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LongRead: Inside the fierce political games to keep Igbo Presidency pending in 2023

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With barely two years to the 2023 general elections, and the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term, the controversy over which region should produce the next president in the country has continued to be a recurring decimal, heating up the polity with a regularity that has refused to go away.

On the front burner has been the debate for a presidency from the South-East in the spirit of equity and fairness since other regions have, at one time or the other, produced a president for the country.

The conversation around which region of the country should produce a successor to President Buhari has been raging and, in defiance to the unwritten rotational presidency agreement between the northern and southern parts of the country, every zone of the country seems to have interest in producing the president.

Even as the Igbos have been making a case for the South-East to produce the next president, politicians from other regions, notably the Northern politicians and oligarchs, seem not to be comfortable with the idea of power shifting from their zone to another region.

A recent argument by a Northern group is that since the late President Umaru Yar’adua did not conclude his tenure, paving the way for Goodluck Jonathan, from the South-South (which the group speciously lumped together to include the South-East), then it would be natural for another northerner to succeed Buhari to conclude Yar’Adua’s tenure.

The South-West too has been silently putting pressure on the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to zone the 2023 presidential ticket to the region.

Their consistent argument has been that though there was unwritten agreement that the ticket should be zoned to the South, there was not specific mention that the South mentioned was exclusively the South-East.

Many groups have also been springing up in the South-West with the motive of selling former Lagos State Governor and National Leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as their preferred presidential candidate in 2023.

Other names being bandied around are those of Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo, Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, and former Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun.

With groups springing up every other day, the likes of Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello and his Plateau State counterpart, Simon Lalong, are also being projected as possible candidates as the North-Central are also clamouring for someone from that zone to be president in 2023.

In the midst of all the power-play and political scheming, the Igbo Presidency debate has refused to go away and has seen a lot of divisions cropping up with recent demands by some South-East leaders urging the APC and the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to zone their 2023 presidential tickets to the geo-political zone, a request that has elicited divergent views from politicians in other regions of the country.

The agitation has also opened up a fresh national debate over the parameters upon which the next president of the country should emerge.

While the apex-socio cultural body in the North, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), has continued to insist that it would only support a candidate who understands the problems in the North, its counterpart, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), believes that only competence would be its defining benchmark on how the 2023 president will emerge.

In a statement in March, the ACF had said:

“The ACF will not impose a zone or a candidate on any political party. The constitution says only political parties can present candidates at elections. The ACF will also not interfere with the process of how the political parties arrive at their candidates. We only hope that given the declining quality of leadership, what should be uppermost in the minds of kingmakers in the various political parties should be competence and not sentiments.

“But if the various political parties resolve their internal contradictions, the ACF will subject each of them to scrutiny. We will then throw our weight behind the candidate that understands the problems facing the north and Nigeria of today.”

In a statement in May, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, NEF’s Director, Advocacy and Publicity, had also said:
“NEF recognises a number of key considerations which should inform the emergence of leaders at all levels. The first is the imperative of quality and qualification and competence of all Nigerians who would aspire to lead. This requirement should not be sacrificed or compromised for political conveniences.

“Fortunately, Nigerians with these qualities exist in all parts of the country. Secondly, the political process must be respected as the principal mechanism for deciding who is entrusted with power. Key elements of this process include negotiation, persuasion and consensus building among the political elite and involvement of all Nigerians.
“NEF believes that ethnicising leadership lowers and compromises its quality. Inclusiveness and fairness are vital to the survival of our democracy and nation. These can best be captured by the manner politicians and communities which make up our nation engage each other in a constructive and responsible manner.”

The North-Central People’s Forum (NCPF) also said that the region has as much right to demand the presidential tickets of APC and PDP in 2023 as the South-East leaders.

The Publicity Secretary of the NCPF, Hon Sule Audu, in an interview in June, said even though the South-East is entitled to vie for the office of the presidency in 2023, the North-Central is more favoured if the ticket is zoned to the North.

“If you look at it geographically, and based on the zoning system in the country today, the South-East has never produced the president of this country, the same thing with the North-Central, although the South-East had Aguiyi Ironsi and Nnamdi Azikwe.
“I will put it that Azikiwe was an elected civilian president while Ironsi was a military Head of State, just as we had Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Gen Ibrahim Babangida, and Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar in the North-Central.
“So I think going by this, it won’t be wrong or out of place for the North-Central to also demand for the president come 2023 because before the creation of the six geopolitical zones, Nigeria was divided into two regions, the North and the South.”

However, pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere and a political group, Yoruba Patriots Movement (YPM), have insisted that the South-West geopolitical zone must produce the next president to avert a crisis in the country.

Afenifere’s Publicity Secretary in Ekiti State, Chief Biodun Akin-Fasae, while commenting on the issue, said the call by Igbo leaders for an Igbo President in 2023 was mere wishful thinking as the Yourbas were poised to produce the next president.

“The presidency is beyond mere sharing among communities, so I will say the call for an Igbo president by their leaders is mere wishful thinking.
“It will be inappropriate for none social cultural groups whose partisanship is known across the nation, to order any party which they have never supported, to zone their presidential candidates to them.
“Every Yoruba person is ready to support a Yoruba candidate in 2023, regardless of political affiliation. Yoruba candidates are the only solution to Nigeria problems.”

On his part, the YPM National Coordinator, Oladosu Oladipo, said anything outside a Yoruba president in 2023 would not be tolerated, arguing that the constitution of the country only recognises three regions, the North, West and East.

“Obasanjo represented Yoruba, Jonathan had done for the East, while Buhari is doing the slot of the North. Therefore, it will only be just and equitable for the APC to honour the pre-2015 elections agreement to ensure fairness and equity, and zone their presidential ticket to the South-West.
“You cannot be a good Nigerian without being a good Yoruba man. Our fair share must be given to us in Nigeria. This submission is not partisan but political,” he said.

But despite the various dissenting voices against the Igbo Presidency project, the clamour has been gathering momentum, with even some Northern elders lending their support for the South-East producing the next president.

Chief among Northern politicians who have thrown their weights behind an Igbo president in 2023 are former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai, who both seem to be sympathetic towards the Igbo course.

For Yakassai, it should be the turn of the Igbos to produce the next president of Nigeria in 2023. Yakasai based his declaration on the logic that other regions and zones in the country, except the Igbos of the South-East, had produced the country’s president.

“I for one, I am in support of it. I did it before in the era of National Party of Nigeria (NPN), when we had the arrangement that the next president after late President Shehu Shagari would come from the East. We would have settled this problem long ago if not for the military intervention.

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“I spoke in support of Igbo presidency. I did not want to fix a date, because I am not in position to do that. Recently, I said the Igbos should go out and lobby other Nigerians and try to get their concern and support to produce the president in 2023 and where they are not able to do that in 2023, they will put a trajectory for them to produce the President next time,” Yakasai said.

For Babangida, it is only fair that the next president should be an Igbo person and he advised the Igbos to endeavour to properly integrate itself into Nigeria so as to realise its clamour for presidency come 2023.

Speaking while receiving Igbo Delegates Assembly (IDA), in May, Babangida said:
“An indivisible Nigeria is very necessary and we must do everything possible to remain as one family though we differ in tribes and tongue. You have done well to keep Nigeria together. The Igbo man is known to have the potential of traveling far and wide exploring new frontiers and business opportunities.”

However, as the Igbo Presidency debate continues to rage and take over the space, the pertinent question to ask is if the Igbos themselves are ready to take the bull by the horn and position themselves to take the mantle in 2023.

Just as many names are being bandied around, it is yet to be seen if there will be political alliances among those rumoured to be interested in the race to produce the most acceptable and sellable candidate come 2023.

Once again, Ripples Nigeria takes a look at some of the leading Igbo politicians who have shown interest in the 2023 race, either directly or indirectly.

Peter Obi

On Buhari’s orders, Obi’s bank accounts have been frozen– PDP

The first name that pops up in the conversation for an Igbo president is former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, who, in the eyes of Nigerians, is not only a technocrat but an astute business who has shown the capacity to put meager resources to effective use, as was seen when he was at the helm of affairs in Anambra State and, to a larger extent, the South-West.

However, many political observers say Obi’s undoing is his inability to build his political network beyond the South-East.

Kingsley Moghalu

2019: Moghalu lists issues that has made Buhari lose goodwill among Nigerians

Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Kingsley Moghalu, was one of the few shining lights in the run up to the 2019 presidential elections on the platform of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), and is another bright prospect for the Igbo Presidency project in 2023.

Moghalu has continued to capitalize on his visibility to build fresh networks which, however, appear not to be very significant to cause any paradigm shifts as yet.

A thing that stands him out is his youthfulness and with Nigerian youths clamoouring for a younger person to become president in 2023, Moghalu can fancy his chances.

David Umahi

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The name of the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, was thrown into the ring in the Igbo Presidency discuss when he defected from the PDP to the ruling APC, and suddenly became one of the preferred candidate who could be given the ticket by the party.

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.

However, what he has stacked up against him is the believe that if he is given the chance, he will kowtow to the whims and caprices of the north to compensate Buhari and other top northern politicians.

Professor Chukwuma Soludo

Before declaring to run for the governorship of Anambra State, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Professor Chukwuma Soludo, was regarded as a good prospect for the Igbo Presidency in 2023.

Many do not believe he would like to drop his position, if he wins, for the uncertainty of running for president.

He has the networks, the connections, and can stand his ground in the wider field, but with the prospect of becoming governor, many believe his chances of getting the presidential nod for the South-East has dropped drastically.

Oby Ezekwesili

2019: I’ll fight corruption if elected– Ezekwesili

In 2019, former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili, was one of the front runners for the presidential election but her sudden withdrawal left a lot of unanswered questions, though she was still credible enough to be added into the Igbo Presidency conversation.

However, not much has been heard of “Madam Due Process” in recent times and her ratings have plummeted rapidly, effectively knocking her out reckoning.

Ezekwesili’s major drawback is her perceived anti-establishment postures which have often pitted her against the Nigerian state.

Rochas Okorocha

2019: Okorocha predicts APC likely to lose Imo State

Former Imo State Governor and now Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Rochas Okorocha, is another Igbo politician who has kept a keen eye on the presidency and recently, declared that he will succeed President Buhari in 2023.

Okorocha who has not hidden his desire to become Nigeria’s president, is not a green horn in that field as he had tried on three different occasions without success.

A major drawback for Okorocha is the political turmoil he has found himself as the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, is doing everything possible to clip his wings and make him politically irrelevant.

He is also perceived as a lackey of the north and could be a sellout if given the chance to become the president of an Igbo extraction.

Rotimi Amaechi

During a recent an interview with a television station, Amaechi dropped what many thought was a subtle hint that he could throw his hat into the ring when he was asked if he would contest for president in 2023.

“I am still the Minister for Transportation and only God can tell who will be the President of Nigeria in 2023,” he had said.

Amaechi’s confidence was further boosted when a northern group known as the Arewa Mandate Initiative (AMI), endorsed him, Umahi and Okorocha, as the possible South-East candidates they would support in the 2023.

What many have been wondering is what qualifies Amaechi as a south-easterner as his Ikwerre, Rivers State, roots do not recognize him as an Igbo man and in the broader equation, knocks him out of the race.

With his unalloyed support for Buhari and the APC, Amaechi could weave the magic wand when the chips are down, but will the average Igbos accept him as one of their own?

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

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Before she became the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjow-Iweala was tipped as the first female to break the jinx and become Nigeria’s president, and was one candidate who was seen as the most qualified to contest for the 2023 presidency from the South-East.

The former Managing Director of the World Bank is well regarded around the world, starting from her first tenure as Minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo, before going on to work under Jonathan in the same capacity.

However, her appointment in March may have knocked her out of the race, with many believing she would not want to let go of her exalted international position to dabble into the murky waters of Nigerian politics.

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 with a lot of strong political experience as an astute administrator with strong intellectual bent and great vision.

Onu is a known moderate, a posture that appeals to the conservative north but that could be a real drawback among his kinsmen in the South-East.

Though a member of the ruling APC, it is doubtful if the party would want to entrust him with their presidential ticket as he does not seem to have the political sagacity to garner broad support in and outside Igboland.

Dr. Chris Ngige
Former Anambra State Governor, and current Minister of Labour and Employment, is another prominent Igbo politician who is being touted to be eyeing the 2023 presidency but he sure has a lot of baggage stacked against him as many in the South-East region see him as a sellout and an establishment lackey.

His case is not helped with the many instances of perceived cockiness and his disrespectful dealings with striking workers in Nigeria and his apparent lack of empathy for the downtrodden.

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 popping 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.

However, his travails with the EFCC leading to a 12-year-jail sentence, even though he has been released, has somewhat sullied his image and reputation.

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