‘Inclusivity’ as albatross to Ndigbo’s auest for 2023 presidency
Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), recently scorned the quest by the Igbo to produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023, when he alleged that their clamour might not see the light of day because the region had refused to play inclusive politics.
Even though Funtua tacitly agreed that Ndigbo deserved to be president of the country, he, however, insisted that they “should belong” and “join the party,” adding that the people always wanted to do things their own way.
He further reminded the zone that those who wanted to play politics solely in the past never smelt the Presidency.
Various interpretations have been given to Funtua’s claims. While some say it mirrors the thinking of the Presidency, since he has severally been alleged to be one of the central figures in Buhari’s “cabal,” others view the claim as a subtle move by the party to justify its unwillingness to support power shift to the South East zone, as well as sustain the Presidency in the North beyond Buhari’s second term.
Be that as it may, where the pendulum swings to in 2023 has become a topical issue at the moment, despite attempts to foist an unwritten rotational convention between the North and South.
Second Republic Minority Leader, Junaid Mohammed, also penultimate week faulted the push by the Igbo, insisting that it was “fraudulent” and “undemocratic” as well as cheap means to acquire political power.
While the debate rages, Ndigbo who have become upbeat in their quest are beginning to interpret certain vituperations as part of the ploy to deny them the opportunity, which according to them, had been the practice since the return of civil rule in the country.
Referring to the military incursion of 1983, that overthrew the civilian government of Shehu Shagari, they insisted that the action, which brought Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon to power was targeted at stopping the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who was Shagari’s deputy from taking over after him.
“Why is it that anytime that an Igbo person rises to become something in this country, he is either brought down, or denied such opportunity using one excuse or the other? They do it in business by spurious allegation or unfavourable policies. In politics, it has gone worse. That is the kind of thing they are trying to introduce now to ensure that the zone is denied,” First Republic Aviation Minister, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi observed.
Speaking specifically on the position canvassed by Isa Funtua, he asked rhetorically: “What history is he trying to create? What politics of inclusivity is he referring to? Who has been more accommodating in this country than the Igbo? Is there any part of the country where there is no Igbo population? The Igbo not only go there to settle; they do their businesses, and build houses among others. But can you point at any establishment or buildings in Igbo land owned by a northerner? This has been the spirit that has guided Igbo in Nigeria. It has been there before the war and after the war. Which zone of the country led in the struggle for independence of this country, and who sacrificed almost all to keep the unity and progress of the country? They should tell us other stories.”
Amaechi’s views resonate with those of the President Emeritus of Pan-Igbo group, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, who queried why other zones were not accused of not playing politics of inclusiveness when their people solely contested in elections.
Uwazuruike said: “When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae contested against each other, nobody accused them of not playing inclusive politics, likewise two Fulani men – Muhammadu Buhari and Musa Yar’Adua. Now, Igbo politicians are being proposed for 2023, one man whose identity is a friend of Aso Rock is talking what he and his cabal are thinking.
“It means that Isamaila Funtua and his collaborative group have arrogated to themselves, the power to determine the future of this country. This statement by Funtua coincides with the curious call by Pastor Tunde Bakare on President Buhari, to get involved in the choice of his successor. My understanding of what is going on is that the hangers on in the corridors of power have gone into overdrive, in the bid to retain their stranglehold on the country.”
Uwazuruike said that rotation of power was the only way to ensure that “what comes around goes around,” adding that several conferences that held under General Sani Abacha, Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan saw merit in power rotation.
“The PDP believed in rotation of power among the six zones, and the APC goes for North and South. As a ploy to continue their hold on power, merchants of disinformation are already working day and night maintaining that power going round the nation is a bad idea. Power must go round. So far, since 1999, North West, South West and South South have occupied the Presidency. Now, the South East is laying claims to it, the hatchet men are hard at work,” he said
Over the while, certain undercurrents that emanated from the politics of the people, especially during previous elections may have lent credence to Funtua’s position.
Sources maintained that the alleged dumping of national interest politics, (which was the case before the war) for sectional interest politics since the end of the war may have been the basis on which Funtua took his position.
It was gathered that Ndigbo, which was instrumental in ensuring that all segments of the country were carried along in the struggle for the independence in 1960, during the era of the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, suddenly relapsed into sectional politics of interest, a development that may have not augured well with the rest of the country.
Said a source: “Azikiwe and Awolowo leading other nationalists refused to go for independence when the East and West were ready, despite the promptings. They wanted the tripod of North, East and West and that delayed the independence till 1960. Azikiwe by his disposition and control was to be the Prime Minister of the country, but declined for Tafawa Balewa. He instead, accepted to be president without executive powers. It is on record that he remains the only freedom fighter in Africa that did not taste executive powers because he wanted to embrace all. He wanted one Nigeria, and that remained his mantra till death. It was this attempt to recreate this style of politics by Azikiwe that made General Aguiyi Ironsi to introduce the unitary system of government, which unfortunately is the bane of the country today.”
The source stated that exclusivity in politics by Ndigbo set in after the civil war with the failure of the General Yakubu Gowon-led administration to implement the “no victor, no vanquished policy,” that he declared, adding that the 3R’s which he further enunciated, ended up dispossessing Ndigbo and dislocating them politically.
“That was how Ndigbo became more interested in who will protect them, their businesses and issues concerning them, hence, they started voting for personalities during elections, and not political parties,” the source stated.
It added that the bond of understanding, especially between the North and East continued in 1979, when Dr. Alex Ekwueme jettisoned the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), a party with Igbo bias, to join the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), and accepted to be running mate to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the eventual winner of the election.
Even though the NPN was the majority party, it required the support of another political party that won majority seats in the election, to be able to form government and that led to the political accord between it and the NPP, which saw to the emergence of Edwin Umezuoke, an Igbo as Speaker of House of Representatives, and Dr. Joseph Wayas, the Senate President. This it was said staved off threats from the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), which won in the Western states, plus Mid West.
The accord was hugely embraced by the Igbo to the extent that returnee Biafra warlord, the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, joined the NPN, abandoning the NPP, which was controlled by his people.
But another school of thought, however, stated that an attempt by the Igbo to continue with the political bond, especially with the North was jettisoned after the 1983 election, when the military struck and seized power. That election, which had already been won by Shagari with Ekwueme as running mate, was the last lap of the two terms of Shagari. Had it endured, it could have produced a successor administration from the NPN after four years, as the party had fully been entrenched in the politics of the country. Ekwueme was being touted to step in after President Shagari
However, the military intervention that removed the Shagari-led administration aborted that dream. The military dominated by soldiers of northern extraction took over initiatives until the return to civil rule in 1999.
Giving further insight into possible reasons why Ndigbo have continued to put their interest first in determining where their votes go during elections, a political scientist, Ikem Orji, explained that Ekwueme’s efforts in 1999 led to the formation of G-34 that metamorphosed into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)
Orji stated that the party gave Ekwueme all the assurances that he would be used to prosecute the election, stressing that when the “chips were down, the political movers and shakers, backed by the military in power, connived to deny him the ticket in the guise of pacifying the South West over the death of MKO Abiola, who was reputed to have won the election of June 12, 1993. Obasanjo, from South West, who was not anywhere near the arrangement for the transition was brought in and handed the ticket of the PDP.
“As if that was not enough, the All Progressives Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD), which were the other front line political parties were made to align and produce a sole presidential candidate in Chief Olu Falae, another South West politician for the election. Therefore, it became a Yoruba affair, which was explained then as a healing process to get the country united to march forward. An Igbo man in Ogbonnaya Onu, who had emerged the presidential candidate of the APP, was persuaded to drop his ambition for the sake of national interest. He agreed and the election was held solely for South West candidates,” he submitted
Orji further explained: “The emergence of Obasanjo altered the equation of power from what was already on from Shagari days. But instead of compensating the Igbo for that alteration, Obasanjo went to the North to pick his running mate. Ndigbo was given the slot of Senate President, which they manipulated to our disadvantage till the end of the administration.”
In 2003, although President Muhammadu Buhari had joined politics and decided to pick an Igbo man, Chuba Okadigbo as his running mate on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Ndigbo refused to vote for him. They gave their votes to Obasanjo’s PDP where they believed their interest would be protected than in Buhari.
In 2007, even with the power shift by the PDP to the North that led to the emergence of Umaru Yar’ Adua/Goodluck Jonathan ticket, and the Buhari/Edwin Umezuoke ticket for the ANPP, it did not change the voting pattern of Ndigbo as they fully voted against the ANPP, abandoning their own.
Explaining this in an interview then with The Guardian, the former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu, stated that it was a matter of interest, stressing that the zone was more comfortable with the PDP ticket than the ANPP ticket.
He stated that the Igbo had not had it better with Buhari, and referred to his activities against Ndigbo when he was head of state and Chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).
“That mindset has not changed. He ensured that Ekwueme as Igboman, who was Shagari’s deputy was put in prison while Shagari, who was the president was kept under house arrest. Check the records of his activities at the PTF, you would see that what went to his state, Katsina and North West was almost 95 per cent projects, and the whole of South East about five per cent. So, we feel that our interest will be protected more with the PDP ticket,” Nworgu said.
In 2011, Buhari ditched the ANPP, formed the CPC, and picked Tunde Bakare, a Yoruba man as his running mate. The PDP had on the other hand presented Jonathan from the South South and Namadi Sambo from the North as his running mate. Again the South East voted for the PDP.
That development was attributed to the need to repay the South South for their support to the South East. Nworgu explained that it was intentionally carried out to repair a relationship that had gone sour with their South South brothers, as well as to compensate for the degradation that been done in the area by the exploration of mineral resources, emphasising that it was in the best interest of the country.
Although they tried to repeat the voting pattern with the tacit support of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in 2015 and lost out, as well as in 2019, they are satisfied that they could muster bloc votes that could aid any candidate to win in an election.
The coming together of the CPC, ANPP and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) changed the narrative and gave Buhari victory over the PDP in 2015. Then leader of the ACN Bola Tinubu championed the merger that gave birth to the APC and brokered, for the first time in Nigeria’s political history, an alliance that had never existed between the South West and North, which was repeated in the 2019 general elections.
Although the 2019 was won and lost, the explanation was that the votes that the zone gave to the PDP were not necessarily because of Peter Obi, who was the running mate of Atiku Abubakar, but because Ndigbo “see Atiku as a more liberal Muslim than Buhari,” and one who will better protect their interest than Buhari.
As the race to 2023 gather steam, one fact that the zone holds tenaciously to is that the excellence it has achieved in various fields have always evoked envy among the rest of the country.
They have also insisted that dominating and bringing different perspectives in all their endeavours, have led to many sections conniving to ensure that Igbo continue to play second fiddle at all times.
“It is not about belonging or not playing politics of inclusiveness. You can belong to a political party and when there is conspiracy against you, even that which morally should belong to you will be removed from you. We have shown the rest of the country that we can work together with any elected government to advance the state of things for better,” the National Chairman of UPP, Chekwas Okorie said.
He stated that the clamour by the zone for the Presidency in 2023 was the right thing to do in the interest of unity, justice and fair play, stressing that democracy would not thrive better in any arrangement that downplays contending factors.
“If the ticket in 1999 was solely given to South West by the frontline political parties for the unity of the country, we ask that such be meted to Ndigbo in the interest of justice and good conscience,” he said.
The demand by Igbo is not only been threatened by opinion of political stakeholders from the North, the two leading political parties – the APC and PDP seem hesitant to allow power rotate to the zone.
Only recently, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Senator Walid Jibrin, alleged that the ticket was open to anybody, even against the rotation clause between North and South, which the party adopted.
APC on the other hand is being pressured to retain power in the north, as a matter of right, or at best throw the contention open, which in the long run would elude the South.
With the position of the zone in the current administration, where it is not in control of any organ of government, or institution, the entire arrangement has seriously relegated the zone to the background. This development is attributed to its voting pattern, which is said to amount to putting all eggs in one basket.
The other is the alliance brokered in 2015 and 2019 between North and the South West, through Tinubu that won elections for Buhari, which many, especially in the North want to be sustained.
The entire scenario, many say is putting Ndigbo at a crossroads as the 2023 election approaches. It has also created problems for the two dominant political parties on how to support a president of Igbo extraction.
On the other hand, Ndigbo by their republican nature believe in an egalitarian society, where justice, and fairness should reign supreme, hence even though some of them are pushing for restructuring and self-determination, others, especially the political class are pushing for an Igbo Presidency. They are however loud in their demand for power in 2023, and are using every available opportunity to say so.