Ever since the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) concluded its presidential primary, which produced former Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as presidential candidate, a lot of conspiracy theories have been propounded, especially by south-easterners, concerning the contest and the 2023 presidency generally. Some south-easterners have alleged that there was a gang-up against the South East in the contest for the PDP presidential ticket. Others said that South East delegates sold out at the presidential primary. Yet others are of the view that the South East is so hated that other Nigerians do not want a President from the zone.
Some of these sentiments expressed by south-easterners are understandable. It is usually heartbreaking for someone to lose what he or she thinks should have been his or hers. Towards the 2023 presidential election, the South East has argued, and justifiably so, that, for justice and equity, it deserves to produce the next President of Nigeria. The reason for this claim is simple. Since 1999, only the South East, among the three geopolitical zones in the South, has not produced the President. The argument is that, if power is shifting to southern Nigeria, after President Muhammadu Buhari, the South East deserves the right of first refusal. This is logical.
Unfortunately, politics has no rhyme or reason. Politics anywhere in the world has proved to be the survival of the fittest, a contest of popularity and an exercise where the will of the majority prevails, legitimately or illegitimately. Politics is a contest where selfishness takes the front seat. It is a trade of “me first, before others.” Politics knows no reason whatsoever. Therefore, anybody who expects that an argument anchored on sentiment would sway people is wasting his or her time.
I have followed the comments of south-easterners on social media about the outcome of the PDP presidential primary. I have noted their anger, disappointment, vituperation and lamentations. I can only sympathise with our people that, in the contest for the presidential ticket of the PDP, a south-easterner or a southerner could not win the diadem. However, I must say that our people are not placing the blame where it should be. There is this belief that South East delegates to the PDP presidential primary contributed to the failure of the South East to clinch the PDP ticket. However, the fact remains that those who think so do not acknowledge the reality that South East delegates could not have single-handedly made anyone the presidential candidate. With only 100 votes or thereabouts in a contest where 774 votes were at stake in the electoral college, South East delegates could not have produced a candidate alone.
Without defending the South East delegates, those who are blaming them should ask themselves these questions: Were those delegates to the electoral college of the PDP there for a South East presidency project? Before they went to Abuja to exercise their franchise at the PDP presidential primary, was there any meeting with them, called by Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex-socio cultural organisation, for instance, or any Igbo group or leaders, to appeal that they produce an Igbo candidate? Was there any conscious effort by the South East, as a people, to have a common front in the contest for the PDP ticket, other than the sentiment that it was the zone’s turn to produce the President? Was there any move for a consensus aspirant in the true sense of it, which could have seen other contestants withdrawing from the race before the primary election?
The truth is that political party delegates to an electoral college are representing themselves, just as political aspirants represent themselves. They can only be swayed by their conviction, personal interest or pecuniary gain. That was what happened at the PDP presidential primary. Many have said that money played a vital role in the outcome of the contest for the PDP ticket. Others said that northern interest was paramount to delegates from that region who used their number to advantage. All these are conjectures. The contest produced the most popular aspirant, made possible by whatever factors. That is democracy. Democracy is mainly a popularity contest, not really a competency contest. That is why, in democracy, the most popular person, not necessarily the best, wins.
However, what is clear is that the withdrawal of Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, before voting changed the equation at the presidential primary. Also, the withdrawal of former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, from the PDP presidential primary and the party changed the tide in the contest. The latter fact is not what south-easterners want to admit. However, whether they believe it or not, had Obi remained in the contest, the result would not have been the same. His withdrawal boosted the chances of an aspirant like Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who eventually came second, and even Atiku, who won. Sure, Obi may not have clinched the PDP ticket, had he continued, but I don’t want to believe that he would not have made an impact.
Talking about Obi, a lot of sentiments have been expressed by south-easterners about his pulling out of the PDP presidential ticket chase and the political party. There have been conclusions that he is the Third Force in the presidential race and calculations on how he could win the presidential election, now as candidate of the Labour Party. In fact, there has been Obi frenzy in the South East. Yes, Obi is a good material for the presidency. By his disposition and track record of achievement as governor of Anambra State, there is no doubt that he would make a good President, all things being equal. I say all things being equal because there are many things that have to be right for a President of Nigeria to be successful. However, let south-easterners not lost sight of the fact that the Igbo alone cannot make anybody President.
I read the good comments of former Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, amplifying the population and spread of the Igbo across the country, with the verdict that the Igbo can make a President. Good as it sounds, Igbo alone cannot make anybody President. No single ethnic group in Nigeria can make a President, not Igbo, not Yoruba, not Hausa/Fulani. The political trajectories of President Buhari and Obafemi Awolowo are examples that no single tribe can make anybody President. Buhari was so popular in the North that he almost swept the whole votes in the region in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 presidential elections. Northern votes could not, however, make him President. It took an alliance with southerners in 2015 for him to earn enough votes in the zone and, therefore, win the presidential election. Awolowo was a champion in the South West and won elections in the zone. He could not, however, win enough national votes to become President.
Igbo votes, therefore, cannot make Obi or anybody a President, no matter how sound the calculation of the social media pundits is. What will make Obi President are votes from South East, South South, South West and the North. This is why south-easterners should not present Obi as an Igbo project. They should not just be contented that the name of a south-easterner would be on the ballot, but that the person is running to win, with national appeal. Obi should, therefore, be presented as the best presidential material Nigeria can boast of this time round. His momentum should be made a national movement, with the buy-in of all Nigerians. Presenting him as a South East hero, because he withdrew from a presidential ticket contest owing to unfair competition, would diminish his stature and chances in the presidential contest. However, how many people saying good things about Obi’s aspiration on social media are going to vote next year, work as volunteers in this presidential project or donate enough money to keep the dream going? In the final analysis, money is needed to run a presidential campaign. Having polling agents in all the wards nationwide alone is a megabucks endeavour.
My advice is that the South East should not see themselves as losing everything in the PDP. They should only take it that this time they could not achieve their goal of presenting a presidential candidate. Now is a time to be practical and pragmatic. The South East lost out in PDP this year. Next time, the region may be lucky. Therefore, south-easterners who are members of the PDP should not only remain there but also do their duty as party members. If the vice-presidential ticket is given to the South East, the zone should take the offer and do what is required. If Dr. Goodluck Jonathan were not Vice President at the time Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua died in office as President, he would not have become President.
The onus is on the South East to continue playing national politics, be it in PDP or the All Progressives Congress (APC), and strive to make themselves relevant and popular. There is a way south-easterners would position themselves in Nigeria that no President would emerge without them. This cannot be achieved if narrow outlook and regional proclivity overwhelm the zone. A time would come when a President of South East extraction would be inevitable and other Nigerians will find it irresistible. The South East should remain steadfast in the face of political disappointment. It is not foreclosed that the zone could make political breakthrough in the country. As the Igbo say, it is still morning on creation day: “Tata bu gbo!”