Like him or hate him, Owelle Rochas Okorocha continues to mould Nigerian politics with his eccentric acts. His plans and actions stand like a big statue not only in Imo State, which he superintends as governor, but also in the entire country.
Recently, the man was at his element. He said he would emerge the President of Nigeria after President Muhammadu Buhari’s term in 2023. He reportedly boasted to whoever cared to listen, “Buhari will win again and again. After Buhari, the turn will come to the South-East and it will be the turn of Okorocha.”
He reminded those who probably thought he was joking that he retired Imo politicians like Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Arthur Nzeribe, Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim. By 2019, he promised, he would also retire people like Senator Ifeanyi Araraume.
As a dress rehearsal, he intends to contest the Imo West senatorial seat. He also plans to deliver to the people of Imo a brand new governor in 2019 in the person of Uche Nwosu, his chief of staff and son-in-law. Remember that he won the governorship of Imo when nobody believed he could do that and even won it outside the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
At home with Okorocha on agenda 2023 is Senator Hope Uzodimma (PDP, Imo West). In a recent interview with a national newspaper, Uzodimma noted that the South-West produced President Olusegun Obasanjo, who ruled for eight years and the South-South produced President Goodluck Jonathan, who ruled for six years.
“Now, the North is currently in power and is entitled to a second term, which will end in 2023. After that the Presidency will naturally return to the South and when it does, it certainly will come to South-East, because South-West and South-South have already had their turn. So, I think this is a simple reality,” he said.
As expected, the Buhari Support Organisation, Enugu State chapter, is in full support of this position. Besides, the organisation wants Ndigbo to support Buhari’s re-election in appreciation for the “befitting burial” the President gave Second Republic vice-president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. “Accordingly,” the group said, “supporting any other candidate from the North amounts to entering ‘one chance’ bus.”
To actualise this Igbo quest to produce Nigeria’s president in 2023, the Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in the 19 northern states and Abuja, has urged Igbo people living in the North to court more friends and live in harmony with their host communities.
This campaign is such that any other person outside Buhari who indicates interest for the presidency is seen as an enemy of the Igbo. The other day, one group known as the Initiative for Demonstrating Change, frowned on the presidential ambition of the former vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. As far as the group is concerned, Atiku’s ambition is a plot to scuttle the target of the Igbo to become President in 2023; and anybody supporting him is anti-Igbo.
The major fear of some Ndigbo is that, if another candidate from the North wins in 2019, he will naturally want to go for another term. This will now make them wait until 2027 to produce the President of Nigeria.
Moreover, Igbo people want to be assured that they have been reintegrated in Nigeria. They fought a bloody war with the rest of Nigeria between 1967 and 1970. Although the government of Yakubu Gowon declared after the war that there was “no victor, no vanquished,” the Igbo have remained like a conquered people in the country. Even when Ekwueme almost got the PDP presidential ticket in 1998, some powerful interests surreptitiously stopped him. Many believed then that it was because he was Igbo.
I sympathise with the Igbo for remaining at the lowest rung of the political ladder in Nigeria. Being one of the major ethnic groups in the country, it is curious that they have not produced the President of this country since after the civil war.
In the First Republic, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was merely a ceremonial president. The real powers resided in the then Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The Igbo’s second attempt at the presidency of Nigeria was when Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi became Head of State after the coup of 1966. He didn’t last beyond six months, as some northern officers killed him in a counter-coup, which led to the pogrom against the Igbo in the North and the resultant civil war. It is as if the Igbo have committed an unpardonable crime for which they have been sentenced to perpetual hellfire.
But the questions remain, should we sacrifice good leadership on the altar of zoning or rotational presidency? If it is established that Buhari has failed the nation, do we still vote him for a second term because we want our person to succeed him afterwards? Do we want the killings by the Fulani herdsmen to continue because it will guarantee the Igbo their turn to be President in 2023? Do we still want our people to continue to die in poverty and economic hardship because voting Buhari out will scuttle Igbo quest to become President? Do we sanction other acts of marginalisation against the South-East under this regime simply because we want to get the Presidency in 2023? And how sure are Okorocha and his acolytes that this permutation will even work as planned when the chips are down?
The truth is that I find it difficult to cast my vote for a leader who has failed in his duties towards his subjects. No matter what his supporters say, President Buhari has not impressed me so far in his handling of affairs of this country. I have had cause to write extensively on his performance in office and the verdict is that he has failed. He may be upright as a person but the hawks surrounding him have dragged him down. Even his wife, Aisha, had once threatened not to campaign for his re-election, if he did not change his style of leadership.
Besides, he keeps de-marketing the country each time he travels abroad. For instance, he amplified the corruption tag against his countrymen when he visited the UK in 2016. During his last visit to the UK, he said a lot of Nigerian youths were lazy. Simply put, he does not have the energy and capacity to govern a country like Nigeria.
Most times, those championing this zoning thing are politicians who stand to benefit one way or the other in the arrangement. Thus, they railroad everybody to start singing their tune. That was the same sentiment politicians employed in the governorship election in Anambra last year. Governor Willie Obiano is from Anambra North. So, a lot of the citizens voted him for a second term so that, in the next dispensation, it would be the turn of Anambra South.
Last Wednesday, former President Olusegun Obasanjo warned against this type of thinking. Speaking through the Anambra State coordinator of the Coalition of Nigeria Movement in Awka, Anambra State, Obasanjo reportedly asked Ndigbo to vote out Buhari in the 2019 general election in their own interest. He was said to have described the promise that the Igbo would produce the President in 2023 as “a grand deceit and evil machination.”
I agree that every zone should be given a sense of belonging in a federation. However, that shouldn’t be at the expense of good leadership. Between zoning and good leadership, I will vote good leadership. I will vote a good candidate. The North has many young and intelligent people who can steer this country to an enviable height. But many Igbo people may not support such fellows simply because they will scuttle their ambition to produce the President in 2023.
What we should be asking for are developmental projects in our different regions. Where the President comes from should not matter much so long as every section of the country gets dividends of democracy and is represented in the cabinet. When Obasanjo was the President, how many projects did he attract to the South-West as an indigene of that zone?
The Igbo took former President Jonathan as their own; after all, he had an Igbo name, Ebele. The South-South is also closer to the South-East and the two were one region at some point. But for six years while Jonathan was in the saddle, did he build more projects in the South-East and South-South than in the other zones?
The struggle for the Presidency will end the day we devolve power from the centre to the regions. That is why we need restructuring of the federation. And if that is the only thing President Buhari achieves for this country before he leaves the scene, Nigerians will eternally be grateful to him. Then, Okorocha may not even be interested in becoming President anymore in 2023.