Chief Willy Ezugwu is the Secretary General of the Alhaji Balarabe Musa-led Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) and President and National Coordinator of the South East Revival Group (SERG).
He is also the Director of Human Rights at Citizens Rights and Empowerment Advocacy Initiative (CREMA Initiative).
In this interview, he spoke on the clamour for a President of South East extraction in 2023, Igbo unity, among others. Excerpts:
2023 politics is gradually taking the centre stage of the national discuss, as agitation and argument on rotational presidency are on the front burner. What is your take on the principle of rotational presidency
I have read comments and side talks about whether it’s the turn of the South East or Southern Nigeria to produce the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Some have even said that zoning should be jettisoned in 2023, even when they argued differently in the past when a southerner was in office.
The principle of zoning is practiced by even those who deny it. It is a principle that has its root in the laws establishing the Federal Character Commission. The essence is to ensure that the diverse ethno-religious peoples of Nigeria feel a sense of belonging. Look at the National Assembly any time and you will see zoning and that’s why there is less acrimony within the legislative house. So, anyone against rotation of political office in Nigeria does not mean well for the country. As a matter of fact, the principle of rotation has come to stay. This time, the presidency goes to the south east come 2023.
But the South West seems to be more positioned for presidency than the South East
By what means do you measure positioning in politics? In all the political parties in the country, you will find credible members who are of Igbo origin. So, the Igbo are well positioned in all the political parties. Those who raise the argument on positioning are either being mischievous or selfish politicians who are running away from the truth. For equity and justice, all roads leads to Igbo land in 2023 as far as the presidency is concerned and any attempt at denying Ndigbo the presidency this time around will be defeated roundly.
Despite your position that Igbo are in all political parties in the country, it is argued that when it comes to national politics, the south east region cannot boast of individuals with enough clout to win presidential election
That is another amusing argument. The truth is that if Nigeria must make reasonable progress, the deliberate exclusion of the Igbo from national politics and the blackmail of south east must end. South east boasts of many nationalist politicians and technocrats who can be president. To get Nigeria working progressively in the right speed, there is need to look beyond just everyday politicians. We have a lot of credible presidential materials and business-minded politicians in Igbo land if Nigeria is looking for an Igbo who will perform in office. Top among these categories of politicians are former governor Peter Obi and the former deputy governor of Central Bank of Nigeria and Nigerian political economist, Kingsley Moghalu. If we are looking for a technocrat that is respected internationally, we talk of Ngozi Okonjo-Iwuala. But if we are talking of experienced politicians in Igbo land, we can list Dan Nwanyanwu as top among those who can deliver as president of Nigeria. Truth, they say is bitter, but we must face it at all times and say it even when it is painful. Let political parties shop for these Igbo sons and daughters to reshape and rebuild the Nigerian economy from 2023.
There has been moves by some south east leaders, especially the Ohanaeze Ndigbo to form alliance with the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), threatening to support Biafra agitation if an Igbo is not president in 2023?
(Cuts in) Let’s face it. The Igbo are the only tribe that is not dependent of government for survival because most of our people are in business, with many of them as entrepreneurs and traders. So, an Igbo presidency is the only hope for Nigeria’s economic recovery if Nigeria wants to return to the good old days. Secondly, Igbo are the highest contributors in terms of tax remittance to the government at all levels. Be it in Enugu, Lagos, kano, Sokoto or Port Harcourt, everywhere in Nigeria, the Igbo are in business and contribute more to VAT and customs duty than any other single tribe.
I said these to say that Nigerian and Nigeria don’t need a threat to realise that the Igbo need a sense of belonging. I stand with Igbo unity, whether IPOB, Ohanaeze or Igbo leaders forming alliance, it’s not the issue. Every Igbo son or daughter feels alienated from Nigeria due to the treatment mated to them across the country. But the Igbo have continued to believe in the Nigerian project and are paying their taxes to keep the project going up till now. Remember that an Igbo man was at the forefront of Nigeria’s Independence. Nnamdi Azikiwe stood for Nigeria and never counted it a loss when he was denied the position of Prime Minister. He accepted to be a ceremonial president just for Nigeria to gain independence. That is the spirit of the Igbo person and until the return of Igbo to join other Nigerian ethnic nationalities to rebuilding Nigeria, we shall continue to labour in vein because the Igbo gave us independence and was cheated and made a ceremonial president, the Igbo did not complain. Harmless women and children of Igbo extraction were killed through deliberate starvation policy during the civil war; Igbo gave up the fight and were never, not even given any reconstruction assistance with abandoned property policy of the Gowon government. Yet the Igbo sacrificed and continued their lives just to ensure the progress of the Nigerian project. Igbo have sustained the Nigerian economy but what did we get in return? The customs service has been feeding fat on the wealth of Ndigbo. So, that is the sacrifice the Igbo have been making. The law of retributive justice will continue to hunt Nigeria until the Igbo is treated like people who have sacrificed for Nigeria. Only an Igbo presidency will appease the land and cause the country to make progress. The father of post-independent Nigeria is the Igbo and the land will continue to grow thorns until the spirit of the Igbo who gave Nigeria independence and are sacrificing their hard earned money in taxes and custom duties are appeased. 2023 is the best chance Nigeria has to re-unite the country and make progress with an Igbo presidency. So, beyond the threats by Igbo leaders that they could support Biafra agitation if the region didn’t produce a President in 2023, it is against the law of natural justice not to have an Igbo presidency as President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor.
Recently, Prince Arthur Eze declared that South East need to start working harmoniously with other ethnic groups in the country to achieve the project in 2023. Is that voice not a plus to the clamour for Igbo Presidency?
Even in the north, northern leaders are also calling for an Igbo presidency in 2023 both in the open and in their private chambers. And like Jonathan Vasta said, anybody clamouring for power to remain in North wants anarchy in the country. Vatsa is an APC leader and former commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, former publicity secretary of the party and foundation member of the party in Niger State. He is for Igbo Presidency. In recent time, Governor Nasir El-Rufai clearly declared support for the Presidency to return to the South and within the zone, any how you look at it, the odds favour Igbo Presidency in 2023 because the South West and South-South have had their turn. Key northerners and strategic influencers like Alhaji Balarabe Musa and Tanko Yakasai are very committed to the Igbo Presidency project. These are credible northern elders that Nigerians across the country respect.
And looking at the Arthur Eze influence as one who has northern friends who are equally influential, we know that his comment and position in support of Igbo Presidency in 2023 is a big plus for the agitation. Recall that he recently met President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa with a lot of south east traditional rulers from Anambra state. Some have been attacking him over the visit but I see it as part of his attempt to build more relationship across the Niger. That was a wise and calculated move.
Talking about unity, it’s argued strongly that one of the challenges the Igbo will face is that they are not united and are playing opposition and selfish politics. How will that affect the agitation for Igbo Presidency?
First, there is no tribe or region in Nigeria that have all their people in one particular political party. So, it is the same in Igbo land. We find ourselves in different political parties and that does not amount to disunity. No part of the country is hundred percent united in any project. Even in a family, you can still have divergent views. That does not amount to disunity. Second, you can have people fighting for the same course from different perspectives. That is what most people see as disunity in Igbo land. On 2023 presidency, Igbo are strongly united and if Nigeria misuses the opportunity to bring back Nigeria to the path of peace and economic revival for the country in 2023, it will be too bad.