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After Atiku’s victory, Southeast rethinks strategy ahead of 2023 presidency

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
01 June 2022   |   4:26 am
The national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which denied the southeast region an opportunity to produce the party’s presidential flag bearer for the 2023 general elections...

[FILE] Nigerian former Vice President Atiku Abubakar attends the opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) primaries in Abuja, on May 28, 2022. – Former Nigerian vice president Atiku Abubakar on May 28, 2022 won the opposition party PDP’s primary to choose its candidate for the 2023 presidential election, according to ballot results. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which denied the southeast region an opportunity to produce the party’s presidential flag bearer for the 2023 general elections, has opened a new vista in the demand by the region for the number one slot in the country.

Already, there is a new thinking in the region on how the Igbo would return to national politics in the scheme of things in the country in 2023, through the ballot.

After the much talked about rotational clause in the power equation between the north and south embedded in the Constitution of the PDP and the need to uphold it in processes leading to the 2023 general elections to enable the southeast region taste power at the centre for the first time, the PDP at the weekend threw open the contest when it enthroned a northerner and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, as its presidential flag bearer.

The Adamawa born politician, had overwhelmingly defeated other aspirants of the party, including two aspirants from the southeast region, Anyim Pius Anyim and Sam Ohuabunwa to clinch the party’s ticket. Should he eventually emerge in the general elections next year, north will be holding the rein of power for an unbroken 12 years, after the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari’s eight years.

The political exercise on Saturday was also one that the Southeast zone hoped could have been used to compensate for the support it had given the PDP since 1999, as well as the claim of equity, justice and fairness in the system.

However, when the curtains were drawn, votes amassed by the two contestants from the region put together were highly insignificant to even put the zone at reckoning. In fact, while Atiku had cruised home with 371 votes, the duo of Anyim and Ohuabunwa could only muster 15 votes; a figure said to be too meager going by the number of delegates produced by the party from the Southeast.

Not even the resignation of Peter Obi who was an aspirant from the party and his withdrawal from the race, days before the primary could boost the chances of the remaining two aspirants from the Southeast.

Sources indicated that while delegates from the Southeast could not vote aspirants from the zone, apparently because of their number that could not get them anywhere near victory, the voting pattern by other delegates from various parts of the country showed a rejection of the Southeast’s demand for the number one office in the country.

Supported by the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, leaders of the region had traversed the nooks and crannies of the country in a bid to shore up support for an Igbo to be made the Presidential candidate of the PDP and subsequently be voted in the general elections.

In fact, the leaders stressed that giving the zone the opportunity would not only promote sense of belonging, but could as well unify the country and reduce the increasing tension and agitation by the people of the region over feeling of exclusion.

However, signs that what transpired in the presidential primary were in the offing emerged earlier enough for Ndigbo. It was at the point where the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), acting on the recommendation of its committee on zoning headed by Samuel Ortom threw the contest for the presidential ticket open.

The development in the party, sad as it was, did not dwarf the intention of the apex Igbo organisation, which after an enlarged meeting of Imeobi and other notable leaders of the zone on May 5, 2022, set up the Action Committee that would help it achieve presidency of the southeast extraction.

President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof George Obiozor, who threw more light about the committee, insisted that it would liaise with other zones of the country to spread the message of the zone. He had insisted that the rest of the country could as a matter of necessity treat the region the same way they treated the Southwest in 1999 by ceding the presidential tickets of all parties to its aspirants.

With the ticket of the PDP now retained in the north and the uncertainty surrounding chances of the Southeast picking the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), there is a new thinking in the zone on how to navigate the 2023 politics and remain relevant in the scheme of things.

Investigations by The Guardian showed that the zone might be doing the battle to remain relevant and in the long run win the presidency next year on two-pronged approach. One is to review its support for the PDP and channel it to the Labour Party (LP) that has offered its presidential ticket to Peter Obi and the other, to rally support for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), as the regional party to strengthen its negotiations.

The Guardian learnt the move to starve off PDP followed the insistence by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo that the zone would not play second fiddle to any zone or presidential candidate, stressing that its aspirants were qualified to stir the ship of the country and should be treated as such.

National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Chiedozie Ogbonnia told The Guardian that the “gang up to repay the southeast with denial of presidency by the PDP in 2023” would be resisted, stressing that, “playing the second fiddle is not in the contemplation of the Southeast region.

“Ohanaeze Ndigbo has made it clear that on no account should any politician from the region accept to become running mate to any presidential candidate. Our focus is the presidency of the country. We have taken this message even beyond the shores of this country and any attempt to deny the zone is akin to pushing us out of the country. We are qualified and bonafide members of this country and those ganging up against Igbo should see it that way. There is no part of this country that has not felt the presence of our people.  We build and do businesses in every part of the country and that is an indication that we are interested in the indissolubility of Nigeria. Allowing us to taste power at the centre in a country where we laboured for its independence is not asking for too much. That is the message that with the interest of Nigeria at heart we should embrace for continued unity,” he said.

It was learnt that an enlarged meeting of Igbo leaders was being planned on the next line of action after the national convention of the APC with a view to taking a stronger position, as well as chart a new path for Ndigbo in 2023.

Nonetheless, in the midst of the debate over what role the region would play in 2023, are calls for support for APGA as the only option for the political survival of the Southeast in the country.

A former lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Dr Edwin Morah called on Ndigbo to back and build APGA into a regional party, as a way out in the political quagmire it has found itself in the country.

He insisted that Ndigbo can negotiate for national relevancy with building a formidable political platform that has Igbo appeal, stressing that he had implicit confidence in Peter Obi as the one that could be used to achieve it.

“The former governor should go back and support Governor Chukwuma Soludo and other APGA stakeholders in taking the party to the next level by building it and developing the state.

“They should make APGA win the states in the zone and by then, they will have what is called regional agenda,” he advised.

Morah, the Chairman of Mgborogwu Ndi Igbo, a group that promotes Igbo’s Science and Technology, said there was no way Igboman would be allowed to contest using the two major political parties in Nigeria. 

“Peter Obi must have seen something that he cannot condone and resigned. Igbos should get their Permanent Voters Cards (PVSc) as thousands are yet to be collected and vote credibly as well as vote according to their conscience,” he advised.
 
He, however, called for the coming together of other smaller political parties to form stronger party like APC did in 2015 to take over power from APC and PDP in 2023. 

Elder statesman, Chief Chekwas Okorie also advanced this line of thought, when he announced that he had resigned his membership of the APC to return to APGA, which he left in 2012.

Okorie, who is the founding national chairman of APGA, said that the failure of the PDP to cede its presidential ticket to the Southeast region reinforced his earlier position that “neither the APC nor the PDP will give presidency to the southeast in 2023”.

He said: “Igbo people will be on the ballot for 2023 but for them to be on the ballot they must embrace the APGA as a regional political platform. Power is taken and by the grace of God, Igbo people have a national party in all contexts, in all characteristics with Igbo initiative.  That was APGA. I was instrumental to the formation of that party and Igbo people embraced it at inception. They did not continue in that spirit after the buccaneers kidnapped the party. Now we are at this stage, APGA is still by the grace of God on the register of INEC.

“It is one of the few political parties that started in Nigeria that still retained their names; that APGA is the only platform that can give Igbo people political identity. It is the only platform that can restore the missing third leg in the Nigerian tripod. Whether they want to appreciate it or not, I will continue to speak out. APGA will bring an Igbo presidential candidate on the ballot and Igbo will engage with the rest of Nigeria through respectable negotiation.”

Okorie stated that accepting to play the second fiddle would not bestow national prominence on the southeast region, stressing that a similar scenario played out in 1983 “when almost every Igbo aspirant became running mate to northern aspirants that almost got us into more troubles but for Nnamdi Azikiwe’s purposeful calculations that saw him adopting the NPP and becoming its presidential candidate, which on the long run gave us opportunity to negotiate and got what we wanted.

“So adopting APGA and producing a presidential ticket with our numerical strength will lead to useful engagement with the rest of the country and will engender respect for Ndigbo than asking any of those who contested in the primary of the PDP to accept to become running mates. Those looking for second fiddle position should go ahead and waste their time, but I assure them that Igbo people will reject them roundly. They won’t even campaign in Igboland.”

He stated that with his planned return to the party alongside several of those that left in anger earlier, as well as the supreme court’s decision recognising Edozie Njoku as the “authentic national chairman of the APGA,  “there is bound to be a boost in the party and our consultations so far have shown there is new awakening by Ndigbo to take the bull by the horn and work for their liberation”.

But in contrast to the position by Morah and Okorie, another Igbo chieftain, Jerry Okenwa insisted that Ndigbo would be better off rallying support for LP since it has given Obi its ticket than the APGA. According to him, “ LP has an acceptable national outlook than APGA. He said that several years of APGA’s crisis would require a lot of time to be healed.”