2023: Why we must preach merit rather than zoning – Former Imo Commissioner, Ajumbe

Professor Vitalis Orikaeze Ajumbe was chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in Imo state that merged with other legacy parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) He has also served as Commissioner for Internally Generated Revenue, (IGR), às well as Commissioner for Information, Tourism, among other positions

In this interview with a select media, he emphasised the need for Nigeria to focus on good governance instead of zoning ahead of the various agitations for power shift in 2023. The AUTHORITY was represented


There has been agitations from various quarters for power to shift from the North to South, when President Muhammadu Buhari completes his tenure in 2023. Would you subscribe to the this clamour for a President of Igbo extraction

I feel concerned about the going on in Nigeria politically. People are clamouring for a president of Igbo extraction and the Noreth is insisting that power will remain in the zone. Few days ago, I was hosted by former Governor of Kaduna state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa in Kaduna, and we had interactions. He is of the opinion that for equity, the next Nigerian President should come from the South East, but some other Northerners are also talking about equity in another form. These people are arguing that the North has not equalled the South in the number of years they have so far ruled since the return to democracy in 1999. Their argument is that the South has ruled for 14 years by former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, while the North has only had a shot at the presidency for 10 years in late President Umaru Yar’Adua and President Muhammadu Buhari. If you look at it, I think both South and the North are right in their claims, depending on how you see it. If you are going for doctrine of equity, I think the North is right because in doctrine of equity, it says if I get two you will also get two

For me as a stakeholder, we should be aiming at getting the best, not minding who has gotten what. Me in particular, having listened to both sides. I think we should emphasise on good governance, irrespective where it comes from.

I believe in good governance. As a person, I don’t believe in zoning because that is part of what left Nigeria the way it is today. What destroyed the country is this zoning thing. Why cant we rally round and pick some one who can govern the country well. During the time Abiola contested for President, he, being a muslim also picked another Muslim, Babagana Kingibe as his Vice, Nigerians did not mind that arrangement and we all gave them our votes despite the Muslim, Muslim ticket. This is because we were all looking at good governance. We can still revive that same spirit in 2003, without minding where the next president comes from, especially if the person is coming with good governance. Zoning brings mediocrity

So when I read the interview of Mamman Daura, he was hammering on merit and that is the way to go. Merit can come also when we have a good electoral system, with the government removing its hand from the electoral body.

My zone, that is South East, is talking of zoning, but I can tell you that we are not united and would be ready to fight themselves. For instance, an Anambra man would not support an Imo man to become President, Instead of that to happen, they would be ready to scuttle it. They wouldn’t want somebody from another state, except theirs. Again, who is the rallying point of the Igbo? How many of Igbo believe in Ohaneze that is currently leading the Igbo presidency agitation? The only way we can achieve it is to support others, while an Igbo man should be a Vice President, then he can be our rallying point in future political agitations. It is something that we must discuss and agree on the way to go. This is my position. What we want now is good governance and not zoning because it has destroyed the nation

Don’t you think that this your position will pitch you against your Igbo brothers in this agitation, who may see you as a sell out

Gentleman, I think at 60, what I can say is the truth and the way I feel. Yes they have the right to aspire, but how prepared are they? Right now, how many of our Igbo brothers have indicated interest. But we have seen some from other zones.

Don’t you think they would believe that you are being sponsored to take this position against your Igbo brothers because they see the Igbo presidency agitation as a collective aspiration of people from the zone.

If they think so, it’s their right, we all have freedom of speech and expression and I have exercised my own. It’s their right to also take their own position

Beyond the Igbo presidency agitation, considering the country’s differences in tribe, religion, language and many others, what are your yardstick for measuring this merit you have talked about, especially as we are currently in a government where people have continued to cry over alleged nepotism and sharp division in appointments

Let me start with the President. I can tell you the President is not a product of zoning. I remember when he contested first in 2014, under the new merger (APC), other candidates from other zones ran against him . For instance, Kingsley Moghalu ran under YPP, Chekwas Okories rand under his party, UPP. There has never been any electoral year that a particular zone is left out in fielding a candidate. So he was not a product of zoning. It is the people that voted. So he is a product of a democratic practice. Zoning is not democracy.

You suggested that Ndigbo should start with the Vice President position and later groom themselves into taking over the presidency, are you not worried that some of the respected Northern politicians, including Balarabe Musa, as you mentioned are keying into the Igbo Presidency agitation. Are you by implication saying that there is no body qualified for presidency in Igbo land at the moment

We have qualified people from South East that can be President. For instance, somebody like Orji Uzor Kalu, Peter Obi, Kingsley Moghalu, Chekwas Okorie, but the big question is, would they be given the opportunity? You see, if you think that you are qualified then you make bold and begin activities towards getting it as others have begun. Has any Igbo person come out to say he is contesting? No., So how can we get it? Also how are you seen by your Igbo brothers. We have seen periods when the late Ikemba Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, as respected as he is in Igbo land came out to run, how ,many votes did he get from his zone. Also, Kingsley Moghalu, Chekwas Okorie, as intelligent as they are, how many votes did the Igbo give them? Are we prepared? Are we united to support our own? Power is not given, power is taken. So if we wait until we are given the platform by all the zones, it will never work because it is not democracy. So they must work now for it

By suggesting that the Igbo should start from the Vice President position, a position they held over 30 years ago, don’t you think that your position would refer to your people as second class citizens in the country

No, it won’t refer them to as such; the office of Vice President is a respected one. Their functions are different from that the President. What am saying is that Ndigbo should have a rallyimng point. Somebody who can call a meeting and every Igbo would attend. I think a Vice President of Igbo extraction can fit into that position. Without it, it will be hard for them to produce a president. If we have a Vice President now, he will be rallying point for Ndigbo to pursue a common interest.

Looking at the years the North have held power in the country, both in Military and democratic governments. Don’t you think it would be the height of injustice if they continue to lay claim to the presidency in 2023 and such could lead to political chaos

No matter all the noise we hear about Nigeria breaking, the country will remain intact. Nobody is breaking away from Nigeria. I believe in a united Nigeria. The period the North rule in Military, I think we also had our own Igbo bothers in the Military then, what did they do then? Power was grabbed then by the north, why didn’t our bothers grab same power? But what we are talking about now is a democracy with constitution.

As an APC chieftain, a Northern Politician from your party recently urged that no northerner should be allowed to contest the party’s presidential ticket. How would you react to this

That is his freedom of speech. His opinion does not represent that of the party. He is not an official of the APC. He has made his opinion known, just like I have made mine here.

You have mentioned some Igbo politicians who you said are good presidential materials, At the same time you are calling on Ndigbo to lobby for Vice President in 2023. Also, some prominent Igbo stakeholders have threatened to join in the full agitation for Biafra Independent if the zone fails to produce the next President in 2023. What is your take on this

Power is not shared in Nigeria. All I am advocating is doctrine of necessity for the interest of Nigeria. Not zoning. It’s all about merit and who is ready for good governance. I don’t see Nigeria breaking, irrespective of what will be the outcome of 2023 presidential election. Let every zone bring out its best, let Nigerians look at their manifesto and then vote.

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