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Litmus test for 2023 Southeast Presidency advocacy group

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Birth of initiative
When the Southeast for President 2023 (SEFORP) Movement was inaugurated in April last year at a well-attended event in Enugu, its National Coordinator, Rev Christopher Okechukwu Obioha told the galaxy of Igbo in attendance that the essence of the group was to advocate for a President of Southeast extraction come 2023. He explained that the advocacy was taking off early because “actualizing it would require the support of other Nigerians.”

Obioha stated that the southeast had yet to received its fair share in the power rotation arrangement of the country, noting that since the end of the civil war and the beginning of another democratic dispensation in 1999, the zone remained the only zone yet to take the reins at the presidency.

He said by 2023, President Muhammadu Buhari would have completed another eight years for the north and power would return to the south, going by the current north-south power rotation arrangement. With the Southwest having done eight years through Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency and Southsouth through Goodluck Jonathan’s six years at the helms, Obioha contended that it would be the turn of the southeast to produce the next president.

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The group’s co-ordinator, however, noted that since no zone could single-handedly produce the president except it aligns with others, SEFORP was determined to “mobilize, canvass, consult, lobby and negotiate to create the awareness that 2023 was the right time for Nigerians and indeed southeast indigenes to accept that equitably, justifiably and in fairness, a qualified person from the zone ought to become the president.”

So, from outset, the group had a mission to ensure that every political party, especially the two major parties and any third force, cede their choices of presidential nominees to the Southeast in 2023. The gathering was used to begin the rallying of a critical mass of Igbo and other well-meaning Nigerians to become part of the project.

Less than two years on, the Movement has grown reasonably – it has established over 69 chapters in Nigeria and overseas, just as its mobilisation for the southeast presidency project has been gathering momentum.

Clog in the wheel
JUST as SEFORP’s advocacy is gaining acceptance, the group’s smooth sail may soon get punctured what with a new challenge coming from a southeastern, Obiezu Nwachukwu, who has dragged the leadership of the group to court, alleging that it is using the name of the group to extort Nigerians.

In a controversial suit filed at the Enugu High Court, Nwachukwu, on behalf of his unnamed clients, stated that “despite the registration of the 3rd Defendant SEFORP2023 Multi-purpose Society Limited, as a cooperative society by the 4th Defendant (Rev. Obioha), who is also the president of the 3rd Defendant, he had continued to use either the registered acronym SEFORP2023, or the full name of the registered cooperative society under the Nigerian Cooperative Societies Act, Southeast for Presidency 2023, to organise political conferences, canvassing for the election of a Southeast President in 2023, and fraudulently extorting monies from unsuspecting members of the public.”

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Nwachukwu stated in the suit that the First Bank Plc account, 2034516784, belonging to SEFORP2023 Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society Ltd “has consistently been used for soliciting for funds for political purposes by the 4th Defendant as against the bye-laws of the 3rd Defendant and the provisions of the Nigerian Cooperative Societies Act.”

He argued that by virtue of its registration as a cooperative society in Enugu, by virtue of its bye-laws, and the fact that the entire indigenes of Southeast region are not its members, it has no legal capacity “to convene, invite and organise in any form whatsoever, political meetings, conferences or movements, for the realisation of the Southeast Presidency in 2023, for all the indigenes of the Southeast states of Nigeria.”

Nwachukwu, therefore, sought the order of court restraining the group and its members from convening any political meeting or any meeting whatsoever for the discussion or deliberations, as it affects the Southeast indigenes and the Southeast Presidency in 2023.

“A declaration by this honourable court that all meetings, conferences, decisions, communiqués, reached or taken by virtue of meetings convened by the 3rd Defendant, a registered cooperative society, under the Nigerian Cooperative Societies Act, as it affects Southeast indigenes, with respect to Southeast Presidency in 2023 are illegal, unconstitutional, unlawful, ultra vires the powers of the 3rd Defendant, void and of no effect whatsoever.”

Nwachukwu did not stop there. He also rushed a petition to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) alleging conducts likely to cause breach of public peace, extortion and obtaining by false pretense, unlawful society and impersonation against Rev. Obioha.

He told the IGP, in a petition written on behalf of himself and Youths for Better Nigeria, that Rev. Obioha had converted the cooperative society to a political group through which he has consistently been extorting monies from unsuspecting Southeast politicians in the guise of organising conferences and seminars for the emergence of a Southeast President in 2023.

He further alleged that Obioha has also been using the said group to illegally recruit youth preparatory to the 2023 presidential elections, adding that recruiting youth for such purpose will likely cause a breach of public peace and cause violence.

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“It is therefore on the basis of the immediate and imminent dangers posed by the said Rev. Okechukwu Christopher Obioha, using the registered cooperative society to defraud members of the public and also training youth for the take-over of the presidency in 2023 that we deemed it necessary to write to your esteemed office for urgent intervention and investigation of the fraudulent and illegal activities of the said Rev. Okechukwu Christopher Obioha”, he had pleaded.

Obioha responds 
OBIOHA, a former National Chairman of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD), who initially refused to join issues with the petitioners, arguing that he would rather have relevant authorities investigate and prosecute the matter, dismissed it as the “handiwork of desperate Igbo, who are bent on capitalising on every opportunity to enrich themselves.”

He stated that though the real petitioners were yet to be unmasked, it might not be far from those envious of the group’s success story without sponsors. Obioha stated that SEFORP2023, since inception, has no sponsors, adding that members willingly contribute to sponsor activities. He stressed that it was self-sponsorship that was responsible for the mileage covered by the group within a year.

According to Obioha, “We initiated the Southeast for President 2023 Movement in February last year with people of like minds and inaugurated it on April 30, 2019, as an advocacy pressure group. Our reason is to ensure that the presidency of Nigeria in 2023 is given to the Southeast zone. We are saying that since 1999, we have not had it. Nigeria has six zones and we are saying that, in all fairness, it should be given to the Southeast.

“We felt that it is time to begin to create that awareness and we are saying everything about good governance is about the economic wellbeing of the individuals. We cannot allow any individual to turn our money into individual account. And for transparency, we now use the SEFORP account because SEFORP is registered. SEFORP2023 is a sister organisation.

“We opened an account and any money that has gone in there came from our members. The SEFORP 2023 is the pressure group. There has not been anytime we went outside our membership to ask for any money anywhere. When we have events, people pick items they want to sponsor and that is all.”

Obioha insisted that those raising unfounded allegations were not members of the group, adding; “They went to court and they went to the Inspector General of Police, saying that we are training youth to be president of this country. In their ignorance, they probably forgot that recently, a law was passed approving the Not–Too–Young–To-Run law in the country.

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“So, even if we are doing so, the law covers us. We were invited by the police and they asked the lawyer: ‘are you a member of this organisation and he said no.’ They told him to go and bring the person he was representing so he could be interviewed to know his grouse for making such petition. That is where we are.”

He added: “We are in a society where a lot of interests are generated on every little thing. We believe that somebody has given them money to stop what we are doing. They don’t believe that the presidency of this country should go to the Southeast. They know what they are doing and we know their game. There is no other way to qualify them than those being nosy, deceitful and corrupt. We are not doing anything illegal. We are pursuing good governance and equity and unity of the country.

“We have no financier. We have carried this advocacy for more than one year. Nobody is sponsoring us. It is a self-supporting thing by the members. We have stirred up the polity; we have created much awareness. We have 69 chapters all over the country and in the diaspora. It is not social media membership. We are talking about physical structures. We cannot be dampened by such rascality. Writing petitions and going to court will not stop an idea whose time has come.”

Opposition, a recurrence
MOST respondents on the development have described it as “not too strange,” insisting that it is in the nature of certain opportunists in the zone to court an audience and enrich selves on the sweat of others, using controversial lawsuits. They said the matter is a typical replay of the biblical “hand of Esau and voice of Jacob”, alleging that, as usual, politicians in the zone have willingly offered their services to the benefits of their paymasters.

The matter, according to them, could be likened to that of one Charles Oko Enya, a businessman from Ebonyi State, who last year, approached a Federal High Court in Abakaliki, praying it to remove the constitutional clause barring President Muhammadu Buhari and state governors from contesting a third term.

Enya, whose greatest achievement in politics was serving as Organising Secretary of President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation in Ebonyi State, had asked the court to expunge sections 137 (1) and 182 (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, arguing that the current two terms was discriminatory to section 42 (1) (a) and article 2 and 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. He later returned to court to discontinue the suit when it dawned on him that he had goofed.

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There was also the One Million Man March for late Military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, to transform from a military head of state to a democratically elected life president. It was led by another Igbo man, Daniel Kanu and his Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA).

Reference was also made to the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), led by Chief Arthur Nzeribe. Nzeribe’s ABN was an attempt to perpetuate the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. He had gone to court to prevent the conduct of the June 1993 presidential election. The group’s only reason for demanding an injunction against the election was that leaders of the two political parties –National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) had corrupt politicians.

Chief Jude Amadi of Igbo Think Tank and socio-political group said: “It is most unfortunate how desperate our people could be. What do they want to achieve other than stop the advocacy for Igbo Presidency? I do not think anyone has complained of being extorted by the group nor are they borrowing money to organise their activities. So, why go to court to stop them? I have a feeling that somebody somewhere is being used against Igbo. It is sad that our people are the ones being used.”

A lecturer in the Department of Political Science of Ebonyi State University, Akpa Dan, said: “I think it is a matter of interest. You don’t remove interest in political matters. It is about who gets what. Probably, there is the feeling that these successes cannot happen without funds and somebody wants to be part of it. But in all, let the interest of the larger Ndigbo be paramount.”

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