anything about democracy has to do with the number of people as the majority vote carries the resolution.”
As if to confirm that position, Mallam Maman Daura, a close relative of President Muhammadu Buhari, recently raised the debate on Igbo presidency in 2023, when he told the BBC, Hausa Service, that zoning should be discontinued in the search for the next president of Nigeria. He said any zone is free to produce the next president of Nigeria provided such a candidate has the qualification to govern the country.
“This turn by turn, it was done once, it was done twice, and it was done trice. It is better for this country to be one; it should be for the most competent and not for someone who comes from somewhere,” he said.
Perhaps, because he is an influential nephew of President Buhari, Daura’s comments attracted so many reactions from concerned Nigerians, including top Igbo groups. The Presidency had to disassociate itself from his views.
In its reaction, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said it would be the turn of the South, particularly the Southeast, to produce the president in 2023.
The organisation cautioned that equity should not be sacrificed on the altar of “parochialism,” pointing out that it was the rotation sentiment that produced the incumbent.
Reacting, the Presidency, in a statement signed by Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, said Daura’s comments were personal views and did not reflect the views of Buhari’s administration.
“It is important that we state from the onset that as mentioned by the interviewee, the views expressed were personal to him and did not, in any way, reflect that of either the President or his administration,” Shehu said in a statement.
But if the views propagated by Shettima and Daura, support earlier perceptions of the position of the North on Igbo Presidency, recent utterances of some prominent northern elders however suggest that even the North is today not united in opposition against Igbo President of Nigeria and that Ndigbo may get appreciable support from the North in 2023 if the politicians and elders from the Southeast region, their neighbours from the South-south and Southwest play the right politics.
Recently, elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, added his voice in support of Igbo presidency in 2023, saying the Southeast zone remained the only part of the country yet to produce a President. Yakassai, who spoke in an interview on a television programme monitored in Lagos, however said power is not served to anybody but earned.
To realise the dream of producing Nigerian president in 2023, Yakassai therefore advised Igbo politicians and leaders to reach out to Nigerians in other zones.
“I have a lot of sympathies for the Igbos as far as producing a president for Nigeria is concerned. The Southwest, South-south and the North have all tasted it but the Southeast has not tasted the presidency,” he said, adding, “However, nobody gives political power to anybody. You have to fight for it. So, I expect the Southeast to reach out to other sections of the country for votes. By their fortune or misfortune, the Southeast is landlocked, not only in terms of the seas but also in its relationship with other people in the country. “We, in the north, don’t have any problem with the Igbo. The Igbo are in every village in the north doing business. The Yoruba are more skeptical of the Igbo, so they (Igbo) should reach out to them for 2023 presidency. The Igbo should go out, seek the understanding of fellow Nigerians to support their aspiration for the presidency but should not threaten or antagonize people. They should persuade them to vote for you,” Yakasai said.
The elder statesman also advised the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, and his followers to slow down on their agitation for the state of Biafra. “We are all better off in a united Nigeria. Though the Igbos have not produced a president, they dominate the economic life of the country,” he said.
He also told Igbo leaders to come together, pursue the project of producing Nigeria President in 2023 “through dialogue and reaching out.”
Will Southwest, South-south support Ndigbo?
Perhaps beyond the level of support Ndigbo would likely get from the North, there is the argument that the support of the two other geo-political zones, Southwest and South-south is more critical to Ndigbo if they intend to produce Nigeria’s President in 2023.
Dr. Francis Ukaegbu, a political scientist told The Nation that the political challenge Ndigbo have faced since independence is more with the other regions in the South than the North. “Our problem is more with our brothers and sisters in the Southwest and South-south. This has always been the case. Everybody knows that power has been rotating between the North and the South. Anybody agitating to return power to the North after Buhari’s second term does not wish Nigeria well. The South will produce the next President. That being the case, the Southeast, being the only Southern region yet to produce the president since 1999, should first get the support of the Southwest and the South-south. Once this is done and the South has a united position, the majority of the North will support an Igbo president.
“You can see that enemies of the Southeast are always, deliberately confusing the issues of presidency of Igbo extraction, restructuring and Biafran agitation. This ploy is devilish. Everybody knows that all Nigerians want genuine restructuring, just as we all know that Biafran agitation by IPOB and MASSOB is product of frustration of some Igbo youths arising from marginalisation, distrust and rejection since after the civil war. It is not right to equate the extreme reaction of youths with what the entire Igbo race needs. I think Igbo presidency will help allay the fears and suspicion of Igbo youths and truly reunite Nigeria.
“To achieve Igbo Presidency, leaders and people of Southwest and South-south would need to forgive Ndigbo in any way they may have offended them, support their aspiration and help unite the South. This unity is very crucial to achieve the much needed political balance in Nigeria.”
Some political leaders from the other regions in the South have also added their voice to Igbo presidency project, pointing out how to achieve it. One of them is Harris Emanuel Senator Anietie Okon, an elder statesman, and pioneer National Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Okon, who served in the Senate between 1999 and 2003, argues that the time is ripe for Igbo presidency but decries the lack of unity among Ndigbo, especially their leaders. As he puts it: “The time is ripe for the Igbo to aspire to the presidency as conceded by none other than Chief E.K. Clark being the indisputable leader of the South-south but the Igbo are disgracing themselves. How are they at this time when they should be united inciting fifth columnists, and betrayal pops up and talks about factions and so on in the much respected and universally accepted Igbo representation called the Ohanaeze? It is in keeping with them and I hope they are not going to give us or the general accusation that when the Igbo confront a situation, one of them or any of them may come to the beckoning of saboteurs against Igbo interest by thinking selfishly.”
Also in his reaction, elder statesman and leader of the Yoruba apex socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, recently declared that Nigeria risks disintegrating if the Southeast is not allowed to produce the next President in 2023. Adebanjo has, since 2019, consistently made this call.
Are Igbo leaders’ response enough?
Most of the Igbo leaders that have commented on the issue seem to agree that 2023 is the best opportunity for an Igbo to emerge Nigerian president. They expressed joy that some leaders from the other regions are coming up to support Igbo Presidency.
On Friday, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, applauded recent support of Igbo President project by other leaders and urged other patriots to support the project.
Also, Chief Mbazulike Amechi, a First Republic Minister of Aviation, responding to Yakassai’s support for Ndigbo, Amechi said: “To me, it is not Igbo presidency but the president of Nigeria of Igbo extraction. It is something that should not be discussed or argued because the whole peace and progress of the future and oneness of this country depends on that. We all fought for the independence of this country and the southeast produced the greatest number of the nationalists that led that struggle but the effect of the coup of 1966, that led to the civil war has continued and has made some parts of the country not treated well and pushed aside; and this does not make for peace and unity of the country. And so, Igbo presidency in 2023 will address that maltreatment and Igbo cannot achieve it alone. It has to be an Igbo Nigerian president, Nigerian president of Igbo extraction and therefore to achieve that, Igbos have to spread out to the North, into the West, East, South and Middle Belt to achieve that from all parts of the country. I agree with Tanko.”
“As for IPOB, I have been able to bring them and Ohanaeze Ndigbo together and they are enjoying peace now and I am happy that they have reconciled. “I think IPOB is pursuing their own programme and I do not think their programme is conflicting with the issue of Nigeria presidency of Igbo extraction. “The truth is that Igbo land and Ndigbo have not been fairly treated in Nigeria and IPOB says if you cannot accommodate us in Nigeria, let us go; Ohanaeze is fighting for justice and fairness within Nigeria. “If IPOB is pursuing this hypothetical issue: if you cannot accommodate us in Nigeria, let us go, you cannot beat a child and stop the child from crying. Ohanaeze, Afenifere and others are appealing for a united country where equity, fairness and justice will reign and so, they are not really opposed to themselves as such,” he said.
Another Igbo leader that has made strong case for Igbo presidency in 2023 is Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Iwuanyanwu said Ndigbo have made enough sacrifices and there is no time that is better than 2023 General Election to pay them back.
As he puts it: “Igbos have been able to show that they are one Nigeria by traveling to places outside Igbo land, developing those places, in fact, Igbos have made Nigeria look like a country more than any group because they go there with everything they have.”
Okwesilieze Nwodo, a former Chairman of PDP, is even more combatant when he said
“For 50 years now, we have been persecuted for fighting for freedom. When will this marginalisation stop? Anybody who loves Nigeria and who wishes Nigeria well should go for Igbo Presidency in 2023 for unity, fairness, equity and for Nigeria to move forward.”
He disagreed with the view that Igbo leaders are not united on the 2023 Presidency project: “I don’t believe that the Igbo are not united; there has never been a time when any region produced a consensus candidate; everybody emerged through primary elections.
“There is no zone that has produced a candidate by consensus. It doesn’t matter how many people are interested in it. They will be subjected to party primaries, and the person with the highest vote wins.
“In the spirit of fairness and equity, Nigeria should give the presidency to the South-east in 2023, he said.”
The debate has really put the 2023 presidency on the country’s political burner. As stakeholders discuss the rather sensitive issue, one issue that seems to reoccur is the need for Ndigbo and their leaders to win the support of other groups if they hope to produce Nigeria’s president.