President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, had little problem convincing Ndigbo to support his presidential ambition in 2011, but less than three years to the next general elections, there are clear indications that the same people would prefer their kinsman to take over from Jonathan, but in this report, MIKE UBANI, asks whether that is within the realm of possibility.
Some prominent Igbo leaders who met in Enugu on December 18, 2012, under the umbrella of Igbo Political Forum, had one common objective - to produce a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2015. And before the Enugu summit, some pressure groups in the South-East geo-political zone, including Committee - 21 and Nzuko Igbo, had sent strong signals to President Goodluck Jonathan, that his tenancy at Aso Rock, the president’s official residence, would expire on May 29, 2015 – and his seat taken over by an Igbo.
Though it is yet unclear whether President Jonathan is harbouring any ambition to contest the 2015 presidential election, the picture on the ground in the South-East indicates that if the election holds today, he would record an abysmal performance in the zone.
This postulation may have little to do with his performance in office since he was elected president on the platform of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, but more on the people’s feeling of political, and by extension economic marginalization since the country achieved independence on October 1, 1960.
“Though late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, was one of the country’s foremost nationalists, and one who championed the country’s independence in 1960, he ended up being a ceremonial president...Late Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi, was military head of state for only six months, and since his brutal death on July 29, 1966, no other Igboman has ruled the country”, lamented Chijioke Dike, one of the delegates to the Igbo Political Forum summit.
Incidentally, the continued failure of Ndigbo to produce the president of the country, formed the fulcrum of discussions at the Enugu meeting attended by several prominent Igbo politicians, businessmen, the academia, and youths from the five states that make up the zone.
“We must take a stand today to say the Igbo must produce the next president of Nigeria come 2015… We are the largest ethnic group in the country, but regrettably we constitute a minority group in the National Assembly…” said Chief Austin A. Ibe, national president, National Congress of Ndigbo Confederation (NCNC).
And after listening to the wake-up call made by Chief Ibe, Barrister Eric Chukwuemeka Ohagwu, from Ideato South Local Government Area of Abia state, moved a motion that the Igbo nation must produce the next president of Nigeria in 2015.
The motion which was unanimously adopted by the delegates was seconded by Chief Ibe. He also moved a second motion that the newly registered United Progressives Party, UPP, should be used as a vehicle to achieve the quest of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2015. Again, the motion was overwhelmingly adopted.
Chief Chekwas Okorie, national chairman of UPP, who also attended the function, was visibly excited that the Igbo nation has once again given him an opportunity to lead the crusade for the actualization of the quest of a Nigerian president from the South-East Zone. When he founded the crisis-ridden All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in 2002, his vision was to use the political party as a vehicle to produce a Nigerian president from Igboland.
It was against this background that he approached late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of the defunct Biafra; a courageous ex-military officer and charismatic politician, to fly APGA’s presidential flag in 2003. Though the party lost the race which was described by both domestic and international observers as largely flawed, it nevertheless, gave the party whose traditional home is Igboland, hope of wearing the presidential crown in 2007.
But that was not to be following the leadership crisis that literally turned the party into a living corpse. Not a few say that the party has finally been buried following the death of Ojukwu on November 26, 2011, and the lingering altercation between its embattled national Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, and the governor of Anambra state, Mr. Peter Obi, who rode to power in 2003 on the shoulders of APGA.
It would appear that the choice of UPP as vehicle to realize the Igbo ambition to produce the next president in 2015, was borne out of the realization that it would be difficult if not impossible for the ruling PDP to give a presidential ticket to an Igbo. Though Dr. Alex Ekwueme, an Igbo, and former Nigerian vice president during the Second Republic (1979 -1983), was a major key player in the efforts leading to the formation of the PDP, the then military cabal preferred Obasanjo to Ekwueme as the PDP flag-bearer during the party’s convention held in Jos, the Plateau state capital in 1998.
And subsequent efforts by leading political lights from Igboland, including late Dr.Chuba Okadigbo, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, and Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the current national chairman of All Nigeria People’s Party, ANPP to clinch their respective parties’ presidential tickets became mere fantasies after Ekwueme’s failed attempt in 1998 to secure PDP presidential ticket during the Jos Convention of the party. Their failures could be explained from the perspective that Igbos in those political parties did not speak with one voice, and even if they did, their voices were not loud enough.
But it would appear that the ethnic group has learnt its lesson in a hard way, and had thus resolved to unite to pursue the elusive president seat. “We will use the UPP to achieve our quest for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction since the PDP will never give an Igbo man a ticket to contest the presidential election”, said Mr. Uchenna Obasi, one of the delegates to the Igbo Political Forum.
UPP like APGA has its stronghold in Igboland. And since politics is a game of number, the argument has always been that the votes from Igboland alone are clearly not enough to make a UPP candidate the country’s president in any given election.
But Okorie told LEADERSHIP in an interview that both Igbos living within and outside Igboland, as well as voters from other ethnic groups who are sympathetic to the long standing quest of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction would vote for the presidential candidate of UPP.
“If you have mobilized Igbo votes in the 19 Northern states, Igbo votes in the South West, Igbo votes in the South -South and Igbo votes in the South East, you would have demobilized all those forces that worked against us.
“I can also tell you that there are many marginalized sections in this country that do not have a platform to contest election, and they are looking forward to the UPP platform, so it is not all about an Igbo affair”, he said.
Not a few say that UPP faces an uphill task in mobilizing a sizeable number of Igbo electorate to join the party, and ultimately vote for its presidential candidate. The people pride themselves as republicans, and if they are sincere, the tendency is for prospective voters to desist any attempt to rail-road them into voting for any particular candidate from the zone.
They recalled that though late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons, NCNC, held sway in the defunct Eastern Region, his kinsman, Dr. Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe, led a rebellion against him (Zik). For instance, on June 14, 1958, Mbadiwe then federal minister of commerce and industry conspired with thirty-one members of NCNC, to write a petition against Zik, who was then the regional premier and party president.
They demanded for Zik’s resignation from government and from the party, for allegedly engaging in anti-party activities. They also referred to the findings of the Foster-Sutton tribunal against Zik, as well as blamed him for the failure of the universal free primary education scheme in the region.
And after the National Executive Committee (NEC), of the NCNC expelled Mbadiwe and four others including Mr. U. O. Ndem, parliamentary secretary to Mbadiwe, the insurgents formed a new organization named as NCNC Reformed Committee. And on August 4, 1958, Mbadiwe announced the formation of a new party named the Democratic Party of Nigeria and the Cameroons.
Though the party didn’t overrun the NCNC in the region, yet the activities of Mbadiwe and his likes, as well as other extraneous factors outside the region, adversely affected Zik’s ambition to become the country’s prime minister at independence on October 1, 1960. He ended up being a ceremonial president.
As Ndigbo makes a case for the country’s president to come from the zone in 2015, the seed of disunity has once again started to manifest itself. LEADERSHIP gathered that when the South East Peoples Forum – another pressure group- campaigning for the emergence of a president of Igbo extraction in 2015, meets in Owerri, the Imo state capital in the first quarter of 2013, it may likely adopt APGA as a platform to pursue its project.
National Chairman of the forum, and former governorship candidate of APGA in the 2003 general elections, Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu, said the programme would include the “representation and participation of Igbo leaders, all major groups and organizations, including elected officials, the executive as well as judicial and legislative office holders”.
Chief Okorie – the founding national chairman of APGA, was forced out of the party, by those he described as intruders, and who never shared the vision of the party. He later formed the UPP with the sole objective of providing for the Igbo a political platform to pursue its quest for a president of Igbo extraction in 2015. This idea gained fillip on December 18, 2015, when the Igbo Political Forum at its meeting in Toscana Hotels, Independence Layout, Enugu, endorsed UPP as a platform to achieve the zone’s objective.
The implication is that there would be a clash of interest between UPP and APGA, and perhaps other latent pressure groups in the zone on this particular issue. But the UPP leader assured that Ndigbo would rally round the party to produce a consensus presidential candidate from the zone.
“We have the confidence that the miracle of 2015 is UPP, and from what has happened today, the political equation of Nigeria has changed for the better. Any calculation without the UPP being factored into it is not a proper political calculation. Nothing will be the same again”, he said.
Nevertheless, whatever happens between UPP and APGA, the picture on the ground in the zone shows that support for President Jonathan – if he decides to run for a second term – would be negligible. The people cite infrastructural decay, and lack of new federal establishments in the area as reasons for losing faith in the administration.
.........LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPERS NIGERIA