That there are discordant tunes from politicians in the Southeast zone anytime there is a project that could benefit its people is not new. In fact, what might be new and surprising for many is if there could be unity of purpose in any agenda being pursued by the zone.
Such quests had always been marred by individual differences, double-speak, horse-trading and other betrayals associated with politics that is usually detrimental to the generality of the people.
Thus, when Senator Oji Uzor Kalu and Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma, spoke on the stand of All Progressives Congress (APC) over zoning of the presidency recently, those who know the politics of the zone readily agreed that they were travelling a familiar path that had placed the zone at the mercy of other zones in the country.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftains had, during their speeches at different occasions, energised the need for other zones to contest the presidency in 2023 against the much touted ‘turn by turn’ of Ndigbo, when they declared that zoning was not in the constitution of the party. Senate Chief Whip, Kalu, had said that there is no zoning in his party and that the contest for the presidency in 2023 is open to anybody in the country.
The former Abia State governor, who was a guest of former President Ibrahim Babangida and his counterpart, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd) had insisted that as long as “it is a constitutional matter, the presidential bid remains an open basket which anybody can vie for in 2023”.
Uzodinma reechoed the same sentiment after a visit to the presidential villa in Abuja. He had stated that anyone was free to contest the presidency on the APC platform, as the party does not recognise zoning despite agitations in the Southeast to produce the president in 2023.
Hear him: “You know that the position is not vacant now; there is a sitting president and we are practising partisan democracy and not tribal democracy. So, the emergence of a presidential candidate will come on a party by party basis, not a tribe by tribe basis. But if there are other internal factors that will form part of the considerations for parties taking decisions, of course, that will be entirely the job of the leadership of those political parties and I think that is the right thing to do”.
But no sooner had the duo concluded their speeches than reactions started emanating from their brethren in the zone, condemning their position. Campaigners for presidency of Igbo extraction had accused the two APC chieftains of being economical with the truth, insisting that they may likely use their positions to deny the zone the opportunity when such matters are discussed in the party.
Taking on Kalu specifically, the foremost Igbo presidency campaigners, Southeast for Presidency 2023 Movement (SEFORP2023) asked him to embrace the truth, even as it expressed disappointment that the representative of Abia North in the senate could hold such a position.
The group’s National Coordinator, Rev. Okechukwu Obioha, said: “We feel grossly disappointed that the above statement is coming from a supposed representative of the people of the Southeast, as a senator and no less a position as the Chief Whip of the Senate. It is to say the least very unfortunate.”
Taking the politician down memory lane, Obioha explained that he (Kalu) was “ignorant of history to note that till date the six zonal structures, which are now the basis for revenue formula, political, economic and social sharing are not yet embedded in our constitution and yet an acceptable formula and a norm.
“The senator, we regret to say, is economical with the truth and realities here if he will forget so soon what and how he secured the position of Chief Whip in the senate. Let us remind him that he had argued and canvassed vehemently that the Southeast must be given a principal office in the red chamber as part of zoning before this position was given to him. Was that in the constitution of APC?
“We advise him to reconsider his position as stated and know that the presidency residing in the north will come down to the south and that it will morally be the right and turn of the Southeast zone. Kalu should better embrace reality and stand for what is right for the collective interest of Nigeria than play the ostrich.”
Also reacting, Nigeria Presidential Project (NPP) team warned that nothing should be done to alter the rotation of power in the country. While insisting that it was the turn of the Southeast to produce the president after Buhari, Chancellor of the group, Dr. Walter Oji, stated that any person holding contrary view was not doing the country any good and that those canvassing that the idea was not constitutional in their various political parties should reconsider their stand.
Oji, who inaugurated the Imo and Enugu chapters of the advocacy group, told his members to ignore such “sentimental statements aimed at currying undue favour.” He insisted that there was no better way of fostering unity, development and deepening the country’s fledgling democracy than to allow the present power rotational arrangement to endure.
According to Oji, “You know how it is anytime there is a project of this nature. But the truth is that this is an idea whose time has come. We will not be distracted by such statements and you know that a good number of them, each time we sit with them, they get convinced why they should support the cause.”
The Ndigbo quest for president of Nigeria is not a fresh one. Those who have been following the power shift arrangement since 1999 attest that it has become a “turn by turn” arrangement between the north and south and that Ndigbo believe it is their turn.
Thus, soon after the emergence of President Mohammadu Buhari in 2015, it was the expectation of the Southeast that it would be its turn after Buhari had completed eight years, as political power would return to the south so as to maintain the unwritten rotation principle. Since Buhari won his reelection in 2019 for another four years in office, the Southeast has been loud in its claim that the presidency would shift to the south. And when that happens, it would be the zone’s turn to produce the president.
This is based on the belief of the Southeast that since 1999 when democracy returned to the country, the zone remains the only one yet to taste power at the highest level in the land. It had at various fora argued that parts of the southern divide – Southwest had held power for eight years with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) and South-South, with Dr. Goodluck Jonathan (2009–2015) and that since the south would have the opportunity again in 2023, it would be the zone’s turn.
FORMER National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, had, while justifying why the Southeast should produce Buhari’s successor, reminded about the political arithmetic that occurred in 1999 aimed at accommodating the Southwest in the scheme of things in the country and stressed that such should be revisited in 2023.
Umeh was responding to the narrative that APC should not zone its presidential ticket to the Southeast based on the weakness of the party in the zone and the people’s lukewarm attitude to it.
According to Umeh: “Some people are saying that APC is weak in the Southeast and for that reason, it cannot produce the presidential candidate of the party, and I ask: what was the strength of the Southwest in PDP in 1999 when Olusegun Obasanjo became president?
“The PDP had no councilor in the Southwest. Alliance for Democracy had everything, but due to the exigency to accommodate the Southwest (after MKO Abiola’s June 12, 1993 saga), Obasanjo was drafted even when he lost at his polling unit in the local government election. How much more now that APC is controlling a state in Imo and other seats in the Senate and House of Reps?
“So, that argument is no longer tenable. Let us make it a policy that the Southeast should be allowed to provide the president for the unity of Nigeria. It is not as if we will die if we don’t provide a president for Nigeria, but it is for the country to be truly united. We have intellectuals, technocrats and the best people that can provide leadership for Nigeria. So, all parts of Nigeria should support the Southeast to provide a president for Nigeria in 2023.
“Across all the political parties, let there be no contest for tickets; the way they did it in 1999, where the AD and PDP produced Olu Falae and Obasanjo. That made it easy for the Southwest to be the only zone that produced those that contested the presidency for the country in 1999. It is not a new thing. We have antecedents and it should be done that way.”
Umeh insisted that the healing the country requires to attain the needed growth and unity is embedded in allowing the Southeast, which he said has contributed significantly to the country’s development, to produce Buhari’s successor.
“Our people are living in every part of the country. Wherever they go, they establish their business and build their houses. That is an indication that they believe in this country and they believe in its unity. I don’t think any other tribe has done this. So, the reconciliation and reconstruction we require is to allow Igbo rule the country after Buhari.”
A lecturer of Political Science, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Dr. Jerry Nwoha, wondered why Kalu and Uzodinma should lead in the campaign of “reminding the APC that zoning is not in their constitution and that 2023 is free for all.” He explained that several chieftains of APC in the Southeast zone had canvassed support for APC in previous elections, promising to guarantee the presidency to Ndigbo after Buhari.
According to Nwoha, “I remember the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, who sounded it out loud that support for APC was support for Igbo presidency and that it was the party’s shortest route to Igbo presidency in 2023. I know most people in the zone voted APC and Buhari because of such a campaign and the person behind it. Kalu has never hidden his desire to become president of Nigeria.
“I recall what he said in 2017 during a function he attended in Umuahia. I think it was a programme in one of the churches. He had said that the future of Ndigbo was brightest in APC and that once Buhari finishes his second tenure an Igbo man will be president. He had said that Ndigbo does not need any other thing than the president of the country. So, visiting some past leaders and coming back to say that zoning is not in APC constitution leaves much to be desired. It leaves one wondering why he should be used to propagate such views, which, of course, is unpopular with the people of the Southeast.
“I get very worried when our own people are used to channel ideas that are not in tandem with the progress of their own people. I think we should protect our people first before any other.”
ANOTHER school of thought, however, wants Ndigbo to think out of the box and plan their survival strategies should the presidency elude them in 2023, insisting that the “no zoning campaign in APC now being carried out by Kalu and Uzodinma” is ominous.
“Politics of rigmarole and allegiance are part of factors that have kept us where we are as Ndigbo,” a member of Igbo Think Tank, Ogochukwu Ike, has said. “If you follow antecedents, you will discover how some of our leaders have played their politics. Most of the time, they have become puppets in the hands of the ruling class to achieve their individual ambitions. Look at the way some of them, including Kalu and Uzodinma, emerged…
“Kalu, after serving as Abia governor, made a series of efforts to regain political prominence to no avail until he joined the APC. He was imprisoned recently and freed by the court. Uzodinma became governor after an election that he finished fourth and still battling acceptability. Now if these two are launching APC campaign of no zoning, then the rest of Ndigbo should look beyond the party to work out their political future.”
Liking the campaign to the war of words now brewing among Igbo leaders, he stated, “These are unnecessary distractions from the main objective of the people. Recently, there was an altercation between former Senate President, Pius Anyim and businessman, Prince Arthur Eze. The battle had hardly died down when Eze took on Anambra governor, Willie Obiano, in another war of words. Somewhere, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige got into the fray and Eze left Obiano and faced Ngige. Remember that these bordered on the use of traditional rulers to launder the image of powers that-be in Abuja, which Eze was championing.
“Now, the First Republic Aviation Minister, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, is entangled in another brickbat with former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo. All these go to portray us as a divided people. It also shows how willing we are to serve any interest that can jeopardise the collective desire of our people. But these notwithstanding, I think the people are committed to the presidency project in 2023.”