Where are equity and justice fellow Nigerians? Forty-three years ago, Nigeria, a country weaved with varying ethnic fabrics started a presidential system of government after golden years of parliamentary democratic experience in the 1st Republic. But forty-three years later, the Igbo people from South-Eastern Nigeria are yet to take their rightful share in the “turn-by-turn” power-sharing formula of the presidency. If equity is justice in Nigeria, 2023 presidential tickets and contests should be memorable gifts to Southeastern Igbo people. Primarily, it is through this means that the country could be emancipated from socio-political inequality, distrust, and suspicion, and fuse itself to the true bond of brotherhood, growth, and development.
The amalgamation of the Southern Protectorate and Northern Protectorate by Sir Frederick Lugard gave birth to a country called Nigeria in 1914; and by 1939, the Southern Protectorate, for administrative convenience as propagated by Sir Bernard Henry Bourdillon, was divided into East Region dominated majorly by Igbo-speaking people and Western Region dominated largely by Yoruba-speaking ethnic group. The Northern region of Nigeria was undivided. For the first time, Nigeria became a country with a tripod administrative structure.
The parliamentary system of the government, which independent Nigerians inherited from the British colonialists was interrupted by the Nigerian military incursion of 1966 which lasted till 1979. It was an eclipse of civilian political culture and a bitter chapter of military governance.
The establishment of the presidential system of government in Nigeria in 1979, after the Constituent Assembly of 1977/78, during the Obasanjo military regime, ushered in a new framework of civilian democracy.
After the presidential election held on 11th August 1979, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo Southeasterner belonging to Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) got 2,822,523 votes, about 16.75% of the votes cast. Zik’s calculation of making professor Ishaya Audu, a Christian from Kaduna State his running mate did not spring up considerable support for him. On the other hand, Zik’s immeasurable political experience and irresistible influence had endeared him to many Igbo people. Thus, the Igbo people voted overwhelmingly for the NPP.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whose running mate was Chief Philip Umeadi, an Igbo legal luminary from Nri, performed wonderfully for his party, the United Party of Nigeria (UPN). They got 4,916,551 votes, about 29.18% of the votes cast. Awolowo made little inroads to the East the stronghold of Azikiwe. The non-alliance of the southern-dominated political parties, NPP and UPN, for a consensus candidate, caused the balkanization of the southern political terrain, which the Northern political juggernauts exploited. Hence, an easy pathway was created for the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), whose motto was “One Nation, One Destiny.” Added to that, NPN had the highest political coverage in Nigeria. NPN introduced the ZONING and ROTATION formula between the NORTH and the SOUTH of Nigeria for the purpose of equity and justice. Alhaji Shehu Shagari, an educationist and a Fulani political gentleman from Sokoto was made the presidential candidate while Dr. Alex Ekwueme, an Igbo man from Oko, Anambra State was selected as his running mate. They won the election with 5,688,857 votes, about 33.77% of the votes cast.
By 1983, President Shagari, who was a federal minister under Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, paved an avenue for the ascendancy of the Igbo people on the political ladder of Nigeria. His NPN party allied with the NPP, and Edwin Ume-Ezeoke (NPP), an Igbo man from Amichi, Anambra State, became the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Nigeria. He appointed seasoned Igbo administrators, like Emeka Anyaoku, D. C. Ugwu, Sylvester Ugoh, Emmanuel Adiele, and Ikechukwu Madubuike as his cabinet ministers.
It is on record that Shagari’s government “encouraged the Igbo civil servants to rejoin back to civil service.” His most memorable political stunt for the Igbo people was the State Pardon he granted to Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (Ikemba Nnewi) on 18th May 1982. Ojukwu returned back to Nigeria from Ivory Coast on 18th June 1982 with pomp and pageantry – a celebration that rekindled the ultimate sense of reconciliation among various peoples of Nigeria.
Shagari’s political adventure in Igboland was so apparent that during the presidential election held on 6th August 1983, he cruised and won with 47.5% votes to beat Awolowo (31.2%) votes and Azikiwe (14.0%) votes. Had President Shagari completed his second tenure, a reliable source had it that he would have chosen Dr. Alex Ekwueme as his successor. It was asserted that “President Shagari, in his address to the Ibadan Convention of the [NPN] party which took place earlier that month, had reaffirmed that the decision of the party that the presidency of the country should rotate to the South in 1987 was irrevocable in the interest of Nigerian unity.” But Major General Buhari’s military intervention on 31st December 1983 cut short the Igbo presidential ascendancy and socio-political climb.
When Major General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida took over power from General Buhari on 27th August 1985, he set up a 2-party-system in 1989, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). Surprisingly, before the full results of the historic June 12 presidential election considered the freest and fairest election could be released, General Babangida allegedly annulled it. A credible source had it that Chief MKO Abiola and his running mate Alhaji Babagana Kingibe of SDP allegedly won with 58.36% of votes cast while Alhaji Basir Tofa/Sylvester Ugoh got 41.64% of the votes.
The palpable tension caused by the annulment led to the set up of the Interim National Government chaired by a Yoruba man, Chief Ernest Shonekan on 27th August 1993. That appeasement seemed not to have appealed to the SDP/Abiola supporters, especially the politically conscious Yoruba people that continued the pressure for the actualization of Abiola’s mandate.
Like a bolt from the blue, on 17th November 1993, General Sani Abacha overthrew Shonekan’s government – an action which sprouted a pressure group called National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). Many activists and politicians, including Abiola, were arrested and incarcerated. It was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The unity of Nigeria was almost at the edge of the precipice.
Amidst the writhing confusion that engulfed Nigeria, 4 out of 5 formed political parties threw ideologies into the dustbin of history and allegedly jostled for Abacha to be their sole presidential candidate. The alleged four parties were the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), the Congress for National Consensus (CNC), the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), and the National Central Party of Nigeria (CPN). It was only the left-wing Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) led by Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko Yusufu, a former Inspector General of Police (1975 – 1979) that withstood the pressure and crafted his name on the bedrock of exemplarity.
The death of General Abacha on 8th June 1998 paved the way for General Abdulsalam Abubakar, an approachable officer to become the Head of State. In his all-encompassing government, reforms were made, many political prisoners were released, a new constitution was enacted, and three political parties were formed. They were the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Peoples Party (APP), and Alliance for Democracy (AD). It was a period of hope and expectancy. Among these political parties, the Igbo people overwhelmingly supported PDP, which had a stronghold in all parts of Nigeria except the Yorubaland dominated by AD faithful, similar to AG and UPN. Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who was one of the pioneer founders of PDP, which morphed from the G34 pressure group, was the strongest and most appealing aspirant before the PDP party presidential primary election. Nevertheless, the drum sound to appease the Yoruba people for the death of Abiola and his alleged political mandate was loudest. It was understandable that the Yoruba people should be pacified for the unity and progress of Nigeria.
At the Jos Convention for the PDP presidential primary election, General Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba man from Ogun State, with aid of the finest power brokers that trusted his belief in the Nigeria unity, won with over 60% votes. Dr. Ekwueme brooded over the loss but remained with the party. General Obasanjo later defeated Chief Olu Falae (a Yoruba man from Ondo State) of AD-APP with 62.78% of votes cast in the presidential election held on the 27th February 1999. It was an all-Yoruba South-West presidential contest, allegedly to appease the Yoruba people and rekindle trust, equity, and brotherhood in the country.
The Igbo people were patiently devoted and sacrificial to Nigeria’s project of power-sharing. That President Obasanjo of PDP easily defeated General Muhammadu Buhari of All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in the 2003 presidential election could be mirrored from that. President Obasanjo won the election with 61.94% votes cast, irrespective of fact that Senator Chuba Okadigbo, a flamboyant Igbo political scientist, was Buhari’s running mate. Igbo people were uncompromising in supporting the South-west Yoruba people to complete their turn of power-sharing.
When it was the time for the northern Nigerians to take their turn at power-sharing, the Igbo people voted for Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua/Ebele Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling party. Yar’Adua defeated Buhari/Edwin Ume-Ezeoke with 69.60% votes during the presidential election held on 21st April 2007. It was a sacrifice the Southeasterners made for the unity and wellbeing of Nigeria.
The expectation was high on 29th May 2007 Alhaji Yar’Adua and Dr. Jonathan were sworn in. However, hopes were dashed by the president’s health which deteriorated quickly. His death on 5th May 2010, provided Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw man from the South-South zone, to succeed him. A few months after that, a presidential election was held on 16th April 2011 and he won over other candidates with 58.87% votes cast. The Igbo-speaking people majorly voted for Jonathan in line with the power-sharing character.
By 2015, it was obvious that Jonathan was nursing to be reelected after he had been sworn twice. Such unwise political appetite triggered the yawning northerners that felt short-changed in the political game in the country to rock the PDP boat. It was a costly miscalculation of PDP. General Buhari of All Progressives Congress tapped the opportunity, rallied the northerners (Sai Baba), and allied with South-western Yoruba people to win the presidential election held in Nigeria on the 28th and 29th March of that year. Buhari got 53.96% of the votes cast. He was later reelected in 2019 after defeating Atiku, whose running mate was Mr. Peter Obi, with 56% of the votes counted.
Be that as it may, now it is the turn of the Southern Nigeria people to occupy the presidential seat, it is expected, for the sake of equity, fairness, justice, and brotherhood, for an Igbo man from the South-Eastern zone, which is the only zone in the Southern region of Nigeria that has not produced an Executive President in the presidential system of government to be supported to take their turn of occupying the presidency.
The phenomenal performances of Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, who is the leader of APC in the state, and Mr. Peter Obi, the leader of PDP in Anambra State have shown that given the opportunity, the South-Eastern politicians can take the bull by the horn, and stir the ship of Nigeria to a prosperous destination.
It is not in doubt that Igbo people, especially from the South-Eastern zone have staked and invested more than any other ethnic group in the integration and unity of Nigeria. The political unrest and marginalization of the Igbo people could be a thing of the past if a lasting presidential bridge is built for the Igbo people for the interest of Nigeria.
It is a betrayal for some southern politicians to jostle and wrestle power with South-eastern Igbo whose turn has come – a betrayal that no explanation will suffice. It is unwise for Southern Nigerians to continue to make the same political mistakes their predecessors made. For how long shall South-Eastern Igbo be the sacrificial lamb in Nigeria? This is the time for Southern Nigerians to do away with the web of political greed and distrust, wear their thinking caps, hibernate their political ambitions, and show unlimited support for the Igbo South-East presidency. Doing it will signal to the northern political strategists the maturity and readiness of the Southern Nigerians to become the next president of Nigeria. Failure to do this may encourage senseless suspicion, political division, and collapse of the social contract in Southern Nigeria, which may provide a boulevard for the patient northern politicians to take back the power in 2023.
All for Igbo South-East, Igbo South-East for all.
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