Rotational presidency and the stigma on Ndigbo

There is a totem of disavowal among other geopolitical zones each time Igbo presidency is contemplated. All manners of incoherent logics and conspiracy theories are coined to asphyxiate the idea. Even one of the respected neighbours of Ndigbo and media magnate, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi of Daar Communications, came out unmasked, last week, to defend his earlier position against Igbo presidency. In fact, his 70th birthday anniversary message can be summed up in his incisive publication reminding Nigerians of the woebegone days of our nationhood when the Delta-born Major Kaduna Nzeogwu led the first coup d’etat which Dokpesi misnomed Igbo coup.

To him, IPOB which constitutes less than 5% of Igbo population is the nemesis to any possibility of Igbo presidency. But he refused to say why Boko Haram that has challenged Nigeria’s sovereignty for more than a decade doesn’t inflict similar retribution to the North-east’s bid, from where he is routing for an Atiku presidency.

Chief Dokpesi stirred an archaic dousing adventitious stigma against the South-east since May 30, 1967. His writeup confirmed a persisting Igbo-phobic sentiment that plague the minds of Nigeria’s ruling class each time Igbo demand their rights in the national sharing table. Since the civil war, the highest political position Igbo had attained was the vice presidency of Dr. Alex Ekwueme, after which they had kept playing the second fiddle. So his article was a re-telling of unjust tale of national scar.

Marketers of this narrative won’t beat a retreat to tell us that having survived over 30 years of checkered political and leadership crisis, occasioned by prolonged military rules and intermittent civilian stints, Nigeria welcomed the new millennium with unbounded expectations. 1999 came as a new dawn with commidious optimism as the struggles of pro-democracy movements spearheaded by the same Dr. Ekwueme alongside other prominent Igbo politicians paid off. Two major political parties — Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the All People’s Party (APP) which was later renamed All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) – were formed with Igbo as their live wires. Dr. Okwesili Eze Nwodo was the pioneer national secretary of PDP while Ogbonnaya Onu chaired APP.

Both in their respective platforms midwifed the emergence of two Yoruba presidential candidates in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Pa Olu Falae. Although, Ekwueme was the most popular aspirant, on the way to Jos convention of ’98, his prominence was desperately dimmed at the 11th hour with some Generals (representing personified interest in the Army) pumping their fortunes and incumbent influence into the convention arena to alter the expected result of that PDP presidential primary election. No Igbo man raised an eyebrow. They played along and threw their weight behind the Yoruba candidate.

Ever since, it has become increasingly evident that playing the second fiddle on the decision table of Nigeria has mastered Ndigbo, such that their politicians now feel inferior declaring to run for the presidency. And that’s one notable side effect of social stigmatization; it leads to self-stigmatization; a sort of Stockholm syndrome. What else can explain why eligible candidates from the South-east are dragging feet from declaring their interest to run for president come 2023?

You can imagine a frail avaricious politician with unsettling allegations of corrupt baggage like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu going off the shores for three months treating undisclosed ailments, and returning to declare his insatiable ambition to rule Nigeria, while the likes of former governor Peter Obi, Gov. Dave Umahi and former Senate President Ken Nnamani still walk with tails in-between legs. The controversial Gov. Nyesome Wike of Rivers has for over two months been clandestinely hatching an open plan to emerge as PDP presidential candidate or running mate (in case a northern candidate emerges), yet Ndigbo are busy sitting in comfort zone, selling the argument that it is their turn.

Perhaps, a reminder is needed to awaken them from their dream land, that power is never given. It is taken. Even the Bible attests to that (Matt. 11:12). You have to demand and take it by ‘force.’ And in a ‘democracy’ like ours, the ‘force’ is almost crude. You either play by it and get counted, or forever sit by the rivers of Babylon and rue your ineptitude in the corridors of power (Ps. 137:1). All the lobbyings to gain the support of other zones had begun in earnest elsewhere, but the South-east.

Since other zones are refusing to reciprocate the support Igbo gave them when it was their turn, isn’t it time the South-east political leaders aggregated to chart a viable political route for their zone? Else, they will keep being tossed around in the uneven playing field of Nigeria’s power struggles.

Three weeks ago, against their editorial policy on publishing material with promotional colouration, Blueprint newspaper and The News Chronicle graciously published an article I wrote in this space about Peter Obi on the topic: “Politics, Power and Philanthropy: the tripartite attributes of Peter Obi.” Perhaps, they trusted my personal hatred against itinerant writing. But much more to that, they showed how they valued the truth that laced the write-up. It also showed their objectivity in routing for innovative political leadership, as part of their developmental journalism for the common good of Nigeria.

Consummate editors like Abonyi (Media Adviser to PDP national chairman) were among some journalists who commended the piece. What I cannot comprehend is why Nigerians are seemingly ready to give their support to a presidential candidate of Obi’s pedigree, yet he is hesitant to make a statement.

Just two days after the publication, Pandora papers surfaced. Premium Times adorning the garb of hatchet jobbers (mixing news reportage with opinionated editorials) cast vitriolic aspersions on Peter Obi, ostensibly to discredit him, as his impeccability is perceivedly one of the to South-west presidential interest prefigured in the integrity-challenged Tinubu. The main purpose is to distract Obi by entangling him in the web of phantom misconduct in office.

Unfortunately, Obi fell for it; and has been busy granting interviews and making frantic efforts to prove his innocence on the allegations, while Tinubu seized the opportunity to deepen his campaign using paid sycophantic media urchins. It is worrisome that stakeholders of Igbo politics don’t seem to decipher the handwriting on the wall. Why have the heavyweights from the zone been taking solace in silent grumbles of “It is the turn of Ndigbo” without making commensurate effort to effectuate it through interest declarations?

Even Gov. Umahi of Ebonyi who, according to his defection statement some month’s ago, “joined APC in protest against PDP’s recalcitrance on zoning their presidential ticket to South-east” has no single billboard of expression of interest. No media presence. On countless times, we have heard statements from Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and Northern Elders Forum (NEF) affirming their stand in support of another northern president. Their South-eastern equivalent, Ohaneze Ndigbo, took a stance of indifference and a vow of silence.

An Igbo Nsukka adage advises that “Onye ana-edoyi nri na-ewozute onu” (it is the duty of a beneficiary, not the benefactor, to stretch forth hands of demand).

A social critic and political commentator, Mr. Chidozie Okafor, posited: “Mr. Peter Obi should make himself available for presidency. Posterity would be unkind to him if he fails to run in 2023, whether he would win or not. Tinubu, Yahaya Bello, etc are actively mobilising. So why is Peter Obi, one of the most outstanding politicians Nigerians have seen in the last 20 years waiting for Wadata Plaza to tell him when or if he should run for presidency?

“Do you now see why evil multiply and society deteriorates? Men who know better stand back and watch, while idiots run the show. Obi would not be forgiven if he fails to run for the Nigerian presidency in 2023. He don’t have to win. Let it be on record that he once made himself available for the high office but Nigerians choose Tinubu who reportedly does not know his age and has allegedly been blocked by international profilers like Wikipedia for date of birth commotion.”

God bless Nigeria!
Ogechukwu writes from Abuja.