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LongRead… Contenders or Pretenders? 12 Igbo politicians who may be eyeing Aso Rock in 2023

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LongRead... Contenders or Pretenders? 12 Igbo prospects who may be eyeing Aso Rock in 2023

In this LongRead, you will find compelling a list of some Igbo politicians who may be eyeing Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power, in 2023. Could they become serious contenders or mere pretenders? Read on.

Equity or fair play?

The end of every general election in Nigeria often marks the beginning of speculations, permutations and projections for the next election, not minding the lifespan of electioneering in the country which is often a four year cycle.

With three years to the next presidential election in 2023, there has been great anticipation as to which region should get the plum job of the president, with the South-East in the eye of the storm, as a cross section of Nigerians have been clamouring that the time is right for someone from the region to become president.

Nigerians define themselves, first and foremost, by their ethnicities and not by their nationality, with the three major ethnic divides of the Hausa-Fulani of the north, Yoruba’s South-West and Igbo’s South-East often positioned as national tendencies.

The political games that have continued to exclude Ndigbo from the centre of Nigerian politics, after attempting a secession, has become a major test for the much hyped talk on commitment to equity and justice.

The general conjecture is that it would be fair and equitable for the next president to come from the Igbo stock in 2023, as the region has not produced a president since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.

The unwritten agreement appears to be that for inclusiveness, equity and justice, the federation should find accommodation for power rotation between its regions.

With the North, South-West and the South-South having had a bite of the cherry for years in Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’adua, Goodluck Jonathan and now, President Muhammadu Buhari having had a taste of power at the center, the strong feeling is that power ought to fall on a president of Igbo extraction in 2023.

In a recent statement issued by the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders after its National Executive Council meeting in Owerri, Imo State, the coalition said:
“Barring the late Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi who held sway as a military Head of State before he was ousted in the 1966 coup, the Igbos are yet to occupy the exalted seat even decades after the civil war. There are now arguments here and there to the fact that the basis for qualification for the job shall no longer be on the principle of rotation but on the premise of competence.”

The fresh arguments look to have laid the foundation for even more strident agitation for an Igbo president in 2023.

While it is uncertain if President Buhari would support power rotation to the South-East in 2023, the Igbos are now eager to take their turn as they have never produced an elected executive president of the country.

Therefore, the geopolitical power play going into 2023 is currently dangerously stalemated and the political elites may do well to resolve it in an orderly fashion.

But who are the real contenders and or pretenders to the throne come 2023? Who are the Igbo politicians or prospects that have the nation-wide appeal, acceptability and clout to become the president in 2023?

We bring you a profile of the contenders or pretenders to the throne in this riveting analysis.

The Prospects

Peter Obi

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Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, is the first name that comes to the minds of Nigerians once the issue of an Igbo President crops up.

Obi, who was the vice presidential candidate in the 2019 Nigerian general election under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is a consummate politician and businessman who is very knowledgeable on governance and economy, as he has not been one to shy away from discussing national issues.

As two-term governor of Anambra State, Obi was rated as a transformational leader, high on integrity and vision, and celebrated for bringing his wealth of experience into the running of affairs of the state.

Considered as a shrewd businessman, Obi is perceived as one with a weak political network beyond the south-east. This has often been a minus in his jostle for power and authority.

Kingsley Moghalu

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Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Kingsley Moghalu, could be rated a bright prospect for the Igbo Presidency in 2023. His foray in the 2019 general elections, where he contested on the platform of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), was considered a launch pad to test his popularity and acceptability.

Though he didn’t garner enough votes to play in the major league, he has continued to maintain political relevance, building fresh networks which, however, appear not to be very significant to cause any paradigm shifts as yet.

Highly cerebral, Moghalu brings his youthfulness to table but his YPP platform is seen as too young to cause any political upsets.

David Umahi

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The defection of Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), has suddenly placed him as a major prospect for an Igbo Presidency. The intrigues leading up to his switch have raised the bar of speculations, given the posturing from the top echelon of the ruling party.

On Friday, December 11, Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina alluded to this fact when he said that though Umahi had been in the PDP in body, his soul was with the APC. This, he said, was exemplified by the kind of support he gave to President Buhari during his 2019 electioneering campaign against the PDP which had his kinsman, Peter Obi as a vice presidential candidate.

Adesina had said:

“What Umahi exhibited last month in crossing from PDP to APC can best be described as the heart of a lion…It takes the heart of a lion to change course in such setting. Some people said it was because he wants to run for president in 2023. And why not? The party has not come out with its zoning formula, but in a democracy, anyone can aspire for any position, as long as he can muster the needed support and momentum for victory.”

Umahi is perceived as a moderate with the right networks, especially a good support base in the current presidency, and perhaps the northern establishment. If the ruling party settles for Umahi, it is guaranteed to ruffle feathers as the older party stalwarts would certainly raise sufficient dust against his choice.

Professor Chukwuma Soludo

Former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, is also regarded a good prospect for the Igbo Presidency in 2023, as some Igbo groups clamour to have Ndigbo put their best legs forward.

Soludo is not only considered an experienced technocrat but also a very active politician quite visible in political circles and conversations.

He was the Chairman of the team that drafted Nigeria’s Economic and Social Reform Program (2003-2007).

Soludo’s major draw back is his various prevarications that do not seem to explicitly provide a clear direction as to where he is headed politically. Indeed, it is not clear which of the political parties or elective posts he is interested in.

Oby Ezekwesili

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Former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili, is another bright prospect for the Igbo Presidency. She was a presidential candidate in the 2019 general election and, though she dropped out before the elections, she was credible enough to shake the political space as a candidate.

As Minister of Solid Minerals under President Olusegun Obasanjo, Ezekwesili was instrumental to the introduction of Due Process in the budget of Nigeria, which gave her the moniker Madam Due Process.

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Ezekwesili is known for her anti-establishment postures which have often pitched her against the Nigerian state currently dominated by the ruling APC. Only recently, she began an online campaign for Buhari’s mental and physical health to be assessed and that has kept her under close watch.

Her international connections, though a plus, is no match for her very poor political networks in the country, especially in the northern region.

She is not a member of the country’s two major political parties, and it is doubtful if her influence will radically alter the fortunes of any other platforms she may join in the pursuit of her political goals.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

If there is one candidate who is seen as the most qualified to contest for the 2023 presidency from the South-East, then Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala fits the bill perfectly.

The former Managing Director of the World Bank is well regarded around the world, starting from her first tenure as Nigeria’s Finance Minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo.

But, besides her gender, Okonjo-Iweala will have to contend with critics who lump her together with the failure commonly associated with the administration of Goodluck Jonathan.

Unlike Ezekwesili, Okonjo-Iweala is not known to publicly nurse any presidential ambition but has remained a technocrat. She is yet to acknowledge membership of any of Nigeria’s political parties.

Permutations around any political goals are contingent upon her being handpicked for the sake of political expediency.

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu is another good prospect on the list for Igbo Presidency in 2023. He comes across as an ideal candidate for being steady in character. He has experience, is disciplined, and is generally regarded as an astute administrator with strong intellectual bent and great vision.

He is a known moderate, a posture that appeals to the conservative north but seems a draw back among his kinsmen from the south-east.

It is doubtful that the ruling party, to which he belongs, finds him as one with the political sagacity to garner broad support in and outside Igboland.

Onu, an experienced politician, was the last chairman of the ANPP and is the current Minister of Science and Technology. He was the presidential flag bearer of the All Peoples Party (APP), which later metamorphosed into All Nigeria Peoples Party, (ANPP), and joined in the merger that gave birth to the present ruling APC.

If the ruling party succumbs to the zoning formula, Onu could become a strong contender. Though yet to make his presidential intention public, there have been quiet clamours to drag him into the race.

Though he seems to be in the good books of Buhari, that might not convey any particular advantages.

Okey Samuel Mbonu

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Not much is known of Okey Samuel Mbonu but the Washington-trained legal professional, and author, is one of those being positioned to test his strength in 2023.

His promoters believe he has the experience and international exposure to solve the myriads of problems bedeviling Nigeria. They often cite his role as a Federal Commissioner in the United States, claiming the experiences he garnered would stand him out.

Mbonu is well-known in the Diaspora, and has deep ties at the US Congress. He was briefly a Presidential aspirant on the platform of the Labour Party in 2019. It is not clear whether being a non-typical politician in Nigeria will be a disadvantage or an advantage in 2023.

It is unclear, at the moment, to which of the political parties he is affiliated. His nationwide appeal is also in doubt.

Dr. Chris Ngige

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Dr. Chris Ngige, a former governor of Anambra State, and Senator, and currently two-time Minister of Labour and Employment, is another prominent politician who may take a leap at the Presidency in 2023.

He is a Buhari man and seems to have the ears of the President but would he get the support of the North and to a large extent, the South-West in pulling it through?

Although it is not yet clear if the medical doctor turned politician has an eye on the 2023 presidential election, he remains a relevant stakeholder in the APC.

He has made headlines on the subject matter at different time since the inception of Buhari’s second term victory.

His supporters are of the opinion that he has the capacity and ability to run for the seat although opposition, especially within his party, may not feel comfortable with his radical disposition to issues.

Chief Orji Uzor Kalu

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Former Governor of Abia State and currently the Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, is probably one of the most ambitious politicians to come out of the south-east.

Considered quite wealthy, with a lot of resources to spare, his name keeps propping up whenever the Igbo Presidency question comes up.

Kalu is a very popular figure in the North as he practically began his political and business career there, and is perceived as a detribalized Nigerian.

But his recent brushes with the EFCC leading to a jail sentence, even though temporarily upturned, has kind of sullied his image.

Added to that is his penchant of kowtowing to the North which has made a lot of Igbos see him as a hireling of the northern oligarchy.

Dr. SKC Ogbonnia

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Dr. SKC Ogbonnia is a dark horse, who is often remembered for his anti-establishment posture, especially opposition to the Buhari presidency, even while he remained a member of the ruling party.

Beyond his claim to being the Chairman of First Texas Energy Corporation and an Adjunct Professor of Leadership in the United States, not much can be placed on his political clout. Indeed, he is regarded as a distraction with no electoral value.

Though considered a new-breed politician, he is not known to have held any political office, and may not be able to withstand the political intrigues that drive the ruling party. Even his support base among the Igbos is very doubtful.

At best, Ogbonnia may be considered a pretender among the array of possible candidates eyeing the Igbo presidency.

Chief John Nwodo

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Chief John Nwodo is a two-time minister, former presidential aspirant, and currently the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

Nwodo is supposedly a ‘father to all’, given the garb he wears as a socio-cultural leader. But this perceived neutrality has remained a subject of debate over time as Nwodo has often appeared to be in public romance with Nigeria’s leading opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

While it may be difficult to reconcile his political goals ahead of 2023 against his leadership of Ohanaeze, it must be said that politics is an interest-driven game in which any permutations cannot be ruled out.

It would be interesting to see how his constant brushes with the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, who enjoys quite some huge following, would pan out in the event of an outward expression of a presidential ambition.

Whichever way the permutations go, it is evident that only a handshake across all divides will engender the kind of equity that is being sought in Nigeria’s political space

An Igbo group, IPAC, captures it succinctly when it said in October:

“As a way to go, we have set up the goal and mandate of which is to draw a list of worthy Igbo sons and daughters from which the best candidate shall be chosen. We are not doing this alone nor for the region alone.

“Part of the legwork and advocacy is to consult outside the region, reaching out to other regions, groups and associations within the federation.”

By Isaac Dachen

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