It was interesting to hear the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Iyorchia Ayu, tell the Igbo that a Federal Government controlled by the political party, hopefully by next year, would resolve the agitation by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Convinced that the IPOB agitation could have been caused by “political imbalance and marginalisation of the South East,” Ayu promised that his political party would remedy the situation.

The PDP chairman, who spoke in Owerri, Imo State, during a reception organised for the party’s national secretary, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, while pledging that the PDP would redress the neglect of the South East zone in the country’s scheme of things, declared: “We shall address the issue of Biafra agitation like Yar’Adua addressed Niger Delta issue, when we eventually retake Aso Rock in 2023. We will not use DSS to kill your people, like the APC-led administration did. PDP will win the 2023 election.”

Ayu was right about the marginalisation of the South East in Nigeria. He was also right that there has been political imbalance. In a country where Eastern Nigeria, predominantly Igbo, was one of the original tripod that made up Nigeria, the Igbo are now mangled into five states, while the other five geopolitical zones in the country have six states each, with one having seven states. One state for the South East that would have ensured equal number of states in all the six zones was given to the North West, bringing its number of states to seven. This definitely has put the South East at a disadvantage, in all spheres of life.

For the avoidance of doubt, this imbalance in the number of states has, for instance, ensured that the South East has the least number of senators. With a constitutional provision that each state produces three senators, it is only the South East that has 15 senators, while the South South, South West, North East and North Central zones have 18 senators each. The North West, on its part, has 21 senators, with its seven states. In the House of Representatives, too, the South East has the least number of members in the 360-member legislature. Also, in local government areas, the South East has the least number. What this points to is that the Igbo lose out in everything – be it federal allocation, projects or representation.

The PDP chairman made a valid point that the imbalance and marginalisation against the Igbo must be addressed. If we believe that all Nigerians have equal rights, no Nigerian should be made second-class citizen. The Igbo are citizens of Nigeria, deserving to enjoy equal rights and justice. The Igbo cannot be in a union they contribute much to its development and suffer deprivation and injustice consistently. The deprivation and marginalisation of a people, in a supposedly free country, is unacceptable.

Although one would give Ayu the benefit of the doubt that a PDP Federal Government would take measures to address issues relating to the Igbo, one believes that the best way the PDP would show good faith in addressing these issues is to ensure that a southeasterner becomes the candidate of the political party in 2023. There are talks about which zone would produce the next President of Nigeria. While it should be natural that power shifts to Southern Nigeria, after President Muhammadu Buhari, it becomes imperative that the South East should produce the next President.

The reasons the South East has to produce the next presidential candidate of the PDP, first, and next President of Nigeria, second, are legion. The South East zone of the country has not produced a presidential candidate for the two major political parties, the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC). By design, the South West produced presidential candidates of the PDP, the All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD), the three political parties in place then, in 1999. Despite the fact that such Igbo leader as Dr. Alex Ekwueme was at the forefront of the campaign for the military to quit power at that time and the formation of the PDP, the powers that be ensured that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, from the South West, clinched the PDP’s ticket, rather than Ekwueme of the South East. Also, in the APP and AD, an Igbo man, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who had won the presidential ticket of the APP, stepped down for Chief Olu Falae, from the South West, to become the joint presidential candidate of the APP/AD.

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For the presidency under democracy since 1999, the South East is the only zone in the South that has not produced the President. Since it is expected that power would shift to the South after President Buhari, it follows that the South East should be allowed to field the candidates for the post. It should be a consensus by the PDP and the APC to field South East candidates for the 2023 presidential election.

Therefore, PDP chairman, Ayu, should rather tell South East that his political party would give the zone the ticket, in the spirit of equity and fairness. The plan to leave the contest for the ticket open, with the warped argument that only the North-East and South East have not produced the country’s President, is a continuation of the marginalisation of the Igbo, knowing that, in such a contest, the North, which already has stronger strength caused by the deliberate structural defect of the country in state and local government creation, stands a better chance than the South, nay, South East.

The PDP should field a candidate from the South East for the following reasons: As said earlier, the South East is the only zone in the South yet to produce the President since 1999. The South East has qualified people who would better the fortunes of the country as President. The South East has strongly supported the PDP right from 1999. The South East has suffered dearly, owing to its massive support for the PDP. President Buhari’s “97 per cent and 5 per cent” compensation formula came about because the South East supported the PDP in 2015. President Buhari was emphatic that those who contributed 5 per cent votes to his election should not expect to reap the benefit therefrom as those who gave 97 per cent. It happened.

The best way the PDP should start addressing the pains of the South East, therefore, is to resolve that its presidential ticket should go to the South East. The South East is favoured by the rotation formula. Since the North, nay, North East, produced the presidential candidate of the PDP in 2019, fairness demands that the South, with the South East as first choice, should produce the 2023 presidential candidate. A South East candidate will have national appeal because the Igbo have proven to be the most nationalistic Nigerians ever seen. The Igbo are living in every part of the country and feel at home. The Igbo invest in all parts of the Nigeria. The Igbo contribute to the economic development of every part of the country by their vast investments.

There are no indices to show that the redemption of the PDP lies in a northern presidential candidate in 2023. A southern PDP candidate would win election for the party. In 1999, when even the South West rejected Obasanjo, from the zone, he won the presidential election. If an Obasanjo, without a home base support, could win the presidential election for the PDP in 1999, how much more would a South East candidate in 2023, with a strong home base support. What it takes is for the PDP, as a political party, and PDP people, as members, to support such a candidate.

The onus is on Ayu, the leadership of the PDP and the party’s members to have the conviction that, for equity’s sake, the South East should produce the next candidate of the political party and next President, with the support of the majority of Nigerian voters. Like in 1999, when political parties in the country fielded only South West candidates, the PDP should favour the South East by picking its 2023 candidate from there. Conscious effort should be made by the PDP to ensure that presidential aspirants from the North see reason for power shift to the South and the ceding of the presidential ticket to the South East. It is by recognising the sacrifices and contributions of the South East to the political development of the PDP and Nigeria as a whole that the redressing of the imbalance and marginalisation Ayu talked about would make meaning. The best way to start is to give PDP and APC’s presidential tickets to the South East in 2023.