The Igbo presidency project has continued to generate heated debates, leading to disagreements among the Igbo even among the leaders of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

Magnus Eze (Enugu), Obinna Odogwu (Abakaliki), Okey Sampson (Aba), Jeff Amechi Agbodo (Onitsha), and Onyedika Agbedo (Lagos)

Ahead of the 2019 general elections, the two major political parties: the All Progressives Congress (APC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have made Igbo Presidency in 2023 a key campaign issue in the South-East.

While APC chieftains in the zone believe that 2023 was a done deal for the Igbo once President Muhammadu Buhari finished his second tenure, if he wins next year’s election; the opposition PDP whose presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, indicated that he would swear to an affidavit to do a single tenure; has already nominated former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi as his running mate.

READ ALSO: Peter Obi: Atiku’s thunder

For the two parties; 2023 might be the year for the people of the South-East should they play their card well in 2019.

However, recent happenings may have given credence to fears expressed by many that the whole thing might just be mere political promises made to garner the votes of the people of the South-East in the forthcoming elections.

Senate President Bukola Saraki, who recently dumped the APC and returned to the PDP, was the first high ranking official of the government to disclose a purported agreement between Buhari and former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu that the latter would takeover after Buhari’s tenure in 2023 all things being equal.

Also, the call by Power, Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola, in Ibadan, Oyo State, on Thursday, for the people of South-West to vote for Buhari in the 2019 elections to guarantee a return of power to the region in 2023 may have confirmed Saraki’s revelation.

Speaking at a special Town Hall meeting on infrastructure organised by the Ministry of Information- mation and Culture, Fashola said that besides the massive investments by the Buhari administration on infrastructure across the country and in South-West in particular, the South-West would benefit more politically by voting for Buhari.

The minister, who spoke in the Yoruba Language and in a proverb said: “Did you know that power is rotating to the South-West after the completion of Buhari’s tenure if you vote for him in 2019?

“Your child cannot surrender her waist for edifying beads and you will use the beads to decorate another child’s waist. A vote for Buhari in 2019 means a return of power to the South-West in 2023. I am sure you will vote wisely.”

Yet, the Igbo appear to be divided on the 2023 presidency project. While there are those who believe that project is realisable; there are others who are thinking only about restructuring, even as the Biafra activists would accept neither a president of Igbo extraction nor restructuring. They insist that restoration of Biafra was the best option.

The APC and its chieftains in the South-East are of the view that the party is the zone’s surest and shortest route to producing Nigerian president in 2023.

Former President of the Senate, Chief Ken Nnamani; former Abia State governor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu; APC Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Benjamin Apugo; National Vice Chairman, South-East, Chief Emmanuel Eneukwu; and the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu; among others, have continued to insist that massive support for Buhari in the South-East in 2019 would guarantee Igbo presidency in 2023.

According to Apugo, if the Igbo should come together to embrace APC, achieving the presidency of Igbo extraction in 2023 after President Muhammadu’s tenure would be as sure as death. “Igbo have a high stake in APC and there is no way an Igbo man will not become president of this country in 2023 after Buhari unless we do not vote for APC”, he stated.

He debunked the alleged pact between Buhari and Tinubu, and queried whether it was Buhari that told Saraki that he was going to hand over to Tinubu or Tinubu himself that told him that.

“All I know is that Saraki was merely playing politics with that statement, perhaps thinking that the Igbo will lose faith in APC being an avenue to get to the presidency in 2023. There is no true Igbo son that will be moved by that statement credited to Saraki. He is not an Igbo man and, therefore, cannot speak on behalf of the Igbo race.

“Having said that, I want to tell our people that elective political offices are not given free, they are not dashed to anybody and that is why I said that Igbo should make their mark known in APC because as at today, the party is the shortest route for them to get to the presidency of this country in 2023,” he said.

On Atiku’s promise to run for one term only if he is elected president, and perhaps hand over power to an Igbo man, Apugo said he is not of the PDP and, therefore, cannot speak for the party concerning the issue.

Like Apugo, Okechukwu said that Fashola’s call on the South-West to go for the number one office in the land in 2023 was a wake-up call to the South-East to work for it.

“It’s a wake-up call for Ndigbo in the sense that President Buhari by the zoning convention is the major candidate that by the constitution that has four years left. By the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he is bound not to stay in office beyond May 29, 2023. Any other northerner that is saying so, it should be regarded as a promise or pledge, but there is certainty in Buhari’s. That being the case, you don’t expect Babatunde Fashola to say anything different. If I am in his shoes, I’ll say the same thing; that it should come to my place,” Okechukwu asserted.

He added that their call for President of Igbo extraction in 2023 was premised on the three planks of equity, natural justice and good conscience, since the Igbo had neither produced president nor vice president in the last 20 years.

The VON DG recalled that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha had at rally where he represented the president in Owerri, Imo State, this year, declared that Buhari would back an Igbo man to become president in 2023.

For ex-Governor Kalu, Saraki’s statement would not affect the resolve of the Igbo to take over the presidency of Nigeria after the eight-year rule of Buhari.

He said: “In politics, there is no total assurance, but it would be good if the country says the war has really ended in South-East Nigeria. It would be good to have an Igbo man as president in 2023.

“We are not yet there. When we get to the river, we will cross it. We are still in the Sahara now and I don’t want to dabble in the Saraki and Tinubu’s issue. Both of them are very close to me.

“Politicians can say a lot of things; they can quarrel, but we will eventually come back to the drawing board and find a common ground. The Igbo are not entertaining any fear over 2023 presidency.”

Meanwhile, many political watchers believe that the purported agreement between Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu and Atiku that was kept in the breach as was exposed by the disquiet that followed Peter Obi’s nomination asAtiku’s vice, as well as other happenings, were indicative that the single term promise may also be a mirage.

A political thinker and public affairs analyst, Prof Nick Idoko, who spoke with Sunday Sun on the issue, did not see any Southeasterner who is presently in the picture to succeed Buhari in 2023.

“Buhari is actually going to quit the scene in 2023 if he wins; that is a certainty. What APC is saying is that if Buhari is going to quit the scene in 2023, then power can revert to the South-East. It’s not that anybody is sure about that because firstly, there is no South-East person who is a vice president to Buhari. Buhari has a vice president, who is not a Southeasterner. If you begin to think about the natural progression of things, if Osinbajo is interested in becoming the president, he will be naturally shoed into the presidency after Buhari. Then behind the scenes, we are also hearing that why Ahmed Tinubu is giving his fresh support to Buhari’s presidency is because he is targeting to succeed him in 2023. That is not something clearly on the table, but that is what is coming from the grapevine. That is if APC returns to power in 2019.

READ ALSO: South East/South West battle over 2023 Presidency

“Now, the Atiku/Obi ticket has also put some doubts on that in the sense that if Atiku should win the presidency, then Obi becomes the vice president and the opportunity of a Southeasterner succeeding him is also there. Atiku was also reportedly saying that he would do just one term, although others had said that in the past, but never kept to it, which means that he will hand over power to Obi in 2023. But if he is going to do two terms, it means that it will not be possible in 2023, but Obi will still be there and the prospects of him taking over from Atiku will be there.

“My take, therefore, is that if APC returns to power, handing over to a Southeasterner may be possible, but not an exactitude because no Southeasterner is in the picture; a Southeasterner is not the vice president. The vice president is from the South-West and Tinubu is behind the curtains maneuvering. So, you can’t say it is a certainty for the South-East. That is why the Atiku/Obi ticket excites the South-East; the prospects are there. But that is if the PDP wins. If the PDP does not win, that prospects peters out,” Idoko said.

Also, the National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and former presidential candidate, Chief Chekwas Okorie, said: “Talking about 2023, what is playing out in Nigeria is what I call an unwritten rotational arrangement between North and South that has become a convention. So, everybody seems to believe that it is the North this time. PDP did not hesitate to zone the presidency to the North after losing in the 2015 election. It is, therefore, believed that after the tenure of President Buhari, it will now be the turn of the South. Whether that South means South-East depends on how we play the game, but it will definitely come to the South; and it will be like any normal political struggle.

“For me, I can live with another four years of the Buhari administration; it may be easier to endure than another eight years of another PDP administration, which will constantly remind me of the 16 years of nightmare under them, when these people handled power the way they did. If I look around the entire Igbo area, there is no single thing I can look at and say this is what PDP did in Igbo land in16 years that will make any genuine Igbo man to miss PDP. So, I have no attraction to it; I don’t miss it. There is nothing about PDP that will make me wish that they come back to power.

“So, my sincere advice is that those who are enamoured of PDP should go ahead and support Atiku/Obi ticket, while those who see the need not to wait for too long anymore should support Buhari so he would complete his remaining four years and then we can weigh in again. On my part, I have nothing against Obi; I have nothing against Atiku. But I have everything against PDP. So, I am not going in that direction and some people who also listen to me are not there. So, we are going to use everything available to us to canvass that Buhari should be supported to complete his second term. Having said that, I must say that I’m not a card-carrying member of APC. But the UPP deliberately did not produce a presidential candidate for the 2019 election. There is the likelihood of a political coalition between UPP and APC, which is yet to be consummated.”

Igbo Presidency not our priority – Ohanaeze

The Igbo presidency project has continued to generate heated debates, leading to disagreements among the Igbo even among the leaders of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

While the Publicity Secretary, Uche Achi-Okpaga, for the umpteenth time, said that Ndigbo all over the world are not interested in becoming president of Nigeria in a system that would not allow the president to map out and implement programmes that would benefit the masses; the President of Enugu State chapter of the body, Dr Alex Ogbonnia stated that it was erroneous to say that Ndigbo were not keen about the presidency in 2023.

“Not that we are not interested in Igbo presidency, but we are more interested in restructuring because this will create more job opportunities for the teeming youths in Igbo land; we are not interested in having a president with our youths roaming about on the streets; it will not help anybody. We believe that the economy of the South-East will grow faster if we are allowed to manage the resources within ourselves. We know that with a sound regional economy; our youths will have jobs and will not have interest in the centre. So, a restructured Nigeria will guarantee the future of our youths more than a president of Igbo origin. If we are able to make the South-East the Japan of Africa, that’s more important to us than what people call rotational presidency,” Ogbonnia explained.

Both of them, however, agreed that the country as presently constituted would not allow for a genuine and effective transformation even if an Igbo man becomes the president unless it is overhauled through restructuring.

Achi-Okpaga said: “I am saying that becoming the president or the vice president is not the interest of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The interest of Ohanaeze is restructuring the system because becoming the president or the vice president will only enrich few privileged individuals.

“People should not use the issue of presidency; vice presidency or other political positions to hoodwink the people that things are getting better. It is not. Until you restructure the system, the foundational problems will remain. That has been our position and we can’t change it.

“Even if an Igbo man becomes the president in 2023, Ohanaeze will still be hammering on restructuring because there is little or nothing he would be able to do in order to put the system right until it is restructured,” the Ohanaeze scribe said.

The General Overseer of the Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM); Dr. Mike Okonkwo, also said that what Nigeria needed was restructuring and not president of Igbo origin; but, however, added that unless God wants to use an Igbo man for a special purpose in the country.

He said: “I’m an Igbo man, but as far as I’m concerned I don’t believe in Igbo to call for presidency. Igbo should shut their doors and develop South-East. We are fighting for the wrong thing – let’s develop South-East. This nation needs restructuring. The reason everyone is jostling for the presidency is because of the largesse that comes with it. Let every person go to his own region and develop it. They should make the centre less attractive; unbundle the centre. If you have something to offer, go to your area and get it done. For me, I am not an advocate of Igbo must be the president, unless God supernaturally (makes it happen) because there is something He wants to do. No doubt Igbo have been marginalized – I’m not speaking out of that. They have been deprived – I’m not speaking out of that. My point is, let us not use the presidency as bait as if we are doing Igbo a favour. Vote for me so that I will give you the presidency in 2023. I don’t like that. We are all Nigerians; everyone is entitled to rule this country – that was my joy when Jonathan became the president of this country. I was excited in the sense that for once let it be said that a minority can rule this country. I was happy that he came on board, but unfortunately he played with it and this is where we are. For me, let’s even be thinking about ‘let’s restructure this country.’”

Speaking in the same vein, the Igbo Civil Society Coalition (ICSCO) after a review of the political situation in Nigeria, especially with respect to the build-up to the 2019 general elections, at its meeting in Enugu, last week, categorically declared that it will support any political party or presidential candidate that publishes a manifesto committing himself or herself to true restructuring of Nigeria that would give the Igbo nation a contiguous administrative region as originally proposed by Igbo leaders in 1994.

A communiqué signed by the group’s National Chairman, Prof Obasi Igwe and National Secretary, Comrade Vincent Achi further stated: “That ICSCO insists that only this will enable the Igbo nation continue as a coastal state and in their centuries old maritime tradition that benefitted not only the Eastern Region, but will help to develop the Middle Belt, North Eastern regions and beyond.”

MASSOB insists on Biafra restoration

Meanwhile, factional leader of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Mr Uchenna Madu has declared that Igbo man may not be president of Nigeria again because “Igbo leaders are political slaves in Nigeria.”

He insisted on the actualization and restoration of Biafra through non-violence and not Igbo presidency, stressing that 2019 and 2023 will come and go; and Igbo man will not be president of Nigeria.

Also speaking, a United Kingdom-based Biafra activist, Dr Chukwuma Egemba said that there was no difference between Buhari and Atiku or APC and PDP; hence, pro-Biafra campaigners were not excited about the nomination of Peter Obi as running mate.

Egemba added that he would not be part of any restructuring that is based on the country’s present federal constitution, which he described as slavery.

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