THE Nigerian conundrum will find a defining moment on May 29, 2023, the date an elected president will be sworn in to replace President Muhammadu Buhari. That president will be of Igbo descent. That will be Nigeria’s date with destiny; a date to correct the apparent injustice to the Igbo.
Even with all our acknowledged defects as a nation, Nigeria has the hoary tendency of setting its peculiar sense of fairness, equity and justice that has unfortunately come to be generally accepted as sometimes evasive. Reason being these same justifiable and fair conventions are frequently broken by a few for selfish or clannish interests.
Equity that will see a councillor emerge from among a people to represent them at the local government level, only for that same councillor to either not recontest after a reasonable period, or be outrightly rejected by the electorate to make room for another contestant from another division of the same ward. From the ward level to the local government level to the senatorial district level to the state level up to the national level, this sense of justice and fairness has seen a council chairmanship candidate pick his running mate from a different division, or the people, for equity, naturally going for a candidate from a different division after the expiration of statutory tenures. That is our peculiar sense of justice and fairness.
The advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999 profoundly evidenced these conventions with the then two leading contesting political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the All Peoples Party, APP/Alliance for Democracy, AD, alliance respectively presenting Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae, both Yoruba from the South-West zone as the major candidates for that year’s presidential election, with their running mates, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, coming from the North-East and North-West, respectively.
These consensual decisions by the parties were informed by the fact that the regional North had had its fair share of the country’s presidential leadership, and it was proper for the office to go to the Yoruba South-West, considering the fact that a Yoruba had presumably won the election to that office six years before, precisely in 1993, but which was denied him by the then military establishment.
Eight years of Chief Obasanjo gave way to power returning to the regional North with the emergence of Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, whose unfortunate passing before the end of his first term gave rise to the emergence of his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan from the Ijaw minority group of the South-South as president. One term of Dr. Jonathan witnessed power returning to the regional North, with President Buhari, from the North-West clinching the office, and being returned for a second term, to terminate in May 2023. Which now leaves us with who should take over from the President in 2023.
Nigeria’s political history has witnessed the regional North being the dominant political group, taking the largest chunk of presidential leadership since independence: Alhaji Tafawa Balewa’s five years and three months (October 1, 1960 – January 15, 1966); Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s nine years (July 29, 1966 – July 29, 1975); Gen. Murtala Mohammed’s seven months (July 29, 1975 – February 13, 1976); Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s four years and two months (October 1, 1979 – December 31, 1983); Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s one year and eight months (December 31, 1983 – August 27, 1985); Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s eight years (August 27, 1985 – August 26, 1993); Gen. Sani Abacha’s four years and seven months (November 17, 1993 – June 8, 1998); Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar’s one year (June 8, 1998 – May 29, 1999); Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua’s three years (May 29, 2007 – May 5, 2010); and President Muhammadu Buhari’s eight years (May 29, 2015 – May 29, 2023). In total, the regional North would have led Nigeria for 45 years and three months by May 2023.
The Yoruba of the South-West, have led the country for exactly 11 years and 11 months: Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo’s three years and eight months (February 13, 1976 – October 1, 1979); Chief Ernest Shonekan’s three months (August 26 -November 17, 1998); and Obasanjo’s eight years as elected president (May 29, 1999 – May 29, 2007). But what about the Igbo? Just six months of Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (January 15 – July 29, 1966). It is often bandied that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe also led Nigeria.
But the highly revered nationalist was only a ceremonial president from October 1,1960 – January 15, 1966, as executive powers resided in the office of the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa. It could be argued that should the Igbo be trusted with the presidential office, especially considering the passion and high level of renewed secession agitation of neo-Biafranism among young Igbo in the South-East with genuine fears of Igbo marginalisation?
It will amaze many readers to learn of my experience since this project began early last year. From my interactions with these youngsters, I have come away with the impression that a sense of belonging by them will subdue this agitation, and what sense of belonging can surpass the joy of an Igbo presidency? There are former Biafran agitators and other Igbo activists who have collapsed their various groups into this project, believing that it best represents Igbo interests.
Every student of Nigeria’s political history recognises that this political agitation is product of frustration with the Nigerian state for their perceived marginalisation which has culminated in the denial of Igbo a shot at the presidency. Those of us who ought to know are aware of the thunderous agitation from the Yoruba South-West subsequent upon the denial of the presidency to late Chief MKO Abiola, winner of the controversial June 12, 1993 presidential election. After Abiola’s death in detention, the Yoruba took their agitation for Yoruba presidency everywhere: to the streets, to the newsroom, to the international community, and to the heart of of Nigeria’s power politics.
There were even calls from some Yoruba extremists that the denial of the Yoruba presidency could instigate the emergence of Oodua Republic, giving rise to the formation of Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC. The message was loud and clear: Our son was elected president in a free and fair election, was denied his victory and subsequently died in detention; it was either a Yoruba presidency or Oodua Republic. Result? All three leading political parties presented Yoruba candidates in 1999.
And Yoruba got it! Twelve years after Obasanjo’s two terms, with the South-West politically strengthened, especially with a Yoruba as the most influential power broker in Nigeria today, not a whisper has been heard ever since of Oodua Republic! That is the power of equity, fairness and justice, as well as a dogged determination to pursue it. That is the power of the unwritten conventions that have become Nigeria’s source of strength. Eight years of Igbo presidency will douse and eliminate secession agitation and Igbo feelings of marginalisation, and guarantee a feeling of fairness, equity, justice, oneness and togetherness – a united Nigeria.
Every well-meaning Nigerian should key into this project and ensure the emergence of an Igbo president, with the insistence on every major political party fielding an Igbo candidate in 2023. And the four-year-long journey begins now. The Igbo political class has a major role to play too, by forging a united front and standing by this position. They should put behind them their political differences for a united goal. An Igbo presidency in 2023 is a project that has come to form the foundation for the end of the feeling of marginalisation from one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria; the success of which will bring an end to one of the major drawbacks of our development, and create a conducive atmosphere for enhanced national development.
By denying the Igbo this right of fairness in 2023, we will be denying ourselves this noble right, the right to genuine aspiration to take charge of the nation’s affairs. What informed this position, this renewed voice, especially from a non-Igbo from the South-South? From my personal experience as an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, and my subsequent social and business dealings with Igbo, I consider them as a unique people who are courageous, ambitious and enterprising by characteristics; a people whose denial of this inalienable right to aspire to the highest office in the land is a denial to a collective aspiration for a greater Nigeria.
The question, therefore, arises that what is so special about a single Igbo for president, after all a single man does not run a country, but works with a team under his leadership? However, if that be the case, then let us allow a single Igbo man (the whole Nigerians will select from Igbo bests) take charge and allow him work with a competent team of lieutenants and await the outcome. To deny the possibility of positive differences in eight years is to deny the exceptionalism of these people, which is evident in their phenomenal growth and their economic and educational recovery and advancement since the Nigerian civil war about 49 years ago, where they had emerged beaten and broken and koboless.
But like the Jews after World War II, the Igbo have taken back their rightful place in Nigeria as arguably the most educated, the most metropolitan and the most wealthy ethnic group in Nigeria. To deny such a group the opportunity to bring in their attributes of exceptionalism to bear on the peoples of Nigeria by ensuring an Igbo presidency come 2023 is a collective denial by the Nigerian people for our march towards greatness.