Ohanaeze gestures amid Southeast political undercurrents
It was their first meeting after the election that brought the current executive of Igbo umbrella socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo. But, the meeting last week revealed how the mind of the apex Igbo group was working concerning Southeast’s bid for the 2023 Presidency. The meeting clearly set a signpost on the seriousness, which the zone has brought to bear on a quest for the number one position in the country.
At the meeting, which held in Owerri, Imo State capital, the leaders reiterated the need to respect the principle of zoning, ahead of the 2023 general elections to ensure that the Southeast gets a shot at the presidency of the country.
In a statement after the meeting, signed by the President-General, Prof George Obiozor, and Secretary-General, Dr. Okey Emuchay, the group said it would “work with other ethnic groups to pursue the objective,” even as it urged all Ndigbo with the needed capacity to show interest in the 2023 presidency.
The meeting further “mandated the President General to work in close consultation with the Igbo socio-cultural and political intelligentsia to pursue the task of ensuring that the Igbo take their turn in producing the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria come 2023 General elections.”
However, a source in the meeting revealed to The Guardian that Ohanaeze was displeased with the way discussions on the 2023 presidency had so far gone, stressing that a deliberate attempt was being orchestrated to remove the zone from contention.
Nonetheless, insisting that it was the turn of the Igbo to produce the president, the source added: “We need to make this statement so as to tell the rest of the country that we belong to this project. We are not pretending about it, we will not allow this opportunity to slip away.
“We need to reassure our people also that Ohanaeze is seriously committed to this and that they should do it with every amount of responsibility.”
Observers said the Owerri meeting was a bold move and about the first time Ohanaeze was speaking in unison since the debate over the 2023 presidency started generating interest in the country.
Those who read closely the communiqué that emanated from the meeting insisted that such bold a move was needed if the zone must realize its dream to rule the country for the first time since 1999.
In April 2019, a similar move was made, through what was regarded as an effort to place the issue on the front burner. While the rest of the country was settling down from the 2019 general elections, leaders of the zone gathered in Enugu to launch an advocacy group, the Southeast for President 2023 Movement (SEFORP2023)
At the event, which attracted various Igbo organizations and some political actors, a former Minister of Power, Prof Chinedu Nebo, said the inauguration became necessary following the conviction that it was the turn of Ndigbo to rule the country after Buhari.
He stated that the advocacy group would spearhead the efforts to get the support of other zones of the country in the project, stressing that the exercise had come early because “there is enormous work to do”.
Nebo said that one cardinal reason that justifies the quest was that the southeast had supported other zones of the country to occupy the Presidency by voting them in various elections. The gathering, which ‘barred’ Ndigbo from “working for presidential aspirants from other zones in 2023 or accepting the Vice Presidential slot, insisted that resisting such offers would go a long way in underlining the seriousness of the people in their quest.
They also agreed to “mobilize, canvass, consult, lobby, and negotiate to create the awareness that 2023 is the right time after the north, for Nigerians and indeed the southeast indigenes to accept that it is the turn of the zone to produce the president”.
Babbel Of Contrary Voices
Ohanaeze’s move seems to be facing challenges from several political undercurrents and changing narratives from the people. Typical of politicians from the zone, while some have begun to find better alternatives and accepted offers to work for other non-indigenes of the zone as campaign coordinators and help them realize their presidential ambitions in 2023, others are battling to become Vice Presidents of candidates from other zones. Those currently working to become Vice Presidential candidates are mainly occupying public offices.
Sources indicated that the vice-presidential lure and mutual suspicion among the political leaders may have been raised to the level of the Southeast Governors’ Forum, indicating that the group’s meetings may no longer hold.
For instance, apparently, to give support to the Igbo presidency project and galvanize its people into speaking with one voice, some politicians led by the Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, earlier in the year, initiated a bi-partisan meeting of all political parties, religious leaders and governors of the zone among others.
The meeting convened at Kalu’s residence in Igbere, Abia state, which listed some of those expected to include Governors Dave Umahi (Ebonyi); Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu); Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia); Hope Uzodimma (Imo), and Willie Obiano (Anambra) as well as Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe; former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu; Deputy Chief Whip, House of Representatives; Nkiruka Onyejeocha; Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu; ministers, former ministers, former governors as well as National Assembly members (former and incumbent) among others.
However, at the end of the day, no state governor attended. Yet, despite the low turnout, those that attended agreed in a communiqué signed by former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, insisted on President of Igbo extraction in 2023, stressing that it would be “in the interest of justice, equity, and national unity.”
They also implored “all the political parties to cede their presidential tickets in the 2023 general election to the South-east,” just as they declared that “with a substantial presence in every part of the country, Igbo would give bloc vote and full support to any of the two major political parties that nominated their presidential candidates from the zone.”
But, those who attended the meeting did not get home when the chairman of the Southeast Governors Forum and Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, countered their position. He said the decision of the meeting did not represent the views of Ndigbo, as they (governors) were not involved in the planning of the meeting.
Umahi, who recalled that the governors had earlier in the day held another virtual meeting, stressed, “The organisers used the names of the governors as conveners without their permission.
“Today, 5th January 2021, the southeast governors held their meeting and all the governors were in attendance and the meeting resolved as follows:
“There was a bi-partisan meeting called today and the initiator went ahead to use the names of governors without consulting them as part of the conveners of such a meeting.
“The governors of Southeast frown at such an attitude and would want to dissociate themselves from such a meeting.”
Piqued by the governors’ position, organizers of the political gathering had initiated another move. This time-shifting moved the venue to the Government House in Enugu. This Government House had hosted several meetings of the zone’s governors among others. The date was fixed for March 7, with time put at 12 noon. It turned out to be the worst as none of the governors and other political leaders attended, despite the massive publicity that preceded it.
Kalu, who had driven into Enugu Government House as early as 11 am for the meeting, waited in vain for over four hours. He returned to his base after it dawned on him that he was alone and that getting the support of his fellow politicians to the 2023 project would be a hard nut to crack.
Sources disclosed that the governors were suspicious that the former Abia State governor was making efforts to secure a pact with a Northeast politician to serve his running mate if he mobilizes Southeast politicians effectively for the project.
Similarly, several Igbo are said to have joined presidential campaign groups as Coordinators, while others are jostling to belong somewhere. Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, has had its campaign group “Atiku for Nigeria” launched in the Southeast. Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, has also shown visible presence as his campaign group has also been launched.
The former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, whose campaign group is yet to be launched, is receiving solidarity from people of the zone urging him to show interest in the race.
Last month, the leadership of Lagos State Igbo speaking community paid “a thank you visit” to the immediate past Executive Chairman of Amuwo Odofin Local Government, Comrade Ayodele Adewale, at his political office in Festac Town, Lagos State.
The group led by High Chief Sunday Udeh had pledged their loyalty to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and demanded that its National Leader, Bola Tinubu contest for President of Nigeria in 2023. They assured them that they would give the maximum support that would enable him to realize the quest.
The group’s visit call on Ashiwaju was shortly followed by the inauguration of the Enugu State chapter of the “Amechi Vanguard”, a support group for the presidential aspiration of the Minister of Transport in 2023. They also set up 17 Local Government Coordinators in the state, with a charge to deliver Amaechi in 2023.
State Coordinator of the group, Mrs. Kate Nnamani, a lawyer, said the choice of Amaechi, a former Rivers State governor, from South-South zone, was arrived at after a frantic search for “an experienced, capable and acceptable” presidential material they undertook.
According to Mrs. Nnamani, Amaechi has held positions as adviser to the governor, Speaker, governor and now as a federal minister and as such, is eminently qualified to be President.
“We, as members of the defunct Igbo Presidential Mandate (IPM) took it up as a challenge to scan the political landscape of the Igbo nation for the best, based on the factors listed above. Rotimi Amaechi clearly stood shoulder high. He stood tall, bestriding the entire Igbo nation like a colossus on the three fronts,” she said.
Few days after the inauguration of Amaechi’s support group, loyalists, supporters, and associates of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar on March 9 launched a group tagged ‘Atiku For Nigeria’ as a platform for selling the candidacy of Adamawa-born politician to Nigerians as a suitable person as their next president in the 2023 presidential election.
Led by the former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Chief Dubem Onyia, they hinged their support on the fact that the clamour for Igbo Presidency in 2023 would not be meaningful until the country is restructured.
Onyia had stated that the issue of the Nigerian presidency currently was beyond the ethnic question, but about the leadership that can make serious innovations to change the structure of the country with executive powers.
He had further justified his position thus: “I am Igbo and I want the Igbo people to become president, I can however tell you that unless Nigeria is restructured to give governance ownership to the people which only Atiku Abubakar will do, an Igbo presidency will have no meaning.
“The National Assembly has more Northerners than the rest, so, it will require that leverage from a nationally acceptable president like Atiku to restructure Nigeria, to empower the youths and the Nigerian women.
“We must not miss this opportunity. This is not about Atiku; it is about all of us; it is about the youths, the Nigerian women, and the future of this country. Atiku doesn’t have to be president again but we are all begging him to offer himself again in the interest of this country, and he has accepted to lead Nigeria to the land of promise.”
These are developments that worry the average campaigner of Igbo presidency and which the Ohanaeze Ndigbo would need to deal with if other zones must listen to the southeast presidency project.
Chief Alex Ogbonnia, National Publicity Secretary, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, stated that democracy was about freedom of choice, reminding those angling to work for other aspirants from other zones on the need of “taking pride in the activities of their people.”
He had insisted that in making claims for the presidency of Igbo extraction, Ohanaeze looked at the arrangement on the ground. He said: “There is the principle of zoning between the various components of the constituent units which is a major element in the rotation of power between the north and south. This agreement was reached at the onset of the present cycle of Nigerian democracy. Nigerians adopted a rotation of the presidency between the Northern and the Southern parts of the country. Every Nigerian patriot knows that 2023 is the turn of Igbo to produce the president for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
As it stands, Igbo have lent support to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan from the Southwest and South-South respectively. In 2023, the presidency should rotate to the south, and by all standards of zoning, conscience, and political arithmetic, it is the turn of the South East. Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide led by Prof. George Obiozor is highly committed to the realisation of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in 2023. Therefore, a great doubt is placed on the authenticity and credibility of an Igbo that pledges the wrath that goes after renegades who work against the Igbo spirit.”
On the claims of competence, he said: “I do not agree with those talking about competence. They probably have nothing to say. I say this with every sense of dignity that Igbos are still the best so far. They are the best in human resources management; they are the best in commerce. They are the ones that can restore this nation such that every zone will feel a sense of belonging. Again, even with the people of the zone being relegated to the background in the scheme of things, they are still making waves and contributing their quota without waiting for government support”.
Speaking on the development, a 2019 Senatorial candidate of the KOWA Party in Enugu State, Prof Jehu Nnaji, told The Guardian that there was no better way of realizing presidency in 2023 than for all Igbo to agree to be part of it.
Expressing concerns that Ndigbo was beginning to speak differently on the project, he stated that the position of Ohanaeze was apt and more assuring that “we have the backing of our elders. The collective interest of the people is more paramount than personal interests and this should be our concern”.
“I should therefore think that those who are already working for the realization of this agenda should continue. I personally believe that it is the turn of Ndigbo to produce the president of the country. It will make for justice, equity, fairness and unify the country the more. We should all give it our best approach and not play the ostrich”, he added.
Board Chairman of World Igbo Peoples Assembly (WIPAS), Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, however, insists that Ndigbo must stand to be counted, stressing that the idea of “running from one politician to another anytime there is an election is affecting the development of the zone”.
He noted that since 1999, when the current democratic experience began, “those who have served as errand boys should have been mature enough to stand on their own or at least train others.” He stressing that it was a bad thing that “in the midst of the marginalization, pains, victimization of Igbo so far, some people want to continue to play the second fiddle. We are watching and we will not fail to remind those involved about what is happening today at the right time.”
He insisted that no amount of campaign of calumny would detract or dissuade Igbo from contesting in 2023, even as he asked more Igbo politicians to show interest in the race.
In the coming days, it would be seen how Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which seems to have taken this campaign upon itself, would carry it through.
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