For political exigencies, Nigeria is divided into six geo-political zones – apologies to the former Vice President, late Dr Alex Ekwueme. Of the lot, only the South-East and North-Central zones have not been privileged to occupy the position of either vice president or president since the return to democratic rule in 1999.
The case of the South-East is particularly pathetic when juxtaposed with the period following attainment of self-rule in 1960. While the North-Central has been opportune to occupy the highest office on three occasions through General Yakubu Gowon (Plateau State, July 1966 – May 1975); General Ibrahim Babangida (Niger State, August 1985 – August 1993) and General Abdulsalami Abubakar (Niger State, June 1998 – May 1999), the South-East had its only shots through Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, governor-general/ceremonial president (Anambra State, 1960-1966); General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (Abia State, January 1966 – July 1966), before the Nigeria- Biafra war.
Aside from Dr Ekwueme’s short-lived vice presidency (October 1979 – December 1983) and Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe, then a Commodore in the Nigerian Navy, served as the de facto Vice President of Nigeria under military President Ibrahim Babangida from 1985 to 1986, no Igbo man (or woman) has made it to that level till date! While some are apt to attribute this vile to the unfortunate decision by then Colonial Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu-led Eastern Region to wage war against the Nigerian state in the late 60s, the issue may, in fact, be deeper than it appears.
Unarguably, the Igbos constitute the largest ethnic group in virtually the remaining 31 states of the federation aside the South-East aside indigenes in these states, engaging in various economic activities. It is jokingly said that in any village, community or town where Igbos are not found, such an environment can only be unfit for human habitation.
However, while the Igbos appear to have gotten it right in business, the opposite is their lot in politics.
At the advent of civil rule in 1999, the Igbo nation cast its lot with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). While other regions oscillated, at different times, with the PDP, All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and lately All Progressives Congress (APC), the South-East stick with the PDP, giving the party more than 80 per cent votes in any election, be it local, state or federal. Despite these years of “loyalty”, the farthest the region has gotten from the PDP was vice-presidential candidacy courtesy of Mr Peter Obi (2019). This is in no way vitiating the occupation of what some considered less fancied positions of National Chairman of the PDP, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives by persons from the region even after 1999.
However, just when South-East hopes it may finally have the opportunity of a shot at the highest office, the PDP appears to have prevaricated.
It was recently reported (and up till now undenied though) that: “there are indications that the PDP is planning to field a Northern candidate for the 2023 presidential elections.
“This follows findings by a committee set up by the party to review why it lost in the 2019 presidential election and recommend solutions on how the party would return to power.”
If the report is credible, it will not only be tantamount to the relegation of the rotational clause in the PDP constitution but will also leave the South-East in a quandary as to which political platform it could hopefully realise its ambition.
Could the APC be an option? One may be tempted to ask.
Going by the unequivocal rejection of the APC in the region in the last two elections – in 2015 and 2019-, and regardless of recent gains by the party in the region via defections, the APC may be a hard sale to an average Igbo man. Governor David Nweze Umahi of Ebonyi State took the plunge and ever since, the journey has not been rosy. His counterpart in Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, is not fairing better either.
Politics in Nigeria is characterized by negotiation, compromise, give and take syndrome. No region or ethnic group has the privilege of occupying the highest office based on the allegation of marginalisation, or simply because it is “their turn”. To further stretch this point, one will recall that the formation of the government of the First Republic was made possible via an agreement between the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa-led Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe-led National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC). A similar scenario played in the Second, Third and even the current Republic.
The Igbo nation may have shot itself in the foot when in 2015 and 2019, it decided to have all its eggs in one basket. The outcome of the 2019 election is instructive here. Out of 15 available senatorial seats in the entire South-East, the APC was only able to return two, Rochas Okorocha and Orji Uzor Kalu. The APC then found it difficult to zone Senate Presidency to the region, for obvious reasons.
The jettisoning of the rational presidency by the PDP, despite its codification in its constitution, leave the contest more open, and the chances of the South-East region, sadly, more narrowed.
If the PDP is a no-go area for the Igbo aspiration, can they fare better within the APC? The answer is NO. Aside from the party not performing well in elections in the region, there appears to be some kind of innate hatred for the party – and perhaps its functionaries – in the region, so much so that a Hausa/Fulani PDP ticket will, unarguably, enjoy more support in the region than an Igbo man running on an APC ticket.
The South-Easterners are believed to be paranoia of other regions, not given to inclusive politics in spite of their huge presence in other states and regions. This, no doubt may count against their aspiration.
Yes, it is both legally and morally right for a South-Easterner to occupy the highest office in the land, but from the look of things, this may appear a tall order in 2023, maybe in 2035, if they play the right politics, and all things being equal.