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Presidential Primaries And The Myth Of Igbo Marginalisation

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The Insight by Lateef Adewole

This has been one of the most tension-soaked weeks in Nigeria for a long time. This was due to no other reason but the presidential primary of the ruling party APC, conduct of which was turned to a “rocket science” by the political gladiators and leadership of the party with all their shenanigans and schemings. Such level of intrigues must have been last witnessed in Jos, Plateau state, in 1992, thirty years ago, during the primary election that produced late Chief MKO Abiola as the flag bearer of SDP, who went ahead to win the June 12, 1993 presidential election but was annulled.

Coincidentally, tomorrow Sunday, will mark the 29th anniversary of that watershed election. Ironically too, many political actors at that time are still around, and even participating in the current process. Should I call that “progress or retrogression”? I leave individuals to decide. This is because, if a country has not evolved and produced new leaders who are young to lead it but still defers to its gerontocratic generation for leadership, in my personal opinion, that is a failure of such country or society.

As at 1993, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was a presidential aspirant of the SDP while Bola Tinubu was already a senator, representing Lagos West. He even became the deputy senate president. Twenty nine years after, these two are the leading presidential candidates of the main opposition party PDP and the ruling party APC respectively. They were in their youths in 1993 but very old now. When will the youths born in 1993, before and after, have their own times if their grandfathers and great-grandfathers refused to exit the stage? This is by the way.

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Yesterday was the closing date for all parties to conduct their presidential primaries. Those who were projected to get the tickets of the two major parties did. There are now other parties expected to give account of themselves, not because of the parties themselves but because of the personalities of their presidential candidates. They are Labour Party (LP) with former governor Peter Obi as their candidate and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), with Alhaji Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso as their candidate.

There are few others like Omoyele Sowore, Action Congress (AC), Dan Nwayanwu, Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Dumebi Kachukwu won the African Democratic Congress (ADC) ticket against expectations of many, that the more popular Professor Kingsley Moghalu would win. This is the biggest upset in the primaries. There are eleven other parties and their candidates. However, not much are expected from them, if their past records are anything to go by.

Now to the crux of this article. After the primaries of the two major parties, many people, especially the Igbos were unhappy with the outcomes. Why? Because the two major parties did not elect any Igbo aspirant as their flag bearer. But, who is to blame for this? The Igbos themselves ofcourse. No matter how much they tried to cry foul now, what happened at these primaries have only exposed their “unseriousness and non-readiness” to take the mantle of leadership of this country, not because there are no competent or qualified persons, but by their political choices.

In the past few years, especially after the 2019 presidential election won by President Buhari, and with the expectations that the presidency would shift to the south, the SE region has continued to agitate for their turn by words of mouth. I have had cause to write a few articles specifically to address that demand and agitation. I have been criticised a number of times by my Igbo friends and readers for my opinions, simply because I was too frank.

In those articles, I was categorical about my perception of unseriousness on the part of the Igbos to pursue such aspiration, not only from the political and cultural leaderships of the region, but the followership alike. I called attention to the lackadaisical attitude of leaders in the region towards it and how I did not see that galvanisation and sense of urgency on the part of the leaders and the people. Same continued till the political activities reached the climax with the primaries conducted recently.

Well, we still have many Igbos as presidential candidates, biggest of whom is Peter Obi of Labour Party. How far he can go with that remains to be seen. Many Nigerians were utterly disappointed at the Igbos after the primaries of the PDP and APC. The extremely poor, in fact, shameful outings of their aspirants broke my heart, just like many people. It was most unexpected. Even if many of them were really not expected to win as they did not work for it, we did not expect such dismal performances from them. It’s disheartening.

Why do I care? Sincerely, as those who have followed my writings must have observed, I take the Igboland as my second home. Apart from being born, grew up and educated in Yorubaland, the next region I knew was Igboland. After my working for few years in Lagos, I was transferred to the “Eyimba City”, Aba, Abia state, from where I covered other South East states and a part of Akwa Ibom. I made it my personal business to travel across the whole region to know it. Same as South-South states. That was at a time that Nigeria as a whole and the regions in particular, were still very safe.

I made travel plans every week to different towns, cities in different states, both official and unofficial. I drove myself. That was how I knew many places and the region became home to me. I have countless friends there. They are some of my best friends till date. I gave my children Igbo names as part of their identities; Amara, Chisom, Amaka, even those who were not born while I lived in the region, despite being a Yoruba man and a muslim too. These were to immortalise some of my friends there. I did not marry an Igbo woman as I was already engaged before my transfer to the region but a younger brother did. And they are still happily married with children till date. I have mentioned this sometimes in my previous articles.

So, with this background, one can now understand my obsession with Igboland and why I was disappointed at the showing in the primaries. When PDP did their primary, the region had four aspirants; former senate president and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, Sam Ohuabunwa, Charles Okwudili and Chikwendu Kalu. There were 95 delegates from the region. Anyim scored 14 and Sam 1 vote. Others zeros. Total was 15 votes. Who did the rest vote for?

At the concluded APC primary on Wednesday, the region had 285 delegates. Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi state scored 38, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu-1, Chukwuemeka Nwajuba-1, Rochas Okorocha- 0. The total was 40. Who did the remaining 245 delegates from Igboland vote for? This is where we are. How could such a thing have happened from a region by a people who want to govern Nigeria and who make demand to be given the presidency? This is a self-inflicted injury. How can leaders and people of that region still have the audacity to ask other regions for the presidency of Nigeria? As Yorubas will say; “omo t’oba sipa ni baba re ngbe” (only a child who makes attempts to walk that his father will support). Has the southeast region lifted their hands for the other regions to support them?

Like I have written before, there are some actions that do affect the chances of the southeast in producing the president of Nigeria, negatively. To start with, I criticised how the southerners in PDP allowed the presidential ticket to be taken away from them by not insisting on ensuring power shift to the south. How do southern PDP governors, lawmakers, leaders and members hope to explain to the rest of the citizens who do not belong to any party, that after the eight years of a President Buhari, who is a notherner, will be succeeded by another northerner, now in the person of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar if he wins? That’s preposterous!

The Igbos have remained faithful to PDP in the last 23 years, including those who reside within and outside the South-East region. They have always voted for PDP, “from top to bottom” (lol). But when it mattered most that they were supposed to called for return on their political investments over the years in PDP, they dropped the ball. First, they were not firm and pushy. So, they conceded to open contest without extracting favorable advantage. To add salt to injury, they did not vote for aspirants from their region. How can the rest of us who hoped they will get it, cry more than the bereaved?

Secondly, the sense of entitlement not anchored on any strong footing. How do I mean? The region and its people, rather than work assiduously with other regions by building bridges, cultivating alliances, and establishing networks, they based their demands on entitlement that the presidency should be handed to them on the platter. The cheap blackmail is saying that the region is marginalised politically and never produced the president of Nigeria, hence, they should be compensated, with the top office. This won’t work. It’s a faulty strategy.

I have disagreed with this position many times. Igbos have not been politically marginalised as we are made to believe but they have chosen how they wanted to play their politics. Oftentimes, they cited what happened in 1999 when the presidential election had two Yoruba men on the tickets of the two major parties then; General Olusegun Obasanjo (Rtrd.) of PDP and Chief Olu Falae of the coalition of two parties AD and APP. How did that come about? Was is it simply through entitlement? No!

In the first instance, the tickets were not “dashed” to these candidates just like that, they had primaries which produced them with contest against other aspirants from South-East. Dr. Alex Ekwueme contested against Obasanjo, while Ogbonnaya Onu contested against Falae. Also, for all the political leadership of the country to zone the presidency to South-West was compelled by the unpleasant circumstance of the death of an illustrious son of the Yorubas, MKO Abiola, who died in mysterious circumstance in 1998 while he was in the custody in the process of retrieving his presidential mandate.

The annulment of his mandate led to five long and harrowing years of instability in the country, especially in the South-West region. Many other Yorubas died in this period, including the wife of MKO Abiola, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola. What more pain could a people be inflicted with and they endured? So, to compensate them for such huge losses, the powers-that-be decided to zone the presidency to the South-West. I am not saying that only the Yorubas fought for the actualisation of June 12. There were other prominent persons from other regions. However, the battle was in Yorubaland and the major casualties were Yorubas, many of whom lost their lives in the process. Therefore, they lost more.

Again, I have said that Igbos have always enjoyed political patronage at the highest level of federal government, may be as individuals. The first civilian president of Nigeria was Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe. He accepted that position, as against the supposed proposed leadership as the Prime Minister in an alliance between his NCNC and Awolowo’s AG, but he rejected it.

From 1979 to 1983, Dr. Alex Ekweme was the vice president to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. All those period, the Yorubas were in opposition and stayed there. They were struggling to get to the centre. By 1999, despite that Obasanjo is from Ogun State, many Yorubas never saw his tenure as that of the region. This was because, he was not the candidate who represented their interest based on where they were coming from in the NADECO and Afenifere. He only reaped where he did now sow.

Even in Obasanjo’s administration, the Igbos were very prominent that one would think Obasanjo is from Anambra State. The core Yoruba progressives political party AD, was in opposition. Same continued during Yar’adua and Jonathan. It was until 2013, with the massive organisational and mobilisation capacity, driven by vision and executed with deft political ingenuity of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in conjunction with other opposition parties, that birthed APC. That was the only time that the progressives in Yorubaland got to the federal. The Igbos were in PDP all through this period. So, how can they demand for a ticket in APC based on entitlement? That won’t happen. And that was what played out.

The non-availability of political leadership, around who the Ndigbos can rally is another problem. Unlike in the Yorubas, where Tinubu was able to rally the majority of the Yorubas politically, which also played out at the APC primary. No such person in the South-East. We could all see how all the Yoruba aspirants eventually stepped down for him, with the exception of the vice president Yemi Osinbajo, understandably so. No Igbo aspirant deemed it fit to support another by stepping down and mobilised for him or her. They all went solo. The results are there for all to see.

In as much as many do not like me to use the nuisances of IPOB and ESN, worsened by the barbarism of the unknown gunmen within the region as a factor that could negatively affect Igbo chances at presidency, it is a fact that will not go away. We can all remember similar situation was already brewing in the South-West with Sunday Igboho’s militant agitations. While many of us agreed with him about getting rid from Yorubaland; cities, towns, villages and forests, the criminals wrecking havocs across the land, kidnapping, maiming, raping and killing the indigenes, when he was going out of hand, he was called to order by the Yoruba leaders.

The management of that prevented a more serious crisis that could have engulfed the region. Such regional management capacity in unity is lacking among the Igbos. Everyone is the boss! And no one can call anyone to order. That’s the reason for the escalation of criminalilties in the region. That could have counted against the Igbo presidential aspiration.

I know that this will not sit well with many Igbos who I have as friends and readers. However, it is my opinion. There are other candidates from the region vying for the same office on other platforms like Peter Obi of Labour Party. Why won’t the political and cultural leaderships of the region begin to rally round and mobilise for him being the most prominent candidate from the zone? I have not read or heard any effort by Ohaneze Ndigbo towards that. Rather, they are focusing on APC and PDP which are lost causes. It’s still Obi’s brothers who have been battling him in LP.

In all, I believe the Igbos would have learnt their lessons and restrategise. You cannot do the same thing over and over but expect different results. That’s insanity, according to Albert Einstein. To become a Nigerian president is not “moinmoin”. It requires very hard work, which begins with getting the party presidential ticket, which we have passed now. Many more hurdles are still ahead of candidates to cross before reaching that seat. And to be fair and objective, the two people who clinched the two major parties’ tickets, are the most deserving of them. They worked hardest.

While my position still remains that it is unacceptable that another northerner will become the next president after the eight years of President Buhari, a northerner, we can only pray that we get the best among all the candidates to become our next president, come 2023, many of whom are from the south. May the best candidate wins!

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

You can follow me on:
Twitter: @lateef_adewole
Facebook: Lateef Adewole.
Email: lateefadewole23@gmail.com
Whatsapp: +2348179512401

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