In search of an Igbo President for NigeriaWritten by Muhammad Ajah
Former President (Olusegun) Obasanjo while hosting the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Ogun state chapter led by Bishop Tunde-Akin Akinsanya at his Hilltop residence in Abeokuta, threw weight behind a possible Igbo President for 2019. He proclaimed: “…Irrespective of the thinking of the people ahead of 2019, I personally think that Southeast should have a go at the Presidency too”.
“…In truth, whenever any issue that concerns a people’s future crops up, common sense and wisdom should take the centre-stage, rather than undue pandering to emotionalism”, former governor of Abia state, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, in his writing on “Igbo after 2011 elections: What next?
Is it time for the Igbo to be President of Nigeria? Do Ndigbo people have credible and detribalized personalities who have the capacity to preside over the affairs of Nigeria? Would an Igbo presidency guarantee the unity of Nigeria in the wake of continuous agitation for the Sovereign State of Biafra?
These questions have been recurring since after the civil war, about 46 years ago. In addition, since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, the Southeast region has remained an appendage for the production of presidents of Nigeria from other tribes of the country. Simply put it, the presidency has been rotating amongst the Southwest, North and minority South-South. That is why Obasanjo ‘personally’ thinks that the Southeast should produce the next President, maybe after the north has had its eight years leadership as generally accepted, though not constitutionally documented.
In 1999 and 2003, former vice president Alex Ekwueme contested the seat on the platform of the PDP and lost. In 2007 former governor of Abia state, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, who has defected to the APC, contested for the presidential seat on the platform of the party he founded, the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA). Governor of Imo state, Chief Rochas Okorocha has continued to nurse the idea of becoming the first Igbo President of Nigeria through the ballots.
But the Obasanjo’s quest is coming at a time when the polity is so much enmeshed in controversies. The incumbent president is barely two years in office, with rumours of ill health and death. There are reported cases of attempts by politicians even within and outside the ruling APC to outsmart others in the buildup to 2019 general elections. Obasanjo is joining the likes of former military heads of state, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) and General Yakubu Gowon, who had also called for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. IBB said the agitation for Biafra republic was a distraction and setback. “We do not need this distraction now. I will vote for an Igbo president in 2019, if I find one.” Gowon in March when he delivered a lecture entitled “No Victor, No Vanquished: Healing the Nigerian Nation” to mark the 6th Convocation ceremony of the Chukwumeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU), said it was wrong to conclude that the civil war broke out following the failure of the Aburi Accord but was the direct result of a unilateral decision of independence for Eastern Nigeria. “If there was no secession, there would have been no war. It was a reluctant war waged to unite the country. An Igbo president would help heal the civil war wounds. The idea of rotational presidency is good.”
Controversies have trailed the proclamation for Igbo president. Youth groups in the Southeast hailed the idea. In a joint statement, the National President of the Igbo Youth for Good Governance (IYGG), Dr. Benjamin Okeke and the National President of Igbo Youth Initiative (IYI), Comrade Wilfred Eze, thanked Obasanjo for extending his sympathy for the Igbo cause and described him as the new father of democracy. This support for Igbo Presidency, the groups noted has given Ndigbo hope for realignment and fairness within a united Nigeria. They urged other elder statesmen and national figures to support the national call for a president of Igbo extraction.
But the ex-governor of Anambra state, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, believes Obasanjo’s call was because he understands the dynamics of the nation’s politics. A governorship aspirant of PDP in Imo State, Brady Nwosu, said the call was “a very bold statement”. But Chief Maxi Okwu of APGA chided the supports. Also, the founder of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM), Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko berated Obasanjo whom he described as enemy of the Igbo people.
In the Sun Newspapers of October 27, 2016, Acho Orabuchi wrote on 2019: A strong case for Nigerian president of Igbo extraction saying that the Igbo have a pool of qualified people more than any other ethnic group. They have a vision that encompasses the entire nation and not a section of it. “A case in point is the Jonathan and the Obasanjo administrations that were replete with credible and qualified Igbo people whose records of service were impeccable.”
In its reaction, the Northern Progressives Youth Initiative (NPYI), carpeted Obasanjo and warned against ‘playing God’ in the nation’s scheme of things. Secretary-General of the NPYI, Malam Gazali Abdullahi, noted that with so much fuss over the President Buhari’s medical examinations, it was sad that a former president would be canvassing a successor to a sitting president.
He described Obasanjo as an enemy of the North, recalling that in the trying times of late former President Umaru Yar’Adua, it was the same Obasanjo who released statements against the late president who was battling for his life on his hospital bed. “This time again, Obasanjo has shown that he is neither a friend of President Buhari nor a friend of the North; and as far as 2019 is concerned, only God, through the ballot of majority of Nigerians, and not one man, can decide who the president of Nigeria will be”.
In the same vein, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), warned Igbo people, especially the political class, to be wary of former President Obasanjo, because his recent romance with Igbo states is very suspicious. A leader of the group, Uchenna Madu described Obasanjo’s political antics, romance and friendship in Igboland as dangerous to the political survival of Ndigbo in Nigeria.
In its New Year mes¬sage to the Igbo political class, MASSOB alleged that Obasanjo, throughout his eight-year as Nigeria’s President, created political problems and roadblocks for Ndigbo by initiating political frustrations against Abia, Anambra, Enugu and Imo States. “Obasanjo brazenly ig¬nored Igbo land with no infrastructural develop¬ment. He witch hunted our people. He also mesmerized Ndigbo by changing Igbo senators five times in office as Senate President. Today, some naive Igbo governors of Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu states are cele¬brating and inviting him to commission projects in their respective states. During his eight-year rule, he never visited Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu or showed concerns to his position as Igbo leader”.
However, the effect of the Biafran War, the unabated clamour for the actualization of Biafra, the political miscalculations by the Igbo, the unpredictability of the Igbo political class and personalities are some of the key factors against Igbo presidency. The Igbo denied Chief Chris Ngige to have been unopposed Senate President by defeating him on the basic of belonging to their presumed northern party, APC. The Igbo massively supported the PDP for 16 years and lost the position to the South-South minority Ijaw.
Defections of Igbo PDP members to APC and the clamour for Atiku presidency in 2019 are gearing up. Governor Okorocha and many Igbo politicians are convinced that the only option available to Igbo people at the moment was the APC, so as not to face set-backs.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) through its spokesperson Emma Powerful described such pronouncements by some Northern elders as politics of compensation because Igbo presidency in 2019 was a distraction. He said the Igbo were not interested in playing politics of recompense, noting that the call was to douse tension. “Politics of compensation was played during the June 12 1993 saga when the Yorubas were rewarded with Obasanjo presidency in place of M.K.O. Abiola’s canceled poll, just as President Buhari was compensated because of Boko Haram terrorism.”
While the Igbo are fit to produce a president of this great nation, it is yet to be assured that other parts of the country can easily give support to them due to the persistent push for Biafra. This is because the political wave created by this agitation home and abroad is much more intellectually stronger than those of other regional quagmires. Hopefully, an Igbo President will emerge one day. And if it will be soon, who will the cap fit from a pool of democratic leaders some of who are Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Chief Chris Ngige, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, Chief Peter Obi, Chief Rochas Okorocha, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, Prof. Pat Utomi, Retired Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Senator Pius Anyim, Senator In the Sun Newspapers of October 27, 2016, Acho Orabuchi wrote on 2019: A strong case for Nigerian president of Igbo extraction saying that the Igbo have a pool of qualified people more than any other ethnic group. They have a vision that encompasses the entire nation and not a section of it. A case in point is the Jonathan and the Obasanjo administrations that were replete with credible and qualified Igbo people whose records of service were impeccable.” and Senator Ken Nnamani. This is in addition to the powerful political leaders of Igbo extraction from the South-South geopolitical zone such as Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, Godwin Emefiele and Dr. Ibe Kachiku, amongst others. Some of them are deeply lobbying and fraternizing with the northerners for their supports. That will be another topic for discussion.