2023: Ndi Igbo and clamour for southeast presidency
A new consciousness is gradually enveloping the South East, and it has to do with what role it will play as the nation grapples with power sharing come 2023. Ordinarily, going into such discussion at the moment, especially when grievances that arose from the last general elections (held five months ago) are still unresolved, could be considered too premature, but the momentum that it has gathered so far in the zone indicates that the time for that discussion is now.
However, as alignment and re-alignments continue, the main political actors are divided into three broad groups- those angling for an Igbo Presidency come 2023, those clamouring for a restructuring of the polity, as well as those who are only interested in the declaration of a Sovereign State of Biafra.
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, while speaking on a political programme on Channels Television, recently, said that from the way the country’s Constitution was framed, it would be difficult for any President to make any meaningful impact without the country being restructured.
In what looked like the socio-cultural group’s position, Nwodo stated that he preferred a situation, where the “country is restructured to guarantee true federalism than allocating the Presidency from time to time to the zones.
“I hate this idea of donating the Presidency to any section of the country in the name of sense of belonging. I prefer the restructuring of the country to make the office of the President less attractive. The office of the President has been made too important by the amount of power that the Constitution has vested on it. I don’t share in power-sharing, but I believe in getting the foundation right and working. I don’t know what miracle any President can perform in attempting to develop the country, no matter his best of intentions, with a jaundiced Constitution as ours.”
Nwodo further underscored the importance of restructuring to Ndi Igbo when he stated that the preponderance of opinions before the election was in favour of restructuring and that they were going to support any candidate that worked towards the restructuring of the country.
He added that it was for that simple reason that Ohanaeze endorsed the candidacy “of Atiku Abubakar because he accepted to restructure the country,” adding that similar groups and regions in the country, including Middle Belt, South South, PANDEF, Afenifere among others, have accepted restructuring as the only way to move the country forward.
A former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, took a more daring position when he said that it would take a miracle for the country to produce a President of Igbo extraction, stressing that the Igbo has been systematically confined to certain political limits in the country.
Wabara, who fell short of asking those clamouring for an Igbo presidency to perish their thoughts, added that “there won’t be any chance for an Igbo Presidency in 2023… there can only be Igbo presidential candidates from some unpopular political parties to satisfy all righteousness.
“Furthermore, there shall be no basis for Ndi Igbo to negotiate with other regions when those regions are equally interested, and even more financially ready. We are on our own. Nobody wants us to get near Aso Rock.”
Without word mincing, a former National Auditor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Ray Nnaji says that the South East would not be ripe for the Presidency come 2023, hence there is no need for the hullabaloo because there exists no structure in the region that could deliver such a candidate.
“It all depends on what the PDP wants. If the decision of the Supreme Court (Atiku Vs Buhari) is not favourable to the party (PDP), and it wants to win election in 2023, it should allow zoning to remain in the North, but if it wants to lose the next election, it should zone the office to the South East. It will be difficult for a candidate of the South East to beat a candidate from the North because of their population, and other indices that are in their favour.
“To be frank with you, if you don’t have structures, you cannot win elections in this country. The North has a very strong structure, but the Southeast has no structure to win a national election in 2023. So, the best bet is for the zone to play along with the North to give them the Presidency,” he said in an interview.
Earlier on, a former Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu expressed similar views when he told The Guardian that the North was key to an Igbo man becoming Nigeria’s President in 2023, based on the 1999 Constitution, which he said gave the North a lot of advantages over other parts of the country.
“Check the requirements for anybody to be declared President from votes garnered in the election, and also look at the fact of the number of states that exist in the area, and other factors they have earned by having their own in power for a long time, you will know that no one zone can go it without their support,” he said.
Nworgu added that there was a clear distinction between politicking and fairness, explaining that as much as he encourages the clamour for an Igbo Presidency, Nigeria must restructure to make the centre less attractive and cede some powers to the states that make up the country.
As a step towards realising the restructuring of the country, Ndi Igbo, last year, launched a road map in Awka, Anambra State in what was dubbed the “Awka declaration.” The meeting attracted leaders of the Southwest, Middle Belt, South South and compatriots from Southern Kaduna.
In that gathering held at the Alex Ekwueme Square were new Yoruba leader, Prof Banji Akintoye, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Olu Falae, Yinka Odumakin, former Ondo State governor, Olusegun Mimiko; Air Commodore Dan Sulaiman, Dr. John Darah, and Chief Edwin Clark, with notable sons like Nwodo, former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Governor Wille Obiano of Anambra State, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, who chaired the gathering, former governor, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife; Chief Guy Ikokwu, former Ohanaeze Secretary-General, Dr. Nwaorgu, among several others.
A former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Charles Soludo, also at the event, presented a 10-point demand that included, resource control, regional government based on the six existing geo-politicall zones, fiscal federalism, devolution of power, additional state for the Southeast before further creation of states, removal of local government creation and funding from Federal Government, rotational presidency, six-year single term with six vice presidents, among others, to form the nucleus of restructuring.
Soludo lent further credence to the position adopted thus: “The position of Ndi Igbo is to seek a transformed Nigeria that works for every Nigerian citizen, a level playing field for all Nigerians to enjoy freedom, liberty,fairness, equity and justice to maximise their fullest potential. Ndi Igbo are uniquely positioned, by virtue of their huge stake in Nigeria, to join hands with every willing party to champion a pan-Nigeria agenda. We do not seek any preferential or differential treatment from Nigeria.
“Ndi Igbo want a Nigeria that works to maximise their security, prosperity, and happiness. Igbo also want a Nigeria that allows every part of Nigeria the latitude and opportunity to develop at their own pace. We want a national conversation to create a new and better Nigeria for all Nigerians.”
Recommendations in the document were inputs obtained from a 100-man Igbo Committee, set up in 2017, by Ohanaeze Ndigbo to look into various aspects of Igbo in the continued existence of the country, to identify the governance structure among other new areas that the zone could fit into in one indivisible entity.
But beyond the consultations, dialogues and agreements reached that may have enthroned the restructuring gambit, lies a cacophony of voices, calling for the jettisoning of the idea in favour of a President of Igbo extraction in 2023 who, according to them, will begin the process of restructuring in the overall interest of Nigeria.
This group’s clamour is accentuated by the position taken by elder statesmen Chief Clark, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Gen. Ishola Williams, and Senator Emmanuel Bwuacha among others, who are all in support of Igbo Presidency in 2023.
Despite what others are saying, these statesmen and many others are sufficiently persuaded that it was indeed time for the Southeast to take up the top job after President Muhammadu Buhari ends his second term in 2023, in keeping with the spirit of zoning of political offices.
The campaigners for South East Presidency insist that the South East remains the only zone in the country that has yet to taste presidency since the country’s independence, arguing that it would be unfair and may breach the existing peace and unity in the country should the zone be denied the opportunity to produce the president after Buhari.
Be that as it may, as a way of advancing the call, several meetings, associations, and groups are springing up by the day to persuade other zones to support the quest, and also get the buy-in of people of the region.For instance, since the South East for President 2023 Movement (SEFORP2023) was launched, in Enugu, on April 30, 2019, the clamour for an Igbo president has remained upswing, and several state chapters have been launched in readiness for dialogue and advocacy with segments of the country from the first quarter of next year, while also working to ensure that there is unity of purpose among Ndi Igbo.
SEFORP2023 Grassroots Organiser and Diaspora Coordinator, Nkolika Mkparu, told The Guardian that the time was right for South East to take up the mantle.She said: “The time is right because the people from the zone are part of this great nation and have made commensurate contributions in all spheres of growth, and national development. Take it from any position, southeasterners are on top as the most liberal of all ethnic groups in the country. There is no town or village in Nigeria where a person from the South East is not found doing one thing, or the other, no matter how small, and contributing to the growth and development of the economy.
“All other zones have tasted the Presidency, some more than twice; and for 63 years, the leadership of our nation has not moved to the Southeast, hence equity, justice, and fairness demands that South East should be allowed to produce the next President
Mkparu said there was no conflict between the group and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo over the positions that they have adopted, explaining that, “to have the President of Nigeria come from the South East, and Ohanaeze Ndigbo’s support for restructuring are not mutually exclusive. Restructuring is a kind of reaffirmation that Ndi Igbo believes in Nigeria, and how to continue to make it work efficiently. A car runs with many pistons firing at the same time to make the car work efficiently.
She stated that secessionist agitations were fuelled by a dysfunctional structure that has robbed Ndi Igbo politically, economically and otherwise, adding that, “a President from the South East will help reassure our youths that they have a future in Nigeria and that they have rights that are protected by the Constitution.”
Mkparu disclosed that they would ensure that all leading political parties in the country see reasons to zone their presidential ticket to the South East in 2023.
Speaking on why Ohanaeze Ndigbo should drop their demand for restructuring and work for the realisation of an Igbo Presidency in 2023, the National Chairman of the United Peoples Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, argued that it was impossible for any Nigerian president, who is not from the South to bring such to fruition. He noted that with the constitution, which was set out in favour of the North and a lopsided federal structure, which is also to the North’s advantage, nothing meaningful could be made as far as restructuring is concerned.
As a way to consolidate what had been done so far, some leaders, including former Aviation Minister, Mbazulike Amaechi, Chief Iwuanyanwu and other notable other Igbo leaders have continued to dialogue on the best way to elicit the support of other zones on the project.
It was gathered that already the group has penciled down 10 names that should be considered for the position, adding that they are looking at one that is detribalised, but not up to the age of 70.
Nonetheless, there are arguments that so far, only the North West has produced the president among the zones in the North, and that since two zones in the South have done that, it should not revert to the South until another zone in the North has had a feel of it.
This is the new scheme upon which those clamouring that the power should be retained in the North are relying on. How they hope to convince the rest of the country to buy this remains to be seen. But as matters stand, the Southeast is out to pull all stops and get the Presidency for the first time in 63 years.