BY BARR. EMEKA NWODE
There comes a time in the life of a nation, and of a person, when some deliberate and conscious actions determine a turn to either a glorious and fulfilling future or a downgrade to a perilous and gloomy fate. The fast approaching presidential election in Nigeria, amongst other elections, holds these possibilities in equal measures.
The choices of Chief Olu Falae and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the presidential candidates of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), respectively, in the 1999 general elections were neither experimental nor accidental, but rather a deliberate effort by the leaders and the political gladiators of that period to assuage the feelings of marginalization, deprivation and deep sense of political alienation which were prevalent in the Southwest part of Nigeria at that time, and which got accentuated by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election widely acknowledged as having been won by Alhaji Moshood Abiola.
It was in appreciation of the reality of that period and the need to diffuse the generated combustible tension that the then two major political parties, the AD and the PDP were guided to settle for candidates of Southwest extraction as their presidential flag bearers.
This political masterstroke not only ensured an enthusiastic participation of Nigerians in the 1998 to 1999 transitional and electoral processes, but also ushered in a Government and national sentiment that were rich in both legitimacy and expectations.
Nigeria, once again, has found itself in a similar situation. The option before the country as the 2023 presidential election looms is a decision to aggregate the desire and demands for discernible, functional and sustainable policies for economic growth, ethno-social cohesion, credible security and respectable foreign policy thrust.
In all these legitimate expectations, a pivotal underlying current is the need to address the obvious fact of the exclusion of a major political zone of Nigeria from the leadership of the Executive arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria. Specifically, no person of Southeast Nigeria extraction has ever been the Executive President of Nigeria.
There have been some self serving arguments to redirect the attention and consciousness of Nigerians from this glaring fact to the convenient illogic of the electorates being allowed to choose a ‘competent’ candidate irrespective of where he or she comes from; or that limiting the choice of a President to a zone is undemocratic. It is, to say the least, deceitful and a great disservice to the corporate existence of this country for anyone to throw up such insensitive, divisive and banal arguments. Peculiar challenges require peculiar strategic solutions.
The enumeration of the leadership sequence of Nigeria from independence has already saturated public discourse so much so that no repetition is required here. However, it must be mentioned that the barely six months sojourn of General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi as a Military Head of State was borne out of the accident of his being the highest ranking military officer at a time that a leadership vacuum created by a military coup that he was not part of had to be arrested. His six months efforts were limited to attempts to restore stability by his untimely death.
It is also worthy of mention that the strongest point for President Jonathan contesting the 2011 presidential election was not his legitimate right to do so under the 1999 Constitution(as amended), but by the then prevailing sentiment that a denial would have been rightly interpreted as denying the Southsouth zone of an opportunity to produce a President, on its own merit, in the spirit of the zoning formula that had become generally accepted as a panacea to addressing the issues of real or imaginary marginalization in the polity.
President Jonathan did not win that election on account of the population of his Bayelsa State or the entire Southsouth States. He did not win that election on account of the absence of violence or threats to national assets and interests by some elements from the Southsouth. He, rather, won that election because majority of the power minders and voters recognized the fact that allowing a President of Southsouth zone extraction, beyond his succeeding the late President Yar’adua, will assist in achieving the objective of a further integration of the zone in the Nigeria project. The sounds of voices and guns against perceived marginalization and threats of secession have since waned in that area.
The above situation will certainly be replicated in Nigeria if the gradual and steadily evolving pre-2023 transition politics is handled tactfully and sensibly by everyone concerned.
There is no doubt that there are eminently qualified presidential candidates from almost every hamlet in Nigeria. A critical consideration, however, must be given to how to make the chain of Nigeria strongest at its weakest link. As bad as the security situation of Nigeria may appear, the greatest challenge the country is facing now is the pervasive mutual ethno-religious suspicion and distrust. This factor is being manipulated by some devious politicians for political gains.
Nobody with responsible conscience from any zone in the North, the Southwest and the Southsouth is canvassing with conviction for the office of the President to be retained in the North or zoned to any of those other areas in 2023. What seems to be playing out are efforts to raise the bar of the bargaining chips for those zones in the post 2023 Nigeria. A chronicle of both the past military and civilian leadership of this country makes any claim from any zone apart from the Southeast both illogical and untenable.
The most distressing fact, however, is that what should be feeble claims to the Presidency by some persons from zones outside the Southeast are being ventilated, venerated and given fillip by some individuals from the Southeast zone itself.
The reason for this political self immolation are simply deft moves to confer personal advantages over perceived or real rivals even if the consequence is losing the opportunity to present a purposeful, productive and integrative President to Nigerians.
It is instructive to note that in 2019 when it would have remained only four years for Nigerians to accept the inevitability of a seamless transition to a President of Southeast extraction in 2023, some ordinarily respectable Igbo leaders were, by default, pursuing an agenda that would effectively truncate the well conceived zoning principle and formula. By insisting on electing Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as President with an Igbo running mate in 2019, the forces against the zoning principle were just being armed with justifications for their well rehearsed distortion mission.
There is nothing in the records to show that Atiku Abubakar would have performed better than the incumbent or would have voluntarily chosen to rule for only one term of four years.
Again, with the benefit of hindsight, the power Alhaji Atiku Abubakar wielded between 1999 to 2003 as Vice President, and the manner in which he wielded the influence he garnered from that vintage position in almost frustrating the second term ambition of President Obasanjo do not give comfort to anyone with any illusion that Mr. Peter Obi, as the Vice President to Abubakar, would have been given the space for Executive roaming and influence peddling in State affairs.
If speculations making the rounds of Atiku Abubakar coming back to Nigeria to glide through our cities once again as a presidential aspirant after almost three years of excusing and detaching himself from the realities of our time is founded, then credence is given to the belief that he is out to effectively exterminate the policy of zoning elective offices which has become acceptable and functional in our villages, communities, Local Government Areas and in the various States.
The Igbos of the Southeast should, for once, sheathe the swords of self serving political interests and work as a potent team to persuade the rest of the country of the logic, credibility and profitability of ensuring that the major political parties grant the genuine and legitimate quest for a President of Nigeria of Igbo extraction.
An objective and dispassionate appraisal of the current challenges of Nigeria make it imperative that Igbos who have verifiable records of industry, productive policies formulation and implementation, and nationalistic credentials which inform their taking up homes and establishing investments in all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria should be given the opportunity to heal the wounds of this country.
To the Igbos, power is never given. As history eminently supports the aspiration to the Nigeria Presidency at this time, do not be the proverbial lizard that ruined its mother’s funeral, nor the biblical woman that asked King Solomon to slice a living baby into two halves because her rival had a better claim to the baby.